Helen Reddy ready to roar again

She's still sick of 'Leave Me Alone,' but Australian singer has rediscovered the joy of performing

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Helen Reddy

Helen Reddy (March 12, 2013)

Before there was a King of Pop, Helen Reddy was being called the Queen of ’70s Pop thanks to her string of 15 Billboard top 40 songs and three chart toppers, starting with the anthemic “I Am Woman.”

This rich-voiced, auburn-haired Australia native was ubiquitous that decade: on radio, on television (guest appearances on “The Carol Burnett Show,” her own summer-replacement series “The Helen Reddy Show”) and in the movies (“Airport ’75,” Disney’s “Pete’s Dragon”). But by the 1980s the hits had ended, and by the early 2000s she had grown tired of performing, noting Friday in a phone conversation from the Washington, D.C., area: “I remember the Vegas days when it was two shows a night, seven nights a week, and it became so rote that I’d be thinking about wallpaper while I was singing.”

She’d especially had enough of her 1973 hit “Leave Me Alone (Ruby Red Dress).”

“ ‘Leave me alone, leave me alone, leave me alone, leave me alone, leave me alone, leave me alone, leave me, oh, leave me alone, leave me alone, leave me alone, leave me alone, leave me alone, leave me alone, leave me,’” she drone-quoted. “And that’s only one chorus.”

So Reddy retired from the stage and returned to Australia for 10 years, spending time with her older sister and living a quiet life. Yet after a Tuesday lunchtime program sponsored by the Oak Brook Women’s Club at Ruth Lake Country Club in Clarendon Hills, the 71-year-old singer will be performing at the Arcada Theatre in St. Charles Wednesday night as she resumes her career on her own terms.

Reddy discussed living in Chicago in the late ‘60s, her decision to come back, the songs she will and won’t sing and hypnotherapy in our conversation, which has been edited.

Q. Do you have any specific Chicago performing memories?

A. I remember living in Chicago. It was only for about 10 months. I was one of the first people to move into Lake Point Tower.

Q. What were you doing here?

A. I did a revue at the Happy Medium, and I did a run at (the Rush Street nightclub) Mister Kelly’s.

Q. Anything you like doing in the city in particular?

A. Oddly enough, when I did live there, I missed out on summer, so it was pretty cold when I was there, but I would love to have a Chicago summer.

Q. Your decision to come back came after you performed at your sister’s birthday?

A. Yes, that’s right, because it was her 80th birthday, and she asked me if I would sing a duet with her. I hadn’t heard my voice in 10 years, and when I heard it coming over the speaker, it was like: Oh, that’s not bad. Maybe I should do that again.

Q. You literally did not sing for—

A. For 10 years, no.

Q. Not at all?

A. Nope. What I did find myself doing was humming harmonies. When I heard music, I would start humming a harmony, but other than that, no. I think I was burned out.

Q. On someone’s birthday you just kind of hummed “Happy Birthday” when they lit the candles?

A. I would sing “Happy Birthday,” but that was about as far as it went.

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