Very excited to share this new project with you!
Very excited to share this new project with you!
Last night I pulled the Mac McAnally album Semi-True Stories out of my collection and was again swept away by the opening track, “Meanwhile.” It’s worth listening to.
Thank you, Lyman Corbitt McAnally, Jr. for the great words and music.
The Gentle Giant, Don Williams passed away. What an incredible singer. Never saw him perform live, but one of my favorite memories of a concert was they played a recording of his song “I Believe In You” before a Charley Pride concert and everyone got up and slow danced.
Please listen to one of his songs.
May he rest in peace.
It’s fate that some should touch the heights that make a mem’ry fast recall,
The words and deeds that make hearts light, and let the tensions built, desolve,
A comic’s not a name tag worn, nor ever was talent bought,
a showman true, is only born, then hones the talent he has got,
Let the hours slip ’til night, who fears the dark in merriment,
rather laugh in lowered light, then watch some other, lesser gent
Let talent come from where it will, in singers, actors, all renowned
spectators nightly hours fill, with David, Paul and Kalter’s sounds,
those talents many lives enrich, by daring to speak humors script
As Letterman describes “the switch” it’s genius either way it’s flipped.
(A Poem by Daniel L. Buckner)
I was about 9 years old and staying up very late on a Friday. Everyone else was sound asleep and that was the first time I ended up on “Late Night with David Letterman.” I distinctly remember the bandleader eating a bowl of Rice Krispies drizzled with Pepto-Bismol. Clearly I had stepped into another era of my life.
The beautiful thing is that I am not unique. Letterman has long appealed to those with a taste for humor that is off the beaten path. No David Letterman would mean no Jimmy Kimmel and no Conan O’Brien. There has been plenty written about the man’s contributions to comedy, but to me it has always been Dave’s curiosity about people that I found so interesting. Moreso than some of his celebrity interviews, I recall him talking to a young kid who found gold. Or his exchanges with his mother known to the public as “Dave’s mom.”
I’ve learned about interviewing from some of the best and have been able to interview truly great interviewers like the late Joe Franklin, Bob Edwards, Larry King, Bill Boggs and Elliot Mintz. I don’t pretend to be in any way culturally relevant. I’m still learning, but there is no doubt in my mind that the reason I interview people is because of David Letterman.
David Letterman is frequently over-looked as an interviewer. I recall my conversation with his announcer Alan Kalter, when he talked about his first impression with Dave. “He was a listener. And he still is to this day. Uh, he’s a great listener when he interviews the guests on the show, as you can tell. He’s also a good listener if you meet him in the hall or if he sits down with you and says ‘What’s new?’ He listens to everything you say and then asks the appropriate questions.”
I write this little tribute to the Worldwide Pants crew as the very last episode of the show is being taped. Hard to fathom the impact Dave, Paul & Co. made to millions of people, but also the people who helped create the magic and the music of every episode.
The people who created The Late Show are a lot more open than most people in what they call “show business.”
I’ve been a fan of Paul Shaffer and his 2 albums, in particular “Coast to Coast” for years. His CBS Orchestra is arguably one of the best bands in the business and this is not really a secret. I set out years ago to help tell the story of the band, going back to when it was called “The World’s Most Dangerous Band.” I was able to interview Steve Jordan, the original drummer back in the early days of 1982 when Letterman was first starting in late night. I recall my interview also with Anton Fig, known to many as a great drummer who is also a composer who created one of my favorite albums, “Figments.” And of course Will Lee who along with Shaffer has been there since day one and never left. I spoke with almost all of the horn section, some who have gone onto other things. There was the enthusiastic Alan Chez who encouraged me to stuff myself on Bourbon Street in New Orleans. There was saxophonist Bruce Kapler who will forever be associated with Christmastime to so many. Aaron Heick, saxophonist and composer of songs like “Drifting Upstream” and “Desert Lullaby,” and of course their leader, the multi-instrumentalist incredible Tom “Bones” Malone, a man who personifies what it is to be a gentleman.
But there are other people I got to meet, the former warm-up comedian and booker, Eddie Brill who I had the fortune to interview after interviewing the one-of-a-kind announcer Alan Kalter. The people behind the scenes who gave so kindly of their limited time, like Executive Producer and CEO of Worldwide Pants, Rob Burnett, who somehow finds time to also write scripts and make movies…or CBS Vice President of Late Night Programming Vinnie Favale who has an unlimited amount of passion for so many things, including his musical “Hereafter.”
I didn’t get to interview the entire band, but I did try my best so there are no regrets really. There is only one regret I have. It was back in 2008 and I was in New York City having interviewed arguably the biggest New York legend—Woody Allen. I was stopped on the street and asked to answer 3 trivia questions (the most memorable being about Kalter’s hair color) for tickets to see a taping of “The Late Show.” I answered all the questions correctly, but sadly my flight would not allow me to attend the taping. The tickets were given to my friends who would stay behind as I returned home. I truly regret not staying. Meeting Woody Allen and then seeing a taping of Letterman? New York dreams.
