The Paul Leslie Hour Episode #41 – Frank Sinatra, Jr.

Frank Sinatra, Jr. was born on January 10, 1944. Music was definitely in Frank Sinatra, Jr.’s blood.  Like his legendary father, Frank Sinatra, Mr. Sinatra was a singer, performer and recording artist.

You will find Frank Sinatra, Jr. was a wealth of information, a very interesting and passionate man as well as a lover of the Great American Songbook, those songs written in the early half of the 20th century.  You could describe Frank Sinatra, Jr. as knowledgeable, honest and passionate.

Despite the fame of the Sinatra family name, Frank Sinatra, Jr. called himself a “homespun boy at heart,” and described himself as follows:  “Frank Sinatra, Jr. today is an old man who tells people that he was never famous he just has a famous name, and as it happens the only thing that justified his life is that he practiced what he believed.”

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Who is Richard Kerr?

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In 2011, I had the pleasure of interviewing Enoch Anderson, the very talented lyricist who wrote songs with Barry Manilow for 15 Minutes, the first original album from Manilow since the 2001 Here at the Mayflower. The experience was very fascinating and many people commented on how well-spoken Enoch Anderson is.

People sometimes ask me when I became a fan of Mr. Manilow’s. I always chuckle and answer that I was born this way. It’s not far from the truth. My mom has an appreciation for really great music. Appreciation is too mild of a word. She LOVES music. She told me about seeing Simon & Garfunkel as a youth. I got to see Simon & Garfunkel too and am glad we can share an admiration for them. We also love Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, along with her sister—my aunt. Either my mom or my aunt (both?) saw Frankie and the Seasons 21 times! She likes the impeccable and soulful vocals of Kenny Rogers. She likes a lot of the Beatles catalogue. Those are just the pop music favorites, and her favorite would be—Barry Manilow. Barry Manilow? The “Copacabana” singer?

Why, yes he did compose and sing that song, and I heard “Copacabana” along with so many of the other songs Manilow recorded hundreds of times. She held my baby sister in her arms and would dance while “Can’t Smile Without You,” played on a cassette tape player in the kitchen of our house in the Philippines. The fact is, “Copacabana” is only the tip of the iceberg of the music Manilow has recorded. He’s recorded classics from the Great American Songbook—backed by big bands and also pop standards from the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. He’s done Broadway standards, and of course plenty of his own songs, usually written with his favorite lyricists and others written solo. What is so impressive about Manilow is the incredible quality of music he makes and how well he is at interpreting another songwriter’s work.

As you may have guessed, I have an admiration and appreciation for what Manilow does and I think his career is something I both take seriously, from an almost faux-scholarly perspective, but also get a great deal of joy listening to. Some of my favorite songs Manilow composed—“Even Now,” “This One’s for You” and the joyous “It’s a Miracle,” had lyrics written by Marty Panzer. It was a name I had seen many times. I’m a careful reader of the liner notes, especially of the Manilow vinyl records I have and cherish. I decided after the success of the Enoch Anderson interview, it would be great to get in touch with Marty Panzer. His response to my inquiry was pure enthusiasm. I think he realized the purity of what I was doing. I really wanted to know what inspired these wonderful words I had heard hundreds of times.

Talking to Marty Panzer was exciting. People who know him well really love him and his passion is so infectious that you find yourself seeing music and what it is to experience music for the blessing and gift that it is! Those who have met Marty Panzer or have seen his storytelling on stage know what I am speaking of. It would become one of my favorite interviews to date and the amount of mail I got from people who listened to it showed that I was not the only one who appreciated it. Then something interesting happened. Often interviewers say that the typical relationship with the interviewee is that the interview is broadcast, or the article is published and you never hear from the subject again. My experience has been different in that I have really connected with some of my guests, but I feel like Mr. Panzer understood more than almost anyone what it is I am trying to do and has encouraged me so much in that respect.

I decided there was no need to stop there. I found out after 8 years of interviewing people on the radio, that I had a real passion for interviewing lyricists (those who write the words), composers (those who write the music) and songwriters (those who do both). I set out to try to interview the songwriters who had written songs that had resonated in my heart. It’s been incredible. Some of the interviews have been with very famous songwriters like Jimmy Webb, Neil Sedaka—or Bob Gaudio. Others have been a little more obscure…like Richard Kerr.

Who is Richard Kerr? If you’re asking me— he’s a musical genius. It all started when I was looking through the CD Ultimate Manilow. I noticed some of the greatest songs on the album—“Mandy,” “Looks Like We Made It,” and “Somewhere in the Night,” were all composed by a man named Richard Kerr. No question about it, Manilow had a lot of success with this man’s songs. But, who was this man?

