BWW Interviews: Helen Reddy Talks Her Return to Singing in Two Upcoming SoCal Concerts
Actress, singer, activist turned hypnotherapist Helen Reddy was named the Queen of 70s Pop. In 1973 she had three No. 1 hit tunes, including of course "I Am Woman", which she co-wrote herself, not finding at that time a single song to record that satisfied her feminine wiles. Now living in Australia, Reddy seems relaxed, content, but still eager, like Norma Desmond, to 'return' to the biz, singing. In our chat she explains why and talks candidly about the high ... and low points of her life.
What prompted the comeback now?
Well, I don't call it a comeback as much as a Renaissance. I retired ten years ago and went back to college and got a degree in clinical hypnotherapy at the age of 60. I went back to my native Australia and lived a very different life. Anyway, the genesis of going back to singing was my sister's 80th birthday in March. She asked if I would sing a duet with her, and I said OK...and it was so much fun, and it was so appreciated, and I thought, "I miss singing, I used to love doing this". So, that was kind of it. My sister's son, by the way, Tony Sheldon, who was in Priscilla Queen of the Desert in London and New York - we're very, very proud of him - he's just been back in Oz and visiting his mother and all his friends. He's back in New York now.
I hope he does the show when it comes to LA.
I don't think so. He did the show for five years and The Producers for two years before that...and he's had it with the high heels. He's beginning to appear in trousers. (we laugh)
Talk about the venues where you'll be appearing.
I'm at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano on Friday, August 10 and the Canyon Club in Agoura Hills on the following night. I had chosen three nights before that, a few weekends ago. The first was at Croce's in San Diego, and not having sung in 10 years, I wanted a small cozy kind of venue to break in. The first thing I said to the audience was, "I haven't done this in 10 years. If I make a mistake, cut me some slack." They were wonderful. The following two nights we were at St. Genevieve High School in Panorama City, and I booked those three nights from Australia. Dan Horn, who was the principal of the school, is a long time friend of mine, and that was another perfect spot to sort of 'get back on the horse'.
And how do you feel? Do you feel good again?
I do. I enjoy it, while I'm doing it. It's a long wait, though, in between (engagements)...
Will you give us a little preview of what you'll be singing?
Well, it won't be the greatest hits, although I will do some of them. I wanted to sing the songs I wanted to sing. I'm not a nostalgia act. However, there are a lot of album cuts (they didn't get any airplay, but fans will be familiar with them) that I still remember and love, so I'm doing a lot of those ballads. I'm doing "I Am Woman", but in a different way. I feel much more relaxed.
Who are your favorite singers? Did any one in particular inspire you?
There are so many wonderful, wonderful singers...when I was young, Peggy Lee was definitely a very big influence on me. And then I realized I was imitating her, and that wasn't a good thing, so I started listening to more male vocalists. This was in my teens, and I also listened a lot to big bands, because there was so much music in them. I didn't have to listen vocally; I could listen to the orchestra. I don't know if that makes sense.
Yes, because the whole thing works together. The musicianship is so important because it dictates what you're doing.
You've done Broadway. Tell me about Shirley Valentine.
I didn't do that on Broadway. The only show I did on Broadway at the Music Box Theatre was Blood Brothers. I also did it on the West End of London and on tour in the UK. I've done four productions of Shirley Valentine, but regional.
How did you like doing those shows?
Totally. I mean Shirley Valentine, what a wonderful leading role! You play 14 characters just in Act I, Scene I. It is a true tour-de-force and I loved every second of it. I'm a huge fan of Willy Russell. Blood Brothers is a different type of role from Shirley, but it's still done with a Liverpool accent, although Shirley's is a little more upmarket than Mrs. Johnson's.
Did you like doing theatre more than performing on the concert stage?
It's Apples and Oranges. I enjoy both.
Do you keep up with musical trends and how things have changed?
Quite honestly, I've been out of the music business so long now, I really couldn't say. The only music I listen to is music that I've got, the CDs that I can play for myself. A lot of what's on the radio is unintelligible for me. But there are stations that play songs from certain eras...I'm OK with that. A lot of today's music is simply voice and drum. And the voice usually isn't singing, it's talking.
Is your favorite music from the 30s and 40s?
Well, for me, it's the 70s. But, there were some wonderful songs written in the 1930s. I'd say, the 20s through the 50s, there was some wonderful music written.
When you made it in the early 70s, was it overwhelming for you to accept the tremendous success?
In 1973 I had three Number One hits on the charts. I had my own TV show The Helen Reddy Show on NBC. There was a tremendous amount going on. It was also the same year my son was born, in December of 72, my mother died in July of 73, my father died in September of 73; then an aunt I was very close to, I was named for her, she virtually raised me - she died in January 74, so there was a lot of private grief going on at the same time as the success. Work is work, and I'm glad I had all the opportunities that I had, but I think living life to the full is the most important thing.
You're a hypnotherapist. What kind of work does that entail?
I practice clinical hypnotherapy in Australia, not on a regular basis, but it's something I enjoy very much. I particularly specialize in past life regressions and reuniting people with loved ones who have passed over. It's very rewarding.
You wrote a book in 2006, correct?
Yes, The Woman I Am. It's available on my website. It's a good read. I did it all myself.
Are you getting psyched about the two concerts next weekend?
Yes, I'm really looking forward to them. I'm also flying up to Oakland tomorrow (Saturday, August 4) for an AIDS benefit. I'll do "You and Me Against the World" and "I Am Woman".
What a down-to-earth woman! Helen Reddy remains a true champion and great human being! Catch her next week.
Visit her website for further info and tickets at www.helenreddy.com.