When I interviewed his good friend comedian Tom Dreesen he said to get a good look because we won’t see Dave again. Perhaps David Letterman’s most attributed and repeated quote is “There is no off position on the genius switch.” Maybe I’m being mawkish, but I can’t imagine so much wit, creativity and humor just suddenly turning off.
Late at night, 11:35 PM to be precise, on television sets across the country, the recognizable sound of Alan Kalter and the CBS Orchestra has been heard night after night…a sure sign that you’re about to be entertained. Although the show is ending there are stories and as I have learned many incredible characters that are here to stay.
Special thanks to: Eddie Brill, Rob Burnett, Tom Dreesen, Vinnie Favale, Anton Fig, Aaron Heick, Steve Jordan, Alan Kalter, Bruce Kapler, Frankie Keane, Will Lee, Tom “Bones” Malone, Susan Shreyar-Miller and…of course Henry Jordan and David Yoder.
I was curious about Elliot Mintz for a long time before I finally decided to email him. I asked him a question and he wrote back and immediately gave me his phone number. We corresponded for years until I finally had enough nerve to ask him if he would be interviewed. Why I was afraid to ask I can’t quite say. He said “yes,” and it was few years later, in 2011, I would find myself in an airplane heading to Los Angeles, California. It was more than just curiosity. Sometimes we just know it’s the way we’re supposed to go. There I was in his house where I was free to ask whatever I wanted. This was a man who had seen and heard a lot.
The first question I asked him was “Who is Elliot Mintz?” He said, “I guess it depends on who you ask.” I haven’t really had someone answer the question of who they are in that way. Elliot Mintz has said he doesn’t really know who he is, but if there is any reason for that, it is because he has spent his life looking at who other people are. He has seen a lot, heard more and along the way tried to look at it and think about what it means.
So who is Elliot Mintz?
If you spend some time on his website www.elliotmintz.com you may believe he has been the conduit between some of the most interesting people who have ever lived and the listening world. He was born in New York, but found himself moving to California at a very young age. He decided he wanted to be on the radio. This may have been a surprise to some people given that Elliot Mintz was very shy and had stutter and a thick New York accent. Over time he overcame those challenges. It was interviewing that Elliot Mintz really loved. It was more than the extraction of information, it was a person’s very essence. Many of the people he would interview were or would become in some cases the most iconic people of all time…Groucho Marx, Salvador Dali, John Lennon, Bob Dylan and Jack Nicholson. Elliot Mintz was always a preservationist. To hold onto the tapes is to be a keeper of the stories. In this respect, some interviewers become almost like archivists. Elliot Mintz kept the tapes and for many, many years they remained tucked away, unknown to most. It was long before the internet. These piles of unmarked tapes could not remain hidden forever.
The question Elliot Mintz began being asked repeatedly was “Elliot, when are you going to write a book?” Elliot has told me that a more accurate biography is written by someone other than the subject. It seemed to me like Elliot was looking for something more accessible where those who wanted to find out more could make up their own mind.
What would be created was something old and something new. A jukebox that doesn’t need a coin. In short, that is what elliotmintz.com is. You get to decide to watch or listen to whatever strikes your interest. You can play it all day…and because of the incredible content on this website, I choose to think of it as a portal into new worlds. The stories and minds of people like Alan Watts and Jack Gariss are all available at your fingertips, and not a coin is required of you. Some of the material is visual, but a lot of it is audio…radio has been called a theatre of the mind and this description always comes to my mind when I think of elliotmintz.com
At first elliotmintz.com was only available on computers and laptops. Now the reach of the website has been expanded to iPhones and other more portable devices. I decided I had to do a second interview with Elliot Mintz, which he agreed to do. The website has a lot of insight into Elliot Mintz’s opinions, recollections and thoughts, but my curiosity was still not satisfied. I spoke with Elliot Mintz and the second conversation was far more personal and more of an inner-view than the first. I felt like I had gotten his essence then, but I felt I was gaining more of an insight into who he really was… If we are judged by the company we keep, Elliot Mintz is certainly diverse and intriguing. I found myself speaking with a publicist named Michael Levine who has written the best-selling book on public relations of all time. Then there was Te Kay, the technical wizard and digital artist behind elliotmintz.com…to call him a webmaster really is a disservice. Then there are two of Elliot Mintz’s broadcasting colleagues—Sirius/XM DJ Jim Ladd and Roy of Hollywood, the host of “Something’s Happening” on KPFK 90.7 FM in Southern California.
Since the beginning of my radio program, almost all of the shows have followed the format of music along with an interview. I found myself creating something without knowing what it was…exactly. Was it an audio documentary? Was it a radio broadcast? Was it an audio book? The creation of the piece continued. Daniel Buckner helped me write program…if you want to call it that. Henry Jordan of Jordan Digital Studios mastered, produced and mixed it. The musical selections you hear are courtesy of songwriter and recording artist John Goodwin.