“Somewhere in the Night,” is in my opinion one of the greatest songs I’ve heard. That’s a strong statement, but you can start with the absolutely incredible lyrics by the great Will Jennings. . Look at the lyrics that open this song: “Time, you found time enough to love / I found love enough to hold you. / I’ll stir the fire you feel inside/ Until the flames of love enfold you.” I mean… “Wow. Who does that?” Then I put on the headphones and listened intently to the melody. It’s one of the most gorgeous of any recording. I listened carefully to not only the popular Manilow recording, but also to renditions by Helen Reddy, Yvonne Elliman, Kim Carnes and Richard Kerr’s own version.

So it was in 2011 I decided to track down and interview Mr. Richard Kerr. One of the people who most encouraged me to interview Kerr was Marty Panzer. He wrote to me, “Richard Kerr is one of the great talents of our generation. At the time, his music may very well have had the greatest impact on Popular Music, since the Beatles. Richard does all the right things… for all the right reasons.” Keep in mind that Kerr has written songs covered by not only Manilow, but also Dionne Warwick, Roy Orbison, John Denver, Rita Coolidge, the Righteous Brothers, Bonnie Raitt, Melissa Manchester, and Peter Cetera.

Manilow’s first #1 single was “Mandy,” recorded 40 years ago this year. It was written by lyricist and recording artist Scott English and composed by Richard Kerr. Scott English recorded the first version under the original title, which was“Brandy.” First, I interviewed Scott English and heard from a couple of people who were kind of miffed by Scott saying he did not originally like Barry Manilow’s interpretation of “Mandy.” I interviewed Richard Kerr next and received quite a few emails from people who read the transcript. When I asked if they listened to the audio of the interview, only a couple had said they did. Apparently more than a few people were also upset that Richard Kerr did not initially like “Mandy” either. Some responded positively to one of the two songwriters and not the other.

A few people emailed me to ask me this question—“Why do you bother interviewing these songwriters? Why not only interview the stars who sing the songs?” This is a question that people have asked me for years. Take for instance, Barry Manilow. He’s been the most requested interview by people who listen to my interviews for years now. It’s in large part because I’ve welcomed almost all of Manilow’s lyricists, Enoch, Marty, Adrienne Anderson and Jack Feldman. I’ve also interviewed other songwriters that Manilow covered: like Gerard Kenny who composed “I Made It Through the Rain,” and David Pomeranz who wrote “The Old Songs,” and “Tryin’ to Get the Feeling Again,” Charles Fox who composed “Ready to Take a Chance Again,” Randy Edelman who wrote “Weekend in New England,” Tom Snow and Cynthia Weil who wrote “Somewhere Down the Road,” and countless others. Needless to say, Manilow has recorded a lot of songs through the years!

There are a lot of entertainment people in Hollywood who think of screenwriters as being a joke. In our star-obsessed culture, it kind of makes sense, but in my opinion…it’s absurd. To me the screenwriters are the truly brilliant creators. The parallel in music is the not-so-celebrated geniuses in music. The fact is, if you don’t want to hear or read interviews with songwriters…I maybe and probably can’t make you care. All I can do is continue with my passion and explain to you why I work so hard to interview songwriters, and not just the legendary names like Burt Bacharach and Paul Williams that people recognize.

The fact of the matter is that we wouldn’t have a song like “Somewhere in the Night” without a brilliant composer like Richard Kerr and an artistically endowed lyricist like Will Jennings. The song was born out of their creativity, minds and life experiences. Why would I talk to Scott English about the first incarnation of “Mandy,” back when it was “Brandy”? Well, because he is the only one qualified to tell us what inspired those words when he took pen to paper. These men and women who write songs are geniuses. The pain and sorrow in Scott English’s life manifested itself and something of beauty came out—“Brandy.” Was there genius in the way Barry Manilow arranged the song? Of course! Certainly there was, but let us never forget who wrote the song. Without speaking for Barry Manilow, and this is purely speculation, but I believe he would agree with me. I can enjoy and appreciate Manilow’s interpretation and find the evolution of the song as fascinating as it is. After speaking with the men who wrote the song, I can appreciate both the original and the interpretation for different reasons. If you’ve taken a moment to listen to the interviews of Richard Kerr and Scott English, I thank you most sincerely. I’m going to continue to interview great songwriters—some whose name you know and some you don’t necessarily recognize. Maybe you’ll listen to what they have to say. They’ve certainly given us gifts that never feel “used.” Great songs continue to satisfy us again and again.

As to people taking offense to songwriters being surprised or not loving a recording artist’s version of their song, I would say this: if anyone is entitled to an opinion, it is the songwriter. After all,it is their song. When I or someone else asks what they think of an interpretation, should they lie? If anything, I am proud to give them an open forum and believe these people feel they can be honest with me. If someone felt they had to be diplomatic and not say what they really believed, I would essentially have failed as an interviewer. It’s important to preserve the history of these songwriters and also record their perspectives and opinions. As is the case with Pete Seeger, a legendary songwriter I interviewed who passed away today, an interview with them is a way to keep something of them around. Maybe one day it can help us and we can understand who the person that created these masterpieces was.

