Sue-ABM228

IN 1964, Capitol released All by Myself, an LP that launched “the new Sue Raney … a shining new star all over again.” The “old” Sue Raney had made a dream debut seven years earlier, when she was just seventeen, on When Your Lover Has Gone, an album recorded in Hollywood with the great Nelson Riddle. The cover showed a misty-eyed schoolgirl clutching a love letter, but the vinyl captured a promising singer whose catch-in-the-throat sound was pure, true, and glowing with California sunshine. Riddle’s strings wrapped around her like swaddling clothes.

Now, on
All by Myself, Raney sang grown-up torch songs with a roaring big band in the Stan Kenton style. It was here that she got to show how much jazz feeling she had, and what a sensitive interpreter a few years’ time had made her.

She’d gotten a head start in Wichita, Kansas, where, as Raelene Claire Claussen, she was singing her heart out at four. Guided by a fierce stage mother, Sue had landed on actor Jack Carson’s L.A.-based radio show by her mid-teens, then, in 1957, on trumpeter Ray Anthony’s TV series. After high-school graduation, she recorded with Riddle. The reviews were encouraging, but when that album and another collection of standards,
Songs for a Raney Day, failed to score, Capitol had her record a bunch of singles “that were kind of inane,” she says. “Nothing worked.” And she was dropped.

Over the next three years she made a stormy break from her mother and found another manager, Ed Yellin, whom she later married. In 1963, Lee Gillette, a Capitol producer, gave her a second chance. Looking to remake her image for the new album, he tried to change her name (she refused) and had her photographed in a bubble bath, looking like Brigitte Bardot. He also invited Stan Kenton to back her. When Kenton proved unavailable, Capitol arranger Ralph Carmichael was recruited to evoke the bandleader’s thunderous sound. Kenton sideman Bud Brisbois led the trumpet section. “Ralph wrote really great,” says Sue, “but it was pretty blaring, and at times I felt, how am I gonna come up to this?”

She met the challenge. In a bouncy arrangement of the Cy Coleman-Joe McCarthy saloon song,
I’m Gonna Laugh You Right Out of My Life, Raney shows off her swinging time, while bringing out the song’s wistfulness. Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying is by Joe Greene, an L.A. writer of bluesy ballads that all of Kenton’s singers had sung. Spurred on by the piano of (she believes) Jimmy Rowles, Sue turns convincingly funky. The title track pairs her with the walking bass of Joe Mondragon; she improvises with liquid ease.

In January 1964, while awaiting the album’s release, Raney was hit by a car. Her leg and pelvis were fractured; it took almost a year for them to mend. Capitol didn’t wait, and
All by Myself was released. Raney appeared on the Tonight Show to launch it. “They wheeled me out on a dolly, because I couldn’t walk,” she says. Otherwise she couldn’t do much promotion, and sales suffered; Capitol didn’t record its “shining new star” again. But once healed, Raney was off and running. Another LP with Carmichael was issued on Philips in December, and she began touring and doing TV. Finally, she says, “I felt like something was starting to happen.”

Forty-plus years and eleven albums later, Sue Raney, who teaches voice in L.A., is still singing like a bird.
All by Myself reminds her of “a very bittersweet part of my life,” fraught with growing pains. “But fortunately people kept believing in what I did, and I’m eternally grateful for that.”

-- James Gavin, New York City, 2006

[James Gavin, the author of
Deep in a Dream: The Long Night of Chet Baker, is writing a biography of Lena Horne.]