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Albuquerque Journal from Albuquerque, New Mexico • Page 43

Location:
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Issue Date:
Page:
43
Extracted Article Text (OCR)

Arts-Entertainment ALBlli NAL Sunday, May 30, 1982 Page 1, Section Left Orphanage at Age 7 to Play Vaudeville Billie Bird's Been a Busy Body During 67-Year Career "I i she's played just about every hotel and casino built there once for a four-year run. But since 1977, she hasn't been able to accept any Las Vegas offers (which are all open-ended) because of other commitments. You're not likely to find her in a drama, however, where one doesn't violate that "fourth wall" of the stage and talk directly with the folks out front. She most enjoys playing comedies that she loosens further with some personal touches. "I like to refer to the audience," she says, demonstrating an aside expressing bulbous-eyed incredulity at what her co-star is doing.

"The people love that. They love to be a part of it." As she said before, though, when she's "on," she's "on." And before she gets off the stage for the evening, she'll give an after-curtain performance featuring as many jokes as the audience will laugh at. She writes her own material character pieces suitable for a "salty old broad." And she was once flattered by having whole acts stolen by a beginning comedienne named Phyllis Diller. "She used to come into the club where I worked and sit there and write all my gags down. Then she got so she was bringing in people who took shorthand.

And she was on the David Frost Show one night and he asked her how she got started. And she said, 'Oh, I stole most of my stuff from Billie And he said, 'Don't you mind saying that on the And she said, 'No. I'm big enough now. It doesn't bother me. Nobody can hurt "And I said, 'Well, good Because I've always written my own material and I didn't have to rely on someone else to write it for me." And her hard work continues to pay rewards.

After roles this year in Neil Simon's "Max Dugan," and Gary Marshall's "Young Doctors in Love" (both as yet un-released), she landed a good supporting role on a new CBS TV series that begins this fall. She'll play Patty Duke As- By CAROLE MAZUR Journal Arts and Entertainment Editor When you start off your show business career by leaving the orphanage at age 7 to join a traveling vaudeville act, what do you do as an encore? If you're lucky, you grow up to be Billie Bird, a down-to-earth, 74-year-old who has been steadily employed in every phase of entertainment during her long career. Looking at the petite actress today, one can imagine the tiny, raven-haired moppet in Boise, Idaho, who so enchanted the traveling performers with her singing and dancing that they scooped her up and took her with them. Over the decades, her comedy skills have been buffed to a fine patina as evidenced by the series of shameless expressions she mugged during a photo call for her current play "The Busybody," which opens Tuesday at the Barn Dinner Theatre in Cedar Crest. From smirk to surprise, from baffled to bewildered, from tragic to triumphant the face transformed itself as though made of Silly Putty.

But her demeanor during the interview was demure, almost sedate. "I'm only 'on' when I'm she said. "There are a lot of actors who are 'on' 24 hours a day. But it's a job. When you're there you do it.

When you're through you go home and mind your business. You wash your dishes. "After all, you're just a person, like anyone else. So many performers think, 'I'm a but I like to be part of the audience and to let them be a part of what I'm doing." That's why tlris quiet little lady says she likes working in nightclubs the best. "Because you can get involved with your audience and talk with them.

And then (I like) theater second. I love working with an audience." She was in the first variety show ever to play Las Vegas, she reminisced. It was 1929 and the show inaugurated the first theater in the then-sleepy, two-block town. Since then, tin's mother and Richard Crenna's mother-in-law in "For Better or Worse," which will air Thursdays at 8:30 p.m. She beat out no less an actress than Eileen Heckart for the part.

That commitment is the reason "The Busybody" which had to be held over when she did it in Kansas City is going to run only seven weeks instead of the originally-planned eight. But she did add some time onto the beginning of her Albuquerque stay. Last week she was joined here by her "two wonderful sons" and one of their excursions was to Roswell to watch one of her "three wonderful grandchildren" graduate from the New Mexico Military Institute. Her home life sounds rather grandmotherly with a show business twist, of course. "I play a lot of music," she said.

"I play the organ, marimba, clarinet, guitar, banjo you name it. I spend my time with music. I do all my own wardrobe. I love sewing. I do a lot of crocheting and knitting I think I've knitted my way around the world.

And reading. I love reading. Always looking, of course, for new scripts to do." Among those world trips were 12 to Vietnam to entertain the troops. As a reward, she was the only woman besides Martha Raye to be made an honorary member of the Green Berets. It was an extra special honor for her since her son was also a Green Beret.

"It was not fun in those Asian countries," she said. "But you enjoyed it because you just felt you were giving of yourself to somebody who really needed it. Those guys were so glad to see some of their own people." The experience provided her with perhaps her most fondly remembered example of audience feedback. Mother's Day fell a month after one of her performances. "And the doorbell rang and they brought in a floral arrangement in a canoe.

