The dog who wasn’t there

I heard barking from a nearby apartment for a couple of days before I corralled the super who opened the door. The occupant had skipped without notice, leaving the dog behind in an apartment that was empty, other than days’ worth of doggy-droppings and maybe a bowl of water.

I volunteered to watch over the dog, a long-haired terrier mix about the size of a shoe box. A week or so later, the woman came back, explained that her new apartment (a block away) didn’t allow pets, and said she’d pay for dog food while I kept the dog for her. I countered that it was now MY dog.

Time passed — maybe a year. The woman’s daughter, who was maybe 10, would stop by every once in a while and say hello to the dog. Then one day she knocked on my door and told me that her mother had said that the kid could borrow the dog for that night, her birthday.

The noive,” you say. As did I. On the other hand, I knew that dogs weren’t allowed in the new place, and I felt sorry for the daughter. So I let her borrow the dog, which she was to return before school the next morning.

Seven-thirty in the morning, the phone rang. It was the girl, in tears. The dog had got loose, she explained, and was hit by a car as she dashed across the street.

That’s terrible, I replied. I’ll come right over and pick up the body, so I can have her properly buried. As I’d expected, she said the body wasn’t available. The police said it was a civil matter (theft?), so I sued. The mother didn’t show up in court; later, the marshals said they’d been unable to serve her — though I didn’t get their fee back.

I finally said the hell with it; the kid has enough problems with her mother. But for many months, I would instinctively reach down to pet the dog who was no longer there.

It’s been twenty years, easily, and — thought there were always dogs, and for many years a cat, in my family home as I grew up — I’ve never had another pet.


Thrills and (Stephen) Stills at the Granada in Santa Barbara

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I, at least, don’t go to a Stephen Stills show for the singing – at least it isn’t high on my list of priorities. When I see Stills, it’s first for his guitar playing, and second for his songs. Singing, which to me has never been his strong suit, comes in third.

That said, Saturday night’s two-and-a-half hour (plus intermission) performance at the 1,600-seat Granada Theater in Santa Barbara lived up to my hopes. It even supplied a fourth priority: showmanship. That, Saturday night, placed between “guitar” and “songs.”

With a few exceptions (surprisingly, maybe, in his upper and lower register), Stills seemingly approximated more vocal notes than he actually hit.

The old folkie in Stills made a strong appearance as he chatted with the audience between songs: cracking jokes, telling stories, making political comments and even imitating the speaking (!) voices of Tony Bennett and Fred Neil. In addition of the songs probably expected of him – he opened with, “Change Partners” and “Helplessly Hoping” and closed with “Bluebird” and “For What It’s Worth” – he tossed numbers from his Greenwich Village contemporaries Neil (“Everybody’s Talkin’,” Tim Hardin (“Reason to Believe”) and Bob Dylan (“Girl from the North Country”). He also performed songs identified with Graham Nash and – maybe the most powerful performance of the evening – Neil Young’s “Rocking in the Free World.”

Explaining the number of other people’s songs in his set, Stills explained that he’d been listening a lot to the upcoming Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young box set, and that “I’m sick of ‘me’.”

(Incidentally: I’m all in favor of acts doing outside material — they can often tell you more about the performer than his or her own songs do).

Highlight among his own songs were a relatively rocking version of “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” and, from the album he did with the band Manassas, “Johnny’s Garden,” preceded by a funny reminiscence of his long-ago residence in the UK.

While far from lazy, the energy level of most of the show was varying degrees of “relaxed,” with this version of “Bluebird” downright flaccid in comparison to the Buffalo Springfield original.

Backing was by a strong quartet of Todd Caldwell on organ, bassist Kevin McCormick, former Wallflowers drummer Mario Calire, and Stills’ young son on percussion. Mid-set, a cake was brought out to commemorate Caldwell’s birthday. David Crosby, who lives in the general area of Santa Barbara, showed up early in the show to duet on “You Don’t Have to Cry.” Caldwell was the only other soloist, and Stills played a lot of guitar.

From the look of it, the average age of the near-capacity audience was north of sixty; still young enough to rise from their seats several times during the show and greet “Love the One You’re With” as though they — and Stills — were still in their twenties.

What you won’t read in Darlene Love’s autobiography

I see that, as of a few months ago, Darlene Love’s autobiography has been reissued in paperback. She was strongly featured in the Academy Award®-winning film “20 Feet Fron Stardom”. And now, the autobiography is being made into a movie for Oprah Winfrey’s network.