In the end, I decided that this was a sound portrait. For those who are looking to find out a little bit more, I want to invite you to listen or read this piece which I am quite proud of…
Spoken arts radio is something very rarely done these days. The two exceptions ot the rule are Roy of Hollywood in California and Bob Fass in New York. In keeping with that tradition, I am very honored Elliot Mintz and his friends have allowed me to ask questions and create a spoken arts record of Elliot and the launching of his fascinating website.
With that said, I believe the story is not over yet… elliotmintz.com will have more selections added to the jukebox.
This “sound portrait” will be available soon. For those who prefer to read, a text version of the program will also be available. I look forward to your thoughts…
I will also admit that my curiosity still persists. Communication is very important to Elliot Mintz and I believe we will pick up where we left off and go just a bit deeper on another night…
And if my silence made you leave, then that would be my worst mistake.
So I will share this room with you, and you can have this heart to break.
-Billy Joel, “And So It Goes.”
As some of you know, my interest is primarily in interviewing lyricists and composers—the great songwriters. I am ombillically connected to Simon & Garfunkel, perhaps thee great duo in American music. My mom, who tends to have the best taste in music, loved them, and saw them when she was in college. The year was 1969 and the place was Buffalo, New York. Those were years with war and strife, but she loved the songs and the harmonizing. “’Bridge Over Troubled Water’ was a song of hope,” she said.
Paul Simon is known by many as the primary songwriter of Simon & Garfunkel, but it is Garfunkel I have tried for so long to interview. Certainly, Paul Simon will go down in history with the great songwriters like Irving Berlin and Cole Porter who are remembered as the few who could write songs with lyrics and melody of equal brilliance. Simon belongs in the small and prestigious class of living legends of American song, among them Billy Joel, Stephen Sondheim and Jimmy Webb. They write songs that are immortal. In one verse, you are transported to that other place.
So why Mr. Garfunkel? Isn’t Paul Simon the writer? It started with a different kind of writing, Garfunkel’s own. It was his book of prose, Still Water that caused my curiosity. You get the idea that Garfunkel is someone with a very inquiring mind and a perspective that is very much his own. Still Water starts out with a series of questions and answers. The interviewer is never identified. He is only called “Interviewer” and one wonders if it is Garfunkel asking himself the questions he wished an interviewer would. From there the reader dives into his prose. Through his prose, Garfunkel shares perspectives from a very full life, it is a life he seems to express a lot of gratitude for.
It’s my belief that much of his very interesting life came as a result of interesting choices. We could start with the books he has read. I believe reading expands outlooks. Stephen King has said that in order to be a good writer, one must read. Garfunkel has read his share of books. In fact, he keeps a list of the 1,195 books he’s read, starting with The Confessions by Jean Jacques-Rousseau in 1968. The most recent entry from October 2013 is The Cosmos by Witold Gombrowicz. He lists his favorites, which include a lot of biographies. The books he reads show he has a very inquisitive mind.
Some of the perspectives in his book Still Water clearly come from his travels. Simon & Garfunkel performed in many places around the world, and at the recent solo concert, he told us of the joys of singing at the Royal Albert Hall in London, England—his favorite. Aside from his solo and Simon & Garfunkel tours, his desire to travel has been different. You may think of the lyrics “and we walked off to look for America” when you hear of Garfunkel’s journey by foot from his apartment in New York all the way to the Pacific Ocean in Washington State. My decision one day to walk on the Gulf Coast from Florida to New Orleans, Louisiana was only over a tenth of the 4,000 plus miles Garfunkel walked, but I speak from experience in saying Garfunkel probably gained new insight and there is a kind of intense introspection that a long pedestrian voyage can bring. It can only be likened to meditation. But he didn’t stop with America. He walked across Japan and in spurts he has walked across Europe—starting in Ireland and so far reaching to Greece. He plans to pick up where he left off and continue on to Istanbul. Writers must experience the world. He’s seen it from an atypical vantage point and the distance afforded him the time to think about it.
It was in 2004, ten years ago, that I decided to try and interview Garfunkel. I wrote to his manager Bridget and expected to receive no answer. To my surprise, she wrote a very kind reply and said that he was taking a break, but we could look at doing a telephone interview down the road. She had Garfunkel’s publicist send me a copy of his ninth album, Everything Waits to Be Noticed. The album is unique in Garfunkel’s solo discography because it features songs Garfunkel co-wrote, a first for him. I listened again and again and found a collection of great songs, in particular one called “Perfect Moment.” The interesting lyrics begin “I met you once before the first time,” and ends with the wistful lines “For a moment, you are mine. Just for a moment, you were mine.” The song stands up among the catalog of songs Garfunkel has recorded and that’s saying a lot—given his penchant for recording the legendary Jimmy Webb’ssongs and the immaculate Some Enchanted Evening, which feature his take on the American Songbook, something he proved he could do as well as Rod Stewart.
But Bridget gave me another great gift. She tried to interest me in her client Bruce Hornsby. Now, I was familiar with The Way It Is album and loved it, but hadn’t really listened to much of Hornsby’s newer stuff since the 1990s. I’m embarrassed to say the copy of Hornsby’s Halcyon Days sat there for a few months before I listened to it. When I finally listened to it, it really blew my mind. I became a solid fan of Hornsby’s digging deep into his catalog and I would later find out, Garfunkel was a fan too. I read interviews through the years where Garfunkel would praise Hornsby, including in a very interesting piece that appeared in American Songwriter.
