Music, News & Commentary

Three minutes and four seconds with Helen Reddy

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Helen Reddy’s famous 1971 pop-feminist anthem I Am Woman takes three minutes and four seconds to perform, which is roughly the same time it takes to interview her.

Reddy was on a phone in the back of a car in Sydney this morning, having been whisked straight from the ABC to another media appointment, and Daily Review was in Melbourne prepared for a 10-minute allocation with Australia’s first Grammy winner.
The 73-year-old Reddy, whose fame was about as big as it gets in the 1970s, is back on the road again after more than a decade working as hypnotherapist, motivational speaker and apparently, psychic. She retired in 2002 but after singing a duet with her half-sister Toni Lamond at a birthday party, Reddy decided “the girl still has it”.
Her capital city tour of Australia is kicking off in Melbourne this weekend and is billed as a “rare opportunity to hear I Am Woman, Angie Baby and Delta Dawn performed live by Helen Reddy herself”’.
If only I’d listened to Fran Kelly interview Reddy when Reddy said the reason she got out of showbiz back then was: “I was so sick of singing those pop songs over and over again.”
When Kelly asked Reddy how she would greet audience expectations of hearing them again this time round, Reddy responded: “They’ll get ’em. I put ’em in a medley.”
So maybe Reddy wasn’t in the best frame of mind when I politely began our conversation by warning her that I was going to ask her about the past.
I believe the noise I heard was a groan.
I asked her about the time she was invited to President Gerald Ford’s White House. It must have been an eye-opener?
“I don’t remember,” she said, the silence mercifully being filled by the sounds of Sydney traffic whistling by. “It was a long time ago,” she eventually volunteered.
Had this entertainer been briefed for her media interviews by an attorney advising her to admit nothing?
Reddy visited the White House when First Lady Betty Ford – a former dancer now described as the Lindsay Lohan of her day – was in charge of the state dinners. Betty did the hustle with visiting prime ministers and danced on table tops while guests – including Reddy’s then-husband and manager, Jeff Wald – did lines of coke in the White House bathroom.
Reddy has been described as quite “tight” with the Fords. Were they good friends?
“What? Oh, yeah. They were friends.” I thought I heard a beep as Reddy’s e-tag crossed the Harbour Bridge. “They’ve both been gone a long time.”
Reddy reluctantly admitted she had visited the White House “a coupla times”.
My notes for our interview told me that on one of these occasions Reddy performed a duet with Carol Burnett after a state dinner for Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin on January 27, 1976. Among the 100 or so guests were vice-president Nelson Rockefeller, the Kissingers, Ariel Sharon, Alan Greenspan, Calvin Klein, Danny Kaye and a professional ice-skater called Jo Starbuck. Reddy and Burnett sang between 11.08 and 11.31pm that evening. Does she remember what she and Burnett sang?
Does she remember what she wore?
“What?” Was that the honk of a ferry I heard pulling into Milsons Point? “I don’t understand your question.”
Surely it must be been exciting for Reddy to find herself not only rubbing shoulders with the leaders of the military-industrial complex (not to mention Calvin Klein before he thought of the Y-front thing) but also at the centre of their attention?
“I grew up around famous people. My parents were in showbiz,” she said. (Reddy’s parents performed on the Australian vaudeville circuit, and Reddy moved to the US in 1966 after winning a prize on the TV show Bandstand.)
Sure, but the White House?
“It’s just a house.”
Aaanyway. Reddy must have met so many people in her illustrious career that her understanding of human nature would have been useful when she moved from showbiz into hypnotising clients?
“No,’’ she snapped. “They are two totally different things.”
Reddy has dual citizenship. Does she feel more American or Australian?
“I don’t know.” Silence. “People are the same all over the world.”
I thought I heard a car accident happening.
You can hear Reddy sing her three greatest hits in one medley and other songs on her Helen Reddy in Concert tour.

