August 3, 2011
Actress Mary Kay Place Talks About Her Past Foray into Country Music
by Robert Lawrence
I have a special treat for our Country Music fans. This one
threw me for a loop as it was one of those rare music moments that come around
and give an overabundance of joy! Lord knows there is a warehouse full of music
that has yet to be released on CD or iTunes download. Frequently I search for
CD releases of old scratched albums I have.
A few weeks ago I was searching for a CD release of Mary Kay Place’s two albums from the late seventies. I found them on a record label called Wounded Bird Records. If that wasn't a cheerful moment in itself, they also had listed a third CD called Almost Grown that was never released. How could this be? I had never heard of this recording anywhere. What an unexpected prize to be found.
Some people may dismiss Mary Kay Place’s musical work as a novelty, due to her role as Loretta Haggers on the soap parody “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman.” True the first release Tonight At The Capri Lounge was an extension of that phenomenon, but the second LP Aimin’ To Please, was so much more. In addition you can’t argue with the charts, “Baby Boy” ranked #3 on the Billboard Country Singles Chart and “Something To Brag About,” landed at #9. Furthermore, both albums made it into the Billboard Country Albums Top 40. Not a bad showing for a novelty.
Almost Grown is like a time capsule taking you back to the days when female country artists had soft pastel colors on their album sleeves, a slightly out-of-focus close up, and the artists name really big on the cover drawing attention to the whole down home package. Country music was a lot simpler in the ‘70’s, there wasn't all this electronic production, multiple voice overdubs, or goal to get a crossover hit. The Country Charts were strong on their own and legends were made and the music quality has lasted decades.
My feelings on Mary Kay Place’s Almost Grown recording, was that she was headed into the direction of becoming a firm established Country Artist in her own right and branching out into new territory. Featuring backup vocals from Nicolette Larson & Valerie Carter, covering songs from Chuck Berry, Elvis Costello, and a “then unknown” songwriter K.T. Oslin, this was quite a package to be delivered. My favorite track is the robust version of the title track. To my knowledge Mary Kay is the only female artist to cover Berry’s “Almost Grown” and this was a risky undertaking in the day. Girls just didn't do the boys’ songs!
Another branch out was taking on the then “new wave” rock artist Elvis Costello. Though Linda Ronstadt did the same with his song “Alison,” her version was very similar to Costello’s. Mary Kay turns the psychedelic influenced “This Years Girl” into an upbeat ballad, with vocals very reminiscent of Rosanne Cash. Dipping into the blues, “Good Girl,” co-written by Place, shows the grit and gravel she is capable of, and the playful “Volatile,” another Place composition, takes us back to the good natured fun found on her previous recordings.
An interesting choice was to cover Gene Pitney’s pop classic “It Hurts to Be in Love.” This teen idol gem gets turned into ‘60’s girl group stomp very akin to Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound. Another highlight is the K.T. Oslin track “Cornell Crawford.” Displaying a heaping of Mary Kay’s swagger and some good old time fiddle & guitar picking it's a rival to K.T.’s own version released 11 years later.
So after listening to Almost Grown I needed more. I had many questions about why Mary Kay fans never got to enjoy this recording in 1979 and set out to get my questions answered and share with our readers. Well Mary Kay Place was more than happy to give us some inside information to this and much more.
Gaysonoma: Mary Kay, are there any plans of a “Mary Hartman” reunion episode or movie in the works?
Mary Kay Place: There are no plans for a “MHMH” reunion at this time. I must admit I have wondered over the years what all the characters would be like today. It would be a LOT of fun to do, but the most difficult part in the process is creating the right story/script. Maybe one of your readers out there will get to thinking about it and write us a good script!
Gaysonoma: Many fans want to know why you did not continue your music career? I was a fan of your music outside of the Haggers character. I’m speculating that you made the move away from that venue to continue your industry growth and the music side would have connected you forever to it. Is this the reason?
