Norma Tanega

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Norma Tanega
Tanega performing in 1966
Tanega performing in 1966
Background information
Birth nameNorma Cecilia Tanega
Born(1939-01-30)January 30, 1939[1]
Vallejo, California, U.S.
DiedDecember 29, 2019(2019-12-29) (aged 80)
Claremont, California, U.S.
Occupation(s)Musician, painter
Years active1966–2019

Norma Cecilia Tanega (January 30, 1939 – December 29, 2019)[2] was an American folk and pop singer-songwriter, painter, and experimental musician. In the 1960s, she had a hit with the single "Walkin' My Cat Named Dog" and wrote songs for Dusty Springfield and other prominent musicians. In later decades, Tanega worked mostly as a percussionist, playing various styles of music in the bands Baboonz, hybridVigor, and Ceramic Ensemble. She also wrote "You're Dead", the theme song of the film What We Do in the Shadows and the TV series of the same name.


Early life[edit]

Norma Tanega was born in Vallejo, California, near San Francisco, United States,[2] and moved to Long Beach at the age of two. Her mother, Otilda Tanega, was Panamanian. Her father, Tomas Tanega, was Filipino and worked as a bandmaster for 30 years in the United States Navy aboard the USS Hornet before eventually leading his own band. Norma's older brother Rudy served in the United States Air Force.[3]

Tanega began classical piano lessons at age nine. She entered Long Beach Polytechnic High School in 1952 and in her senior year directed the school's art gallery. By age 16 she was exhibiting her paintings at both Long Beach's Public Library and its Municipal Art Center, playing Beethoven and Bartók at piano recitals, and writing poetry.[3] At age 17, she entered Scripps College on a scholarship and continued her studies at Claremont Graduate School, earning an MFA in 1962.[4]

Tanega spent a summer backpacking around Europe and moved to New York City to pursue her artistic career. While living in Greenwich Village, she was involved in the folk music scene and political activism, including early opposition to United States involvement in the Vietnam War.[5]

Music career[edit]

"Walkin' My Cat Named Dog"[edit]

Tanega worked for a short time at a mental hospital, where she sang and played songs for patients.[6] She spent her summers working as a camp counselor upstate in the Catskill Mountains.[7] Brooklyn-based record producer Herb Bernstein saw Tanega performing while visiting the camp one summer.[4] Impressed by what he saw, Bernstein introduced her to Four Seasons songwriter Bob Crewe. The two men produced a number of recordings that comprised Tanega's first album and singles to be released on Crewe's New Voice Records label in 1966.[8]

Her first single, "Walkin' My Cat Named Dog", became an international hit in 1966, peaking at number 22 on both the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and the UK Singles Charts, and #3 in Canada.[9][10][11] Tanega's impetus for the song came from living in a New York City apartment building that did not allow dogs; instead she owned a cat which she named "Dog" and took for walks.[12] The single's success landed her appearances on American Bandstand and Where the Action Is,[13] and a slot as the only woman on a North American tour with Gene Pitney, Bobby Goldsboro, Chad and Jeremy and The McCoys. During the tour Tanega was initially backed by members of the Outsiders. Since they were unable to follow Tanega's more idiosyncratic music, the Outsiders were later replaced by session musicians accompanying her onstage.[6] While some of her songs riffed on traditional tunes like "Hey Girl", derived from Lead Belly's take on "In the Pines",[14] many of her songs diverged from the structure of typical pop and folk music, such as her song "No Stranger Am I", set to a 5
time signature.[15]

While Tanega's next three singles had less commercial success than "Walkin' My Cat Named Dog", her debut album was named after its big hit[16] and its popularity spawned several cover versions by contemporary artists. A month after Tanega's single entered the charts, Barry McGuire cut a version on the heels of his number one hit "Eve of Destruction".[9][17] The T-Bones did an instrumental take on it later that year,[18] and both the Jazz Crusaders and Art Blakey released jazz treatments of the song in 1967.[19] International versions adapted the song into other languages. Madagascar yé-yé group Les Surfs translated it as "Mon Chat Qui S'Appelle Médor" for the French-speaking and African markets,[20] Belgium's Lize Marke released it as "Wanneer Komt Het Geluk Voor Mij" ("When Comes This Happiness For Me") in Dutch,[21] and Jytte Elga Olga interpreted it as "Min Kat – Herr Hund" ("My Cat, Mister Dog") on a Danish 45.[22]

