Liz Sheridan’s father Frank Sheridan was a classical pianist and her mother Elizabeth Poole-Jones was a concert singer. Her show business beginnings were in dance. Liz Sheridan’s first major role was on the show ALF, as nosy neighbor Raquel Ochmonek. She is most known for her role as Helen Seinfeld, mother of Jerry Seinfeld in the hit sitcom “Seinfeld.”
The great poet Michael S. Harper is interviewed by Paul Leslie and performs some spoken word pieces of his poems.
Michael S. Harper was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1938. He earned a B.A. and M.A. from what is now known as California State University, and an M.F.A. from the University of Iowa. He has published more than ten books of poetry, most recently Selected Poems (ARC Publications, 2002); Songlines in Michaeltree: New and Collected Poems (2000); Honorable Amendments (1995); and Healing Song for the Inner Ear (1985). His other collections include: Images of Kin (1977), which won the Melville-Cane Award from the Poetry Society of America and was nominated for the National Book Award; Nightmare Begins Responsibility (1975); History is Your Heartbeat (1971), which won the Black Academy of Arts & Letters Award for poetry; and Dear John, Dear Coltrane (1970), which was nominated for the National Book Award. About Songlines in Michaeltree, a review in Publisher’s Weekly said: “Harper has eschewed neither the personal, political nor the lyrical, but consistently forged a middle road from the multiple intersections of memory and experience, music and language, oppression and achievement … His elegiac meditations on jazz legends such as John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, and Bud Powell are well known, and his use of repetition and lyric fragmentation displays the influence of not only that supercharged idiom, but the slower-paced traditions of African-American blues, gospel, and folk music. Harper’s writing, however, derives only in part from these traditions, and the many finely honed narratives in this collection display the influence of poets as diverse of Yeats, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Elizabeth Bishop.” Harper edited the Collected Poems of Sterling A. Brown (1980); he is co-editor with Anthony Walton of The Vintage Book of African American Poetry (2000) and Every Shut Eye Ain’t Asleep: An Anthology of Poetry by African Americans Since 1945 (1994), and with Robert B. Stepto of Chant of Saints: A Gathering of Afro-American Literature, Art, and Scholarship (1979). He was the first Poet Laureate of the State of Rhode Island (1988-1993) and has received many other honors, including a fellowship from the Guggenheim Foundation and a National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Award. Michael S. Harper is University Professor and Professor of English at Brown University, where he has taught since 1970. He lives in Barrington, Rhode Island.
Talent? Creighton has it in spades. It all started with those black and white films…
Ladies and gentlemen, it’s with great pleasure we announce our special guest, Robert Creighton, Robert Creighton is an actor, singer, dancer, composer and author, thank you so much for joining us.
Paul, it’s my pleasure.
I think most stories are best from the beginning. What was life like growing up?
Well, that is the beginning and you know what? I grew up in a little town north of Toronto in Ontario Canada and as most lads in the town I grew up in, dreamed of a career in the N.H.L being a goldl tenor on the drama ‘Make Believe,’ but that dream was rivalled by my dream to be Fred Astaire, I was… at a very young age being introduced to the old movie musicals and for some reason, I just had an infinity for them right off the bat, those were the things… when people ask me about the cartoons and the things you remember from childhood, I remember my parents letting me stay up late to watch the black and white films, you know, and then carrying me to bed half way through when I fell asleep. That’s sort of how the dream of being in New York and on Broadway, my love for music of that era, that’s how that all began and then I was in a boys choir for many years, which was really a musical foundation for me, for eight years I sang from the age of seven I sang in a boys choir and got great training in that way. Then, by fifteen I went away to a school, a boys school where they had really great arts programme and all the sports, so I could do everything at once, and then I did a degree in music, in Ontario, then I moved to New York, which was always the plan from a very young age and studied acting for three years, and sort of carried on from there.
Of the various things that you do; acting, singing, dancing, composing, writing, would you say that one is more your master than the other?
Yes, I think that my foundation is probably my sensibility is as an actor first, my training was both musical and in acting but I think acting is my first… although singing is the biggest part of my life that’s for sure but I would say there’s… I’ve been very lucky I work a lot.. I mean my… currently my sixth Broadway show and I’m loving it, and I’d say there’s much better singers, better dancers and all that sort of thing, but I have a package that sort of suits me, I love to.. you know, I love to do all of it and luckily I’ve been getting to do all of it, so I feel very fortunate.
You mentioned earlier Fred Astaire, what are some of the other artists that have influenced you in the path of becoming an artist yourself?
