by Harriet Choice
Peggy Lee padded into the living room of her Lake Geneva Playboy Hotel suite in a red, white and green robe, white ballet-like slippers and layers of rhinestone earrings that she had worn during the show she had finished 15 minutes earlier.
“I’m not exhausted, I’m beat,” she says in that delicious, familiar voice that is summer-night warm with a little bit of tough. She plumps herself down in a chair and says with typical Peggy Lee determination, “I’m going to do this interview even if I have to pour orange juice on my head.”
You assure her that the interview can be postponed, knowing that she is doing two 90-minute shows a night.
But soon she has propped up her feet, invited you to join her for a bowl of Granola, and decided “This is fun. Let’s go on talking for a while.”
She loves the choice of subjects, the Chicago-area jazzmen who also happen to be the top studio musicians. But they cancel record dates, refuse lucrative commercial gigs, and rush to climb on the Peggy Lee bandwagon if she’s within a couple of hundred miles.
Spend two nights around her and you understand why Peggy Lee knows how to work and how to play. Her mercurial Gemini personality allows her to “take care of the business” so that her shows are near-perfect. And then, afterwards, when she’s given the audience everything they’ve wanted and more, she can hang out with the musicians. She is one of their kind. With them, she exudes the rare combination of cooing mother hen and “let’s play” little girl.
“I can’t explain the beautiful relationship I have with these people,” she says, recalling that it started when she met most of them in 1969 when they played with her at the Sherman House.
“We just liked each other. It’s just different with this group of musicians. It’s a genuine affection, and I respect them more than any group I know.”
That’s no small compliment coming from a girl who came up with the big bands in the early ‘40s. “I never had any formal music training, except for North Dakota glee club,” she says. “Everything I learned about music I learned from musicians.”
She interrupts herself and turns to Hugo Granata, the sound and light genius who takes care of the lighting for just about every person who’s ever done a club act. “Let’s try to take a little high off the violins tomorrow night,” she says.
This is an example of her drive to keep making the show a little better, a drive that is contagious and makes the band “work their – off for her. She’s one hell of a musician herself,” a trumpet player explains.
Peggy just shrugs and grins when she hears things like that. “You care about all the little details if you really love the music and you see that they are taken care of.
“You know,” she continues, in a tone that tells you who is boss, “I don’t just put a show together. I’m not just a finger-snapper. I’m a very serious businesswoman. I have a herd of cattle, I have a music publishing company, and right now I’m interested in a factory, a line of clothes, children’s books, and an option on a book for the production of a movie.”
The independent speech turns to giggles when you ask her about Women’s Lib. “My stock answer to that is ‘What have I got to complain about?’ Sure, I think a woman should get paid the same as a man if she can do the same job. But really, don’t you think all this liberation stuff could upset the balance of nature? I’m a tall Swede, capable of doing things. But men see there’s something fragile in me and they enjoy doing things for me.
“Like my guys,” she adds.