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••• The International Writers Magazine - 21 Years on-line - In Memory

Helen Reddy at the County Fair
• Jeff Beyl
Helen Reddy died. I never knew much about her. I recently watched the new film, I Am Woman, and I enjoyed it and learned more about her life and her music. Her death made me sad. I have been thinking about her lately.

Helen Reddy

Here is my Helen Reddy story.

We were at the county fair in Grants Pass, Oregon. We were there because, well, that’s one of the things you did when you lived in a small town like Grants Pass, Oregon. You went to the county fair. You took a ride on the Ferris wheel, ate a hot dog or two, maybe some cotton candy and drank a flat beer. You threw ping pong balls into plastic cups trying to win a teddy bear or a goldfish. You went into the big building and looked at the 4-H animals; the hogs and the chickens and the cows and the rabbits. You looked at the country crafts; the quilts and the lace and the hand-carved wooden spoons. You tasted the pies and the honey, the scones and the homemade jams. And what the heck, why not check out the musical artist.

That year it was Helen Reddy.

Now, I know what you’re gonna say. You’re gonna say that you never would have expected me, a solid rock and roll kinda guy, to go to a Helen Reddy concert. To be honest, neither did I. I knew the name Helen Reddy. Yeah, she was woman and yeah, we heard her roar. On AM radio. I didn’t listen to much AM radio. In those days, that was about 80’ or 82’, FM radio played whole album sides, with no commercial interruption. Back then we were listening to Jackson Browne and James Taylor, Eric Clapton, Led Zeppelin, Steely Dan, Bob Seger. Helen Reddy was one of the last singers I would have ever found myself listening to. Oh, you couldn’t get around 'I am Woman'. It came out in 73’ and it was everywhere. But, if I avoided any music at all, that was one of the signature pieces. In 73’ I was listening to Joni Mitchell, not Helen Reddy. I was listening to Crosby, Stills and Nash (whom, coincidentally, Helen’s husband managed).

Well, we figured what the heck. Nuthin else to do. One can only look at so many hogs and chickens. We filed into the stadium and took our seats and made small jokes about the upcoming show.

A local DJ came out and introduced Helen and she walked onto the stage, took a bow. She was polite and friendly with the audience and she went into her set and sang a few songs. I remember thinking, okay, I’m not a fan but at least her song presentation is clean and the band is fairly tight. She was delivering her music well enough for a has-been AM radio celebrity. But, I almost felt sorry for her. Surely, she knew that she was no longer selling out the Hollywood Bowl and was now relegated to county fairs in podunk towns like Grants Pass. But, I stayed and listened, much against my better rock and roll judgement.

But here’s the funny thing. She got better and better as the songs went on. I actually recognized some of them. As she continued her set, I became more and more impressed. She pulled out all the stops. She did not hold back. She smiled and talked and joked with the audience and danced and held her arms wide and belted out her songs. Delta Dawn. I Don’t Know How to Love Him. Candle on the Water. You and Me Against the World. I had to admit, she did have quite a beautiful voice. And she knew how to use it. She seemed happy to be there, performing for us and it seemed that she was having a grand old time. And yes, she got around to I am Woman, and the audience was on its feet.

And so was I.

Helen Reddy Helen Reddy. Wow. Great show. I never would have guessed. Caught me by surprise. I haven’t bought any of her records but I do have a special spot in my memory for her and what she showed us that night on a summer evening in Grants Pass.

© Jeff Beyl - November 2020

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