by Peter Tanner
She’s beautiful, she’s blonde – but she’s far from dumb. She’s a singer with a real jazz style, a composer of quite considerable merit and she’s married to one of America’s top guitarists.
Meet Mrs. Dave Barbour – Peggy Lee to you and me.
Peggy Lee has gone a long way since she sang with Benny Goodman and recorded with the band such fine sides as: “Why Don’t You Do Right?” and “Where or When.” Indeed, Peggy’s spell with the Goodman band was the turning point in her career.
Born in Jamestown, North Dakota in 1920, her real name is Norma Egstrom. Determined to concentrate on singing as a career, she left for California as soon as she had finished her schooling. But her first job at the Jade nightclub in Hollywood was disastrous, for she developed a bad throat infection and was forced to return home. Nothing daunted, she started again locally soon afterwards, was heard by Will Osborne and hired as vocalist in his band.
When this band broke up, Peggy returned to Hollywood, and pretty soon her “soft style” singing began to be well known in the smarter clubs and hotels. It was in one of these that she was heard by Benny Goodman, who asked her to join his band.
Her engagement with the Goodman band was the turning point in her career, for playing guitar in the band at that time was Dave Barbour. It wasn’t long before they decided that “The Wedding March” would be their first featured number together!
Born in Flushing, Long Island, in 1912, Dave first played banjo in his high school band before changing over to guitar for his first professional job with a small touring band, followed by numerous vocal engagements.
His first big break was in 1934 when he joined Wingy Manone’s band at Adrian Rollini’s club on 52nd Street. By the time this club closed, Dave was known around the town and jobs were easier for him to get. First of these was with Red Norvo and Mildred Bailey, followed by a spell of radio and stage work with Lennie Hayton’s orchestra.
After this came a long period of intensive recording work with literally every known label, playing with pickup groups and accompanying blues singers. His Decca recordings with Louis Armstrong and Vocalion sides with Buddy Berigan date from this time, as do numerous waxings with Lil Armstrong, Teddy Grace, Mildred Bailey, Putney Dandridge, Rod McKenzie and Teddy Wilson, to mention only a few.
Dave was a competent musician and a likable personality, and his fine chord and single-string work, coupled with the good beat he lent the rhythm section, assured him plenty of work. By now he had earned the respect, not only of the jazz enthusiasts, but also of his fellow musicians.
However, the strain proved too much for him, and in 1937, after a few months back with Red Norvo’s orchestra, Dave suffered a complete breakdown in health; he was forced to take a long and much-needed rest cure down in Florida.
It wasn’t until 1939 that he returned to band work, first with Artie Shaw, then with Herman Chittison and Raymond Scott, before joining the Goodman band in 1942 to meet Peggy Lee and romance.
The couple were married in 1943 and settled in Hollywood; Dave to take up radio and recording work, and Peggy to look after their home and bring their daughter Nicki into the world.
It wasn’t hard for Dave to get work; he was one of the country’s top guitar players and, before long, his name was on many of the smaller record companies’ labels.
Best of these include the sides he cut for Sunset with Andre Previn, such as “Good Enough to Keep” / “Blue Skies” (Sunset 10057), and those with Charlie Ventura for the same label and now issued on Parlophone.
Other good examples of his comparatively recent work may be found on Capitol with the Capitol Jazzmen, on Keynote with Herbie Haymer, on Pan American with Rafael Mendez and on Jewel with Boyd Raeburn.
In 1945, Peggy joined her husband to resume her professional career. She found new fame awaiting her with radio and recording work. With Dave backing her on electric guitar and a varied bunch of top West Coast musicians, Peggy Lee has made many fine recordings and has been heard regularly over the radio.
Among her best recordings are several composed jointly by Dave and herself, such as “You Was Right, Baby” and “If I Had a Chance with You.” Last year the Barbours hit the jackpot with an amusing novelty number in the Latin-American style called “Mañana.”
Peggy has a soft, appealing, intimate style of singing, and she knows her jazz; given the right material she can put a song over with the best of them. In such Capitol recordings as “Ain’t Goin’ No Place,” “Baby, Don’t Be Mad at Me” and “A Long, Long Train with a Red Caboose,” Peggy reveals that she is certainly one of today’s top white vocalists; while recently Dave Barbour has added to his reputation with two fine sides recorded under his own name, “Forever Paganini” and “Forever Nicki,” the latter, of course, dedicated to the Barbours’ small daughter.
The Barbours are a happy and successful couple. Easygoing and catholic in their musical tastes, they seem to have a knack of passing on their own happiness and pleasures, which is reflected in their tasteful and stylish recordings.