Brenda Lee: A Sparkling Interview with Little Miss Dynamite
The legendary Brenda Lee has been a vibrant performer on the rock and country music scene, enchanting the world with classics such as I’m Sorry, I Want To Be Wanted, Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree and a whole lot more! Lee has sold more than 100 million records worldwide and charted in more categories – including pop, rhythm & blues, rock, easy listening and country – than any other women in the history of recorded music. She’s been inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Rockabilly Hall of Fame.
Brenda Lee recently thrilled music fans of all ages at the recent Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekend #20, appearing alongside artists such as the Reverend Horton Heat, Wanda Jackson and James Intveld. Heading back to Nashville this month to perform at The Ryman Auditoruim (the one time home of the Grand Old Opry), Little Miss Dynamite continues on her vast and glorious legacy and will be adding shows throughout 2017 and beyond. Highwire Daze Online recently had the opportunity to chat with the fabulous Brenda Lee to discuss the past, present, and future of a brilliant career of this truly iconic artist. Read on…
You’ll be revisiting the Grand Ole Opry in May. What are you looking forward to the most about that particular show?
Well it will be at the Ryman…and I’m looking forward to that because I did the Ryman with Elvis in 1957, December 13. You see how well I remember that one.
What were your memories of Elvis? How did the show go on that particular day?
Oh, it went great! Of course they made him go and get a tux… he was getting ready to go into the service and the powers that be whom I really don’t know who they were at that time told him to keep his day job, but the audience loved him, absolutely went wild over him. He was different and certainly not anything that a lot of people had seen at the Grand Ole Opry of course, but I think everybody knew that he was going to be a huge, huge, huge, huge star.
At 15 years old, you recorded one of your biggest hits “‘I’m Sorry”. What did you think of that song when it was first presented to you?
We all knew that it was special. It was a sixteen bar song. It was not long enough. And the writer and Owen and I sat in a huddle and tried to think how to lengthen it and I was a big fan of the Ink Spots as was Owen and if you remember they had a lot of recitations in their songs so we said let’s just do recitation. And that’s what we did.
Decca withheld the song for a bit out of concern that a 15 year old girl was not mature enough to sing about unrequited love…
Absolutely. They didn’t want me to record it. And I did hold it for a couple of years and then they still didn’t want me to record it but we did anyway, we did it on the tail end of the session and I believe after like one run through we did it in one take. And that’s it.
What did you think about that decision from Decca.
Well, you know I really didn’t know what to think because I thought you know, great songs are great songs. That’s what I was always preached to by Owen. And you know. So I wasn’t thinking about what the public may look at it wrongly, I just thought they would hopefully think it was a wonderful song like I did.
“Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” is one of the biggest Christmas singles of all time. What were your thoughts when you first recorded the song and then what do you think of the song today?
I think we all knew that it was kind of a magic song. We just didn’t know it would be magic for us. And we did record it and we did put it out and it did absolutely zip after “Sweet Nothings” and then we did “I’m Sorry” and we put it out again and it did better and then it just kept coming out every year and now it’s the number 1 Christmas song.
Have you heard any other covers of “Rockin Around the Christmas Tree” that you’ve liked? Even punk rock bands have covered that song.
Oh I know, I love every one I hear. because I just think – see it was a great song. People are putting their own spin on it and it’s fabulous.
You have a show in Vegas in December. Could we expect a few Christmas songs at that show?
Absolutely. Part of it will be Christmas and part of it will be regular songs that the audience always wants me to do
What was it like when the Beatles opened for you in West Germany in 1962 and did you keep in touch with them over the years?
Yeah. Especially John, and then Ringo after John passed. I just.. it was surreal to me to stand back stage and hear these songs that I never heard before because it was going through my mind, where did these songs come from?… they’re so great. Where did these songs come from? and I asked them. they said very nonchalantly, not pompous or anything, well we write them. And I was like, You do? Yes we do. So I asked them if it would be alright if I took a little demo tape back and.. and a picture of them the way they looked at the time to my company which was Decca Records and they said yes. Well I took it and everybody said oh this look will never happen and neither would this sound and I said OK, well and next year “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” came out and changed the tapestry of what we knew as the music world much like Elvis had done before them and we had a whole new thing going on.
I believe you also recorded some Beatles covers.
Yes, I did.
Did any of the members ever hear or comment on your covers?
I don’t know if they heard them, I’m sure they did. I’m sure they listened to everything that involved what they wrote. But no, they never said anything.
Let’s go to 1964. You performed in front of Queen Elizabeth at a Royal Command Performance. What in the world was that experience like?
Surreal. Very surreal. I still look back on it, I still see the pictures of The Queen and me and Lena Horne was there and I think, Oh My Lord – I was really there. I really got to meet her. [laughs] It was just – they have so much protocol and so much pomp and circumstance. You’re so involved in getting that all right, you’re lost in the moment.
What was Patsy Cline like and what is your favorite memory of her?
Patsy Cline was one of my dearest friends even though she was about 13 almost 14 years older than me. It was like she was my big sister and one of my fondest memories is clomping around in her cowgirl boots and putting on her sequent coats and skirts that would be way down on the floor. We’re prancing around like I was the Queen of England. I loved her to death. Still do. Still miss her.
What did you personally think when someone called you Little Miss Dynamite for the very first time?
Well, that name was given to me in England when I went over there. I had a record out, people saw me work on the stage which was always the way I worked. Just all over the place, jumping up and down, growling and singing. Whatever, that’s what they named me “Little Miss Dynamite” and it stuck. I always tell people the fuse is still there, it’s just a little bit shorter. [laughs]
Your most current album was released in 2007. It was a duets album. Do you have any plans to maybe record new music? Is that something you’d like to do?
A: People come to me every week and want to go into the studio and do something but I don’t know. I really don’t know. It was so magical when I did all my stuff with Owen. I don’t know if I want to touch that. It’s a big decision to make.
Have your children or grandchildren ever expressed any interest in a career in music?
No. I made it a point to take them out on the road and show them how to get from A to B and they didn’t like it. They thought it was all glamour and glitz. And it is on stage, somewhat, but it’s trying to get from point A to point B that’s the killer.
You sold over 100 million records worldwide. In retrospect, what does a number like that mean to you?
It’s actually over 200 million and once again, that number is surreal. I’m very grateful, very proud. I thank everyone that’s ever bought a Brenda Lee record. I am what you have made me and I appreciate it so much.
If you were to hop in a time machine and go visit the 15 year old Brenda Lee, what would you tell her about the music industry that she didn’t know back then?
You know, I had such good people around me that never lied to me. I wasn’t treated as a product, I was treated as a person. I pretty much knew what to expect and I think what I didn’t know then that I know now is that I would still be here doing it. That’s the only thing, I knew it was going to be hard. I knew it wasn’t all roses and champagne and what have you. I still chose to do it and I haven’t regretted a moment of that choice.
Do you have any messages for your fans who are reading this?
Yes. I just want to say to anyone out there reading this from the bottom of my heart, I thank you so much for allowing me to be what I wanted to be. To make that possible, to make that dream come true. Because so many times when we have dreams, that’s all they are. They’re just dreams. But because of you all, my dreams have more than come true over and over and over again. I could not have done it without you, I won’t ever meet all of you but in my heart, you are there. Thank you so much.
(Interview by Ken Morton)
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