The Paul Leslie Hour Episode #31 – Susan Birkenhead

Susan Birkenhead is one of the most in-demand theatre lyricists. She made her Broadway debut as a contributor to Working in 1978. Her songwriting has been featured in many productions both on and off Broadway, including Jelly’s Last Jam, Triumph of Love, High Society, Hats!, Radio Girl and most recently The Secret Life of Bees. Susan Birkenhead has written with some of the best composers including Charles Strouse, David Foster, Jule Styne and others. In fact, with Styne, Birkenhead wrote two songs recorded by Frank Sinatra.

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Martin Charnin: Lyricist, Writer & Theatre Director

Martin Charnin is an absolute giant in the world of American theatre.  The original lyricist-director of “Annie,” he has gone on to write lyrics and direct many musicals.  As an actor, he appeared in over 1,000 appearances of “West Side Story” on Broadway and on the road.  He has written, directed and produced nightclub acts for Dionne Warwick, Nancy Wilson, Marty Travers and Leslie Uggams.

Songs Martin Charnin wrote have been recorded by everyone from Barbra Streisand, Johnny Mathis, Rod McKuen and Tony Bennett.

Currently, Martin Charnin is the Artistic Director of the SHOWTUNES! Theatre Company in Seattle, Washington.  He remains as vital and active in theatre as ever.

Delve into the mind of one of theatre’s true icons.


Charles Strouse: Composer

Almost every single American and countless people around the world have heard the music of composer Charles Strouse.  The word “legendary” is not too strong of a word to describe Mr. Strouse and his incredible melodies.  An inductee of the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Theatre Hall of Fame, Strouse has written the scores for over 30 stage musicals including 14 for Broadway as well as 5 Hollywood films, 2 Orchestral works and an opera.  His songs like “Tomorrow” (from Annie) and “Put On A Happy Face,” and “A Lot of Livin’ To Do” are recognizable in an instant.  Here we find the composer speaking very candidly about his life and what it means to be an artist.  The music of Charles Strouse has made a very positive mark on the world and the fact that the greatest performers in recorded music such as Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Tony Bennett, Harry Connick, Jr., Louis Armstrong, Nina Simone, and Duke Ellington have chosen to record and perform his songs is a testament to the quality of his work.  The music of Charles Strouse  will always be heard  and his name will forever be among the greatest composers of our time.

Michael John LaChiusa: Musical Theatre and Opera Composer, Lyricist & Librettist

In the world of musical theatre, Michael John LaChiusa is well known for his shows including “Hello Again,” “Marie Christine,” “The Wild Party,” and “See What I Wanna See.”  He is respected as a composer, lyricist, and librettist.  In addition to Michael John LaChiusa’s work in theatre and opera, he is also a performer of his own work at concert and cabaret venues.

In this interview LaChiusa talks about his influences, history and work.

Maury Yeston: Composer, Lyricist, Educator & Musicologist

Maury Yeston allows us into his musical mind!  He is a composer, lyricist, educator and musicologist.  Perhaps best known for his music and lyrics heard on the Broadway stage, Maury Yeston wrote the lyrics and melodies for “Nine,” (based on Fellini’s film 8½ )as well as “Titanic.”  Maury Yeston is a Tony award winner.  He wrote the music and lyrics for “Phantom,” based on the 1910 novel “The Phantom of the Opera.”  Yeston also wrote a great deal of songs for the Broadway musical “Grand Hotel.”
In addition to several original Broadway cast albums of his songs, a compilation album of his songs was released in 2003, entitled “The Maury Yeston Songbook.”  Broadway actress Laura Osnes released an entire album of his songs entitled “If I Tell You (Songs of Maury Yeston).”

If you are fascinated by the art of songwriting or a lover of musical theatre, this interview will be of great interest.  He freely expresses his thoughts and recollections.  Writers and lovers of songs alike will enjoy this fascinating interview.

Sir Tim Rice: Lyricist

The great lyricist Sir Tim Rice, songwriting collaborator with Andrew Lloyd Webber, Alan Menken, Elton John and many others talks about his great career in writing songs for theatre and film.  Sir Tim Rice co-wrote songs for Jesus Christ Superstar, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Evita and many others as well as Disney animated films like Aladdin and The Lion King.

What do you think is the greatest Tim Rice lyric?

Don Black: Lyricist

Sir Don Black is a lyricist and inductee of the Songwriters Hall of Fame who has written songs with some of the most celebrated composers in history: Andrew Lloyd Webber, Quincy Jones, John Barry, Michel Legrand, Henry Mancini, Michael Jackson, Marvin Hamlisch, and Charles Strouse, just to name a few.

In addition to being a lyricist, Black has worked as a stand-up comedian, song plugger, radio personality and personal manager to the late Matt Monro. It was a great pleasure to interview him.

Scott English: Lyricist, Recording Artist, Producer

SCOTT ENGLISH wrote the lyrics to the song “Brandy,” while Richard Kerr composed the melody.  The title was changed to “Mandy” and it was recorded by Barry Manilow.  Interviews with Scott English are very rare, so it was a great pleasure to speak with this great artist.  Scott makes his home in England these days.  We may be recording a second interview at some point, in person.  One thing is for sure, Scott English loves music.  We hope to talk with him again when his book comes out.

Ladies and Gentlemen, it is with great pleasure, we welcome our very special guest, the great Scott English. Thank you so much for joining us.

My pleasure.

I think most stories are best from the beginning. What was life like growing up for you?


Tough, very tough, but music kept me going, I listened to the radio all the time, it came to me, you know, I just kept on keeping on, everybody said I was nuts, you know, Sheldon, he’s crazy, you know, he’s going to be a singer, he’s going to be this, he’s going to be that, you know, they all thought I was nuts. I put my name on records.

You said you put your name on records?


Yeah, every record I would see I would scratch off the name of the Penguins or Al Martino or Tony Bennett and I would put my name on them, cause I wanted to see what it looked like and the first time I saw my name on a record, I just had a…it was like… unbelievable, I couldn’t believe it, once (Scott laughs) some people at Sceptre Records, wanted to tease me, so they made my record a key ring for the toilet.


I was very, very upset.

Tell us, what kind of music did you hear growing up?

Growing up I heard Nat Cole, Jerry Vale, Tony Bennett, and then suddenly, I had a radio station WBLJ in Harlem New York, an R&B station, it changed my life, I heard the do ups, it was just like… it would made me feel good, I would buy a record and I would play it fifty times, a hundred times, you know, I scratched it all up, I wanted it so bad, you know, I wanted to consume everything in music.

What was some of the doo wop songs that you liked the most?

Johnny Ace, ???  Miller, The Penguins, most of all I liked the Moonglows, Marvin Gaye came from the Moonglows, ?? Producer came from the Moon Glows,  I genuinely know all those names, you know the Moonglows?

I’m not really familiar to be honest.

Well look it up, they’re a very good group.

I’ll have to give them a play.

Okay, in 1960 there was a single that came out ‘Four Thousand Miles Away.’


Tell us about that song.

It was the ‘B’ side of ‘High On A Hill.’

Who wrote that song?

Frank Carey.

What was it like to see that album with your name on it, finally.

Like an orgasm. (Paul laughs, Scott continues), I’d made it as far as I was concerned, I didn’t have to do anything else, it was wonderful, I was there. I was Prince Charles

I also want to also ask you about a song called ‘High On A Hill’.


Great song.

That broke my heart twice, that broke my heart twice, Kennedy killed me once, the Beatles killed me the second time, did you know that?

I didn’t know that, no.

Yeah, well, my record was going up in the charts in November 20th 1960, President Kennedy got shot, they took all the records off the radio. Somewhere at Sceptre records, they re-released the record, they released my record, it was number one in LA, number one in San Francisco, number one in Philadelphia, big in Detroit, then the Beatles happened. Nine out of ten records on the charts, one record was mine in San Francisco, and it killed me, it broke my heart.

I also wanted to ask you about the song ‘Bend Me, Shake Me’.

I wrote it with Larry Weiss, great writer, he also wrote ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’ by himself.

How did you meet Larry Weiss?

I was working for a music publisher whose a great arranger called Klaus Alderman and Larry walked into the office, he was one of the people that Klaus knew who played him songs, and I was wearing a red jacket, with a white scarf and white loafers, and I said ‘ahhhh Hollywood, Hollywood’ and we became lifelong friends and writing partners.

Do you still stay in touch with him?

I just spoke to him last night.

Oh yeah, do you still write songs?

Larry still writes songs, yeah.

What about you?

He lives in Nashville, he started to get a hotel, the Rhinestone Cowboy hotel up and going and a musical with Rhinestone Cowboy.  He’s charging hard. I can’t see him with much fruition there you know.

Are you still writing songs?

Like crazy. Like crazy, I wrote two today, I had two on Friday and my partner in Ireland, Owen, that was yesterday and they’re amazing.

Are you writing songs to be recorded by others?

Yeah, I’m 76 years old, you don’t want to see me record (Paul laughs).

