Peggy Lee would like to find its magic spell everywhere; lets Dave do all the talking about Armstrong, bop and critics
by George Simon
If she could just remember everybody’s birthday and could spend all of her Thanksgivings at home, Peggy Lee would be an extremely happy girl. For it is the little things which count most in the life of one who is recognized by many as the biggest singer in the business today. Born and raised in North Dakota, part of a large family in which the parents just didn’t have enough time to spread affection as thickly as Peggy wanted it, the soft, kind sort of love now means more than anything else to this loving mother and wife. Sure, she’s interested in her career, in her singing, in her songwriting, but most of all she wants and expects to find her happiness through associating with people.
“It would help everything if people loved each other more,” she says. For a time, Peggy was a seemingly cold, calculating performer. She did her job all right, but you had the feeling that she was just up there singing and not much more. There wasn’t a really warm feeling emanating from this gorgeous blonde. Maybe she just didn’t know how to project. Maybe she was just scared. But for quite a time those who knew Peggy well, who knew her as a sensitive, sentimental, love-seeking girl, kept hoping that she would be able to transmit some of that inner warmth to the rest of the world around her.
When Peggy’s boss, Benny Goodman, took on a guitarist named Dave Barbour, Peggy started coming out of her shell. It was a gradual transition until now, “when I get on a stage I feel as if I know people so well that I can say to any one of them, ‘How’s your family?’ and I wouldn’t feel foolish. And that attitude comes from being around Durante and Crosby. Jimmy is so wonderful. He’s interested in big things and in little things. And he’s interested in people, especially in little people. I can’t say enough fine things about him as a person,” a rave, by the way, which appears to be shared by just about everybody else in show business.
Bing was another inspiration. “The first time I met him,” Peggy recalls, “he knew all the little things about me, about my house, even about Dave’s health, which wasn’t too good at the time. He asked me about them, just as if he’d always known me. Bing wants to know about people, all about them. I think that’s why he’s so happy.”
Peggy admires a couple of other men, too. They’re Alec Wilder and Willard Robison, both of whom write songs “in the direction I’d like to see vocal music progress. They’re sort of poems set to music, little character sketches. This is nothing new, I know, but it hasn’t been done enough.”
Music is good to Peggy so long as it does no bad to people. Progress to her is “a big turmoil. To make progress, you have to make a mess.” She feels, however, that she’s not qualified to talk about technical progress in music, though she does feel that bop has had “a dangerous effect on young musicians, not as musicians but as people… But let Dave talk about that; he knows much more about it.”
Dave thinks, quote, that “bop is sensational, the damnedest thing that ever happened, a terrific stride forward. But the actions of some of the cultists are too much for effect. Some of them stand and gape like idiots or stare right through you. As for those ties and hats, they’re sort of childish, so you can’t be too disturbed by that.”
What does disturb Dave, though, is the fact that prettiness, sentiment and emotion are being lost. Though he likes bop, still to Dave, “Louis can do no wrong. He can play just a straight, simple lead line on a song and it’s great with me. But why can’t these young kids see that? Is it because they were raised in a generation when Louis was supposedly through because he didn’t win any polls or anything?
“Another thing: the guys who were hot men some years ago but who are now considered fools by some of the young, cultish kids, are really thorough musicians, guys like Babe Russin, Herbie Haymer, Will Bradley, Chris Griffin and so on. Yet most of these cats today can’t sustain a note. It seems to me that outside of what they’re doing, the bop world finds music in general a pretty abstract thing.”
The coming music for Dave is Afro-Cuban. “That’s really going to happen!” he predicts. All those intricate rhythms knock him out and for an ear-experienced guitarist who’s played in many a top-flight rhythm section, that’s quite a feat. “My big ambition now is to have a band with about five men in the front line, a regular rhythm section and about four extra rhythm guys.”
Reminded that such music is a far cry from the Armstrong type about which he had just been raving, Dave promptly admitted that “I like all kinds of music, except maybe Hawaiian. Which reminds me, the record reviews in Metronome, they’re almost like a cult. They sound as though they’re afraid to admit to a little sentimentality in music.” This is a subject, by the way, on which Dave and Peggy Barbour concur completely. It reflects a mutual philosophy, expressed by Mr. Barbour by “You’re not being a boob or an idiot to want to like people. That’s the way it’s supposed to be. That’s a positive type of thinking!”
Mrs. Barbour puts it even more personally. “When you see unloveliness in others, it’s because you have some unloveliness in yourself.” Which seem straight and to the point.
There’s a great deal of oneness between Peggy and Dave. Not only for they think alike musically and philosophically, but they also share another major interest, their cute daughter, Nicki. Then there’s their home, an unpretentious, rambling house in North Hollywood, from which they don’t roam very much. It’s pretty obvious why. Bop, “Mañana,” Afro-Cuban rhythms, Durante, Crosby, Armstrong, Wilder and Robison – they’re all fine, extra added attractions. But there are bigger things for Peggy and Dave and they’ve found them, recognize them and hope to be able to cherish them forever.