Gary James' Interview With
Dodie Stevens

She was singing at four, on television when she was seven and at thirteen had a number one hit record on the charts - "Pink Shoe Laces".

She appeared on Dick Clark's American Bandstand and starred with Fabian in his very first film - Hound Dog Man. She toured with all of the teen idols of the late 50s including Fabian, Frankie Avalon, Paul Anka and Bobby Rydell.

She is Geraldine Ann Pasquale, better known as Dodie Stevens.

Dodie at one point was part of Sergio Mendes and Brazil '77. She sang background vocals for Raquel Welch, Loretta Lynn, Boz Scaggs, Harry Belafonte and Frankie Avalon. She spent twelve years with Mac Davis as a singer / dancer in his Las Vegas, Lake Tahoe shows, as well as on his cross country concert tours. Dodie has appeared on TV specials for NBC and been a part of the Sprint and Dole Pineapple commercials.

Is there anything Dodie Stevens can't do or hasn't done? Dodie talked with us about her career to date.

Q - Dodie, you came up at a time when the music business was more innocent than it is today. But, it was a good time to be a Pop singer, wasn't it?

A - It was a good time. It was a much more innocent time than in today's kind of music that we've got going on. Being a Pop singer in the late 50s, early 60s was for someone, especially my age, thirteen, pretty extraordinary. I remember as a kid I would rush home from school to turn on American Bandstand and watch all my favorite dancers and the stars of the time doing their hit record. So, when I was able to be on American Bandstandmyself, it was quite a thrill to say the very least.

Q - I too would rush home from school to watch American Bandstand. I couldn't get enough of it. I was trying to figure out what it all meant.

A - To be on it wasn't quite believable at the time. Being able to see him (Dick Clark) in person. I remember he was just kind of as nice as he appeared to be on the show. Just a nice guy.

Q - I consulted Brown and Friedrich's Encyclopedia Of Rock 'n' Roll about you. Here's what they had to say about you: "She cut two great albums for Dot, 'Pink Shoelaces' and 'Over The Rainbow' and showed great promise as an up and coming Pop vocalist on both, but it never happened. One hell of a waste of talent." Why wasn't Dot able to promote your albums?

A - Well, this is my take on it and first of all there was a third album that was released on Dot that I guess just slipped by them. It was entitled "Dodie Stevens". That was my first album with Dot. It was all standards from the 40s that I sang. My second album was "Over The Rainbow", which was all Judy Garland songs, then "Pink Shoelaces", which was my last album with them. It had "Pink Shoelaces" on it and some other songs. I think "Rockin' Robin" was one of 'em. You know, other songs from the 50s and 60s that were popular. So the reason I feel that Dot didn't quite know how to promote me or market me was the fact that when they signed me to their label, I recorded "Pink Shoelaces" on Crystalette Records, which was an independent label in L.A. I went over to Dot in '59. Signed with the label because they had discovered that I had so much more of a voice, a mature, trained voice which "Pink Shoelaces" really didn't capture. But, once they found out I could sing as well as I did, they wanted to expose that. That's what they wanted to get out to the public. I think that's what hurt me the most. Here they were trying to promote this teenager, thirteen years old, who everybody knew as the recording artist of "Pink Shoelaces", which was a novelty song. I think the public wanted to hear more of that. I don't think it impressed them one way or the other, that I could sing a Judy Garland song or a beautiful ballad from the 40s. They wanted to hear more of "Pink Shoelaces", that kind of thing. If it was me, if I was marketing me at the time I would've immediately put out an album with "Pink Shoelaces" on it with other songs that were from that era. I think it would've been much more accepted from the public as opposed to waiting three albums later to put out an album that had "Pink Shoelaces" on it and other songs that I think my audience wanted to hear. So, they kept putting out, if it wasn't an album that had songs that showed my talent, it was a 45 that was a beautiful ballad, something that showed I had a really good voice. The record company was impressed with that. The fans didn't give a damn. I think that's where things went wrong very early on with Dot Records.

Q - How did life change for you when you had that hit record?

