Midnight Jazz

Peggy Judy escapes from ’60s time capsule, delivers wicked humor with jazz standards

September 21, 2008
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Written by Vivian Fields

With her theatrical singing voice and flamboyant, wildly engaging personality, Peggy Judy is a bracing alternative to much of the blandness milking all of the color from a once hip and vibrant jazz world. She is a woman out of time, flashing back to the time when jazz vocalists were also entertainers and had a sense of humor. Dean Martin would have adored her.

Vivian Fields: You haven’t aged at all since your ’60s heyday – what’s the secret to your eternal youth?

Peggy Judy: Peggy’s secrets: Oil of Olay.  Laughing and singing daily.  Latin boyfriends.

Fields: How did you become involved with Elvis Presley movies?

Judy: It’s the funniest thing. I was a student at Hollywood High back in the old days, doing some bit parts at the studios.  They wanted to groom me to be the next Stella Stevens, but a singer, too, of course.
Contract player stuff.  Anyway, one day I’m on the lot hanging out by the Coke machine. This really sexy guy walks up and says in a Southern drawl, “Hey darlin’…you hungry? How about we hop on my private jet and head out to memphis with my mafia, grab us some chili cheese fries and see the sights.” I said, “You’re on.” Had some greasy fries and next thing you know, I’m cast in Viva Las Vegas. Crazy! I was gonna get the Ann Margaret part, but she had bigger hair. I learned my lesson. After that, my hair became gravity defying! Those were the days.

Fields: Live at the M Bar. What was the inspiration behind putting out this record?

Judy: I overdosed on the old Ed Sullivan shows as a kid. Great stuff. Comedy records:  Bill Cosby, Firesign Theatre, Mike Nichols and Elaine May. Monty Python. Cher, of course!  Also, Judy Garland. I remember seeing her on Ed Sullivan as a kid–she’d become a tragic figure, and it was all there in her face and her voice.  Real genius.  All those elements. Throw in some Stella Stevens and Joey Heatherton, a million nightclub shows in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Palm Springs, put it in a blender, and it’s Live at the M Bar.

Fields: What’s harder, doing comedy or singing?

Judy: For me, singing is harder, but when you’re in the zone, it flows and it’s wonderful. Doing live shows is just heaven when it all comes together, especially when you’re working with people you love, and the gang
on the M Bar CD, top-notch people the whole way. Comedy has always come naturally for me. It’s just sort of there. I was a natural singer since I was a child, but I have really had to work on singing technique. It’s really important if you want to go the distance. The voice is a delicate instrument, and you have to train it and take care of it. It involves your whole body, obviously; it’s not just a guitar you can take out of a box and play.

Fields: Do you think there’s still a market for relatively clean humor in these raunchy times?

Judy: Yes, I do.  All the legends I mentioned, they all worked clean. Amazing. You know, if it was good enough for them. As comedy has gotten raunchier and raunchier, and comedians have to get more outrageous to get attention, maybe the most outrageous thing of all is to just work clean. I have the pleasure of being friends with Peter Bergman, of the legendary Firesign Theatre comedy group. He was talking about the state of comedy, and all the “no holds barred” material out there, and he said, “maybe it’s time to ‘hold the bars for God’s sake!'”



About author

Julian Wilson, Editor, has been writing about different genres of music, from jazz to techno, for nearly two decades in print.