There’s another song that you wrote that has endured, and the name of it has been changed when it was recorded by Barry Manilow, but I’m talking about your song “Brandy.”

Yeah, yeah, another break… ahhhh, what happened, I was in the South of France and one of my publishing friends started to say “aaaah Brandy goes down fine after dinner doesn’t she?” He was trying to tell a dirty joke, but I got a great title out of that and I wrote the lyric and when I came back to London, I called Richard Kerr, my partner at the time and we got together that day in my area with an out of tune piano and we wrote the song and it was magic, yeah, out of tune we wrote it, we did a demo and we sent it out and nobody liked the demo, so I figured I’d better do it myself, so I did it for a record company and then, I was playing it for people and the people from Ireland heard it, Ireland Records… they said “what are you doing with that?” I said well I got a deal to release two of the sides he said “how you going to do it”, I said … he said “play em one other and leave Brandy out”, I said “why?” He said “I want to release it on Ireland”, Trojan, sorry, that’s what happened. My wife was pregnant, home to America, and bang, two weeks later they call me and it’s in the charts. I came here on tour, I did a couple of gigs, a lot of TV shows, no a lot of radio shows sorry, I went on Top Of The Pops, and Top Of The Pops it was going up in the charts, the Union stopped me because I hadn’t done enough gigs, the next week it went from twelve to eleven and then from eleven to nine, and then it died.

What inspired Brandy?

What inspired? Well, my life. If you look into the lyric it’s talking about looking for ‘a man, a face through a window’, that’s my Father.


And then this woman, I treated her bad and I didn’t know any better, and that was me, you know, it was a life of ups and downs, I knew better, but at times I couldn’t do better.

What did you think of the interpretation Barry Manilow recorded of it?

In the beginning, I hated it, because he took out one of the verses, half ofone of the verses and made it into a ‘bridge’, and he changed the rhythm, he made it real ‘poppy, you know, but after it got played and played and played, checks started coming in, he asked me what I thought of it, and I told him, I said “Barry I ended up loving you buying me houses.” (Paul laughs, Scott continues) That was Brandy.

Do you still see Richard Kerr quite a bit?

I saw Richard last week, Richard’s suffering from cancer right now, he’s seventy years old, he’s a gentleman if there ever was a gentleman, but with writing, he’s still writing beautifully, people are still looking for our songs, he’s got mellow with age as a writer, like Chopin.

How do you feel about his abilities as a composer?

I’m very happy he’s alive.  He made me, we’re tight and I don’t think I would have on my own. He’s a blessing, you know people ought to give thanks and look around, you know, smell the flowers, and accept that no man is an island.

Interesting. Of all the songs you have written, which one would you say means the most to you?

I think ‘Who Turned The World Around,’ recorded by Bobby Darin, it never was a hit, it was just on an album on Montown, but that means the most to me.

Tell me about the inspiration behind that song.

Well, it’s just all these tsunamis now and all these earthquakes, I just pictured that happening, but this was in 1971. I said ‘One day after Armageddon,’ you know, the end of the world and destruction of the world ‘and fire was going out, rumours of life in Cincinnati,  gone from words of mouths, walking’s the only way to get there, maybe I’ll find a way, that was the morning I remember, that was before the rain, who turned the world around, who turned the world around, show me the way to yesterday, who turned the world around’.

Are you more moved by the lyrics of a song, or the melody?

I love melody, but I’m a word man, I write the words, I’m a lyricist, but I love melody,
when I hear ‘A Whiter Shade Of Pale’

Oh yeah.

That organ. It just drives me nuts, the melody, I love classical music, so I have to say I like instrumental, I love Chopin and Beethoven and Tchaikovsky and people like that.

What about the lyricists that have influenced you the most, who do you think are the best lyricists in music?

Sammy Cahn, Jimmy Van Heusen, Elton John, Paul McCartney, John from the Beatles.

Yeah, John Lennon.

Well, some of my friends like Graham Nash, James Taylor, James Brown.


He wrote it in grooves, but if you look into what he wrote, he wrote some stuff that meant something.


‘It’s A Man’s World’, if you listen to those words, he said it in a very crude way, but wowwww, ‘without a woman or a girl’, what are we nuts?

I also wanted to ask you about the song ‘Ciao Baby.’

Yeah, I love that song.

It’s a good one, tell me about that song being written.

It was a very hard one, it was so many rhymes that I had to write, it was quite difficult, Larry came in with the melody and I went home with it over the weekend and nobody one could contact me, you know, I was in my head, in the car or in a restaurant, in the bath, no one could reach me ‘Ciao baby, let’s call it a day, ciao baby, go ahead and through your love away’. People just, they just ate that song up, I thought it would be an enormous, enormous hit, but it was little hits, in Australia it was number one, teens here in England, in America it was recorded by a lot of people, might have gone to number fifteen in the charts or something like that.

There was another song ‘Hi Ho Silver Lining.’

That’s a song I never wanted him to finish.

What do you mean by that?

I never liked it.

Oh really?

What happened was, Larry Weiss came into the office, and he had the chorus, simply said “yeah and it’s obvious’, so he put that on the end of the chorus, then he said ‘oh come on, write the lyrics and a verse’, so I wrote ‘you’re everywhere and nowhere baby, that’s where you’re at, going down a bumpy hillside, in your hippy hat, flying across the country and getting fat, saying everything is groovy when your tires are flat’, and then there’s the chorus ‘high ho silver lining’ and he loved it and he said ‘wowwww’, I said “it’s shit’. (Paul laughs), he called Mickey Most in London, you know the name Mickie Most?

I don’t know that one, I’m sorry.

You don’t know Mickie Most, he’s a producer after, what’s-his-named, who was in jail for killing that woman.

You’re talking about that guy Phil Spector.

Phil Spectre, he’s the English Phil Spector, he produced The Animals, he produced Herman’s Hermits, he produced hundreds of people, then he had Rack Records years later, he heard that song and said “I’m coming to New York, I want it”. Larry played it on the phone, Mickie came into my offices “where’s the song?”, I said “Mickie I’m not finishing it, it stinks”, he said “no, you finish it right now”, (Paul laughs, Scott continues), I called my secretary and said “bring a pencil and paper”, we had no computers in those days, so I said “take a letter”, I said “flies are in your pea soup baby and they’re waving at me, anything you want is yours now, only nothing’s for free, lies are gonna get you some day, just wait and see, just open up your beach umbrella, while you’re watching TV, and it’s hi ho silver lining”, he said “that’s incredible”, I thought he’d say “it’s shit”, and I just recited it off the top of my head, and he called me about two weeks later, he said “I’m giving it to Yardbirds” I said “are you nuts? Yardbirds is a heavy rock group”, it’s a song for Herman’s Hermits” (Paul laughs, Scott continues), so about two weeks later I got a record, a fantastic record by a man named Jeff Beck, I never heard of him, he was in the Yardbirds, you know.


Well, when I heard the record I felt terrible, I thought I’d killed his career, although it went in the charts in England, in America it didn’t do too well, it went in the charts in England I thought I’d killed his career, I heard the ‘B’ side of the record called ‘Beck’s Bolero’.


That’s amazing, that instrumental , him playing this instrumental, it’s incredible, and I figured I’d killed…. and he never had another single out as a singer, then one day I’m here in London and the head of Warner Brothers ?? and Larry ?? said to me ???? at the Rainbow Theatre,  I said “I can’t go. He said “why,” I said “I don’t want to see that guy I killed his career,”, he said “come on,” so, he took me, I said I didn’t want to go back stage after or nothing, he got me so loaded, next thing I know, I’m back stage, and there’s Jeff Beck and I looked at him and I said “man, do I have to apologise to you”, he said “no, wait a minute, before you say a word I have to apologise to you” he said “I always wanted to record that song, I begged Mickey for the song, the only thing I didn’t like was the over dub, the guitar over dub, Mickey wouldn’t let me do it again”, then he said “what’s your problem” (Paul laughs, Scott continues) I told him, he laughed, he said “no man, I always wanted to do that song,”, you see what the mind tells you?


You’ve also done some record producing, tell us about producing Thin Lizzie’s debut album.

Thin Lizzie I got fired from. They blamed me for getting the kids high when it was Phil Lynott’s Mother who brought the dope into the studio.

Interesting.. (Paul laughs, Scott continues)..

Yeah, his Mother brought the dope into the studio and they blamed me in the book. I don’t know, there was a guy at Decca who wanted me out because he wanted to produce the group and he made the big hits with them, I didn’t.

What about your song ‘Where Are You’?

Aaaaah, the Eurovision song, I thought that would do well, we came second, we got beaten by a transvestite, an Israeli transvestite. I never thought that a transvestite could beat us, cause all the bookies were saying that we were going to win, that’s another town that was dreadful, a terrible city called Birmingham.

Well, speaking of England what brought you over there?

Music, I was writing with Larry and Klaus Alderman and Klaus decided he wanted to be travelling around the world playing songs for people, and he picked me to go with him, that’s what broke Larry and I up eventually, though we made up years later.

