Cory Daaye
Photo: Courtesy of Sekou Luke Studio and Rebel Media

‘Cherchez La Femme’ at 45: An Interview with GRAMMY-nominated Vocalist Cory Daye

In this exclusive interview with PopMatters, co-founder and lead vocalist of Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band, Cory Daye, celebrates the 45th anniversary of the group’s classic self-titled debut.

“The Heartbeat of Our Tracks”

Why was Sandy Linzer selected to produce Savannah Band’s first album? 

Sandy Linzer and Tommy Mottola were working together on various projects and Tommy brought Sandy in to produce our album. Sandy achieved fame while he was in high school. He had written for the Four Seasons and also wrote the hit “A Lover’s Concerto” by the Toys in 1965, so he was a polished and absolutely amazing producer because, like no other producer, he let us do whatever the hell we wanted to in the studio while RCA was up in arms — “you’re taking too long, what are you doing?” Tommy was sitting on pins and needles because his reputation was on the line but Sandy kept it cool. He let us do whatever we needed to do to make the sound happen. He got us!

Sandy also took the reels and went into editing alone and created the magic as only he could. He was the one who made it sound like a record. It’s not like today where everything’s done on computers and you can mix it as you go along. Back then, you just laid down all the tracks … It’s like taking your clothes out of the closet and trying to put an outfit together that makes sense. We had all these tracks, and doubling and tripling vocals, and Sandy made sense of all the craziness. If he hadn’t done that, I don’t know how successful the album would have been, so he was a key component to the completion of a product that has endured the test of time.

That first Savannah Band album is often hailed for its fusion of different styles, big band, Latin, pop, soul, jazz, and dance. Describe how those styles actually crystallized into a coherent musical form. 

Stony and August wanted to have that image and that feel of a big band sound, swing but mixed with Latin, mixed with jazz, just a whole potpourri of American and World genres. Today it’s called “fusion”. Back then, it was not. It was “Mulatto Madness” — the miscegenation of our skin and our backgrounds tagged with the miscegenation of our musical style defined the “madness” because either you were too light or too dark, according to society at that time. We tried to break that barrier.

The musical form of the fusion of all the different sounds came from Stony. He worked with Charlie Calello on the horn arrangements. We delivered all genres of music from the ’40s but with a present-day beat. “Whispering” was from the ’20s. The Paul Whiteman Band did it originally and it was a song that endured toward the ’30s and the ’40s. That’s why we used “Whispering” for the intro to “Cherchez La Femme”. That was Stony’s idea and it came across so beautifully.

Stony was in love with African drums, which were added to the tracks at the suggestion of the amazing percussionist Paulinho Da Costa. The African drum was the heartbeat of all our tracks, so there was the percussive beat, the heartbeat, the heaviness of the drums, and then the levity of a mere triangle as in “Sunshower” where vocals fly in, out, and around with smooth jazz, Latin, soul, and pop vocal phrasing. 

While you’re listening, you’re hearing all of the light and airy combinations of sound with the African drums as the basic heartbeat of what’s going on.

Cory Daye
Photo: Courtesy of Sekou Luke Studio and Rebel Media

That is beautifully stated, Cory. “Sunshower” is really such a great example of that musical dynamic.

“Sunshower” is a good story. We had so many instrumental and vocal tracks laid down and after it was all done, Stony decided to erase everything … except the African drums! His brother went crazy. “What are you doing?”

Sandy brought his children in to do the backgrounds and basically all you hear are guitar, vibes, drums, vocals, kids, and of course Paulinho’s triangle! Coincidentally, there was a thunder storm going on while we were in the studio, so we went out with the sound equipment and recorded it. When you hear the intro to “Sunshower”, and Stony says “I think it’s gonna rain”, it was actually raining.

I wanted the vocal to flow because so much of that heartbeat that I described was going on. I’d go [sings] “Leaving stormy skies behind me” so that it would flow and yet still maintain that sound of the ’40s jazz feel. “Sunshower” was my absolute favorite because it was my creation in the vocal delivery and Stony’s creation of the instrumental arrangements.

I’ve always had a special place for “I’ll Play the Fool”, which is the first Savannah Band track I heard back in high school on a compilation called The Last Party (1997). It was released in tandem with Anthony Haden-Guest’s book about Studio 54 and New York City nightlife. As the opening track, how does “I’ll Play the Fool” set the tone for the album?

“I’ll Play the Fool” is an uptempo track with clever lyrics that introduces a band — not simply a solo vocalist — with exciting orchestrations. I can’t think of a better way to introduce the Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band experience! It starts with the horns [sings horn part] “da-duh-da-daah” and it takes off from there. 

I created the whole “bop bop bop bop bop bop keep on dancing” part of “I”ll Play the Fool”. I wanted to add multi-faceted and multi-layered background vocals. Being a background vocalist had taught me how to harmonize to myself and to Stony and August’s parts. After hearing that part of the song back in the control room, I said, “Why don’t we do ‘Keep on dancing, if the music really blows your mind. Yeah yeah.'”

It was wonderful exposure for me to have the opportunity to play with the band. Being Stony’s girlfriend, I didn’t get the credit that I deserved, and that always stuck with me, but knowing that the album has stood the test of time and we’re coming up on 45 years since the release of the album, I don’t mind. I had my calling with Cory and Me, so I had my shot to get the credit for all vocal arrangements.

I love the end of “I’ll Play the Fool” when you go into this whole other sphere on the “ain’t it kind of funny” ad lib. What were you pulling from to deliver that?

I have no idea! We shut the lights out. I had a glass of wine. They said, “Go sing” and I was like “Oh, okay” … and there were no more lyrics! What was I going to do? [laughs] I justimprovised and pulled from Philippé Wynne’s genius of ending a song. He was sort of the mentor I never met. I just let it go. I let it wail. 

It’s the same thing in “Sunshower”. At the end of “Sunshower”, I looked in the control booth and I was like [sings] “Where do we go? Where do we go? Where do we go, hey now, from here?” I did that because I didn’t want to stop the music but the lyrics ended and I didn’t know where to go from there! I was being serious and they said, “Wow, that’s great!” I said, “Really?” They kept it because they thought it was an ad lib. They said, “Just take it.” I said okay. [sings] “Sunshower got me by the hour wanting you, loving you, needing you, oh baby.”

All that came together just out of the blue. They had to shut the lights out. I had to wear the headphones, close my eyes, and picture myself singing live with the orchestra. All the musical tracks were playing as well as the background vocals.

Whenever I saw pictures of the greats from the ’40s and ’50s, they were singing live with the band. Those days were ended by the time we got into the studio when they laid the tracks separately. They did the basics first, which were the guitars and the drums, then they would bring in the horns at another session, then lay down the vocals.

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