“THEY WROTE THE SONGS”…
and JULIE BUDD BRINGS THEM TO LIFE!
The year was 1968. A 13-year old girl from Brooklyn with a spectacular voice paid a musical visit to millions of America– via their living rooms! It was the wildly popular “Merv Griffin Show”, and the singer was named “Little” Julie Budd. Ms. Budd’s early launch into stardom was, needless to say, truly awe-inspiring. Not many artists on the scene today, after all, can boast how they released their debut album at age 13 and were hanging out with Frank Sinatra in Las Vegas the same year they celebrated their “sweet 16”! Since her teen years, the artist formerly known as “Little” Julie Budd, and her not-so-“little” voice, have been seen and heard on the talk and variety show circuits, and have entertained fans all over the world at venues both big and small. It was pure talent and a sprinkle of serendipity that made Julie Budd a star 46 years ago– and indeed, pure talent never goes away. However, it was Budd’s energy, work ethic, love and respect for the art of song, and reverence for her fans that kept her in the spotlight right up to 2014.
Speaking of 2014…! Julie Budd has a new album named “They Wrote the Songs”. The collection of musical gems is a tribute to songwriters who have inspired Budd, many of whom she knew personally. Julie tells me what makes “They Wrote the Songs” unique from her previous albums: “It has a newer, fresher feeling. It’s a little bit more direct and less ‘fussy’. If you heard my other CD’s, they are very highly orchestrated– because I’m that kind of singer. This has a little bit more space. And then, there’s the material itself: It’s newer material. This is me ‘right now’ as opposed to me ‘then’.” The album features Budd’s reworking of “Home”, an enduring classic which was written by Charlie Smalls and originally made famous by Stephanie Mills in the musical “The Wiz”. Another song, “Perfect”, written by Ann Hampton Calloway, had its origins in a social media connection between Calloway and Budd. (My, how things have changed since 1968!) “They Wrote the Songs” also features a tribute to the music of one of Budd’s friends, the late singer/songwriter Anthony Newley. In all of her music, Julie Budd’s voice is amazingly strong and smooth. She can still capture that enviable quality of unblemished, wide-eyed purity that only youth can bring; yet her voice simultaneously conveys her well-earned experience and maturity. It enables the singer to give us some emotions that she surely couldn’t have given us until now.
Julie Budd and I met at one of her favorite eateries– a friendly and quite fabulous place called Seven’s Mediterranean Turkish Grill on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. In addition to the new album, we discussed her interesting career, including the long-running rumor that Julie is Barbra Streisand’s younger sister. The singer laughs and tells me, “I really don’t think I sound that much like Barbra. I think it was because we were both from Brooklyn, both Jewish, and had that same ‘big’ style of singing!”
JR: Hi Julie! Congratulations on the new CD! So, most people don’t realize how much work goes into creating a new CD in this day and age!
JB: Yes! Every detail. It’s so important. Once you go to the press, it’s done. You’d better be sure that it’s why you intended it to be! I had to be in a place where I had something to say. And at some moments, you just DON’T have anything to say! I know that there are some artists who put out a new CD every year. Maybe they are wiser than I am! (Laughs) But I don’t want to do that unless I have something fresh to say. I don’t want you to turn to me next year and say, “Julie, you’ve become this machine. Cut it out!” (Laughs)
JR: Well, you’re fans would love that! They can never get enough!
JB: I am working on a big project right now– so I am hoping that my sense of having something to say actually matches my intention!
JR: How true. So, you had me at the beginning of the CD with “Home”, because its such a timeless song with a timeless message. Is there a reason why you chose that song to open?
JB: Yes. I wanted the CD to open like a play. There’s a beginning, a middle, and an end. The beginning is where you’re born, where you come from, you’re first sensibilities about life, your values… “Home” just felt like the place to start! I went to school with Stephanie Mills. She’s a wonderful gal.
JR: Now… “Love Me Do” is also an interesting choice to include on the CD!
JB: “Love Me Do” was never performed by women before! We didn’t even realize that until we finished. Many of the songs on the CD, in fact, were never recorded by women before!
JR: Yes, I noticed! “Love Me Do” is obviously so identified with The Beatles, but your interpretation has a jazz influence. It works!
JB: Yes, it does. You’re either gonna love it or you’re gonna hate it. It’s THAT different!
JR: Well, I loved it!
JB: I’m glad!
JR: I may have looked a little too closely into that song, but when I did the research for the history of “Love Me Do”, I learned that Paul McCartney started writing the song at age 16– which was the age I thought you were when you started YOUR career! I wondered if that was intentional or not. But now I learned that you actually entered “the biz” at age 13!
JB: You know… Did you ever do something and then afterwards you were like, “Oh my G-d!”? That’s what this was! We knew we had an idea musically. I didn’t want to do it in its original intention. That didn’t make sense to me– even to tell the story that way!
JR: At face value, “Love Me Do” may seem like some silly pop song, but it really captures that wide-eyed, gooey, “first love” kind of feeling!
JB: That’s right!
JR: I suspected that your choice of the song was an homage to that same wide-eyed, gooey, “first love” kind of feeling that we all have as teenagers!
JB: No matter how old you are, there is something that can always make you feel new…
JR: Shopping? (Laughs)
JB: (Laughs) Actually, there are TWO things that always make you feel new: a newborn baby, and LOVE! Right? When you think about it, what really gives you spiritual “newness” in your life? Children, and also the feeling that you can always begin again with somebody new… or, recognize the love that you have with someone you’re already with. Only love can make you new, no matter how old you are! It’s powerful!
