The Paul Leslie Hour Episode #15 – Melora Hardin


Melora Hardin is an actor, singer and director known to many for playing the character “Jan Levinson” on the hit sitcom “The Office,” but her artistic experience is expansive! She’s graced the television and film screen as well as the stage. Acting, dancing and directing are just a few of her talents. Then, there’s her musical side. A singer-songwriter, she’s a concert performer and a recording artist  with 3 albums to her credit. It’s an interview with depth yet not an ounce of pretension. Listen and find out why Melora Hardin is beloved by so many audiences.

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The Paul Leslie Hour Episode #12 – Bruce Cockburn

Bruce Cockburn is a prolific singer-songwriter with more than 300 songs in his catalog.  A Canadian recording artist, this interview (among many topics) is discussing his 33rd studio album “Bone on Bone.”  Bruce Cockburn’s songs have been covered by a diverse number of artists: Barenaked Ladies, Ani DiFranco, k.d. lang, Jimmy Buffett, the Jerry Garcia Band, Dan Fogelberg and many others.

Cockburn has written many beautiful songs. The first song I heard of his was “Pacing the Cage.”  He’s long been someone I wanted to have on the show and now he’s kind enough to join us!

Special thanks to Bernie Finkelstein.


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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.

  

Frank Sinatra, Jr. – Singer, Songwriter, Recording Artist, Conductor & Entertainer

Music is definitely in Frank Sinatra, Jr.’s blood.  Like his legendary father, Frank Sinatra, Mr. Sinatra is a singer, performer and recording artist.  He is also a conductor and songwriter.

You will find Frank Sinatra, Jr. to be 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.  I would describe Frank Sinatra, Jr. as knowledgeable, honest and passionate.

Despite the fame of the Sinatra family name, Frank Sinatra, Jr. calls himself a “homespun boy at heart,” going on to describe 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.”

What do you think?

 FRANK SINATRA JR

Transcribed by Rosalind Winton

 Our special guest is a singer, songwriter, conductor and recording artist. Ladies and gentlemen it’s an honor to introduce Mr. Frank Sinatra, Jr. It’s a great pleasure.

 Well, the pleasure is mine. Surprised, last time we spoke, you had told me that you are fairly young, and I’m surprised that someone your age is interested in this kind of music.

There are some of us out there. (Paul laughs)
Yes, there are, all too few.

I want to go back a little bit.  What are your most vivid memories of music you heard as a child?Most vivid memories today, looking back at those memories from the wrong side of 70, the only thing I can say is, that they’re  kind of blurry, going way back, it’s been a long time since I was a child, but that was the best music, popular music that was ever made in America.

And was music playing around the house a lot?
Oh yes, the point is in order to be considered a person who made music, at least professionally in those days, the people who made that music were musicians.  Something that probably, a great majority of people who claim to make music today are not.

And, by that you mean there are lots of musicians who are making music on computers, but they don’t have a proficiency in an instrument
That’s what they say and they don’t know anything about music and the whole story about that kind of person, years ago there used to be classes in certain schools  in a subject that was known as musicology and they would give people degrees in what was called musicology.  They would become musicologists, and there used to be a joke around the working musician community: a musicologist is a person who can read music, but can’t hear it, and today, most of what you hear, when you hear things on the radio that are current, and it has spilled over into television, there are, when I watch sports events on TV for example…there are commercials that are the most annoying, camp-made sounds in the world and they’re made by what we call in the trade today, garage bands, a few of these people, who get together in a garage somewhere with a few amplified instruments and they consider themselves to be musicians.  They press a few buttons and a program comes out, which they use, it might have harmonic changes, or something, and this they consider making music and it’s unfortunate because all it is, is formulated nonsense. The louder and the more distortive, the better the auditory scientists refer to it as vibratory insult and this is regretfully the state of the art, if you want to call it art, where we are today.  The industry has been taken over, has been taken away from the professionals and given to the garage bands and as it happens the business of being a real musician and dedicating one’s life to it has gone out of style and when I think back to the question you asked me about “what was it like when I was a child?” It was the greatest music that was ever made in America.

When did you start to realize that you were a very musical person?

I began to receive, personally, training at the age of 3 or 4.  This goes back to the 1940s and because of my father’s work in those days, he always had guests in our home, who were great composers, lyricists, songwriters, orchestrators, and as it happens they, by degrees, began to tutor me. I can remember when I was 3 or 4, one of my uncles who was the head of the music department at Colombia Pictures in those days, back when each studio had a music department, and he gave me a book about the instruments in the symphony orchestra and I could look at the pictures that he would point to and identify each one of the symphonic instruments.  At the age of 5 I was started on piano lessons, and in that situation I continued on all the way through college, I had once, had the desire to be a composer and a pianist.

 

You just mentioned “composer.” Can you recall when you first learned that you had the ability to write songs?

Well I had been writing melodies, much to the chagrin of my piano teacher when I was a boy, rather than practicing the lessons that she had given to me.  I would be spending my time at the piano composing little melodies and little things of myself and after a time, something else happened, which was really quite remarkable.  I could hear a piece of orchestral music on a recording, hopefully not too complicated a piece of orchestral music and by listening to it I could then play it with the correct harmonic changes on the piano and this as they say, by ear, and at that point in time it occurred to me maybe this was what I was meant to be, which is why after high school, when I went into college, I began to study on musical things and composing things and the like.  In music school there are many, many compositions that one must write, some stress melody, some stress harmony. The classes for those things are called “composition.” Then there’s another one called “counterpoint” in which how do you write a counter melody to match a melody and so on, and then of course there is orchestration, there is rhythm and all the different components of writing music that make up the curriculum of someone who really wants to get into this.

 

What do you believe is more important, the lyrics or the melody?

Oh no, they’re equally important.  They, um, one must compliment the other, they must be in great exactitude of purpose,.  If you consider , now you seem to be very familiar with what they call today “The Great American Song Book.”

I try to be (Paul laughs).

Okay, no doubt you are aware of a great, great song, written in the early 1940s by the great Johnny Mercer and there’s a song called – let’s just use this as an example – “The Blues In The Night.”

Yes.

Okay.  The melody of that song cause ordinarily the melody always comes first, the lyric comes later. The melody of ‘Blues In The Night’ could only be a blues song. The melody is lonely, it has the blues harmonic changes, it is just by it’s very nature sad, and Johnny Mercer’s lyric is absolutely reflective of that state of mine and it matches, it marries to that melody perfectly.

And that melody was by Harold Arlen.

Harold Arlen, another one of our more important songwriters through the years.  Mr. Arlen who just was absolutely incredible.  I wish I could have met him, he was just magnificent, at the time when he would write some of these great, great songs, a lady by the name of Lena Horne, very popular in those days and she said that Harold Arlen was the blackest white songwriter she had ever listened to, because he understood the blues idiom so perfectly.

Fascinating.

Well when you consider, when I was a boy, Mr. Leslie, understand, when I was a boy, radio stations, which routinely played people like Billy Eckstine, Louis Armstrong, Nat King Cole. People who played Louis Jordan and His Tympani Five. P eople who played these records, the ones who played Jimmy Witherspoon and Ella Fitzgerald and Chick Webb and Sarah Vaughan and Duke Ellington, were often times accused of playing “racial records” as they were called.

 

Who was the first person to record or perform a song that you wrote?

The first person and the only person has been me.  My songs I regret to tell you are not in demand and never have been.  I’m the only one that ever did anything with them.

 

Aside from the songwriting, you’ve recorded albums. You’ve performed. You’ve conducted.  What part of music would you say you’re the most passionate about?

Well, it has to be all of them. You cannot take favorites. They all demand great concentration, great attention, it is like any other practice like that. An attorney who walks into a law case, a surgeon who goes into the operating theatre, anything like that, you must clear your mind of everything other than the job at hand and it is so vital to do this.  This is how things of this nature have to be handled and I have never really picked a favorite.

 

You told me, the last phone conversation we had that you also hosted a radio program. What did you find that experience to be like?

I had had an idea for many years that people at night, bearing in mind that the average American family works of course, five days a week usually and that now is changing and the average American family has a certain routine.  All of us, I think are married to such a thing, we get up in the morning and we have our breakfast, we kiss our spouses and our children goodbye and go off and work and we come home in the late afternoon and then there’s dinner and spending time with the kids, perhaps doing homework or whatever it is and then, as the hour goes late, when the children are in bed it is time then for the parents to have just a little bit of relaxation time, usually that comes in the form of television, obviously, but I had an idea that perhaps, since…. you remember no doubt, the great three words that would come up at nine o clock, nine thirty, ten o clock and ten thirty, “film at eleven.”’ The news would be the last thing they would see at eleven pm before they would switch off the TV set and go to sleep and I watched this year after year and having traveled the United States, all the states over and over and over again, it occurred to me that the story about the newscast today is quite correct, they say the newscaster on late night television, the newscaster opens up the hour by saying to you “good evening” and then spends the next 60 minutes informing you why it isn’t. (Paul laughs). This is of course, you know a flippant statement.  It occurred to me some time ago that maybe somebody would like to have a little bit of relaxation that would prepare them to go to sleep, so I created a radio program that was not to be run before 10:00 at night, 10:30 at night, it would run for an hour, less commercials and then it would gradually get down and down into the music, more gentle more loving, so that when the time came to turn off the radio and go to sleep, it would be the last thing people would hear at night and it was to be a kind of a electro-acoustical  tranquilizer and this was the theme of my radio program.

