Seventies hitmaker Helen Reddy is returning to the spotlight at the Arcada Theatre this month. Coming out of Australia she went from troubled waters to international success with 15 singles in the top 40.
"I Am Woman" roared into households becoming an anthem for feminists. She won many awards, including being the first Australian to win a Grammy. She hosted a variety show along with her numerous television appearances over the years.
In the '80s she worked in musicals, including Anything Goes and Shirley Valentine. Afterwards she took a break from performing but now heads out on tour on her own terms. We talked about her long history and new lease on life on the phone.
Windy City Times: Hello, Miss Reddy. Where in the world are you?
Helen Reddy: I'm in L.A., where it is one minute after eight.
Windy City Times: Wow, that is early. Well, I've been a big follower of your career. I'm a '70s kid so I watched Pete's Dragon in the theater.
Helen Reddy: So who did you want to be Pete or the Dragon?
Windy City Times: Pete, because I was about his age when I saw it. Special effects have come a long way since then!
Helen Reddy: Oh, I know. That scene at the very end where I kiss the dragon I had to pretend I was holding his head. They gave me a latex rubber head of the dragon with all of the right proportions and I had to feel how far to reach in with my hands. Then they would take the head away and we would shoot! Nowadays they would just paint it in and that would be that.
Windy City Times: For your show at the Arcada Theatre, [are you] showing clips of past works?
Helen Reddy: No, it is not like that. I'm not a nostalgia act. It will be me singing songs that are familiar but also ones that were album cuts that really never got any airplay. I will be doing songs like "Long Hard Climb" and "Nice To Be Around," along with several songs by Paul Williams. He's a brilliant lyricist. I will still be doing things like "Angie Baby" and "I Am Woman" of course. I will be doing songs like "You and Me Against the World" but also doing songs that I thought were nice but not popish enough for AM radio play.
Windy City Times: So some real rarities and things people haven't heard live before.
Helen Reddy: Yes, exactly. They may be familiar with the song because they have heard it on an album but they haven't heard me sing it live.
Windy City Times: When was the last time you have sung live in concert?
Helen Reddy: I went back to work in October of last year. At that point I had been retired for about 10 years.
Windy City Times: What made you sing again after all those years?
Helen Reddy: It was my sister's 80th birthday. She asked me to sing a duet with her at her party and I said yes. This was a big room with microphones and monitors. I heard my voice coming back at me and I hadn't heard my voice in ten years. I kind of missed it and didn't think it was half bad.
Windy City Times: How do you take care of voice after all of these years?
Helen Reddy: I try not to talk too much. I don't do any vocalizing. I give it a stretch at sound check and rehearsal. For me rest is what makes it best.
Windy City Times: Does this mean you would want to record new music?
Helen Reddy: We may do a little documentary of me performing, but I don't want to say where or when because it is still the early days of it. It would be nice to have a video record of one of my shows.
Windy City Times: How did you wind up voicing a Family Guy episode?
Helen Reddy: Well, you would have to ask Seth MacFarlane that.
Windy City Times: He's been busy with the Oscars. He must have been a big fan of yours.
Helen Reddy: He was. I don't know if he still is or not. [Laughs] I actually flew to the States a few times to do a voiceover for him.
Windy City Times: Do you have a favorite musical that you have done?
Helen Reddy: I have done two productions of Anything Goes. I have done four productions of Shirley Valentine, which has to be every female actresses dream because it is a one-woman show. I did 14 different characters just in act one, scene one.
Windy City Times: That sounds exhausting.
Helen Reddy: It is a tour de force, as they say. It took me two months to memorize it. I was doing Blood Brothers on Broadway at the time when I was offered to do Shirley. My family was in theater so I grew up loving musicals.
Windy City Times: Do you live in Australia?
Helen Reddy: I did but now I am in L.A. I went back to Australia 11 years ago. I did want to retire. I was really burned out. If I had to sing "Leave Me Alone" one more time I was going to jump in the river! I didn't want to sing pop songs anymore. I wanted to be in nightclubs singing jazz and blues with standards. I was crowned with the queen of pop label, which I quite frankly don't feel that I deserved.
Windy City Times: So what brought you back into touring again?
Helen Reddy: I don't have to please anyone anymore. I don't have to please the record company or jump up and down for an agent. I'm doing the show the way I want to do it. I really enjoy it.
Windy City Times: From watching past interview with you it seems like you turned a corner and have a happier life now.
Helen Reddy: Yes, I really do. A lot of the pressure is gone. You settle back into it and I'm singing songs that I truly love.
Windy City Times: You have a long history with Chicago so we are glad you are coming back.
Helen Reddy: Yes, I do! To this day I regret that I never had a summer there because I arrived at the beginning of autumn and left at the beginning of spring. I have never been so cold in all of my life! Coming from Australia I never saw snow until I was 25. It looked so pretty, but I didn't know that you don't go out there in a thin pair of plastic boots with no socks.
Windy City Times: Let's hope the weather is better for you this time when you arrive.
Helen Reddy: Well, of course. You know I was one of the first people to move into Lake Point Tower. They were still building it when we moved in. The album cover to Take What You Find was done at Navy Pier. They had lovely photos in the newspaper so we used them for the album. The funny thing is that the building right behind my head was the unit where we were living.
Windy City Times: One last question: What did you think of Kermit the Frog?
Helen Reddy: There is a lovely color photo of me with Kermit in my book. I wanted Jim Henson to go away so I could really talk to Kermit. That is how real he made that character!
Relax with Reddy reading excerpts from that book I Am Woman Hear Me Roar: the Power of the Female Voice on March 12 at the Ruth Lake Country Club. Visit www.oakbrookwomensclub.com for information on this luncheon.
Rock out to Reddy at the Arcada Theatre, 105 East Main St., St. Charles, Ill., on Wed., March 13, at 8 p.m. Visit www.oshows.com for details and ticket information.