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Country music legend Mimi Roman releases new compilation album, reflects on unexpected decades-long career

"First of the Cowgirls" by Mimi Roman
"First of the Cowgirls" by Mimi Roman


Jeremy Baldwin: All right. Well, so there's this brand-new compilation that just came out called "The First of the Brooklyn Cowgirls" on Sundazed Records. And this is kind of where I first heard about your career and your music. And I was just completely taken with, well, not just the music, which is fantastic, but the whole story here. So, you grew up in Brooklyn, but somehow or another, maybe you can explain to me you became a country singer.

Mimi Roman: It was a combination of things. I loved the music, and the only way I could hear the music was late at night. You know, we'd get these clear channels from Del Rio, Texas or from Nashville or WWVA in Wheeling. And I really loved the music. And, combined with that, I was at that time in Brooklyn showing horses. I had a stepfather who loved horses, and so we had quite a few of them. And I rode Western, and we would show the horses on the weekends. And when I say we, my brother and I.

Jeremy Baldwin: Mm hmm.

Mimi Roman: So, the combination of the horses and the rhythm of the saddle, so to speak, and the music just went together so beautifully. And so, singing with country/western was a hobby. And what I really expected to be was what they called a pop singer in those days or a band singer. I wanted to be the band singer for, you know, like, Tommy Dorsey.

Jeremy Baldwin: Mm hmm. Mm hmm.

Mimi Roman: But I just fell into it, you know? It was what I loved, but I really never thought I would be able to to get into that side of the business. I didn't think that I would be accepted. And not only was I welcomed with open arms and people couldn't have been nicer to me, and it never seemed to bother them that I came from New York because my record label said I came from California.

Jeremy Baldwin: Just a small deception, I guess.

Mimi Roman: Well, you know, it was a necessary evil because they just thought, "Well, no, they're never going to accept her."

Jeremy Baldwin: Right.

Mimi Roman: So, you know, we pick a place, and I just like the sound of Salinas, California.

Jeremy Baldwin: Right. That was really about that.

Mimi Roman: When I got back to Salinas--or went to Sailnas--with the Philip Morris Show to play, I didn't get a big welcome. I didn't get, you know, headlines, you know, Homecoming Girl or whatever. Nothing.

Jeremy Baldwin: But then again, you didn't really know anyone there, right?]

Mimi Roman: I was disappointed. I didn't know them, and they didn't know me.

Jeremy Baldwin: That's funny. So, it does kind of make sense that sort of being involved with the horse world sort of might lead naturally to country and Western music. I mean, like you said, it's a rhythm. And I guess there's also a lot of cowboy songs out there.

Mimi Roman: That's right. And really the first paying job I ever had and the need for to get a Social Security card, which you didn't do in those days until you were working, I was being rodeo queen.

Jeremy Baldwin: Oh, that's right. Madison Square Garden. Wow. So, that must have been an experience. So, and you were the queen. Is this the story where you got to sing with Gene Autry?

Mimi Roman: Right. Right. I worked with Gene Autry, and in those days, the rodeo played for a month.

Jeremy Baldwin: Wow.

Mimi Roman: Now, I think it's a weekend.

Jeremy Baldwin: Right. Right.

Mimi Roman: You know, people just don't have that same interest, I guess. But there were a lot of Brooklyn Cowboys, so to speak, when I was young.

Jeremy Baldwin: Yeah.

Mimi Roman: There was a bunch of guys from Canarsie, which is kind of a rough neighborhood. You know, they all had horses and would turn up at the shows. And we, you know, we knew it's kind of like a little group of kind of outcasts, you know?

Jeremy Baldwin: So, you get to the Madison Square Garden Rodeo, you get to be queen, and you get to sing on a bill or at the rodeo same time as Gene Autry. And then, was the next thing that happened when you went on the Arthur Godfrey talent show?

Mimi Roman: Yes.

Jeremy Baldwin: Well, tell me about that experience.

Mimi Roman: Well, that was, you know, another one of those kind of forced to sing country music. My neighbor worked for the Godfrey show. He was a photographer. And he said, "You know, you really should go down and audition for the show." He said, "I think you could get on." And I thought, "Oh, no. That's probably not going to happen." But he made an appointment for me. So, I went down to audition, and I sang. And I'll never forget it. I sang a pop song. I don't remember which one. And they said to me, "Do you have anything else?" And I said, "Well, I can play the guitar and I sing country songs." And they said, "Well, sing one." So, I sang the chorus of Weary Blues.

Jeremy Baldwin: Uh huh.

Mimi Roman: And they said, "Okay, come back tonight. Sing for the producer and do that song. Bring your guitar." So, I did that, and I sang the chorus of Weary Blues, which I had to go by the record in the afternoon because I didn't know all the words.

