By Judith Salkin
If you’ve ever seen Joey English in her favorite Halloween costume, as a fiery red witch, you know there is nothing subtle about her. And she’s proud of it.
English, whose show biz education was with America’s comic greats, spends Saturday afternoons on the air on K-NEWS 94.3 FM from 2 to 6 p.m. with spokespeople and celebrity guests who keep us on top of the latest in community events, medicine, giveaways and contacts for all the guests on her show.
But English wasn’t always “the voice of the valley,” as she calls herself. “They stole that line for the radio station!” she says from her historic Palm Springs home.
She actually got her start singing in church in Greenville, Missouri. “I was three years old and I was singing ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’,” she says. “I realized that everyone clapped when the other performers finished their song, so when it was my turn I encouraged them to clap after the first verse.”
While she still lights up when the applause starts, “I’ve learned to wait until I finish the song,” she says with a gleeful laugh.
Her family moved from Missouri to California’s Central Valley and English continued to perform throughout her high school and college years, “in every show,” she says.
And in an unusual turn, she earned an academic scholarship in French horn, voice and academics. After college, she embarked on her singing career mostly in clubs.
At 67 (“I’ll be 68 November 17,” she adds) she credits at least part of her outgoing personality to her triple Scorpio birthdate, along with her ability to structure and organize her life.
After college, English started doing club dates as a singer. “I was more well-known in the entertainment industry,” she says. “And not as well-known outside the industry as I would have liked.”
Still she managed to build a career and work with the like of her mentor of 27 years, George Burns, “I learned everything about timing from George,” she says. She also worked with Bob Hope, Milton Berle, Rodney Dangerfield and Dinah Shore, along with appearances on Mike Douglas, Merv Griffin and Dinah Shore’s talk shows and a summer replacement for the Smothers Brothers show in the 1970s.
She calls herself a renegade. English has three children that she adores. “There are a lot of things I’ve done wrong in my life, but not them,” she says.
“I kept the kids and got rid of the sperm donor,” she says of her older son, Trevor who lives in Montana and daughter Tammera, who with her children lives with English in the old Earl Neel house in Palm Springs. Her younger son Tyler is the best part of her marriage.
She’d visited the valley over the years, but “I got my banishment to the desert in my divorce!” she says. The banishment, which began in 1991 while she was still married (they separated in the late ‘90s and finalized the dissolution of the marriage in 2005) has been good to English, and the desert.
English started her radio show in 1995. “There was a person at KPSI (RR Broadcasting) who asked if I wanted to be on radio,” she says, although she can’t recall his name. “I was a good talker, and I’d been taught by the best, I thought it could work.”
Offered a once-a-week spot on the weekend, she took to the local airwaves with the Joey English Show. She created the concept of bringing in local charities, events and personalities, along with the giveaways. In one more unusual step, English owns the show, and has always done the bookings herself each week. She is so trusted in the valley, “Now I have people calling to be on the show,” she says.
The original show was a hit and after a year on air the station offered her a five-day-a-week spot. In November 2007, English switched to K-NEWS and took the show back to Saturdays only.
For someone as flamboyant as English, it seems odd that she chose radio over television as her medium. “Radio is how you think and feel; television is how you look,” she says. “Radio is the theater of the mind, which I prefer.”
Even a car crash last year and a craniotomy last October hasn’t slowed her down.
Take a look at English’s date book and it’s almost impossible to find a day when she attending or hosting some event (sometimes two or three in one day) or performing somewhere. “That’s the beauty of being a singer!” she says.
Her distinctive voice can be heard on commercials on local television and radio, at the Palm Springs International Film Festival and the Steve Chase Awards Gala every year.
She hasn’t given up on show business either. English has performed in musicals at the Palm Canyon Theatre and other valley theaters, including “Senior Class,” “Sordid Lives,” “Best Little Whorehouse in Texas,” “Sunset Boulevard,” and the upcoming “Nightclub Confidential,” which opens January 10.
And yet, with all that on her plate, her dearest time is spent at home with her children and grandchildren, Dalton, Shelbey Mae (cq), Alea Leilani and Trent.
“My favorite place to be is in my pajamas in my bed with my laptop working with the family around me,” she says. “I’ve made every mistake you can make, but my family is my best work.”