Who is Richard Kerr?

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.

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