Gary James' Interview With Toni Tennille of
The Captain and Tennille
As half of the husband and wife duo, Captain and Tennille, Toni Tennille catapulted into pop stardom by writing the multi-million selling hit songs, "Do That To Me One More Time" and "The Way I Want To Touch You".
Captain and Tennille landed on the pop charts 14 times in the 1970's. The duo starred in their own Captain and Tennille Variety Show on ABC Television as well as a series of highly rated television specials for the same network. Toni also hosted the syndicated Toni Tennille Variety Talk Show.
In the 80's Toni recorded two Big Band albums, "More Than You Know" and "All of Me", containing some of the most famous jazz standards ever written. Both albums were critically praised by Billboard, The Los Angeles Times, Cashbox, The Chicago Tribune, People, and US Magazine. As a Big Band singer, Toni has become one of the most popular and critically acclaimed symphony guest artists in the United States. She performs with 8 to 10 symphony orchestras a year including those of Cincinnati, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Dallas, and Baltimore. She is also a favorite guest artist of the United States Air Force Symphony Orchestra and Airmen of Note. Her newest release, "Tennille Sings Big Band", is a collection of upbeat swinging standards.
We spoke with Toni Tennille recently about a variety of topics including the Captain and Tennille, her solo success, and what the future holds.
Q - Toni, what's a typical day like for you these days? Is there a typical day?
A - Well, there really isn't a typical day. It depends on whether I'm on the road or whether I'm home. Daryl and I are on the road quite a bit right now. I'm going to be doing the national tour of Victor, Victoria. I'm going into rehearsals for that in August and will be on the road with that until June or July of 1999. So, Daryl and I are busily on the road doing Captain and Tennille until that comes to a halt. Actually, well do our last Captain and Tennille concert on the east coast July 11, in Atlantic City. Our last west coast performance will be at Harrah's at Lake Tahoe, the last week in June. That all goes on hiatus until I get through with Victor, Victoria. So, we're really busy. A typical day depends on whether I'm getting on an airplane or whether I've just come home full of jet-lag. My typical day at home after a tour is not very exciting. It's get up, do the morning chores, feed the dogs, feed the cats, take care of everything. Go to the dry cleaners. Go to the bank. Go to the supermarket. Cook dinner. I mean, that's the day. So, it's not very exciting. (Laughs) That's my life.
Q - You once told an interviewer that being on the road was not fun.
A - No it isn't.
Q - Has that changed at all for you?
A - No. It's even gotten worse. The performing part I love. The going to the airport and dealing with that and getting the bags, and going to the hotel where they never have it right. Even if you check the day before, they never have the rooms right when you get there. It's just typical.
Q - Where's your road manager?
A - Our road manager does everything that they possibly can. They check 12 hours before we arrive, and it's always not right. So, it's just that kind of frustration of being on the road. Daryl and I are exercisers. We live in the foothills of the High Sierras. So, every day when we're home, we're up in the hills for an hour with the dogs, hiking. And when you're on the road you can't do that. Some of the hotels nowadays do have gyms which is better than it used to be. We also watch what we eat and that's also hard to do when you're on the road. You're stuck with hotel food for the most part. It's just confining if you end up at a hotel, in a downtown area, where you're surrounded by nothing but downtown, and there's no place to hike. We're sort of open air people. (Laughs) So, it's not my favorite kind of life. And I say this as someone who's gonna be on the road for a year.
Q - Have you ever missed a gig?
A - I think over the 20 some odd years we've been touring, we've missed one and that was at the Garden State Arts Center in New Jersey, because of airlines and screw-ups. Occasionally, well end up at a concert where we've had no sleep because the flights were delayed and we'll end up getting a flight that gets us in just before the concert. That's hard. I always worry about that, because it's not fair to the audience. We always hope that they don't realize that we're that close to passing out from exhaustion. (Laughs)
Q - Would it be better if you had your own tour bus?
A - Oh, no. I'm not a bus person. The people that do travel by bus are the people where the bus is their home. They pretty much stay in the bus. Mostly country people do that. They're on the road a lot.
Q - How about renting a plane?
A - That's just not economically feasible. It may be fine for Billy Joel, but, it won't work for us.
Q - Are you recognized when you go out in public? Can you walk into a supermarket? Can you go into a gas station? Can you renew your driver's license?
A - Well, it's better than it used to be. When Daryl and I were on television with our show in the 70's, it was very difficult. It was very hard to just lead a normal life. I think when you're not on television every week, it's easier. A lot of times, people don't expect me to look like I look now, 'cause my hair is very short, particularly 'cause I'm getting ready for Victor, Victoria. They remember the little page boy hair-do I had 20 years ago. (Laughs) Thank God I don't have that anymore. I mean you've got to make some changes. If Daryl and I are together, chances are much better they'll figure it out. If I'm by myself, and I don't talk... the minute they hear my voice, they know it's me. I guess my voice is very recognizable. But, I can pretty much lead a normal life these days, but, now that depends. Daryl and I were doing a Captain and Tennille concert in Ohio. We had a sound check and we decided we would grab something to eat before the concert. We went to a local Olive Garden which Daryl likes 'cause he can get something vegetarian for himself. People knew that we were in town because it was all over the newspaper. So, as we sat there with our road manager, they began to come up out of the kitchen and various places wanting autographs. We ended up signing 15 autographs. But, that made it kind of difficult to have lunch.
Q - In the 70s, in L.A., could you venture out?