Years in the United Kingdom[edit]

In 1966, Tanega traveled to England to promote her music. Her tour included a performance on the ITV program Ready Steady Go!, where she met British pop singer Dusty Springfield. After Tanega returned to the U.S., Springfield made many transatlantic calls to her and accrued a large phone bill.[5] On a visit to New York, Springfield entered a romantic relationship with Tanega. They returned to England and lived together for five years.[23]

The couple took up residence in London's Kensington district, where Tanega continued to paint and play music.[24] Springfield recorded many of Tanega's songs. These included "No Stranger Am I", the 5
number that originally appeared on Tanega's first album; "The Colour of Your Eyes", which Tanega wrote for Springfield in Venice, Los Angeles; "Earthbound Gypsy" and "Midnight Sounds", both co-written in New York with Tanega's high school friend Dan White; and "Come for a Dream", co-written with bossa nova musician Antônio Carlos Jobim. Tanega also penned the English language lyrics for Springfield's version of "Morning", a cover of the song "Bom Dia" by Gilberto Gil and Nana Caymmi. In 1970 Tanega teamed up with jazz pianist Blossom Dearie to write a song about Springfield for Dearie's album That's Just the Way I Want to Be.[15]

Many of Tanega's songs appeared as non-album B-sides to Springfield's singles. Some, like the outtake "Go My Love", appeared only on collections released years after their recording.[25] Tanega also went uncredited for many of her collaborations with Springfield, and by 1970 their relationship was deteriorating.[15] Tanega secured a contract with the British division of RCA Records, for whom she recorded the album I Don't Think It Will Hurt If You Smile in 1971 with producer/keyboardist Mike Moran and Don Paul of British rock group The Viscounts.[4][26] When Tanega returned to the U.S. before the album's promotion, it failed to achieve the chart success of her earlier work.[27] Dusty Springfield biographer Annie J. Randall said of the record, "I hear many references to Norma's relationship with Dusty on this album. It stands to reason that Dusty would be the object of affection in the love songs."[4]

Later work[edit]

In 1972, Tanega moved back to Claremont, California, and took jobs teaching music and English as a second language.[4] She returned to painting and exhibiting her artwork —[28] with frequent support from the Claremont Museum of Art[29] — and sometimes combined with her musical performances.[30] Musically she switched from playing guitar to percussion and her style evolved from folk-rock singer-songwriting to more instrumental and experimental music.[6][1] In the 1980s she was a member of Scripps ceramics professor Brian Ransom's Ceramic Ensemble, a group that played Ransom's handmade earthenware instruments.[31] Over the years Ceramic Ensemble played at universities, folk festivals, and art museums.[32]

In the 1990s Tanega founded the group hybridVigor, starting as a duo with Mike Henderson for their first album, then expanding to a trio with the addition of Rebecca Hamm for their second album.[33] In 1998 Tanega formed the Latin Lizards with Robert Grajeda, and the duo released the album Dangerous in 2003.[34][35]

Her next band was called Baboonz with guitarist Tom Skelly and bassist Mario Verlangieri. The trio released a self-titled CD in 2008, the album HA! in 2009, and a third called 8 Songs Ate Brains in 2010.[4] Other recording projects soon followed, including the album Push with John Zeretzke,[36] Twin Journey with Steve Rushingwind Ruiz, and a return collaboration with Ceramic Ensemble sound sculptor Brian Ransom for their album Internal Medicine.[4]


Tanega died of colon cancer on December 29, 2019, at her home in Claremont, California, aged 80.[2]

In other media[edit]

Beyond the mid-1960s buzz around Tanega's sole hit single and the number of songs she contributed to Dusty Springfield's repertoire, many other musicians have continued to record their own versions of Tanega's early work. Garage rock group Thee Oh Sees covered "What Are We Craving?" on their 2011 album Castlemania.[37] Her one chart hit, "Walkin' My Cat Named Dog", has continued the rounds in other musicians' repertoires: Dr. Hook included it in a 1996 three-disc collection;[38] Yo La Tengo performed it in 2010;[39] and They Might Be Giants recorded it in 2013 for release on their 2015 children's album Why?.[40]

In 2014, Tanega's song "You're Dead", which was written as a sarcastic statement about her struggles in New York’s competitive music scene,[41] was used in the opening credits of the New Zealand vampire comedy film What We Do In The Shadows and was remixed to become a running theme for its characters.[42][43] Starting in 2019, it was also used as the opening credits theme for the film's television adaptation.

