Gary James' Interview With
Brenda Lee

She is credited with more double-sided hit singles than any other woman in the history of pop music. She has charted in more categories (pop, rock, easy listening, country, and R&B) than any other female in the history of recorded music. In retrospect of the entire decade of the 1960's, she is the top charted female act and fourth overall act, with Elvis, The Beatles and Ray Charles completing the Top Four. She ranks Number Nine in Most Consecutive Top Ten Hits of All Time, a category shared by both male and female artists. Newsweek magazine credited her as one of the five leading American artists that had survived the British Invasion of the early 60's.

Before she reached twenty, she had recorded a phenomenal 256 sides that included such classic million sellers as "I'm Sorry", "All Alone Am I", "Fool Number One", "Emotions", "Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree" and "That's All You Gotta Do". Her international record sales are in excess of 100 million. Her biggest selling single to date, "I'm Sorry" has sold more than 15 million units worldwide. "Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree", which is annually among the best selling Christmas records, had sold 8 million units by Christmas, 1994. She was the first of the Baby Boomers, and the youngest member ever to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame on September 24, 1997. She recently co-wrote a song with Michael McDonald (ex-Doobie Brothers singer) that is presently featured on Wynonna's new CD. By now you just gotta know we're talking about none other than "Miss Dynamite" herself - Miss Brenda Lee. It's a real honor to present an interview with one of pop music's greatest singers - Miss Brenda Lee.

Q - TNN recently ran an hour long documentary about your life that was quite interesting.

A - Well, thank you.

Q - Were you pleased with it?

A - I was very pleased with it. I thought the guy who put it together did a very good job. We spent quite a bit of time with him. I thought it turned out real well. Sometimes these things don't. I thought he did a great job.

Q - Now, how did that work, did you approach them or did they approach you?

A - They approached us.

Q - They probably don't approach all that many people do they?

A - Well, I was very thrilled to get to do it.

Q - You used to perform here in Syracuse in the late 1960's at a club called Three Rivers Inn. What, if anything, do you remember about those days?

A - Well, I enjoyed working there. It was a nice club. Right on the water. We always had a good time there. We were treated very well. We were very well received. We liked it there a lot.

Q - Do you remember the club owner, Dom Bruno?

A - I sure do. Dom was very nice to me. I enjoyed working with him.

Q - Did you ever get a chance to get out and see any of the surrounding area of Syracuse, or was it just stage, hotel, stage, hotel?

A - We got out. We went on the boat. We went on the water and had a good time. We had dinner at Dom's home. We enjoyed ourselves.

Q - When was the last time you were touring through Syracuse?

A - Probably several years ago.

Q - You were performing at Mel Tillis's Theatre in Branson.

A - I still am.

Q - How many shows do you do?

A - This season we will have done 376 shows. We do two shows a day, six days a week.

Q - That's quite a schedule!

A - Yes, it is.

Q - Are there any plans in the works to open your own theatre?

A - Not next year. That might come to be later on.

Q - When you're not performing in Branson, do you go on the road at all?

A - Yeah. We travel and do some stuff on the road. Next year I'm not going to be working all that much, but I am going to do some dates.

Q - You were on the same record label, Decca, as Patsy Cline and Buddy Holly. Did you ever meet either one of these people?

A - Patsy was one of my dearest friends.

Q - What kind of lady was she?

A - She was a great lady. A big heart. Just a good person.

Q - According to Brown and Friedrich's Encyclopedia of Rock 'N Roll, "When female vocalists of the golden age of Rock 'N Roll are discussed, Brenda Lee and Connie Francis will probably finish in a dead heat every time for the top slot." Does that make you happy, or do you wish you were the only one up there?

A - Oh, no. I'm happy to be a part of this business. I'm happy for everybody else that's been a part of it. So, that's a big compliment.

Q - I realize that you had been singing since you were three years of age, but at fifteen you were already a teenage idol. How did you adjust to that?

A - Well, you know, everybody asks me that. I really didn't see any problem of adjusting. I was just a singer having a good time, going to high school and having my friends. There wasn't a big adjustment for me at all. I just had good people around me. That was just who I was. I wasn't a different person when I was on or off stage. I was the same person.

Q - That must be why we never read stories about the heartache and heartbreak of fame and fortune and how it ruined Brenda Lee forever.

A - Yeah, I know. I was just lucky that I escaped all those things. But you know, like I said, I just had some really fine people around me that helped me. I was just a normal girl that was singing and having hit records. That was the only difference.

