One of the industry’s most flamboyant musical discoveries of the last decade, Baby Dee is an enchanting songwriter, classically trained harpist, circus sideshow veteran, and transgender street legend.
Her talent on piano, harp and accordion has caught her many musical admirers including Bonnie Prince Billy and Andrew WK, both of whom have produced unique and magnificent albums for her, and Antony Hegarty, whose debut album she appeared on.
With her latest album I Am A Stick out now, Baby Dee delved into her musical memories to compile her idiosyncratic take on the music that has influenced her most. This, then, is Baby Dee’s This Music Made Me…
As a teenager I bought this LP, Johnny Cash – At Folsom Prison, because it was so wonderfully wrong, AND SO REAL. I got a big kick out of hearing all those happy cheering bad-guys. I loved the not-so-niceness of it all, and the immediacy of it, the dangerousness, not just like kids acting out on Halloween but really kind of scary.
And I couldn’t have put it in words at the time but I loved the idea that the audience and the location could be every bit as important as the music and the people making it. I guess you have that with any show but this was different.
It was basically a country-western music event that was enhanced by fact that I had absolutely zero interest in country-western music. It gave me a taste for musical adventure. I’ll bet it did that for a lot of people. It made them feel welcome where they did not belong. What a wonderful thing for music to do.
Here’s nine more things that did that for me.
Years later, as a church organist in the South Bronx, I found a tape of old gospel songs with this on it. To me this is the best gospel song ever sung. Robert Anderson sang this at Mahalia Jackson’s Funeral. I love, “And it’s gonna be always Howdy Howdy and never Goodbye.” I love everything about this.
As a twenty something… hermaphrodite in waiting? I discovered Palestrina. This was serious. It made me feel as if somebody had grabbed me by the throat and lifted me off the ground. (That probably happened in Folsom a lot too, come to think of it.)
Then came the Glogauer Liederbuch. This became my bible – not in the religious sense of the word but in that it formed my way of thinking, my voice, my musical personality (or at least the one among my many musical personalities that I most liked to identify with) The Glogauer is some obscure shit.
And of course, JS Bach – the Chorale Preludes. You can’t be an organist and not love Bach’s Organ Preludes. Too bad they’re so damn hard to play. I could only do the easy ones. I never managed to get through this one without a train wreck at the point where you’re supposed to do a trill with your feet!
And since we’re on about sacred music and serious influences… I never became a true believer but I got way obsessed with this sort of thing.
About five years into my tenure in the South Bronx I kind of went native and ended up playing accordion in a plena band. Plena is a Puerto Rican folkloric tradition, a precursor of salsa. Elena, Elena is song about a guy who buys his girlfriend a car only to watch her get in and drive away forever.
And later, once I ended up back on the street, songs like this became my bread and butter. I found them at the Lincoln Center Library where the librarians never let me down but for once. They couldn’t find hide nor hair of “Bingo Bango Bongo I Don’ Wanna Leave the Congo No No No No No” But I found treasures like this – Harry Ruby may not have been a genius but Groucho Marx thought very highly of him and that’s good enough for me.
Last October I was at a festival in Cologne and I heard a track from this marvellous collection of field recordings – three young pygmy girls singing – that totally blew me away.
Most recently, a couple years ago I moved to a small town in a part of Holland called Zeeland where (amazingly) I met Broeder Dieleman who writes and sings in the local dialect. Will Oldham translated and covered this song of his.
Baby Dee’s album I Am A Stick is out now through Tin Angel. Tour dates and further information can be found here.