In 2003, my friend Brent Griffis and I had the once in a lifetime opportunity to see Simon & Garfunkel perform in Atlanta, Georgia along with a special appearance of a couple of songs by the Everly Brothers. I am so grateful we decided to go, as I recall it like the other people who saw it. We all felt it was transcendent. That’s no exaggeration! The hair on my arm stood straight up when Garfunkel sang “Kathy’s Song.” Was there ever a more beautiful performance of a song? I had most of Paul Simon’s albums, but collecting Garfunkel’s solo albums increased my appreciation for the man’s work even more. My friend Frank Reddy gave me a vinyl copy of Garfunkel’s record album Watermark and my admiration for Jimmy Webb’s songwriting grew. Years later, I had the opportunity to interview Webb and was delighted to ask him about Watermark, which featured all Jimmy Webb songs aside from Sam Cooke’s “What a Wonderful World. All of this inspired my first trip to see Mr. G. sing—and he was backed by an entire orchestra. I remember it very vividly. It was November 13, 2004 at the BJCC in Birmingham, Alabama. I was broke and attending the University of Georgia. I kept calling the box office and nobody would answer. I recall the recorded voice on the other end saying the date of the show and “the one and only Art Garfunkel.” To this day, I rarely hear one of his recordings without thinking of that woman’s voice and those words. How much were tickets? I left for Alabama and didn’t even know if I would have enough money to buy a ticket, but I felt it was worth the risk of not being able to afford to get in. Tickets were no longer being sold online.
I got there and the tickets were expensive. My heart started to sink. Then it occurred to me that I was a college student and could ask if there was a student ticket price. The elderly man behind the desk smiled with both his face and his voice and told me there was and he asked if he could see my student ID. I gave it to him and he said I owed five dollars. I said, “Five dollars?” I thought he was joking, or perhaps trying to make sport of me. He was serious. I gave him the $5 and thanked him over and over when he handed me the ticket. I went inside and awaited excitedly. Hearing Garfunkel sing with an entire orchestra is something one doesn’t forget. I drove home very pleased with my decision to venture out. What a performer. What a voice. One and only was the only description for Garfunkel!
I’ve seen Paul Simon solo. In fact, last year, my friend Wesley Cook invited me on his birthday to see Paul Simon speak about songwriting in an old chapel at Emory University. It was right up my alley. After the talk Simon sang and played “The Sound of Silence,” “Slip Slidin’ Away” and “Me and Julio.” Outside of the chapel, he walked right by us. I didn’t talk to him, but it did feel surreal. All of these experiences have been great, but nothing could prepare me for the most recent one.
As I mentioned earlier, I am a big fan of Bruce Hornsby and had pursued an interview with him for years. It finally so happened that Hornsby was in Atlanta, performing at the Atlanta Symphony Hall. I wrote Hornsby a letter 5 years ago and although we had attempted to sit down and talk several times, it wasn’t until last week that we finally had our interview. It was well worth the wait. Because in a strange way, I was introduced to Hornsby via Garfunkel’s management—I wondered if it would be possible to talk with Garfunkel when he was in Georgia, given that he would be here playing a string of dates spanning about half of the month of February. I couldn’t imagine how fortunate it would be to land both of them in the same week. No go. Alas, it was not to be and that happens. You put your best foot forward and try again next time.
Given how much I enjoyed Garfunkel’s concert 10 years prior, I decided I would like to see his Atlanta show anyway. I was heartbroken when I found out I wouldn’t be able to go because my Friday was way too busy. Finding my Saturday evening free a couple hours before Garfunkel’s scheduled show, I decided to make the drive down to Macon, Georgia to see him sing at the Grand Opera House. Arriving 15 minutes prior to the show beginning, I was lucky to get a good seat. I wasn’t prepared for what would become the best concert I have ever seen, and this is coming from a guy who has seen a couple hundred, starting with seeing the Platters at sixteen (yes, the singing group from the 1950s). It’s a diverse list featuring some of the biggest names like Paul McCartney, to other very talented artists both new and veteran who are largely passed over by our current radio station playlists.
First there was a pointed announcement from a man on stage to turn off all cell phones. Garfunkel doesn’t like people taking pictures of the show or texting and I don’t either. Imagine going to a concert to, well…listen. It made me realize what a huge distraction all of the iPhones have been upon seeing a concert where people don’t use them. Then the auditorium went completely black with only a light. The very skilled guitarist, Tab Laven walked out on stage and I heard a melody I recognized, but it took me a moment to place it. It was Billy Joel’s song “And So It Goes.” Tab’s sound was mesmerizing. After a few chords, we heard that unmistakable voice, perhaps the greatest in music. Garfunkel sang the beginning of the song from backstage and casually walked out well into the song, singing it in a way that would make Billy Joel proud. I thought about the lyrics in a different way. “And if my silence made you leave.” Garfunkel was recovering from vocal cord paresis and the world had been deprived of hearing that gorgeous voice since his last concerts in 2009. Thankfully, the silence was over. Of course he sang many of the Simon & Garfunkel songs that were cherished by all, but the great thing about the concert was how much it felt like he was giving of himself. He read his own prose, which usually correlated with the song he was about to sing. I thought back to the opening song’s lyrics, “So I will share this room with you.” Yes, he certainly was sharing the room with us.