Do you like living in the United Kingdom?

Yeah, I do, I do, I really do, I like the tempo, but I have a good time when I go back to the States, I’ve moved back at times.

You’ve moved back?

In 1977, I did an album in LA, I bought a house, I lived there till 1980 and then I came back to England again.

England remains your home?

Yeah, like I’ve been taken prisoner. (Paul laughs)

Aaaah I see.

I’m married four times.

So, what is the best thing about being Scott English?

That someday there’s going to be a plaque on the wall that says ‘Scott English lived here’ and that I meant something, that I didn’t waste my life as I thought I would when I was sixteen when I was in jail, it was a rocky road as a kid, I was in and out of jails and orphanages and foster homes and it was rocky, it was hard.


So, I found the music business and I started hanging around the Brill Building.


What is on the horizons for you?

Well, I’m writing my book now.

Interesting. Tell us about the book.

It’s about my life, everything I told you about is in the book.

All right, well, we’ll be looking forward to that for sure.

It’s quite humorous, blowing the bubble on a couple of people (Paul laughs, Scott continues),mainly Sharon Osbourne.

I see.

My last question, actually I have two. This interview will be heard by people for all over the world. What do you want to say to all those people who are listening to us.

Hey, what do I want to say? Thank you for being patient.  Thank you for taking the time to listen to my words, and I hope I can continue to please you.

Who is Scott English?

Who is Scott English? Sheldon David English, born to Jewish people in Brooklyn 1937, who had a dream and he kept his dream, he stepped on a couple of people, but he kept his dream.

Well Mr. English, it has been a great pleasure to do this interview, I really appreciate it.

Hey, Paul thank you. Would like to meet you when I’m in New York.

I hope we get to shake hands one day.


Jack Feldman: Lyricist

JACK FELDMAN is a lyricist.  Along with composer Alan Menken, he wrote the songs for the musical “NEWSIES,” with book by Harvey Fierstein.  Jack Feldman has also written many lyrics for songs appearing in Disney animated films.  Along with fellow lyricist Bruce Sussman, Jack Feldman wrote many songs with recording artist Barry Manilow.


Ladies and gentlemen, it is my pleasure to welcome our special guest.  He’s a very talented lyricist, Mr. Jack Feldman.  Along with Alan Menken and Harvey Fierstein he is the creator of the new musical, ‘Newsies.’  Thanks so much for joining us.
My pleasure Paul.

Who is Jack Feldman?

(Laughs)  Well, I’m a guy who grew up in the New York area on Long Island and I got to see a lot theater while I was growing up cause my parents would go and I remember going also with my grandmother when I was just a little kid and I always loved it.  It was at the center of my life since I can remember in terms of what I enjoyed to do and what I enjoy doing and working in the theater was always what I aspired to do.

What would you say it is about theater that captures you so much?
I think originally it was musical theater and the way that songs were used to tell the story of whatever piece it was.  Whatever show it was.  And I remember that also from animated movies like the classic Disney animated movies which at that time, and even up until not that long ago, were done very much the way songs in a show function, that is to illuminate character, tell part of the story, advance a relationship, tell you what the character might be thinking, in what in a straight play might be a soliloquy  or a monologue and that suspension of disbelief that seem to come so easily on stage where a character or characters could be talking and then singing and you would buy it and so even though in a real life situation it sounds like it would be silly on stage, it was perfectly natural and I think part of the reason why movie musicals don’t work on screen as much is because screen is so much, uh, the movies are so much more literal and the artificiality of breaking into song is that much more noticeable and hard to accomplish.

Can you remember specific songs or recordings that you especially liked growing up?
Well I listened to a lot of stuff that all kids listen to, or that most kids listen to in terms of stuff that was on the radio and pop music of the time.  I was always interested in that and I always was familiar with it but what I was really drawn to in a much more profound way were original cast albums from shows.  At first, the ones that happened to be in the house because my parents had bought them after seeing a show and later, those that I would go out and buy myself or ask my mom to get for me and I use to literally memorize, not on purpose, but I’d listen to them so much that I ended up memorizing virtually whole original cast albums of shows, a lot of which I could still sing from memory or write down from memory if I want to.  For some reason, it just always, they always stuck in my mind.

Were you always a writer?
I wasn’t always a writer in, in a discipline sense.  I think I always wanted to be.  I remember telling a neighbor of mine when I was about five or six years old…we were both about five or six…that I wanted to be ‘Rodgers and Hammerstein.’  I don’t recall that much of the conversation but for some reason I recall saying that.  I even remember exactly where we were out in my backyard when I said it.  But I really didn’t start to write in any kind of a disciplined way till high school and the first thing I wrote of that nature was when I was a senior in school.  Every year the seniors would put on an original show basically lampooning school life and when I was a senior I wrote a good deal of that show, the script and lyrics and music and along with some other people but it was definitely, I took the lead, in that and that was the first project that resembled even in its, you know, most amateur form the structure of a show and songs that fit characters and story.

You’ve written a lot of songs with Bruce Sussman.

How did you meet him?
We met in songwriting workshop that was called the ‘BMI Workshop’ that was started by a very successful, and at the time, well-known Broadway conductor by the name of Lehman Engel.  When I got out of college I went into the workshop…you had to audition for it…and that’s where Bruce and I met.  We weren’t working together at the time.  I was writing my own lyrics and music and Bruce, as a lyricist, was working with another composer.  But at some point, a couple of years after we met we started to work together as well, doing the lyrics together and my writing the music.  We worked on one project actually with a playwright by the name of Wendy Wasserman who achieved considerable fame.  Won the Pulitzer Prize , matter of fact, and died tragically young about, oh goodness, I don’t know, eight years ago now, maybe more and that got done at a not-for-profit theater here in New York and that was the one full-length show that we worked on together, Bruce and I.

What was he like to work with?
Bruce was great to work with.  We had a very similar sensibility, very similar sense of humor, we both tended to admire the same writers and, and shows and we just got along really, really well and it was a very smooth collaboration.   It always was.

You wrote the lyrics along with him, Bruce Sussman, to one of Barry Manilow’s most well-known songs and that song is ‘Copacabana.’

Tell us a little bit about writing that song.
What happened was Barry had been to Rio de Janeiro and in Rio there’s a beach called the Copacabana Beach and he had remembered a line from a movie that he saw, that he had seen on TV many, many times , an old movie where they used, where they were talking about that beach and the line was something like “Copacabana, there’s music in that name” and when he came back from Brazil he said it would be great to write a song called ‘Copacabana’ and he didn’t really give us any direction in terms of what it should be about and I remember the hardest part of the song for us was deciding on what the approach to it would be.  What we started out with the beach and after a little while thought well there’s no reason why we can’t do it about the club which was legendary at that point.  It had passed its heyday but it was really still very well-known and at that point it was a dance club and we thought if we set it back in the 40’s and did it like it was an old movie and had sort of a melodrama plot, kind of tongue-in-cheek and that sort of gave us a handle on how to, on how to write the song and once we had fashioned a little story, and a few characters, the rest of it was fun.  Once we, once we cracked it and decided how we were going to approach it.  It only, I think we, we did it basically in two nights’ working, two evenings and then gave it to Barry.  I think we even called him and we sort of dictated it to him over the phone and he wrote the music very quickly and that’s how the song was written.

It certainly has endured.  Still a very well-known and well-loved song.
Yeah, I mean it was never meant to be anything but a, an album cut to sort of change of pace on one of Barry’s albums because so much of what he had hits with were ballads, love songs, and so he thought if we could, if he could mix it up and put a song that had a real dance beat to it and a little bit of humor it would make for a better variety on the album and, but basically listeners called into radio stations asking for it to played and that’s how it sort of broke out but it was never meant to be a single.  It was always meant to just sit on the album but it was kind of forced out which was great.  It was a surprise and it was terrific to have that reaction to it.

A personal favorite is ‘Why Don’t We Try a Slow Dance,’ which you co-wrote.
What was the inspiration?
We wrote that for a, a TV special that Barry was doing.  He did a bunch of them and I honestly don’t remember what the impetus was for that in particular.  I can’t remember whether it was something that was mapped out in the script of the show and they envisioned it.  We wrote it to be sung, you know, for him to sing on the show so there would be, he would be seen singing it. It wouldn’t … it wouldn’t just be on a record but he eventually put it on a record.  I always thought that was a neat song too.  It was kind of a throw-back type song.

Do you have a favorite Manilow song that you had a hand in writing?
Well, I guess despite virtue of the fact that it was the first song for Barry that we all wrote together, I would have to say ‘Copacabana.’  It did achieve a popularity and it was literally a pop, the first pop song that I ever wrote.  Bruce had written with Barry for a year or two before I joined the collaboration so he had already gotten his feet wet but I never had.  It was quite special to sit down and the first one we did together ended up being successful.  That’s not necessarily my favorite Manilow song but my favorite one that I had a hand in doing.