Well, certainly from a young age it was Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly, Judy Garland and all those greats from that era, then, when I got to New York, I tried to imitate them as a kid, had a lot of fun doing that and then when I moved to New York I was in acting school and the teacher said “you remind me of Jimmy Cagney”, and I’m sort of built…I’m built just like Jimmy Cagney and looked quite a bit like him and you know, tap dance and do all those sort of things and I didn’t know much about him, I knew sort of, Yankee Doodle Dandy and maybe a couple others, but wasn’t really on my radar in a big way, I started watching his films and instantly became mesmerised with who he was as an actor first of all, just.. you… just his… he’s so dynamic on screen, you can’t take your eyes off him and at that point when I was really studying the craft of acting, really felt like he was someone who was ahead of his time in terms of his craft and all that, and then as I started reading about the man and who he was as a person how he worked and what his philosophy was on life and on his work, I just fell in love with who he was and I think he’s been.. James Cagney I would say has been the biggest influence in that way and that was currently dreamed of writing a show about his life, which, thanks to some collaborators who know a lot more about doing musicals than I do, we put a musical together, we’ve had three successful runs and we’re plugging away at that..so…
What was the experience of working on and co-authoring and conceiving this Cagney show?
First of all when I got out of acting school, his estate, Cagney’s estate run by a woman named Marg Zimmerman was… they had a play that had been written by sort of, by a friend of theirs, of Margie’s and it… they held massive auditions around New York and everywhere, and I was just coming out of acting school, I guess it was about a year and a half out of acting school, it got down to me and one other guy and, it’s actually a vivid memory and in fact I have the audition on video tape, because it was the first time I’ve ever been picked up in a car, they sent a car for me and went up to this restaurant in Stanfordville that this woman Marg Zimmerman owned and all of Cagney’s old friends were there, this is in ninety four, and all of Cagney’s friends were there, Harrison the boxer and different people and I had to do a fifteen minute, sort of, act and that’s how I got the part, but it turns out the play, as I know more about creating a show now, was, really there was nothing theatrical about it, it was just sort of a biographical telling and we work shopped it in New York and it just fizzled out, the man who wrote it wasn’t really a writer, he was a marketing guy, he passed away and it sort of fell apart. But that put a spark in me that someday I’m going to do a show about James Cagney, and then in the late nineties I really started putting pen to paper for a one man show about his life and sort of conceiving how that would, you know, the story I wanted to tell about who this person was, then in two thousand and two I was playing Tamone in Los Angeles in a production of Lion King there and a gentleman who I’d done a play of his up in Canada, who lived in Los Angeles, I invited him up to see the show, I met him when he came to see our production in Canada and we got chatting afterwards, his name’s Peter Coley, very successful playwright and I got chatting with him about my ideas about Cagney and he said “well, I love that era of Hollywood and I love James Cagney and let’s have lunch and we should talk more about it”, so we started talking. He really brought… well, I brought all this passion about Cagney and wanting to do the show and he really brought this knowledge of how to craft the piece and make something theatrical and we sort of hashed out a story together and he began writing it and I would sort of take it and be sort of the eyes and be the Cagney officinal, let’s call it that and sort of using my instincts as an actor and we sort of crafted the piece together and I started writing music and lyrics and we sort of tried to put in songs of the era but when we found they couldn’t completely tell the story, I started writing music and lyrics myself which I’d done some of before, it started to fit pretty well, so we kept going on that route and finished one draft of my music and lyrics and his book and a couple of the old time songs Cohan songs which you can’t tell a story about Cagney and leave those out. We did that, and for a year for the stage, a reading of it in New York and they agreed to produce it and they introduced us to a guy named Christopher McGovern who helped me flesh out the score and ended up really writing more than half the score and he’s a tremendous, just an amazing composer and smart about putting a musical together and the last piece with the Director named Bill Castellino who really started to help to break this all down and then build it all up in a much better way and he sort of served as dramaturgy and we… so we’ve got a piece now that we were still working on but, really, we found an audience that really respond to, we won the Carbonell award in Florida for the best new work when we produced it down there and we set two box office records in Florida, it’s been a very exciting journey, probably for me the most.. even as much as this new album that’s coming out, it’s been like a baby to me, those are the two things that have really sort of been a dream in my head and then have come to fruition and that are so, so satisfying on every level, and I’m starring in it of course, so you know, satisfying on that level too.
I wanted to talk about the album, the new album coming out ‘Aint We Got Fun,’ what do you think of your new album?
‘Aint We Got Fun’ was one of the first.. I had two titles that I was sort of playing with it in the beginning, the other was old school, Robert Creighton old school and ‘Aint We Got Fun’ because I love that song and I knew I wanted it on the album, it really was right from the beginning what I thought would be the title of the album because I wanted that to be the nature of the album, I wanted it to be really fun and really something that people could… you know, most of the songs on there, even if you don’t know you know them, you know them, you’ve heard the melodies before, they’re so engrained in the fabric of our culture here and I have two original songs on it that I wrote for Cagney, but the rest… and I’m told they blend in well, some people who don’t know that those are the ones that are literally from the twenties and thirties, so, I really wanted it to be fun and I put on there songs that I love, that get stuck in my head and that I find myself walking down the street singing and like Cagney, it was sort of a project that I conceived and really was passionate about doing it because I just love that music so much, and I thought it would be a great thing to have when I go do my Cagney show to have in the lobby so people who love this music can take it with them, and then I was interested in a part and got in touch with Georgia Stitt and did a work shop of her musical called ‘My Baby’ that she was writing and it had some of this old music in it, and her arrangements were so great and she is so talented and such a great person I started talking to her, I said “hey, this is my idea, would you maybe like to get involved?” Then she jumped in with both feet and produced and arranged most of my album and she gave it this fresh take to the songs and I would sort of.. some, she would just say “why don’t we do it like this” and other times I would say “I want to do it like this” and then she would put these two songs together and she would figure out the puzzle of how to do that, it was a great collaboration, and it grew into something that I didn’t expect, I thought it would be this little thing that people would take with them and it grew into a really legitimate album that I’m very proud of with horn sections and band all the way through and motion and a lot of fun, so that’s what I wanted, it started out I wanted it to be fun and that’s where the title came from and I feel like we’ve accomplished that, so I’m excited for people to hear it.
