A singer, songwriter, and classically trained multi-instrumentalist, Norma Cecilia Tanega was born on January 30, 1939 in Vallejo, California, near San Francisco. She died on December 29, 2019 in Claremont, California.
Norma Tanega’s father was a bandmaster in the United States Navy and an accomplished musician. Growing up, “it was only natural for me to become a musician as well.” After obtaining a Masters Degree in Fine Arts from Claremont Graduate School in 1962, “I moved to New York City with all of my worldly possessions, including the guitar that appears on the cover of my two albums.” As a musician and a painter, this was the next logical step in her life. “At that time, the center of the art world was New York City.” Before obtaining a record contract, Norma spent one summer sightseeing and hitchhiking around Europe.
Her big break came as a result of her job singing at a summer camp in the Catskills Mountains in New York. “One of the other counselors at the camp was teaching at a high school in Brooklyn, New York. Another of the instructors at that high school happened to be a part-time record producer with connections to Bob Crewe, by the name of Herb Bernstein.” (Bernstein later arranged and produced the Happenings and Laura Nyro). It was suggested that Norma play Bernstein some of her material. He liked what he heard, and took Norma to Bob Crewe, who also was impressed. He signed Norma, and the result was the album Walkin’ My Cat Named Dog, produced by Herb Bernstein, which contained the hit “Walkin’ My Cat Named Dog”. Norma explains the meaning behind the lyrics: “I had always wanted a dog, but because of my living situation I could only have a cat; I named my cat Dog and wrote a song about my dilemma.” Apparently, others could relate, because the song zoomed to #22 on the Billboard charts.
Interestingly, “Walkin’ My Cat Named Dog” became a huge hit in England, and in order to capitalize on the success, Norma moved to London for five years. There, she became recognized quickly as a songwriter, and wrote songs with Tom Springfield (who incidentally wrote many of the Seeker’s hits) and for Dusty Springfield. These songs can be found on Tom Springfield’s Love’s Philosophy album on Decca from 1969 and as the B sides of several Dusty Springfield singles on Phillips from 1968 through 1970 (e.g., “I Close My Eyes And Count To Ten”/”No Stranger Am I”, “I Will Come To You”/”The Color of Your Eyes”, “Am I the Same Girl”/”Earthbound Gypsy”). Additionally, her work appears on former Move singer Carl Wayne’s 1972 RCA album titled Carl Wayne.
Norma’s efforts in London resulted in a record contract with RCA. The output was the 1971 album titled I Don’t Think It Will Hurt If You Smile. This album was produced by Don Paul. One of the session players was well known British musician Mike Moran, who later worked with such great British rock luminaries as Colin Blunstone, Mick Fleetwood, Ian Gillan, Roger Glover and Chris Rea. Although Norma’s album received excellent reviews, it was not a hit. “Unfortunately, I could not promote the album because I had to move back to the United States for family reasons.”
Upon moving back to the States, Norma took up residence in her old college town of Claremont, California, and began teaching music. Along with her other passion for painting, she continued to create music.