The ‘Newsies’ musical has

Has a new cast recording out.

And I wanted you to tell us how did you first come to hear of the ‘Newsies’ project?
I heard of the ‘Newsies’ project through Alan Menken who I also met in the BMI song writing workshop where I met Bruce.  Alan was a year ahead of me but we became friends and eventually he started to work, of course, with Howard Ashman and they were a brilliant, brilliant team.  They did ‘The Little Mermaid’ together and ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ and part of the ‘Aladdin’ movie and Howard was ill and he was originally slated to do ‘Newsies’ but he was really too ill to do it and so Alan called me and asked if I’d be interested in, you know, meeting about it and see if was something I’d like to do and that’s how I got involved. 

What is it Alan Menken like to work with?
Alan is incredible to work with.  He is…he is so gifted and it all sort of comes from his gut as he’s fond of saying.  He gets an instinct for the way something should sound and once he does he writes pretty quickly and it’s pretty amazing to be in the room with him when he’s working on music because as a composer I know that I don’t, I never work with that kind of sort of, I don’t know if you’d call it inspiration or just instinct.  He just…it just sort of pours out of him and that’s not to say that he’s not flexible or won’t make changes.  He’s very collaborative.  He’s an inspiration to work with cause of how gifted he is and I think when you work with somebody that good it tends to make you better.

How did the process of writing songs with him work?
It varies.  Well, usually we would…we would come up with what the purpose of the song was going to be.  If a scene had already been written we knew we wanted to put a song in we would start from that which is always a little easier.  It’s always easier to write when there are limits and you know whose singing it, what they’re feeling, what you want to say.  And I guess once we had all that settled and we had talked about all that and talked about it with Harvey, obviously, who wrote the script I think if he’d had his druthers, Alan likes to write the music first or at least some of the music first just to get a feel for it and we often did that.  He would rough out a melody or a chorus and then we would find a title and then I would go home and work on a lyric draft and then we would get together again and refine it.  But there were also times when he was doing something else or he needed to be somewhere else and I knew that we had a song that we wanted to do so I would sketch out a lyric and bring that to him and he would set music to that.  There was no…there’s no strict way that we go about doing it.  It’s really sort of as it comes which is great because I enjoy writing to music and he has no problem setting the lyric if it’s put in front of him.  I mean it’s not to say that we didn’t have a lot of false starts and stuff like that.  You always do.  But we never had a problem with the process in terms of it needed to be a certain way or in a certain order which is great  Very freeing.

You mentioned Harvey a second ago.  What is Harvey Fierstein like to work with?
I had never met Harvey.  I was only a fan, a huge fan, of both his writing and his acting and I was a little intimidated at first because, because he is Harvey Fierstein and I guess I would have felt the same way about Alan if I hadn’t known him but because I had known him for so many years it wasn’t like that but Harvey completely puts you at your ease.  He is also unbelievable collaborative.  If he fashions a scene and we have an idea for a song and they may not absolutely mesh, he would always say “You guys write the song and I will adjust the scene to make sure that the song and the scene fit together.”  He was always…and it’s very hard when you’re the difference between being a playwright and being a book writer for a musical.  As a playwright you’re in charge of everything that’s said and done on the stage.  As a book writer, a lot of times you have to give up your “best moments” to the songs.  He instinctively knows the difference so well that when he’s working on a musical he’s fully prepared to let the song drive the show.  But it’s deceptive because it’s his dialogue, it’s his characters.  In this case some of the characters were from the source material which was the movie of ‘Newsies’ but without all that foundation there, there’s really nothing to write about and no characters to write for.  It’s an extremely underrated skill, writing the book to a musical and I think often a writer gets blamed unfairly, um, and a lot of terrific playwright are not necessarily good musical book writers because it’s a very different process, that kind of collaboration, and Harvey is just expert at it.  He also wrote the book to ‘La Cage aux Folles and ‘Catered Affair’ so he’s an experience book writer and it’s easy to see why he’s successful having worked with him because he’s a perfect collaborator and hilarious…hilarious!  We had all…the three of us had an incredible amount of fun working on the show.  We really did.

Prior to doing this interview we’re doing I got to correspond with him and he asked that I would please send you his love.
Oh!  Well that’s nice.  Thank you very much!  I just spoke to him this morning as a matter of fact.  We’ve become really good friends in the couple of years we’ve been working together on it and we speak all the time and he’s, I consider myself very lucky to have him as such a good friend.  He really makes me laugh and he’s also a very caring, thoughtful, thoughtful guy.  He really is.

Is there a lyric from ‘Newsies’ that you’re the most proud of?
I think my favorite lyric or my favorite song, I should say, in the show is the song that opens the second act, ‘King of New York,’ which was a version of which was in the movie, but I rewrote a lot of the lyrics for the show.  Part of it is because I think the music is incredibly infectious and just great and part of it is because the images that I got to use and having the kids describe what their fantasy of being rich and famous would be was really fun.  There was a lot to choose from and it was fun to work on and I’m happy with the way the whole thing came out. 

As a result of working on ‘Newsies’ what has been your favorite memory?
I have to say that I think my favorite memory was when, as a surprise, found out that we were going to Broadway which was never the intention for the show and the first time we had an audience and a lot of the actors who played ‘Newsies’ are very young and for twelve of them it was their Broadway debut and the first time that a number and the first time that a number in, after the first audience, the first time one of the numbers got a huge hand and they had to freeze and sort of hold for the applause before they could go on which had never happened in rehearsal cause you never had an audience.  And I think my favorite memory is watching the faces of those kids.  I mean, I call them kids.  They’re not all children, but they’re all very young.  It was just so joyous to see, even though they were trying to freeze and stay in character you could just see that they were like ready to jump out of their skin from excitement because of the way the audience was responding to what they had just done, part of which was an unbelievable amount of dance which is brilliantly choreographed by Christopher Gattelli and incredibly executed by these kids who play the Newsies.  They are phenomenally talented and this was the first time that I think they got that affirmation from the audience and it was, it was really thrilling to, you know, look at their faces while they were waiting there.

Some of the best songs out there are songs you used in Disney cartoons.  Why do you think that is?
I think it’s a combination of the fact that they at Disney worked with excellent, excellent song writers in the heyday of the animated cartoons including the Sherman brothers, who did so much, so many songs for their films and certainly Alan Menken and Howard Ashman who continued that tradition.  I think also the storied themselves were classic, interesting stories that always, that, you know, people always wanted to see and with characters and conflict and everything that makes something dramatic or funny built in, though when you have great characters, really interesting situations and great writers you’re going to be more likely to end up with great songs.  So I think, I think it was a combination. I think if any of those elements are missing it’s not going to be as successful as so much of the songs in their movies are. 

You’ve written songs that have appeared in Disney movies like ‘Perfect isn’t Easy’ which was sung by Bette Midler.

What is it that you like about writing songs for Disney?
I think what I like the best is that their songs traditionally, songs for Disney movies, are very close to the sensibility of songs on stage.  Or at least they use to be, right up through Howard and Alan’s movies, the movies that Alan did with Tim Rice or with David Zippel or Glenn Slater.  They’re songs which either help tell the story or give you insight into the character or the relationship between the characters which is exactly what so many songs in live theater shows do.  So it’s really sort of like the same process, or very close that you use when you’re writing a show and since that was always what I loved to do, working for Disney was a first cousin of that.  I respond to it very much.

Who has influenced your lyric writing the most?
Lyric writing?  I would say most definitely Stephen Sondheim whose work as a composer and a lyricist I think is unsurpassed in musical theater.  Other favorites of mine:  Sheldon Harnick, who I think is just a brilliant, brilliant lyric writer.  Frank Loesser also just had an ability that was sort of one in a million.  Right off the bat, I would say those three, you know, Fred Ebb, brilliant lyric writer.  I would say in terms of the early days of, you know,  the 20’s and 30’s and 40’s before I was around I guess you know Cole Porter was the quintessential  Broadway sophisticated songwriter and his stuff is, for the most part, brilliant…absolutely brilliant. 

You mentioned Sondheim just a second ago and I was reading in Sondheim’s second volume of his two books, he mentions your name.
Yeah.  Yeah he does in the acknowledgements of both books. Yeah.

