It’s All in the Delivery
It’s interesting how “Green Light” and “Pow Wow” had a harder driving beat than anything Savannah Band had done.
For those two vocal arrangements I chose to be a little more aggressive. That was my way of being a lead vocalist on a solo album. The vocal delivery on “Pow Wow” was a bigger release for me than the Savannah Band delivery because Savannah Band’s delivery was supposed to be romantic and eclectic and have a big band sound. I wanted to sound like a lead singer, a solo artist kicking butt. That was my intention.
The lyrics were kind of a challenge because they weren’t as heavy as Savannah Band’s lyrics, so I used a more open and aggressive approach. To have that vocal, for a lack of a better word, louder than my other vocal delivery from Savannah Band days … but I brought my usual style back in “Rainy Day Boy”. That was a softer delivery.
There’s an article from Stereo Review in 1980 that offers a vivid description of your vocal style: “Wrapped in a Salvation Army print dress, her lips painted the color of a ripe tomato, a large flower in her Maria Montez hair, she stomps her feet in Joan Crawford pumps and delivers the lyrics with a Carmen Miranda rapidity.” When I listen to a song like “Wiggle and a Giggle”, I actually do hear traces of Carmen Miranda, though I know there’s also an Andrews Sisters homage happening in your delivery.
I used Andrews Sisters harmonies in “Wiggle”. The lyrics and the fast-paced delivery of the song were very Carmen Miranda. Women in the music industry needed happy, a lot of happy, so I always was attracted to this song. “Wiggle and a Giggle” was the polar opposite of songs that were melancholy and the situation that I was in. The song is about the various men I loved and how crappy they treated me. Yes, I had an “I don’t care” attitude!
I’d like to also mention that Maria Montez was the “Caribbean Cyclone”. That’s what she was called. She was considered to be the most glamorous woman in Hollywood. I would imagine because of her heritage, she was only in B movies but yet she was labeled the most glamorous woman in Hollywood. That was very interesting. I adored her. She was different from Lupe Vélez who did all of these slapstick-type comedies, who was actually the original Lucille Ball from I Love Lucy — always getting herself into zany situations.
“Wiggle and a Giggle” was a huge hit in Holland. I did a promotional tour throughout the Netherlands including record signings, television, and print. It was shocking that it did so well there.
A lot of that has to do with your imprint. You gave it so much more than what’s written on the page.
It’s a very very intricate piece, vocally. I laid down the basic vocal and I said, “I want to do one over it.” I laid that down and I said, “I want to do one under it.” We laid that down. Then we laid down the backgrounds with the boys and I said, “I want girls on top of it doing something else.” Sandy was pumped with all of my ideas.
“Be Bop Betty” was done by another artist that Sandy had worked with. He played that for me and I said, “You know what? I really like this song.” They call me Be Bop Betty, but my real name is CoCo Ree. I don’t know what name he had in there before CoCo Ree but I said “That’s not my name!”
“Be Bop Betty” was sort of an ode to rock ‘n’ roll music, the old style rock ‘n’ roll, and that was a lot of fun. Joe Delia orchestrated the arrangements so his name is in there, sort of like another “Tommy Mottola”.
Cory and Me got rave reviews in Rolling Stone and the Village Voice. Around that same time, Robert Christgau also called you “the finest female vocalist to emerge in the ’70s”. Were you aware of the regard that critics had for you?
I wasn’t aware of the regard that critics had for me but I was impressed, I was surprised, I was … not surprised. I was like, “Yeah you get me” and I was honored to be able to be heard and interpreted that way, so I just love the critics for that.
I think the lyrics on some of the songs on the solo album didn’t get such great praise, but my delivery did. I can’t remember exactly the words they used but one said that “‘Pow Wow’ had silly lyrics, but Cory’s delivery was amazing. She made do with what she had been given.” Maybe those lyrics and those songs worked for Sandy at the time that he wrote them.
I don’t think “Pow Wow” is politically correct today. The meaning behind “Pow Wow” was “You dumped me, so can we talk? Can we get this together? Let’s have a pow wow and the peace pipe” — you know what that is, right? “Let’s calm down. Let’s sort this out.” That’s when I wail “Oh my darling, let’s have a pow wow. I need your love tonight.” Things like that are elements in there that let you know that “Pow Wow” was not meant to have a derogatory connotation. It was trying to be the salvation of a relationship. That was the message that I was trying to get across to the audience.
How would you describe the response to Cory and Me?
I don’t think Cory and Me did as well as Savannah Band’s first album, but it did make a mark. It was released in 1979 on the cusp of the ’80s, and then that whole thing in Chicago happened over disco music, burning records in the stadium. It didn’t have a very long lifespan. People that are Savannah Band aficionados do know my album and they do appreciate it and they still talk about “Pow Wow”, “Green Light”, “Rainy Day Boy”, and “Wiggle and a Giggle” but it didn’t do as well. I don’t believe the lack of success was because they were comparing it to Savannah Band, it was because it was released too late in the decade.
Over the years, you’ve performed with Kid Creole & the Coconuts and recorded songs with them for films like New York Stories (1989) and Lambada (1990). I would love to know about your experience working with August in his role as Kid Creole versus working with him in Savannah Band.
In 1986, Kid Creole asked me to go on tour with him and so I was a featured vocalist. I was playing some percussive instruments on the stage. I was on the riser and doubled his vocal. He did festivals in Europe and there were massive amounts of people in the audience. They were always outdoors. The sound would carry just so far and because his vocal cords weren’t strong enough for the acoustics that the organizers provided, I doubled his voice and then when he did a costume change, I would come out and do a couple of songs solo.
Seeing the world while doing what I love completed me. We toured all of Europe, even Japan and Dubai. It was everything I had wanted when I was solo.
August is a band leader in the truest sense of the word. His major influences are James Brown and Cab Calloway. What a combo! That’s where his energy comes from and the dancing on stage and having all kinds of antics going on. His wife at the time was Adriana Kaegi who co-created the band and choreographed the Coconuts. She co-founded Kid Creole the way I co-founded Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band. The difference is it was the ’80s. She got the credit. I didn’t … but I’m over that.
June 2021 marks the 45th anniversary of Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band. When I saw you perform with Kid Creole & the Coconuts at B.B. King’s a few years ago, it’s almost like you didn’t even need to sing “Cherchez La Femme”, everyone was singing it for you. Why do you think listeners connect to that song so strongly after all these years?
45 years ago, we did not have MTV. Anytime you hear a song it rings a bell of where you were, who you were, who you were with, and what frame of mind you were in at the time. You always associate a certain time in your life with a song. A person may not have been around at the time “Cherchez La Femme” was released but their mother, father, aunt, or uncle was and they brought it home, and kids grew up with us and have fond memories … and that’s why it has endured the test of time.
People are passing it down. I just saw on Facebook that someone named their daughter Savannah — she’s two years old — because they love the album. Now this is 45 years later, so the person who has a two year old can’t be that old, so I just know that after I’m gone it’s going to endure even longer and forever, I think.
When I received an honor from Legends of Vinyl in 2016, the audience was about 6,000 people, all different age groups, and they all knew the lyrics to “Cherchez La Femme”. They all sang along at the end. When I received the award, I thanked the young people, their parents, and even their grandparents, for bringing me home and being responsible for this recognition because to receive an award 40 years later — at that time — is the biggest gift that I have ever received in my life. I’m constantly reminded that this album is still valid, still functional, and still appreciated. That’s all I need now and forever!