Jeremy Baldwin: The rest of the words.

Mimi Roman: It was just, like, you know, it was one of those frantic moments. And I came back in the evening, did my audition, and they said, "You'll be on Monday night."

Jeremy Baldwin: Just like that.

Mimi Roman: Just like that. I'm telling you. This is the way my whole career was somebody opened the door and I went through it.

Jeremy Baldwin: Why not?

Mimi Roman: And one of the tricks is you never say no.

Jeremy Baldwin: Right. Right.

Mimi Roman: No matter. You know, people ask you to try something or do something. Hey, try it.

Jeremy Baldwin: Yeah. Yeah.

Mimi Roman: So, I showed up. I won. Within the next week, they had called me from the Midwestern hayride and wanted me to be a do a guest shot. And so, I went out there, did my guest shot, and they said, again, all of this is coincidental, right?

Jeremy Baldwin: Mm hmm.

Mimi Roman: They said to me, "We have the girl singer on the Midwestern hayride, who is Bonnie Lou, is leaving. Would you like to be a regular?

Jeremy Baldwin: Right place. Right time.

Mimi Roman: Who says no?

Jeremy Baldwin: Yeah.

Mimi Roman: There you go.

Jeremy Baldwin: And that was in Cincinnati?

Mimi Roman: And that was in Cincinnati. And I believe it was 1954.

Jeremy Baldwin: Wow. And then, so you lived there for a while, and you worked out of there?

Mimi Roman: Yeah, I lived there for about nine months, but I couldn't. The air there was too humid or something, and I would get asthma attacks.

Jeremy Baldwin: Yeah.

Mimi Roman: I finally outgrew it at the tender age of 70 or something.

Jeremy Baldwin: Well, that's good.

Mimi Roman: But, yeah, I know. Everybody develops these things, and I get rid of them.

Jeremy Baldwin: But it's better to go that direction.

Mimi Roman: I think so.

Jeremy Baldwin: So, then you started recording with Decca at some point after that then?

"I Am the Heart (Of A Teenage Girl) by Mimi Roman on Decca Records
"I Am the Heart (Of A Teenage Girl) by Mimi Roman on Decca Records

Mimi Roman: I did. When I won the Godfrey show, they invited me to come down and talk to them, which I did. And I can't remember whether I sang or not, but I guess from the Godfrey show. And then, they decided that, you know, they would sign me. And because I had spelled my name R-O-H-M-A-N, they took the H out because they said it's silent anyhow. So, that's the way my name came about. And, yeah, I started recording, recorded for Decca for, I don't know, five or six years, something like that.

Jeremy Baldwin: And so, then you got to...well, first of all, you got to play, I know with some of the, you know, best, most famous now sidemen, you know, studio players of the time.

Mimi Roman: Oh, sure.

Jeremy Baldwin: Yeah. And producers and all that. And you got to sing on the Grand Ole Opry?

Mimi Roman: I did.

Jeremy Baldwin: How was that experience?

Mimi Roman: Yeah, I was a guest. I guested on the Opry right after I won the Godfrey show. And I remember I sang Weary Blues because that was my winning song. And when I came off stage, Ray Price was standing there. And, of course, I was a huge Ray Price fan.

Jeremy Baldwin: What a great singer!

Mimi Roman: To me, very intimidating. Yeah, I'm 19 years old. And he comes over to me and he said, "You know, Hank wrote that for me." And that was, you know, Ray Price--I think he was kidding. Now, in retrospect--

Jeremy Baldwin: Yeah.

Mimi Roman: I think he was joking, but he scared the hell out of me.

Jeremy Baldwin: You weren't so sure at the time.

Mimi Roman: No, no.

Jeremy Baldwin: Well, you must have got to meet all of the big country singers or lots of them of that era.

Mimi Roman: Yeah.

Jeremy Baldwin: And you toured with some of them, right? Yeah. Wow.

Mimi Roman: They would all be wandering around backstage at the Opry, I mean, you know, you'd come in, and Marty Robbins would be there and Hank Snow and, of course, Minnie Pearl, who was my favorite because she couldn't have been nicer to me.

Jeremy Baldwin: Oh, that's good to hear.

Mimi Roman: The most welcoming person.

Jeremy Baldwin: Wow.

Mimi Roman: But, yeah, Webb Pierce and the Louvrins and Wilburn Brothers, who I got really close to.

Jeremy Baldwin: Uh huh.

Mimi Roman: Yeah. So, I had a few favorites there for a while, and Ferlin Husky was always one of my favorite friends and, you know, just wonderful people working a very hard job.

Jeremy Baldwin: Yeah. And you got to know Elvis pretty well around that time.

Mimi Roman: I did. I did.

Jeremy Baldwin: Tell us about Elvis a little bit.