What was that about?  That’s interesting.
I, I knew him for a long time but not very well at all and we happened to be having a drink one night and I had remembered that he had started or was planning to start to work on these books years before and I just asked him whatever happened with that and he said “strange you should ask because I just have started to actually work on it.”  At that point it was only going to be one book and he said he’d only shown them to a couple of close friends.  He’s written a couple of chapters to the first book and asked me if I would be interested in reading the chapters that he had written, which,  (laughs), I almost, you know, passed out when he asked me because feeling about his work the way I do , I knew that, you know, this was going to be unbelievable and he sent them to me and it just gradually evolved into a back-and-forth where, at first, there were a couple of facts that might have been off or something like that and so I would say “Hey, I believe that, I don’t know, this song was written in such-and-such and not in the date that is, you know, in the manuscript  and a couple of times I actually corrected some of his own lyrics because I know them so well and they were either typos or misprints or he had forgotten that he changed the lyric in the movie version of, let’s say, let’s say ‘West Side Story’ from what it was in the stage version and he kept sending me the chapters and I kept, I kept reading them closely, over and over again and I would say that that and ‘Newsies’ which, coincidentally were both sort of happening at the same time were the two most thrilling professional experiences of my life.  The chance to get to not really “work” with him but to observe his process and read every draft of every chapter and see what he changed and what he took out and what he added…it was an education the likes of which I could never have imagined and , you know, it was…it was literally a dream come true as was ‘Newsies.’  They were both, I mean, so completely different in terms of what the projects were but so thrilling and having anything to do with his books and having a chance to look at them in early stages and stuff, that was just …for me it was…it was unbelievable.  Unbelievable.  I’m so grateful that he trusted me enough to allow me to read the stuff and even make a comment on it and, I mean, who am I to comment to him? But he’s so open to anything that’s going to make anything better.  There’s no sense of “Well I’m Stephen Sondheim and you’re not.”  (laughs)
 He always treated me so much like a colleague and that was, you know, invaluable…invaluable to me.  He is just wonderful to meet.

Great!  Just an amazing story there.

In addition to all the Broadway artists, recording artists as diverse as Wayne Newton, Lily Tomlin, Dionne Warwick and Barry Manilow have recorded your songs.  Is there a favorite song of yours?   That’s probably a really tough question.
You mean of all the pop songs?

Of just all the songs you’ve written, is there one that you could pick that is a favorite of yours?
Not really.  It’s usually if I have one in mind it’s usually one that is from something that I’m working on currently just because it’s, it’s in the forefront of my mind and so I’m thinking about it.  It’s so common..I used to think that it’s just me sort of being, you know, bad to myself but I realized that most writers go through it.  When you write something and you hear it again or your read it again or whatever it is all you see are the things you wish were different and the things you wish you had changed and, that’s not to say that I don’t like anything I’ve done but when enough time passes you start to get a little more objective about it and have more perspective on it.  So that’s why the stuff that I’m working on more currently is easier to like (laughs) because I’m in the middle of it so I haven’t yet developed that kind of perspective.

When someone hears a song you wrote, what do you hope the listener gets out of the experience?Well there are all sorts of different, you know, reasons for songs to be.  So I guess I hope that they will get out of it what the intention is when you write it.  That it’s clear.  That it’s enlightening in some way or illuminating in terms of who the character is that’s singing it, if they’re maybe a little surprised by it but as Sondheim explains so brilliantly in his books, lyrics, unlike poetry, are sung in time and they only go by you once and it’s very important that you write so that the listener can understand what it is you’re saying and that it’s clear and concise enough so that they can get it on a first hearing.  That’s not to say that with more hearings you don’t find more in the song but it’s getting, it’s being able to write so that a listener can hear and understand what the content of the song is, what the emotion of the song is even while everything else is going on.  It has music.  There are sets.  There are costumes.  There’s lighting.  There’s all sorts of what could be distractions in terms of actually listening although, of course, they add immeasurably to the whole show.  So, in spite of all things coming at the audience or the listener, you want…you hope that what you’re saying is clear enough that it will penetrate the consciousness of the listener. 

What is the best thing about being Jack Feldman?
The best thing?  I guess the best thing is the fact that I always have had incredible support from my family, from my friends, in terms of doing the thing that I always wanted to do and that I’ve gotten the opportunity to do it…not always successfully and not always exactly the way I wanted it to come out…but I was always able to make a living at it.  I have had some success, which is largely due to the people I worked with and I guess just the fact that I’ve been able to do what I always wanted to do and can get up in the morning and go to work and say “I get to do this today, not I have to do this today but I’ve been given permission to do this today and maybe I’ll even get paid for it,” and that’s pretty great.

My last question: Our interviews with songwriters have been heard by people all around the globe so, totally open-ended:  What would you like to say to our listeners?

I guess I’d like to thank them on behalf of myself and I would think every songwriter that you’ve probably ever interviewed, from legendary ones to guys like me, you know, making a living at it.  Without the audience, there would be no reason…it’s not that there would be no reason to write but you wouldn’t get any kind of feedback from anything that you wrote and for those who are interested enough to listen shows like yours, take an interest in what it is that guys like me do is a huge gift and so I guess I’d just like to say “Thank you,” and the more you can support the arts the more likely it is more and more talented people will keep coming up and being able to do the thing that they love cause it’s the audience that makes that possible

Jack, thank you so much for this interview.  You’ve been very gracious and I appreciated all the thought you put into all these answers.
My pleasure Paul.  Thank you so much.  I appreciate your reaching out to talk.  It’s been a lot of fun.


Marty Panzer: Lyricist

Marty Panzer is a great lyricist who has songs known all over the world. He began writing songs with his friend Barry Manilow when they started working in the CBS-TV mailroom. They wanted a career in music so they began writing commercial jingles. From there, you could say Marty Panzer’s songs have more than taken off–he wrote songs for Barry Manilow like “It’s a Miracle,” “This One’s for You,” “All the Time,” and “Even Now.” Not only has Marty Panzer written songs for Barry Manilow, but he wrote the Kenny Rogers classic “Through the Years.” His songs have been recorded by the likes of Dionne Warwick, Frankie Valli, Gladys Knight, Julio Iglesias, Dusty Springfield, and others. Marty Panzer has 35 gold and platinum records, four BMI million play awards, a 3 million play award, and record sales in excess of 70 million units.

“An Evening with Marty Panzer,” featuring songs, stories and performances by many guest composers and artists (including Diane Schuur and a special guest performance by Barry Manilow), had it’s world premier at the Coronet Theatre in Los Angeles, benefitting the Academy For New Musical Theatre.

For 17 years Marty Panzer has taught a workshop on songwriting at UCLA. His songs are loved by many, and the host of this show is no exception. It is our pleasure to welcome a great and passionate lyricist, a man who says he is about “things that last.”

Ladies and Gentlemen, it is our great pleasure to welcome our special guest, Mr. Marty Panzer.  Thanks so much for making the time to do this interview.

Happy to be here, and it is a great pleasure for me as well.

Who is “Marty Panzer”?

“Marty Panzer” is a very lucky guy, who works very hard to stay that way.  My mom was the center of my universe, and then CBS, and then Barry.  And now, songwriting.

A songwriter.  Would you say you focus more on the lyrics, or the melodies?

Ninety percent, lyrics.  Over the last couple of years, I’ve actually begun writing some melodies to lyrics I’m writing, but that’s a very new thing.  Primarily, it’s been lyrics.

So, take us back a while, and tell us what was life like growing up?

It was very isolated.  It was just my mom and I in a small one-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn.  We didn’t have very much money.  My mom always made sure that I was happy.  I never knew the difference.  We were the same as everyone else who lived in the area.  There was always a lot of music.  A lot of music playing, all the time.  And maybe that’s why we were so happy!

And what kind of music did you hear around the house?

Mice fencing.  We had a lot of mice.  And you would hear them fighting with each other all night long.  But, I don’t know if you could consider that music, but after we got past the mice fencing, we found, well, you know, in order really, for years, I was obsessed with Jackie Wilson.  I just loved the performance quality, I loved the orchestra quality.  When Jackie Wilson passed, I found Andy Williams.  Andy sang all the popular songs of the time, but when he sang them, I could finally understand the words.  And the words were always the most important thing to me.

Now, why do you think that is?  That the words are the most important thing to you?

Because they move me!  Because words in a book, words in a letter, words in a note- words move me in a way that visual art doesn’t.  I’ve gone to all the great art institutes, and, you know, walked around for five hours, and never seen anything that looked more inspiring than, ‘Oh, that’s nice yellow’.  ‘Oh, that’s great blue.’  And, I come out of there, and other people are crying, and heaving sighs, and, and, I don’t even understand it.  But, on a word, you can get me.  On a word, you can get me, and, and it, and it fills my head with emotion, and, and words have always been able to do that to me.

I remember when I was a really young kid, I would take the subway to CBS, and I read the first Rod McKuen book, which I think was “Listen To The Warm”, and I had experienced none of these emotions, none of these feelings, none of these heartbreaks, none of these joys, none of, none of any of the things he was speaking about.  And yet, I cried like a baby, on the subway.  It was all so real and so moving, and I wondered, God!  Will I ever have as rich a life?  Will anybody ever love me as much?  Will I ever love anybody as much?  Will I lose?  Will I win?  Will I live without?  Will I live with?  The power of words reached me when I was very young.

Can you remember early things you wrote, whether a poem or a story, not necessarily lyrics?

