Love Will Keep Us Together. Muskrat Love. Do That To Me One More Time. These are the irresistible songs that cemented their place in pop culture forever, and made household names of Captain and Tennille, the musical husband-and-wife team who performed them. "Captain" was keyboardist Daryl Dragon, and "Tennille" was dynamic singer/songwriter Cathryn Antoinette "Toni" Tennille. In addition to their impressive discography, Captain and Tennille also hosted their own popular variety show on ABC from September 1976 to March 1977. The duo were undoubtedly America's sweethearts during the 70's and early 80's, presenting the image of a perfect couple both on and off the charts. It was therefore a surprise in late 2014 when it was announced that Captain and Tennille were divorcing-- after 39 years of marriage.
Today, Toni Tennille lives in Florida with Bee-Bop and Lula, her two champion Australian shepherds. After a truly variegated career spanning many decades, she is now retired from show business. However, Tennille has decided to tell her story at long last. Entitled Toni Tenille: A Memoir, the new book promises to be a candid and emotional journey of her colorful life and career, from childhood to her current life as a newly single woman. It also promises some very revealing-- and not always pretty-- insight on her life with The Captain. Ms. Tennille took the time to speak with me about her new book and much more:
Hello, Toni. Congratulations on the book! I really look forward to reading it.
Thank you. It took a few years to get it done, but we're pleased with how it turned out.
What inspired you to write the book? Was there a specific moment when you just knew it was the right time?
Not at all. You know, when you finally get to be my age and you've had some success, then your friends and your fans from "the old days" will always say, "You need to write your memoir!" I wasn't ready to write it, because I wasn't sure what I was going to do. I started thinking about it when I moved to Prescott. That was in 2009. When you read the book, you'll understand a lot more about my thinking. But I wasn't ready to write about it back then because-- well, first of all, I didn't think that my story was that interesting...
The only famous person I ever slept with was Daryl. There was no rehab or anything like that! I thought that it would not be that interesting, for those reasons. There wasn't anything really salacious. But, why did I write it? I thought about it over the last five years or so, wondering about what I would do and how I would write it, but I would never have written it by myself. And I would never have worked on it with a writer who I didn't know. Then my niece, Caroline Tennille St. Clair, sent me a couple of manuscripts that she had written. One was a novel for kids, for the "8 to 14" crowd. It was lovely and well-written, and I thought it was good... but it didn't speak to me because of how old I am. However, the second novel she sent me absolutely knocked me flat! It was shocking how wonderful it was. I read it, and I then found myself wanting to know more about the characters, and wanting to know where she got the idea for it, and everything else. I gave it to my friends and people that I knew of all ages, and they all had the same reaction that I did. So, I thought, "This young woman is a fine writer." She's my sister Jane's youngest daughter, and I've known her since she was six years old and she sat on my lap on our Christmas special while I sang Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas to her. I've watched her grow and become this writer and painter. She just has all kinds of wonderful talents. So, I talked to her about it. I asked, "Would you be interested in it?" She was. I said, "If I work with you, Caroline, let's see what we can come up with!" We started working over two years ago, when we were on a short family cruise. Caroline got out her digital recorder, and Jane and I sat down and started talking and remembering. Caroline got hours and hours of story from Jane and me. We made sure that we had our facts correct, and we argued about the right years and stuff like that. As we began, we decided that we would tell the story in the traditional memoir format. We would start at the beginning, early in my life, and we would take it up to now. That's the way I wanted to write it. Caroline too. As we began to work together, I found that I was really good at writing what happened. I was born in 1940, and grew up in Alabama in the segregated South as the daughter of white, upper middle class parents in Montgomery. I left Alabama in 1959 and moved to California. Then I met Daryl, who of course was a very important part of my whole life. Caroline would take my story and put it into historical context: She put it through what was going on in history at the time in this country. Caroline has the ability to set a scene. I can tell what happened, but she can set a scene so that people feel like they are there. I couldn't do that on my own!
Wow! That sounds amazing. So... when you and The Captain, Daryl, divorced in late 2014, the news exploded all over the internet. People were saying silly things like, "Love couldn't keep them together" and that kind of thing...
