Thursday, December 08, 2022

Together Again

Three of my favorite musicians – Kiki Dee, Buffy Sainte-Marie, and Ahmad Jamal – have been in the news lately, all for very different reasons. I’ll start tonight with Kiki.

A lot of people remember English singer Kiki Dee for her 1976 duet with Elton John on the hugely popular “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart.” It was a hit song pretty much everywhere!

Over the years, Elton and Kiki have revisted this memorable song a number of times – at a concert of Elton’s at Hammersmith Odeon in 1982, at Live Aid in 1985, at Madison Square Garden in 2000 . . . and just last month at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles as part of Elton’s farewell North American tour.

Both singers’ voices have lowered over the years, Kiki’s in particular. Yet far from being an impediment, Kiki has used this change to great effect. This should not be in the least bit surprising. After all, on her song “Forward Motion” (2013) Kiki’s disdain for standing still is forthrightly (and beautifully) expressed. In the years since her first collaborations with Elton John in the 1970s, Kiki’s music has been constantly evolving. And for discerning music lovers, that’s been a real gift.

With musical partner Carmelo Luggeri (right), Kiki has for over two decades been writing, recording and performing songs that play to her vocal gift, one which though now lower in register and diminished in range from her ’70s heyday, continues to compellingly express a depth of feeling and insight that glows with an introspective warmth. Without doubt, Kiki’s voice has developed a timeless quality, one well suited to the deep themes of human experience she now so often explores in her songs.

Given all of this, it shouldn’t be surprising that the voice of today’s 75-year-old Kiki Dee is not the same as the voice of the 1970s Kiki Dee. Perhaps for some at Elton’s Dodger Stadium concert this was a disappointment. And it seems to have been a challenge for Kiki herself to sing “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” in the bouyant, upbeat way she first recorded it in her twenties. This was not lost on Billboard music critic Melinda Newman, who in her November 21 review wrote that Elton and Kiki’s “nostalgic rendition of their classic hit finished strong after a timid start.”

Here’s the thing, though: “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” is still in Kiki’s concert repertoire, albeit in a very different form than when she first recorded it. She now sings it solo and in a much more relaxed, almost meditative way.

A beautiful example of Kiki’s “alternative” version can be found on her 1995 album Almost Naked, a set of live performances with Carmelo Luggeri, and the pair’s first recording together.

Another example is the live version that Kiki and Carmelo performed on the Australian TV show Studio 10 in 2019 . . .

The thing I find most interesting about this performance is the background playing of images from the original 1976 music video as Kiki and Carmelo present their very different take on this classic song. I find the contrast between the youthful Kiki and the older Kiki to be very poignant.

Following is Kiki and Carmelo’s 2019 Studio 10 performance. It’s preceded by a lovely interview with Kiki.

I close by sharing (with added images and links) Nicole Rubio’s 2012 article, “Getting to Know Kiki Dee.” Enjoy!

Singer Kiki Dee shot to fame thanks to a duet with Elton John. Now [46] years on, she’s far from the spotlight of life on the road with Elton, but still singing “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart,” only at a slower tempo with musician Carmelo Luggeri. Life has a different flavour to it now, having moved from London’s buzz to the sweet streets of the small Hertfordshire village of Ashwell.

From her serene and cosy cottage, we discuss life over champagne (brought back from her recent tour) and trifle. As she takes me through the corridors of her heart and mind, I am impressed by her sincerity and genuine approach to all matters.

She is both gracious and direct, never belittling another in her words nor needing to be mindful. Her acceptance of life, its journeys and revelations are refreshing and candid. She is happy, with herself, with her music, with her choices . . . and there is nothing to hide.

“I have worked on myself a lot actually, through my life. I’ve worked on the way I am and the way I think. Because I think you can change the way you think if you work on yourself and have a positive attitude. My priority now is to work as long as I can and stay healthy.”