Hearing “Bright Eyes” and “All I Know” sung with only Tab Laven’s acoustic guitar and Garfunkel’s voice made me realize what true masterpieces they were. Other very touching songs included him singing “Let It Be Me” and dedicating it to the late Phil Everly of the Everly Brothers along with sharing his memories of Phil. He did a stunning rendition of the Gershwin classic “Someone to Watch Over Me,” that appeared on his Some Enchanted Evening album. He shared with the crowd a list of his five favorite songwriters, which included Stephen Sondheim, Paul Simon, James Taylor, Jimmy Webb and Randy Newman. I love it when singers recognize the writers of the songs, but it made me very curious if he would sing one of the songs he wrote himself. He did, and the performance of “Perfect Moment” that appeared on Everything Waits to Be Noticed was one of the highlights of the evening. It was sung very much from the heart.
The concert was finally winding down and the guitarist left the stage so Garfunkel could take questions from the audience. I’ve never seen an artist do something like that in a venue of that size, but it worked very well and seemed to excite Garfunkel. There was that inquisitive mind again. It was impressive and very open of him to acknowledge that the audience is a crucial part of any concert. He certainly gained my respect and it was great when helit up upon being asked what was on his iPod. His enthusiasm for listening included Native American tribal chants, Fleetwood Mac, Chet Baker, James Taylor, J. S. Bach and poets like Dylan Thomas and W. B. Yeats reciting their poetry. Finally, Tab Laven reappeared on stage with his guitar and they sent us all on our way with that hope my mom talked about—“Bridge Over Troubled Water.”
I walked out feeling satisfied, but instantly thinking that I wanted to see the show a second time. The simplicity of Garfunkel’s voice with a single instrument proved that if you can’t do it in blue jeans under a single light—you can’t do it.
My friend Mike Bridge who lives in Macon was alerted that I was in town and texted me to ask if I would like to grab a bite and a beverage at the Downtown Grill before heading home. Mike is a great guy and a lot of fun so I decided I would. He told me that he would be there in about 40 minutes so hang tight. Not knowing the streets of Macon, I decided to walk off some of my energy and find this spot he suggested, but not before an encounter with a true legend on the street in Macon. I don’t like to drive. It was a happy accident. Had I gone home, I would have been in my car heading home already, but there was Arthur Ira Garfunkel, right in front of me wearing a baseball cap. I’d been a fan of his for years and there he was. I strongly dislike bothering people, but I spoke up. “Mr. Garfunkel.” He looked over and smiled. So I just spoke the truth. I told him that it was one of the best concerts I had ever seen. He flashed me a Duchene smile, the truest type, where you smile with your eyes. He said “thank you very, very much. That means a lot.” I wanted to ask him about opening the show with “And So It Goes,” and told him I liked the choice. It was far braver than opening with something like “Feeling Groovy” or “Mrs. Robinson,” not that I don’t like those songs, but “And So It Goes,” is heavy. He came right out with something with a lot of substance. He remarked in agreement calling the song “emotional” and I told him he should record it.
I mentioned seeing him ten years prior at the BJCC in Birmingham, Alabama with an entire orchestra and he said “Oh yes! I remember that show.” Then I told him that it was even better hearing him with just a solo guitarist, as he took the ticket I was holding. He signed “Art Garfunkel” carefully and looked me in the eye saying “Less is more.” He smiled and handed me the ticket back. I told him goodbye and he said “nice meeting you.” I walked away and he got into a car. As the car left, Garfunkel and the young man driving him waved goodbye.
Did I tell him about interviewing Bruce Hornsby a few days prior? Did I tell him about how I had interviewed his friend Jimmy Webb or about how I had asked Percy Sledge what he thought of Garfunkel’s take on his song “When a Man Loves a Woman”? Did I tell him about the time I interviewed John Sebastian of Lovin’ Spoonful fame backstage, and Sebastian said that Garfunkel’s cover of his song “Daydream” was his favorite cover of all time? But the question everyone has asked me is if I asked Garfunkel to do an interview.
The answer is no. First of all, it’s not my style. I don’t like to put people on the spot. Certainly, I would love to one day sit down with Mr. Garfunkel, but I walk away from this experience with no regrets. I had fun. There were a lot of times where I could have sit out of the dance—driving out to Alabama to see him when I was broke ten years ago, or seeing him in Macon recently. After the concert, I could have gone home and gotten some much needed sleep, but I didn’t. Not many exciting things happen when you sit it out.
