It is a little before 9 on Saturday night west of Casa Grande. Saturday night at the Francisco Grande Resort, in the Franny Granny Lounge, to be exact. There are five people in the place, swilling drinks and dragging on cigarettes after a day of golf, which makes perfect sense, as this is a golf resort. The decor of the Franny Granny is strictly contemporary links: golf clubs adorn the walls, souvenir towels from courses throughout the country hang from the ceiling, many of the patrons are wearing plaid slacks.
But there is more here at the Franny Granny than stiff drinks and a handful of retirees working on a five handicap. There is live entertainment in the form of one Barbara Christy.
She is onstage right now, as a matter of fact, all by herself. And that's the way it always is; she's worked this room as a solo for the last five years. Christy is locking into Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You," arms outstretched, crucifixion-style, between two keyboards, computer drum machine thumping out the languid beat. She leans her head back, eyes closed, long, blond hair falling across her tasteful/sexy stage get-up, belts out the lyrics with throaty emotion. Then Barbara picks up a silver trumpet with her right hand, keeping the bass line throbbing along on a keyboard with her left, and blows a laid-back, jazzy solo.
The song is done, she opens her eyes, the old boys with the loud pants applaud quietly.
So what do we have here? A scene that is going on in a thousand lounges in a thousand resorts across the country tonight? In many ways, yes, but Barbara Christy is determined to finally exit the lounge scene in which she's made her living for the last 14 years. Talk to other professional musicians with half-full tip jars and sets that overflow with other people's hits, and chances are you'll hear similar tales of hope.
But Christy is someone who is putting her career where her mouth is; from the somewhat unlikely checkpoint of Casa Grande, Arizona, this Jersey girl is hatching a master plan to Make Things Happen.
In September, she released The Ultimate Power, an 11-song CD of contemporary jazz. She wrote, arranged, co-produced, art-directed, performed all the playing and singing on it; in short, Christy did everything but act as security guard at the pressing plant.
It's break time between sets, and Christy steps off the Franny Granny stage for a little chat. "I'm so tired of being led by the nose by agents and managers and all the bullshit," she says. "They take your money, and all of a sudden, you're working for them, they're not working for you. They steal from you, lie to you, put you on hold." Hence the do-it-yourself mentality, Barbara explains. "I get more results this way. I know people now who're working on trying to get a record deal, working with some manager, and they started before me. I've got stuff going already. I don't have to wait for somebody to give me a line--I want it done now."
She's got plenty in the attitude department, but is her music any good? If adult contemporary jazz is your thing, the answer is yes. Christy's style is pretty similar to the way Herb Alpert has sounded since Rise, his massive, mellow jazz-funk hit from 1979. (Not surprisingly, she's a huge Alpert fan, and was a card-carrying fan-club member at age 10.) And local radio has opened its playlists; Bill Shedd, music director at KJZZ-FM, has tracks from The Ultimate Power in light to medium rotation. "I think it's viable in the format," he says. "I know some other stations around the country are beginning to play it, too. I think she has some talent, and the resource to do it."
But Christy's chilled-drinks-and-hot-nights brand of jazz is not really what the Franny Granny patrons are after. "Of course, I had to change my repertoire real quick to country!" she says, laughing. "I didn't know anything about country! I get more requests for Patsy Cline than anything else."
After fruitless years in Atlantic City and Vegas--"Unless you're a headliner, they don't treat the musicians the way you'd want to be treated"--Christy is at least used to playing covers. It was at Trump Castle that she met a group that hooked her up with a manager who brought her out West, which turned out to be the Casa Grande Holiday Inn.
"I had no idea what Casa Grande was. It was like, off the map, you know? The first night that I played, I went, 'My God! Who are these people?' I just saw cowboys and Indians and Mexicans and I'm going, 'Where am I?!'" Where she was then turned out to be where--albeit a change of venue--she is now, Casa Grande, gem of the desert. But where some might look at the Big House and see a nowhere town, in Christy's eyes, it is an economically accommodating outpost from which she can marshal her forces before assaulting the big time. "It's been a laid-back job," she says. "I funded my whole album with this job; they put me up, food and everything. I don't have a lot of bills, so I spent it all on the album. I don't like the New Jersey-New York scene; there're a lot of really back-stabbing people. It was like a breath of fresh air to see how Arizona will back up their musicians. If I wanted to just do this, I would never have put the album out. This album is definitely not to hand out to the golfers. The way I look at it is, I'm here, so don't bite the hand that feeds me."
Speaking of hands, a few more have entered the Franny Granny and are holding drinks. The crowd is relaxed and ready for some more smooth music. They don't call it a lounge for nothing. Christy has plans--she even intends to shoot a self-funded video next month--but still; she's been here for five years. Is there a chance she'll become a victim of lounge syndrome? "It's not gonna happen," she insists. "I've done it long enough. Finally, I started getting bitter; I saw all these idiots up there on the TV screen, doing videos and making money, and they don't have half the talent I've got. You don't wait for somebody to give you permission to make it, you give yourself permission to make it." And with that, she's back to the stage. She fires up the drum machine, extends her arms to the keys. A guy in a cowboy hat leads a woman to the small dance floor, the waitress hustles by, depositing highballs, emptying ashtrays, as Christy cocks her head, closes her eyes and begins to purr "Misty" into the mike. According to someone at the front desk of the Francisco Grande Resort, Barbara Christy will be performing at the Franny Granny Lounge "indefinitely.