Most creative artists who have "day jobs" are loathe to talk about them. Not jazz-based singer Dewey Erney. He figures his 33 years as a full-time tax accountant with Texaco Inc. in Universal City have provided numerous benefits besides the obvious: a steady paycheck.
"While it's not like music, the job has given me a real balance," Erney says. "I like going to work in the morning. I like the people I work with. I realize it's a very strange thing that I do. I call them my two careers. I don't call music a hobby. Any singer that knows as many songs as I do--around 1,200--it's a love."
Erney, a stocky 59-year-old--"I'm not pretty and I don't have a good body," he quips--started at Texaco in 1963. His hopes of quickly landing singing jobs dimmed after he and his wife, Sandy, moved to Southern California from Washington, D.C., settling in Long Beach, where they still live.
"I had a letter of introduction to Steve Allen from songwriter Matt Dennis, who had heard me when was I in a Navy band," Erney says. "Steve had an afternoon TV show in L.A. and he featured young talent. I was young once." He smiles.
Erney never met Allen, and a job was essential. At the same time, he really didn't want the on-the-road grind that goes with the life of a professional singer.
"My wife and I were in love," he says. "I didn't want to go away, I wanted to have a family." (Eventually, Erney and his wife had three children.)
"So I got the job with Texaco--I have a degree in business. I like to say it's a temporary job till the music thing really kicks in," he says, laughing.
Actually, Erney's life in music is fairly rich. He's worked all over Southern California, currently appears about 12 times a month and has several recordings out, including this year's "Standards of Excellence" on Resurgent Records, with "You and the Night and the Music" due out next month. The singer performs Saturday in the lounge of Ca' del Sole in North Hollywood.
At Ca' del Sole, Erney works with former Woody Herman pianist Marty Harris, whom he calls "fun" and cites for his "enthusiasm, his energy." The singer has performed in a lot of duos and enjoys the looseness, as well as the potential difficulty, the situation brings.
"A duo is real freedom," he says. "You just call a key and go. At the same time, a duo is a great challenge because you're so exposed. You better have your act pretty well together or the whole world hears it."
An avid, longtime fan of Frank Sinatra, Erney has a pleasant, slightly breathy tenor with an everyman quality to it. What stands out in his voice is the humanity he conveys, how he makes us believe the songs he renders. He says he sings better today than ever.
"Common sense and intelligence have told me what to leave out, what to leave in," he says. "I sing mostly standards and I love the melodies and words of these songs, though I'm not strictly a melody singer. I phrase the words a little differently in the second choruses. Still I try to do the songs in such a manner that if the composer came in and heard me they'd appreciate the material."
Erney started singing in amateur contests in his native Latrobe, Pa., and was working regularly by the time he graduated from high school. He counts among his career highlights lengthy stints at the Reuben E. Lee in Newport Beach and the Mirage in Long Beach and his numerous appearances at now-defunct Alphonse's in North Hollywood.
"The response there was just wonderful," he says, "as were the musicians."
Singing is what Erney says he does best, and the days at Texaco have helped him in his vocal pursuits. "I think my singing is better because of my overall life," he says. "I love music so much. I feel so blessed to be able to perform it. It's my passion. There may be better singers in the world, but nobody loves music more than I do."
* Dewey Erney performs 8 p.m.-midnight Saturday at Ca' del Sole, 4100 N. Cahuenga Blvd., North Hollywood. No cover, no minimum. Call: (818) 985-4669.
Quick Takes: Bill Perkins used to be a mellow West Coast jazz musician, offering lyrical lines that floated easily into the ear. These days, the saxophonist is definitely of a more modern bent, with his melodies sporting an angularity John Coltrane would have loved. Hear the new Perkins from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. Friday at Chadney's, 3000 W. Olive St., Burbank. No cover, one drink minimum per show; (818) 843-5333 . . .
Saxophonist Jay Migliori has been around the L.A. jazz scene about as long as Perkins, delivering tasty bebop-based solos primarily with Supersax in recent years. He gets a chance to show off his own wares from 8:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. Friday and Saturday with Danny Pucillo's trio at Monty's Steakhouse, 5371 Topanga Canyon Blvd., Woodland Hills. No cover, no minimum; (818) 716-9736.