Kiki uses the word “real” an awful lot, in relation to her home, the village where she lives, her sense of self and her music, “It’s more real than when I was a pop star.” It seems particularly important to her now, and not just as a word or concept, you can hear it in her tone, the earthy, slightly husky sounds of her voice impart confidence in her self and what she is all about. “The nice thing about being older is that you know who you are.”

Kiki was part of the pulse of the ’70s music scene, but had been singing for a good ten years when celebrity found her. She had already been signed with Motown, the first white British artist to have done so – “It was a fluke thing, somebody heard me sing and they wanted to produce someone from England so they took me on,” – but when nothing big came from it, she made a couple of calls and found herself in Elton’s first London flat.

“I’ll never forget, because the night I went over there his mum was coming and Neil Young was coming over, so it was the most bizarre evening, and that’s how I met him.”

Signing on to Elton’s label, Rocket Records, was a move in the right direction and she was soon a household name with her first hit “Amoureuse” followed soon after by “I’ve Got the Music In Me.”

By 1976, Kiki was a global name, having climbed to Number 1 in the UK singles chart as well as the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart with Elton John singing “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart.”

It wasn’t long before she was on the road, backing up Elton as they toured the States. “That period was very exciting because up to that point, I’d been this kid who had been discovered in Yorkshire, who had been working with much older people. When I met Elton I was working with people my own generation, my own age.”

The next couple of decades Kiki stayed busy, and although she wasn’t centre stage in the charts, she kept her feet firmly in the music industry, [releasing solo albums and] contributing to tracks such as Elton John’s “Too Low for Zero” and Alan Parsons’ “You’re On Your Own.”

Adding acting to her résumé, Kiki took to the West End’s musical production of Blood Brothers [right], where she was nominated for an Olivier Award for her acting prowess. Meanwhile, she continued to make music [including her Top 50 charting album Perfect Timing in 1981] and performed at Live Aid.

Arriving at the present day, Kiki is reclining in her favourite chair, looking casually beautiful and sharing insights in her frank and honest manner. “When you are under 50 you want to look good and when you are over 50 you want to feel good. Then when you feel good, you look good,” she says.

Music is still her driving force and she finds fulfilment in her profession. “I kind of work at my own pace now. It seems to have gone that way because I am not doing the celebrity thing, I haven’t got management and publicists. I’m just doing my own thing with my music partner Carmelo Luggeri.”

She enjoys the music, from its creation to the playing and she and Carmelo are working on a new album [2013’s A Place Where I Can Go]. “It feels more authentic in that sense because it’s me as a person, not relying on having a record in the charts.”

Now contentment is found in her friends and family’s happiness and wellbeing. She enjoys time to relax a little now, having launched into a career at the age of 16, a weekly yoga class keeps her centred and her music is practically a life long friend.

She still holds in her hands mementos from those early years; a friendship with Elton. “I’ve always felt that we have had an authentic relationship. I like that, and I don’t have to see him all of the time to know that we care about each other,” a string of hits, as well as musical and acting achievements, and a pair of silver rhinestone studded platform boots, “they are pretty wild. I couldn’t throw them away.”

Life in a small village suits her. She enjoys hearing kids on their walk to school in the mornings, to be comfortable in her home and environment, to meet up with friends and work with Carmelo. She still gets recognised but people in the village are relaxed about having a celebrity in their corner of the world.

She says, “I decided a long time ago I wanted to be someone who could walk down the street. I didn’t want to be somebody who was caged by celebrity. You know, there’s always those moments when someone might know you or recognise you or ask you to sign a CD in the village, which is always quite funny.”

Kiki continues to tour regularly and still gets nervous before she performs. The gigs are more intimate these days, acoustic and rather more home grown. At the meet-and-greet sessions that follow, she enjoys the comments she receives about her performances, finding that people are surprised and delighted by her new material. “That’s what keeps me going.” And she is still going, with verve, flair and integrity. As we part ways, she bestows her motto on me, “Ride loose in the saddle of life,” blows me a kiss and gives me a wink. She’s still got the music in her.