A - No. Couldn't go anywhere, because it was shown all over the country. In fact I remember Daryl and I had our first hiatus from the show and we said we got to get out of here so we can walk around like normal people. We decided we'd go to Canada. We flew up to Lake Louise. When we checked in, it was like all the heads were turning, oh there they are, there they are. What we didn't realize was the show was being aired in Canada. We went to the room and people were sitting outside the room waiting for us to walk out. I was in tears. I said I want to do something. I want to go for a walk. I want to go shopping. I want to do something normal. Daryl said we have our passports. Let's go to England. And that's what we did. We flew to England, got off the plane, and nobody knew who the heck we were, except American tourists. So, that was real pleasant. We enjoyed that. (Laughs)
Q - You're originally from Montgomery, Alabama. Had your family not moved west to L.A., would you be in show biz today?
A - You know, that's really hard to say. The genes are in there. My father sang with Bob Crosby's Band. He was a Big Band singer. My mother was a pioneer in television. She had one of the first talk type television shows when I was growing up in Alabama on the ABC station there. I'm pretty sure I might've done something in show business but whether it would've been national I don't know. I might've been the talk show host in Montgomery, Alabama. Who knows what would've happened from there.
Q - How difficult was it for you and Daryl to make a go of it in L.A. in the early years? Was it hard to get gigs?
A - When we started out, we didn't get anything. The main thing I remember was I had to help Daryl haul in all the equipment. Nowadays the synthesizers and the sampling keyboards that Daryl plays, all the sounds he needs are in one keyboard. But, in those days he had to have several keyboards. I used to help haul all of that stuff in, and the speakers and everything. I used to say 'Daryl if we ever make it, the first thing I'm going to do is hire a roadie.' (Laughs) But, we settled into a club called The Smoke House in the San Fernando Valley. We were there for two years. We still have people in the audience all over the country who said that they saw us there. We made a decent wage. You know, we got by. We were able to have a fairly decent home. It certainly wasn't a huge amount of money, but, we were able to make a living.
Q - In 1976, you performed here in Syracuse at the New York State Fair.
A - Oh sure, yeah.
Q - For a record crowd at the time of 14,500 people.
A - (Laughs) I didn't even realize that.
Q - When you're playing to crowds like that, do you think it will go on forever, or are you aware you could be back in a club in six months?
A - Daryl and I were always very, very aware of the business and how quickly it can come and go. We were a little more mature when we had our first hit than most artists are. Daryl's family is a big show business family. His father was a famous symphony conductor and Academy Award winning film scorer. He grew up with celebrities. Danny Thomas was his godfather. Nat King Cole, Gordon McRae. All the famous people would come over to his house. He knew the business. He knew the fickleness of it. In my small way, my regional way, in Alabama, I knew too. So, we were always very aware of what could happen and so we were very careful with our money, for example. We never did stupid things with it. We invested and were careful.
Q - You were never ripped off by your record company or management?
A - Well, you always get ripped off to a certain degree. There's what we call creative accounting. But, we were very fortunate in our career.
Q - We know that Daryl played keyboards in Captain and Tennille, but, what else did he contribute to the success of the act?
A - Well, he produced and arranged every one of our hits. I didn't have anything to do with that. We'd choose the song, and he'd do it all. All the unique sound of "Love Will Keep Us Together" was his, so that's his contribution, and it's a huge one.
Q - "Love Will Keep Us Together" sounds so spontaneous, and filled with so much energy. It sounds like you put your heart and soul into it, and you believe every word you're singing. How many takes did you do on that song?
A - I'm a one take person. I'll get it within one or two takes. And in the new CD, same thing. There's a school of thought about recording that came from Karen and Richard Carpenter, and Richard Carpenter in particular as a producer. And, this is a valid school of thought. Richard would have Karen sing over and over again and he would punch in until he got exactly the way he wanted it - one word, or one note. Consequently all of their recordings are perfection...absolute perfection. You cannot hear a flaw anywhere. But, my philosophy is I want the performance. I want it to be all of one, all in one. I don't care if there's a little glitch here or a little attack of a note that's not quite perfect. If the emotion is there, if the feeling is there, that's what I go for. Now both are equally valid. It's just a style that you choose. Daryl has always understood that I'm a performance person. When I go out to do a concert, I don't get to do two or three takes. I go out there and that's it. I believe a recording should be the same. That's just my philosophy.
Q - I'm curious why you chose to record a CD of romantic ballad standards. Are there no good pop songs out there or are you just tired of pop music?
A - A lot of us feel, and I'm talking about people like Linda Ronstadt, Melissa Manchester, and Maureen McGovern and all of us who are 70's singers, feel that we still have one foot in those great old standards. Most of us were raised listening to that kind of music as well. I worked my way through Auburn University, my two years there, singing with a Big Band as my father had before me. My father was a Big Band singer and he raised me on this music. Actually, since 1984, when I released my first album of standards, I have had a separate career singing the great singers with symphony orchestras and Big Bands. I usually do 8 to 10 symphonies a year, where I sing nothing but the standards. This is the classic great music. Most of my songs in the standards category fall from the 1920's through about the early 1950's. In these days, lyric writing was an art. It was an art and a craft. I'm the girl who wrote "Do That To Me One More Time". There couldn't be anything simpler than that. But, by the same token, I can sing a Rodgers - Hart tune with a quadruple rhyme in it. 'The sleepless nights, the daily fights, the quick toboggan when you reach the heights, I miss the kisses and I miss the bites, I wish I were in love again.' They don't write 'em like that any more. So, we have to go back and sing the great ones. Also, I'm speaking for all of us singers that do this, we don't want the world to forget these songs. They're great. They're classic. They're almost like opera is today, to some people.
Q - And who is listening to your CD?
A - Lots of people. There's an audience. It may not be the same audience that's gonna buy Mariah Carey, but there's a big enough audience for me.