What was it called?
It was called “Radiance.”

 “Radiance.” In keeping with nighttime.  It seems like so many of the songs from the American Songbook had the word “moon” and so many of them included the idea of nighttime, I mean just if you want to take the example of songs Frank Sinatra recorded: “Moon River,” my goodness “Fly Me To The Moon,” he did that entire album of songs with moon in the title.
There was an album, his Producer Sonny Burke created a record called “Moonlight Sinatra,” but they did not include “Moon River” or “Fly Me To The Moon.” “Moon River” was a very famous motion picture song, which won the Academy Award that year in 1961 and “Fly Me To The Moon” is actually a misnomer. The name of that song is “In Other Words.” Everybody just calls it “Fly Me To The Moon.”
Aaaaahhh..
And that song had also an interesting situation, when the astronauts aboard Apollo 11 went out in 1969 to land on the moon for the first time, the NASA beamed “Fly Me To The Moon” to the boys in the capsule–to Collins and Armstrong and Aldrin.

Very interesting.  Of the albums that you recorded, do you have a favorite of yours?
Gee, I wouldn’t know what to say. My albums never did get any attention. My first album, when I was singing with the Sam Donahue Band that was not a favorite, that was in 1965 and I’d just become 21 years old.  I didn’t make another record album again after that until 1971 and that was my first album with Nelson Riddle, with the great Nelson Riddle who was my music teacher and that album was called “Spice” and that was a pretty good record. Afterwards there was another album in ’72 and from that I didn’t have a third album, a fourth album rather until 1977 and at that point in time, the big thing in the music world was Country music. Country music had been around for decades, but now, everybody was making Country albums and they sent me, the people I was working for at the time, they sent me to Nashville in 1977 and we made an album called “It’s Alright,” that was a pretty good record. After that I had no album until 1996.  As you can see, my records were not exactly best sellers, they were not really in demand.

The one in ’96, was that “As I Remember It”?
That was “As I Remember It.”

I happen to like that album a great deal. What inspired you to record it?
There is a great theatrical producer in New York City, a man who I worked for many times, his name is John Schreiber and he’s a marvelous show producer. John Schreiber, in 1995, became aware of the fact that Frank Sinatra, who was very much alive then, was becoming 80 years of age and he decided to have a 3-night music festival in New York City—3 concerts. Each night would begin with 80 minutes, followed by a 20 minute intermission and then 80 more minutes, and this 3 nights in a row and it was a salute to the music of Frank Sinatra and he invited Linda Ronstadt  who was the youngest.  He invited Rosemary Clooney.  He invited Jack Jones, Big Joe Williams was there, all the people who make this kind of music were invited to perform and when it got to the final 80 minutes on the final night, he gave me the entire 80 minutes and I was singing and conducting the same orchestra that I had conducted for Sinatra prior to his retirement.  So here I was sitting on a music stool at a music stand with the music in front of me, a symphony behind me with Frank Sinatra’s rhythm section and we’re in Carnegie Hall and I told people stories in the audience about where some of these great songs had come from and they were absolutely taken by this and then we would do these numbers and the reaction was quite severe and when the evening was over, I returned to my dressing room and I was introduced to a man who gave me his business card.  He was the President of the Capitol Records EMI Record Group and he said “you know, what you did down there would make just a dandy little record album” and I said “whenever you’re ready.” Now this was in the summer of 1995. In September I got called by that same gentleman and he said “we want to put you on our Angel label, which is primarily our classic label,” with this album. So we went back to New York, I hired the same orchestra who had been with me at the concert.  They were the same musicians who had played  Sinatra for year after year after year and we went and we made that album and that probably comes closer to being something of a success than any record I’ve ever made, Mr. Leslie. The record qualifies to be put in the category with movies like “Citizen Kane” and many years later “The Manchurian  Candidate,” movies that at the time of their initial release mean absolutely nothing.  Nobody even pays attention to them.  Only years later did they become famous, they call such an entity “a sleeper.” well, as I remember it, is a sleeper, today, somebody told me recently that record is for sale on eBay for $185 dollars a copy, if it can be found.

I have seen it for even more.
Well, the only thing I can tell you is, it was a great effort.  We put it together, we had the finest people in the New York music community.  Half of our strings, our French Horns and people like that were right out of the New York Philharmonic.  We had the best people, all of whom who had played Sinatra music with Sinatra through the years and we put it together with the interspersel of underscore as you’ve heard, since you seem familiar with the album and when we were finished in New York recording it, everybody in the orchestra was talking about the underscore we were doing.  There were, for example a woodwind ensemble of ‘I’m a Fool….. um… “Wee Small Hours” rather, then we had a brass choir of “I’m A Fool To Want You,” then we had a cello quartet of “My Way” and the musicians just ate it up alive.  They were just so magnificent and they wondered what all of this was about and on the last day, in the last session I said “listen everyone,  you’ve worked so hard on this and I really believe when it’s all put together and you finally get to hear it in it’s entirety, you’re going to be really happy you were a part of this.” They didn’t know what was coming in the sense of the linkage. After the music was recorded in New York, then the master tapes went out to Los Angeles to Capitol Records and I went into a little booth with the underscore coming through ear phones and at that point all the songs on that album were selected with the most total commitment.  Everything was scrupulously prepared in terms of pacing, but then I began to listen to the underscore and I started to speak my personal memories, nothing was written down, nothing was prepared.  If you are to listen to that record and you hear the narration in between the songs, that is exactly as you hear it, that is exactly as it sounds.  There was nothing prepared for that.  Nothing was written down, because as I told everybody when they said “you mean you’re going todo this off the cuff like that?”  I said “absolutely, it has to be conversational, not institutional, if we get some fool reading the Gettysburg Address, that’s exactly what it’s going to sound like, it has to be one person speaking intimately to another” and when you listen to the narration on that record there are mistakes in it, things like. that.. and I said “no, no, leave it that way.” You cannot point your finger at somebody’s head and say “prepare to be spontaneous” (Paul laughs) it is absolutely impossible, the idea was to be spontaneous and just let it flow, so that people would know they’re being talked to, not talked at, that was the theme of that album and what made it very powerful.  My sister Nancy, on her downlink radio show on XM Sinatra Channel, periodically she gets that album out and plays the entire 71 minutes and change, without interruption and they get a sensational reaction from that.

Our special guest is Frank Sinatra, Jr. The album that followed the record you just mentioned, the one that followed, “As I Remember It,” is “That Face” that came out in 2006. One of the musicians who appeared on that album, the jazz pianist, the late Bill Miller. What are your recollections of your time with him?
Bill Miller, who was the greatest accompanist that any singer has ever had, came on board in Frank Sinatra’s career way back in 1951. Frank Sinatra at that time, as still as a young man, still in his 30s and in the worst period in his career, had been hired to play in Las Vegas and he was there working and late at night he would go into the show lounge and here he would see this little jazz group playing.  They still had jazz groups in Las Vegas in those days, and here was this pianist who he had met actually, pianist from Bensonhurst, New York—from Brooklyn who had played with Charlie Barnet’s big band during the big band era and he liked the way this man played in such a minimalistic fashion and they got together and they put their heads together and they found out that they liked each other.  Bill Miller came on board with Sinatra at that point.  I was in knee pants and I can remember him at the record dates and I was already at that point in my life taking piano lessons and I was absolutely in awe of the man.  He was so beautiful, in terms of the beautiful things that he would make on the piano, and, another quality he had, he had as we say, he could read an anthill and make music out of it.  He could read anything that was put in front of him and it was absolutely incredible and I grew up with him.  I used to watch him, I used to stand by him during the Sinatra record dates year after year, and the next thing that happened, is that suddenly came 1995, a lifetime had passed, Frank Sinatra retired and Bill Miller went into retirement and some years after that, in 1998 Frank Sinatra died. For me, it was a great loss of this great talent the world knew as Frank Sinatra, but for me it was my Father.  My Father had died, always a painful experience and we were on our way to play my show just a few months after his death, at Atlantic City, New Jersey and coincidentally, it happened to be in the same hotel/casino that Frank Sinatra had appeared in when he was still working Atlantic City and I was conducting his orchestra.  So I got the idea, the real, typical idea, remember, the Wile E Coyote in the Road Runner cartoons would try to find some way to catch the Road Runner and you’d see him walk and he’d stop, hold up one finger and a light bulb would go on over his head?

Yeah.

