Adrienne Anderson: Lyricist

ADRIENNE ANDERSON is the very talented lyricist who was introduced to us by lyricist Marty Panzer.  She is most known for the songs she co-wrote with composer Barry Manilow.  Some of the most beloved songs recorded and performed by Barry Manilow feature the lyrics of Adrienne Anderson, including Daybreak and Could It Be Magic.

Songs Adrienne Anderson wrote have been recorded by many great artists including Melissa Manchester, Bette Midler, Donna Summer and Isaac Hayes.  The late great Frank Sinatra sang a televised performance of the song “See the Show Again” on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.

Fans of Dionne Warwick may know Anderson’s work from the song “Deja Vu” which she co-wrote with Isaac Hayes.  With Peter Allen, Adrienne Anderson co-wrote “I Go to Rio” which became a signature song for Allen.  The song was later covered by the band Pablo Cruise as well as the late Peggy Lee.

Who is Adrienne Anderson?

Wow, well combination of things of course and evolving. I am uh much more of a family person now than I was when I started my career. I’ve got a daughter who is 25 years old and has a huge future of her own, a husband who I’m devoted to that I’ve been married to for almost 30 years. As far as my definition of myself as a careerist; that’s never really got away. I love the creative process. I’ve always loved the creative process and while my projects vary I hope to be involved one way or another in something having to do with music for the rest of my life.

 So speaking of life, let’s go back to the beginning.  What was life like growing up and where are you from?

I grew up in Manhattan and it was fantastic. I was very, very lucky. Child of privilege, I got exposed to the golden age of Broadway. When I was just old enough to have any idea of what I was watching. And I mean the Golden Age I mean South Pacific, Carousel, Guys and Dolls, The King and I, etc. all the original stage productions. When I was in the eighth grade West Side Story opened, changed my life. I went to see it four times. Studied theatre, studied dance, studied boys and was just very, very blessed to be in the cultural center of the western world and it had a life altering effect on me and I; I just loved growing up there.

Can you remember perhaps specific records or specific songs you heard around the house or on the radio?

When I was the youngest it was the Broadway stuff that had the most immediate impact on me because it was the height of Rodgers and Hammerstein and I was; just as I say; barely old enough to understand how great that stuff was. Also seeing it all on the stage, in real time, had a tremendous impact on me that I think lasted me all the way through. I mean to this day it’s scary how I can recall all those lyrics. I also had a Father who was very sophisticated musically who exposed me to jazz very early in life. So that I was very aware of Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Lena Horne and Bix Beiderbecke and Art Tatum and people like that so that I was not your typical kid growing up where when I was in college and everyone was listening to those early Beatles records. I was a Charlie Mingus fan a Miles Davis fan, a Horace Silver fan. I owe a lot of that early exposure and sophistication to my father.

Did you always write?

No, no, not at all. Originally I wanted to be on the stage. I did summer stock, I had some potential I went to Carnegie Mellon which is a very renowned theatre department and then I studied in New York, and was quite serious about all that but then it was the sixties you know and theatre got really boring and the real theatrics and entertainment had switched over to music and I had great taste; I didn’t have a great voice but I had great taste so I put together a little act and that’s actually how I met Barry. It’s a cute story I actually hired him as my accompanist to help me put an act together for ten dollars an hour and that’s how we met.

What was your first impression of Barry Manilow when you met him?

Well he was just the sweetest, geekiest guy that I had ever met, ya know, with a great, great ability to play piano and accompany. Everybody used him. He and I found each other to be kindred spirits almost immediately because he had this passion towards jazz and so did I. And he thought I was the cat’s meow and for some reason he loved my voice and I loved his playing and we just hit it off from the first time that we did a song together; it was instantaneous. So what we did was we spent about eight or nine months putting this act that was so unique that the people who were managing me; when we presented the act to them; said they couldn’t book me because nobody would understand or recognize any of the songs that I was attempting to sing. So they fired Barry and put me with somebody else. But Barry and I continued on and he was just starting to write a little bit and he said well since I’m trying to write songs why don’t we write songs together. I said sure ok so we started writing songs together and it was the tail end of the brill era I mean really the tail end of the brill era. But we would write a batch of songs and I wrote the lyrics because I wasn’t going to play like him; I couldn’t play like him. But we did a lot of duets too, two part harmonies and just thought it was great, great and we would just go from floor to floor and knock on publishers doors and Barry would play and I would sing and we would play songs for a hundred dollars and that’s how it got started. And eventually I lost more interest in the performing end of it and gained more interest in the writing of it and that was pretty much because of what he and I were doing together.