Do you have a favorite song from the album?
Whooooo, that is a tough one, that’s a tough question. Do I have a favorite song? Well my favorite song, which is a song that’s been… looking it up on the internet, it’s been recorded fourteen hundred times by six hundred artists, so it’s not like anyone was scrambling for the next version of ‘I’ll Be Seeing You,’ but it is truly, since I was twenty one, in my early twenties I did a review right after singing that song, it’s one of my favourite songs and in our treatment of it a guy named Joe Burgsoller played flugel horn and his playing on there, the thing on that song and when he added flugel horn, I just can’t get enough of listening to that part of it, him playing flugel horn, it’s so beautiful and romantic and passionate, so, I like that one, I really enjoyed singing it and putting together ‘Accentuate The Positive’ and ‘Look For The Silver Lining’ with my friend Tyse Bergis who sang with me on it there, that’s the real highlight of the album, it’s a big arrangement, lots of.. you know, the horn section and all that, I loved doing that one, and then of course getting to sing with Joe Grey, who recorded ‘Give My Regards To Broadway’ with me, we’re working together in ‘Anything Goes’ right now, we became good friends and he agreed to sing with me, that’s just a moment in time that was a gift to me that I’ll have forever, I mean he’s such a legend and just a great man and we got to go into the studio and do that together and that has great sentimental value to me.
How did you go about selecting which songs that you were going to record?
That was a bit of a process because, of course, there was a long list of great things from that era to choose from and one that I loved to do and who knows, maybe there’s another one coming, someday because there’s a lot that I wanted to do that we didn’t do. I knew I wanted to put my… these two of my original songs ‘Crazy About You’ and ‘Falling In Love’ on there because they are songs that I had, recorded … we have a demo for the musical of course, but I wanted to record them in a really full way, because I really enjoyed writing them, I loved singing them and I knew they were going to be on there, and then, I knew I needed to have some George M. Cohan and ‘Yankee Doodle Dandy’ has sort of been my signature song for years and years and that first review where I sang ‘I’ll Be Seeing You’, I did a big version of ‘Yankee Doodle Dandy’ and I’ve done.. you know.. that’s been my party song for years, so I knew that was going to be on there, and then when George agreed to sing with me, you know, I wanted it to be a Cohan song, which of course, he originated the role of George on Broadway and that was just a great connection that we have, cause the Cagney thing, and then the other ones, it just came down to artist’s songs that I just can’t get out of my head. ‘My Buddy’ is one of the most beautiful melodies ever I think, and I used to just walk around humming it, I thought “well, I’d better do that and get it out of my head”, the first track on the album is ‘Dad’s Medley’ and those were two songs that I remember singing when I was three and four years old, ‘Aint She Sweet’ and ‘Five Foot Two’, my Dad used to sing them, my Dad… he would tell you this, I’m not speaking out of turn, he’s not much of a singer, but he loves to sing and dance and he used to sing it all the time and I remember singing them with him in the living room when I was three and four years old, so, I wanted to have a little dedication to him and put those songs together. Yeah, they were just, basically my favourites, ‘You Are My Sunshine’ is on there, which I got to sing with one of my best friends Heidi Bookinstaff, which is just one of the most remarkable voices, it came down to a lot of my favourites really, to be honest with you, and there’s more to be mined from that, ‘I Want A Girl Just Like The Girl’ was one of my other favorite tunes of the era and it was Georgia’s idea to do that one, a male quartet, and so I had.. that turned out to be a really neat track because I got four of my buddies, great Broadway singers to do this Barber Shop quartet backing me up on that one, that was fun, it was a tough collection though. I’ll tell you one song called ‘Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams,’ did you know that song before?
I did not know that song before.
Yeah and neither did I. Turns out it’s been recorded a tonne of times, but I didn’t.. and I know the music of this era pretty well, I had for some reason not heard of that song, and neither had Georgia and she was doing a show called ???? and I was going through that old music Tin Pan Alley and I was going through a thick book, just sort of reading lyrics and I had most of the songs I wanted to do and I was just looking to see what I was missing and I read the lyrics and then I sort of pumped it out on the piano, I was like ‘oh my gosh’.. I loved this song and I just walked around for days singing it and as soon as I introduced it to Georgia and she sort of played it out one time when we were together on the piano, and we were like ‘oh yeah, got to do this one’, and that turned out to be a really fun track to do with brass and the whole deal, but it’s such an up song and sort of reflects my philosophy on life and I thought, ‘you know what? I’m going to do it,’ so, that’s probably a longer answer than you wanted but that was the process for choosing the material.
