Rickie Lee

I was pleasantly surprised to find this wonderful little email interview with Miss Jones in my local paper. Sounds like we have a similar take on singing!

Jazz, and all pop music, is innate, integral to my own identity. I grew up listening to so many kinds of music on the great American AM radio of the ’60s. We heard Dylan, Andy Williams, Beatles and B.J. Thomas. We heard instrumentals and Blue Cheer. Our palate, 50 plus, is pretty sophisticated I think. Now [people] 10 years older, they have a much smaller palate of music, but it’s very deep, it’s the beginning of rock and roll. My age, we got all the cream. So for me, I am really a product of that good school.

[…] And when you listen to Billie, you do not hear anything but her. So while she may have said that, and the players felt that, because she did not treat them like their work did not matter, the fact is that Billie is all that matters when you listen to a song she is singing. That’s just how it is with a great singer. And that’s the fundamental divide in singers today.

They are none of them great. They have learned Chaka [Khan] and the soul singers’ licks, and they got ’em all down, and they can put more notes in one bar than Mozart. But at the end of the song, you are exhausted, and you are rarely truly moved. It’s the depth of your emotion, not your technical prowess, that first must be perfectly communicated.

There are many great singers around, but they are a little … cold. You know? They do not seem like they could be caught off guard, or tell a dirty joke to a stagehand, or be human. The humanity is what makes this stuff live on and on. I mean … I think so. I know money and publicists have interfered with that process. But I think it’s still the thing that all audience and people love. That’s why we can be moved to tears listening to something in a language we don’t understand. Because we feel the emotion of the singer, not because he or she, speaking to their peers, impress the social structure around them, L.A. talking to L.A. critics, like Fijians talking to Fijian critics. Your audience is someone far away, someone you have made up, someone you know exists and shadows you, needs to hear you, will be lifted by you. It’s just one person: That’s who you are singing to. You never know who it is, but they are always there at your show, or waiting somewhere to hear what you said, the thing you worked so hard on saying just so, singing just so, and they would know, when they heard it, that something larger was at work than the singer or them. Higher spirit always talking, always seeking to heal, and you may be a part of that. That is a lot more important than [longtime record-company exec] Seymour Stein including you in his ode-to-himself Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I mean, how many times can we watch Bono take the mike like he’s Jim Morrison? Enough! Or Sting tell us something obtuse that he thinks makes him sexy? Please.

Music, and the honoring of musicians, belongs to a jury of peers, and no record company executives allowed. And no critics under 35, and always an equal amount of men to women. Imagine in these days, Rolling Stone magazine still run by men writing for men about men. Please.

I have the feeling that Billie and I were more alike than anyone realizes. When I hear her, I feel her. I know how it feels to smile from the inside of her. Sometimes I think we are made from moulds, and they scoop a little of this and that, and you can see when some folks are made from the same mould. I think Billie and I sang / sing naturally. Our voices are easy from talk to melody, and there is no straining to tell the story, no need to try to impress you. We are totally into the song. We feel it. It’s not only a story of the song, but it’s a story of how we feel. That’s the gift, I guess. Some of us feel this stuff, and when we sing, you feel it, too. Yes?

I once read an interview with Frank Sinatra, where he said the same thing: that the best singers have a conversational style, as if they were talking in key. I love that.

3 thoughts on “Rickie Lee

  1. So right she is. If you listen to Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey, you hear exactly what Rickie is talking about. Technical prowess with no soul. Then listen to Anita Baker and En Vogue. Substance over shimmer. It seems like it was in the 80’s that this divide became really apparent. Vocal pyrotechnics overcoming artistry. Boring.

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