Mimi Roman has a rockabilly heart, a Tin Pan Alley soul and plenty of stories to tell


To hear the green-eyed singer from Nashville via NYC tell it, the story of how Mimi Romain became a rockabilly queen and country-pop crooner in the mid-50s was as much a happy accident as failing to sing “Walkin’ After Midnight” was a mistake on her producer’s part. “My whole career has been a series of serendipitous circumstances,” Roman tells me. “All the chances of my life have made this career for me.”

Roman’s life has been rich in aesthetic and professional success, with huge breakup after huge breakup – signing with Decca and working with legendary country producer Owen Bradley, singing for “Tennessee Waltz” songwriter Pee Wee King , hosting his own radio show, performing commercial jingles – most of which are documented on two recently released Sundazed label compilations, Brooklyn Cowgirls Premiere and that of the more pop side of his alter ego Kitty Ford with Kitty. “The Kitty Ford record? It was an ego thing with me, the songs that I really wanted to do that nobody would let me do. And Mimi Roman’s double album… I’m glad a label like Sundazed wanted to release it. My daughter and my granddaughter are also delighted that these albums have been released. It was their mother’s and grandmother’s career.

Although rooted in country music from the start, Roman isn’t exactly of country stock. When I ask her about the Salinas, California reference in her biography, she states that it was a fictional old house she assigned to herself when her first Decca label bosses were struggling. comfortable having a country singer from the neighborhoods of New York. “They asked me to choose another place to come from,” Roman recalls. “I even thought that when I first played at Salinas they would have some sort of comeback parade. They had nothing for me, though. Nothing at all.”

Raised in New York, developing a love for country music was only possible via the radio on Friday and Saturday nights when WWVA from Wheeling, West Virginia came through the air static. “I would be under my covers, late at night in bed, and the barn dance the show would come,” says Roman. “There was a 100,000 watt station in Del Rio, Texas playing country music and I could get it on my radio dial in Brooklyn. It wasn’t easy, but I was desperate – it was the music I wanted to hear, and I stayed up all night waiting for it. Then I staggered all the next morning because I hadn’t slept.

“My whole career has been a series of fortuitous circumstances. All the chances of my life have made this career for me.

Before recording the slew of songs that make up Brooklyn Cowgirls Nowadays, Roman was crowned Queen of the Madison Square Garden Rodeo with a riding number that thrilled the crowd. There she was given a month-long contract to perform with that year’s rodeo star: Gene Autry and his assortment of horses. “It was one of my ambitions when I was a teenager, because I was a big rodeo fan,” she says. “In New York, the rodeo didn’t come often, but when it did, it lasted an entire month. You had to be sponsored by one of the local dude ranches – which in itself was a rarity – and I tried for two years in a row, but eventually won. I had changed my name just before. I was ‘Rothman’ the first two tries. (As she says in her documentary, Brooklyn Cowgirl, she shortened her name due to an anti-Semitic judging staff. “One of the judges asked me, ‘Are you Jewish?’

That calling eventually paid off when Roman picked up a guitar, decided to become a nightclub cabaret singer, and by chance found herself on the Talent Scout Arthur Godfrey show in 1954 when a family neighbor sent Roman’s name to the network. “And, damn it, I won singing a country song,” she says. “A door opened and I walked through it.”

For the uninitiated, television Godfrey’s Talent Scout was the american idol of its time, a competitive singing program where stars were created overnight, with Godfrey as a kind of multimedia presence. “You had to have a talent scout bring you in, and my mother was my mother who discovered me at a very young age,” says Roman, who performed with two other artists in that March 1954 program. end of each show, they had a round of applause. When I won the Talent scout program, which allowed me to be on Arthur Godfrey’s morning show for a whole week. We also had very strict instructions: you couldn’t talk to him or look at him. You couldn’t leave the stage until he left the stage. His nice persona wasn’t who he really was. He was a really scary man.