Nicole Rubio
Great British Life
June 21, 2012

Above and below: Some “behind the scenes” images of Kiki Dee at Elton John’s November 20, 2022 Dodger Stadium concert.

Above: Kiki with Elton and his two other guest vocalists – Dua Lipa (left) and Brandi Carlile – backstage at Elton’s final USA tour date at Dodgers Stadium, Los Angeles, November 20, 2022.

Related Off-site Links:
Elton John, Dua Lipa, Brandi Carlile and Kiki Dee Rock Dodger Stadium for Sir Elton’s U.S. Tour Farewell – Chris Willman (Variety, November 21, 2022).
In a Giant Sing-Along, the Sun Goes Down On Elton John at Dodger Stadium – Mikael Wood (Los Angeles Times, November 18, 2022).
Elton John Gets the Same Birthday Gift From Kiki Dee Every Year – and It’s Lovely – Sue Crawford (Mirror, July 1, 2019).
Interview With Kiki Dee – Gary James (, 2020).
The Interview: Kiki Dee – Emily Cleaver (La Dolce Vita Magazine, 2013).
Kiki Dee Dispels Rumours Dusty Springfield Was Lined Up for Elton John Duet: “I Don’t Really Know Where That Story Came From”RetroPop (April 8, 2022).

For more of Kiki Dee at The Wild Reed, see:
The End Is Not the End
Deeper Understandings
Celebrating the Proverbial “Soulman”
Kiki Dee and Carmelo Luggeri

Previously featured musicians at The Wild Reed:
Dusty Springfield | David Bowie | Kate Bush | Maxwell | Buffy Sainte-Marie | Prince | Frank Ocean | Maria Callas | Loreena McKennitt | Rosanne Cash | Petula Clark | Wendy Matthews | Darren Hayes | Jenny Morris | Gil Scott-Heron | Shirley Bassey | Rufus Wainwright | Kiki Dee | Suede | Marianne Faithfull | Dionne Warwick | Seal | Sam Sparro | Wanda Jackson | Engelbert Humperdinck | Pink Floyd | Carl Anderson | The Church | Enrique Iglesias | Yvonne Elliman | Lenny Kravitz | Helen Reddy | Stephen Gately | Judith Durham | Nat King Cole | Emmylou Harris | Bobbie Gentry | Russell Elliot | BØRNS | Hozier | Enigma | Moby (featuring the Banks Brothers) | Cat Stevens | Chrissy Amphlett | Jon Stevens | Nada Surf | Tom Goss (featuring Matt Alber) | Autoheart | Scissor Sisters | Mavis Staples | Claude Chalhoub | Cass Elliot | Duffy | The Cruel Sea | Wall of Voodoo | Loretta Lynn and Jack White | Foo Fighters | 1927 | Kate Ceberano | Tee Set | Joan Baez | Wet, Wet, Wet | Stephen “Tin Tin” Duffy | Fleetwood Mac | Jane Clifton | Australian Crawl | Pet Shop Boys | Marty Rhone | Josef Salvat | Kiki Dee and Carmelo Luggeri | Aquilo | The Breeders | Tony Enos | Tupac Shakur | Nakhane Touré | Al Green | Donald Glover/Childish Gambino | Josh Garrels | Stromae | Damiyr Shuford | Vaudou Game | Yotha Yindi and The Treaty Project | Lil Nas X | Daby Touré | Sheku Kanneh-Mason | Susan Boyle | D’Angelo | Little Richard | Black Pumas | Mbemba Diebaté | Judie Tzuke | Seckou Keita | Rahsaan Patterson | Black | Ash Dargan | ABBA | The KLF and Tammy Wynette | Luke James and Samoht | Julee Cruise | Olivia Newton-John | Dyllón Burnside | Christine McVie

1 comment:

Scott said...

My first thought on hearing the Dodger Stadium performance was that because Elton can’t sing in the song's original higher key, Kiki was forced to sing in a lower key that she’s not comfortable with. Her voice has certainly lowered with age, as you note, Michael, but not as low as where she found herself having to sing in this particular performance.