A - I couldn't go anywhere. The places that I liked to frequent; there was this one boulevard in my home town that I would frequent with my sister on weekends and do our girl shopping, great shoe stores and other little shops that had female apparel and we would do our shopping and hanging out with girlfriends on weekends, and I couldn't do that anymore without being stopped on the street or in the store without being asked for an autograph, or if not asking for an autograph, being stared at. So, that kind of changed. I couldn't go anywhere where I wasn't recognized by quite a few people. I was also what was called a Pom-Pom girl at the time. It was like a cheer-leader in my high school. There were always whispers when I would go to the games on Friday nights and do my cheers with all the other girls that were a part of the Pep team. There were always people from the visiting team that would be pointing at me, talking about me...whispers. For me, I didn't know if it was favorable or putting me down in some way. I remember in my high school there were people that were jealous of me and there were other students who be-friended me, or friends that I had prior to "Pink Shoelaces" that continued to be my friends. There were even teachers, some were very supportive of what was doing at the time. If I had to take off from school to do a tour to promote a record or whatever, some of the teachers were very helpful and supportive and allowed me to take my work on the road with me, or I could make it up when I came back. There were other teachers that just gave me an F. If you can't be here, that's just too bad.

Q - You should have been in a private school.

A - I had that option, but my parents did not want me to have the kind of life other than what any other normal teenagers had, not taking into consideration that I wasn't a normal teenager anymore. They wanted to keep me very grounded and allow me to do all the things that other kids were doing at the time, of my age. So, going into a private school which they certainly had at the time, I remember there was one called Hollywood Professional and a lot of the child stars and teenage stars went to that school, in Hollywood. My parents would not have any of that. They wanted me to be in public school and do all the things that everybody else did. It wasn't easy. I stayed in school for 3 1/2 years in high school and in my junior year I just stopped it. I quit and had plans of going back to finish, but I never did. By that time I was kind of done with the whole school thing. So much ridicule and jealousy. It was very difficult. I remember it being a very different time.

Q - Did you ever get your G.E.D.?

A - No, I didn't. I'm sorry to say I am a drop out. But, for me at that time, it was OK because music was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life and I did do it for decades to follow. It was just what I did. I made a good living at it and I had a wonderful time. It was very fulfilling for me. So, I felt I didn't have to go back to school.

Q - Your parents' attitude was admirable.

A - It was.

Q - But not practical.

A - It truly was not.

Q - Where did this name Dodie come from? Your real name is Geraldine isn't it?

A - Yes. It's Geraldine Pasquale. At that time it was just what you did. You changed your name unless you happened to be born with a very simple, catchy name that everybody could remember. There were very few like Annette Funicello. But even with Annette, very early on she was just known as Annette. But, everybody else, whether they were an actor or singer, you changed your name. I think because of my age, 13, when Pink Shoelaces came out, just the whole name Geraldine Pasquale on a 45 would almost take up the whole label. Crystalette Records wanted it to be something cute, something that would match my age and something very memorable. The president of Crystalette Records and the mayor of Hollywood, Johnny Grant were having drinks one night, talking about me and Carl Burns, who's the President of the company, said he had just signed me to the label and needed to come up with a really cute name. So, they were kicking around some names. Between the two of them they came up with Dodie Stevens.

Q - According to Norman Nite, author of Rock On, from 1951 to 1959 you did USO shows and performed at Army and Navy hospitals. Is that true?

A - Yes, that absolutely correct. That's very accurate information. I started voice lessons at the age of five and I continued until I was fifteen. My vocal coach, and as I recall, I had three, from the age of five up 'til about eight, nine, somewhere around there. At that time I had a vocal coach, her name was Helen Bishop, in the Hollywood area. She kind of took me under her wing. She had a few students, but in her mind, she just wanted to devote her time to me. I guess she felt I was the most talented of the students she had. So, she would get the auditions for, like there was some local TV shows I did in L.A. or she would have me do some of those USO shows, just volunteering my time and my talent. I did some City Of Hope benefits that she and her husband were involved in. I sang in hospitals, wherever she felt it was important that I just kept singing and singing in front of audiences just to gain the experience. I never as I recall had any stage fright. So, it wasn't as if I had to do it for my kind of practical reason to get me used to singing in front of an audience. The more the merrier as far as I was concerned. I loved the reaction that I always got. I think because I was trained at such an early age, as I was growing up and my voice was changing as it does, it just matured so quickly. My training afforded me the ability to sing songs that a seven or eight or nine year old would never sing. They wouldn't be able to sing a Judy Garland song for instance and pull it off. So, I really do give a lot of credit to my career to my vocal coach.