I only remember this because my mom would remind me.  I wrote an article for public school about the two dogs that were sent into space- Litvak and Latka, or Latka and -somebody else?  Two, a black and a white dog that were sent up in Sputnik and it was a big deal!  I made the front page of my fourth grade newspaper, and I was quite the celebrity at that time!  We’re planning to turn that into a Broadway musical with PETA’s approval– not really!  It’s just the first thing you asked, the first thing I ever wrote- that actually really is the first thing I ever wrote!

That really hits home for me!  I’ll tell you about that in an email.  What about the first lyrics you ever wrote?

Well, you know, Barry and I were always at the piano- at CBS, after CBS, between mail runs, in between all the things that were happening- we were always at the piano.  I can’t ever tell you the first we ever wrote, but one we wrote at the very beginning was,


The first lady I know
She is sweeter than an apple pie
The Sunday school kind of Golden Rule kinda girl mom wants you to try
And yet I met her at a noisy bar
Where all the noisy boys congregate
She understood
Wouldn’t do any good
But she was just too lonely to wait

That song had a beginning, a middle, an end, and we were so proud we had finally written a complete song!  So, that’s one of the earliest- I mean that’s not the entire song- but that’s the beginning of one of the earlier songs.

It almost worked like a spoken-word piece.

Well, it had music- it had fabulous music!  Barry wrote fantastic music.

The first lady I know
She is far more sweeter…

I mean he wrote beautiful music to it.  It was before we really started recording or anything, but it had beautiful music to it.  Who knows?  With Barry, you never know.  He could be singing it now.  He never forgets anything.  He could be singing it now in Uruguay at the Festival of the Arts.  Who knows?

So, where do you get the inspiration to write something?

“This One’s For You”, and “Even Now”, and “It’s A Miracle”, all happened to me.  So, sometimes real events precipitated the songs, and it was just what was coming out of me through every pore, and meant so much to me, that I was fortunate to have an output to be able to express it.  So, lots of it-  Marilyn and Alan Bergman, two of the most famous songwriters of all time, she was the president of ASCAP- Marilyn and Alan once told me,  “A songwriter, or maybe, especially a lyricist, is always going within himself to bring up new ideas.  Therefore, you have to replenish the well inside you by reading, by listening, by learning, by communicating, by being aware of the universe.”  And I think I am.  I think I am.  I mean, if there’s an award for watching “Hardball” seven times a day, I’d probably get it.  And, so, my inspiration comes from what I see every day, and also, sadly or happily, from the things that really happen to me.

So, take us back to this CBS mailroom.  What was that job like, and I’m wondering, did your mind wander a lot when you thought of stuff you could write?

You know, the mailroom was piles and piles and piles of paper.  But, it was all show biz.  It was the exciting new world I had always dreamed of finding.  When I was alone in that one-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn with my mom, I said, ‘There must be more to this!  There must be a world out there with bright people, handsome people!  People that were learning and living and doing more than I was doing!’  And CBS was the place.  So, I really loved every moment of it, from the mailroom, till I became the manager of On-Air Operations.  If my mind ever wandered, it was to those beautiful and handsome people that were everywhere in the company!  I hadn’t seen those kind of people in Brooklyn, not a one!

He’s been your friend for a long time, and he’s also been a songwriting partner.  What is he like to work with, creatively?

He’s mean!  He’s vicious!  He’s insensitive!  He- no.  No, no, no, really!  He’s a fountain of creative ideas.  Barry has more ideas in a minute, than the United Nations has in forty years.  He’s also a perfectionist.  That’s a very good trait, and that’s part of the reason he’s been successful so long.  And, he’s also the most appreciative person I’ve ever met.  He is so happy when we write something- especially regarding the writing- when we write something, it means so much to him that we’ve done this together, we have a special joy that comes from being best buddies, from appreciating, from hearing in our head, the same ideal.  And so, when we accomplish that, he’s very appreciative, and so am I.  It’s nothing but a joyful relationship.

What was it like the first time you ever heard something you wrote performed on the radio, or on a record?

Well, I grabbed my pants, I said good-bye to whoever I was with, and I ran to call Barry!  What else could I do?

I said, ‘Barry, put the radio on!  You can’t believe it!  It’s actually our song in the radio!’
And he said, “WHAAAT!” (Laughs)

It was great!  It was great!  It was just- it was, it was a little unreal, you know?  I think at that time we were so young, we didn’t realize how difficult it was, and how extraordinary it was, we know that as years have gone on.  You can’t get on the radio.  But, for us, it was just, smooth as silk.  We wrote the songs, we released the songs, everyone loved the songs, our record company supported the songs, and they were on the radio, and they sold a million copies before the end of the week.  So, we were very fortunate.  We were very fortunate then, and appreciate it now, probably even more than we did then.

 We’re talking with lyricist Marty Panzer.  You’re songs have been covered by a lot of influential people.  What is it like today- you said you’re even, almost more appreciative- but what is it like now, when you hear someone, you’re flipping through the radio, and -BAM! -there’s your song?

Well, you know, Daft Punk was a revelation!  We never heard “Who’s Been Sleeping In My Bed” exactly covered like Daft Punk actually covered it.  But, we were very happy with it.

You know, the ones that stand out are- Teddy Pendergrass did a magnificent version of “This One’s For You”, and it was after his accident, and the cover of the album had Teddy standing up.  And it was his way of saying, “I’m okay.  I can stand up.”  And he did this beautiful version of “This One’s For You”.  I always loved it.

Diane Schuur- when Barry produced the Diane Schuur album- she sang as brilliantly, and as emotionally as I could ever dream.  I mean, that was perfection.  When Diane Schuur sang “Life Is Good”, I would sit on the piano bench next to her, holding her hand, and we would both cry.  It took a hundred and fifty takes, because we kept crying, and they had to start over again, but it was just absolutely heart-wrenching.  She’s so good!

Well, we recently had the opportunity to interview Diane Schuur, and the album you’re talking about, “Midnight,” you talked a moment there about what a pleasure it was. But, what was it like working with her?

I’ll tell you, if you have the time, I’ll tell you a wonderful story, what impressed me the first time I ever saw her.

I went down to San Juan Capistrano where she was playing at a club, and she looked great and she sounded great, and there wasn’t anything remarkable about that, I knew she sounded great, she was a multi Grammy-winning artist.  But then, in the middle of the show, she said to the audience- she said to the audience,

“You know this year, I had an operation that could have lost my voice forever.  But it didn’t.” She said, “This year, I’ve lost forty pounds!”  She said, “This year, I’m loved by a man more than I’ve ever been loved by anyone in my life.”  And, “This year, I am eleven years sober.”

Well.  I just fell back in the chair.  I was so impressed with her honesty and with the fact that she was smart enough to realize that her life was so wonderful at this time.  Smart enough to realize that.  Not everyone is!

I ran outside, called Barry, and told Barry the story, and he said, “That’s the song!”

And we wrote the song, because I had never heard of a song that said, “Life Is Good!”  I never heard of a song that talked about, “I know life is good!  I’m happy, and I’m grateful, and I’m thankful, and I’m appreciative.”  It’s one of my favorite songs ever!  She did a brilliant job of it, and I just love the lady.

Well, speaking of legends, it had to have been thrilling to have Frankie Valli record a song of yours.  Tell us about the song he did, and what did you think of his rendition?

He recorded a song that was my second record ever with Richard Kerr.  Richard Kerr had written the music to “Mandy” and “Looks Like We Made It” and “I’ll Never Love This Way Again”, and Richard was one of the great ones.  The great writer of the Seventies and Eighties, the great melodist of the Seventies and Eighties.  And this was one the new songs we had written, and listening to the legendary Frankie Valli’s voice on top of a song written with Richard Kerr was stupefying.

But strangely, or just by coincidence, I met Frankie Valli about two, three months ago, at a party for Neil Sedaka.  And, I walked over to Frankie, and I shook his hand, and I said, “You know, I wrote a song that you once sang.”

And, he said,

Where did we go wrong?
Didn’t we belong together?

 He knew the song right off the top of his head, and sang it to me at the party!  It was really a thrill.  I mean, this is one of the great voices of our time!  One of the most distinctive voices of our time.

 Tell us about your song, “It’s A Miracle”, that appeared on the album, “Barry Manilow II”.

Well, “It’s A Miracle” has a funny story.

You know, one day, Barry called from, I don’t know where, somewhere in Europe, and he said to me,  “I have good news and I have bad news.”  And I said, “Yeah?”

And he said, “Every time I hang up on you, and I tell you some wonderful thing that’s happened- ‘We just played for the Queen of England’ -meaning he and Bette- ‘We had just played for the Queen of England’, or ‘We just sold a sixty-thousand seat arena out’, or ‘We just did the Burt Bacharach Special’, any wonderful thing, you always say the same thing about these great events!  And, when I hang up the phone, it’s running in my head for the next week.  So, the bad news is, I stole something that you say to me every day.  The good news is, I left all the rest of the words blank!  ‘IT’S A MIRACLE!’ ’’

‘Ohhh, right!  I say that, don’t I?’

And, he said, “You say that don’t ya?  And you always do, and I wrote a song called, “It’s A Miracle”, it’s fantastic, now all I need is the rest of the words!”