JR: Yes it is.
JB: I was thinking that just the idea of singing “Love Me Do” this new way provoked a new point of view. It forces you into it! It’s like when you put on a costume, and all of a sudden you’re feeling physically different.
JR: I understand! Now, there’s another song on your CD, “Let Me Try Again” (“Please forgive me or I’ll die, let me try again…”). When I first heard it I identified it as a “man’s” song, mainly because it’s usually the men who are begging for forgiveness! What was your interpretation of that song?
JB: The lyrics ARE begging for forgiveness! But there are all kinds of things you can beg forgiveness FOR: such as the realization of something– like not knowing what you have until it’s gone! And sometimes it takes time, because you’re growing up. It may not be that you DID something as much as you haven’t PAID ATTENTION to something as much as you should have. Isn’t that why most relationships break up? You have to pay attention!
JR: Yes, you sure do. Now, tell me about “Kindred Spirits”, another song on the CD.
JB: Steven Dorff wrote that one. I’ve been friendly with Steve since I was 13. I’ve watched the maturity of his career through the years with sheer delight. I love it when the good guys win!
JR: Me too! Now, on the CD you also include a tribute to Anthony Newley. Where does your affinity for Mr. Newley come from?
JB: Where does it NOT come from? (Both laugh) I knew him, and I adored him. He was a pal. Losing him was very hard. I was very angry at the universe when we lost him. I know I’m not supposed to do that, but I was. He was able to so many things, and do them so well. He was a very insightful man. As a writer, you would have REALLY enjoyed his presence! The other person who I was really upset about losing was Marvin Hamlisch. I worked a lot with him. I was very hard for me. I’m still not right about it. Life goes on and you have to accept that, but it’s one of those bitter things in your heart that you never really get over. They both still had so much to give. It was very hard to give them up.
JR:I understand. There was a “classiness” about them and an element of their work which transcended generations. I mean, we’re still talking about them in 2014! What does that tell you?
JB: That’s what I tried to achieve with the CD. When we talk about the American Songbook, we talk about Irving Berlin or Cole Porter… but you know what? WE are the American Songbook! If we’re not, then it’s gonna stop tomorrow! If you don’t want that to happen, then we have to continue the conversation about TODAY! Even though we have a wealth of material to choose from, we need to keep contributing to this, or it becomes a dinosaur. We need to be a part of that process for it to go on. This CD was very personal for me because I knew almost all of the writers.
JR:A lot of people probably have asked you this question, and you may be sick of answering it, but here it goes: You’ve made a successful transition between being a successful child performer to being a successful adult performer. What kind of strength did it take to stay in this business, which can be tough?
JB: What can I say? I’m an old warhorse! (Laughs) This just always felt like the place I was supposed to be. I was fortunate because I just kept working, and working, and one year would lead to the next year, and… thank G-d it’s the only job I’ve ever had! I just kept working, and the industry was kind to me. I’m gonna tell you something and it’s gonna sound very cliched, but I mean it from the bottom of my heart: You know who kept me here? The fans! I’m telling you from my heart. This isn’t, you know, Norma Desmond… I really mean it! (Both laugh.) I really realized it when I joined Facebook. Because now my fans talk to me, and I talk back to them. I don’t let any of my assistants say what I need to say! I can say it myself! Just as I was walking here to meet you, I was sending out correspondences to some of the fans. It’s about relationships, and it’s so important for people not to take that for granted! You have to do it right, and have to really communicate on a human level. If you don’t value and acknowledge your fans, and don’t have the warmth and the gratitude for the people who have backed you up throughout the years, then you don’t have a right to be here! I’m very serious about it, and I feel very protective about it. I owe a lot to the people who stood by me. That’s why I like Facebook! But, also, it was always very important for me to be GOOD at what I do. When all the other kids were running around and going to parties and playing around, I was studying. I was a serious cookie. I wasn’t playing around. I knew that at a very early age, I was being afforded something that most people don’t get exposed to– even those who have talent. There is so much talent in New York City. I mean, just look outside! I didn’t want to waste a wish.
JR: When you say “studying”, you mean studying and training your voice, right?
JB: Yes. I was a maniac about that! I have a real responsibility to be in the most top shape that I can be for these kind people who are lovely enough to buy a ticket to my show. I have an obligation, and I take it very seriously.
JR: Awesome! So, what do you like to do in your spare time?
JB: I love antiques! I love to get in the car and go up north to a great little town in Massachusetts. If someone asks me what I do, I tell them I’m a kindergarten teacher… because sometimes you need to get away!
JR: That’s if they don’t recognize you!
JB: Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. Recognition is funny, because when you take people out of where you’re used to seeing them, you don’t recognize them at all because they are out of that context. So, it can be nice, because I can be quiet! (Smiles) Sometimes you just can’t talk anymore about show business! And, sometimes it’s important to acknowledge other things… because you need a little down time, so that you can come back “new”! How can you keep something fresh when you’re not fresh?!
Julie Budd’s “They Wrote the Songs” is now available on CD and in digital format from ITunes, Amazon.com, and CDBaby. Visit www.JulieBudd.com for more info. Julie Budd will be performing live at Dix Hills Performing Arts Center at Five Towns College, 305 North Service Road, Dix Hills on Friday, July 25th at 7:30PM. You can buy tickets here.