One thing at least the original version didn’t include was the part I and a few of my friends played in her comeback c. 1981-’82.  I doubt it’s in the new edition, either.

It all began when I saw a small display ad in the Los Angeles Times, promoting an appearance by Darlene at Medley’s, a club fronted by the Righteous Brothers’ Bill Medley, in Southern California’s South Bay area.

I was amazed: to my knowledge, Darlene — one of the greatest singers in pop music — didn’t perform “live”; she was best known for her career as a background singer on hundreds at least) of recordings made in Los Angeles, and for a few records issued under her own name and produced by Phil Spector.

Ringers abound in club appearances by purported stars — I recall seeing “Ral Donner” at the Palomino several years after he’d died; and someone who falsely claimed to be Porter Wagoner’s son at another show. But I doubted that Medley would showcase a fake Darlene Love. As a member of The Blossoms, she’d performed on many of his and the Righteous Brothers’ records; and they were said to have had a love affair at one point. So it seemed like a trip south would be worth the gamble. A friend and I drove down.

It was indeed Darlene Love.

She was sensational; looking good, and singing at least as well she had on the records we all remember. But the songs were something else — a set of material that virtually any other singer might have done (I remember Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5”), with a brief medley of some of the records she’d made on her own.

What a waste!

One of the greatest singers in rock and roll was performing to a small club crowd, backed by a band of the kind of guys in mullets you might expect to see playing top-40 gigs in the outlands. She played that kind of set, too — I specifically remember Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5.” She sang the hell out of it, but that wasn’t the point. Her Spector hits — the reason people who knew of her cam to see her — were confined to a medley toward the end of the show.

God did not mean it to be this way.

As it happened, there were two ways in which I might be of help. First, though I was at the time jobless, I had contacts at various papers around town, and I decided to pitch a story.

The L.A. Weekly, for whom Judy Raphael and I were writing the country music club and concert listings, wasn’t interested. So I approached Robert Hilburn at the Los Angeles Times. I knew him socially, but hadn’t worked for him. But I figured the story was too good for him — well-known as a Spector fan — to resist.

He resisted.

Then, a long shot: I called the city’s second (in terms of circulation) paper. I didn’t know anybody there, so asked for the features editor. Caught him at the right time; he talked to me. And he went for the idea.

More or less concurrently (I can’t remember the timing), I alerted some friends who’d been producing an annual New Years’ Eve party.this time for December 31, 1980. A private affair, admission was charged ($35!) and “name” acts were booked. Good ones, including r&b singers Roy Brown and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. I had nothing to do with the organization of the party, but knew the people who did (in no particular order: Art Fein, Bill Liebowitz, Bob Merlis, Gene Sculatti and a few other friends). And I suggested Darlene. After another trip to Medley’s, this time with a couple of the party’s organizers, things were set up.

My friend Billy Cioffi, whom I’d met when he was working with Gene Vincent, came in as bandleader. He assembled a group of people he’d worked with and shared his love of ’50s and ’60s material.

We created a set-list; Billy had new charts made for all the Spector songs she wasn’t performing (which was, virtually, all of them); and she debuted at the party, held at Hollywood’s Starwood club.

That clip is the first time she ever performed “Christmas” outside the recording studio.

With no agent involved, we had her booked on a series of live shows including the Roxy, where Bruce Springsteen, Dionne Warwick and Robert Mitchum (!) were in attendance. By now, Darlene’s set included Bruce Springsteen’s “Hungry Heart” and “Sometimes When We Touch,” written by Dan Hill and Barry Mann. Though they weren’t, both could have been written for her.

Darlene Love played Club Lingerie in Hollywood on Valentine’s Day. Another gig resulted in the “Darlene Love Live” album on Rhino. Then she ditched us all; within a couple of months she was back playing on cruise ships and lip-syncing in gay bars.

We were kind of dumbstruck, even though, we never intended to run her career — just take her to the point where someone who knew what they were doing could. And, to various degrees, we lost money on the project — Darlene always got paid, though of course nowhere near what she’s worth.

She never officially fired us — just started accepting gigs on her own, and asking “our” sax player to lead the band. After, I think, one gig, the sax player didn’t want to work with her, either. She asked an old friend to manage her (fine with us); unfortunately for her, he had a full-time job and had evidently lost many of his former show-biz contacts.