 Can you remember the first song that you and Barry Manilow wrote that you’d say “this one’s a keeper”?

“Our Love Will Still Be There” was the name of the song. It was good; we wrote a lot of good stuff. I mean I don’t think anybody actually published that one but I think that was the first song. He was always a great keyboard player and he always had even from back in those days the same kind of charm and personality that he’s got now. Of course his ambition in those days was to be the next Nelson Riddle. He wanted to be an arranger. He never ever thought of himself as a vocalist but the fact is he had the same voice then that he has now. Who knew?

 I remember hearing him one time in concert, he was at Philips Arena in Atlanta and he was telling a little story on stage and he started out and he said “I have never been much of a singer,” and I thought “yeah right.”  But, I have heard that story from a couple people that they never thought of him as a singer, it was more like what Bette Midler said to him, “But, Barry, you don’t sing.”

Well the thing about Barry which I guess you could say similar was that and one of the reasons that I stopped pursuing that was because the key I think to being a success as a vocalist is getting that personality across. He was always, always able to do that and that’s why I don’t think he thought of himself seriously as a singer because he didn’t necessarily have the technique or the pipes but what he did have right from the beginning was his personality; which was his own that came through and had a charm and a warmth, and a humor that never really changed and a tremendous (technicality)

What was the first song that he recorded of yours that was a co-write?

That he recorded of ours?

 Yeah.

Well there’s actually an interesting story to this one because what happened was I was in New York. I was moving to the West Coast because I was marrying somebody who wanted to move to the West Coast and I sorta figured oh well, let’s give it a go but I was very apprehensive about breaking up the relationship with Barry and being on my own because I thought well if I don’t have him writing and playing what am I going to do; just gonna be on my own; so I determined to try to figure out how to do it by myself I rented this rehearsal space on 57th street for whatever twelve dollars an hour and this was in the midst of the Paul McCartney Era. I came up with this little tune called “Amy” that for what it was; was actually quite good and quite charming and my soon to be husband in those days was a big shot music publisher at CBS and he had a production company and everyone agreed that this thing should be recorded. So full production, so we went into the studio to record this song and of course Barry was around, at the last minute they said we need a scratch vocal Barry would you mind. So he went in and he did the vocal on it and that record Amy is what landed him his first record deal at Bell records. So it’s ironic because he didn’t even write that song. I wrote that song.

Interesting.

Yeah, a little bit of trivia there.

 You worked with so many people.  I don’t know if this is true, but I read something about you working with Frank Sinatra.

Oh I never worked with Frank Sinatra, but Barry and I have a song called “Why Don’t You See the Show Again” which he actually performed on the tonight show when Johnny Carson was the host and nobody knew he was gonna do it and I was on the West Coast and Barry was in New York and he called me screaming hysterical and said “You’re not gonna believe this” and it’s a three hour delay so I had to wait three hours to see it but sure enough he sang the song and he sang it really, really well. And it was definitely a high light of my career without a doubt.

Incredible.

Yeah.

 Well tell us about the song “Could It Be Magic” that Barry Manilow recorded.

Well I was already on the west Coast when he came up with the idea based on the Chopin prelude and he had come up with the chorus and was terribly excited played what he had over the phone to me and I became terribly excited because it was obvious that there was something really special that was starting to happen. I think I was staying at a hotel down in LA when I wrote the lyric to the verses. I still have the copy on Hotel stationery of what I wrote. It was one of those things that I just nailed it right from the get go. Needless to say it was time well spent.

 Is it possible to pick a favorite song of yours?

You mean with Barry?

 Just in general, any song.