I had an epiphanal idea, like that, one morning, when we go to the Sands Hotel, Atlantic City.  We’re going to take the whole orchestra, the strings, the horns, everything and then I got on the telephone and I called out to Burbank, California and I got Bill Miller on the phone, who had been in retirement for three years and I said “Bill, I have an idea and I wonder what you think of it, would you be interested in participating” and he said “not only would I be interested, but I’ll tell you now I’ll do it.”  So in October of 1998 we went to the Sands Hotel, Atlantic City and I came out as I always did in a tuxedo, I did 3 or 4 songs and then walked off the stage leaving the audience with the orchestra and they couldn’t figure out what was happening.  Suddenly, the orchestra began to play a very lonely  – here’s that word “mood” again you mentioned earlier Mr. Leslie – a very modal, down, unhappy, grey sky, darkness piece of music of the strings and one symphonic clarinet playing over it and through the hall came a voice-over recording, a narrative voice saying “these great showrooms late at night, when the audience is gone, the dancers are through dancing, the comics and comedians are through making people laugh, the singers are through singing, the musicians are through playing, don’t think in these old showrooms some of the spirits of people who pass through them don’t come back to visit.”. At that moment on the darkened stage the blue light lit up on Bill Miller at the piano with his trademark silver-white hair playing that famous introduction “One For My Baby And One More For The Road” that he had been doing with Sinatra as far back as 1953.  Now, it was 46 years later and he was playing and the audience gasped, because they recognized him. I came out in silhouette in dark blue… no direct light and I sang “One For My Baby” and at that time there was something of a resemblance in the dark and the audience never made a sound, you didn’t even hear a chair squeak and when the number was over and faded to black, nobody applauded. The death of Frank Sinatra had only been five months prior to that evening, and it was still very fresh in the minds of his admirers who were there that night and the lights came up slowly and I looked at them and they looked at me, a lot of them had tears in their eyes and I just nodded at them and I said “hello everybody, welcome to our show” and from that point on Bill Miller, who did not want to be in moth balls came out on the road with me and played with me for the next 8 years until 2006.  When we were at Montreal, came back doing our shows, we always did Whiteville and Bill had a heart attack and we put him into hospital and while we were in Montreal, he died and before he got sick and went into the hospital, he was still playing that Sinatra music. His daughter came to me to be with her Father when he was dying and she said “he died in harness,” I said “yes, he did,” she said to me and she hugged me, she said “you gave my Father 8 extra years of life” and I said to her, “yes, dear, I did and in return, your father gave to me and all of our people 8 extra years of his talent.” It was a beautiful symbiosis.  This is Bill Miller. This is that man who you can listen to in that wonderful Sinatra piano style.  You have an album in your collection Mr. Leslie, no doubt, called “Strangers In The Night” from that period in 1966, in which they put “Strangers In The Night” the big hit record at the front of the album and then the rest of the album was Nelson Riddle and on that album, they recorded the Burton Lane song ‘On A Clear Day’ and Nelson Riddle wrote a roaring arrangement.  As a matter of fact, next month in Atlantic City I’m going to be using that arrangement again and, in the beginning, which is just a rhythm section, listen to Bill Miller and the way he economized, the way he, can we say, “musicalized” his little ad libs that were necessary in the first 8 measures, I’m sorry, the first 4 measures of that song, I think you’ll find what I’m saying is just so beautiful.

You mentioned “mood” a moment ago. Do sad songs, or happy songs resonate with you more?No. Here again, you can’t take favorites (Paul laughs) you have to go with, as I’ve always said, happy songs and sad songs come in two categories, there are good ones that touch you, that move you, that strike a memory, and there are the ones that do not hold your attention. I was a guest recently Mr. Leslie on a film show about movies and they said “what kind of movies do you like to watch?” and I said, “well, there are all kinds of movies.  You have adventures, you have mysteries, you have comedies, you have love stories, you have musicals, you have war pictures, you have horror pictures, you have science fiction pictures, and my viewpoint is the same about every darn one of them, there are good ones and there are bad ones” and I always had this attitude, when I was a kid, I loved science fiction movies and they made some beautiful pictures, when I was a little boy in the early fifties they made a movie ‘The Day The Earth Stood Still’, they made ‘The War Of The Worlds’, the George Powel picture, which holds up today and these movies, people who didn’t like science fiction loved them, because they were such great theatre, they were such great movies, at the same time, in the Sci-Fi era, you have “A Thing with a Face” and then a sequel, “A Face with a Thing” and then they’d do “A Thing with a Face in It’s Thing,” and then they’d do “A Face with a Thing In It’s Face” and things like that.  They’d made the cheapos, the real dumb ones.  So you have to be selective and for me, picking music is just like that, you have to go with the good ones, the happy songs are magnificent.  You know what I mean?

Yeah, definitely.
And at the same time the sad songs on your “That Face” album, the last one that I recorded Mr. Leslie, there is a song, written by a magnificent talent in New York, a man named Rupert Holmes, there’s a song called “The People That You Never Get To Love” and I heard this song when it was new, and it lifted me right off the chair I was sitting on, and I said “where did you get this little puppy?” Somebody brought me an LP out and I heard this song and I had Nelson Riddle write the arrangement which you now hear on my album made in 2006 “That Face” and the reason why I had that arrangement written was for Frank Sinatra.  That was the kind of song that HE could sing and I brought it to him with Nelson Riddle’s magnificent arrangement.  One afternoon we were rehearsing for the opening of his show that night, he came in and I said to him “Dad, you’ve got to hear this, listen to this song” and I conducted it and sang it for him and he said… and his eyes got big and he said “where did you find this little mumser?” (Paul laughs) and I… his reaction was exactly what mine had been and I said “there’s a guy in New York who is a magnificent talent and he is brilliant and he has a song he wrote that no one’s going to hear and Sinatra, Mr. Leslie, wanted to record it and unfortunately he didn’t live to record it, but this is what I mean about being selective, about picking the good songs.

 On the note of picking the good songs, one of the songs you recorded on that album “I Was A Fool” composed by Barry Manilow, with lyrics by Marty Panzer.  How did you come to be exposed to that song?
It was on one of Mr. Manilow’s albums, I think it was called “Even Now,” excellent album, Barry Manilow is one of the biggest musical talents to hit the recording industry in decades and unfortunately we’re talking about the ’70s. I wonder, if Barry Manilow were 35, 40 years younger, right now, and just getting started, if anybody in the quote ‘music community’ unquote, would even pay attention to him. His songs have melodies, they have harmonic changes, they are intelligent, they are musical, and this is the kind of thing that no longer seems to matter anymore. The greatest oxymoron that has ever come across the English Language is “rap music” (Paul laughs) as it… well, we call it “crap music,” but getting at what we’re saying here, Manilow is a genius, always has been. Do you know how Barry Manilow became famous?

Well, I know that he originally wrote jingles.
He wrote “You Deserve A Break Today,” at McDonald’s, he wrote the “I’m Pepsi Generation” “You Be You, I’ll Be Me.” He wrote commercials and somebody said, “you can’t do this, you’ve got to write songs’ and he did, oh boy, did he, so on that album, I think it was called ‘Even Now’, there was a song called ‘Even Now,’ very nice song that he wrote, this song ‘I Was A Fool’, and I thought at the time, when I was Frank Sinatra’s music director, he came to me and he said “I want to make an album, all ballads and swing and they have to be songs I have never sung before.” I said, “Oh is that all?” So I put down “The People That You Never Get To Love”, he had never sung before and then I said “What about I Was a Fool?” I had an orchestration written, he liked it very much, and he listened to it with great attention and he loved that lyric, ‘after I’ve had my last cigarette and the night is as dark as the night’s gonna get,” that’s the kind of Sinatra blues song that has existed for decades, that was another song that was selected to be on one of his albums. Unfortunately he didn’t live to record it, just like the other song I mentioned to you, so I recorded it on “That Face,”  we already had the orchestration and I love that song and I’m a huge admirer of the lyricist of that tune, who I have never met, and also Barry Manilow, who I know slightly and this is the kind of music I mean, by being selective.

One of the greats, in terms of songwriters would be Jimmy Van Heusen, you performed a lot of his songs throughout the years and recorded some of them. Did you meet the man himself?
I used to sit on his knee at the dinner table when I was three years old.