Yes. People thought they were being so clever. But anyway, I would imagine that many of your fans were upset about it...
Yes, I imagine...
Was your book in part motivated by your desire to tell the "real story"?
I'm sure that psychologists are going to have a field day trying to figure out what it is about Daryl when they read the book! But I was desperately in love with Daryl, from the very first time we started working together. I wrote many, many love songs for him. It turned out later that he never read the lyrics. He didn't know what I was writing. Here I was, coming from a loving family. Not a perfect family, but a family that loved. All of us. I have three sisters. I grew up with the idea that I could help anybody find their way to a more loving space. Oh, it was so naive-- but that's the way I was! I couldn't tell what Daryl felt about me, except that I knew he thought I was a wonderful songwriter and a fabulous singer-- and he really wanted to work with me and make records together. I knew that... but I was hoping to open the door to this man. I felt bad for him. I felt, "Oh my gosh, he just doesn't understand how wonderful I can be!" He was very negative about everything. I thought I could get through. There's a very short poem written by Edwin Markham that I am going to read to you. It's called Outwitted, and it has been somewhat of my theme from the first time I learned it, when I was in high school:
"He drew a circle that shut me out--
Heretic, a rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in!"
I spent my whole marriage trying to take him into the circle of the love that I had for him-- and I was never successful. People put us in that place: "Oh, they have the perfect love" No, we didn't. I did, but he didn't... and I could never make it happen. Finally, after many years, it just died. It's a cliche to say that if you don't take care of the garden, the flowers are going to die. That's kind of what happened. I am at the "last checked box". You know what I mean? When they ask, "What age are you?", I say, "I am the last box: 75 and up!". I wanted to have the life I felt I could have. But I couldn't as long as I was with him. I tell you: It took a lot of thinking, a lot of soul-searching. I went to a wonderful therapist in Prescott who really helped me through the worst time of trying to figure it out. Finally, she said to me, "Toni, why don't you go ahead and make this decision to leave Daryl, and get a divorce?" I said, "Well, I'm worried about how disappointed people will be." That's honestly what I said! She said, "This is not somebody else's life. This is yours. You have to make the decision about what you want to do." I thought about what she said, and I thought, "You know? It's true. I get to make this decision". And so I did. Not that it was easy, but I did it!
Just to backtrack... when you say that you are at the "last checked box", I'd prefer to say that you are in the "evening of your life"! Evenings can be wonderful!
(Laughs) I am. I'm in the evening of my life, and it's a wonderful life. I'm here in Florida, and I'm surrounded by the love of a great family. I just feel wonderful.
Congratulations for that. So... the 70's and early 80's, when Captain and Tennille had their hits all over the charts, was actually a very heady and hedonistic time in American culture. What was it like being a pop star and a public figure during that time?
The honest answer is that it was overwhelming to me-- to have that fame and recognition. I'm just going to tell you the truth: I didn't go into it for that reason. I went into it because Daryl and I made great music together. We made great records. Things just kind of came to us. We worked for two years in little clubs in Los Angeles, and some of them were just dives! But we worked, and we learned, and he and I just sparked each other musically. Because of this crazy love thing that I had for him, I wrote some great songs. I can write children's songs like Butterscotch Castle, but I can also write very sensual things, like Deep in the Dark. But anyway, we sparked each other-- and we got a record deal. We got the interest of four or five major labels in L.A., and we signed with the one that would let us produce our own first album. All the others wanted us to use the staff producer. We both knew that it was Daryl's producing that gave us our really unique sound. Then Love Will Keep Us Together came out, and went to number one in the summer of 1975, and then we won the Grammy, and all these things started coming our way. But Daryl has never been the kind of person who is comfortable in social situations, so it was hard for me because of that part. A lot of people think, "Oh boy! Fame! Isn't that fun?" But no, it wasn't that fun for me. That wasn't what I was looking for. It came, and I was grateful that it did, with all the good things that came with it. But it was hard for me.
When people watched you on TV, or were lucky enough to see you perform live, your love of performing was so obvious. It really shined through.