Well, the album, your album is entitled ‘Aint We Got Fun’, the new album from Robert Creighton, debut album, introduced by Georgia Stiff, she is a person that’s name comes up a lot on this show.
What was the experience of working with her like?
I can’t say enough good things about Georgia, I mean, she is.. I think her name’s coming up a lot because I think she is a really rising presence in the musical theatre world and in the composition world, she is first of all.. I mean, basically she is super talented and super smart, and then she has a really great ear for arrangements and how to flesh things out, take just a simple song and then… and make it something that’s going to be really fun to listen to, and she’s really smart about putting that all together, I feel like… I said this to her just the other day, she lives in LA now, but was visiting New York and I said ‘I really couldn’t have done this without you’ and I feel that way, I mean, she just.. she took my idea of doing this album and some of the songs and things and just came up with.. you know.. just made it all better, which was great, we had a very easy collaboration in that way, some of the songs she said ‘hey, what do you think of this, ‘My Buddy’ it was her idea to do just guitar and the ??? and I think it’s just a nice ‘breath’ in the album, you know, amongst all the other ?? songs and then, for example, all the medleys were my idea and then she just figure out, you know, the math of putting those together, for example the Barber Shop quartet, that was her idea, on the opening track there’s a kazoo, which turns out was her husband’s idea, you know, we would figure it out and she played what we had for her husband and he said ‘what about a kazoo’ and we all wentsaid ‘yep’, so.. it was a great collaboration, I feel very fortunate to have worked with her and I’m sure we’re going to do lots more together as we go along.
Everyone can visit your web site it’s robercreightonnyc.com what is the best thing about being Robert Creighton?
Well, that’s an easy question right now, I have a twelve week old son, also named Robert Creighton, Robert James Creighton III, and a phenomenal wife who is his Mother, so, I mean, yeah as to right now, it’s no contest, it’s the best thing about being me right now, I get to wake up with them every day, and that aside, there’s the ?? Foundation ?? and then, I’ve just been really lucky, I was a little kid living North of.. you know, a little town North of Toronto and the novelty has not worn off, I’m constantly aware of how lucky I am to get to do what I dreamed of doing, and this album is sort of another manifestation of a dream coming true right now, so I feel very, very lucky.
I have a final question for you. We have listeners all over the place, so what would you like to say to the people who are listening in?
I would like to say that I don’t think there’s anyone who buys this album that didn’t have fun listening to it, even if you think ‘oh this is maybe not my kind of music’ or, you know, even young people I’ve played it for, I have a lot of nieces and nephews who are between the ages of eighteen and twenty three, who, ‘Five Feet Two’ and ‘Ain’t She Sweet’ is on top of their iPod list, of course they’re bias, but they’ve all got the album now and I’ve gotten great reviews even from that demographic, so I think I’d love people to hear this music, to be an album you can play, put in the car and just when you’re…. you need a ‘pick me up’, it’s something you can put in and it will accomplish that and I hope people have a chance to hear it.
So, Mr. Creighton, I thank you very much for this interview, it’s been a pleasure speaking to you.
Thanks Paul, it’s been great talking to you, thanks very much.
TRANSCRIBED BY ROSALIND WINTON.
PAUL ENGLISH has been playing and traveling with Willie Nelson longer than just about anyone. He’s more than a drummer, he’s Willie Nelson’s best friend and also handles many of the duties of the tour, including security and collecting the payment. Paul English played on several of Willie Nelson’s albums including “The Redheaded Stranger” and “Stardust.” He was kind enough to give us this interview.
Ladies and gentlemen, it is our great pleasure to welcome our special guest, Mr. Paul English. Thank you so much for joining us here on The Paul Leslie Hour.
Who is Paul English?
(Laughs) I don’t know. He’s just old Paul around here. Just old Paul, that’s all.
Well, I think most stories are best from the beginning so tell us, where are you from?
Fort Worth, originally.
Fort Worth, Texas. And what was life like growing up?
It was pretty mundane, you know. It was pretty mundane. It just, just happened. I looked around and all of a sudden, I’m 78 years old.
Well, tell us. Was there a lot of music playing around the English household?
There was a lot of music around the household. You know, my older brother he was a musician. I’m not a musician but my brother was a musician so that’s, that’s where the all the music come from.
Did you parents play a lot of records or was there a radio playing around the house a lot?
The radio was playing all the time.We listened to the radio all the time. I mean, all the time…And so I had the radio going all the time and we listened to country western all the time.
Can you remember a favorite musician growing up?
Sure, I can remember a favorite musician growing up. Willie was the number one musician around our house. I didn’t know it, but I thought he was an older man, the way he came across, you know. But we listened to his show – it was three, three and a half hours I think, and we listened to his show every day. We listened to it every day so that, that was the main thing.
How did you begin to play music?