What was the man himself like?
Jimmy Van Heusen was the brunt of a whole bunch of jokes, because he had come from… my God if he were alive right now, he would be 101. Jimmy Van Heusen came from Syracuse, New York and his name was Chester Babcock, and when my Father would get him on the telephone, if he would call my Father for example, my Father would pick up the phone, he’d say “Chester” and he would always tease him and Jimmy Van Heusen and the great lyricist Johnny Burke wrote all of the songs for “The Road Pictures,” with Crosby, Hope and Lamour, if you like those movies. All of the great tunes that they did “Moonflowers,” “But Beautiful,” “Moonlight Becomes You,” all were written by Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Burke for ‘The Road Pictures’, and to show you how they loved to ‘zing’ Van Heusen, the last road picture, Bing Crosby, Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour, which was made in 1962 was called “The Road To Hong Kong,” and the character in that movie that Bob Hope played, the character name was “Chester Babcock,” they did that just to sing Van Heusen, which they did with great frequency and at the time he got a big kick out of that, but as you can imagine, that was a little bit “inside,” nobody on the outside knew about that, they were ‘zinging’ Van Heusen, but you’ve asked me a question, I’ll try to answer you, he was a very intelligent and very, very capable man. Jimmy Van Heusen, growing up, as I said in Syracuse, New York, as a young boy, he became fascinated with airplanes.  He took a pilot’s license at a very, very young age and logged hundreds and thousands of flying hours.  He was a great expert, so much so, that when World War II broke out, Jimmy Van Heusen was hired by Lockheed Aircraft as a top security Lockheed test pilot. If you know anything about the air weapons that we had at our disposal during the war, there was a magnificent tactical fighter plane called the P38, the Lockheed Lightening.  It had 2 booms for 2 rudders, a common elevator and 2 engines, it was very maneuverable, it was deadly and Jimmy Van Heusen at Lockheed Aircraft was the Chief Test Pilot on that prototype, so here’s a man who won 3 Academy Awards for movies, and one of the first TV Emmys, as one of the first big hit songs that ever came from television and this is what the man was about and when I first started… you asked me when I did songs that I had written, on that first album I made with Nelson Riddle in 1971, I wrote 3 songs on that record.  The title song which was called ‘Spice,’ it was re-recorded on your ‘That Face’ album again in 2006, and when the original was made, so many years ago, almost 40 years ago now, I happened to be working in Palm Springs, California which is where Van Heusen made his home and he came to hear our shows.  He always did, and I used to tell the band leader I was working with then, I used to say to him “wind up all the Van Heusen tunes” and we would do a show that was almost totally Jimmy Van Heusen and he would sit there, have his drinks and have a marvelous time and on this one night when the show was over, I said “Jim, I just made my first album with Nelson Riddle, and I want you to hear a couple of the songs that I have written on that album,”  Well, he couldn’t wait, he listened to the songs twice, over and over again and he listened and said “what was that line?” and he kept listening and listening and finally, when it was done, because I had written the lyrics as well as the melody, he smiled at me, a little bit paternally and he said “well, seems that Sammy and I have taught you fairly well,” I said “Yeah, I would say you did”.

Of the composers and lyricists in the American Songbook that you met, was there any commonality you found with those people who wrote this music?
Commonality?

Yeah, was there anything that a lot of the composers and lyricists had in common?  I mean aside from their genius.
Yes.  One thing: a lifetime of dedication, they didn’t do anything half way and they did not just get into it as a whim and suddenly decide there was a lot of money to be made with it and so they would start doing this, until of course the reason for it was gone.  You know, you were talking about the era of the garage bands that we live in today. As it happens, some of these amateur people come up with something that becomes a local sensation, then it begins to proliferate into other geographic locations.  Some record company people hear this and they decide there’s money to be made, so they start promoting it and the next thing you know that particular selection, like that suddenly becomes a phenomenal recording record success and the people involved walk away with a couple of millions of dollars and that is just absolutely magnificent, but after that, the magic is gone.  You never hear from them again, and this is the difference between the real composers and the real lyricists and the amateurs.  They come up with something that somehow becomes a fluke and ‘hits’ for an instant. Years later, somebody will play that record “oh I remember them, wonder whatever happened to them.” There was, when I was in my 20s, Mr. Leslie, there was a big hit record in the mid 60s called ‘Winchester Cathedral’ and this is one of the dumbest things you ever heard in your life, but they had a novelty.  They hired somebody to be on this record, who played of all things, the bassoon, which rock ‘n roll children had never even heard of and with this thought in mind, it became a fluke.  It was like a novelty and it sold millions and millions of records and as it happened, this group, you never heard from them again. After that they vanished and where they are today, who knows? You know admittedly, many, many years ago… but all I’m getting at is, when those records became hits, all the big singers of the day, including Sinatra, had to record that song, and he did it in order to sell the records.  He had his own record company and they needed to keep his records on the charts, he hated doing it, but he bit the bullet, and he had to record so many of these tunes at the time, and this is the difference, in answer to your question of what it is that the real songwriters, the real lyricists had.  They dedicate their entire lives to these things, they have countless failures, but after they have had a success, they now come back, hopefully with another success, and this has made the careers of all the great music writers for our musical plays.  Lerner and Loewe, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Rodgers and Hart, these are people who are absolutely devoted to what it is that it takes to be a professional songwriter or lyricist.

There aren’t many recording artists that are recording these songs anymore, despite their incredible quality, I mean nobody can disagree that these songs are just incredible. There’s the ones that Rod Stewart recorded, Harry Connick Jr, recently Gloria Estefan did an album of American Songbook. Who do you think is doing the best job at carrying on the torch of singing these tunes?
The first on the list would have to be a lady named Diana Krall.
Oh yeah.
Diana Krall, for me, is the finest talent around today.  She is absolutely magnificent, she sings beautifully, she is a magnificent jazz pianist and she has done all of this for me.  Another person who got into it for a time and then regrettably stopped, was Carly Simon.

Oh yeah.
Many years ago Carly Simon made a record album called “Torch,” of all the sad songs, and it is absolutely magnificent, even now it’s magnificent and Rod Stewart who I have met, I don’t know him well, Rod Stewart, really was not deeply into,”’If You Think I’m Sexy and you Want my Body,” which he did to get himself famous and once he became accepted as a great recording artist, he then moved into the music that he believed in, he’s made many, many wonderful albums of, as you say, the Great American Songbook.  He’s become very, very good at it, you’ve got this young kid, this Canadian kid Michael Buble now, they are doing this music, and it’s good to know that someone still has this kind of thing. I have a young friend, I must tell you, Mr. Leslie, it’s a man I met who comes from Baltimore in Maryland, he’s in his early 30s and his name is Dale Corn.  Dale Corn is a big band singer, he works with a big band at Baltimore, he’s made albums, pretty decent singer and he loves the jazz, he loves to come and hang out with me when I’m working nearby and he’s wonderful, and here’s a guy that I hope you will look into and begin to use his music, cause it’s pretty good, and his vocation, how he makes his living, you wouldn’t believe if I were to tell you.

What’s that?
He is a yard engineer on the CSX, on the Chessy, he’s been working on the railroad, he is a railroad engineer.

Interesting.
You know those yellow switch engines when you go by a railroad yard, it says ‘CSX’?

Yes.
Well, he is an engineer on the Chessy, on consolidated and he is also a big band singer, he’s very good and he’s had some wonderful records with wonderful orchestrations and if you look him up on the internet, you will find him and you should have his records, they are pretty good, this is another guy who makes that music, I think he’s in his early 30s.  The difference between he and Michael Buble and the others is that he’s not famous, but there are those very, very few who do this thing, and then of course there are people in radio, the die hards, like you who are.. and they’re going to call you all kinds of names in the younger community, they’re going to call you a dinosaur, when I’m on the stage working, I tell the audience that the younger people come to my show and they call me ‘Jurassic Park,’ which is a good description for me, that’s what I am, and this is the fact and you will be criticized as well, because you’re into this kind of music. Do you remember I told you I had a radio show years ago?

Right.
Okay.  The radio station that ran my show, and this is over ten years ago now, they were the good music station in Los Angeles where I lived and at that time they had a wonderful following in their audience, their radio audience, but of course, the bean counters upstairs, did not like the fact… “well, yes, if you’re making us 2 dollars, why aren’t you making us 5 dollars?” And when they came up with 5 dollars, then the bean counters said “well, why aren’t you making us 12 dollars?” So they first changed the format of the station, they made it a Latin music station.  They were not happy with that, now it’s a talk station about sports.

Huh.
And I’m sure in your career in radio, you told me that your show is broadcast in several different markets, you’re going to have the same thing. There’s a man, Mr. Leslie, at Philadelphia, who started on Friday afternoons, a show called ‘Friday With Frank,’,he just plays Sinatra records.  Then he graduated to Saturday, with ‘Saturday With Sinatra’ and ‘Sunday With Sinatra.’ This man’s name is Sid Mark and he has been doing the Sinatra radio programs for 58 years. Every time I go to Atlantic City, which is coming up in just a couple of weeks now, right after Labor Day, I have to go through the airport at Philadelphia and I always stop at Philadelphia and go to do Sid’s radio program, so that I’m with him and he is getting along in years now, but imagine, he has done the Sinatra show for 58 years and as it happens, he has interviewed everybody who has anything to do with Sinatra, including Sinatra himself.  At the same time I have been a guest on his program for over 40 years now and he has had to go from one radio station to another. All of a sudden, the star chamber upstairs, the administration changes. In comes some new regime and they say “what do we need with this old man playing this elevator music for?” So he has probably been, since I’ve known him, on 7 or 8 different radio stations.  Yet, they still keep him on the air, and if you’re going to be dedicated as you seem to be, Mr. Leslie, to this music, you’d better be prepared for that, because it’s going to hit you too. The bean counters are going to say “We like the music you play personally, but we think there’s a bigger market for rock and for talk radio and things like that.”

No doubt.
Forgive me, forgive me if I sounded like I was lecturing you, but this is the benefit of my experience.

Oh no, I mean I have encountered plenty of people who said “yeah, that’s great, but why don’t you do this? Or why don’t you do something that’s on the charts?” But I’ve never been able to do something that I didn’t like (Paul laughs).
Well, this is the way of things today.

