Betty Buckley on ‘Crime Jazz’ and Recording ‘Ghostlight’ With T Bone Burnett

Betty Buckley
Scogin Mayo for Variety

Betty Buckley is that rare bird — a multidisciplined performer who has never settled into a comfortable groove. People of a certain age might remember her most as the cheerful mom in the sitcom “Eight Is Enough,” but her versatility has taken her from stage to screen to the concert stage without skipping a beat. On Jan. 24, she’ll perform songs from her recently released album, “Ghostlight,” at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills.

There’s a wonderfully wistful quality to this album, even on a song like “Blue Skies.”

(Producer) T Bone (Burnett) said “Blue Skies” was written in response to the Great Depression so it wasn’t entirely optimistic. He directed us very cinematically. He said, “There’s this club in 1950s L.A. where dangerous men and glamorous women go. Betty, you’re the singer, and they come to be soothed by the music and hear true stories about life in the city. We’re gonna call it Crime Jazz.”

How did the title came about?

It’s a light that they place on a stand in the theater when a performance is done. It’s an empty theater and you see an empty stage with a ghostlight. The tradition comes from British theater.

“Coming Back to Me,” from the Jefferson Airplane album “Surrealistic Pillow,” seems like a left-field choice for this record.

I’m a child of the 60s. I had a big voice for a little girl, and my path was to move to New York and sing on Broadway. But I love singer-songwriters and the music of my generation. When I first started doing concert work, that’s what I wanted to sing. People were like, “No, you have to sing Broadway.” We think so categorically in our culture. T Bone and I talked about this a lot. We don’t think categorically. We just love beautiful music and beautiful stories. “Coming Back To Me” is just an exquisite song.

You teach singing and acting. Are students discouraged by our fame-obsessed culture?   

We live in a world that would have us believe that bigger, better, best is the way it is. But the truth is, we are all one humanity. If we remember that, we’ll be much more at peace and happy with this existence.