Oh that was, that was an accident, you know. I played trumpet all my life, you know, ‘cause my brother asked me to take lessons in trumpet so I took lessons in trumpet. And I played a little bit around town but not, not anything spectacular, you know. My brother called me from, I think it was KCLU but I don’t remember the name of the radio station. It was where Willie was playing at. So they wanted me to come up there and play the drums. And I never had played the drums before. He said ‘You can do it. You just count 1-2-3-4 and count off like that and start playing..’ And so I said ‘OK, I’ll try it.’ So I just – I didn’t have a full set. I just had a snare drum. So I said ‘1-2-3-4’ you know? And I could play that, I could play the bass. That’s about all I could play, you know? Then I got a bass drum – I was sitting on a Coca-Cola case – and a chair, and that’s how I got started playing the bass drum. The bass drum and the snare drum. And then somebody got me a snare. I finally got a snare drum. After about six weeks we, you know, we got a job. And everybody said ‘Well, who we gonna get to drum?’ I didn’t think they was gonna use me ‘cause, you know, ‘cause – see what I – I was too busy at the time, you know. I could take off work. It didn’t bother me to take off work ‘cause I could make it up some other time down the line. So everybody …why didn’t we wanna use Paul ‘cause we spent all this time for nothing. So my first job was with Willie. And I think my last one’s gonna be with Willie as well.
Well, let me ask you this. What was your first impression of Willie Nelson when you met him?
He was a lot younger than I thought he was. A lot younger than I thought he was – a year younger than me. I was shocked to hear that. He sounded like an old man on the radio but he sang good.
Have there been any drummers that have influenced you over the years? Any drummers that you appreciate?
Oh, yeah. Yeah, there was, there was a drummer a long time ago, you know, that I used to listen to a lot, you know. I can’t remember his name now but I remember him. I remember him very well, I just can’t remember his name.– anyway, it wasn’t Mickey. It was something else. It’s so far back I can’t remember his name. There was another drummer but I can’t remember his name either so that goes to show you.
Do you have any favorite stories from the road, from playing with Willie Nelson?
(Long laugh). You know, I’ve got a lot of them. Just a lot of them. Yeah, there’s an awful lot of them. Yeah. I started working for him in ’66. That was, that was when I started the job – in ‘66 and we’ve been going ever since. But yeah, there was some good stories about what got me going and all that. All the stuff we had to do at that time, you know? Like collecting the money – that was, that was the main thing. Collecting money was the main thing to me.
So there was a time when it was harder or – for the act to get paid.
Oh yes. It was really a lot harder then. We never were beat completely but one time. We got beat out of it completely and that was, I think that was in Florida somewhere or something. That was where a guy wasn’t gonna pay us. He wanted to pay me $600. I said ‘Well, that’s OK.’ And then Willie said ‘No, that’s not all of it. It’s all or nothing.’ So he’s like “OK. Nothing, then.’ and he kicked us out. He had a policeman kick us out. He had his own police force right there. Sam, he didn’t get a contract. That’s how we couldn’t beat that … without a contract.
Well thankfully, Willie Nelson and the Family Band are in a lot better position right now (laughs).
Oh yeah. It’s a whole different story now. It really is.
Why do you think people love Willie Nelson so much?
(Laughs) I don’t really know. You know, I really don’t know. Maybe they lose faith … as far as I know. I know he’s a great guy. I mean, I know he’s a great guy, you know, but I don’t know what keeps him popular. I don’t know about what makes him popular. I really don’t know.
When Willie came out with the album and the song Me and Paul how did you feel about that?
(Laughs) I was really thrilled about that. That was really, really a thrill, you know? That was another thing that endeared me to him, to himself. So I guess that’s why he’s endeared everybody to himself, like what he done to me. That was in 1970.
You had the chance to perform with a lot of people as a result of working with Willie. Leon Russell – a lot of people. Who has been a favorite?
Willie Nelson’s is a favorite. Always has been, you know? There was a lot of people who were a favorite. I liked Ernest Tubb. I liked him a lot. He was a great guy, Ernest Tubb was. Yeah, he told me something one time when we were working on the band. I was working in Forth Worth at the time and he called Ray Chaney – that’s who I was working for, Ray Chaney, as a ranch hand – and he said ‘He’s a drummer.’ Well, Ray Chaney could loan me out. So he loaned me out to him and he hired up another drummer there in town. And I just worked five days with Jack, his grandma and his sister got killed and he had to go down and bury her so… Anyway, I worked for, I went to work for Ernest Tubb for a week and I said ‘Well, I’m not a very good drummer.’ And he said ‘Son, I’ll tell you something. I’ve found out in my life that you can find a good person and you can make a good drummer out of him. You can’t necessarily make a good drummer out of a bad person.’ So he told me what I had to be – that I had to be a good person. And I made it pretty good for that week. I made $25 a day. He was a good guy. A great guy.
What is it like performing with your brother, Billy English, who’s also in Willie Nelson and the Family Band?
Well, it’s great. He’s been with us now about 26 years. He’s great. Great to work with. He’s the primary drummer now. You know, I had a stroke last year and he’s the primary drummer now. I just come up to play four songs and maybe that’s it. I still try to make the money and stuff like that. It pays the bills at home so, you know …
You all have played a lot of cities and towns all across America, really. Has there been a favorite place to play?
