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Singer Upholds Standards : A big hit has proved elusive, but Sue Raney delights audiences with her renditions of classic tunes.

August 21, 1992|ZAN STEWART | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Zan Stewart writes regularly about music for The Times

Remember the albums of such classic standards as "What's New" and "My Old Flame" that Linda Ronstadt made with Nelson Riddle's orchestra in the early '80s? Those albums, still available as " 'Round Midnight," a two-CD set on Asylum Records, have sold in the hundreds of thousands and are thought to have sparked the current revival in standards that resulted in such smash hits as Natalie Cole's "Unforgettable."

But in the mid-'50s, when 16-year-old Sue Raney made a similar album called "When Your Lover Has Gone" for Capitol, backed by Riddle's sumptuous strings and brass and singing such evergreens as "Easy to Remember," it pretty much flopped.

"My timing is off--I was born either too early or too late," Raney said with a bubbling laugh. She appears tonight at the Room Upstairs at Le Cafe in Sherman Oaks.

"A lot of people loved the album, but the record company said, 'We gotta have a hit,' " she added, speaking from the Sherman Oaks home she shares with her husband, trumpeter Carmen Fanzone.

Raney, a child prodigy who has worked professionally since the age of 8, landed the contract with Capitol as a result of the exposure she received five nights a week as a teen-age singer on "The Jack Carson Show," a CBS network radio program that emanated from Hollywood in the '40s and '50s.

The vocalist spent close to 20 years trying to get that hit, recording for such labels as Capitol, Imperial and Liberty. She never did.

She probably never will, and that's all right with her. Since the early '80s, when Raney ended a 12-year stint as a jingles singer and composer and began recording for Discovery Records (five of those albums have been reissued recently), she's been performing such great tunes as "Love Walked In" and "Poor Butterfly." And her audiences like those selections as much as she does.

Still, appearing in public is not something Raney relishes. She doesn't work a lot, for a couple of reasons.

First, it's the performing itself.

"Performing is asking people to come see you, asking them to come applaud you, and those are foreign feelings to me," she said. "Still, if I can reach them with a lyric, if I feel I'm moving them, then it's like giving instead of receiving, and it's OK."

And there's another reason.

"As a kid, growing up in Albuquerque, all I knew was to be a performer," she said. "I was always being excused from school to perform, say, at a Kiwanis Club function. I worked so hard then, so I allow myself to not work so hard now. You get sort of worn out."

Raney's current accompanist, Alan Broadbent, is on the road, backing Cole. So Raney will be backed at Le Cafe by a trio led by pianist Donn Trenner, who has served as musical director for such stars as Ann-Margret and Shirley MacLaine. For several years, the singer worked with Bob Florence, who arranged three of her Discovery albums, including "Flight of Fancy," made up of tunes with lyrics written by Marilyn and Alan Bergman, and "Quietly There," an all-Johnny Mandel collection.

It's good for singers to change accompanists from time to time, said Florence. "It keeps them from getting stale."

Raney fills a lot of her time by teaching. She was associated with the Grove School of Music for years, but these days she mainly teaches in a studio at home. She regrets not having children, and she finds herself feeling a maternal affection for some of her students.

"I'm giving part of myself to them that I would have wanted to give as a mother," she said. "I feel productive, doing something for somebody. It's a good feeling, and it's satisfying."

Where and When

Who: Sue Raney.

Location: Room Upstairs at Le Cafe, 14633 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks.

Hours: 9 and 10:30 tonight.

Price: $6 cover, two-drink minimum.

Call: (818) 986-2662.

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