Q - Newsweek magazine credited you with being one of only five American acts that survived Beatlemania and the British Invasion.

A - Where was that from?

Q - Newsweek magazine. Did you know that?

A - No. Well, I knew I survived it. I didn't know it was in Newsweek. (Laughs.)

Q - Why do you think you survived?

A - Because I wasn't trying to be like them. I think that those of us that did survive were our own selves and had our own style of music. We weren't trying to be like The Beatles or do their kind of music. We were doing what we did. We weren't copying anybody.

Q - The Beatles opened for you in 1962 at the Star Club, in Hamburg, Germany. What were you doing playing the Star Club? Didn't that have a reputation as being a tough place to perform in?

A - Well, it was one of the most popular places over there to play. I luckily had a lot of success in Europe. I was playing all of the places over there at the time. That was just the place to play.

Q - Did you get to meet The Beatles?

A - Yeah.

Q - How did you find them to be?

A - They were very nice boys. Very down to earth. Very normal, no matter how they looked. Very, very talented, of course. I liked 'em a lot. John and I probably talked more than the rest of 'em.

Q - Did you look at these guys and realize they were going to be the next big thing in rock 'n' roll?

A - Yeah. I even took a tape back to my record company to see if I could get 'em a record deal. I believed in 'em so much. I thought they were so good.

Q - What did the record company say?

A - They passed on it.

Q - You performed at a Royal Command Performance in 1964. Were you on the same stage with The Beatles that night?

A - I don't think so, no. As I remember, it was Bob Newhart, myself, Lewis and Martin, Cilia Black, Cathy Kirby.

Q - How long did it take you to record "I'm Sorry"?

A - A very short time. We had about ten minutes left on the end of a session and we did it in less than ten minutes.

Q - Would that have been rare for something like that to happen?

A - Not back then it wasn't. It might be today.

Q - Did you feel that song was gonna be a hit?

A - Well. I didn't know. I always believed in the song. I thought the song was a hit record. I didn't know if it would be one by me. But, I thought the song would be a hit by somebody. I believed in the song a lot.

Q - Did you spend a lot of time in the studio recording albums?

A - No. It didn't take a lot of time at all. Everybody came prepared. Everybody knew what they were doing. Everybody was there. It was none of the overdubbing that is done today. All of the musicians were there. We did it all at the session.

Q - You've got a brand new double CD package out of all your greatest hits. You just recently went back into the studio and re-recorded everything, did you?

A - Right. Went back in with Owen Bradley, and got as many of the original musicians like Floyd Cramer, Boots Randolph, and Buddy Harmon, and Pete Wade, and as many of the original singers and the original arranger Bill McElhiney. So, we had a ball.

Q - And so Decca, which is no more, owns the original masters to that material?

A - Yeah, MCA today. MCA is what Decca was.

Q - And so they could also put out a double CD package of your original hits?

A - Well, yeah. The reason I did my CD is I can't get my masters back from MCA, and the reason I can't is because they sell so well. So, I had the rights by my contract to go in and re-record those and that's what I did.

Q - You knew Elvis.

A - Yeah.

Q - In fact, he liked your voice. What kind of a guy did you find Elvis to be?

A - Very, very nice. Very quiet. Very polite. I liked him a lot.

Q - What keeps you going? Do you like the singing? Do you like an audience?

A - Both. I love to sing. I love the contact with the audience. The only thing that gets to me now is the traveling. I don't like to travel that much. I've enjoyed this year where you're in one place. It's been hard. It's been a lot of work, but I've had a good time. And, it's been an adventure being away from home and living in a different place for almost a year. So, it's been nice.

Q - Where do you call home?

A - Nashville.

Q - Did you ever write any material for yourself?

A - No.

Q - Do you play an instrument?

A - I can play the piano some.

Q - Did you ever have any desire to write a song?

A - Well, I'm writing 'em now. I'm starting to write now. Back then I was just too busy to sit down and do anything like that.

Q - Do you find it's easier to do it today?

A - Yeah. I'm probably better at it today than I would've been when I was a lot younger.

Q - Maybe we'll see you in Syracuse again down the road.

A - Well. I hope so. I'd like to get back up there again. We'd love to come back up to that area. The folks have been so good to me there.

© Gary James. All rights reserved.

* Brenda Lee placed 29 singles on the Billboard Pop chart, plus many additional hits on the Country chart

Brenda Lee
Photo from Gary James' Press Kit Collection