Oh yes. By far Red Rocks is the one I like the best. Great, great place.
What do you like about it?
It’s built in a mountain. It’s inside a mountain and it’s great, great, great acoustics, you know, inside of a mountain. I like that part of it.
When someone goes to see you guys – see all of you guys perform, what do you hope they get out of the experience?
Well I know, I know that most times when people come to see us, they don’t come to – it’s not the first time, you know. But when people do come for the first time they say ‘Well, I’ve never heard of him before and it’s nice to hear him sing.’ you know. And that’s, that’s what I get most when people are new people. But very rarely do we meet new people now. I mean, we’ve actually been on the road for so long, there’s not very many new ones left. You know, they’ve all been around for a while. We’ve got some people all over.
Do you have a favorite Willie Nelson record album that you played on?
It’s the, it’s the one with, it’s the one with Ray Price. Willie and Ray Price. I love that one.
Oh yeah, that one.
I love that one best. That’s where I played the best drums I ever played on an album, I think. Ray came over to me and said ‘Good playing!’ and I said ‘Well, I’ve been listening to you for a long time.’ He’s another one I like a lot – Ray Price. He’s a great guy.
What have you learned from your years on the road and recording with Willie Nelson?
(Laughs) I don’t know what I’ve learned. I know I’ve learned benevolence and how to be peaceful. That’s, that’s what I’ve really learned most of all and it took me about ten years to learn that but I did it.
Well, that’s one thing that some people never learn so I guess that’s, that’s really quite – quite amazing. I have two final questions for you.
Alright. The first one, it’s kind of lighthearted. It’s kind of silly. What is your, your absolute favorite meal?
I don’t know. I don’t really have a favorite meal right at this point in this time. I really don’t unless it’s Belgian waffles for breakfast. That’s what I like most.
We have that in common.
Yeah, I’ve eaten them for every breakfast. On this, on this tour I’ve eaten them every morning for breakfast so that’s hard to say.
Well, that sounds like that’s your favorite (laughs). My last question for our guest, the one and only Paul English. This broadcast is going out all over the place so my last question – what do you want to say to all the folks who are listening in, all the Willie Nelson fans out there?
Well, just keep coming to see us. That’s all we can ask for. Just keep coming to see us. Bear with us. We’re going to be there.
Well, Mr. English, thank you so much for this interview.
Thank you very much for having me. I mean that sincerely.
TRANSCRIBED BY GAYLE BRAZDA.
Ladies and gentlemen, it’s our great pleasure to welcome our special guest on this episode of The Paul Leslie Hour, Mr. Billy English. Thanks so much for joining us.
Thank you Paul. It’s an honor to speak with you today.
The pleasure is all mine. So I want to kind of go back a little bit. What was life like growing up in your house?
Lots of music. My brother, Paul, has been with Willie Nelson for 45 years. Early on he played trumpet. We had an older brother, the oldest, and uh, Oliver. He was a utility guy. He played many instruments but his primary instrument was guitar so he was a guitar teacher. There was a lot of music in our house all the time, lots of celebrations. Every Thanksgiving and Christmas we had so many cousins that play, we would, you know, it would always turned into a jam session (laughs). And also, my oldest brother would take me to jam sessions that he would have with his friends. He started me out on guitar and that was my primary instrument in the beginning because, since he was guitar teacher, he wanted to teach me theory. It was a great education for me. And he also helped Paul with trumpet and Paul took trumpet lessons. So, although Paul and I are both drummers, neither one of us started out as drums being our primary instrument (laughs). Suffice it to say, there was a lot of music around our house.
Now, your parents – were they encouraging of you all being into music?
Absolutely. They would have supported anything that, any career path we would have chosen, I’m sure. They were not professional musicians. Our dad did play, uh, guitar in church – just rhythm guitar at church. We were raised Pentecostal. We were very avid church-goers. They would have supported us no matter, uh, which career, like I said, we would had chosen.
The music playing around the house on the radio or what have you – what kind of music was that?
A lot of it was country and gospel.
So how did you get interested in percussion?
In school. Around middle school I had a great music teacher, Mr. Pearce, at William James Junior High School in Fort Worth, Texas where I grew up. I was already playing guitar. He had several bands, a select string group. I played guitar in that. I just took up the drums, I think just because they needed someone in the percussion section and I was interested. And so when I started out in junior high school, they would alternate you. One day you would play bass drum, one day you would play orchestral snare, another day you would play auxiliary percussion, you know, triangle, shaker, so forth. And then I got more interested in it so I joined the marching band. So that’s how I got interested in drums and I only took a few private lessons so, as far as drum-wise, I’m pretty much self-taught. But that’s, that’s about the time in my life that I really became serious about drums – around middle school.
How did you become acquainted, the first time you became exposed to this gentleman, Willie Nelson?