Mary Kay Place: I’m going to answer this along with my answer to your questions about Almost Grown. See below.
Gaysonoma: Mary Kay, you have worked in many levels of the entertainment industry, singing, acting, writing, and directing. Which is your favorite medium and what inspires you in that path?
Mary Kay Place: I enjoy the medium that offers the most interesting and challenging material at the time. It is always the material that inspires me. I would say I am the most comfortable and have the most experience in acting. With writing there is a MUCH higher level of anxiety during the process. I know a lot of truly gifted writers and I’m not one of them.
Gaysonoma: You were part of one of our Editor's favorite miniseries, “Tales of The City” and “Further Tales of the City.” That was an outstanding and groundbreaking event and the cast was unbelievable. What prompted you to take the role of Prue Giroux?
Mary Kay Place: Again, it goes back to the material. I was aware of the Armistead Maupin stories in the San Francisco Chronicle and so was delighted to be offered the hilarious role of Prue Giroux. Pure and simple FUN was what prompted me.
Gaysonoma: Now I’d like to ask you about your third music recording, Almost Grown. Until a few weeks ago I had no idea it existed. I picked up a copy of the CD version of your first two albums on Wounded Bird Records and when I check their website, there it was! How did that treasure slip through the cracks all those years ago?
Mary Kay PLace: Other labels inquired about putting out Almost Grown but due to my emotional and physical exhaustion I decided not to go forward. It was clear to me that going on the road would be a dangerous health decision. I had a big learning curve ahead of me on the road and being out there was the only way to get the knowledge. But I also knew at that moment in time I lacked the energy, strength and stamina to do it properly. And I was right. It was a lengthy process for me to get back to square one and learn how to make healthier choices for my mental, physical and spiritual wellbeing. But it was worth it.
Almost Grown was on a few cassettes and in a Sony storage warehouse until Terry Wachsmuth of Wounded Bird came to Sony Music about putting out my three Columbia albums on CD. It's great to have it out there after all these years. There are some bonus tracks included as well.
Gaysonoma: My favorite cut is the opener and title track. It must have been a hoot recording it. It would seem you had a lot of fun in the studio. Do you have any fond memories of it?
Mary Kay Place: I was in the middle of my fried/exhausted state during the making of Almost Grown and I was working with a new producer, Rob Froboni, so it was challenging in many ways, but also exciting because Rob recruited so many AMAZING musicians. Looking back I can’t believe I tackled the Chuck Berry songs - I especially enjoyed the phrasing challenge - and yes, it was really fun singing them.
Gaysonoma: Another track, “Cornell Crawford,” I heard before on K.T. Oslin’s “Love In A Small Town” recording from 1990. I thought hers was the original, but your version (and I might add just as enjoyable) pre-dates it by quite a few years. How did you come across that song?
Mary Kay Place: I think Rodney Crowell originally gave me a copy of “Cornell Crawford” in about 1977-78. He was a friend of K.T. Oslin. It was before she was recording her own albums.
Gaysonoma: Would you ever consider laying down tracks again?
Mary Kay Place: I have done some recording since my Columbia Record days, “I Feel A Sin Comin On” - a bonus track on Almost Grown, and songs on various film and TV projects. I love to sing and welcome any recording opportunity.
Gaysonoma: Do you have a favorite recording and what makes it special to you?
Mary Kay Place: I have many favorites from many different styles of music. This month I've been loving and listening a lot to Billie Holiday's “Bye, Bye Blackbird.” It’s a fantastic recording - the musicians, the arrangement, her singing and especially her phrasing!
I’d like to thank Mary Kay Place for taking the time to share her thoughts with us and also thank Terry Wachsmuth of Wounded Bird Records and Courtney Borkovec with Gersh for assistance with information. The street date for Almost Grown is October 18, 2011, however you can get an early copy and the CD version of Mary Kay Place’s first two albums with bonus tracks on the Wounded Bird Records website.