So it’s not that I don’t want to interview a star like Barry Manilow. I’ve tried and was even asked by a former publicist when I would be available to interview him. It ended up getting called off, but it’s not Barry Manilow the star I want to interview. It’s Barry the music lover and composer. And if I ever interviewed Manilow, before we parted ways I’d ask him to put in a good word with lyricist Bruce Sussman for me. Frankly, I am as enamored by the creative output of Marty Panzer, Bruce Sussman, Jack Feldman, Adrienne Anderson, and Enoch Anderson as I am Barry Manilow. One of the greatest compliments I ever got was today, from a great writer and friend named Kyle Prater. He said that what has kept what I do so genuine is that whomever I interview is given the same respect and treated every bit the same as a “big name.”

Recently, I had an interview scheduled in north Florida with a singer. This incredibly talented vocalist has an amazing story and a unique outlook, but had to back out of the interview not even 24 hours before it was supposed to take place. These things happen. I decided that the Paul I know, and I’m talking about myself here, would go down there and find a story nonetheless. So I drove down at night and fell asleep in my hotel room at 2:00 A.M. The next morning I set up a little office in my room and set out to track down and get an interview with a 92-year-old lyricist named Luigi Creatore. I’ve tried for some time to reach him and some may know him as not only a playwright and record producer, but also a co-writer of “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” as sung by Elvis Presley and “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” that the Tokens recorded. Could we ever comprehend how much joy and love these songs have helped us realize? Can you imagine how many people hear “Can’t Help Falling in Love” and remember it playing at their wedding? So after doing some detective work, I ended up getting ahold of Mr. Creatore and was invited to his home in Boca Raton. While I was there, I was introduced to his wife Claire, who as it turns out is the widow of George David Weiss who wrote “What a Wonderful World,” a song my mom loves. I recall very vividly my mother telling me how she related to the lyrics. I wonder if moments like those have had a bigger influence on my life than I realize. While I was interviewing Luigi he talked about that song “What a Wonderful World,” and even though he did not write it, I could tell how much he admired and loved it.

On my way home, I started thinking about how crazy this passion and very strange trip of interviewing songwriters has been for me. It caused me to be stranded once. I thought about how little sleep I had gotten that weekend, how weary driving for long hours can make you and if maybe I was a bit unbalanced? Then as I looked at the beautiful Florida skyline as the sun was setting I heard the unmistakable first few seconds of Louis Armstrong’s recording of “What a Wonderful World.” As the song played, I thought about the lyrics like I never had before. I thought about the people I have had the chance to meet on this big blue ball. Some of them were very young when they left us and some were older. And I thought about the newest one who was just born. Some of them wrote music or words that I grew up hearing countless times from childhood on albums or on the radio and would meet years and years later. I could have stayed home where I am comfortable, but I was now blessed with a new perspective from yet another songwriter, a man named Luigi Creatore who never had seen me before, but greeted me at his front door with a hug. To be able to meet people like him who have brought so much joy to others is something I have more gratitude for than I can contain. I won’t stop doing this. And thanks to people like Luigi and Richard, -the songwriters, because of them, yes—what a wonderful world.

Special thanks to Chef Adam Mohl.

Richard Kerr: Composer

Richard Kerr is a British composer who has written songs recorded by Dionne Warwick (“I’ll Never Love This Way Again”), Helen Reddy, Tom Jones, Kim Carnes, Natalie Cole, Frankie Valli, Rita Coolidge, Bonnie Raitt, John Denver, the Righteous Brothers, Roy Orbison, and Peter Cetera.  He is perhaps best known for writing many songs recorded by Barry Manilow, including “Mandy,” “Looks Like We Made It,” and “Somewhere in the Night.”

What was life like growing up?
Hard question, not a wonderful life for me early on, but I have always… from my very first memories, I remember my Father singing me songs.

What kind of songs?
Probably songs you’ve never heard of Paul.. ‘Little Man You’ve Had A Busy Day,’ ‘Old Faithful,’ songs like that.

You’re absolutely correct, I have not heard of those songs (Paul and Richard laugh)..
What type of songs are they?
Well, ‘Little Man’… well, actually, they are very well known songs, but they’re of my Father’s era, I don’t know how I would describe them, they’re sort of like.. I guess.. Lullabies.

I see.
Old Faithful’ is about a horse that was a firm favorite in the forties, and I think the same applies to ‘Little Man You’ve Had A Busy Day.’ You can imagine what that song is about, a Father singing to a son.

What city were you born in?

Bedford.

What kind of town is that, what’s it like?

