Las Vegas Sun

October 24, 2014

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Toni, Toni, Toni

Her voice; that smile. His trademark hat and keyboard wizardry. The love that kept them together just as their Grammy Award-winning hit song indelibly promised.

Thirty years after their first meeting, which led them to pop stardom, including their own television show and specials, and a 25-year marriage, Toni Tennille and Daryl "The Captain" Dragon are enjoying life in picturesque Lake Tahoe, where they live with their three dogs and three cats.

Although the duo no longer perform together professionally as Captain & Tennille, Tennille has been taking to stages throughout the country, belting out hits from the 1930s and '40s, backed by big bands and symphonies.

"Incurably Romantic," her latest CD, featuring old love-song standards written by artists such as the Gershwins and Sammy Cahn, is scheduled for release in May.

Tennille talked with the Sun about her position as governor-appointed ambassador to the arts for the state (by Gov. Bob Miller, and again by Gov. Kenny Guinn), life in Northern Nevada and her career:

Sun: How did you gain the Amaassador to the arts title?

Toni Tennille: It was at the urging of Angie Wallin, who is with Nevada Arts Advocates. When I go out I always talk about the arts in Nevada. People are shocked because they don't think we have anything here. When I mention I'm from Nevada, people always mention cowboys and casinos, but we have the symphony, the opera, chamber orchestra, cowboy poets, painters, photographers and writers. There is an art scene. They get a completely different picture of Nevada when they hear me talk about it.

Sun: What drew you to Northern Nevada?

TT: Daryl and I lived in Pacific Palisades, Calif. We used to perform at Harrah's in Reno and we fell in love with the area. We're big outdoor people. Daryl and I hike. We were in every city in this country that you can think of. I never saw a single place I'd rather live.

Sun: You've recorded five albums of standards since the 1980s. How did you end up moving from popular music to jazz and big-band standards?

TT: My dad was a big band singer. My mother was a daytime TV personality (in Alabama). I grew up in kind of a showbizzy family. (My dad) brought home new record albums every day for us to listen to -- Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, all of the great artists. That was the music I grew up on.

I was influenced by Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn, Frank Sinatra, Louis Prima, Peggy Lee, Keely Smith, Steve (Lawrence) and Eydie (Gorme). I got little bits from all of them when I was forming my own style.

I had always wanted to do an album with standards with A&M (Records). I suggested doing all this on the side. They said, "No we don't want you to confuse your public." But when we did the "Captain & Tennille Variety Show," I always managed to do one standard.

Sun: In 1998 you starred in a yearlong national tour of the Broadway musical "Victor Victoria." What led you to that role?

TT: Some friends of my then-manager said, "We think Julie Andrews is going to wind down in 'Victor Victoria' in New York. We think Toni would be great." I made a video of myself singing some songs and submitted it to the producers.

Julie Andrews was replaced by Raquel Welch but they asked if I would consider doing the national tour. Foolishly, I considered it. I was the most homesick person you ever saw. It was eight shows a week, two days of media. It was probably the hardest thing I'd ever done in my life. But it was rewarding. The cast members were wonderful people.

Sun: You sang background on Pink Floyd's "The Wall." How did you hook up with them?

TT: Bruce Johnston, who took over for Brian Wilson with the Beach Boys, and I used to sing backup for groups. Bruce called me and said, "Pink Floyd is in town. Want to do some back-up work for them?"

Sun: Were you familiar with the group?

TT: To be honest, I knew the name, I had just not heard their music.

It was a Sunday morning when we went in. David Gilmour greeted me and and said, "I was just watching you on TV." I wondered what he could have been watching at this time. He said he had been watching "Kids Are People Too" with his children. Well, that blew my whole rock-star image.

We did the session. It was professionally done. I enjoyed it very much. Dave called me a few weeks later and said, "We're doing ('The Wall' show) at the Sports Arena in L.A. We'll get you however many tickets you need."

Sun: Did you go to the concert?

TT: Yes. It was the most amazing thing I'd ever seen. It just blew me away. Then they asked, "Would you like to go on the road?" I had to say no.

Sun: When you were younger, did you have any idea of the musical success you would have?

TT: When I was a kid growing up ... I was a singer in Montgomery (Ala.). I had talent but I never thought I'd make a living at it. It's all about being at the right place at the right time. What made it all happen for me was meeting Daryl.

We met through a musical I wrote with an ecology theme, "Mother Earth." The keyboard player had to leave. Daryl auditioned. He was in between (performances with) the Beach Boys. We met 30 years ago this summer.

Sun: Any more Captain & Tennille songs in the works?

TT: It's not our time anymore. We're not into hip-hop and rap. I'm not really interested in trying to do what is happening today. And that's fine with me.

Sun: How would you describe your new CD?

TT: It's the sort of the CD you would put on with a scented candle, and a bottle of wine in front of a fire. The next CD will be a companion CD, all songs of love gone wrong.

In 1995 Larry King did a series of shows on music from the 1920s to early '50s. We'd all sit around the piano, sing songs by one composer. I was struck by the beauty of singing songs with just the piano. So I always wanted to do something like that.

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