I’ve listened to the recording of Art Garfunkel sing “Bright Eyes” probably 1,000 times. Garfunkel is an actor, and I thought his acting in Carnal Knowledge as the reserved and sensitive Sandy was very good, especially since he was sharing the screen with Jack Nicholson, one of the greatest actors of our time. Then I watched him play almost the opposite character acting alongside Theresa Russell and Harvey Keitel in Bad Timing. I’ve picked up his book Still Water too many times to count. I could pick a random page and be swept into the particular piece and before I knew it, I was rereading the book.
Occasionally there are artists who are so steeped in talent that it spills over into multiple areas. Such an artist is Art Garfunkel. He can write prose and occasionally he writes lyrics. He can act. And you give him a stool to sit on and a microphone to sing into and he will have your undivided attention until the very last note is sung. No costume changes, no pyrotechnics, just undeniable talent and one of the world’s greatest instruments—his voice.
Ladies and gentlemen, the one and only Art Garfunkel.
In 2011, I had the pleasure of interviewing Enoch Anderson, the very talented lyricist who wrote songs with Barry Manilow for 15 Minutes, the first original album from Manilow since the 2001 Here at the Mayflower. The experience was very fascinating and many people commented on how well-spoken Enoch Anderson is.
People sometimes ask me when I became a fan of Mr. Manilow’s. I always chuckle and answer that I was born this way. It’s not far from the truth. My mom has an appreciation for really great music. Appreciation is too mild of a word. She LOVES music. She told me about seeing Simon & Garfunkel as a youth. I got to see Simon & Garfunkel too and am glad we can share an admiration for them. We also love Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, along with her sister—my aunt. Either my mom or my aunt (both?) saw Frankie and the Seasons 21 times! She likes the impeccable and soulful vocals of Kenny Rogers. She likes a lot of the Beatles catalogue. Those are just the pop music favorites, and her favorite would be—Barry Manilow. Barry Manilow? The “Copacabana” singer?
Why, yes he did compose and sing that song, and I heard “Copacabana” along with so many of the other songs Manilow recorded hundreds of times. She held my baby sister in her arms and would dance while “Can’t Smile Without You,” played on a cassette tape player in the kitchen of our house in the Philippines. The fact is, “Copacabana” is only the tip of the iceberg of the music Manilow has recorded. He’s recorded classics from the Great American Songbook—backed by big bands and also pop standards from the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. He’s done Broadway standards, and of course plenty of his own songs, usually written with his favorite lyricists and others written solo. What is so impressive about Manilow is the incredible quality of music he makes and how well he is at interpreting another songwriter’s work.
As you may have guessed, I have an admiration and appreciation for what Manilow does and I think his career is something I both take seriously, from an almost faux-scholarly perspective, but also get a great deal of joy listening to. Some of my favorite songs Manilow composed—“Even Now,” “This One’s for You” and the joyous “It’s a Miracle,” had lyrics written by Marty Panzer. It was a name I had seen many times. I’m a careful reader of the liner notes, especially of the Manilow vinyl records I have and cherish. I decided after the success of the Enoch Anderson interview, it would be great to get in touch with Marty Panzer. His response to my inquiry was pure enthusiasm. I think he realized the purity of what I was doing. I really wanted to know what inspired these wonderful words I had heard hundreds of times.
Talking to Marty Panzer was exciting. People who know him well really love him and his passion is so infectious that you find yourself seeing music and what it is to experience music for the blessing and gift that it is! Those who have met Marty Panzer or have seen his storytelling on stage know what I am speaking of. It would become one of my favorite interviews to date and the amount of mail I got from people who listened to it showed that I was not the only one who appreciated it. Then something interesting happened. Often interviewers say that the typical relationship with the interviewee is that the interview is broadcast, or the article is published and you never hear from the subject again. My experience has been different in that I have really connected with some of my guests, but I feel like Mr. Panzer understood more than almost anyone what it is I am trying to do and has encouraged me so much in that respect.
I decided there was no need to stop there. I found out after 8 years of interviewing people on the radio, that I had a real passion for interviewing lyricists (those who write the words), composers (those who write the music) and songwriters (those who do both). I set out to try to interview the songwriters who had written songs that had resonated in my heart. It’s been incredible. Some of the interviews have been with very famous songwriters like Jimmy Webb, Neil Sedaka—or Bob Gaudio. Others have been a little more obscure…like Richard Kerr.
Who is Richard Kerr? If you’re asking me— he’s a musical genius. It all started when I was looking through the CD Ultimate Manilow. I noticed some of the greatest songs on the album—“Mandy,” “Looks Like We Made It,” and “Somewhere in the Night,” were all composed by a man named Richard Kerr. No question about it, Manilow had a lot of success with this man’s songs. But, who was this man?
“Somewhere in the Night,” is in my opinion one of the greatest songs I’ve heard. That’s a strong statement, but you can start with the absolutely incredible lyrics by the great Will Jennings. . Look at the lyrics that open this song: “Time, you found time enough to love / I found love enough to hold you. / I’ll stir the fire you feel inside/ Until the flames of love enfold you.” I mean… “Wow. Who does that?” Then I put on the headphones and listened intently to the melody. It’s one of the most gorgeous of any recording. I listened carefully to not only the popular Manilow recording, but also to renditions by Helen Reddy, Yvonne Elliman, Kim Carnes and Richard Kerr’s own version.