[box]Helen Reddy is touring around Australia in April this year. More information about the tour is available at[/box]

37 responses to “Three minutes and four seconds with Helen Reddy

  1. It seems de rigeur to try to “set up” older entertainers and try to make them squirm. Undeniable fact is she was a very successful singer in a different era.
    Well done Ray, you must be proud.

    1. Hi Peter,
      Thanks for your comment. I did not want to set up Reddy or make her squirm. I am an admirer of her achievements and wanted to ask about them. The reality is Reddy’s glorious past is what is most interesting about her (public persona at least), and her current tour is marketed on her ’70s success. I told her before I asked my questions that I was going to ask about the past because I was interested in her association with the Fords and had gone to the Presidential archives for details about her White House appearances. Her answers were gruff and curt. If you listen to the radio interviews she did yesterday you will hear how gruff and curt. Please remember that the widespread media attention she has had this week is as the result of her employment of a publicist to help sell tickets to her show. The publicists have done a good job and from what I have heard and read the journalists have done their jobs by preparing their interviews and showing her courtesy. I do not think this was returned. Ray

      1. You should try interviewing Suzi Quatro – “that’s in my bio” was her most common reply to my questions.

  2. The Helen Reddy whom I knew very well and for very many years was intelligent, quick-witted, very funny and an entertaining conversationalist. She’s never had a fair go from the Australian press, particularly after she became a US citizen (I remember the scorn and criticisms very well).
    If I were she I’d prefer to not talk the Australian press, too. Likely, the PR people made her do it! Judging from your article I’d say that her instincts – if that’s what it was – were right!

    1. Yes, Yes Aphra and Peter Russo – isn’t the odd thing here that a person such as Helen doesn’t need to do the PR her people tell her she should do. I reckon if she chose to do so then there is an onus to give it a fair go, old or young – same.

    2. You know what Ray….do your homework, treat artists with respect instead of asking the same old inflammatory questions, and you MIGHT get something worth printing other than your own aggrandisement. I interviewed Helen for Stage Whispers. She gave me 45 minutes of her time and we talked about so much I couldn’t get it all into a 1500 word article. She’s a woman from a show business dynasty….she paid her dues…she’s been performing since before YOU were born, so who the hell are you to decry…. her…Oh I forgot…you’re a journalist…not a writer. WE laughed about anecdotes like Lana Cantrell ( look her up) giving girl buddies Coloured douche powders for Christmas presents back in the sixties.
      Oh…and HERE’S the interview you MIGHT have got if you knew your job
      Coral Drouyn

        1. And as if to prove the point….Neil Mitchell interviewed her live on 3AW this morning ( it was web-streamed) and she said one of her proudest moments is that the lyrics of I am Woman are studied in High School. She was charming and forthright and yes she said she’s sick of singing the hits. I call that honesty. Interestingly Neil DIDN’T ask her what she wore 40 years ago. Why? Because nobody cares.

    3. Well said, cheap shot from a unknown web jurno at a major heritage artist. Nice work Ray. Some of the other more respectful and major jurnos looked after her and reported fairly as she was jet lagged and very tired not this sort of trash.

  3. As someone who has had to interview the odd singer/artist/writer/etc in my time, this behaviour drives me nuts. If you don’t want to be interviewed, that’s fine – don’t agree to be interviewed. You’ll do a better job of cultivating a mysterious persona if you refuse to talk to the press entirely – rather than just being incredibly rude to them, and making them do all the work to publicise you. (It’s worth pointing out that I used to write for free for certain publications, which made this attitude even more irritating: I was volunteering my time to help spread the word about their event, and they were giving me nothing. Why asked to be interviewed in the first place if you don’t like answering questions?)

      1. Coral, you may be correct that artists don’t ASK to be interviewed, but they do AGREE to be interviewed, otherwise the interview would not go ahead. Don’t forget that the interviewer is helping to promote the artist. Simple common courtesy dictates that if you have agreed to be interviewed that you follow through and actually allow yourself be interviewed. You say to treat artists with respect, which I wholeheartedly agree with, but it works both ways – artists should also have respect for interviewers.