Mimi Roman: Okay. I met Elvis at a disc jockey convention, and, you know, I can visualize him in my mind because he stood out, first of all, because he was really so adorable. But he was dressed. He was wearing a pink lace shirt and tight black pants.

Jeremy Baldwin: Mm hmm.

Mimi Roman: And I've never seen a man in a lace shirt in my life.

Jeremy Baldwin: Yeah.

Mimi Roman: And he was he would come over to me, and he knew who I was, but I didn't know who he was. And he'd come over and he'd say, "Mimi?" He said, "Can we just sit down and talk a little?" And I'd say, "You just wait here, Elvis, because I'll be right back." And I would go somewhere else, and he would trail after me.

Jeremy Baldwin: Oh.

Jeremy Baldwin: And, like, I couldn't shake him. But we wound up being friends because he would come to New York with his manager to--you know, with Parker--to work deals and things. And Elvis really did not like New York or New Yorkers.

Jeremy Baldwin: Mm hmm.

Mimi Roman: So. He would call me, and I would meet him, and we would just hang out, go to the movies, you know, grab a burger or something. Never, never went no restaurant. Only, like in a fast-food place.

Jeremy Baldwin: Mm hmm.

Mimi Roman: And my recollection of him was that he would have to stop every time we went out for him to call his mother.

Jeremy Baldwin: Oh, yeah.

Mimi Roman: In those days, there were no cell phones.

Jeremy Baldwin: Right.

Mimi Roman: You had to go into a telephone booth. So. I remember on Broadway, standing outside the telephone booth, well, he called his mom every night.

Jeremy Baldwin: He had a close relationship with his mom.

Mimi Roman: Oh, he adored her. Yeah, he adored her. That's why, you know, he named Graceland after her. And, you know, I think losing his mother was really the hardest thing for him, and I think probably did a lot of damage to him.

Jeremy Baldwin: Psychological.

Mimi Roman: As far as her being his North star, you know?

Jeremy Baldwin: Right. Right.

Mimi Roman: And I think he depended more on Parker. And Parker was really, if you see the movie "Elvis," that's about as true a story as I can remember.

Jeremy Baldwin: Oh, wow. Is that right? So, well, eventually you decided to get out of the sort of rat race of show business anyway, touring all the time, because you were touring kind of like crazy from what I read. Like just every night on the road.

Mimi Roman: Yeah, well, I did this one Philip Morris show, which ran for a year, and it was a year and a half of one-nighters, and we'd be five weeks on, one week off, six weeks on, one week off. And I did that. And I think that pretty much, you know, soured me on the road.

Jeremy Baldwin: Yeah.

Mimi Roman: It was a grueling thing.

Jeremy Baldwin: Right.

Mimi Roman: But, I mean, it was satisfying as far as huge audiences. I mean, 16, 20,000 people, stadiums and armories, things like that. And it was a great experience, but it taught me that I really wasn't built for the road. I lost about 20 pounds and, you know, but I wouldn't quit. It was either going to kill me, or the show was going to end.

Jeremy Baldwin: Right. Right.

Mimi Roman: I managed to survive that part, and I realized the road wasn't really for me. So, I just started doing studio work.

Jeremy Baldwin: Yeah, tell me about that. So, you started doing demos and, like, advertising and stuff like that?

Mimi Roman: Right. Commercials.

Jeremy Baldwin: But you were very prolific with that, right? I mean, you recorded a lot.

Mimi Roman: Oh, yeah. I used to work, like, five days a week, and it was wonderful because I worked with the greatest writers of the sixties.

Jeremy Baldwin: Yeah. So, like, Carole King.

Mimi Roman Including people like Carole King, who when I worked for her, wouldn't sing on her own demos.

Jeremy Baldwin: Which is funny. Yeah.

Mimi Roman: I'd come in, and she'd play a song. And I say, "Carole, you sing better than I can." And she said, "No, no, no, I don't want to sing. I don't want to sing." And then, you know, like a year or two later, she came out with "Tapestry" and, you know, that was the end of it.

Jeremy Baldwin: Right, Right.

Mimi Roman: She didn't hire me after that.

Jeremy Baldwin: Good news. Bad news.

Mimi Roman: She didn't need me anymore.

Jeremy Baldwin: Yeah. So, you did a lot of demos for famous writers and songs that became pretty famous for other people then later on?

Mimi Roman: Yes. Yes. Yeah.

Jeremy Baldwin: Wow.

Mimi Roman: Every time somebody wanted to have Patsy Cline record a song, they would call me or Carole. Well, not Carole, who was I thinking of? Who was it? Connie Francis! They say, "Oh, Connie Francis is coming up for recordings and we need demos." So, you know, whatever girl singers were recording at the time, I was doing the demos for them.