Ah geez, not really, I mean I have maybe my half dozen favorites. I’ve just written so many songs, most of which have not been top ten hits. You know that’s the way it goes sometimes is that some of your favorites tend to be more obscure but certainly “Could It Be Magic” is right up there and with Barry we had a great time on the 2am Paradise Café project  which was a highlight for all of us. A great experience ya know Marty and I were present during the recording of that record and I don’t know if you’ve heard the story but that was a one take and wrote. I don’t know if you know the musicians who were playing on that record?

Yeah.  Fantastic record!

They were well rehearsed and Barry had written beautiful arrangements to link all of the songs, you’ve listened to it I guess so.

Certainly.

It’s all just continuous and that’s Barry’s music. They just did the whole thing without any interruption when they were over, finished everybody kinda looked at each other and said “is this possible” but it was. Ya know it’s very unusual.

What about “Daybreak.”  What inspired the lyrics for that song?

Uh it’s kind of a funny story because when I wrote that lyric I really wasn’t thinking about Barry at all I didn’t think; I was thinking more in terms of a gospel R&B group I didn’t even show him the lyrics he was at my house and it was just sitting on a pile and he said what’s this; I said oh it’s just a lyric ya know and he said give me a couple minutes with this. I swear I remember I went down downstairs and made us lunch and by the time I had finished making us lunch he had come up with the music and ya know little could I have imagined that that little lyric was going to get the kind of mileage that it did but again it was one of the. A lot of lyrics that I wrote for Barry over the years were custom customized for him and that’s a great luxury when you can write for an artist. Especially when you can write for an artist that you know as well as I know him because I could kind of get under his skin and really, really personalize. Whereas if your just writing a lyric just to music that’s going out there to try to find and artist its very different but with “Daybreak” I certainly, I certainly didn’t have him in mind for that one at all.

 It’s a fantastic song.  I don’t think anybody could ever listen to that song, the words and the music and be in a bad mood.

(Adrienne laughing)
I can’t imagine that.

Well ya know, its, it’s great, ya know, it’s given us both a great deal of pleasure. Ya know I try to make my lyrics as personal as I can in terms of my own point of view. Uh, I am by nature an optimistic so I guess that definitely came across in that lyric.

What is it like to have someone like Dionne Warwick record one of your songs, that song “Déjà vu,” it has to be incredible.  She’s such a legend.

We were pinching ourselves. Barry produced that record and that was surreal because I was, uh we both were huge Dionne Warwick fans and that whole Bacharach/David catalog was just up there with the best of the ya know what was written in pop music in the mid-20th century and such a unique and perfect talent. I remember going into the studio while she was recording “Déjà Vu” her nonchalance was just astonishing ya know she was painting her nails while she was recording and puffing on cigarettes and then she would ya know just sing and she was just perfect and I remember Barry and I looking at each other in the control room and saying is this actually happening (laughing) we were both stunned and fans ya know like we were of a ya know younger generation growing up listening to all of the body of her work we were just in such awe.

What about your work with Peter Allen? Tell us about how that came to be.

Well Peter had a publisher in LA that I had a, a nice relationship with and so we were actually put together. We knew each other very casually just from knowing people in common and so it wasn’t we had never met but we weren’t friends we just kind of knew each other. So it was set up for us to write together. I had come up with some ideas, let’s see I don’t remember exactly it was some idea that was rejected immediately and the next think I know he’s saying well why don’t we write this and he started to launch into this music for “Rio” and the story as it goes is that we were just in an office publishers everyone had gone to lunch it was just him and me and the piano and we wrote the entire song in one hour with not a word ever changed and not a note ever changed and um when everybody returned from lunch we were terribly excited and we sat everybody down and said woah listen to this. Peter played and I don’t know if we both sang or just Peter sang but we just kind of knew we had nailed it. I don’t think anybody knew that that copyright was going to end up having the ledge that it’s had. This has just been astonishing ya know on a worldwide level. It’s been an amazingly successful copyright. But you can it’s just a crazy business because ya know you can write great stuff that never sees the light of day or you can write great stuff that takes you an hour like “Daybreak” took me twenty minutes to write. Then you feel almost guilty like this isn’t right. Ya know how can I be making this kind of money on something that took twenty minutes to write. I guess a lot of it is just circumstantial and I was very lucky I was very, very lucky. If you look at I don’t know what it is the percentage of people even in those days who earned a living writing lyrics I’m sure it was miniscule then and probably non-existent now.