Just to make things clear: we were all thrilled to work with Darlene and proud of what was accomplished during a maybe six-month period. My guess is that she was just overwhelmed by the whole thing, and didn’t know how much she could trust us. Though she was very nice and easy to work with at the time.

On a commercial basis, she wasn’t all that old; nor, though, was she a teenager. That was probably a factor. And you’ll still that while she still makes the occasional record, she never did develop a career that involved hits, touring and that kind of stuff.

What she did do was move to New York City, co-star in “Leader of the Pack”, a jukebox musical based on the life of composer Ellie Greenwich, play Danny Glover’s wife in three “Lethal Weapon” movies, appear in Broadway musicals “Carrie” and “Hairspray,” and sing “(Christmas) Baby Please Home” on David Letterman’s last show before the holiday every year for the last couple of decades. In other words, she’s done pretty well without selling millions of records under her own name.

In her own telling these days, she’d given up singing to work as a housekeeper until one day she heard one of her records on her client’s radio — and was moved to return to music. Forget about us; she doesn’t mention Dionne Warwick, who hired her as backup singer for her live shows for many years. She doesn’t even mention Medley, who is the real hero of this story.

As for me, I wen to work for that paper — the Los Angeles Herald Examiner — for several years; moving from free-lance to staff “music guy.” Billy Cioffi, the bandleader, kept the backing musicians and worked for many years with various personnel changes doing their own shows, working as house band for oldies revues, and suchlike. He also worked as musical director at times for acts including Del Shannon and Chuck Berry. Some years ago, he moved to Arizona to further his education and continues to write, perform and produce music professionally, regularly. And, having earned his Masters, Billy now teaches college-level English.

One more thing: for several years, Darlene groused about Spector’s not paying her the royalties she “deserved.” While we were working with her, she claimed several times, quite proudly, that she’d taken a triple-scale (I think) buyout, because she had a family at home and was making plenty of money as a studio singer. Also, of course, there was no guarantee that she would become a big star as a result of those records. Off the top of my head, only the Righteous Bros. did, and they were an established act before signing with Spector. But that’s another story.

The “Broomstick” Connection

Researching the liner notes I was writing for a Brenda Lee album, I came across an anecdote that illustrates how things, seemingly unrelated, can be closely connected; sometimes with a simple, albeit unlikely, connection. Like this story, which takes from American folklore to a British hit record, then into an even bigger, worldwide hit.

The idea of “jumping the broomstick” as a euphemism for getting married dates back at least to the slavery era. Prohibited (according to at least one account) of engaging in Christian wedding ceremonies, the slaves devised their own rituals, one of which involved jumping over a broomstick.

How this wound up as a song recorded by Brenda Lee that became a hit in Europe, if not the United States, is by this point anybody’s guess. “I probably didn’t know what it meant,” Brenda allows, “just that it had a great rhythm and was fun to sing.”

Let’s Jump The Broomstick was a hit in the UK; well enough known when the Beatles – who had opened for Brenda on tour – appeared on the October 4, 1963 episode of “Ready, Steady, Go,” four girls mimed Brenda’s recording in a contest.  Paul McCartney declared thirteen year old Melanie Coe the winner.

Four years after the television appearance, Melanie, pregnant out of wedlock and afraid of her parents’ probable reaction, bolted from her well-to-do family’s house one afternoon with a croupier – not the baby’s father, incidentally. Unaware of the circumstances of her disappearance, her parents launched a search, the incident becoming front-page news (she was located after a week, and returned home).

“As a 17-year-old,” she later explained, “I had everything money could buy – diamonds, furs, a car – but my father and mother never once told me they loved me.”

Melanie’s story, with some artistic license, was immortalized in song by McCartney as She’s Leaving Home.

“See you real soon. Why? Because we want your $92!”

I’ve seen several stories on Disney’s raising their park admission prices — again — and a lot of reactions on the order of “we’re never able to [afford to] go there again”; either on principle, because it’s no longer affordable, or both.

The new top single-day adult admission price to Disneyland will be $92, a 6% increase (and only to Disney does anybody 10 and over qualify as “adult”). A year-long pass tops out at $669. That means for the price of about 7 single-day tickets, you can get into the parks all year long. (For nearly $1000, you can get into Disney World all year, too).

That’s a pretty damned good deal, if you like Disneyland.

