WENDY Saddington seems unfazed that few recordings were made during her heyday. “I'm not into legacies,” the blues, soul and jazz singer says. She will draw on a 45-year career in a rare performance this week, with songs including Aretha Franklin's Save Me, an old favourite Nina Simone co-wrote with poet Langston Hughes, Backlash Blues, and Etta James' At Last.
But she won't do Look-ing through a Window, her Top 30 1972 song, penned by Aztecs' Billy Thorpe and Warren Morgan. “Not this time,” she says, confident there will be opportunity yet.
“I usually get a job once in a blue moon,” she says. “I guess it is by choice in a way. But at the same time I have always thought I would have liked to have earned a living at it.”
Saddington's once black afro is now frizzy white. She's described in promotional material as “a touchstone of unique, impassioned and psychedelically wild energy . . .”
“I actually am a very conservative person. . ."
Jazz and soul singer Henry Manetta is also on the bill in the show they call A Soul Seance and they will do a few duets. Pianist Adam Rudegeair will back them.
These days Saddington sings most often with fellow devotees at a Hare Krishna temple in South Melbourne. She says the teachings of Swami Prabhupada, who founded the International Society for Krishna Consciousness in New York in the mid-1960s, “saved my life” at that time, when she was a heavy drinker.
She was introduced to the movement by friends during a 1972 visit to New York where a US label executive told her there were no opportunities for (white) female singers. “I honestly think if I had gone on with that, it would have ended up like Janis Joplin. Too fast; not good enough; too soon, you know, bang.”
The only child of a bus driver and a raincoat maker, Saddington once worked as a typist, recording clients' details (“just divorces and stuff like that”) for a private detective in Coburg, quitting when he objected to the way she dressed and refused to give her a day off on Show Day.
She accompanied friends to a venue called Love In in Faraday Street, Carlton. “One night one of these two great twins I knew, got up to sing,” she says. “[I thought], 'Oh my god, I can sing better than that.'
“So next week came and I said, 'can I sing?' I just sang Bessie Smith songs and a Miriam Makeba song, When I've Passed on. Then they said, 'you can sing here every week'.”
Saddington joined The Revolution and The James Taylor Move. She performed with Chain and suggested its name change from Beaten Tracks from the Aretha Franklin classic, Chain of Fools. She jokes that she has a new name, Unchained.
She sang in Copperwine with co-lead Jeff St John, and fronted the band in a 1971 live recording of a celebrated performance at the Wallacia Festival, west of Sydney. She based a recording of Bob Dylan's Just like Tom Thumb's Blues on Nina Simone's version.
Saddington formed her own band and took it on the road. She was filmed by Peter Weir and had a small role in Tommy at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl.
Next month, she has a gig in Mullumbimby, New South Wales. “So that is more than just a blue moon isn't it?” she says.
Wendy Saddington performs at Fortyfivedownstairs, 45 Flinders Lane, at 7.30pm next Wednesday.