Monday, May 18, 2009

Linda Merrill Sings


Here is the English language text---that has been translated into Japanese---for the new (5/15/09) SSJ Records release, Linda Merrill Sings.
Compared to this writer’s attempt to uncover information about singer Linda Merrill, my long search regarding singer Carole Creveling (SSJ Records XQAM 1021) was a piece of cake. Finally, however, I was able to uncover the whereabouts of the mysterious Ms. Creveling; eventually I even received a Christmas card from her. No such luck so far, though, with the Mysterious Miss Merrill.
When late last year SSJ Records began to contemplate issuing a CD of Merrill’s 1961 “Sings” LP, the release was presumed to fall into that category of a One Shot Wonder; one of those many albums recorded----especially circa 1955-1965----by jazz-oriented singers that were never followed up by a second release. Albums that were, for the most part, perfectly respectable outings by performers, most all of whom at one time held out hope of becoming the next Frank or Ella. But such was no to come to pass for Merrill, or Creveling---or, for that matter, for Helene de lys, Helen Carroll, Betty Blake, Nikki Price, Dori Howard, Carole Carr, Charlene Bartley, Flo Handy, Janet Brace, Ann Hathaway, Pat Healy, Betty Rhodes, Donna Brooks, Cathy Hayes, Marlene Cord, Lynn Taylor, Sue Evans, Marilyn Moore, Thelma Gracen, Clea Bradford, Paula Greer, Marjorie Lee, Easy Williams---and 250-or-so other singers (mostly One Shot Wonders), all finally blown out of the water by the tsunami of rock and roll that swept across the musical landscape in the 1960s.
It should be noted that Linda Merrill is a OSW + 1. For in 1975, by which time she had presumably relocated to Las Vegas, Merrill self-produced, for her own label, an album entitled In Action, a collection of Neil Diamond songs. But like her ’61 effort, this album too sank without a trace.
Despite the fact that the liner notes for Linda Merrill Sings inform that she is “one of the top acts in show business,” I had never heard of her. And so I sprang into my Diva Detective mode. But when I’d finished Round One of my investigation, it turned out that she was just as much of a mystery to a dozen-or-so other Chicago-based entertainers of my acquaintance who’d been active in the city at the same time as was Merrill, i.e. the 1950s and ‘60s. Those whom I contacted included singers Frank D’Rone, Audrey Morris, Dick Noel, and pianist Larry Novak. Clearly, then, what we had here---not exactly a crime---was a case of typical show over-the-top hyberbole. “Top acts in show business”? I don’t think so.
Eventually I found one lone reference to the singer on the net, performing at a Western rodeo in Oklahoma in 1969--- a far distance if not in actual miles, then in milieu, from her Chicago nite spot stomping grounds of yore. Here too, the press release describing the singer is more than a little undependably breathless; Merrill is touted as a “scintillating entertainer” who had “made guest appearances in such television shows as those of Bob Hope, Dean Martin and Ed Sullivan.” But no such contributions to the TV body of work of that threesome are to be uncovered anywhere, no matter how deeply one digs.
But, on the other hand, there is no question that Merrill deserved to be a “top act” in show business. What she and so many of the aforementioned far-below-radar entertainers demonstrate is that there once was a time not so long ago when, simply put, people used to know how to sing. . . in tune, with feeling, swing, style, and taste, and without ever once resorting to the more recently commonplace approach of chopping nearly every word that is sung into as many syllables as the song will tolerate. (The last time I looked, the word was pronounced “love” not “luh-uh-uhve.”) A technique dating back centuries known as melisma and perhaps best suited to the world baroque and rococo. Although the timbre of their voices are not at all similar, Merrill’s simplicity and purity of approach can’t help but be a bit remindful of Julie London. Both just sing the song and, so to speak, go home. Over and out in 2:30 flat.
Right off, I should confess that I am not exactly enthralled with the unrelenting saxophone obligatos that run parallel to Merrill’s vocalizing almost throughout the entirety of this recording. The player sometimes sounds intent on almost pushing Merrill out of musical spotlight altogether. But that quibble aside, it’s hard to think of another singer than Merrill who any better demonstrates the proposition that people in significant numbers really did, at one time, know how to sing without subjugating the original intentions of the songwriters to overweening stylistic excesses so especially evident on the popular U.S. TV series American Idol. With a couple of exceptions here, Merrill goes out of her way to avoid interpreting oversung material. It’s doubtful, when she recorded "In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning" in 1961, that more than a handful of other singers had directed their attention to this eventual Sinatra standard. Even on the too-often-recorded “Bill Bailey,” Merrill manages to place a personal stamp on the old warhouse , taking it at an uncommonly largo tempo.
Musicians on the date, all described in the original liner notes as moonlighting jazz players with day jobs, include producer-saxophonist Dean Schaeffer, drummer Arnold Sucherman, and bassist Lowell Ives. Former Will Bradley trumpet man Dick Haas plays an especially lovely harmonic counter line to Merrill’s vocal on “My Romance.” And the piano of stalwart Chicago pianist Ken Harrity (Sarah Vaughan’s Sweet ‘n’ Sassy, etc.) shines throughout the entire proceedings, and especially on “Little Girl Blue.” The inclusion of these two fine interpretations of Rodgers and Hart on Linda Merrill Sings paints the picture of a singer who had diligently studied the Great American Songbook. Too bad she didn’t get a chance to take what she’d learned into the recording studio more often.


Anonymous said...

I am Paul Sucherman, a Chicago native singer/pianist...I worked quite a bit with Linda in the late '70s and early to mid '80s...don't know anything about her Vegas years, but I know that by the late '70s she was based out of Chicago again...mostly I did duo work with her and, as you may surmise by my last name, I am the son of the drummer on the above LP...feel free to contact me

Ken Paoli said...

I first saw Linda Merrill at the O'Hare Marriott in the early 70s. She had a show band and was represented by Don Faber who booked many of the best rooms in and around Chicago. The typical ensemble was vocal plus 4 musicians. The band did dance sets and then backed up Linda for the show sets. In the early 80s I worked with Linda in clubs around the metro area.By this time it was just a duo: vocals and keyboard with drum machine. I lost track of her after she remarried and moved to Florida, I believe. She was quite can entertainer and claimed to have gone to Hollywood High with Donald O Connor. She claimed to have been an opening act for several big names.