Well, it’s a, fjord means river and it’s a town on a river, the Ouse, and I went to Bedford school, which is a privileged school to go to, it was a fee paying school and for the first seven years or so I did very well indeed, and then I realized that I had probably been learning everything parrot-fashion and for the next six years I did terribly.

Mmmm.
We had a school chapel there, and I was in the choir, and we always congregate there every Sunday and of course at holidays, especially at Christmas time where I sang the solo in ‘Once In Royal David City.’

So you had a talent for music from a very early age.

Very early age, yes, I studied the clarinet, which is not much use as a songwriter. (Paul and Richard laugh)

It’s the instrument Woody Allen plays.
Woody Allen certainly does play that, yes, absolutely. My very favorite clarinet of all time, now I’ve forgotten his name, it’s terrible, I can’t think of his name, Art… no, no.. I can’t..

Artie Shaw?
Artie Shaw! Artie Shaw, I never could manage the Concerto for Clarinet in ‘C,’ it was incredibly complicated thing, but Artie Shaw had such a wonderful tone to his clarinet.

In addition to.. you just mentioned Artie Shaw, I was curious specifically about the popular music of the day, that you were especially fond of.

The first vinyl record I ever bought was Eddie Cochran’s ‘Twenty Flight Rock.’ But I would have to say that growing up round about…as a teenager the first influence I ever had although I didn’t know I was ever going to be a songwriter was Buddy Holly.

I see.
I remember going… we used to go to a place called Clacton-On-Sea, which is not that far away from here, but I haven’t been back since my youth and I played ‘All Shook Up’ by Elvis Presley till people.. must have turned people out of the place, I just could not stop playing that record. (Paul laughs)

You mentioned the clarinet, what about the piano, how did that enter your life?

It’s pretty boring little story, but I mean..very briefly there was a piano…. when I left school I went into the wine trade, very briefly and I was living in a sort of a boarding house, where in the main sitting room, which nobody ever went into unbelievably, there was a grand piano and myself and a friend who was also in the boarding house there, we just decided one day that we would sit down and try and write some songs and I’d never had a piano lesson in my life, but we started hawking these little songs around, our version of Tin Pan Alley in Waldorf Street in London and eventually publishers got interested.

Tell us about the interest of the publishers, what was the songs specifically that caught their ear?

Not songs that would mean anything to you. I mean I could plug out a few titles to you, but they wouldn’t mean anything to you because they weren’t hits.

Well just tell us a few so we can look them up.

‘Hard Loving’ was the first.. I think the first single I put out as a recording artist and ‘Concrete Jungle’ which sort of was almost, almost a hit.

Interesting.
It was played like a hit, but it didn’t really sell that great and I never dreamt that I could possibly ever make a living out of being a songwriter, but, as I say I was in the wine trade at the time at a very posh store which is still very much in existence now in London called Fortnum & Mason, and Fortnum & Mason heard about the fact that I was recording – as they put it ‘a rock n roll singer’, and they did not like the association of their store with rock n roll, now we’re going back a long time now, because today it would probably be a plus but in those days they sure as hell didn’t like the association, so they asked me to stop having their name associated with my record and I had the greatest publicist, man named Les Perrin, who was also the publicist for a slightly well known group called the Rolling Stones (Paul laughs, Richard continues) and David Bowie and he said “it’s too late Richard, I can’t.. you know, all the stuff has gone out to all the various people, I can’t suddenly pull it back” and then in the end the Fortnum & Mason fired me.

I see.
And I was absolutely scared to death, cause I’d been, you know, I had a steady job and I didn’t dream I could be a song writer or a recording artist or anything like that, but it was the one thing that pushed me into the music business.

Well, tell us about the song ‘Blue Eyes.’

(Richard laughs)  Ohhh, ‘Blue Eyes,’ ‘Blue Eyes’ is…you don’t know the term ‘busker’ do you over there?

One who plays on the street for…?
Yeah.

Yeah.
Yeah, yeah a one man band Don Partridge was the man’s name and myself and my Manager Don Paul, we were queuing up to see the latest James Bond film in Leicester Square and this guy Don Partridge was busking outside of the cinema and he had the most incredible co-ordination and he was really good and Don Paul said to me “I think I’m going to take that guy if he’s.. if he’ll let me and I want to take that guy into the recording studio” and in those days it was all mono, not even stereo and he took Don into the recording studio and it cost him eight pounds to make a record called ‘Rosie,’ which went to number three in the British charts, and Don Partridge could not write or couldn’t find a follow up that he liked and he asked me if I would like to have a go and ‘Blue Eyes’ was the result of that, and I wrote that with Joan Maitland and that went to number two in the charts for twelve pounds it cost him because we put an upright bass on it for a half session.

So, twenty pounds the total cost, a number three and a number two, not bad.