In 2015, Sienna Sebek portrayed Tanega in a London stage production based on the life of Dusty Springfield.[44] Critics panned the show, one writing that the Tanega-Springfield relationship was reduced to, "they meet, fall in love, have a relationship and break up all within the space of a [sic] 10 minutes or so."[45] Anabello Rodrigo reprised the role for a 2016 production featuring 3-D virtual effects.[46]




  • "Walkin' My Cat Named Dog"/"I'm The Sky" (New Voice, 1966)
  • "A Street That Rhymes At Six A.M."/"Treat Me Right" (New Voice, 1966)
  • "Bread"/"Waves" (New Voice, 1966)
  • "Run, On The Run"/"No Stranger Am I" (New Voice, 1967)[47]
  • "Nothing Much Is Happening Today"/"Antarctic Rose" (RCA, 1971)[6]


  • Walkin' My Cat Named Dog (New Voice, 1966)[48]
  • I Don't Think It Will Hurt If You Smile (RCA, 1971)
  • I’m the Sky: Studio and Demo Recordings, 1964–1971 (Anthology Recordings, 2022)

Group projects[edit]


  • hybridVigor (1996)
  • II by 3 (2000)[49]

Latin Lizards[edit]

  • Dangerous (2001)[50]

Norma Tanega and John Zeretzke[edit]

Norma Tanega and Brian Ransom[edit]

  • Internal Medicine (2008)[52]


  • Baboonz (2008)
  • HA! (2009)
  • 8 Songs Ate Brains (2011)[4]

Norma Tanega and Steve Rushingwind Ruiz[edit]

  • Twin Journeys (2012)[53]