What do you think about Robert Davi?
Robert Davi is a very old friend, and I’m glad that he has decided if he’s going to go into music, I’m very, very glad that he too has dedicated himself to this kind of music. He’s an excellent actor.  He was one of the bad guys in the James Bond pictures and he is a wonderful talent and he tells people when they ask him, he got his break in movies from Frank Sinatra who hired him for a picture back in the 70s. He’s a fine talent and he goes into this kind of music now and I’m delighted, as I say, that if he’s going to do this, this is the music he’s picked, but then again, just like the rest of us, he will be facing some difficult times because the audience for this music, that you have embraced, that I have dedicated my life to, and that Robert Davi is now doing, that audience is the minuscule minority of what’s out there.

What is the best thing about being Frank Sinatra, Jr.?
The experience of having in present, meeting so many of these people, great people like that, that created all of this wonderful, wonderful music, lyric, movies, radio, television, records.  You name it and hopefully just picking up now and again and a few droppings from these brains, these great, great brains and this has been my prize possession as I look back.

In addition to being on the radio, we’re going to put this interview online so people can access it from anywhere in the world. What do you want to say to anyone who’s listening in?
They have a lot of patience. (Paul laughs) If they can listen to my ramblings, which tend to become quite lengthy and I apologize for that, they must have a great deal of patience.

 Could you pick a song that you have sung or recorded that best describes you?
Me?

Yes.
No, I couldn’t do that, I really wouldn’t know what to say, there’s so many songs, which are so important through the years, you know, and I’ve recorded as a singer for the number of years I’ve been in this business, I have recorded actually a very small number of released records, because nobody ever wanted my records and as it happens, this is just a fact, you know.  As I was saying, it occurs to me that I could never pick just one specific number like that then have it, you know, as my song.

I have two final questions, this first one is kind of just a light-hearted one. What is your all-time favorite meal?
Breakfast. Oh Bacon and eggs, some nice toast, things like that. I’m just a home-spun boy at heart I guess.

My last question. Who is Frank Sinatra, Jr.?
Who is Frank Sinatra Jr? Frank Sinatra Jr today is an old man who tells people, you want to put this in a third person, tells people that “he” was never famous, he just had a famous name, and as it happens, the only thing I believe to really justify his life, if there are those philosophic people who say that every man’s life has to be justified, the only thing that could be said that he justified his life with, is that he practiced what he believed in, devoutly , and it cost him a lot of hungry nights, but then again this was a lesson that he had learned from his Father before him, and his Grandfather before his Father, and I believe that that still stands for something and might be on a tombstone, it might be an epitaph, but the fact is he did practice what he believed devoutly.

Beautifully stated, Mr. Sinatra, thank you very, very much for your time and thank you very much for this interview. I appreciate it so much.
I hope it’s of some use to you, I can’t imagine what, but you know, you might want to line the bird cage with it if you type it out, (Paul laughs) but as it happens you asked me some… ummm… some philosophic-style questions, I’ve tried to answer you in kind.

Well I thank you again, it’s been enjoyable, I looked forward to it and it was worth the wait.
Okay, thank you very much for your interest in what it is I do and I hope that you continue to devote yourself to this music, because I would very much like to believe that it’s going to sustain.

TRANSCRIBED BY ROSALIND WINTON

Tom T. Hall: Singer-Songwriter

TOM T. HALL stands as one of the best songwriting storytellers of our time.  The writer of songs like “I Love,” “Harper Valley PTA,” and “Itty Bitty” for Alan Jackson among so many others talks about his songs and more in this face-to-face interview.

It’s a great pleasure to welcome Mr. Tom T. Hall on our program.  Thank you so much for joining us.  How do you do, Mr. Hall?
I’m in very good spirits today.  Been working on the farm and things are going well.  If you see a black cow with a white spot on it’s nose, bring it to me.

(Laughs)  So, who is Tom T. Hall?
Well, let’s see.  Who is Tom T. Hall?  Boy, you hear that question a lot (laughs) more than some of the others.  Tom T. Hall is six feet tall, weighs two-hundred and ten pounds, lives in Franklin, Tennessee…he’s an ex-country music superstar and, uh, he has a farm with chickens, cats, dogs, turkeys, and, uh, I hope I don’t leave any animals out…raccoons, squirrels, birds, and he takes care of all of them. 

I think most stories are best from the beginning.  What was life like growing up?
Well, I was born in, um, Olive Hill, Kentucky and Olive Hill, Kentucky is in a valley and there’s not an olive tree within probably 2,526 kilometers, but it’s, uh, a beautiful little town.  The population was 1,300.  Everybody knew everybody else and, uh, great town to grow up in and, uh, I feel like I’ve got a lot of friends there and I’ve written a lot of songs about people I’ve met….I grew up with and stories I heard from people I grew up with too.  So I was very fortunate to be born in Kentucky and I’m very proud of it and doubly proud to be an American. 


What kind of music did you enjoy the most?
Well I just mentioned that I grew up in Kentucky so you would imagine that the primary music that we all listened to was Bluegrass music.  Bill Monroe…theory has it that he started the music there way back when he was a kid and, um, so, we were listening to Flatt and Scruggs and all the, um, theoretical spin-offs…the Stanley Brothers and Reno and Smiley, Jimmy Martin, and Flatt and Scruggs and on and on and on and I, uh, my first musical experience was playing, uh, playing the bass fiddle in a Bluegrass band.  I remember as a kid, standing out under a tree….I don’t think the music…I’ve come a long way and done a lot of music but I think that’s the best music I ever heard, even though I was playing some of it.  And I was the “Oh Lordy” guy….we did a lot of gospel songs and my voice was too low to sing High Lonesome so I was the guy who’d lean in once in a while and say, “Oh Lordy,” which always got a nice round of applause. 

 

How did you feel the first time you got a song of yours recorded?  What song was it and who recorded it?
Well, uh, the first song I ever had recorded was by Jimmy C Newman and was called ‘A DJ for a Day.’  And I was a disc jockey at the time and had sent the song to Nashville and I stayed up till about 2 o’clock in the morning to hear Grant Turner play it on WSM and it sounded wonderful and I thought they’d play it five or six more times but they didn’t that night.

What lyricist do you find the most impressive?
Uh, I think, uh….I hate to pick out favorites…there’re a lot of great songwriters in this town and they’ve come and they’ve gone but, uh, I think I liked Harley Allen’s writing about as well as anybodies because he, uh, he wrote the way I liked to write….a lot of imagery in his lyrics and everything.  Harley, of course, passed away some time ago…a couple years ago…God rest his soul…but, uh, I always thought he was a remarkable wordsmith, if we may say that. 

What composer do you like the most?
Well this may….this would be melodies, I think…I would say Chopin.  He was a classic piano player and he wrote ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star’ and that may surprise some people, but that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

What inspired your song, ‘Harper Valley PTA’ and did you know it would be as successful as it was?
Well to answer the last part of the question, I don’t think anybody knows what’s going to happen to a song.  They never have any way of knowing.  If there was somebody in the world who knew that they would practically own the world but that’s what makes music, uh, the music business so interesting because, uh, you gotta get lucky and have a little talent and everything’s gottahappen just right at the right time.  But, uh, the song was inspired by a true story about an incident that took place in my hometown when I was, uh, a kid and it always made a big impression on me and I wrote the song when I got to Nashville because I was thinking back on some interesting things that happened in my childhood.

Can you recall writing the song ‘Little Bitty’?
I can recall that very vividly because I was on tour in Australia at the time and I…when I toured these foreign countries, there’s not an easy way to get a lot of exercise and I’m a big exercise person, so I would get up every morning and walk for two or three miles.  If I was in a city, you know, I’d walk six blocks this way, six blocks this way, six blocks this way and six blocks back and if my math worked out right, I’d wind up back at the hotel.  Sometimes I didn’t and I’d have to find a phone and call a radio station and ask somebody where I was staying so I had some big adventures.  But I got up one morning and I was dragging and I went for a walk and I was in a really small town so after about a mile, I was out in the country and I’m walking along and I pass this little white house with a little picket fence and a little dog in the yard and a car parked in the garage and a little flower bed and I thought, “You know this whole idea of having a house and a car and a dog and a family is a universal thing,” so I started singing “A little bitty house,” and however the song goes…I never sang it much.  I just wrote it.  But, uh, I went back to the little motel where we were staying and I walked in and the coffee shop was open now so, I didn’t know if ‘Little Bitty’ was something I picked up as a kid…an expression…I wanted to find if everyone knew what “Little Bitty” meant.  I wasn’t sure.  So a lady came over and brought me some coffee and I said, “I want to ask you a question,” and she said, “Yes sir,” and I said, “Does “little bitty” mean anything in Australia,” and she said, “Oh yes sir!  It’s something very tiny.”  I said, “Okay, I’m on my way,” so I finished up the song.

What inspired you to write ‘I Love’?
I live on a farm.  We have sixty acres outside Nashville.  It’s called ‘Fox Hollow’ and, uh, I had a friend who was a psychiatrist.  I wasn’t a patient.  I couldn’t afford it.  I needed it but I couldn’t afford it.  But, uh, he told me to get up in the morning and write down a list of everythingI didn’t like and you’d find out that the list was not as long as you would think it would be.  Well, I’m not a very negative person so I did that a couple days and I said, “That’s no fun.  I’m going to turn the whole thing around and just write down a list of things I love.”  Well, I was about halfway through the list and I started humming it and singing it.  Now, that’s the nature of a songwriter…and so it turned into a song instead of a list of things I love but they’re all in there and the song was two minutes long.  I recorded it in one take and sold a million records and I think it’s a…or more maybe by now…but, uh, it makes a very good statement about brevity so it doesn’t take as long to write or record a hit song as you might think. 