The card said, 'To the sexiest and most wonderful mom in "I just stood there and cried." Journal Photo by Greg Sorter Comedienne Billie Bird Record Shops Abound With Effort, Elusive Discs Can Be Found I By DWIGHTF.LOOP Have you ever been frustrated in a record store when you asked for an album by your favorite artist and the salesperson looked at you as if you had asked for a million dollars? One would think that knowing more about musicthan Billboard's Top 10 would be a major requirement for working in a record In Albuquerque that is not always the case. If you're looking for the latest Rolling Stones album, there's usually no problem you can buy it in any store. Howver, if you're looking for something a little more obscure say, the LaBeque Sisters' version of George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" then you'll have to be more selective about where you shop. Whatever your taste in music, if you look hard enough (in other words, make phone calls before you drive all over town) you can find the record or at least someone to order it for you. Record stores in Albuquerque can be divided into two basic categories: Chain stores, such as Record Bar, Corona-do Shopping Center; Sound Warehouse, 251 1 San Mateo NE; Musicland, Winrock Shopping Center; Flipside Records and Tapes, Coronado Shopping Center; and Budget Tapes and Records, 2906 Eubank NE.

Independently owned stores, such as Natural Sounds, 8019A Menaul NE and 119 Har vard SE; Dick's Record Roundup, 3151 San Mateo NE; Merlin's Workshop, 9226 Menaul NE; Birdsong Used Books and Records, 106 Girard SE; Cristy Records, 900-A 4th SW; Del Norte Records, 1508 Bridge SW; May's Music Company, 514 Central SW; and Budget Records and Tapes, 2222 Central SE. There are also stores that don't specialize in records, but offer specialized recordings. Examples are Der Alte Cowboy, 424 Central SE, which carries old jazz and folk; and Sound Ideas, 1624 Eubank NE and 2404 San Mateo Place NE, which carry only Audiophile pressings. (Audiophiles are master and digital recordings that are pressed on virgin vinyl, making them superior to most normal records.) Of course, you can buy albums and 45 RPMS in any department store in town. Often these stores carry a large selection of "budget," or slow-selling, albums.

As record prices continue to rise, the search for bargains is as difficult as finding the record itself. For the most part, the independent stores have lower prices, even though it would seem the opposite would be true since the chain stores can carry more. However, the independents know that in order to survive among the giants, they must have lower prices and offer the customer something extra a more diverse collection of Continued on D-2 Journal Photo by Greg Sorter Sound Warehouse: Its Size Is Overwhelming, But There Arent as Many Titles as One Might Expect City's Streetcorner Musician Shares His 4Rare Art' for Free Ml vV ff. taiR nil Mstm dies and changes them to suit his liking. He has written his own tunes about local heros Bobby Foster, Al Unser, and balloonist Carol Davis, as well as a song about New Mexico's State Penitentiary.

His straight renditions of popular music include the songs of Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Marty Robbins, Buddy Holly, the Beatles and Elvis. James has several electronic aids to help him mimic the sounds of certain musicians or music styles. At 36, Allan James comes across like an electrified Billy Jack. Wearing dark blue or black, he kicks off one shoe to prevent scratching the pedals on his brass keyboard. His stiff-brimmed hat remains squarely on his head as an intregal part of his hardbitten but softspoken image, as are the scarf and black chain he wears around his neck.

Though he does garner both tips and applause during his Sunday concerts, the Gypsy realizes his image with his audience will be just as individualistic as'his own style. "One lady saw me, looked at my personality," says the Gypsy. "You know what you are? You're just a little on the fringe," she told him. LATMitcheU ts pootojoumhst whose work has appeared In the New York Times. known, and to be understood.

"I don't know if anyone really understands what I'm doing," he admits. "I have something no one else has. To me, it is a rare art." The whole process of putting together his performances is what fascinates him. It has taken James three years to establish his act in Old Town. The merchants have complained.

A drunk has tried to take his guitar away. He has been accused of being too loud and playing "to much gringo music." And the mounted police who patrol the plaza have alternately had to protect him from abuse and lecture him about disturbing the residents. Playing the streets has been a test of survival for the Gypsy. Gusty winds will blow his tip box shut and knock over his music stand and microphone. Until he moved to a paved area, damp grass sent shocks through his electric guitar.

His profits from an afternoon concert would be considered disappointing by any full-time professional musician. For a four-hour concert, he makes anywhere from $2.50 to $50, depending on the size and mood of the crowd. (And since he has a full-time job as a registered nurse, the money is not too important.) Not bounded by convention, the Gypsy steals popular lyrics and melo By LA. MITCHELL When the Gypsy begins to play, there is no concert hall, no spotlight, no hush from the crowd. Sometimes there is no crowd at all.

The Gypsy, as performer Allan James calls himself, is one of Albuquerque's few true streetcorner musicians. On Sunday afternoons in Old Town Plaza, he plays and sings for free. Since the city has laws against selling without a license or soliciting on the streets, the Gypsy plays for donations, which listeners can drop into his empty guitar case. James has an elaborate set up which he carts from home to convert his solo performance into a one-man band. By plugging into an electric outlet, he can produce four sounds at once.

The Gypsy has added percussion to his singing via a rhythm machine. His bass sound comes from a foot-operated keyboard, and he plays along oh a steel-string single cutaway guitar. Seven harmonicas, each one in a different key, supplement his voice. James has a repertory of 1,200 songs "and has written 200 of hisown. He plays requests and stretches his range from rock 'n' roll to country to blues.

In the tradition of street performers, the Gypsy is still a struggling musician striving to be heard, to be Photo by LA. Mitchell Allan James, The Gypsy Old Town's Musician on Sunday.

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Pages Available:
2,170,859
Years Available:
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