We had an interview recently with Scott English, he’s a man you wrote with, what was your first impression of Scott English?

The entire, exact opposite from me. (Paul laughs).

Well, explain what that means.
Very loud, from the Bronx, I believe it’s the Bronx and extremely loud man, I’ve always been a very quiet person, and…which is not very well suited to the music business, but there you go, but I can’t absolutely remember howwe got together, I think it was probably… I think it was actually at some sort of music business function and we… I think we were just talking to one another and we just decided that we would try and write something together, as simple as that.

One of the songs that you wrote was entitled ‘Brandy.’

Yep.

Tell us about composing ‘Brandy.’
I know that Scott put out a whole load of his own explanations to the title of ‘Brandy’, but I never paid much attention to things like that when I was presented with the lyric because I think I was actually presented with the lyric of ‘Brandy’ first. I think that the lyric came before the music, and I wrote to it almost in a sort of James Taylor style, I mean I wasn’t aware that I was writing in the James Taylor style but almost in a James Taylor style, and we sat and we wrote that, I remember exactly what it was, it was in Curzon Street in Mayfair, we couldn’t… Scott’s electric piano wasn’t working properly and we had to go next door to his neighbor who had a sort of out of tune piano and the song just came musically very, very quickly for me, because I just related to the lyrics so clearly.

The song later became entitled ‘Mandy’ as recorded by Barry Manilow. What did you think of Manilow’s interpretation?

Interesting. It’s one of the first memories that I had of going to Los Angeles. I was asked to go over by my publisher and Rondor, Rondor which is A&M’s Publishing company, and I was waiting to see a man named Jeff Benjamin who worked at Rondor and outside the…while sitting outside of his office door, I heard this song being played, and it genuinely took me Paul about a minute into it to realize it was my song that was being played.

Interesting.
I couldn’t actually tell, I mean, being behind closed doors as it were, I couldn’t actually pick out the fact straight away that it was ‘Mandy’ as opposed to ‘Brandy’ that was being sung, but when I did find that out, I was absolutely livid that someone had changed the title without asking us. Until I saw it zooming up the charts. (Paul laughs) When you think about it I think ‘Mandy’ is probably a much more accessible title than ‘Brandy’.

Yeah.
But Scott had had chart success in England himself as an artist as ‘Brandy’, but anyhow, you know, Clive Davis had decided to change the title of the song, in my mind probably has the greatest ears.. had the greatest ears of any record Chief in the States and he had that record ‘Brandy You’re A Fine Girl’ by Looking Glass, which had been a recent number one for him on CBS and he just started up this new label Arista and ‘Mandy’ was in fact I think the very first release on Arista.

A lot of the songs you’ve written have been with Will Jennings, in my humble opinion a brilliant lyricist. How did you meet Will Jennings?

On that same trip over I had been asked to sit down and write with a man named John Bettis.

Yes John Bettis.
John Bettis that time of Carpenters fame, I’d travelled all the way over there and I hate flying, I’ve got a tremendous fear of flying, always have done, still do, I pushed aside my fear and go on the big bird in the sky and come over to write with John Bettis and he said “I’m awfully sorry, but I’ve got some re-writes to do for this new Carpenters album.” So I thought ‘aaah well that’s okay, I can get some really good melodic things together on my own and wait for him’, and my publisher over there said to me “I really would like you to look at some of these lyrics by a man named Will Jennings,” and I said, his name was Lance Free and I said to Lance, “you know, Lance, I really… I understand what you’re saying but I really don’t want to sit down with a lot of different people, I came over here to write with John and I’d rather…” and he said “now please just look at a few of Will’s lyrics”, when I looked at a few of Wills lyrics, he never had a hit at this stage, he’d just come over from Nashville himself and I looked at some of these lyrics and I just thought ‘this is my sort of lyric, you know what he writes it’s from the heart, I can write with this guy’ and so we decided to sit down and write together whilst I was waiting for John Bettis.

Is that how most of your songs have come about, is the lyric usually done first and then you compose the melody?

No, in fact the first song that Will and I wrote was a song called ‘Somewhere In The Night,’ we were very fortunate enough to have several chart records on that but never one I would call huge hit. Manilow recorded it and Helen Reddy and Yvonne Elliman, Kim Carnes and various other people,but I remember presenting the melody to him first on that one, the first song we wrote, I was staying at a place, a very infamous place called the Sunset Marquis, which is on Sunset Boulevard and it was… I rented this electric piano which had three notes missing on it, but it didn’t matter because it was such a great atmosphere at A&M Records where my publisher was the old Charlie Chaplin Studios and if you couldn’t write a hit song there, you couldn’t write one anywhere.

Well, what’s your opinion of that song ‘Somewhere In The Night’?