So it was in 2011 I decided to track down and interview Mr. Richard Kerr. One of the people who most encouraged me to interview Kerr was Marty Panzer. He wrote to me, “Richard Kerr is one of the great talents of our generation. At the time, his music may very well have had the greatest impact on Popular Music, since the Beatles. Richard does all the right things… for all the right reasons.” Keep in mind that Kerr has written songs covered by not only Manilow, but also Dionne Warwick, Roy Orbison, John Denver, Rita Coolidge, the Righteous Brothers, Bonnie Raitt, Melissa Manchester, and Peter Cetera.
Manilow’s first #1 single was “Mandy,” recorded 40 years ago this year. It was written by lyricist and recording artist Scott English and composed by Richard Kerr. Scott English recorded the first version under the original title, which was“Brandy.” First, I interviewed Scott English and heard from a couple of people who were kind of miffed by Scott saying he did not originally like Barry Manilow’s interpretation of “Mandy.” I interviewed Richard Kerr next and received quite a few emails from people who read the transcript. When I asked if they listened to the audio of the interview, only a couple had said they did. Apparently more than a few people were also upset that Richard Kerr did not initially like “Mandy” either. Some responded positively to one of the two songwriters and not the other.
A few people emailed me to ask me this question—“Why do you bother interviewing these songwriters? Why not only interview the stars who sing the songs?” This is a question that people have asked me for years. Take for instance, Barry Manilow. He’s been the most requested interview by people who listen to my interviews for years now. It’s in large part because I’ve welcomed almost all of Manilow’s lyricists, Enoch, Marty, Adrienne Anderson and Jack Feldman. I’ve also interviewed other songwriters that Manilow covered: like Gerard Kenny who composed “I Made It Through the Rain,” and David Pomeranz who wrote “The Old Songs,” and “Tryin’ to Get the Feeling Again,” Charles Fox who composed “Ready to Take a Chance Again,” Randy Edelman who wrote “Weekend in New England,” Tom Snow and Cynthia Weil who wrote “Somewhere Down the Road,” and countless others. Needless to say, Manilow has recorded a lot of songs through the years!
There are a lot of entertainment people in Hollywood who think of screenwriters as being a joke. In our star-obsessed culture, it kind of makes sense, but in my opinion…it’s absurd. To me the screenwriters are the truly brilliant creators. The parallel in music is the not-so-celebrated geniuses in music. The fact is, if you don’t want to hear or read interviews with songwriters…I maybe and probably can’t make you care. All I can do is continue with my passion and explain to you why I work so hard to interview songwriters, and not just the legendary names like Burt Bacharach and Paul Williams that people recognize.
The fact of the matter is that we wouldn’t have a song like “Somewhere in the Night” without a brilliant composer like Richard Kerr and an artistically endowed lyricist like Will Jennings. The song was born out of their creativity, minds and life experiences. Why would I talk to Scott English about the first incarnation of “Mandy,” back when it was “Brandy”? Well, because he is the only one qualified to tell us what inspired those words when he took pen to paper. These men and women who write songs are geniuses. The pain and sorrow in Scott English’s life manifested itself and something of beauty came out—“Brandy.” Was there genius in the way Barry Manilow arranged the song? Of course! Certainly there was, but let us never forget who wrote the song. Without speaking for Barry Manilow, and this is purely speculation, but I believe he would agree with me. I can enjoy and appreciate Manilow’s interpretation and find the evolution of the song as fascinating as it is. After speaking with the men who wrote the song, I can appreciate both the original and the interpretation for different reasons. If you’ve taken a moment to listen to the interviews of Richard Kerr and Scott English, I thank you most sincerely. I’m going to continue to interview great songwriters—some whose name you know and some you don’t necessarily recognize. Maybe you’ll listen to what they have to say. They’ve certainly given us gifts that never feel “used.” Great songs continue to satisfy us again and again.
As to people taking offense to songwriters being surprised or not loving a recording artist’s version of their song, I would say this: if anyone is entitled to an opinion, it is the songwriter. After all,it is their song. When I or someone else asks what they think of an interpretation, should they lie? If anything, I am proud to give them an open forum and believe these people feel they can be honest with me. If someone felt they had to be diplomatic and not say what they really believed, I would essentially have failed as an interviewer. It’s important to preserve the history of these songwriters and also record their perspectives and opinions. As is the case with Pete Seeger, a legendary songwriter I interviewed who passed away today, an interview with them is a way to keep something of them around. Maybe one day it can help us and we can understand who the person that created these masterpieces was.
So it’s not that I don’t want to interview a star like Barry Manilow. I’ve tried and was even asked by a former publicist when I would be available to interview him. It ended up getting called off, but it’s not Barry Manilow the star I want to interview. It’s Barry the music lover and composer. And if I ever interviewed Manilow, before we parted ways I’d ask him to put in a good word with lyricist Bruce Sussman for me. Frankly, I am as enamored by the creative output of Marty Panzer, Bruce Sussman, Jack Feldman, Adrienne Anderson, and Enoch Anderson as I am Barry Manilow. One of the greatest compliments I ever got was today, from a great writer and friend named Kyle Prater. He said that what has kept what I do so genuine is that whomever I interview is given the same respect and treated every bit the same as a “big name.”