  1. ^ a b Unterberger, Ruchie. "Norma Tanega | Biography & History | AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved 8 September 2017. Tanega moved to England for five years, recording an album for RCA. After returning to the United States, she became a percussionist, playing ceramic instruments and making several albums with woodwind player Brian Ransom. Later she played world music with Hybrid Vigor, and taught art and music in Southern California.
  2. ^ a b c Allen, David (2 January 2020). "Norma Tanega, 'Cat Named Dog' singer, dies in Claremont". Daily Bulletin. Retrieved 9 January 2020.
  3. ^ a b Williams, Vera (August 21, 1955). "Rudy Tanega". Independent Press-Telegram from. Long Beach, California. p. 68.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h "Norma Tanega talks about her 'lost' album, sold exclusively through "Let's Talk Dusty!" – Let's Talk Dusty!". Let's Talk Dusty. June 3, 2011. Archived from the original on 12 September 2017. Retrieved 8 September 2017.
  5. ^ a b Valentine, Penny; Wickham, Vicki (2014). Dancing with Demons: The Authorized Biography of Dusty Springfield. St. Martin's Press. ISBN 9781466878211.
  6. ^ a b c d McLane, Ben C.; Wong, Venice Antoinette (1995). "Articles: Norma Tanega". Retrieved 12 September 2017.
  7. ^ Unterberger, Richie (2014). Jingle Jangle Morning: Folk-Rock in the 1960s. BookBaby. ISBN 9780991589210.
  8. ^ "Walkin' My Cat Named Dog – Norma Tanega | Credits | AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved 8 September 2017.
  9. ^ a b "Hot 100". Billboard. Nielsen Business Media, Inc. 9 April 1966.
  10. ^ Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London, UK: Guinness World Records Ltd. p. 549. ISBN 1-904994-10-5.
  11. ^ "RPM Top 100 Singles - April 18, 1966" (PDF).
  12. ^ Choron, Sandra; Choron, Harry; Moore, Arden (2007). Planet Cat: A Cat-Alog. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. p. 59. ISBN 978-0618812592.
  13. ^ "Norma Tanega". Independent Press-Telegram. Long Beach, California. April 10, 1966. pp. 185, 189.
  14. ^ Miller, Quinn (November 14, 2014). "Hey People, Come Free With Me: New Voices from 1966 « The Hooded Utilitarian". The Hooded Utilitarian. Retrieved 13 September 2017.
  15. ^ a b c Howes, Paul; Clark, Petula (2012). The Complete Dusty Springfield. Titan Books. ISBN 9781781165409.
  16. ^ Inc (14 May 1966). "Pop Spotlight: Walkin' My Cat Named Dog". Billboard. Nielsen Business Media, Inc.
  17. ^ Bronson, Fred (2003). The Billboard Book of Number One Hits. Billboard Books. p. 183. ISBN 9780823076772.
  18. ^ "Billboard". Nielsen Business Media, Inc. 29 October 1966.
  19. ^ "Norma Tanega | Credits | AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved 9 September 2017.
  20. ^ "Tendres Années – Les Surfs | Songs, Reviews, Credits | AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved 9 September 2017.
  21. ^ "Lize Marke – Wanneer Komt Het Geluk Voor Mij (Walking My Cat Named Dog)". 45 Cat. Retrieved 9 September 2017.
  22. ^ "HMV Label X series 45 Singles Diskografi". danpop. April 22, 2012. p. 8. Retrieved 9 September 2017.
  23. ^ Bartlett, Karen (2014). Dusty: An Intimate Portrait of a Musical Legend. Biteback Publishing. ISBN 9781849547635.
  24. ^ Hashish, Amira (13 June 2017). "Dusty's home is for sale – perfect for Diana Vickers' role research". Homes and Property. Retrieved 8 September 2017. Pop star Diana Vickers will portray the late, great Dusty Springfield in the new musical Son of a Preacher Man, directed by Strictly Come Dancing judge Craig Revel Horwood. Vickers will tour the UK with the production later this year. As part of her research for the role, she should surely book a viewing at the lateral Art Deco house in Aubrey Walk, Kensington, where Sixties icon Springfield lived with her lover, Norma Tanega.
  25. ^ SDGLN Staff (26 October 2015). "Meet LGBT History Month icons Michael Sam, Barbra Siperstein, and Dusty Springfield". San Diego Gay and Lesbian News. Retrieved 8 September 2017. During the late 1960s and early '70s, Springfield was romantically linked to Norma Tanega, a California-born singer-songwriter who wrote a few of Springfield's songs such as "Go My Love."
  26. ^ Hi-fi News & Record Review. Link House Publications. 1972. p. 327.
  27. ^ Randall, Annie J. (2008). Dusty!: Queen of the Postmods. Oxford University Press. p. 163. ISBN 9780199716302.
  28. ^ "Art". The San Bernardino County Sun. San Bernardino, California. February 20, 1981. p. 45. Retrieved 13 September 2017.
  29. ^ "tanega | Search Results | Claremont Museum of Art". Claremont Museum of Art.
  30. ^ "Galleries: Local art guide the week of October 3". Claremont Courier. October 2, 2012. Retrieved 14 September 2017.
  31. ^ Henken, John (11 December 1988). "Instruments That Look and Sound Like Earth : Ceramist/musician Brian Ransom creates art that's both aural and visual". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 12 September 2017.
