Book Excerpt: Lady Sings The Blues

Authors: Billie Holiday and William Dufty
Copyright: 1956
Publisher: Penquin Books, New York
ISBN: 0-14-006762-0

"I joined Count Basie's band to make a little money and see the world. For almost two years [1937 &1938] I didn't see anything but the inside of a Blue Goose bus, and I never got to send home a quarter. Fourteen dollars a day sounded real great. Nobody bothered to tell me I'd have to travel five hundred to six hundred miles on a hot or cold raggedy-ass Blue Goose bus; that it would cost me two or three bucks a night for a room; that by the time I was through having my hair fixed and gowns pressed - to say nothing of paying for pretty clothes to wear - I'd end up with about a dollar and a half a day. Out of that I had to eat and drink and send home some loot to Mom."

"I was accused of romancing everyone in the band and this was leading to dissension. This was a damn lie and I said so. I wasn't doing anything with anybody in the band except one cat - and not very often with him at that. [Editor's note: Freddie Green is believed to have been that "one cat", but neither Freddie, who was married, or Billie ever publicly admitted to an affair.] The truth was, I was scared of the cats in the band because they were messing with too many chicks on the road. Living on the road with a band, nobody had time to sleep alone, let alone with somebody. At night, as Lester Young used to say, we'd pull into a town, pay two to four bucks for a room, shave and take a long look at the bed, go play the gig, come back and look at the bed again, and then get on the bus."

"I still say the greatest thing about the Basie band of those days was that they never used a piece of music, still all sixteen of them could end up sounding like a great big wonderful sound. Most of my experience with bands before that had been in hanging out with Benny Goodman. I used to listen to him rehearse with high paid radio studio bands and his own group. He always had big arrangements. He would spend a fortune on arrangements for a little dog-assed vocalist."

"But with Basie, we had something no arrangement could touch. The cats would come in, somebody would hum a tune. Then someone else would play it over on the piano onece or twice. Then someone else would set up a riff, a ba-deep, a ba-dop. Then Daddy Basie would two-finger it a little. And then things would start to happen."

"Half the cats couldn't have read music if they'd had it. They didn't want to be bothered anyway. Maybe sometimes one cat would bring in a written arrangement and the other would run over it. But by the time Jack Wadlin, Skeet Henderson, Buck Clayton, Freddie Green, and Basie were through running it over, taking off, changing it, the arrangement wouldn't be recognizable anyway. I know that's the way we worked out "Love Of My Life" and "Them There Eyes" for me. [Editor's note: Freddie was the vocalist on the September 8, 1938, recording of "Them There Eyes" with the Kansas City Six. Interesting that the arrangement was also sung by Billie.] Everything that happened, happened by ear. For the two years I was in the band we had a book of a hundred songs, and every one of us carried every last damn note in our heads."

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