Jeremy Baldwin: And is this during the period where your other alter ego, Kitty Ford, was sort of created?

Mimi Roman: Right.

Jeremy Baldwin: So, tell me about Kitty Ford.

"Pussycat" by Kitty Ford (aka Mimi Roman)
American Highways
"Pussycat" by Kitty Ford (aka Mimi Roman)

Mimi Roman: Well, if you're signed to a label, you're not allowed to record for any other label. So, the way they got around it was they would do these demos. And if they thought the demo was marketable, they'd put it out with Kitty Ford on it. They said, "Give us another name we can use." So, I said, "What about a little car like a Kitty Ford?" So, that worked for me for a while. And also, it was different. It wasn't country necessarily. It was more pop kind of music.

Jeremy Baldwin: Right. All right.

Mimi Roman: So, that was where Kitty Ford came from.

Jeremy Baldwin: And there's two new compilations out, right, of, well, some of the performances you're talking about. There's the Mimi Roman one: First of the Brooklyn Cowboys.

Jeremy Baldwin: Right.

Mimi Roman: But then there's also a Kitty Ford compilation recently out as well. And so, how did these albums come about? How did they end up getting put together? And, if I'm correct, some of the times you're talking about on various shows are what we're hearing on these records, right?

Mimi Roman: Some of them are just taken off of live broadcasts, for instance. I mean, it's a lot of old sounds that you don't hear anymore. I mean, they're unpolished, and they're just live broadcasts, actually.

Jeremy Baldwin: Yeah.

Mimi Roman: And those are kind of fun for me to listen to.

Jeremy Baldwin: Is this stuff that you had in your collection or, you know, that you had stored away? You put out the word?

Mimi Roman: My daughter collected all of these. You know, it didn't really matter to me, but it mattered to her. So, she collected all of these. And there's a gentleman who lives in North Carolina, Joe Hopkins, whose cousin was Billy Walker, a country singer. And Billy and I had done a duet. And Joe called and asked me if he could do a YouTube video.

Jeremy Baldwin: Mm hmm.

Mimi Roman: And I thought, "I never say no."

Jeremy Baldwin: Right.

Mimi Roman: One of the secrets of my success is just somebody makes you an offer, you know, do it. So, he was kind enough to spend numerous hours putting the video together, and it's an hour long. And I said, "Joe, even I don't want to sit through an hour of my life." And, you know, "I need that," he said, because it's that interesting.

Jeremy Baldwin: I watched it. It's great.

Mimi Roman: Thank you so much. I have to tell you, I enjoyed watching it because it brought back...well, I cringed a little here and there.

Jeremy Baldwin: Sure. Yeah.

Mimi Roman: Well, that's me. Yeah. But it was an interesting life, and I'm still living it.

Jeremy Baldwin: Yeah, that's right. Yeah. Yeah. It's an amazing story and some great singing. And so, are you sitting out there, you know, with your cowboy boots on. Are you ready to get up on stage anytime, or are you really retired now?

Mimi Roman: No, I'm real. I'm keeping the calluses on the ends of my fingers.

Jeremy Baldwin: All right.

Mimi Roman: I've got new strings on my guitars, and I'm just waiting for the right moment and yeah, no, hey.

Jeremy Baldwin: Gosh, that'd be fun.

Mimi Roman: Oh, remember what I said.

Jeremy Baldwin: Never turn down.

Mimi Roman: And just walk through.

Jeremy Baldwin: True. Yeah. Well, fantastic.

Mimi Roman: I am looking forward to doing a show here or there. You know, I'm not going to do a two-hour show.

Jeremy Baldwin: No, right. Sing some songs. I've been really enjoying the record and the recordings on there, and it's been really fun to discover all of your music and all about your life. And so, it's been a really a privilege to talk to you today, Mimi.

Mimi Roman: Thank you, Jeremy. I really appreciate that. And I appreciate every play. I really do.

Jeremy Baldwin: Well, you're welcome. It's my pleasure.


Mimi Roman Bio

"First of the Brooklyn Cowgirls"

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Jeremy Baldwin was born in Oak Park, IL and is a graduate of Loyola University Chicago. An early concert experience seeing Steve Goodman at Navy Pier in Chicago helped spark his interest in Folk and Roots music and long hours listening to Stuart Rosenberg’s ‘Earth Club’ and ‘Radio Gumbo’ programs for WBEZ sent his musical tastes in every direction. He has hosted the local version of The Roots Music Project at 89.1 WEMU since 2005. Before that he honed his radio skills in Classic Country at WSDS 1480 AM in Salem, Michigan. In addition to his radio career, Jeremy has led University groups around the world for the last 24 years. He is married and is a longtime resident of Ypsilanti, MI.
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