  4. Gee …. does Reddy knows how to promote her tour or what? No way I’d pay to see her if that’s her attitude. Does she need the money that badly? If a medley of hits (that the punters expect) is all the paying fans deserve then she can go sing in the shower for nothing and not have to put up with fans or promotional spots.

  5. Who the hell are you? Rude guy. Your just upset she didn’t go for your boring questions. What bad form. If you were an admirer you would respect her and not print such crap trying to make yourself feel bigger better or whatever you wanted!! Bloody hell didn’t she just fly in? I hope those publicists never ask you to cover another artist.

  6. This did make me laugh, and as an old Delta Dawn lover from way back who has been disappointed time and time again seeing the legends fall over on stage way past their prime – I’m not going! Will keep the legend alive in my mind and on my stereo.

  7. I saw Helen Reddy at the Opera House in the mid 1970s with my parents. My father walked out – not too keen on ” I am woman hear me roar….” … anyway, Ms Reddy didn’t really do gracious that well back then either.

  8. Good column Ray. I heard the interview with Fran Kelly and wondered why Helen bothered to turn up. She was rude and uncommunicative – the more so given the generous and heart felt intro from Fran.
    Best line from Helen – after another spot of dead air “It’s early in the morning for me”. She deserves her place in popular music culture; those 3 songs, that creamy voice. Y’know what Helen? There are many artists very much bigger than you who know what the fans love, and still do it graciously. And “leave ’em laughing when you go”. Too much trouble for you? Guess I’ll miss the show.

  9. l spoke with Helen Reddy a few times when she was living near me in Sydney 10 years ago. I found her manner very direct, down to earth and courteous regarding approaches from “fans”. Why didnt you ask her about the time she spent socially with John Lennon and countless other music icons from the 70’s instead of Gerald and Betty Ford for God’s sake? Who on earth remembers them let alone is interested in them these days? No wonder Helen was non plussed by your questions. She did the interview to promote her shows in Australia and after 50 years in show biz is entitled to react any way she chooses to ridiculous questions from smart arse interviewers. Surely you could have come up with some insights about her life and career aside from performing at the White House (cultural cringe at its worst). I cant wait to hear her sing whatever she wants to.

  10. Good work salvaging an interesting article from that completely uninterested interviewee Raymond! I’m guessing Helen’s hypnotherapy specialisation was in making people start smoking, begin comfort eating and lose confidence.

  11. I listened to Fran Kelly’s interview with Reddy this morning and couldn’t believe how rude Reddy was. Kelly tried very hard to engage her with very reasonable questions. I was left wondering why Reddy wasted everyone’s time. Kelly was very genuine and interested and somehow managed to keep the interview going. Well done Fran, very professional!

  12. I heard the Fran Kelly interview with Helen Reddy and wondered why on earth Ms Reddy had bothered. She sounded arrogant, she did not engage and was quite appallingly rude. I now have absolutely no interest in seeing her performance. Fran Kelly was gracious and managed an awkward situation well.

  13. Clarification on the medley issue from Wikipedia:
    “One of the reasons that I’m coming back to singing is because I’m not doing the greatest hits,” Reddy explained. “I’m doing the songs that I always loved. So many are album cuts that never got any airplay, and they’re gorgeous songs.” However, in recent concert appearances, she has performed “Angie Baby,” “You and Me Against the World”, a medley of “Delta Dawn”/”Ain’t No Way to Treat a Lady,” and “I Am Woman,” reasoning on the latter that it’s her signature song and one that the audience “comes to hear.” She maintains, however, that she still refuses to sing “Leave Me Alone (Ruby Red Dress)” because she dislikes the monotony of the repeated chorus (which repeats 42 times in the song).

  14. “Does she remember what she wore? ‘What? – I don’t understand your question.’ ”
    Neither do I. Clothes, I would imagine. Unless she stepped out in a bin-liner or a cardboard box or something. She wasn’t in TISM, was she?