You know what? I don’t remember the first time because I was so young, because my brother has been with him – well, consistently for the last 45 years but he has known him and been in contact with him longer than that. But I would go to some of their shows when I was just very young. Whenever I was about 20 years old, that was the first time that I ever had the opportunity and honor of playing with Willie. But no one really knew who he was. He was writing hit songs, but for other artists. And Paul was doing everything on the road. He booked the gigs, collected the money, drove the station wagon – there were six of us. That’s when I was, I was really exposed to Willie, whenever I had the, uh, opportunity to travel with him. I did play drums on a good part of the show then because Paul was collecting the money and handling so much of the business end of it. He did everything, in fact. But I don’t recall our very first meeting but I was very, very young.
How did you come to become a touring member of Willie Nelson’s band? And what is it like being a member of the band?
The way it came about was I was playing drums for an evangelist out of Fort Worth, Texas named Kenneth Copeland. He had a large band, like a huge swing bang, but all the songs, of course, had gospel lyrics and gospel messages. And, uh, he was a singer. Plus, he would bring in guest singers as well. Well, I had been working with him and traveling with him for about four years. And Paul called me one day and said that his drum tech had left, had quit – that’s the gentleman that sets up the drums for Paul – and he asked me if I would be interested in doing that for him. And I said ‘I would love to do that.’ Because Paul is considerably older than me so, uh, by the time I got old enough to know him, you know, he had already left the nest, so to speak. So this was an opportunity for me to travel on the road with my brother, ride on the same bus, set up the drums for him. It was a wonderful experience and I think, because up to that point all I had ever done, all I had ever known up to that point, was music and playing. And so I think he knew that I wouldn’t stick around forever unless I got to play some (laughs). And he was so gracious, he said, well – ‘cause I was hired, like I said, just to, just to set up the drums. So I was setting up the drums, loading the truck, and I, you know, I got roadie’s pay – and still very, very good pay – but that’s how it started. And he, to keep me around I think, he was gracious enough to say ‘Why don’t you integrate some percussion into our show?’ And Willie said it was OK to do so. And so I started playing some bongos, some triangles, some shakers, wind chimes, things of that nature. And then as it progressed, Paul, being the gracious wonderful brother that he is, he allowed me to play a few songs on drums. So we started switching off and he would play percussion on a few songs and I would play drums on a few songs. And as far as what it’s like? It’s wonderful. It’s still a hard life because we live on the bus. You know, we go to the venue early in the day and we don’t play sometimes ‘til very late. But tonight, for example, is the sixth consecutive one-nighter that we’ve done and we’ve done some fairly high mileage. A couple of, over 500 miles per night and played the next day. So, it’s not easy but it’s all worth it for that hour-and-a-half on stage that you get to play with Willie Nelson and for his adoring fans. So it’s all worth it for that and it’s wonderful to be able to travel with my brother.
You mentioned a lot of percussion instruments there. You said bongos, triangles. With all the different kinds of percussion that you play, have there been drummers or percussionists that have influenced your style?
Well, I just listen to all types of music. A lot of my favorite drummers – some of my favorite drummers are also great percussionists. Alex Acuña, for example. He’s world renowned as a percussionist but he’s also a great drummer. There are a lot of professional, uh, percussionists like that, that people aren’t aware of, that are terrific drummers. And I listen to all sorts of music as far a drummers – Dave Weckl, Vinnie Colaiuta, Dave Smith, Stanton Moore. Stanton Moore is a friend of mine, just a fantastic drummer from New Orleans. But every time I listen to any, any song I’m always analyzing the rhythm section – the percussion as well as the bass part and the drum groove.
You’ve played with other musicians and other bands. Is playing with Willie Nelson – is it a different experience in terms of what is expected when you’re playing percussion?
It is. Willie is a very trusting individual and he – although the stage is his domain. He does dictate what goes on the stage. You know, that’s the one place that’s his area. He is kind enough to leave it up to our musical discrepancy to be professional enough to listen to the song and play, emotionally, what’s musically appropriate for the song. And a lot of times, with some artist, you don’t have that freedom. And if Willie does want something changed, he’s not specific, musically specific, about it. He may say ‘That sounds really good but can you simplify it a bit?’ So he is different in that way but it’s in a very good way, you know? He trust you. If you’re on that stage with him then he trusts you.
Have you recorded with Willie Nelson in the studio?
I have but it’s been awhile. Yeah, he has, uh, a studio in Spotswood, I don’t know, 30 or 35 miles outside of Austin. That’s where his golf course is and recording studio. Well, actually I recorded with him before I started working with him. I don’t remember when I got the call but Paul called me and said ‘Do you want to play on this album with us?’ and I said ‘Yeah, I’d love to.’ And it was Red Headed Stanger and it was way before Willie had his studio. It was at Autumn Sound in Garland, Texas, near Dallas. That was Willie’s – technically, his second million-seller in country music period. The first one was the Outlaw album. I believe that’s correct. But for Willie, that was his – just Willie, as an artist – that was his first platinum album. That was done, like I said, at Autumn Sound in Garland, Texas. But we have done a few recordings in his studio and at the Pedernales over the years. We just haven’t done any in the last few years.
When you’re performing, is there a Willie Nelson song that is most meaningful to you?