Q - Now, you toured with Fabian, Frankie Avalon, Paul Anka and Bobby Rydell. This was in the 50s?

A - Oh, yes. This probably '59, '60, '61.

Q - Was this part of a Dick Clark Tour?

A - No. I never did any of Dick's Cavalcade Of Stars, the bus tours. It was just a one-nighter usually. A lot of football stadiums. I remember thinking at the time there really wasn't a need for any of us to sing, because the screaming was so loud, especially when Fabian got on the stage or Frankie Avalon or any of those teen idols at that time. Most of the audience was made up of females. There was just screams. You didn't even hear them sing. When I got up on stage there was some screaming but not as much because it was largely a female audience and I wasn't Fabian, Frankie Avalon or Bobby Rydell.

Q - But a nice position for a girl to be in.

A - Yeah, absolutely. Then when I got to make my film debut with Fabian and play his girlfriend in the film, well, that was a dream come true. I had such a crush as every other teenage girl did on Fabian.

Q - You spent one year with Sergio Mendes and Brazil '77?

A - Yes.

Q - What was that like?

A - That was one of the best times of my career. It was the highlight of my career. There were some drawbacks, but overall it was one of the greatest experiences in my musical career. I was with him from 1972 to 1973. I recorded three albums with him, one of them for some reason I can't remember the title. The other two have stayed with me; "Primal Roots" and "Live At The Greek". I loved the music. It was such a difference in any kind of music that I had been singing up until that point.

Q - After that stint with Sergio Mendes, you became a background singer. Wasn't that a come-down for you?

A - Well, let me tell you how that came about and how I felt about that: doing background for me was a way to be able to continue singing, doing what I love to do and not having all the pressure that a star has, all the demands that are made on somebody who is in the spotlight. It wasn't anything that I consciously thought about. It was offered to me. In fact I was singing with Sergio and it was one of my last shows at Caesar's Palace in Vegas and the music conductor for the orchestra that was backing us up had said to me that he was going to be producing and conducting for Raquel Welch. She was making her nightclub debut at the Hilton in Vegas and was I interested in doing background for her. I was because it was one of my last performances with Sergio. Sergio was going to move everybody to Brazil and I did not want to make that move. So, I knew I was going to be leaving the group very shortly. So, I go, yeah, sure. I'll do that. I found in accepting that gig that it was a lot of fun. When the show was over, I could go back to my room or I could hang out with the other background singers or the guys in the band. My time was my own. There was Raquel having to do interviews, sign autographs, do what the star does. I went, this is very cool. I like this very much. My next background gig I can't remember exactly who it was, but it was also in Vegas. It might have been Johnny Tillotson. I did background for Johnny for two years. And that just came about. Background singing is a very small circle of singers. It's a word of mouth thing. If you do well in one situation, then somebody is gonna talk to somebody about you. You get a phone call and you're on to the next. So, it just kind of happened. It wasn't anything that I was seeking. It evolved the way it did. It was something very enjoyable. It just took all the heat off of being a singer. And, I still got to do what I loved to do; get up there on stage and then have my own life and my privacy. I continued doing that for the next twenty something years.

Q - You also worked for Mac Davis as a singer and dancer for twelve years?

A - Yes. That was my most favorite background gig. There were six of us, three female singer / dancers and there were only two male dancers. Then I got to be Mac's partner whenever we had my couples dancing. When "Saturday Night Fever" came out and disco was huge, well, one of our production numbers was a disco medley and so I got to be Mac's partner. It was one of those situations where you didn't just have to stand and sway back and forth and sing oohs and aahs, which was fine for me to do that, but in this situation with Mac, we had to be equally as good of a dancer as we were a singer. He encouraged us and his production company to just step out there and shine. We weren't held back in any way. The better we could be, the much better it made Mac look and sound. So, I stayed with him for twelve years and it was an exclusive contract with him. It was fabulous. It was wonderful. I traveled all over the world. So, it was great. It was a great twelve years. Then Mac decided he wanted to retire very early on. He was forty something I think when he decided he wanted to retire.