You also have worked with someone who is an upcoming guest of ours: Melissa Manchester.  What is your impression of her?

I adored her and we wrote a lot together and in those days in those days it was kind of different there were no restrictions her producer at the time just loved everything that we did and there was never anything held back in terms of we would just write stuff and it would just go right into the recording studio but Melissa and I were very, very close and we were very, very young. She was younger than I was and still is but there was a creativity and a free spiritedness to our work that was just; just delicious we didn’t feel any kind of commercial restrictions and I think there was an innocence in terms of being creative in a way that once you become more seasoned you tend not to be quite as because you tend to play it more safe and be a little bit more structured. But we had wonderful; wonderful times sharing the creative process together.

 Kind of working our way to the present, not too long ago you worked on “City Kid,” the musical and you’re working on something now.  I was wondering if you could tell us about these projects you’ve been working on lately.

Well you know instead of taking a day, a week or a month these projects take years. City Kid was kinda my brain child and I recruited two great, great guys to collaborate with me Peter Bunetta and Rick Chudacoff who are the producers and quite successful. And I came up with this concept to turn what I thought initially was going to be a concept album into a stage production. I sort of undertook this myself in terms of developing the story and urging them along because they thought I was crazy and uh it wasn’t there thing at all. They had never thought in terms of wanting to do Theatre. I actually found a great group outside of Seattle who fell in love with wanting to help develop the project and so they did and we had a workshop and a full stage production up there some of the best experiences of my life. You can’t compare being involved with a group of theater kids with making a record because theater is such a community experience, a collaborative experience so ya know where as if you’re writing a song for a record you write it with somebody or alone, then you’re in a recording studio, ya know, it’s pretty quiet there’s not that many people there. Whereas here it was all about people and so my endeavor was to try and contemporize Broadway what has proven to be a very, very difficult thing to do. Even if you saw the Tony’s this year you could see that some of the stuff that was written a year ago sounds like It could have been written forty years ago so it’s very, very tough. Broadway is very, very tough. We ended up finally after having a substantial run up in Seattle uh coming down to LA and having an eight week run down here which actually proved quite successful. However we were in a 99 seat equity waver with a cast of 17 and six band members all union so the costs were unrealistic and we were forced to shut down before we found what we needed to move on so as of now “City Kid” is in limbo. It’s been very hard for me but in the meantime I’m pursuing this Pawnbroker project which is really, really a horse of a different color and isn’t pop at all, is very serious. I’m collaborating with a fellow by the name of Eduardo Del Barrio who is a very serious composer. I’ve adapted the book which you know I think I’ve gotten pretty good at. It’s a wonderful story there was a film that was made of the novel in the mid-sixties that Sid Lumet directed that starred Rod Steiger that won an Oscar, Quincy Jones did a superb score. It was a very much heralded property in its day and there’s still a generation or two that certainly know “The Pawn Broker” Your probably just too young oh but these are very, very long range projects ya know so that kinda suits me in this stage of my life.

What is the best thing about being Adrienne Anderson?

The best thing about being Adrienne Anderson?

Yes ma’am.

Oh, well I guess the best thing about being Adrienne Anderson is that I’m a person who’s always been pretty comfortable in her own skin. I believe what I believe and I feel what I feel and I don’t tend to hide those feelings. I’ve been a very good Mother and a Very good Wife and a very good friend. People love me, I love them. There’s just not too much of a gap between my inner life and my outer life and I think that’s probably the best part of being me and the fact that I’ve been able to live out a lot of my fantasies. I’ve been Very, very, very lucky to have had the opportunity to do that.

 I have two final questions.  One is kind of light-hearted and then the other is a little more serious.  The light hearted one first: Your all time favorite meal.

(Adrienne laughs) Oh…. a good steak and a piece of Chocolate cake

Oh yeah?  How do you have the steak?

Medium rare.

Likewise.
(laughter)

My last question: what would you like to say to all the people listening?

Oh, I would say find you passion and live it and be good to each other along the way.

 Thank you so much for this interview.  It’s been a great pleasure.

Well thank You I’ve enjoyed it.

TRANSCRIBED BY LISA MARIE BOHLAND-LUNDGREN

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