Suppose it’s too damned good a deal? Every person in the park on an annual pass means that, probably, one person isn’t getting in for $92. Also, I’ll bet, passholders come alone or in pairs; not bringing the whole family. And Disneyland does sell out.

So following that reasoning (and I haven’t seen stats on this), suppose the Disney accountants figure they’re selling too many annual passes? Raise the price; thin the herd. Don’t do away with annual passes entirely. That’d cause entirely too big a stink; and, besides, Disneyland regulars are fiercely loyal

As to the raise in daily prices, why not? It’s not as though park attendance is significantly decreasing, though it may be a couple of points down. And everybody who comes into the park is going to spend money on food, hats with Mickey Mouse ears, snow globes, whatever. And they’re raising the parking prices, too.

I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the imagineers in Disney’s accounting department were working on a plan to charge customers for leaving early.

During the off-season, reduced prices are offered to people who live in local ZIP codes — the same group of people who’d buy season tickets, if they had more money.

Folks: no matter what they say, Disney doesn’t care about you; at least as an individual. What they do care about is tour buses full of tourists, big spenders from across one ocean or another, and others who will stay at the Disney hotel overnight; then go home.

The Liner Notes Chronicles, Part 5 — Liberace Edition

I never met Liberace, though I really wanted to.

I can’t say that I was a big fan, though I remember him as early as his black and white television program; the one whose audience seemed to consist totally of grandmothers. His repertoire consisted of florid renditions of popular — and some classical — tunes, which I enjoyed. The “showmanship” aspect didn’t fascinate me much, but the costumes and jewelry that became so identified with him developed with time.

By the ’80s, he was fully established in the persona that’s being exploited in the upcoming (as I write this) HBO movie, “Behind the Candelabra.”

A friend, who had seen him perform in Las Vegas, told me that — no matter what I thought of the quality of his music (by the ’80s, I found it pretty routine) — I should make every effort to see Liberace perform live. So when he appeared at Los Angeles’s Greek Theatre, I was there.

And indeed, the show was pretty remarkable, from the Rolls-Royce driven onstage from which he emerged as his entrance, to the bejewelled capes and numerous costume changes, it was in fact something to be seen — if only once. Elvis Presley had certainly taken note, at least of the costumes. And Liberace’s between-song chat was pleasant and amusing. All in all, a couple hours well spent. Always there, to some degree, my respect for Liberace as an entertainer  was heightened; and it was obvious that he was a skilled musician.

And that aspect of Liberace, I thought, went relatively unrecognized. The press found an easy and relateable gimmick in his costumes, and indeed they were the reason to see him perform rather than just sit an home. listening to any of his many albums.  “Skill” is less of pop stardom for pianists than “style”; and, frankly, there were numerous other pop pianists — Roger Williams, Ferrante & Teicher, and so on — whose records sold better, for whatever reason, than Liberace’s did. Also, if was easier to poke fun — however gentle — at his flamboyance than to discuss anything substantive.

So when Liberace was on the trail promoting something or another, I attempted to land him for the paper. As the music writer, I’d talk to him about music — everything from how he started and how much he practiced to how he selected his repertoire and what he listened to in his off-hours. Whatever came out of it, at least it wouldn’t be like any Liberace piece I’d ever seen.

The assignment went to another writer; good, but (of course) interested in the costumes.

Then, some time later, Liberace died. I never would get that interview; I would never discover whether Liberace was, secretly, a fan of Art Tatum (if he was, I wouldn’t be surprised — the jazzman was noted for his jaw-dropping technique).

Some years later, I received a phone call from the guy who was then running Collectors Choice, a reissue label that among other thing produced their own compilations of material licensed from other companies. I’d created my own little niche there, writing notes for (as I put it) “albums that other writers were too hip to deal with.” I may have fancied myself too hip to actually play some of the records I wrote the notes for; but at least I could give Billy Vaughn, Joe Harnell, George Greeley, and so on the respect they deserved. And The Chief, as I’ll call him, was always helpful — supplying original albums to help me amass credits, for instance — but pretty much left me to my own instincts.

And he never gave me input regarding how I should approach a project. One time, earlier, when I had asked him if everything was OK with something I’d turned in, he shifted into Perry White mode and grumbled, “If anything’s wrong, that’s when you’ll hear from me.”

The assignment this time: Liberace!

In the late 1960s and into the ’70s, Warner Bros. Records signed several acts and attempted to bring them in line with that they considered popular tastes: an album of Ella Ftzgerald singing (among others) Smokey Robinson; Fats Domino’s version of “Lady Madonna” — that kind of thing. And they’d signed Liberace.