  15. Just listened to part of an interview with Helen Reddy on ABC Melbourne 774 ‘Conversation Hour’.
    Had no idea Ms. Reddy had achieved so much. She was the first ever Western female singer invited to China, for example. She has also sold more than 25 million records. Her hypnotherapy work is also very interesting.
    I got sense that she is really not interested in speaking about herself. Apart from her music, she has gone into other kinds of work which contemporary media does not always treat very well. She’s a very interesting woman and deserves to draw crowds on her music past alone. I must try to get a ticket for the Hamer Hall concert.

  16. Great article Ray.
    Like you and anyone else who can think independently I am very perplexed that Reddy, the arrow point of feminism, would rub shoulders with the Industrial Military Complex types. But I guess that confirms the suspicion that they are two peas in the same’ve all been conned.

    1. No it’s not a fair assumption. Artists do NOT request interviews. Publicists request them on behalf of the promoter….The artist just makes themselves available.

      1. OK Coral, if we are going to be pedantic – isn’t the whole issue here that a person like Helen doesn’t need to ‘make herself available’ – does she have to be a slave to the publicists? I would have thought not.

        1. Of course she has to make herself available…it’s part of any contract that artists will promote as and when required. How many times have we seen film stars on promotion tours when they CLEARLY don’t want to be. Ms Reddy’s star is much lower in the firmament these days, and she certainly isn’t in a position to say no publicity to a promoter and publicist. As for JL’s comment….it’s a two way street. We in the entertainment industry NEED the stars or we have nothing to write about.

  17. I think the interviewer got what he deserved. The 70s is a long time ago and Helen has had a life since then. I am interested what interests her now, not rehashing her past life.

  18. Why the hate to the reporter? He was RIGHT. He was doing HER a favour, plugging her show…. making HR money. Yet she was so rude. If she doesn’t want to do the interview, don’t do it. And when no one shows up on the tour, don’t ask why.

  19. Just saw her show at Hamer Hall.
    Much of the time during the performance she was reading her notes to remember songs.
    She dressed neatly but more like she was going to the RSL as opposed to performing at Hamer Hall.
    Im not saying she was rude, but she took the occasion far too casually. This was not a rehearsal but a live performance.
    One of her greatest hits “Delta Dawn” was shortened, only being included in a Medley.
    Apparently she is still “Jet Lagged” as she said quite a few times during the performance.
    I think she simply needs to put more effort into the performance. It’s fine for her to trade on her reputation, but putting some effort in to living up to it seems to be too much for her.

  20. Attended her concert yesterday at Hamer hall. Was disappointed at the repeated talk of jet lag and misplaced sheets. If it was her idea of being funny, it was neither funny nor the show of professionalism to me who had paid for my tickets and accomodation overnight at melbourne. She has definitely lost a fan! Of course, I realise it probably doesn’t mean much to her.

  21. Raymond,
    As a U.S. citizen, I can totally appreciate your complaints about Ms. Reddy. I’ve seen / heard a couple of interviews she did while promoting her “comeback” and they were very much along the same line as yours. She obviously is NOT a good subject. I’ve not only witnessed it via interviews, I have friends who were life-long fans of Ms. Reddy’s. They made the trek to see one of her concerts in 2014 here in the states and, after years (decades) of “worshiping” this woman, they left with a very bitter taste in their mouths after meeting her, post-show. She was curt, unfriendly, and their bubble of “Helen Love” had been severely pricked. She needs a reality check, apparently. She’s no longer a big star and hasn’t been for a very long time. Her comeback shows were pretty low-budget: four piece-mediocre band, fairly small venues, etc., etc. I heard she was being paid around 8,000. USD per show and less if they were routed dates (around 5,000. USD). If she’s not interested in engaging the public, go back into retirement. Only people of a certain age group remember her at this point, so she’s not in a position to piss off those people. I’ve since learned she’s ailing and now living in a assisted living home in CA, USA, suffering from Dementia. So, while it’s possible she didn’t remember some things, her reputation for being unfriendly has been long-standing before any chronic mental disease. CURT is the perfect word to describe her. SUMMATION: She’s not been a big star for a very, very long time; however, she obviously hasn’t gotten the memo.

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