Q - Retire from touring and recording?

A - Yes.

Q - That's probably why we don't hear very much from him any more.

A - That's absolutely right. He wanted to play golf and continue writing music. Mac was a brilliant songwriter and wrote many of Elvis' hits. He wanted to continue writing, but he didn't want the demands of being on the road and getting up in front of an audience. He re-married and wanted to start a family. When he was married earlier on to, I believe Sara and was on the road so much that he didn't really get a chance to be the kind of dad that he could have been or wanted to be. So, that was also another reason why he decided to retire. Now, I hear he's gotten back into doing a couple of gigs. He had two sons. One is in college and the other one is preparing (for college). So, Mac is back! That's great 'cause he was so good.

Q - You put a show together called "Bop". What was that all about? I see you took that show to Lake Tahoe and Reno.

A - Actually it was comprised of several of my fellow background singers with Mac Davis and his band. When he retired, we were all looking for a gig. I went, well, I've got this idea. I decided to put together a 50s and 60s revue because we were all dancers and good singers and it was some of the best musicians. I thought, well we'll just go from that and put this show together and see where it takes us. It was once again, one of the highlights of my career. We didn't work much more than a year or two into it. Because it was a ten piece group it was hard to book a show of that many people and to make any kind of decent income. But we had a great time doing it. We did some great gigs in Tahoe and Reno.

Q - Your daughter is a singer. Do you like that?

A - I love it. To sing with your daughter, a son, a family member, or friend is a hit. Every time I'm on stage with her and I look over and we're singing together or she's singing a verse on her own and there's something that comes out as far as me being a mother and pride...this is my daughter! Isn't she good? Isn't she wonderful? To harmonize with her is just a blessing and we've been singing together now for a little over fifteen years. Whenever I do any of my gigs, most of which are "oldies" gigs, Stephanie (Dodie's daughter) is always part of the show. They hire her as well.

Q - You put a southern rock group together that included your daughter. How much success did that group enjoy?

A - Unfortunately, that did not have the success. I still question why. In fact, Stephanie, my daughter and I were talking about it just yesterday. We wrote all of our originals. I think in retrospect, every time we would try to pitch the group, try to get a record deal, send a demo to a record label, we were always compared to The Judds. I mean, that was quite a compliment, but at the same time I think it stood in our way, because record companies would say there's already The Judds, there's already a mother - daughter group or duo. It worked against us because of that. And, we were nothing like The Judds. If you saw our act and saw a set that The Judds did, it was always Wynonna who did all the lead singing and "Mama" Judd, Naomi was always singing background. Wynonna was in the spotlight more than Mama was and Mama wanted it that way, 'cause she didn't feel she was the kind of talent her daughter was. She could sing good harmonies, but as for singing the lead, it was Wynonna all the way. With Stephanie and me, it was equal. It was never just one doing background. We always shared our choruses together and did harmony, but we always did the lead in verse. We'd switch off verses. So, it was very much equal in that sense. So we weren't like The Judds. We stayed together for about four or five years and did a lot of gigs around town and kept trying to get that record deal and just didn't get it.

Q - You teach singing and stage performance at your studio in San Diego county. Can you actually teach someone to sing?

A - Yes. If somebody can carry a tune, if somebody can match notes, who isn't considered tone deaf, they can absolutely be taught how to sing. The voice is an instrument you pick up and play. It's just a matter of learning techniques, fundamentals, just basics. Then you apply those basics depending on how long you stay with it. You learn how to use your voice the way you would any other instrument. You can sing any style of music whether it be Country or Pop or Rock 'n' Roll or R&B, even show tunes. You can sing anything you want if you learn the basics and it can only be done through vocal exercises and breathing exercises. If somebody comes to me that is gifted, that's been born with the gift to sing, then there's still a lot to learn. I was considered a child prodigy because I could sing very well at an extremely young age, but in going into training at the age of five and continuing with that training, I learned how to sing properly. I wasn't yelling. I wasn't screaming. I wasn't straining. I wasn't damaging my vocal chords by improper use. So, it's equally important whether you're gifted or whether you just like to sing and you can carry a tune, but you don't have any kind of special voice.

© Gary James. All rights reserved.