And, when he came back to New York City, I wrote the rest of the words.  You know, it’s been his opening number for thirty-two years?  For as long as he’s been on the road, it’s been his opening number.  He’s tried a hundred other numbers as the opening number, but the one number that gets the audience excited in a familiar, friendly, comfortable, approachable way is “It’s A Miracle”, and it was our first hit single, too.

Absolutely.  I remember seeing him in concert the last time he was in Atlanta, which sadly, he hasn’t been back since then, and he, of course, opened with, “It’s A Miracle”.  And, the mentioning of the cities, it makes you think about a lot of different things.  But, I have to agree, a perfect opening number.

You know, what I wanted to do was, not make it a travelogue.  In the second verse,

I never knew you looked so good
I never knew anyone could
I must have been crazy
To ever have gone away

 I almost forgot what it’s like
Holding you near me at night
 But now that I’m home again
You know that I’m home to stay

 I warmed it up!  I took it from a traveling city song to a more emotional song of reunion, and I think that made the difference, and everybody was surprised, nobody expected it to go in that direction, least of all me, and I think that was my first breakthrough in terms of, my first understanding of what my contribution could be to a song that would be on the radio.

What lyricists out there have been the biggest influence for you?

Number One would have to be the English translations of “Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris”.  Eric Blau and Mort Shuman are some of the greatest lyrics ever written, and he wrote all these translations.  “No, Love, You’re Not Alone”, and,

Momma, do you see what I see?
On your knees and pray for me!
Mathilde’s come back to me!
Go ask the maid if she heard what I said and tell her to put the best sheets on the bed!
Mathilde’s come back to me!

 And when I heard that, I jumped right through the table.  I thought I’d never heard something so exciting, and so, I wondered, Gosh!  Will I ever feel that joy?  Will anybody love me that much?  Will I ever love anybody as much?  Will they come back?  It was a revelation.  And, Johnny Mercer, of course, wrote every song that matters, for the last hundred years.  It’s as simple as that.  Johnny Mercer wrote every song that will outlive all of us by a thousand years.  In the, really, pop world, Cynthia Weil is above and beyond, great.  I mean, Cynthia Weil is just a goddess of contemporary music.  She’s being installed in a couple of days in the Songwriters Hall of Fame.  They just gotta get the hot water pipe up her leg, and she’ll be thereforever.  And, lastly, I would have to say, Rod McKuen.  Rod McKuen wrote, “If you go away on a summer day, then you might as well take the sun away.”  Just beautiful!  And, I’ve been lucky enough to have Rod and Cynthia Weil as guests at my UCLA class that I teach January, February, and March, “Writing Lyrics That Succeed and Endure”.  I’ve been doing that, believe it or not, I just finished my seventeenth year!  Which meant that I started at five!  So, I must have been really hot stuff to be able to teach a class at a university at five years old!  Anyway, those are my idols.

Tell us about the song that you wrote, “This One’s For You”.

“This One’s For You” is an interesting song.  The person I wrote it for, and I, weren’t really speaking anymore.  And, it was my way of reaching out to try to make touch, and to talk to someone that I wished that I could talk to, but I had to do it over the radio.

 I’ll tell you a little funny story.

At the end of the year of Barry’s touring, he would meet me at a little restaurant, and he would say, “Okay, let me hear your Fall Collection.” 

And, he sat down opposite me at a table, and I started,

This one’ll never sell.
They’ll never understand.
I don’t even sing it well.
I try, but I just can’t!

 And, he pushed his hand up in front of me, and he said, “STOP!  Ihave to have a Number One song that says, ‘This one’ll never sell’, and I can’t even sing it!”  (Laughter) He says, “Forget about the rest of it, I love it already!” And, well, I read him the rest of the song.  You know, it’s really come back into prominence in the last couple of years.  I think there was a long period of time where “Even Now” was the keynote song.  But, in the latest production at the Paris Hotel of his show, “This One’s For You” has certainly been highlighted and gotten more acclaim than it ever has before.

 Well, you just mentioned “Even Now”.  Tell us about the song, “Even Now.”

Ah, gosh!  “Even Now”.  You know, in the wee small hours of the morning, everyone misses someone.  When you’re lonely, when you’re heart-broken, when you’re down and out, of course you miss someone. You miss everyone! Well, there were a thousand songs that said that.  But, I missed someone, even at the best time, at the best moment of my life, when I was flying high, when I had had the greatest success I ever imagined, or couldn’t even imagine!  I missed someone because they were just worth missing.  And, because I wanted them to be there to share it with me.  And, I couldn’t think of a song that said, ‘Even now, when I have come so far, I wonder where you are, I wonder why it’s still so hard without you.’  I couldn’t think of a song that said, ‘I’m okay, but where the hell are you, still!’  And, so I wrote “Even Now”.

Tell us about the song that you wrote, that was covered by Kenny Rogers, “Through The Years.”

Well, you know, “Through The Years” was again, a sentiment that I had not heard another song say.  My relationships, the key relationships in my life, have been- my mom, Barry, my brother, my partner for over thirty years- there was no song that said how much those relationships, or a relationship, contributes to your overall well-being and joy and comfort and growth, over a long period of time.  And, I, that’s all I knew about!  I wasn’t interested in people that I’d be friendly with for two days, or two weeks.  I wanted ‘forever’, and I was lucky to have a ‘forever’ in many different ways.  And so, I wrote the song, “Through The Years”.

The wonderful thing is that, because it is such a testimonial to a long-standing relationship, it’s been used as the hundredth-birthday song for George Burns; it’s been sung at the re-lighting of the Statue of Liberty; it’s become the Number One wedding song.  You know, it’s about things that last, and I’m about things that last, you know?  And, my relationships are about that.  And, once again, the commonality in all my lyrics is, if there’s another song that says that, I don’t know it.

Is there a song of yours that you could possibly pick as a favorite?

As a favorite song?  Well, probably.  There’s a song that no one knows, but it’s called, “I’ll Love You Back To Life.”  “I’ll Love You Back To Life,” there’s only one recorded version of it by Davis Gaines.   Davis Gaines is a Broadway artist who played “The Phantom of the Opera” three thousand eight hundred seventy-something times.  He recorded on “Against The Tide” on, one of his CD’s, both “All The Time” and “I’ll Love You Back To Life”.  And, there’s no question that “I’ll Love You Back To Life” is my favorite, my dearest lyric, and I always say if you put me into a Cuisinart, and you turned it on, what would come out would be “I’ll Love You Back to Life”.

Our special guest is Marty Panzer.  How did the idea for “An Evening with Marty Panzer” come to be?

Well, you know, it’s a very, that’s a very concurrent question, a very contemporary question.  A couple of years ago, I did a benefit for the Academy for New Musical Theatre, and they just added me on the bill of four or five other composers including Rod McKuen, and David Shire, and I don’t remember who else.  And, I was supposed to do fifteen minutes, I didn’t know of what.  But, I told a story, and then someone came out, and the story had led into this song that they sang, and then, I told another story, and somebody else came out and sang that song.

When I came off the stage after twenty minutes, the audience was just on fire!  Everyone loved it!  The head of the organization said, “You know, the next time we do a benefit, we don’t need the other five guys!”

And, I said, “Really?  Thank you!”

Well, about a month later, he called me and said, “If we give you a theatre and an audience, would you do an entire evening for us as a benefit?”

And, I said, “Sure!”

And, he got me the Coronet Theatre, and on one night, about three or four years ago, I did “An Evening with Marty Panzer” with many people singing.  With Diane Schuur, and with Eric McCormack, and with Monica Mancini, and with Barry Manilow, and with David Burnham, and Brian Green, all kinds of wonderful, magnificent, talented people, and it went over spectacularly well.

I wondered whether it was going over so well because so many of the people in the audience knew me, and loved me, and would have laughed (unintelligible) anyway.

I got a call a couple of months later from a guy in Walnut Creek, who asked me to do that same show for him in northern California, near San Jose.  And, I did.

Well, these people didn’t know the United States of America, much less “An Evening with Marty Panzer”. They reacted just as enthusiastically as the people in L.A.  So, I said, ‘You know, maybe there is something to this!’  Because it has a broader market than I thought.

Forty-eight hours ago, I did an event for the Society of Sheet Music, for the New York Sheet Music Society in New York City, to another hundred and fifty people that I had never met or seen, and didn’t even know what the organization was.  And, my inbox is flooded with congratulations and thank yous and appreciations and, “We must do this”, “We must make this an off-Broadway show”, “We must put you on tour”, “We must do-“, all of that stuff.  So, maybe the next phase of what Marty Panzer does is, “Evenings with Marty Panzer,” in one form or another.

