Doozy provides a live throwback soundtrack for swing dancing in Playa del Rey this weekend
By Michael Aushenker
With singer Christie Mellor and guitarist Doug Freeman at its core, Doozy delivers a repertoire of music harkening back to Prohibition and the Great Depression. But there’s nothing depressing about their set list — a freewheeling aural cocktail of period covers and ersatz originals of the era.
Coming off of a four-year residency at Culver City’s historic Culver Hotel that wrapped up in November, Doozy performs two full sets Wednesday night in Playa del Rey to accompany both beginning and advanced swing dancers.
November was the first time Doozy played at Rusty’s, an erstwhile Elk’s Lodge in Playa del Rey.
“The ambience leaves plenty to be desired but the vibe is great,” Freeman said. “The people are serious about dancing and they pretty much don’t let up. It’s a fun place to play.”
Freeman is a veteran of bands, most notably the Lopez Beatles — a pop band fronted by Los Angeles Times television critic Robert Lloyd that caused a local sensation in the early 1980s with the witty song “Bitchen Party” and its companion video on MTV.
Mellor began writing original compositions four years ago. A batch informs Doozy’s 2011 album “Heavy Sugar,” and a new recording is in the works. Fueled by the intoxicating tunes of Boswell Sisters, Ruth Etting, Annette Hanshaw and Bing Crosby, Mellor has parlayed her lifelong affinity with the sounds of the 1920s and ‘30s into originals performed in the style of the times — song with titles such as “Absinthe,” “All I Really Saw,” “Too Broke to Be a Sinner” and “A Practical Arrangement” (sample lyric: “I need a wealthy husband, you need a doting wife/so let’s marry other people and be happy for the rest of our lives”).
“Some of them have a humorous bent,” Mellor said.
On its website, Doozy describes their sound as music “that begs for a couple of rounds of cocktails and a steamy love affair.”
In their collaboration, Freeman said Mellor usually takes lyrical lead.
“She’ll also usually have at least a kernel or more of a musical idea — stylistic, rhythmic, sometimes melodic,” Freeman said. “I’ll take that and come up with a harmonic structure, chord progressions [and melody]. We’ll add to it in my vintage travel trailer recording studio with other parts and instruments, eventually taking it to the band for full fleshing out.”
Freeman said he finds playing in Doozy refreshing.
“The main difference for me between Lopez Beatles and Doozy is 30 years. It’s harder to keep up all night with the ladies now than it was then!” Freeman said. That, and “the music I’m playing now is more challenging harmonically.”
“We have a mutual appreciation society,” Mellor said of the collaboration. “He’s an amazing musician. He won’t mess with my lyrics since the lyrics are personal.”
“It’s a great partnership that’s endured through some challenging life passages for both of us,” Freeman said, alluding to his divorce from the woman who had introduced them five years ago.
Mellor met Freeman after meeting his wife at an event and realizing that they were neighbors in Mid-city.
“Doug and his wife were over and my husband and I sang the Boswell Sisters’ song, ‘Gee, But I’d Like to Make You Happy,’” Mellor recalls. “We realized we had a mutual love for the era.”
Months after that initial jam inside the studio of her musician husband Richard Goldman, Mellor recalls Freeman approached her with the invitation to start a band. Mellor’s reaction: “I’m not really a singer.” Freeman’s response: “Yes, you are!”
They enlisted Peter Hastings (on upright bass), John Allen (clarinet, baritone sax), Henry Spurgeon (accordion) and Carol Chaikin (clarinet, soprano saxophone) to round out the band, then quickly lined up gigs at the Beverly Hills farmers market, Beverly Hills Antique Auto Show and then the Culver.
“It’s a beautiful place,” Mellor said of the historic downtown Culver City hotel, where the band served as a backdrop to people imbibing at the lounge, “but the guys were like ‘I don’t want to be wallpaper anymore.’”
When Mellor and Freeman are not performing in Doozy, they strike out on their own as the duo Doozette — invented when other band members were out of town.
“Doug and I did that on our own because [other band members] were out of town [during the Christmas season],” Mellor said.
For the pair, collaboration comes easy.
“He’s easy to work with,” Mellor said of Freeman. “It’s interesting how you sort of fall in with somebody. I met his ex-wife wife on a panel. A year later, we’re all in a band together.”
Doozy takes the stage at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Rusty’s Rhythm Club, 8025 W. Manchester Ave., Playa del Rey. A $15 cover includes free swing dance lessons from 7:30 to 8 p.m. Call (310) 606-5606 or visit rustyfrank.com. Reach the band at doozytunes.com.