I love the song, in my mind it was about a particular lady and it was one of those melodies that came very quickly and although it’s entered the charts on several occasions with Manilow and with Helen Reddy, I’ve never felt it quite… the closest that it came to in terms of feel was an act that Clive Davis produced himself, and act called Back Door From Rodney who never set the world on fire, but one of these days, I still think that it’s going to get a definitive version.

Hmmmm, it is absolutely, in my humble opinion anyways one of the most beautiful songs ever.
Oh well thank you, that’ s very kind of you.

There’s another one that you wrote with Will Jennings, ‘Looks Like We Made It,’ that is a favorite with a lot of people, tell us about composing that song.

Well, we were.. I was back… we would come over to England, this was back in England and I remember so clearly it was one of those rare beautiful days where there wasn’t a cloud in the sky and Will was… had been put up in some small hotel and he had all the curtains closed and I came in and said “Will, it’s beautiful outside there” and he said “I can’t concentrate when all the curtains are open,” we sat down, we wrote ‘Looks Like We Made It’ that afternoon, Will and I used to write, always used to write in my favorite way of writing and that is we both sit together with nothing and I would be fooling around on the keyboard, Will would be just thinking about lyrics and we might be in the same room, we might not, but we’d be in the same house or hotel and he’d hear what I was doing and I would hear what he was doing and he’d say, nine times out of ten he’d say “I love what you’re doing there” and I wouldn’t even be aware of what I was doing and I’d just go over and over and over it again and he’d say “yeah” and we’d write really, really , really write together as it were as opposed to so many songs of late, where someone will send me a lyric or I will send a melody, we’d actually write and compose the song together in the same room.

There’s been so many songs that you’ve composed that Barry Manilow has recorded. Why do you think that Barry Manilow has recorded so many of your songs?

I know why Paul, because Clive Davis wanted him to. I think you know I was a Clive Davis favorite at the time, it’s strange, I didn’t really want to get into writing all those ballads, I didn’t want to get known for writing all those ballads, although they’d been very kind to me, you know and of course having started off with ‘Mandy’, which was when Manilow was totally unknown, you know, I know that Barry I think it’s quite right and honest to say Barry never wanted to record other people’s songs, he only wanted to record his own songs, which is fair enough, he’s.. you know, he’s a fine songwriter. It was Clive that said “no, you know, you haven’t got a single here, this is a song you’re going to record” and I… I’m not privy to exactly what went on with Clive with Barry in their times together, but I do know that he never wanted to record ‘Mandy’ in the first place, he never wanted to record ‘Somewhere In The Night’ or ‘Looks Like We Made It’ or all the other ones at all, it’s down to Clive.
Interesting.

Well, one of Manilow’s long time collaborators, the lyricist Marty Panzer…

Yep.

You wrote a song with him, how did you meet Marty Panzer?
(Richard laughs).. I was lying back, exhausted after having written quite a lot with Will and needed to just take a little break, and I was in Palm Springs, I was lying back on one of those sun loungers soaking up the sun and I heard this man “are you Richard Kerr?” and I thought ‘who the hell is this’. My eyes were closed, I’d been ……. I got up and I said “yes, I am” and he said “I recognized your photograph and my name is Marty Panzer,” I said “hello Marty,” really wishing that he’d go away and he said “I’m a great friend of Barry Manilow’s” and I said “ohh well, very nice to meet you” and he said “do you think that there’s a chance that you and I could write something together one day,?” and I said “yeah, I mean let me know, or show me one or two lyrics that you’ve written, I’d love to see whether we can”  and I like Marty’s style very much indeed, very, very much from the heart and we sat down, I think we’ve written maybe six or seven songs, a long time ago now.

He has actually two questions that he asked for us to to ask you.

Oh.

So these two questions are from Marty Panzer.
Right.

As not only one of the most successful songwriters of your generation, but also one of the most well respected songwriters of your generation..
Writers..

He’s speaking of you, yes.
Oh.

Which writers today are writing at the quality level you respect?
Oh boy, there are a lot. But you know, I.. it’s funny, I haven’t… Paul I have never… and probably to my detriment, but I have never really studied the music business, or, not the music business, but I’ve never really been one of those who sort of goes out and buys lots of albums when they come out and stuff, but I’d have to say the first person that comes to my mind today is Adele and I can’t remember the name of the guy that she writes mostly with, but she’s a great talent. A lot of my other choices are people who are not really current, but, I mean I always have loved Don Henley’s writing from the Eagles..