I loved doing it!  I mean, you know, when I watch Barry on the stage in Vegas, you think, there just is no greater thrill than being on that stage!  It doesn’t matter what you do behind the scenes.  When you see Barry glowing on stage, you think, that is the highest calling!  So, even if I write Anna Karenina, and make it a number one single, it’s not the same as winking your eye, and singing, “Even Now,”  So, maybe an “An Evening with Marty Panzer” in some form or another will actually come to something.  There are also some producers putting together an original show based around songs in my catalog.  I’m more enthusiastic about that now, than I’ve ever been before.  As I said, especially after seeing Barry having such a fabulous time these past six years in Las Vegas.  So, we’ll see.  I’m going to do a week at the University of Miami in October, and there’s a possibility of two other events in New York City, and also a possibility of something at a college in Nashville.  So, we’ll see!  I’m just, you know, you have to move with the times, and maybe this is the time, while I’m still as positive and optimistic as I am, and have enough energy to cross the country, maybe that’s what I should be doing now.  So, I’m hoping to do that next.

With your songs having been recorded by people like Dionne Warwick, Dolly Parton, Julio Iglesias, and of course, Barry Manilow, you’ve certainly achieved the kind of success that songwriters are striving for.  There have been songwriters who’ve told me they always dreamed of a certain musician or band covering their work.  Do you have any that you’ve been interested in presenting your work to that have not yet?

You mean that are alive? (Laughter)


I’ve got some hot dead ones that I’d love to get to!  But in terms of the live ones, you know, when you become successful in a certain area, whatever that area is, you receive opportunities in the same field.  So, I’ve gotten requests from Michael Crawford, and Julio Iglesias, and Kenny Rogers, and Barry Manilow- all for similar type songs, male ballads, and things like that.  I would love to write songs for Maroon 5, or for the Rolling Stones!  But, they wouldn’t think to call me because my reputation is not in that area.  Not that I couldn’t do it, or wouldn’t want to do it, but that no one thinks of me for that when that situation comes up.  What I have done in the last, I guess, ten years, is I’ve written over a hundred songs for the Walt Disney Company.  So, I’ve written the newest songs in a generation for Cinderella, Belle, Mulan, Ariel, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Jasmine, Pocahontas- that was an enormous thrill, and it allowed me to speak in a different language than I had ever spoken in, or written in before, because they were women, and because Pocahontas had different things to say than Michael Crawford, and it’s been an absolute thrill.  My collaborator for all of that has been Larry Grossman for Pocahontas Two, my beloved friend, Don Grady, for all the other Disney songs.  And, I’ve had a wonderful time doing that, and it’s broadened my ability, I’m better at what I do now because of those opportunities, and I wish I would get other opportunities in different fields, than the automatic expected ones, that’s all I can say.  I’m grateful for the ones that I get, but, you know, it’s more interesting to write the song for the octopus villain in a Disney movie, than it is for another male vocalist love song.

So, when someone listens to a song you wrote, what is it you hope the listener gets from the experience of listening?

You know, I think today, so much is about the track.  So much is about the musical track, that people ignore the lyrics to an enormous degree.  They just don’t even hear the lyrics as they’re playing.  I sit in rooms with people who come to play me songs, and while their own lyrics are playing, they’re not even focused on them!  And, I think what I want people to get is the importance of the lyric, the value of a lyric, what a lyric can give to song, and how much it means.

You know, Barry said a quote that is really apt, and I told it to someone a couple of weeks ago, and they just jumped up for joy, they thought it was so appropriate.

Barry said, “A song is something you can sing in the shower.  Whereas, if you need twenty tracks to put together this cut, what you have is a production.  You have a record– but you don’t have a song.”

And, I think he’s right!  I think a song is music and a lyric, and when people listen to a song, I want them to hear the value, the importance of a lyric, and that’s what I teach at UCLA, and that’s what means the most to me.

Do we have time for me tell you my favorite lyric of all time?

We absolutely do.

Okay, well, I’ll just- there’s never been a class in seventeen years that I have not recited this lyric, because it informed me and educated me more than anything else.

Our little dream castle with every dream gone
Is lonely and silent,
The shades are all drawn
And my heart is aching
 As I gaze upon
A Cottage for Sale

The lawn we were proud of is waving in hay
 Our beautiful garden has withered away
Where we planted roses
The weeds seem to say
A Cottage for Sale

Through every broken window I see your face
But when I reach the window,
There’s only empty space
The key’s in the mailbox, the same as before
But no one is waiting for me anymore
The end of my story is there
On the door!
A Cottage for Sale

 What can I tell ya?  That is beyond brilliant.  I mean, that is a four-hour movie in a three-minute song.  It’s the most beautiful lyric I ever heard, and it is so compact, every word has significance, and is appropriate, it’s conversational, it’s descriptive, it paints a picture.

That’s what I want people to listen to in songs!  Songs were written that way until the producers took over, and it wasn’t about the song anymore, it was about the producer putting a hundred tracks behind somebody who had no real great song, but who could fake having a real song, if there were a twenty tracks playing at the same time.  So, I’m trying to get people to go back to writing the great songs, the songs that The Eagles wrote, the songs that Barry wrote, the songs that Johnny Mercer wrote, the songs that Cynthia Weil wrote.  The great songs, and to understand a great part of them, are the lyrics.  I’ve been doing it for seventeen years, and I hope, hope I’ve accomplished something!  We’ll hear as time goes on, whether the people in my class have come up with these kind of lyrics for the world.

You’ve been working on a book.  What has the experience of writing a book been like for you?

Well, you know, originally when I started thinking of this, of whatever the right form for presentation of “An Evening with Marty Panzer” would be, putting down the reminiscences, and leading into songs, and other songs, my first thought, and the first suggestions given me were, that I should put it in book form.  And, I started- I had a really terrific guy working for me, who helped me with the computer, and all kinds of stuff, and, and I just enjoyed telling him the stories.  And, I was telling him the stories, he was entering them into the computer.  When he left to go on to a job on Broadway, I stopped doing the book, because I didn’t have the same zest for telling these stories to somebody else.  But, I think now, I’m gonna go back to it.  Because I realized, that the response has been so consistent over all these years, if I can make the book as entertaining as the show is, well, it should be put down on paper, so that if I get hit by a truck tomorrow, these stories don’t die with me.

So, I’m gonna back to the book, which I have sort of left there, in behalf of the new work that came along.  It would seem to be more important to write a hundred songs for Disney, than to continue writing my life story.  I was living my life story.  But, right now, I think I need to go back, and while it’s still fresh in my mind, continue that book, and flesh out these stories on paper.  So, that’s on my agenda as well.

What is the best thing about being “Marty Panzer”?

You know, the best thing about being “Marty Panzer” is that I am Molly Panzer’s son, and Barry Manilow’s friend, and Gregg Rader’s partner, and Bernie Panzer’s brother.  That’s the best thing about being “Marty Panzer,” that I have roots and connections to wonderful, supportive, loving people for forty years, and I love every day, because I have the love of these people, and I’ve been very lucky to not be alone, and to not be doing this on my own, and to have the support of these people, so that’s what makes me happiest.

That’s a beautiful answer.  And now, for the final question.  We have listeners from all over the world…

How much is this question worth?  Is there a dollar value?

This is-

No?  (Laughs)

I don’t know how much this is worth.

Okay!  (Laughs)

Do you have any parting words of wisdom for our listeners?

The most important thing, I think, in whatever you do, is to live a good life, and to be out there in the world, and to listen to other people, and to hold on to those that love you, and give back as much as you can, and appreciate, as Diane Schuur did, how good life really is, and I think that the other things that seem like miracles, really come as an out-growth of your own good nature, your own talent, your own observation.  I think, just get up in the morning, and live your life to the fullest, and write it down!  And, believe in it!  And you will be surprised how many people out there feel the same way, and would love to communicate with you, and would love your communicating to them, your ideas.

Mr. Panzer, it has been fabulous to do this interview with you, but, you know, I was just thinking during this interview, a lot of people might think this is the first time we’ve ever talked, in this interview, but I realized when I was thinking about all these songs, that this isn’t the first time we’ve talked, because I’ve been listening to you tell me these stories and these messages, through these songs, that I’ve heard since I was six, seven years old, with my mother playing these records growing up.  So –


Yes, I’ve heard these songs my whole life, and so, I’d like to say, first of all, thank you for the great interview.  Thank you also, for these songs that have touched me for a very long time.

You are more than welcome, and I’ll tell you, that’s the best compliment you could ever give me.  To touch someone.  To make someone feel happy or sad.  I read on the bus one day, when I was ten years old, “To change the complexion of the day, that is the ultimate art.”  If you can make someone feel happier, or feel some emotion that they weren’t feeling before, you interacted with them, you’ve accomplished what God put you on the Earth for.  So, I thank you very much, and I accept that compliment with enormous humility, and enormous pride.

Well, again, thanks so much for the interview.  Let me know if you’re ever in Atlanta!

I will!  And, maybe this- I think maybe one of these early shows here of “An Evening with- “, maybe the first one is in Tallahassee, I dunno.  I don’t know the distance between Atlanta and Tallahassee, but, it’s in the same quadrant of the world, so, we’ll find each other, I promise.