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Excerpts from Greg Adams Final Interview
Georgia was as feisty in person as on record, as this interview, conducted shortly before her death, shows. Georgia spoke with Hit Parade by phone from her New York apartment. Ms. Gibbs died of leukemia on December 9, 2006, at age 87.
Georgia Gibbs: I first heard that song when I was appearing so that was long before I was recording with Danny Kaye. I appeared at the Palladium in London with him. I just loved that song so much so that I said, well, when I get a recording contract, Im going to record that. And thats how I happened to do it. I do that whenever Im appearing in person. Then it became a part of me because I started to make in-person appearances and I do that song in my act. People used to ask for it.
GA: It first appeared as the flip side of Feudin And Fightin, a cover of the Dorothy Shay hit.
Georgia Gibbs: When you start in the recording business, you have no say of what youre going to record. So the people who bought me apparently liked that song [Feudin And Fightin], but it certainly wouldnt have been my choice. Its only after youve had your first million-seller that youre able to choose songs that you like.
GA: Did you perform Ballin The Jack on the Garry Moore & Jimmy Durante radio show?
Georgia Gibbs: No. Remember, that was my very first radio show. I think that was before. Actually, it was on that show that I was tabbed Her Nibs.
GA: What did nibs refer to?
Georgia Gibbs: Garry was the erudite one and Jimmy was the complete opposite of that. That was my first radio show, and they get sick of saying Our Sweetheart of Song or some inane sort of introduction, so one day out of the blue he was a pretty bright guy he said, Here is Her Nibs, Miss Georgia Gibbs. Jimmy didnt know what the hell he was talking about. I used to get a lot of mail, What is Her Nibs? They didnt know that thats an English expression, with the tongue in cheek. Its an English expression, but what Garry did is he turned it into an American expression and said Her Nibs because it rhymes with Miss Gibbs. Its amazing I tried to drop that and I would get mail, What happened to Her Nibs? Its just become a part of my full name.
GA: It was around that time that you started recording for Majestic.
Georgia Gibbs: Oh, my god. I think that was my first recording company.
GA: How did that come about?
Georgia Gibbs: I have no idea. You would know more about it than I do. Those years are something you just forget about. You didnt really have contracts you just did two or four sides, they gave you peanuts to record it and thats the last you ever heard of that record.
GA: You were there during the transition from big bands to solo vocalists. Did you realize at the time that staying solo was the way to go?
Georgia Gibbs: No, not at all. It was just a job. Id like to tell you a glamorous story, but its not.
GA: How did the move to Coral come about?
Georgia Gibbs: That was just a $25 date thats all I got from it.
GA: But you had some big hits there, like If I Knew You Were Comin I’d’ve Baked A Cake.
Georgia Gibbs: But that was a cover job. That was another singer that did it. It couldnt have been a big hit. There a difference between having a big hit and getting a lot of airplay it got a lot of airplay, that doesnt necessarily mean that youve got a hit record, back then. Now, of course, with a lot of airplay you get paid every time its played, or something like that.
GA: You covered Etta James The Wallflower.
Georgia Gibbs: I did not cover, because she had a song called The Wallflower. Im the one who changed it to Dance With Me Henry. I remember so well, with Hugo and Luigi, we were sitting there going over the numbers and they give me a song called Wallflower. I said to Hugo, Look, Im not going to record this. Theres too many young kids that are wallflowers and theyre going to associate it with it. So forget about it I wont do it.
So while I was looking at the thing, I came into the first four bars with dance with me. I said, Wait a minute! Wait a minute! Look Ill do it if we change the title to Dance With Me, Henry. So, I changed the title. And she had it walkin with Henry or something like that, but she never had dance with me, Henry. She was very mean and was very uncomplimentary to me, and it was a wide open field. If I tell you how many times my songs have been covered, youd be very surprised. So I think it was a very ungracious thing for her to have done.
LaVern Baker was always mad that I did Tweedlee Dee, and if you listen to the record, youll find that my record is nothing like hers. I have a much more rhythmic approach. She has a kind of legato approach. I think I once heard her record and she didnt take it to a 2/4 beat like I did. This was the start of rock n roll, and when you use this 2/4 beat it has much more attention to the kids because it fits in with the stuff that theyre doing. She did it more legato. It didnt have that sock beat.
Whats bothering her is that I happened to cover it. I want you to know there were nine covers of Dance With Me, Henry. A woman called Dorothy Collins covered it. I was so surprised to see all the names that had recorded Dance With Me, Henry. It just so happened that my version caught on because it had a very pronounced beat. Its a wide-open field the publishers put it out to anybody who wanted to do it, and I had every right to do that. I wasnt covering I dont like to cover, as a matter of fact, because youre up for a lot of criticism. But, if you listen to mine, youll find that my version is entirely different from all the ten others that were done.
GA: You had a good ear for rock n roll. Your version of Great Balls Of Fire is terrific.
Georgia Gibbs: Youre the only person who ever heard that! My god, I once played it for a friend of mine who fell off his chair. He said, Youre kidding! Is that you? I said yeah, believe it or not. Thats the worst piece of junk you ever heard. This was the backside of some record or something. [At this point, Georgia sings an a cappella rendition of “Great Balls Of Fire.”]
GA: Did you enjoy recording that?
Georgia Gibbs: Well, of course, because it was so out of my regular type of singing. I thought I did a good job! I got the feel of the song.
GA: But you preferred the ballads.
Georgia Gibbs: Anytime, because I think Im a good singer, and I dont say that egotistically, Im just saying it very objectively. Some of the best things Ive done, like Ill Be Seeing You from my album I think I did a very good job on that. As a matter of fact, a big fan of mine is ex-president Clinton. Ill tell you a very sweet little story. I was appearing in New Orleans, and New Orleans at that time was a hotbed for gold record singers. They all appeared at this one particular hotel. One night I came out on stage and, I dont usually play with an audience I have a set routine because I like to pace the show very well. And whenever you bring anybody up from the audience, it breaks up your pacing because you dont know if the persons going to be good or bad.
So, I dont do it, but this one night I was out on stage and there was a lady coming down the aisle and she just stood there, and she wasnt going to move. And by now the audience could see her, and I had no choice so I just motioned to her to come up on the stage. She knew every record of mine; she knew Tweedlee Dee. I said, okay, do you know Tweedlee Dee? And she said, yeah, yeah, and she did it and you never saw a happier lady in your life. This is like a dream come true, shes finally got to sing on stage with Georgia Gibbs, so she walked off stage. One day, must have been seven or eight years ago, I was reading a book or something, and she said, The big thrill of my life was getting up onstage and singing Tweedlee Dee, and it turned out that it was the mother of President Bill Clinton. How do you like that? When I wrote to him and I told him that story, he sent me the sweetest letter. So I have it framed in my living room. I happen to like to sing ballads better because I think I have a strong ballad voice. I mean, even though Ive been successful with up stuff, most singers that sing ballads dont know how to sing up stuff very well, so it worked against me.
GA: Yet, after your big hits, you continued to record things like The Hula Hoop Song.
Georgia Gibbs: The hula hoop was a big thing at that time. I had no say. See, if you dont have any say in what you record, you miss out on a lot of things. I didnt like them [novelty songs], particularly. I much preferred the ballads. Until you have a very good manager, which I didnt have, I wasnt able to get to sing the songs I really wanted to sing, and I think I could have had big hits with them.
GA: Personally, I like the variety of music you recorded.
Georgia Gibbs: I did do a lot, thats true. You have rock n roll, you have lovely things like Ill Be Seeing You, which is the complete antithesis of rock n roll.