Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Annie Ross: Twisted and Terrific

Born into a Scottish vaudevillian family, Annie Ross was known as "Scotland's Shirley Temple" as a child performer. An aunt, actress Ella Logan, bought Annie her first record—Ella Fitzgerald's "A Tisket, A Tasket"—and at the age of four she knew she wanted to be a jazz singer. You can see her performing a jazzed-up version of "The Bonny Banks of Loch Lomond" on a 1938 Little Rascals episode. 

In 1952, Ross penned and sang scat-style lyrics to saxophonist Wardell Gray's composition "Twisted" and it was an underground hit, resulting in her winning Down Beat magazine's New Star award.

My analyst told me
That I was right out of my head
But I said dear doctor
I think that it's you instead
'Cause I have got a thing that's unique and new
It proves that I'll have the last laugh on you
Because instead of one head, I've got two. 

See Annie performing "Twisted" on Hugh Hefner's "After Dark." 

Ross was interviewed for the book Sassy: The Life of Sarah Vaughan by Leslie Gourse, which says, "As a very young woman, Annie, like Sassy, had enormous energy for a life in the fast lane; together they stayed up all night, drinking and smoking. Sassy liked marijuana and cocaine. Later Annie would switch to herbal tea, but in the 1950s, she too liked to get high."

Ross performed with Louis Armstrong and idolized Billie Holiday, about whom she spoke on a recent BBC interview. She recorded seven popular albums with the vocal group Lambert, Hendricks & Ross between 1957 and 1962. During that time, she descended into heroin, and had an affair with Lenny Bruce. According to Jet magazine (11/6/69), she was arrested for drugs, as was Anita O'Day.

 She also had an acting career as an adult, appearing in "The Saint" with Roger Moore, and as a jaded jazz singer in Robert Altman's Short Cuts (1993) (see her in the trailer below):

"Twisted" has been covered by a myriad of artists, including Bette Midler and Joni Mitchell (complete with a cameo from Cheech & Chong). In 1996, Ross recorded "Marajuana," the Arthur Johnston/Sam Coslow song first performed in the 1930s by Gertrude Michael and also covered by Midler.

At the age of 81, Ross sang "Twisted" at the 2011 MAC Awards, where she was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award. A documentary about Ross's life, titled No One But Me, premiered at the Glasgow Film Festival in 2012.  She was reportedly working on her autobiography and still singing. See Annie's website.

Sadly, Ross died in 2020 at the age of 89.  She was planning a California tour.

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