That is most meaningful for me? That’s a terrific question. He’s such a great writer. There are a lot of songs that he has written that the public is not aware of. Actually, my favorite Willie Nelson song we don’t do on stage but it’s a, to me, a timeless song and it’s called Will You Remember Mine?. Like I said, it’s timeless. It’s something about ‘when you hold’ – now, after they have broken up – ‘Now when you hold another’s hand will you think of mine? When you kiss another’s lips will you think of mine? Will you remember mine?’ Excuse me, which is the name of the song, Will You Remember Mine? That is actually my favorite Willie Nelson song. It really, really touches me and I feel that it’s just timeless.
One of the interesting things about this program for me is as I’ve been talking to, like, Mickey Raphael and your brother, Paul English, they’ve told me a lot of interesting stories about people that you’ve met on the road. You get the opportunity to meet people that most people maybe would never get to meet. Leon Russell. Ray Price. Those are some of the people I’ve heard about. Who have you met through performing with Willie Nelson that has been especially memorable for you?
Oh, another great question (laughs). If I have to narrow it down to one, actually Ray Price would definitely be near the top of my list. I’d say Merle Haggard also. Merle has always been one of my heroes. We did a tour not that long ago called Last of the Breed and it consisted of Ray Price and Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard. I just thought it was just one of the greatest tours that I’ve ever had the honor to be part of. So I would probably say Merle – Merle Haggard.
This was a tough question for Mickey Raphael to answer but he had a really good story for us so I’m going to ask you the same question. What has been the most memorable story that you have from performing with Willie Nelson and the Family Band?
I think, to me, one of the most memorable stories would be when we were asked to play for Jimmy Carter whenever he was the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. This is kind of on the serious side but it, it stands out in my memory. We flew to Oslo, Norway. There was Santana – there were about a half-dozen more acts – but he and Willie have had a good relationship over the years. It’s pretty common knowledge. That night that we played for Jimmy Carter receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, Willie called Jimmy Cater out on the stage just before we played a note and he said ‘Here’s a song that I’d like to do for a very close friend of mine.’ And he just put his hand on Jimmy Carter’s shoulder – in fact, he hugged him – and then he turned to the mic and sang Georgia and there was not a dry eye in the house. It was a very – I mean, including myself. It was a very touching, moving moment. And we had a friend of ours that’s Norwegian and he translated the newspaper for us the next day, and it said that that was the highlight of the evening. That was quite an honor and it, it stands out in my memory still today. Thank you.
Would you believe I was going to ask you about that? Because I had seen a YouTube video of Jimmy Carter playing harmonica – I don’t know which gig this was but it was Jimmy Carter playing with Willie Nelson. This might have been in Atlanta.
Well, a few years back we played on the steps of his – I think it was his high school. Yeah, that, that may have been it. I don’t know. That was kind of fun, too (laughs).
What is the best thing about being Billy English?
The best thing about being Billy English – I get to, I get to travel with two of my heroes, Paul English and Willie Nelson. And I get to play music for fans almost all over the world. And I get to meet wonderful people, establish great friendships everywhere I go. It’s just an honor to play with Willie. I mean, he is a legend and I’m very fortunate to be here and I know it. It makes me smile. It makes me happy (laughs).
For my last question – our special guest has been Billy English – we have listeners all over the place, thanks to the power of the internet. What would you like to say to all the folks who are listening in?
I would just like to say thank you for supporting Willie and the Family over the years. It’s brought great pleasure and joy to all of us, the entire band, to make music that they enjoy and that we enjoy playing. So I would just like to say thank you.
Mr. English, I appreciate very much this in-depth look at what it is that you do, and your time. It’s been a pleasure speaking with you.
Well, the honor was mine, Paul. Thank you very much.
Well, have a good show tonight.
Thank you. Looking forward to it.
TRANSCRIBED BY GAYLE BRAZDA.
Some people can be so fascinating that they capture the hearts and imaginations of generations, and one example of a man who fits the bill would be singer-songwriter and actor Willie Nelson. Our special guest on this episode of The Paul Leslie Hour, is a writer, Joe Nick Patoski is the author of WILLIE NELSON, an Epic Life. Author Joe Nick Patoski wrote the biography of Willie Nelson after conducting over 100 interviews with Willie Nelson and Family. WILLIE NELSON: An Epic Life, published by Little, Brown and Company received critical acclaim and widespread popularity among Nelson’s fans.
GORDON LIGHTFOOT has written some of the greatest songs of all time, including “Sundown” and “If You Could Read My Mind,” among many others. The singer-songwriter gives an in-depth interview here.
Kathie Lee Gifford is best known as a morning television personality, especially her fifteen year run on the famed talk show Live! With Regis and Kathie Lee, which she co-hosted with Regis Philbin. She’s received 11 Daytime Emmy nominations and won her first Daytime Emmy in 2010 as a part of the Today show team.
For many Americans, Kathie Lee Gifford is synonymous with morning entertainment. However, she has a strong musical side…she has recorded several albums of everything from Standards to Christian music and in the early 90s she began working in musical theatre. She is also a lyricist. Kathie Lee Gifford has written songs recorded and performed by other artists as well as herself.