I hear car horns behind the voice of Lesley Gore on the phone, which makes sense, since the woman who sang "It's My Party" and "You Don't Own Me" is in New York. The Big Apple is also where Gore first learned how to hit the charts, with no less a tutor than producer and arranger Quincy Jones. "It's extraordinary that a man of his distinction could put himself in the shoes of a 16-year-old kid," Gore says. "That was his art, in a way. There may have been a 14-year difference between us, but he never talked down to me."
Anecdotes about Q figure in Gore's current live performances, which also makes sense, since the girl who sang "Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows" and "Judy's Turn to Cry" in the key of A — "If Quincy didn't see the veins popping in my neck, he wouldn't be happy" — is now a smoky-voiced woman working in jazzier, Jones-ier realms on the new CD Ever Since (Engine Company). "Quincy would often call me on a Friday and say, "Lil' Bits, meet me at Basin Street at 8"," Gore remembers. "We'd go see Peggy [Lee] or Ella [Fitzgerald] or Dinah Washington. He'd say, "Listen to this opening number — this is what an opening number should do." He took mentoring seriously. He wanted me to understand."
To understand Lesley Gore, you could check out Susan J. Douglas's excellent Where the Girls Are: Growing Up Female with the Mass Media, a rumination on pop culture that makes it easy to place ’'60s girl- pop records by Gore and others on a continuum that led to the feminist revolution. Or you could just check out the music. Far from a crybaby, Gore paved the way for the rebellious likes of Joan Jett. "I rather liked Joan's interpretation [of "'You Don't Own Me"]," ']," Gore says. "Dusty [Springfield] also covered that record almost minutes after it came out."
Ah, Dusty. Gore and Springfield had things besides talent in common, even if it's taken decades for the news to come out in print. "I did actually come to know Dusty when I was living in LA during the ’'70s," Gore recalls. "They are doing a musical [Dusty] of Dusty's life. Dusty's manager, Vicki Wickham, is a dear friend of mine, and they consulted her."
One musical has already drawn material from Gore's life for material, though her thoughts about Allison Anders's 1996 movie Grace of My Heart aren't fond ones. "Actually, nothing rang absolutely true in that movie," she says. "The actual history is that I didn't know I was gay until after college," she says.. "So whatever they put in [the movie] was more of a projected scenario than a reality. They asked me to write a song [for the movie], and it wasn't a completely pleasant experience. I realized they asked so they could exploit my name. Then they had the lack of decency to pretty much not invite me to the [movie's] opening." Needless to say, Gore's memories of working with what she calls "the Fame family" — and co-penning Irene Cara's "Out Here oOn My Own" — are happier.
As for today, the woman who has recently helped soundtrack The L Word and host In the Life is ready to hit the road for San Francisco with her band. "'"Judy's Turn to Cry" ' has completely erupted for me as new song, after taking out those horn and strings and bopp-y things," she says, discussing the "stripped-down" approach she takes to new tunes and classic hits. "You're gonna get a show we've been doing steadily for 4 or 5 months for months— it's grown in dimension, width, and height, and everyone is going to have a great time. Some people may have to turn their hearing aids up, but that's what friends are for." (Johnny Ray Huston)
Sat/22–-Sun/23, 8 p.m.
Brava Theater Center
2781 24th St., SF
$35–$-40 ($60 with includes Gala after-party)
For a Q&A with Lesley Gore, go to Noise, the sfbg.com music blog.