Recently, I had an interview scheduled in north Florida with a singer. This incredibly talented vocalist has an amazing story and a unique outlook, but had to back out of the interview not even 24 hours before it was supposed to take place. These things happen. I decided that the Paul I know, and I’m talking about myself here, would go down there and find a story nonetheless. So I drove down at night and fell asleep in my hotel room at 2:00 A.M. The next morning I set up a little office in my room and set out to track down and get an interview with a 92-year-old lyricist named Luigi Creatore. I’ve tried for some time to reach him and some may know him as not only a playwright and record producer, but also a co-writer of “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” as sung by Elvis Presley and “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” that the Tokens recorded. Could we ever comprehend how much joy and love these songs have helped us realize? Can you imagine how many people hear “Can’t Help Falling in Love” and remember it playing at their wedding? So after doing some detective work, I ended up getting ahold of Mr. Creatore and was invited to his home in Boca Raton. While I was there, I was introduced to his wife Claire, who as it turns out is the widow of George David Weiss who wrote “What a Wonderful World,” a song my mom loves. I recall very vividly my mother telling me how she related to the lyrics. I wonder if moments like those have had a bigger influence on my life than I realize. While I was interviewing Luigi he talked about that song “What a Wonderful World,” and even though he did not write it, I could tell how much he admired and loved it.
On my way home, I started thinking about how crazy this passion and very strange trip of interviewing songwriters has been for me. It caused me to be stranded once. I thought about how little sleep I had gotten that weekend, how weary driving for long hours can make you and if maybe I was a bit unbalanced? Then as I looked at the beautiful Florida skyline as the sun was setting I heard the unmistakable first few seconds of Louis Armstrong’s recording of “What a Wonderful World.” As the song played, I thought about the lyrics like I never had before. I thought about the people I have had the chance to meet on this big blue ball. Some of them were very young when they left us and some were older. And I thought about the newest one who was just born. Some of them wrote music or words that I grew up hearing countless times from childhood on albums or on the radio and would meet years and years later. I could have stayed home where I am comfortable, but I was now blessed with a new perspective from yet another songwriter, a man named Luigi Creatore who never had seen me before, but greeted me at his front door with a hug. To be able to meet people like him who have brought so much joy to others is something I have more gratitude for than I can contain. I won’t stop doing this. And thanks to people like Luigi and Richard, -the songwriters, because of them, yes—what a wonderful world.
Special thanks to Chef Adam Mohl.
Many of these interviews were broadcast on the radio one time, never to be heard again. So many people had great things to say. I would look for interviews with certain people who had created and accomplished amazing things and would find nothing. More than once artists who had made incredible contributions to our popular culture would tell me this was the first time their story was being told in their own voice.
If there is one thing we all need, other than love, it’s purpose. My love is my purpose and it’s a true blessing to know what that is. I help people tell their stories. Ten years ago, I would have never believed you if you had told me I would interview my favorite movie director (Woody Allen) or that I would have found myself drinking a beer and singing with a personal fave and one of the founding fathers of rock ‘n roll (Fats Domino) in his living room. Don’t get me started!
The relaunch of this website is a new chapter in my life…a new canvas on which to paint. Most importantly, it’s my gift to you. Slowly, but surely all of the interviews from the past ten years will be available on this website. You can listen, on-demand, to a conversation with Larry King, or read an incredible conversation with Maya Angelou and learn how important dance and calypso music were toher formative years. It’s a lot of content. It’s a lot of stories.
Music. Movies. Books. Paintings. Plays. These are all various ways we communicate with each other. What I try to do is get artists and writers to talk about their work. They in turn are able to communicate with you so everyone can gain a better understanding. Maybe this in turn will help you better understand yourself. I know so many of these interviews have inspired new thoughts of my own or a different perspective on how to view the world we call home.
Whether it’s research or plain entertainment, my humble prayer and wish is for you to get something out of your time on this website. Maybe it’s information or just a moment of happiness. There have been some incredibly optimisic sentiments shared and the people featured here have been inspirational and I know from the interactions I have had that they have inspired many other people.
You could say things are lining up. I’ve great people who care about me and make creativity so much fun. These people are like espresso to me. They get my imagination and enthusiasm to the highest level. Then there’s Jeff Pike. Although we don’t work together as much as we used to, so many of these interviews were made possible because Jeff was in the other room recording them. My love for radio will never go away and it’s been a joy to collaborate with someone who loves music as much as I do. I don’t know if I would have hung in there for as long as I did if it weren’t for Jeff. We sure have some stories to tell.
So we’re here. I truly believe the story is just starting. I’m finally becoming the man I want to be.
I’m over the moon that you’ve joined us. Perhaps we’ll fly there together. Now that’s a story…
Special thanks to Charles & Wendy.