Yeah.
And there are so many people that I love, I think that if I sat in front of a chart right now with a lot of records in front of me, I should probably be prepared for this, but there are so many bands who I don’t know the names of the writers to. I heard again recently a new album by Randy Newman, Newman’s always been one of my real favorites, but these are all old.. I mean, you know, Paul Simon is a great writer,  Jimmy Webb who I spent a wonderful evening and night with many years ago, he’s a great writer, but today, as you probably are too aware, with the exception of a few, the music business has changed, you know, a hundred and eighty degrees and it’s not really songs today, it’s more image, it’s more production, it’s like the film industry in a way, that they sort of parallel one another in that special effects are so important today in music and in film and I think to the detriment of the story andr the meat of the song or the film.

Yeah. Well, the second question of the two that Marty wanted me to ask he says, who is best at carrying the torch for well written, important songs that will last beyond the moment. You just mentioned Adele, what about perhaps singers that are singing other people’s songs, who do you think is doing a good job?

There are just so few, I have lost touch with those singers who.. they’re tough questions Marty. (Paul laughs).. I don’t know whether the British chart echoes the American chart any longer. I guess I’d have to say that Michael Bublé does a pretty darn good job of other people’s songs but you’ve really stumped me, it’s hard to pick out.. I can’t just pick out a lot of names that come to mind.

One of the songs that you wrote is a very well known song ‘I’ll Never Love This Way Again,’ what inspired that?

That was Will and I, Will Jennings and I, at my little ranch style place in Nichols Canyon, I love the names Los Angeles gives to its roads, I started off in Wonderland Park Avenue, I moved to Astral Drive, and in Astral Drive we wrote that song and it was one of those songs that had a bitter after taste to it, simply because some guy out of New Jersey put a claim that we ripped him off, we’d never heard his song, we’d never met him, what happened was that they froze all the… because they had to legally, BMI and the record company Arista froze all the royalties, so we didn’t see the royalties from that record for over a year, or a year and a half I think, but the actual writing of the song was another one with Will that came very quickly indeed and I believe that was a verse lyric first.

There’s another one that you wrote, recorded by the late Roy Orbison, ‘In The Real World’…

Ahhh yeah.

Tell us about that song.
What a lovely man, I just have to say one thing about Roy, which probably all his closest friends have said and know for themselves, but of all the stars, so called stars that I have met during the years, I would have to say that Roy was the one with the least glitter about him, he was such a humble man, you’d never known that he had had the sort of career he had. That was written in Will’s house in West Lake Village in an afternoon I remember ‘In the Real World,’ it came really quickly, and I believe that was partly lyric first, yet again it’s the sort of lyric you see for me anyhow that writes itself, and when Roy heard it, I don’t know how Will got to know Roy, but it was Will got to know Roy rather than myself, but Roy came round one afternoon, we played him that and we played him another song ‘You May Feel Me Crying,’ he loved both ofthem and actually recorded both of them, the second one ‘You May Feel Me Crying’ was in a film, it wasn’t a hit, neither was ‘In The Real World,’ but it was on the last album he did.

What about the song John Denver recorded ‘Don’t Close Your Eyes’?

Oh yeah.. funny you should say that, I was watching a special, you know, on John Denver just the other day, my wife is a huge fan of John Denver. Yeah, It was delightful to have a John Denver record, again, it wasn’t a big hit, but he was one of a kind in his style of writing and it’s always especially lovely from my point of view when a writer, a artist, someone who writes their own songs records one of your songs, that’s a special privilege I think, because it means that they really, really do value the song and they want to record it for themselves.

What about the song ‘In Another World,’ that Manilow recorded, what inspired that?

He didn’t get it at all, he didn’t… I wish I could play you the demo. I wrote that with a lady named Charlie Dore and it’s one of our favorite songs but I wasn’t happy with Barry Manilow’s version of that, it’s all I can say about that one.

Have you had any interactions with Manilow through the years?

Very little. Very little indeed, I think we probably only met on three occasions and all three at functions, you know, at music business functions, I do remember (Richard laughs)..  he suggested to me many years ago that we’d try and write together and I said “what, you mean just you and me?” and he said “yeah,”, and I said “what’s it going to be like,” I don’t know if you’ve heard of Ferrante & Teicher have you?

I haven’t heard of that no.
Oh, okay, well they were two guys who sat facing one another both at their own pianos and I said “I can’t imagine how we could do that Barry,” so nothing came of our writing… sitting down and writing together, it might have been interesting but we’d have probably had to get separate lyricists in.
Yeah.

Well, speaking of lyricists, you’ve written with the lyricist John Bettis who you’ve mentioned earlier.

Yes.

What was it like to write with him?
I think John and I had, bad luck is the wrong word, I just don’t think we were lucky, we’ve written a lot of songs together and we’ve had a lot of recordings and a lot of cuts of songs, we’ve never had a big hit together and we should have done, we started writing I think it’s fair to say, he was…the Carpenters were on the wane as it were, he had a lot of time on his hands, I, again loved his lyrics, I loved the way his mind works lyrically and he’s had so much success, just like Will has had, way apart from me I mean, you know the sort of hits that Will has had and John the same, I mean I don’t know if John’s won an Oscar, but Will’s won two, John has had tremendous success writing apart from me, but we’ve written some very fine songs, a lot of the songs I’ve put on my very unsuccessful own albums, and a nice man and someone that I think of very fondly.