  32. ^ Woodard, Josef (24 October 1991). "Sound Sculptor : Brian Ransom's 'whistling pods,' 'hooters' and 'spiral horns' double as ceramic art and instruments". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 12 September 2017.
  33. ^ Unterberger, Richie. "Norma Tanega – Biography | Billboard". Billboard. Retrieved 8 September 2017.
  34. ^ "The Latin Lizards Concert | PolyCentric". PolyCentric. August 17, 2003. Retrieved 8 September 2017.
  35. ^ "Dangerous – The Latin Lizards". CD Baby. Retrieved 8 September 2017. Norma Tanega and Robert Grajeda, known in this galaxy as The Latin Lizards, play a "delicioso" blend of Latin Jazz and Pop. Norma is a painter, composer and musician who has recorded several albums, one of which included "Walkin'My Cat Named Dog", a top-ten hit song in 1967. She sings and plays a variety of percussion instruments including a custom set of ceramic drums (congas, djembes and dumbeks) which are featured on the album. Norma's Panamanian and Filipino roots give the songs an earthy and exotic flavor. Her warmth and joy make you smile and dance every time you listen to her sing and play.
  36. ^ "Push". AllMusic. Retrieved 8 September 2017.
  37. ^ "Castlemania – Thee Oh Sees | Credits | AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved 12 September 2017.
  38. ^ Parisien, Roch. "Pleasure & Pain: The History of Dr. Hook – Dr. Hook | Songs, Reviews, Credits | AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved 13 September 2017.
  39. ^ Jarnow, Jesse (December 9, 2010). "Live: The National Open, But Yo La Tengo Dominate During Their Final Hanukkah Night At Maxwell's | Village Voice". Village Voice. Retrieved 13 September 2017.
  40. ^ "Meet They Might Be Giants' John Flansburgh's Murderous Cats, Symphony Sid and Suzzy". Spin. 4 March 2013. Retrieved 12 September 2017.
  41. ^ Locke, Jesse (April 28, 2022). "Norma Tanega was a queer woman of colour who found success and laughter in the folk music world". Retrieved 2022-06-21.
  42. ^ Kustanczy, Catherine (February 13, 2015). "From the Makers of 'Flight of the Conchords,' A Wickedly Funny Vampire Mockumentary". Mic. Retrieved 8 September 2017. Mic: The movie has a really unique soundtrack, with the Norma Tanega song "You're Dead" as a kind of theme for your vampires. How did you find the music? TW: We stumbled across that. Our editors had a big list, like a big drive full of music.
  43. ^ "Festivales de Buenos Aires – 260". April 22, 2014. Retrieved 14 September 2017. This sublime documentary couldn't have a better theme song than the resounding "You're Dead," by Norma Tanega, which points out with preciseness the main qualities of its protagonists.
  44. ^ Taylor, Paul (8 September 2015). "Dusty, review: Wooden book is saved by elating sequences". The Independent. Archived from the original on 2022-06-21. Retrieved 8 September 2017. But hers is a gutsily-sung, courageous performance and there are elating sequences amidst the dross of the book – Dusty becoming an honorary Vandella for a joyous evening with Witney White's excellent Martha; the duetting same-sex spin on numbers during the show's otherwise cursory treatment of her relationship with American song-writer Norma Tanega (Sienna Sebek); and the moment of deathless kitsch when Dusty dons her first blonde wig, eyes her reflection and says "Goodbye Mary".
  45. ^ Graham, Katherine M (September 16, 2015). "Dusty drama a dreary dud". People's Printing Press. Archived from the original on 12 September 2017. Retrieved 12 September 2017. This is most evident in the portrayal of Springfield's relationship with songwriter Norma Tanega (Sienna Sebek) — they meet, fall in love, have a relationship and break up all within the space of a 10 minutes or so.
  46. ^ "Everything's Coming Up Dusty". Up&Atom Magazine. No. 6. March 30, 2016. pp. 20–22.
  47. ^ "Chart Spotlights—Predicted to reach the Hot 100 Chart". Billboard. Nielsen Business Media, Inc. 25 March 1967.
  48. ^ Flores, Leonardo; Miller, Mike (July 1, 2007). "The Complete Bob Crewe Label Discography" (PDF). Retrieved 12 September 2017.
  49. ^ "Hybrid Vigor — "II by 3"". Exposé. No. 22. July 2001. p. 38.
  50. ^ "Dangerous – The Latin Lizards. Listen @cdbaby". CD Baby. Retrieved 26 September 2017.
  51. ^ "PUSH – Tanaga and Zeretzke. Listen @cdbaby". CD Baby. Retrieved 26 September 2017.
  52. ^ ""From St. Petersburg, with Love": July 26 – September 6" (Newsletter). Artspace Lima. Lima, OH. June 2008. p. 1. He has recorded a CD of his work, "Internal Medicine," in collaboration with Norma Tanega.
  53. ^ Wildsmith, Steve (August 24, 2016). "Steve Rushingwind, other Native American performers head to Townsend". The Daily Times. Retrieved 26 September 2017. In 2012, he released an album of flute and percussion with solo artist Norma Tanega under the moniker Twin Journeys.

External links[edit]