Can you say there’s a favorite version of one of your songs that someone else recorded?
I always liked anything Bobby Bare sung of mine because he could really, uh, do…he understood my songs and I traveled around with Bobby for a number of years.  We were in the same agency.  I liked the way Bob sang my songs.  But, uh, I think one of my favorite versions of a song was by a young man named Buddy Miller who I think is an alternative country music guy and, uh, a great person.  He did a version of a song I wrote called ‘How I Got to Memphis’ and I’m terribly fond of that and I hate to pick out favorites, but that’s it. 

What is your favorite all-around song?
I think my all-time favorite song for some strange reason is ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow.’  There’s something about that melody and those words that just stuck in my head when I was a kid and heard it for the first time and I go around humming that a lot.  (Sings)  “Somewhere over the rainbow, bluebirds fly.”  Well, I’m not getting paid to sing here so…
(Laughs)  Tell us about writing songs with Miss Dixie.  What is she like to work with?
Miss Dixie and I write songs together all the time, but we write a little differently.  I’m…I write very quickly and I’m kind of impatient and I don’t like to stay in one place too long, but we can get a song started and find out what it’s about and maybe get a verse and a chorus and then sometimes I go off to bed…I go to bed with the chickens and get up with the chickens.  I don’t sleep with the chickens, but we have the same schedule.  And she’ll spend sometimes a week or, you know, everything…she likes to go…she was trained as a newspaper reporter…a newspaper editor…so she goes through and edits all these songs and comes out with some great finished product, but some of them I don’t hear them until they’re finished and some, I’m too lazy to work that hard but she’s really great at that. 

What is the best thing about being Tom T. Hall?
I think the best thing about being Tom T. Hall is not having to work.  I’m retired and, uh, I don’t owe anybody anything.  I don’t want anything from anybody and so, I can, if I take a notion some days, I can be a real butthole so that’s probably the best deal. 

What is it you like about music?
Well that’s a question that is very difficult to answer because all human beings are wired up a little differently here and there.  That’s what makes us individuals.  But, uh, I love music so much as a little child…I was four years old and there were a lot of kids in our family, but I would have my mother wake me up…she would get up very early to fix my father’s breakfast so he could go off to work, but she would get me up even before my father and, uh, while she was cooking breakfast…and let me listen to the Grand Ole Opry from Nashville, Tennessee.  They had some live bands back in those days.  They had, uh, you name it back in those days…they had Bill Monroe and Flatt and Scruggs and I think the Wilburn Brothers…I don’t know who all, but I was only four years old and I would get up and sit in the chair and listen to that music and that…I was one of the weird kids in the family in that regard. 

What makes you happiest?
I think what makes me happiest is to see other people happy.  I don’t, uh, I’m pretty…I’m kind of a loner and I’ve got my own take on life and I do my own thing and Miss Dixie lets me hang out at the barn and talkto the chickens and ducks and animals and so I think what makes me happiest is to see other people doing well and being happy and I try to contribute to that if I can.  I do that by staying out of their way, I think.

What is your favorite sound?
I think, uh, I’m not certain now, but, uh, when I was a kid, the most beautiful sound in the world was a five-string banjo early in the morning.  Go figure that out.

My last question:  this interview will be heard by people in a lot of places.  What would you like to say to all the people listening in?
I would like to thank, uh, all the people who are within earshot today for, uh, listening to my music, playing my music, giving me a break when I did something lousy or bad or wrong and, by doing that, giving me the great privilege to be an old man, sitting on a farm outside Nashville just having a hell of a good life and I wish you all the same.

TRANSCRIBED BY LORI DOMINGO

Paula Cole: Singer-Songwriter

PAULA COLE was the first artist, or person for that matter, interviewed on-camera for Paul Leslie Presents.  The resulting interview resulted in us receiving a lot of correspondence from her fans.

We thank Paula Cole very much for taking a chance with us and being the very first.  Listen to her newer work, like Ithaca for an appreciation for her newer work.  She meets the definition of true artist.  She has not stopped creating, and for that, we are thankful.

Ladies and gentlemen, I’m Paul Leslie. Today we’re going to meet an artist who’s had a career that’s spanned almost two decades. Her name is Paula Cole. No doubt you’ve heard her songs Where Have All the Cowboys Gone? and I Don’t Want to Wait. She’s a Grammy winner and seven-time Grammy nominee. She’s released six solo albums including her most recent album, Ithaca and has sold three million copies. She’s worked with artists as diverse as Peter Gabriel and Dolly Parton. We’re at the Variety Playhouse where we’re going to meet the woman behind the songs.


It’s a great pleasure to welcome Paula Cole. Thank you so much for joining us.

Thank you, Paul.

 Who is Paula Cole?

There’s the intimidating question that you ask. Paula Cole is intense, is an environmentalist, is intelligent, has always been a singer and had this burdensome musical proclivity. I’m a mom to a very brilliant 10½ year-old daughter. I’m loyal, uh, and that’s about as best as I can do aside from being a woman in mid-life trying to keep things in balance.

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

I grew up in a very musical home and now that I’ve gotten my rebellion out of my system, by my twenties, and now that I’m a mother I look back on how I was raised and I’m very grateful for my family. They are very involved now in my life with my daughter so I can come and work. So, life at the Cole family household was one where I would come home from school and I would play music and my dad played a whole bunch of instruments, and we would sing and make music as a source of fun. It was to be self-made. That being said, my dad was a professor of biology and ecology, a perfectionistic ‘Type A’ intelligent man and  I quested to do well. I was a straight A student. I was class president (laughs) and that’s partly because I was raised in such a place. But, a lot of pressure but no complaints. Really a great upbringing.

You studied at the Berkley College of Music. What was the most important thing you learned from that experience?

The most important thing I learned at Berkley was something I arrived at myself by being in that environment – and that environment is an oasis in the world for modern music – and that was, uh, to be myself. Because when I was at Berkley I was kind of woodshedding the masters – and that’s jazz language for just listening, drinking in, being influenced by musical greats. At the time I was going to be a jazz singer, I thought, so I was listening to Chet Baker. I wanted to be a female Chet Baker when I grew up. I was listening to Sarah Vaughn and Billie Holiday, and I worshiped at the alter of Miles Davis and I thought of my voice as an instrument, as a horn. And uh, but then I started needing to outlet my emotions because I struggle with kind of trying to figure out what I’m feeling? So songs to me are this life line and they just started coming up. And that’s when I realized I need to do this. I need to be myself. (Performance clip plays)

I read that you turned down a record deal from a jazz label. That’s so interesting. Was it from you following your heart? Was it gut instinct? What made you decide, when so many people are scrambling to get records deals?

Then (laughs), you know then – back in (laughs), back in the day a record deal was paramount. Now you can do it without it. Now you can be more self-made and that’s the road that I wish to go on now. I want to be more entrepreneurial and self-directed, but at the time? Yes, a record deal was an amazing thing. And it was an amazing thing, Paul, for my self-confidence. So, it wasn’t the right fit and I thought ‘Gee, this came really easily. It shouldn’t be that easy.’ And if it comes that easy then I want it to be right, and it wasn’t quite the right label and the right time. And I’m glad I said no. I wanted to be on a label that was broader with its genres of music.

Tell us about Peter Gabriel. What was he like to work with and be around?

Peter Gabriel is like his name. I think he’s kind of an angel among us. I had the wonderful fortune of joining his Secret World Live Tour, which was just rereleased, a newly mastered version this July, this month. And, uh, that was my first tour ever which is bizarre, to be flown to Europe and stay in five-star hotels and tour the world as your first tour but – it was all downhill from there, I guess (laughs) – but that was my beginning. And I joined these musical masters. Truly my influences were comprised of the band. And I was a true fan of Peter’s work. He was highly influential to me, musically. So there I am working with my little personal demigod (laughs), and then that filters through and you see him as a man and then you see him as a friend. And he’s a wonderful man and a wonderful friend. I feel very fortunate to have had that experience. And I would be on those large stages thinking to myself ‘What can learn from this? What can I take from this and bring it home?’

Well, on that note, what did you take away from Peter Gabriel? What did he teach you?

Hmmm, one of the greatest things he taught me was that the – to share the spotlight. That the strength of the band, um, blossoms when you share the spotlight, and you don’t hog it like some narcissistic diva. You, you celebrate the guitar solo. You give everybody time and lots of kudos. And I saw him be very paternal to his working family, the band, and I saw how magnificent that was, so that changed me. And I wanted to be that inclusive and loving to my band.

Your songs – there’s a couple that everybody knows. Everybody knows I Don’t Want to Wait. Everybody knows Where Have All the Cowboys Gone? and that’s something that some songwriters never get to experience, you know, for their message to be carried like that. But the thing about a lot of your lyrics is there’s a bit of mystery to them. Like, they could be interpreted a couple of different ways if you look at some of the lyrics. Is that intentional?