I loved that part. It's the other part that I'm not comfortable with-- the part that comes when you're off stage and you're just trying to be a regular person, and you can't be a regular person anymore. That was hard for me. That's actually why I laid low in Prescott for eight years. I didn't do anything. I didn't accept interviews from anywhere except the local paper, who did a piece on me and my dog Smokey. We worked at the hospital as a therapy team. Basically, I just did "regular stuff", and kept to myself, and had a nice quiet life. I see that soon happening again. My plan is that once we get this book done and Caroline has her shot as a published author, I am just going to drop below the radar again. Honestly. I don't know how successful I'll be, but that's my plan!
(Laughs) A lot of your fans will want to know if you will be performing again any time soon!
Gotcha! So, in a way we touched upon this already: Usually, in a relationship, one partner is the more outgoing, gregarious one, and the other is usually more reserved. In your case, there was no mystery which of the two of you was which! But when we watched the variety show, for example, we never really knew if Daryl's reserved nature was an "act", or if he really was content to let you have the spotlight...
He preferred it that way. When we were alone together, he had no trouble telling me what he thought or what he wanted. But in social situations, he was very uncomfortable and very awkward. What you saw was what he is. When we were on stage, I never quite knew what he was going to say-- if he even said anything. My job was to try to relate Daryl to the audience. Sometimes it was like, "What in the world did he just say? What does it mean?"... because I never even knew. It was like walking on a tightrope all the time on stage with Daryl. When we had our TV show, I already had experience. My mother was a TV talk show hostess-- one of the first ever to have her own show in the '50's in Alabama. I was around television my whole life. I did theater. I was very comfortable in front of an audience. Daryl had never even seen a cue card, much less read one. In those days, there was a guy sitting on the floor holding up a card with what you were supposed to say on it. He was just really uncomfortable with that. But what happened was: By him just being himself, he became a character-- and people were just fascinated by that and loved it. I was like, "OK. Fine!" We did a couple of concerts in Prescott, just for the people there... and Daryl came on stage after I finished doing 90 minutes of really singing my ass off, and then I said, "You asked for him. Here he is!" He walked out, looked at the audience, and said, "PRESCOTT!" That's all he said! And the audience jumped up and gave him a standing ovation. (Laughs) Whenever I did a concert, I tried to get him to come on stage to say "Hi!" or even do a song with me, and he would. But then he just quit doing it. No amount of coaxing could get him out there. But then again, I never knew what was going to do once he got out there.
(Laughs) As Captain and Tennille, you and Daryl brought us some songs that are cemented into pop culture forever. I still believe that Do That To Me One More Time...
... which I wrote!
Yes! I believe that it's still one of the most feverishly romantic songs ever!
Thank you. It was my number one of my number ones! It was about Daryl. But it wasn't about the reality. It was my fantasy of what I always hoped would happen but never did. Go online and read the lyrics for a song I wrote called Deep in the Dark. That's about a sensual experience. I'm very proud of those lyrics. I think they are almost poetic by themselves. But that's one side of me, and the other side is, "Come on along to our butterscotch castle!" I can write just about anything, but I did my best writing-- and was inspired the most-- when I was with Daryl. I'm glad that you like Do That To Me One More Time. I really am!
Well, it's timeless. You can put it on, decades later, and still get "in the mood"! So, back to the book. What was the hardest thing about writing it? Was it having to revisit some painful memories?
Yeah. But, you know, a lot of people have painful memories... and some people have much, much worse things in their life than I did. My life was just a life of hoping that this man who I adored so much would love me as much as I loved him, which never happened. So, I can't complain. I really can't! But the hardest part for me was sitting in my little house in Prescott and remembering all these things: the frustration, and the dashed hopes that I had. And, I relived it again when I did the audiobook. But there are some funny things in there too! I am not saying that it's all gloom and doom and Toni's frustration. We have some wonderful experiences, and some very funny experiences that I write about. Those were good. Those were fun to revisit!
Yes. Like I said, I can't wait to read it myself. And I'll make sure to tell people that if they want to want to know the "best bits", they are going to have to get the book and read it themselves! But can you give maybe one anecdote from "the heyday", like maybe a story about one of your fellow peers in the music business?
