FIVE QUESTIONS: IRMA THOMAS

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The Soul Queen of New Orleans (and that’s not an opinion, that’s a fact) takes five from us.

1.) What’s your favorite Beatles song and why?
Oh, well I have a couple of them. “Yesterday” was one. And don’t ask me why, but “Hey Jude.” I don’t really know the whole song, I just like the format of the song. It was one of the first long-play songs I’d ever heard. I think the darn song was, what, 7 minutes long or something? And I thought it was interesting because I enjoyed all 7 minutes of it. It was like I didn’t care if it didn’t end. [Laughter] And I like “Yesterday” because it’s such a poignant song.

2.) Who are three songwriters—living or dead—that you wish you could sit down and write a song with?
Well, of course Randy Newman is one. I’ve had the pleasure of writing with Dan Penn. I’ve never thought about it that way. There was a guy that wrote a couple of songs that I’ve recorded, he’s a Louisiana guy and he’s a very good writer that comes up with some very good stuff—David Egan. He has a knack for writing very deep type of songs that you really have to think about when they’re finished. And I like that. They tell good stories, but you really have to think.

3.) If you had to pick one song that you’ve performed that you really think sums you up as a singer, what would that be?
[Laughter] There is no one song that sums me up as a singer. I’ve sung some of everything. All of it.

4.) What’s the one song that you wish you could’ve written?
There isn’t really one. Because, you know, I look at it this way: if it was something that I could’ve written, I would’ve written it. I look at it that way because some people are songwriters and a lot of songwriters can’t sing. People don’t know that, but there’s a lot of songwriters that can’t sing. So I feel honored and blessed when someone writes a song and offers it to me to be the person who portrays it for them or tells the story for them. So I feel honored that they choose me as a singer to tell their story. So I don’t really look at it and wish that I had wrote that song or wish that I had recorded that song, because I am of the firm belief that what’s for you is gonna happen. It’s not nothing, I just think my job predominantly is to tell the story of the writer’s song. And that’s the way it’s been over these 54 years. Most of the material has come from other writers and I’ve managed to tell the story well enough that people still buy the songs. A lot of folk come up to me and ask, “Where can I get your greatest hits?” I don’t have a “Greatest Hits.” That tells me that they enjoy the way I told the story of the song, so, you know, I don’t feel regrets of not having written them for whatever reason.

5.) Is there anything you’re listening to these days that you’re particularly digging?
I watch game shows. [Laughter] And when we stop talking, I’m watching “The Price is Right.” [Laughter] Don’t laugh! That’s just the way I spend my days! I’m not a big radio person. You know, I don’t play a lot of music at home. If I’m learning something, I’ll listen to it. I have my small little CD player and MP3 player that I plug in my ears, and I’ll listen to whatever it is I’m learning, or I’ll plug it in in the car. But I don’t listen to a lot of music when I’m not working. It keeps it fresh to me. If I listen to music 24/7 and hit that stage, nothing’s fresh to me. So that’s how I keep my music that I’ve been doing over the last 50-some odd years, that’s how I keep it fresh. I don’t sing it 24/7. I don’t listen to it 24/7. I give my ears and my head a break. So when I hit the stage, it’s like the first time each time for me. I don’t know if that makes any sense to you. When you realize I recorded “(You Can Have My Husband But Please) Don’t Mess With My Man” in late 1959 and I’ve been singing “Don’t Mess With My Man” on every show that I’ve performed practically since that time, can you imagine how nuts I would be if I had to listen to that over all these years? [Laughter] Come on. So in order to keep it fresh—and it’s not a purposeful thing, it’s just always the way I’ve operated. I’ve never been one that’s listened to a lot of music at home. People put on a record to do their housework. I was never that type of person and so fortunately after all these years, it works for me. 

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