May 06 2008

Interview with Jody Miller

Published by pointnorth at 12:42 pm under Interviews

Last Summer we had the pleasure of seeing Jody Miller perform and, while familiar with her CDs, were “blown away” to use an expression not heard much in recent years. We knew immediately that this great gospel singer was someone we needed to interview for Point North † Tidings. We called her at her home in Blanchard, Oklahoma.

Ed.: You mentioned in your bio that at age six you were in California, but where were you originally from?

Jody: Well, my family was from here around Blanchard, Oklahoma. I was born in Phoenix. Then Daddy and Mother came back to their home which was Blanchard, Oklahoma. They were raised around here. We went out to California twice. They went the first time when I was born in Phoenix. We went the second time when I was about three.

Ed.: You’ve said your whole family was musical, I gather this was a major influence on you.

Jody: Yes, I think so. My dad was a fiddle player and my mother was a real good blues singer. My siblings, my sisters were singers and were real good. They liked to sing like anyone would when they’re washing dishes or something.

Ed.: You were a Mario Lanza fan and you liked classical music. That is very evident in your singing. Did you have classical training?

Jody: I wanted to, but my dad couldn’t afford it. We just didn’t go there.

Ed.: In your bio you relate classical music to gospel. Would you like to explain that?

Jody: I was asked this morning how long I could hold a note and I told her “pretty long”. One thing I learned about gospel singers is the last note on their songs was very important. They hold it as long as they can. This is true of classical music. I meant that it was pretty formal and needed to be sung correctly. Like The National Anthem. It should be sung correctly. It shouldn’t be jazzed up or done with notes going here and there and the other. It’s why they call it an anthem. It’s supposed to be sung like an anthem. It’s to be sung straight, not jazzy or bluesy or anything like that. Both gospel and classical music need to be sung straight.

Ed.: What were your first stage appearances?

Jody: When I was six years old my mommy and daddy got me into some bars around Oakland, California. They had singing contests. One time we had to sneak out the back because the cops were coming in the front door. The thing is they knew I could sing at a very early age. Powerfully sing. They wanted me to have a chance. They were poor, and the only thing they could think of was how far we could get with a contest, much like American Idol. One time I got to sing at the Oakland Auditorium and I was six years old and I came in second. I sang a Nat King Cole song, Mona Lisa, which was weird. Here I was a little six-year-old girl singing a love song. It would be like a six year old singing Stand By Your Man. It didn’t get me anywhere other than my mother and daddy were proud of me.

Ed.: When did you get into recording?

Jody : I was singing folk music around Oklahoma, after I got out of high school. I had a good job as a secretary and would sing as much as I could, folk songs. I was staying at the YWCA and the library was right down the street in Oklahoma City. I would go on my free time to the library to research the folk songs. You have to have the story, you just can’t sing it and not be able to tell people why the songs came about. They do have good stories and some were written in the 1700’s. I learned about 200 songs complete with stories so I would sing at coffee houses. They were real popular in the early ‘60s all over America. I was pretty hot in that I was singing folk music. After I had been married about six months, my husband and I went to LA to try to get in the record business. I did get in with Capitol Records because I was a folk artist and that music was so hot. My first recordings were at Capitol Records.

.Ed.: You know, I have to comment that there is such a melodious sound in your speaking voice that one can hear the music. A lot like a friend of ours, Connie Haines.

Jody: I am very familiar with her and I have been also compared with Doris Day. It may be just a pop singer personality or something.

Ed.: You also mention that you enjoy working with people with great attitudes. Could you give some examples of that?

Jody: That’s funny, but the first thing I think of is those who didn’t have good attitudes. It would be stronger for me to comment about people who don’t have a good attitude. I think people who don’t have a good attitude have the Devil as a ruler. The Devil of the world is a bad attitude. It upsets everything, puts everything out of kilter. I’ve had to work with two or three people who couldn’t see the glass half full. I just don’t understand, especially in show business, how somebody cannot have hope and have happiness. These are the qualities needed to be in show business. That alone should make anybody deliriously happy. if they can act or sing or whatever.

Ed.: You mention in your bio you had a preference for the great songs of the fifties, but you were classed as “country”.