I know this might be a difficult question to answer, with all the lyricists that you’ve worked with, and all of the songwriters you’ve written with, from Will Jennings to Scott English, Marty Panzer, John Bettis, I believe you told me you’ve written with Paul Williams.

Yes, but Paul, I love dearly, we’ve written maybe half a dozen songs together but we were both at difficult times in each of our lives, not songs that I think… I can only speak for myself, not songs that I’m really proud of, I would have thought that knowing his sort of writing and my sort of writing we would have been a match made in heaven, not something that I can actually say “yes, this song should have been a hit,” so we just had our writing times together, but other parts of life took over from our creativity I think when we sat down together.

 Well, on that note, of all of the co-writers you worked with, could you pick a favorite?
No. No. Absolutely not. (Richard laughs)

What about a favorite song of yours, is that possible?

Well, funny you should say that I think probably ‘Somewhere In The Night.’
Yeah.
I think so, although the one that’s been the best and the kindest to me is ‘Mandy.’ Some, I mean it changes so much that I think I know probably that most writers would say this about themselves, but I generally think I’m writing better right at this moment in time, this very moment in time and I have a half… whether the songs I’m writing and have written in the last five years we’ll become hits is something else, but I have a new lease on life, maybe one of those will be my favorite of all time.

What was it like to have Frank Sinatra record one of your songs?

Amazing, strangest thing is the song was ‘Blue Eyes’ which Don Partridge recorded, the busker.

Interesting.
And this shows you how much I don’t collect gold records, and things like that and hang them up on my walls,  like so many people do, I don’t have much interest in that side of it, but I’ve only ever heard it a couple of times, it was on a Sinatra album and therefore I felt quite justified to use it in my press handouts, but, I don’t even have a copy of it.

When somebody hears your music, wherever they are, on an elevator, if they’re listening to it on an album, however they’re listening to it, what do you want the listener to get out of that experience?

Don’t want to sound too self important here, but I would like them to be moved in some way or another by it.

I don’t think that’s self important.
I’m not very good, I’m not very good at writing songs that are just rhythmic and just bubble gum, the sort of thing that is here today, gone tomorrow, it’s hard to explain, there was one time I remember when I was signed to Screen Jenson which is now EMI publishing, where my publisher said “sit down and try and write like so and so”, only because he asked me to, I thought I would listen to a few things that ‘so and so’ had written, and it didn’t work for me, I have to come from the heart, even whether it be up tempo, slow ballad or mid tempo, it still has to come from the heart and I would just like someone to be… to say “yeah, that song really means something to me,” cause I could put myself in that person’s position, or in that piece of music, that means something to me at that particular time in my life.

What is the best thing about being Richard Kerr?

Well, I’m still alive, I’m still writing songs and I’m happily married with a wonderful Welsh Terrier who just this afternoon dug through the rabbit-proof fencing and caused me no end of strife chasing after him over the fields, I came back this afternoon Paul, after having finally captured him and it took me five to ten minutes to actually get my breath back. It’s a pretty good life I’ve got, I’ll always love music, it will always be my first love above anything I think, as long as I still have that desire to write, I’m happy.

For anyone who’s listening to this interview, wherever they are in the world or if they’re reading it, however they experience it, what would you like to say to those people?

They’re not writers or anything, just the general public yeah?

All kinds of people.
All kinds of people. Do it rather than say it.

Sound advice.
(Richard laughs)

For my last question.

Yep.

Who is Richard Kerr?
Richard Kerr is a… I think a fairly humble songwriter and someone who’s always trying… this sounds so hammy but is someone who’s always trying to be just a little better person each day if he can.

Well, just imagine if everyone had that mind set how much further along we’d be.

(Paul and Richard laugh)

A part of me would like to say ‘Thank You Mr. Kerr,’ but you like to be called Richard.

Yes please.

Thank You Richard, it’s been a great pleasure to have this conversation.

Well Thank You Paul, we tried to get together so many times on the phone and at last we’ve made it and Thank You very much indeed. I hope I’ve sort of… it’s been semi interesting.

It has been very interesting, it has been a real honor. Thank You.
Oh Thank You very much Paul. It’s been a pleasure.

TRANSCRIBED BY ROSALIND WINTON

 

 

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,

(Recites)

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.

(Sings)
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,

(Sings)
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,

(Recites)
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,

(Recites)
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,

(Recites)
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)

Yeah!

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.

(Recites)
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 –

Really?

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.

TRANSCRIBED BY ANGELA L. WASHINGTON