A lot of people know my songs, whether they want to or not (laughs) and I am, I’m really grateful for that. Uh, it’s funny. My career didn’t exactly turn out how I thought it would be. I thought it would be a much slower, longer build and it all happened very quickly, based on a couple of hits, uh, which is still very bizarre to me in a way. And I remember hearing like somebody singing my song with their Walkman on. I’m walking down the streets of  NYC and somebody’s singing along with Cowboys. And then I’m in another city and hear someone in a convertible with the radio on and there, my song is coming out of the radio. It’s fantastic. It hits you like a lightening bolt to the chest. It’s just unbelievable. And even today, if I’m in the grocery store or wherever I am and I hear myself, I stop and I feel really great and I thank oh sweet mystery of life, I thank you universe for that. That is one of the – I guess the great success I feel, is that I have intellectual property that continues to live and that’s quite a blessing.

Where’s the most bizarre place that you heard one of your songs being played?

Well, I haven’t heard – well, there’s some karaoke versions out there (laughs) and it’s on karaoke, and that’s a little funny but um – I don’t know. I’d need a minute to think about that one.

Tell us a little bit about – I wanted to show the new album Ithaca. What was the inspiration behind the title, Ithaca?

Thanks. Ithaca is my last album. That one’s on a major label, Decca. Ithaca comes from the Odyssey, Homer’s Odyssey, because Odysseus has just made this really painful long journey into the world. Something we can all relate to, right? Like, just moving through life. Fighting demons. Working in the world. Being a parent. For me, like going through my divorce, relocating, being a single mom and making the decision to come home to my Ithaca. And that was a hard decision to make. I was letting go of all my dreams of my twenties to live in the hip environment NYC – which I love and I miss – and to come back to suburban America and live near my parents so that I would have help raising my daughter. That’s a hard thing to go through but I knew it was my truth and I knew it was what I needed to do. So I kind of felt very much akin to Odysseus’s full spiritual circle of life and coming home to Ithaca. And I went home to my Ithaca. And I thought it was the right metaphor for that body of work.

What do you find is the greatest well of inspiration for your songwriting?

There seems to be an ever-present well. I don’t understand it but I have this well of  sadness and angst and intensity, and it doesn’t necessarily make for a happy life (laughs) but I feel like I’m an empath. I’m a sponge. I feel people’s feelings. I see what’s going on in the world. I want to know what’s going on in the world. I read the Financial Times every day. I want to, I want to know what’s happening. But it’s all of that. It’s feeling and seeing the world. It’s experiencing my life as deeply as I do and needing an outlet for it, or else I’d go insane.

As far as the songwriters that have influenced you the most, who would you say are the lyricists and composers that are the most in your work?

I love singer-songwriters because they are truth-seekers. And I should probably add that to the list of ‘Who is Paula Cole?’ – truth-seeker. And I think singer-songwriters who really arrive at their own voice are truth-seekers. So, John Lennon and Joni Mitchell and Dolly Parton and Bill Withers and Bob Marley and Marvin Gaye and Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush. Singer-songwriters. And it doesn’t matter what style it is. That encompasses a lot of styles but that doesn’t matter to me. They all arrived at – oh, Neil Young – really unique, they are uniquely themselves. They’re intelligent. They’re questing for their truth and they’re putting their pain out so magnificently, their joy. And, uh, so that’s really my favorite music.

There have been some great artists that have recorded songs that you wrote. What is the best rendition that you’ve heard – if you dare answer (laughs).

(Laughs) Oh, I know it, hands down. My favorite cover of my song – and I, and I, I still can’t believe it – but Annie Lennox and Herbie Hancock, they covered a song of mine called Hush, Hush, Hush which I’ll perform tonight. This was a song that I wrote because a friend of mine died of AIDS too young and I didn’t know what to do with those feelings. I was overwhelming by my feelings so I put them in  a song. And Herbie Hancock plays the piano and Annie Lennox sings. And it’s on Herbie’s Possibilities album and it’s on her Greatest Hits album. And they both did such an amazing job and I’m touched and like humbled that they did it. It’s incredible.

What’s the best thing about being Paula Cole?

OK, uh, (laughs) the best thing – you know, the best thing about being me is that I have this 10½ year-old daughter that is completely captivating to me. She’s so smart – she’s smarter than me – so I’m finding it a very fascinating ride to discover who this person is and that’s definitely the best part about being me.

Well, my last question is totally open-ended.

OK.

You can say anything you like. What would you like to say to the people who are watching?

Oh, uh, um … I would like to say that I ask you not to compartmentalize me, somewhere back on that shelf from the ‘90s. I am so much more than that. I had to take a hiatus because of my daughter and her health problems but I just ask that you keep an open mind and you check out my newer work too.

Miss Paula Cole, thank you very much for this interview.

Thank you.

It’s been a pleasure.

Likewise.

 (Video closing) Paula Cole is a true artist. She lives and breathes her work. We want to thank her very much for joining us on Paul Leslie Presents. Be sure and follow us on Twitter at thepaulleslie and visit us online at thepaulleslie.com. We’ll keep bringing you conversations with the great artists of our times. I’m Paul Leslie. Thank you so much for watching.

TRANSCRIBED BY GAYLE BRAZDA

Chubby Checker: Singer & Recording Artist

 CHUBBY CHECKER is one of the greatest singers in all of music.  In 1960, he recorded and released the Hank Ballard R&B song “The Twist” which resulted in a dance craze also known as “The Twist.”

The Twist has not gone away.  Nor has Chubby Checker.  He’s still Twisting!  What a thrill to talk with one of the absolute greatest in rock ‘n roll.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is with great pleasure that we welcome our special guest, the legendary rock-n-roller, Chubby Checker.  Thanks so much for joining us.
Thank you so much.  Good to be talking with you.

It’s a great pleasure.  So tell everyone out there…people know your songs…but whose the real Chubby Checker?

You don’t want to know him.  He’s a very quiet guy.

Really?

He’s more like Clark Kent.  Nobody cares about him.  He’s very quiet, you know.  Someone whose the other guy…he’s always promoting Chubby Checker…the other guy, he’s always promoting Chubby and everything Chubby does.  It’s like I’m a person within a person.  I promote…I promote Chubby Checker and the quiet guy doesn’t really do very much.  He’s very laid back.  He’s a whole different kind of person and very quiet and…and…you know, just very normal.  In fact, I try to keep out of the way…keep out of the lights and, um, go to quiet places to be entertained.  Nothing exciting because the life of Chubby Checker is always in the spotlight so the other person tries not to be in the spotlight. 

Interesting.  Where do you come from originally?  What was life like growing up?

Spring  Gully, South Carolina and it’s Williamsburg County and Georgetown County.  Williamsburg from Spring Gully, South Carolina and Andrews, South Carolina, this is my home and when you come through Andrews, South Carolina on Highway 521, in every section of town they will say “Welcome to Andrews, birthplace of or the home of Chubby Checker.”

Wow!  Very cool.

I have to behave myself because I, I always tell the people in Andrews and Spring Gully that please forgive me because every time you come through town my name is always there so it’s a burden for them so please forgive me.  I’m going to behave myself and be a good by so that you won’t be ashamed of me (laughs). 

I was reading a really interesting story about you…and there’s lots of interesting stuff also I want to direct all the listeners to ChubbyChecker.com….there’s a real interesting story about you and how you got your name.

When I was a kid, I worked in a produce market for Tony Anastasi and Tony Anastasi gave me the name Chubby.  I later discovered that he gave me his son’s name, which I considered a great honor and a few years later I was working in the poultry market for Henry Colt and he took me to the record company.  I was doing a project for Dick Clark.  The lady there…this lady said…she said, “That’s Chubby.  Chubby like Fatts,” and then she added, “Checker, like Domino,” and Chubby became Chubby Checker and the lady’s name was Mrs. Dick Clark.

So tell me, how did you get interested in music?

My mom took me to concert when we were living in Georgetown County in Georgetown, South Carolina and I was looking at Ernest Tubb, the country singer, and then she later took me to a show in Andrews, South Carolina where I saw a singer named Sugar Charles Robinson  and after I saw those two people, I decided I’d have to be in show business.  I was about four or five years old. 

Wow.  Can you remember favorite artists and favorite records growing up?

I remember people from the 40’s like, um, Hank Williams and Grandpa Jones…those people were around when I was a kid because all I ever heard was country music because I was born before rock-n-roll and people like Hank Williams…people like that….and then when I gained consciousness, about 1951…I must have been about ten years old, then I started exploring rock-n-roll because people like Billy Ward and the Dominos and people like that and…Perry Como and Milton Berle and then came along people like Sammy Davis Jr. and Harry Belafonte and, um, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin…people like that…but my favorite of all times was Fats Domino, Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and Jerry Lee Lewis.  These are the people that really mean something in the rock-n-roll business.  We…we are part of all these people.

I had to agree with you there on the Fatman there.  He was one of my favorite people to interview.  Just an amazing artist.