Jody: Yes. I love pop music. Early pop music, J. P. Morgan, Nat King Cole, Doris Day, Connie Haines and people like that. Standard songs that were beautiful. There was a wonderful producer at Columbia Records who would say every once in a while, “It doesn’t take a hammer to kill a fly”. Exactly what pop music did for me. Those people laid on those notes just beautifully and sang the
lyric like it was supposed to be.

Ed.: How did your Grammy winning Queen of the House come about?

Jody: When I recorded Queen of the House I had been in Europe about two or three months. I came back and they wanted me to record it. I thought it was a jazz number. I wondered why they didn’t given it to Peggy Lee. She was a jazz singer for Capitol Records, but she wrote her own music. I thought she won’t cut that as she didn’t write it. Usually that’s the way it works with writers. I cut it, and I had been doing pop music and it went first on the jazz station in LA. Then it went pop and then it crossed over to country. It was country that gave me the Grammy. I won the Grammy for being a country performer. That thrust me into the country music business. I didn’t care too much for country at that time. It didn’t lay on my ear all that well, though I was brought up hearing country music with my daddy playing the fiddle. My sister listened to Bob Wells records all the time. Bob Wells was a pop guy, he really was, He might have played the fiddle, but he had horns in his orchestra. I didn’t like Jimmy Rogers or Hank Williams because I didn’t like the whining sound. When I was put in country music, I decided to do it my way. Half pop and half country. On both sides of the fence, but we sold some records.

Ed.: In the performance we saw, we loved your rendition of The American Trilogy. People often think of Elvis Presley in regard to this, however we felt you outdid everyone who had ever performed it. I recently played the DVD we made of you singing that number for an independent living center. It was in a Bible class. These were people who know and love gospel. They agreed that your version is the best.

Jody: What happened is the Mickey Newbury, the writer, put it together. He recorded it in the early sixties. I was a big fan of Mickey’s. My husband was a race horse trainer, and we were at a track in Northern New Mexico. I played the Trilogy over and over in a motel room and I learned to sing it very good. With the hit Queen of the House, I would do that number in my act when I made appearances. It wasn’t until I got to Montgomery, Alabama that the house came down. I was doing it before Elvis.

Ed.: What role or credit do you give your religious faith for your career?

Jody: I give my Lord everything, all the credit for me. He knew what I was going to do before I was even born. That settled that. I have a lot of faith, I know He runs my life. He is the one who guides me in my life. I give Him all the credit for everything. In my Christian music I pray about it constantly. It is not where I want it to be. I want my Christian music to be prevalent, but the Lord sees other roles for me. I would like to be more known as a Christian singer.

Ed.: You are in Branson, Missouri two weeks out of each month at a show titled God and Country. Would you describe that?

Jody: The show itself is called The Grand Ladies of Country Music. The theater is called The God and Country Theater, because the people who own the theater are Christians. They love our country and they want to combine their love of country with Christian music. The show I’m with involves Wanda Jackson, Norma Jean, Jean Shepherd, Leona Williams and Ava Barber from the Lawrence Welk Show. There are six of us and we rotate, three of us on stage at one time and we each do our hits. In the second part of the show we do a tribute to the great ladies of country music who had wonderful careers like Kitty Wells and Tammy Wynette. Then we do gospel music and one patriotic song. Our market is people our age. They have 65 theaters in Branson so there is enough music for everybody.

Ed.: Are you working on anything in particular now? Like your dream of a pop album?

Jody: Not anything for an album now, but I have it all ready. I do not have any recording sessions planned. I would sure like to do that. I recently did a Centennial show for one of the towns in Oklahoma. Also, recently, I did an international show for a group of international folks who came in. I do shows like the Western Film Fair when I have the time and I am available for shows that want gospel music.

You may be sure Ye Olde Editor talked about media events we have had in the past and about her as a possible guest, should she be available.. Also, for our readers, there are many CDs available by Jody Miller for purchase. Two in particular may be directly secured from Amazon. Com that we want to mention here. ANTHOLOGY is a combination of pop, country and gospel with many of Jody’s best known numbers. The second one is HIGHER which is gospel. Amazon lists the latter as HIGHER LOVE.

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