Peggy Lee


Variety and Its Virtues

by Benny Golson

Following is an excerpt from a longer interview conducted by Les Tompkins with arranger/conductor Benny Golson.

Yes, I’ve written for a wide variety of singers – each of them, and what they are trying to achieve, is a separate entity. Peggy Lee, say, doesn’t sound like Connie Francis, who doesn’t sound like Diana Ross – musically speaking, you would look at them as individual personalities. To come up creatively for any of them, no more is required, but if you’re thinking of something that brings you great inner delight to even be involved with it – no, they don’t all have that. I find that with the jazz-type singers, because that’s where my heart is, and I have an empathy with that kind of thing. As a professional person, working in the business, I can appreciate using creative talents for all of them – in a broad way. I always want to give my best… that goes for pop or jazz.

I have to be very adaptable. Connie Francis, for example, is the antithesis of the Peggy Lee-type performer – very straight, very commercial. I did a record session for her once – I’d never be able to remember the name of the song – and I decided: “Well, maybe I can change her just a little bit. I’ll use this chord here, that’s a little different from what she does.” And everything was going fine until the band played that chord. She didn’t even wait for the end of the tune – she said: “Hold it! Stop! What was that?” I bluffed it out: “Oh – I must have had a wrong note in there. Let me see…” She’d heard something that was completely foreign to her!

On the other hand – what a delight to work with Peggy Lee. I mean, she’s a real professional. I had an experience with her that I’ve never had with any other artist as the arranger/conductor of the music for a complete recording session (Make It with You on Capitol). Incidentally, at a time when people were all overdubbing the strings, the horns and everything, she insisted on doing the whole date live. The strings, the whole orchestra was there, and she was singing in the room. We did half of it in L.A. and half in New York. She wasn’t there for the mix, and when she heard it, it had been mixed so that the singing was very loud and you could hardly hear the arrangements – the vocal was just wiping the brass and everything. She said: “The voice is too loud.” They went back in and remixed it, and she went with ‘em this time – that’s the way it should be.

Of course, that was more money she’d have to pay off, for the remixing of the session, before she’d go into profit. I never got over that. I talked to her about it later; I said: “That was really something, Peggy, that you would do that.” Yes, Peggy is very musicianly; she writes good lyrics too.