“There was a 100,000 watt station in Del Rio, Texas playing country music and I could get it on my radio dial in Brooklyn. It wasn’t easy, but I was desperate – it was the music I wanted to hear and I stayed up all night waiting for it.

Fate also placed Roman ahead of Owen Bradley, the prominent country music producer of his time and architect of Nashville’s sound of the 1950s and 1960s with discoveries ranging from Patsy Cline and Loretta Lynn to Conway Twitty with stops at rock and roll. roll (Buddy Holly) and rockabilly (Gene Vincent). “Owen was a great guy, as was his brother Harold who played guitar on all the records I did with Mr. Bradley,” Roman says of those early Decca sessions.

“But my best memory of Owen is not in my records. He calls me in the studio [one day] and tells me he wants me to hear something. He then continues to play me this very first Patsy Cline session that he had just recorded. Listening to this session was an “oh my god” moment. Then he said to me, ‘I have a country singer who wants to sing pop and a pop singer who wants to sing country. I don’t know what to do with you girls. Owen had a lot on his mind with us, especially as he needed to figure out who he was going to get ‘Walkin’ After Midnight’ to sing. Patsy got it, and I was really happy for her because she was a great girl.

While “Walkin’ After Midnight” became Cline’s first big hit on the country and pop charts, Roman, who owns a lineup of operas, is happy to say she’s been following her own country path, recording songs such as “Weary Blues” by Hank Williams. From Waiting”, “Mr. Opportunity” and “Cheater’s Luck”. Roman didn’t choose the music, but she sings every melody and rides every beat like the song has been part of her bloodstream since birth, also noting that she has “fantastic musicians” such as the guitar legend Chet Atkins in his studio. recording team. “I was getting them on a Friday and recording them on a Saturday,” jokes Roman about the rush to the recording studio. “Sometimes I wish I had more time to work on them, maybe sing them in front of an audience first and see if they threw anything at me, but that’s how it was done.”

“It was just Wanda [Jackson] and I who did. We didn’t even know what to call it, because “rockabilly” didn’t have that name back then. It was just us making catchy, up-tempo songs. I’ve only ever been a country singer, fast and slow.

While some artists would never dabble in both country and rockabilly, like Wanda Jackson, Roman approached both ends of the spectrum with nobility, tenderness and sassiness. “It’s a wonder to me that it happened back then, but it was just Wanda and I doing it. We didn’t even know what to call it, because “rockabilly” didn’t have that name back then. It was just us making catchy, up-tempo songs. I’ve only ever been a country singer, fast and slow.

With much of his country music regimen on tour, Roman ran with Johnny Cash, Minnie Pearl and Ernest Tubb and became a member of Pee Wee King’s lively swing country band, the Golden West Cowboys. “Elvis too,” says Roman, who played with a young Presley. “I got to know him early on and he was a nice boy. I had a great opportunity there, as I was still living in New York, at home with my mom even as I pursued country music. When Elvis, Johnny or Minnie stopped by in New York, I was often the only person they knew, so we hung out, we had a hamburger, we went to the movies, we went to the park or we sat, we playing guitar and singing.”

In the early 1960s, Roman left the touring side of the music industry and remained in New York as a staff singer at the Associated Recording Studios under her alter ego, Kitty Ford, where she provided vocals for songwriting demos for the Brill Building likes Neil Sedaka and Carole King, Burt Bacharach and Kander and Ebb, as well as Broadway musicals such as Chicago, funny girland goodbye birdie.

“I always had the best chance of getting signed to labels even though they often didn’t know what to do with me,” she laughs. “During that time, to make a living, I had this job of singing demos for songwriters, most of which were pop. The people I sang for wanted to release that stuff, but I was signed elsewhere. To get around that, though, they said to pick a name. This time I imagined Kitty Ford, a baby car, and we went with that.

Today, at 87, Mimi resides in Westport, Connecticut, selling real estate. With her three Martin guitars, her ukulele and her boots, she can’t wait to promote her next reissues. “I have my guitar here, and I’m ready whenever you need me.” Florida


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