The album’s producer had worked with him before; indeed, he was at that point working for Liberace’s manager, Seymour Heller. But the producer, Ed Cobb, had been one of the Four Preps; had produced Ketty Lester’s “Love Letters,” and had written and produced The Standells’ “Dirty Water.” In other words, he knew from contemporary music.

Figuring that people would rather read first-hand accounts than whatever I might have to say, whenever possible I try to interview the artist, which of course was impossible in this case. I also try to interview involved with the artist or the project. Cobb would have been ideal; but, sadly, he had relatively recently passed, himself. Looking at the jacket of the original release, I spotted a familiar name: Emory Gordy Jr.

Gordy, I knew as a bass player, originally from Atlanta, who had played on records from the Classic IV’s “Spooky” to Elvis Presley’s “Burning Love.” He’d also toured with acts including Presley and Emmylou Harris. Clearly a worthy fellow, he also seemed an, er, imaginative choice to be working with Liberace, even on an album that included “MacArthur Park.”

Can’t remember how, now, but first contact was with Gordy’s “people,” in this case a nice woman who explained that Gordy generally doesn’t do interviews. For one thing, he doesn’t like to be asked about Elvis Presley. I’ve known a few former Elvis sidemen who tend to protect him; others, of course, milk their association. I can appreciate either point of view, but assured the woman that I had no interest in talking about Elvis; I wanted to talk about Liberace.

Within a day, she got back to me: Emory would love to talk about Liberace; it’s a credit significant to his career, and one he’s really proud of. Also, I suspect, one most people don’t ask him about.  It turned out that Gordy’s mother had been a Liberace fan, and she considered this credit to be a significant step on her son’s road to respectability. We had a lovely talk. I got my “serious” article about Liberace, and turned in the liner notes without comment from the Chief.

The album was released, and life went on. Though I didn’t get any further assignments from The Chief, who shifted his business elsewhere — to a friend of mine, who once confessed about one middle-of-the-road project “I don’t know why I’m doing this; you’d have been much better suited.”

Eventually, I did get The Chief on the phone. This was a Big Deal, as he was pretty uncommunicative under the best of circumstances. “Why,” I asked, “aren’t you using me any more?”

“You know those Liberace notes?”


“They weren’t very funny.”

The album

Liberace: A Brand New Me

By the time he signed to Warner Bros. Records in 1969, Liberace had long achieved world renown. He’d had his first hit single in 1952; and a long-running television series began at about the same time. He’d headlined at Carnegie Hall, Madison Square Garden, and the Hollywood Bowl. In 1955, he became the highest-paid performer in Las Vegas history when he opened the Riviera Hotel for $50,000 per week. He’d starred in a movie (“Sincerely Yours”), and authored volumes including a cookbook and an autobiography. He’d toured the world, performed multiple Royal Command Performances in London, and hosted his own television series in the United Kingdom.

All of this is even more remarkable in that Liberace was a pianist – not a singer – whose repertoire was largely drawn from concert classics by composers including Liszt, Chopin and Tchaikovsky, albeit often in punchy “‘Reader’s Digest’ versions.”

Liberace was dubbed “Mr. Showmanship,” and it was a title difficult to challenge. His stage costumes ranged from a comparatively sedate set of white tails (“So they could see me in the back row”); to a gold lame jacket that would inspire Elvis Presley to commission an entire suit of the same material; to dazzling outfits festooned with jewels, fathers and expensive fur. He’d make his stage entrance stepping out of a Rolls-Royce, and for a while played a legless, transparent “flying” piano, suspended by thin wires.

He was also a charming host, with a winningly self-deprecating sense of humor playing off his ostentatious dress – a combination not lost, no doubt, on young Dolly Parton as she grew up in Tennessee.

But all that aside, Liberace was a serious musician, who’d studied piano from the age of 4, appeared with the Chicago Symphony as a teenager, and attended college on a music scholarship on the recommendation of concert music superstar [Ignacy Jan] Paderewski..

Of course, he’d also accompanied silent movies in his native Wisconsin, and was playing honky-tonk piano in saloons for pay while continuing his classical studies.