But these five people, to me, are…a statue should be carved of them in some mountain somewhere and call it the ‘Rock-n-Roll Mountain of Rushmore.’  Fats Domino, Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis… these are the guys who really made it…that made rock-n-roll come alive with great fire. 

Before ‘The Twist,’ you had a song called ‘The Class.’  Tell us about that song.

I did impressions of Fats Domino and Elvis Presley and Cozy Cole and the Chipmunks and things like that and I still do a good Elvis impression and Ricky Nelson and Fabian and people like that and it was a novelty record.  It wasn’t my favorite but it was my first hit but it wasn’t my favorite record because I thought that, at the time, I was much cooler than ‘The Class.’  (Laughs)

Well tell us about the first time you heard your own music on the radio.  What did that feel like?

I really never listened to my music and I very rarely look at any films of me on TV or videos.  I never really watch that and the reason why I don’t listen to myself is because I might hear something that I don’t like and I might change it…I might change it…and that might be the reason why people are listening to me and when I watch myself on TV and I see something and I change it, that might be the reason why they like me so I never really watch myself and I don’t listen to my records but I do know that when they’re not played…I have a thing called ‘Media Base.’  I find out where all my music is being played and how many times it’s being played and the great heartbreak about my career is that they don’t really play my music like they play the other great people in the music industry.  I would like to hear Chubby’s music even more.  My music is responsible for the way we dance on the dance floor because after we did ‘The Class,’ and I did ‘The Twist,’ the world changed forever.  It’s almost as if we’re talking on the telephone right now…when the telephone came to the public, it became a permanent fixture in the world.  When…when Edison gave us the light bulb, it became a permanent fixture in the world.  When Chubby Checker did ‘The Twist,’ the ‘Pony,’ the “Fly,’ the ‘Shake,’ the ‘Hucklebuck,’ dancing on the floor the way we dance became a permanent fixture on the dance floor for everybody’s music and all I want out of it all is for everyone to play my music like they play Elton John;  like they play Elvis;  like they play all the rest of the guys out there….Bob Seger…I want to hear my music the way they play their music and I deserve to have it because in September 11th, 2008, ‘The Twist’ was named the number one song on the planet.  I want to hear the number one song on the planet on the radio.  I want to hear every radio station play the number one song on the planet. 

Well tell us a little bit about that song.  It is amazing, you know.  I can’t believe that it wouldn’t be more wide-spread.  Everybody knows ‘The Twist’ and it’s…

Everybody knows ‘The Twist,’ but I want the radio stations to play what’s responsible for the way we dance on the dance floor  24/7 since Chubby Checker went on ‘American Bandstand’ around 1959 and the world changed forever.  I mean, the way we do the boogie… the way we dance to Lady Gaga… the way kids dance that are nine or ten years old…that’s Chubby Checker.  You turn on the light in your house, it’s Thomas Edison.  When you get on the phone, it’s Alexander Graham Bell.  When you get on the dance floor, that’s Chubby Checker.  The music has a beat and you can dance to it, like they use to say, that’s Chubby Checker. 

Well, tell us about that song, ‘The Twist.’

We’re celebrating fifty years of dancing by ourselves on the dance floor.  Billy Idol said it last…said it best.  He says, that song “dancing by myself… and I’ll be dancing by myself.”  That’s what we’ve been doing.  When Chubby Checker did ‘The Twist,’ we been dancing by ourself on the dance floor, in front of someone, exploiting their sexuality, which is the most exciting thing on the planet!  That’s why we’re still doing it. 

Yeah, I heard you say that on the, on the television.  Uh, you mentioned that…you said that we’re exploiting one another’s sexuality.  What exactly do you mean by that?

It means that I’m actually standing in front of that woman and she’s standing in front of me and we’re fully dressed and we’re doing it.  What are we doing?  We’re doing it.  I’m looking at that girl and I’m saying, “Watch me…check my moves,” and she’s saying, “Watch me…check my moves,” and I’m looking at her and she’s looking at me.  My goodness!  You can’t get any closer to a strip tease than that.


(Laughs)  Yeah…

And that’s why…that’s why the way we dance on the dance floor before Chubby Checker wasn’t here…in fact, aerobic exercise did not emerge until someone says, “Hey, ‘The Twist’ is great exercise.  Let’s get some music and exercise to music,” and before Chubby Checker, that wasn’t even here.

That’s amazing.  When you look back at all the songs you recorded, is there one to you personally…you mentioned that you didn’t listen to your own records…but is there one to you that is a favorite?

‘The Twist’ is a great song.  ‘The Twist’ is my favorite song and reason for that is is because, you know, it changed the world.  When Walt Disney brought Mickey Mouse to our attention animated cartoons was established and invented right there and everyone that does animated cartoons…now when you go to Disney World or Disneyland you see Mickey Mouse but what about Snow White and the rest of the characters that he has?  Well my Mickey Mouse is ‘The Twist,’ and then my Snow White is ‘The Colonnade,’ and my Goofy is ‘The Fly, and another one is ‘The Shake’ and another one’s ‘The Hucklebuck.’  Those are my characters but they all represent, like Walt Disney’s characters all represent animated cartoons because before he came along it wasn’t here, and all my dances represent the way we dance on the dance floor.  We call it the ‘Dancing Keyboards’ to the way we do the boogie and it’s been going on 24/7 since Chubby Checker, that in two minutes and forty-two seconds the world, the world changed…the dip, dip beat(?)…the length of ‘The Twist’ is two minutes, forty-two seconds and two minutes and forty-two seconds changed the dance floor forever and it’s still going on as we speak.  ‘The Twist’ and the way we dance to the beat is the biggest event in the music industry…the day that it happened…and it still is the biggest event in the music industry.  I just want to catch up with myself and I’m hoping that all the radio stations in the world will play Chubby Checker’s music.  When I’m dead, I’m not going to be able to hear it.  I want to hear it while I’m alive and well.

It was not too I was doing an interview with Clarence “Frogman” Henry in New Orleans and he was, he was talking about you and he said that you were one of the people that he opened for that he was the most proud and the most excited to sing along with.  So I wanted to ask you: Who have you sang along with or opened for or had open for you that you were especially excited about?

It was way back in the day.  There was show in Philadelphia.  I was still in high school and I was the MC.  I…the first tour I went on, I was the MC and I was…I opened for The Quest.  I opened for Paul Williams and the Big Band.  I opened for Clyde McPhatter  and I opened for Bo Diddley.  The show was called ‘Hot Five,’ and I was on that show.  After that, basically most of the time, I’m on the road by myself all the time.  I loved playing with Chuck Barry.  I loved Fatts Domingo, Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis.  I mean, I’ve played with all these people.  I was in the company of Elvis once in my career.  I’ve met Paul McCartney twice and that’s…that’s about it.  I mean, other than that, it’s the music and Chubby and the audience.  That’s what we’ve been doing, you know, since 1959.  I graduated in 1960.  I was touring before I even graduated high school.  Go to I-Tunes and Amazon.com and look for ‘Knock Down the Walls.’  Look for ‘All the Best.’  Look for that.  Look for ‘Limbo Remix.’  Look for ‘The Texas Twist.’  These are things that I’ve done over the last ten years and you need to listen to those cause it’s…the music is very exciting.  Uh, ‘Knock Down the Walls,’ very exciting song and ‘Texas Twist’ is a country album and it’s all country music on it and it’s something that you need to get in to.  It’s very exciting…

Yeah..

..and, and, and….and go to…go to The Last Twist.com and, you know…we have candy bars and hot dogs and steak and all kinds of junk on there and I’m sure it’d be very interesting.

I’ve got two final questions.

Uh-huh…

When somebody goes to hear you play, cause I wanted all the listeners out there again…check out ChubbyChecker.com…he’s got shows everywhere…uh, what do you hope that they get out of the experience of coming to a Chubby Checker show or listening to one of the records?

They are the centerpiece of the performance.  I am just a good excuse for the party.  It’s all about them.  It’s not about me.  I’m glad they’re coming to see me but I’m also coming to see them and I’m going to give them something.  I’m going to personally get involved with them.  That’s what I do.  You know, the show is about them and you have to see it in order to know it but the thing is, most shows you go to you sit, you clap and you’re an observer and you go home.  You sit down, you clap, you’re an observer and you go home.

Right.

And that’s all you get.  With Chubby Checker, you get more.  You get other things.  Come to town.  Come to see me so that you can see what the other thing is all about.  What’s the next question?

The last question for the legendary Chubby Checker:  This broadcast goes out all over the world.  What would you like to say to all the people out there that are listening?

Whenever you go on the dance floor, I’m there.  In fact, out of all the dances that you do, when you go on the dance floor more than anyone else, you might be dancing to the Beatles but the dance that you do to the Beatles is Chubby Checker.  You might be dancing to Lady Gaga, but Chubby’s there.  You might be at your office on the telephone but Graham Bell’s there.  You might be in your house with the lights on but Edison is there.  Everybody out there, have a good time and most of all is my last message to you:  “Behave!”

(Laughs)  Alright, ladies and gentlemen, the one and only Chubby Checker.

TRANSCRIBED BY LORI DOMINGO