Column: Toni Tennille pens memoir of time before fame, Prescott
Warm. Wonderful. Exuberant. Outgoing. Statuesque. (Yeah, she’s 5-foot-11.) With a radiant smile. And that voice! It’s as smooth as quicksilver on velvet, tinged with just a hint of her Alabama roots. I’m speaking here of Toni Tennille, who graced Prescott with her participatory presence for several years before relocating to Florida last year.
Well, hot off the presses is a book – Toni Tennille: A Memoir – that she, in collaboration with her niece, Caroline Tennille St. Clair, came up with. It provides a fascinating look into her upbringing and professional fame as the duo “Captain and Tennille” which sprang into the top pop charts in the mid ’70s – triggered by their pulsating “Love Will Keep Us Together” hit – and went on to fashion a rewarding outpouring of music that was captivating. It wasn’t all “peaches and cream,” though, in that it’s noted in the book jacket that “underneath the image was an entirely different story that the fans never saw: a woman who fought a lonely struggle against the controlling and often bizarre behavior of her emotionally inaccessible husband,” Daryl Dragon.
My focus, though, is on the “peaches and cream” aspect, and for Toni nothing could be peachier and creamier than the state of California, which proved to be the springboard for the subsequent fame that the duo enjoyed. The groundwork was laid when her mom and dad, along with Toni and her three sisters, left Alabama for the Golden State. “My summer in Newport Beach had made me realize just how huge and exciting the world was,” she wrote. “California was irresistible; its sparkle of opportunity was just as potent to me as the gleam of gold had once been to thousands of prospectors. Deep inside I knew there was something special there just waiting for me to find it. And in the dawn of the 1960s, if you were young and full of dreams, California was just simply the place to be.”
You see, “the free-spirited culture of southern California could not have been more different from the conservative South where I had been raised,” she mused. “I remember when some girls I’d become friends with invited me to go have a drink with them at a local hangout. When I asked in bewilderment how we could possibly go to a bar when we didn’t have a man to go with us, they burst out laughing. I realized with great amazement and more than a little embarrassment that here in California women could go anyplace they wanted without a man and that no one would think anything of it!”
She and Daryl subsequently built homes in Lake Tahoe and Washoe Valley – about an hour east of Lake Tahoe – but when they were in their late 60s they decided that “we needed to move to a location where the winters didn’t produce the six or more feet of snow that Washoe Valley got. We knew that having to shovel and plow all that snow would become more and more difficult as we grew older. Some friends of mine had suggested that we take a look at Prescott, Arizona. When I researched online, I learned the area had four distinct seasons, but none was extreme. It sounded exactly like what we were looking for.”
And so it was that in 2007 “we bought two acres in a scenic, rural development called American Ranch with spectacular views of the seven-thousand-feet-high Granite Mountain. Here, we planned to build our very last home.” While waiting for construction of their home they rented a small house nearby and during that time Toni befriended a lady, Kathy Bryan, who she described as “an Australian Shepherd ‘Hall of Fame’ breeder” who is “highly selective and does not breed her dogs often. But the day we met she happened to have a litter of ten beautiful two-week-old puppies. Not long after, when Daryl and I moved into our newly completed house, Kathy gave me one of those puppies, and he became my special boy, Smoky.”
Toni and Smoky subsequently became familiar figures at Yavapai Regional Medical Center, where the “special boy” was a precious participant in the Pet Partners therapy program that helped warm countless hearts among the bedridden. And Toni, meanwhile, went about spreading sunshine through various civic and charitable endeavors. For example, on a personal note, her outgoingness was reflected several years ago when wife Pat and I had our three grandkids visiting us from San Diego and I contacted her and asked if our bunch could possibly meet her. She agreed, and the five of us got with her the next morning for a brief visit at that ice cream place across from the courthouse.
She’s quite the caring lady who is now living the good life in her new Florida home located a short distance from her next-younger sister, Jane. “Most late afternoons I find myself sitting on my screened porch with my dogs, and perhaps a nice glass of wine, savoring the end of another beautiful day. How very blessed I am.”
And how blessed Prescott is in having had her among us for eight memorable years.
Her memoir is available at the Peregrine Book Company in Prescott.
Contact the columnist at firstname.lastname@example.org.