* * *

Warner Bros. Records had started with a roster of easy-listening artists, but by 1969 had (with its associated Reprise label) become the home to leading-edge pop acts including Peter, Paul & Mary, Petula Clark, Mason Williams, the Association and Harpers Bizarre; and rockers including the Grateful Dead, Van Morrison and Jimi Hendrix. Somewhere in there was Tiny Tim. In that context, Liberace sounded like an interesting fit.

His manager, Seymour Heller, wanted to broaden Liberace’s appeal, without losing his core audience. The pianist had always included non-classical tunes in his act – his first hit singles included versions of the already-standard “September Song” and the venerable Dixieland number “Twelfth Street Rag” – but this was to be an album of contemporary material, though with the characteristically florid Liberace touch.

Signed as producer was Ed Cobb, a Heller associate who had risen to fame as one of the Four Preps vocal group and had gone on to produce rock acts The Standells and The Chocolate Watch Band; and was behind such more soulful, pop-oriented hits as Ketty Lester’s “Love Letters,” Brenda Holloway’s “Every Little Bit Hurts,” and Gloria Jones’s “Tainted Love.”

The  band Cobb assembled for Liberace’s first Warner Bros. sessions was young, and with a background in rock and roll and Southern soul: guitarist Barry Bailey, bassist-arranger Emory Gordy Jr. , drummer Dennis St. John and percussionist Joe Correro from Atlanta; and keyboard player  “Spooner” Oldham from Memphis. Also on board was guitarist Larry Collins, the Oklahoma-born, Los Angeles-raised guitar-playing half of the ‘50s teen country music act, the Collins Kids.

Gordy, who’d worked with Dennis Yost and the Classics IV and Roy Orbison’s Candymen before moving to Los Angeles, today recalls that Liberace “…was very friendly; a gentlemen. You might think that you couldn’t approach Lee or talk to him, but that wasn’t true at all.

“I think he was underrated as a pianist,” Gordy continues. “Being an entertainer covered up that he was a great musician. He had one heck of a reach on the keyboard, and could sight-read charts.”

Liberace showed up the sessions ready to work. “He came dressed. Not to the nines, but well dressed. He couldn’t make some of the sessions, because he was playing Las Vegas or something. You don’t want to do something featuring piano without a piano, because you might step all over things, so we worked up some of the arrangements with Lincoln Mayorga [whose association with Cobb dated from Hollywood High School and the Four Preps] sitting in. Lee overdubbed his part later – though all the acoustic piano on the album was played by Liberace.” The string and horn arrangements were written by Gordy and Julian Lee, and overdubbed after the original rhythm-track sessions; a new practice for Liberace, who was used to recording “live” with the orchestra.

For A Brand New Me, Cobb chose mostly hits of recent vintage. Gordy was well familiar with “Traces”, having co-written the Classics IV song. “Cherry Hill Park,” originally a hit for Billy Joe Royal, had also originated in Atlanta. (“Echo Park,” the least-remembered of the songs in the “Parks and Recreation Medley” had been a hit for singer Keith Barbour).

 The original version of “Footprints on the Moon,” by English composer-arranger Johnny Harris, had recently been released on Warner Bros.  “Mixed Emotions” was written by another former member of the Atlanta coterie, Harry Middlebrooks (he’d co-written the Classics IV’s “Spooky”), who’d moved to Los Angeles some years earlier and was under contract to Heller and Cobb’s company. The song, with lyrics unheard here, had been written for a film that was never released, and was originally recorded by another Cobb-produced act, Stark Naked and the Car Thieves – their name notwithstanding, more of a smooth-rock act who became fixtures for years in Las Vegas.

* * *

The Neil Diamond medley is significant in that Gordy and St. John later became members of Diamond’s recording and touring band; Gordy went on to record and tour with Elvis Presley and Emmylou Harris, and become a prominent studio musician and producer in Nashville. Correro joined his old Atlanta friend, Freddy Weller, in Paul Revere & the Raiders, and eventually became a respected jazz drummer. Bailey remained in Atlanta, becoming a founding member of the Atlanta Rhythm Section recording group. Collins co-wrote hit songs including “Delta Dawn” and “You’re the Reason God Made Oklahoma,” and Oldham’s writing credits include such hits as “I’m Your Puppet,” “Lonely Women Make Good Lovers,” “Cry Like a Baby” and “Sweet Inspiration.”.