I can tell you the story about Gordon Lightfoot. He was one of my favorite songwriters and singers. When we were working in clubs back in the 1970's before we finally had a hit, I used to do Gordon's songs. I also did songs by Elton John, Carole King, Carly Simon, Billy Joel-- we were your "Top 40 band" in the club. And then I'd throw in some of the songs that I had written as well. That's what we did for years. It was wonderful because it helped me learn how to program a show: to take the audience on an "emotional arc". You bring them up and make them feel good, and then make them feel some different emotions. It's a gift to program a concert and take people along with you on this arc. Anyway, one of the funnier things that happened was when we were performing in Toronto, at the Canadian National Exposition. Gordon Lightfoot lives there. This was about 1977 or 1978. We got an invitation by Gordon's people to come to a party at his house. I just couldn't wait. My sister Louisa was performing background vocals with us, and she came along. We got to Gordon's house, and there were all sorts of other people there. There was some kind of party thing going on that I really didn't understand, but Louisa did! Gordon took us through this gorgeous home of his-- a beautiful, beautiful home. He had this great big kitchen, and he opened the kitchen door, and about ten raccoons just walked into this kitchen. They went on the counters and just made themselves at home. Evidently, Gordon let these raccoons into his kitchen every night to do whatever they wanted. I found out from Louisa on the ride home that there was a lot of "druggy" stuff going on at that party-- but I didn't even notice. I was still thinking about the raccoons! (Laughs) Years later, Gordon did a concert at one of the local casinos in La Quinta, down in the Palm Desert area where Daryl and I had a summer house. We went to see him, and sat in the front row, and he looked old. He was what we used to say, "rode hard and put away wet". But when he started to sing, it was the same voice-- the same songs that I had sung in the clubs before I ever knew him. I sat there and I cried. I was so moved by it. Thank God it was the front row, so that people couldn't see me cry! But then I went backstage and met him, and it was very moving to me. I almost thought I spotted a little tear in Daryl's eye, but probably not! (Laughs)
(Laughs) Maybe if he would have taken his sunglasses off, you would have known for sure! (Both laugh) For those who don't know, what were some of Gordon Lightfoot's songs?
He did Sundown, and If You Could Read My Mind...
Ah yes! If You Could Read My Mind is another timeless, sensual song. It goes perfectly with Do That To Me One More Time!
Oh, thank you!
I have to ask: You have so much youthful energy. Do you have any secrets for being this way?
I wish I did! I really do. I don't know. I'm curious about life. I'm truly interested in people. That's not to say that I want them all over my house, because I'm a very private individual. I have family with whom I'm very tight, and I have friends who I love, some of whom I've had to leave behind in Nevada and in Prescott where I lived for so many years. Those are the people who I love and trust. My niece Caroline and her boyfriend Michael are helping me with social media, because I didn't know diddly about it! I still don't understand Twitter! But as for the people who write on my Facebook page, I am fascinated by their take on things and what they have to say, and what they share with me-- such as videos they like and that kind of thing. I am fascinated by that. I like to chat back and forth with them, and to hear what they have to say. I think that's what keeps you young: curiosity and interest in things. That's all I can say! I'm blessed with a good constitution. I'm trying to stay healthy. It may come one of these days, but I don't want anyone to have to take care of me and fuss with me. When I die I just wanna go "Boom!" I'm curious about things and about people, so that may be it. I have been very lucky with what I've had in my life so far.
Wow! Thank you for sharing! So, lastly... You're now a single woman for the first time in a long time. Is there anyone special in your life now?
Are you kidding? No! And there never will be! I'm done with men! I mean, bless men's hearts. But no. I'm perfectly happy with my dogs and my friends. Actually, my idea of a great "man friend" is a gay man, who loves theater-- to go see a play, to go to a concert, and that's it! You can just be really good friends. That's my ideal. So there!
(Laughs!) Gotcha! Thank you so much for speaking with me.
You are welcome!
"Toni Tennille: A Memoir" is now available from www.Amazon.com.