Skip to main content

Anne Murray and Dusty Springfield, Royal Albert Hall in London, 1984.

I don't know how other so-called ghost-written books are done, but Anne Murray was closely involved in the research and preparation of this manuscript. We spent more than 30 hours in face-to-face interviews, either in her Thornhill, Ont., home or her rented condominium in Jupiter, Fla., held dozens of phone conversations to discuss aspects of the book and exchanged several hundred e-mails. Here, Murray talks about her relationship with the troubled Dusty Springfield.

During a trip to L.A. I arranged to meet Mary Isabel Catherine Bernadette O'Brien, better known to the world as Dusty Springfield. I have admired so many great women singers over the years, from those whose songs filled my childhood home in Springhill - Patti Page, Doris Day, Rosemary Clooney, Sarah Vaughan, and Mahalia Jackson - to my contemporaries Bonnie Raitt, Barbra Streisand, Aretha Franklin, Olivia Newton-John and Patti LaBelle.

But if I had to pick one artist who, song after song, always touched something deep inside me, it would be Dusty.

I loved her work from the moment I heard I Only Want to Be with You in 1963, her first major hit. The sound was different from anything I had heard before - it made a visceral connection. Clearly I wasn't alone. In the next seven years she put seven songs on Billboard's Top 25. Her voice was at once unique - songwriter Burt Bacharach, who worked extensively with her, said you could recognize it in three notes - sensual, powerful and soulful. It was that element of soul that I think Elton John was acknowledging when he called her the greatest white singer in history.

Dusty and I had met once before, in London in January, 1973. I was returning home from Cannes, and one night Bill [Langstroth, whom Murray would marry in 1975] Brian Ahern [formerly of Singalong Jubilee ]and I caught the second of her two shows at the London Palladium. Brian disappeared afterwards, but Bill and I waited with what seemed like hundreds of people backstage. Finally we were ushered into her dressing room - a complete mob scene - and talked to her for a while. Suddenly she grabbed one of Bill's hands and one of mine and yelled, "Everybody get the fuck out of here - now!" Then she turned to us and said that we were the only real people there. Her security detail emptied the room in minutes. The three of us sat quietly and talked for a short time - Dusty, it was obvious ,was pretty spaced out - and then we said our goodbyes.

The next time I saw her was in L.A. in 1975. I had called her up to see if she would sing backup vocals on Together , that first Tom Catalano[-produced]album, and invited her to our room at the Continental Hyatt House, where Bill and I were staying, for drinks. I'm not sure what Dusty was expecting, but she was clearly unhappy to see Bill with me in L.A. Perhaps she'd had a few drinks before she arrived; she had a couple more with us and was soon quite drunk. At one point she excused herself to use the washroom and then, on the pretext of a snag in her zipper, summoned me to join her. There she came on to me verbally and wanted to know "what was up" with Bill. I spurned her advances, telling her that Bill was the man I planned to marry. When Dusty returned to the room, she physically attacked Bill, scratching his face with her fingernails. It was quite a scene, but she calmed down after that, and Bill ended up driving her home.

Dusty did agree to sing backups and later that year came to Toronto to record them. We got along just fine, and there was no mention of the scene in L.A. We had a few parties at the house and sang together a lot, impromptu. She'd been battling drug and alcohol abuse for some time, but she was clean then and drinking only Fresca, as far as I knew. Although she never really became a confidante, she did tell me that she could only dimly remember seven years of her life. That was no exaggeration. One night after a day in the studio, a group of us trooped back to my home for a delivery of Chinese food. Over spareribs and chow mein my brother Bruce told Dusty how much he'd enjoyed a performance of hers in the Bahamas in the early 1970s; he'd been there during a vacation. She said, "I've never been to the Bahamas in my life."

At some point during those recording sessions, she had a heart-to-heart with Bruce and me and talked about her addictions. She told us that before her performance at the London Palladium that Bill and I had attended, she'd taken a few Quaaludes. No wonder she seemed out of it. A few years earlier I'd taken half of one pill - my first and last - and I fell asleep sitting up in a chair.

Dusty and I kept in sporadic touch after that. In 1984, when I went to Britain to tape Sounds of London , my CBS-TV special, I asked her to be a guest. Our time together there was spent mostly on the set. She arrived three hours late for rehearsal. An entire crew from Canada and the United States was left irately cooling its heels while we waited for Dusty. When she arrived, her first excuse was that she was having her nails done. But when I buttonholed her later and asked, "What the hell was that all about?" she explained that she was nervous about working with me and wasn't sure she could "cut it." She had said the same kind of thing when she sang backup vocals in Toronto.

I asked, "Dusty, what are you talking about?"

"It's too high for me there," she said. "I can't sing the part."

"Dusty, don't be ridiculous. Of course you can sing there. You sounded fabulous in rehearsal!"

So she sang it - and of course it was magical.

On other occasions she'd say, "You're so good," and I'd say, "What are you talking about? You're the greatest." I was singing well at that time, as well as I had ever sung, but there was nothing wrong with her pipes. As part of that London special we staged a concert at the Royal Albert Hall, and more than half the people were there to see her. We sang a medley together and it was terrific. But Dusty had to be told repeatedly how good she was; she would otherwise quickly lose confidence. Her insecurities flummoxed me - of all the people who needn't have felt insecure about their talent, she'd have been at the top of the list. She simply had no idea how good she was.

Dusty had a reputation for being difficult to work with, in part because she was meticulous and in part because her ears were so good that she could hear if one of a dozen string players was out of tune and then identify which one. In the recording studio she'd insist on take after take, a standard of perfectionism that sorely tested the patience of her producers. But there was none of that when she worked with me.

I saw her again at her house in L.A. - there were walls of gold records and the writer Fran Lebowitz was there - but in 1981, when Dusty lived in Toronto with Carole Pope (formerly with Rough Trade), she never called me. Then in 1999, not long before her death, I received a call from a friend of hers; Dusty had drawn up a short list of people to say goodbye to, and I was on it. First I sent her a tape we'd made of our rehearsals from the 1975 album, and then I called her. She was tired and failing, but we spoke for about 20 minutes, reminiscing about some of the good old days. It was very hard to say goodbye. She seemed a tortured soul, but for all the excesses and all the demons she fought within, I will always remember a sweet and vulnerable woman and my favourite singer of all time.

Excerpted from All of Me: A Memoir. Copyright © 2009 Anne Murray. Published by Alfred A. Knopf Canada. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.

In stores Oct. 27.