Whatever A Brand New Me contributed to Liberace’s image, he did include songs from it in his stage act. In any event, his popularity didn’t diminish: he’s said to have averaged more than $5 million each year for a quarter century, and in April, 1985, performed a record-breaking 21 shows at the Radio City Music Hall in New York City. His stand at the same venue, from October 16-November 2, 1986, constituted his final performances.

 Liberace succumbed to congestive heart failure on February 4, 1987, less than four months shy of his 68th birthday. But he leaves behind him the Liberace Museum in Las Vegas – an institution that has funded millions of dollars’ worth of musical scholarship grants — as well as an enormous musical legacy, of which this album is a highlight.

–Todd Everett
February, 2007

1.  A Brand New Me (Kenny Gamble-Thom Bell-Jerry Butler)*

2.  Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head (Burt Bacharach-Hal David)

3.  Parks & Recreation: Cherry Hill Park (William E. Gilmore-Robert Nix)/MacArthur Park (Jimmy Webb)/Echo Park (Buzz Clifford)

4.  Here There and Everywhere (John Lennon-Paul McCartney)*

5.  Holly, Holy/Sweet Caroline (Neil Diamond)

6.  Footprints on the Moon (Johnny Harris)

7.  Something (George Harrison)

8.  Traces (Buddy Buie-J.R. Cobb-Emory Gordy Jr.)*

9.  Suite: Judy Blue Eyes (Stephen Stills)

10. Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye (Gary DeCarlo-Dale Frashuer-Paul Leka)

11. Mixed Emotions (Harry Middlebrooks)*

Barry Bailey, Larry Collins: guitar; Spooner Oldham: electric piano, organ; Emory Gordy Jr.: bass, vibes; Dennis St. John: drums; Joe Correro: congas
Strings and horns arranged by Emory Gordy Jr. except (*), by Julian Lee


Life without — well, not as much — music

I recently remarked to a FaceBook friend that music plays a severely curtailed role in my current life

Truth is, though, I don’t listen to much music at all these days.  I sold 90% of my record collection, and I don’t even have a dedicated CD player (let alone MP3). I don’t think I’ve played a record since I moved here last August. I go out once a week or so, though, but it’s to listening rooms.

When the friend responded that she didn’t thing she could go lukewarm-turkey as I had, I rambled on. Here’s a slightly extended version:

For many years, when I didn’t have the phonograph on, I’d have a music station on the radio. Then I stopped listening to music radio, because it got too hard to find one that played anything I wanted to listen to.

Remember that for many years, music was my life. It wasn’t uncommon for me to be going out five nights a week; and if it wasn’t part of my job, I might go anyway just for the hell of it. That went on for decades. Same goes for records: though I got dozens of free promos per month (and kept maybe 1/3), I’d pay my own money for as many more — generally reissues and imports.

The newspaper I was working for went under in ’89, but I continued to freelance (among other things) a fair about of music stuff. But I wasn’t getting as many free tickets, and prices to everything larger than a club rose above what I could handle. And, of course, I was getting older.

In 2005, otherwise successful brain surgery cut off all hearing in my left ear; age had worked its wonders on my right. Since then, in many situations it’s been physically painful to listen to music in any but the most intimate live environment.

Not that I’ve given up on music.  The places I go these days generally seat (and I mean that I don’t stand anymore) fewer than 100 people, and the bands don’t play loud. I still have trouble with the lyrics. Some musician/friends play here from time to time; I see them. I’ve discovered a few new (to me) acts, and now seen them several times. Hell, I even bought the Salty Suites‘s CD the other night, though I mey never play it, just because I like them so much.

I seldom spend more than $15 cover, maybe a couple bucks for ice tea (sometimes dinner), and there’s always plenty of free parking.

There are exceptions to the “small club”/”must be seated” rule: since moving here I’ve seen The Monkees and Nashville Pussy, though not on the same bill; and a couple hours of the Ventura County Blues Festival — which, this being Ventura County, was headlined by Johnny Rivers and Savoy Brown.

My car radio buttons are all talk stations. While living in Hollywood, I had one for the jazz station, but we don’t have one of those here. I mainly listen to NPR-affiliated KCLU-FM. They play some music, generally late at night when I’m not listening; usually, it’s news and shows that sound kind of like “This American Life” (of which there’s a dazzling number).

I’m happy as can be. Still buy music DVDs from time to time — most recently, “Sound City” and the Eagles documentary. I’ll even watch them, one of these days. But for the most part, it’s TV. And sometimes, I shake my fist at the screen when the closed-captioning doesn’t work right.