Warning! This is the first of some “my career in music” posts that are on their way to you. The pandemic has given me way too much time to remember and analyze elements of my musical life. Ordinarily I wouldn’t do this to you, but several friends have requested more stories of my music career, which I’m happy to share. After all, it’s all about me, right? Wrong. Hopefully, my meanderings will remind you of your life and career as well. I know many of you have had more exciting experiences than I. But for whatever reason, you’re not telling us about yours. So, I’ll tell you about mine.
The older I get, the more I realize what is true about me… I never really grew up. Well, i grew up, but never really matured the way most normal humans do. There has always been an active child within me, ready to spring out of the shadows, usually at strange or stressful times, occasionally at horrible times, when I most need to be a grown-up, or at least act like one.
So you know, I’ve been the responsible adult I needed to be at most of the critical times of my life, as we all have. I’ve usually been there when my loved ones and friends needed me. Usually. There have been those isolated times… but in the scope of self-analyzing, it’s a slippery slope to decide who and what we’ve been for ourselves, and for each other. Try as we might to to be objective about it, it usually gets skewed one way or the other, as our ego refuses to let any serious self analyzation go untouched by it.
I bring up the subject of my naiveté because it has to do with my music, with the songs I wrote and produced during those few years when i thought I might be able to get a record deal. As long as I was writing and producing music for others… jingles, corporate film scores, background music for videos, I was fine… an adult composer who understood what the client wanted and needed, what the business of music required. That, for the most part, was easy. But when I began writing songs for my own album, my heart got involved in the process, and everything changed! I wrote what was in my heart, rather than what the audience out there might want. And this is where the naiveté raised its head – I thought that, because my idea of a song seemed so good, so real and pure to me, that it would have to sound that way to everyone! Good god!
I figured it out a little bit between my first album attempt and my second one. While in L.A. trying to get a deal on my first album, I drove up Mulholland Drive one evening right at sunset, as I’d read somewhere that Lionel Ritchie got a great idea for a song by driving Mulholland Drive at sunset one evening. Of course it didn’t work for me, and that’s as close I got in trying to figure out what the jazz-loving American public out there might want. Back then I thought my writing/producing style was closest to Lionel Ritchie, therefor the desperate drive.
Listening to those cuts that were my attempts at a jazz/pop album back then, I now realize I missed it by a mile. It’s okay, I just smile about it now, remembering how hard I worked on those tunes, how much I believed in them, enough to spend several thousand dollars on the players and studio time, not to mention the flights to L.A. plus rooms, food and rental cars out there. My trips to L.A. with James Stroud spoiled me; we always stayed in suites with kitchenettes, and I came to feel that I deserved at least that. Great. Nice suite, nice rental car. But NO market research, no real touch with the reality of the business at that time. I mean, if I’d even thought to compare myself with Earth, Wind and fire, for god’s sake, I would have instantly known how far I was missing the mark. But that’s where my naive heart took over. It was almost sickly convinced that the songs I was writing were beautiful… that everyone would love them! I was never a great lyricist, and after writing a couple of hundred jingles, I had dumbed myself down to a point. Still, I believed in these songs so much! Talk about a naive heart…
Naiveté, blind belief, whatever. Having no clue back then about market research and demographics, I happily (and blindly) wrote and produced two albums in three years… albums that went nowhere and did nothing. Well, that’s not totally true. Lee Young, younger brother of Lester Young, the great sax man, had an office at Motown in L.A. He heard my stuff and actually offered me a record deal, though money or contract details were never talked about. Ritchie Zito, a fine session guitarist in L.A., told me to be careful of Lee… that he was given a job and an office at Motown to basically keep him off the street and out of everyone’s hair. I soon learned that was true. Still, it was a chance for a record deal, and with Motown, of all things! Were they really going to sign a white boy from Atlanta who wrote love songs with happy chords? Not bloody likely. And then life stepped in and made my decision for me!
At exactly the time I needed to give Lee Young an answer, Doppler got this huge job from WTBS for a package of news opens, sports opens, movie opens and special features music that required Doppler to hire many of the members of the London Philharmonic and do all the recording in London, as their musicians were paid for a session one time only, with no television residuals as American musicians did. And Pete Caldwell, co-owner of Doppler at the time, gave me the job!
I remember going home, pouring myself a drink and sitting down to review this new situation. Was I going to pursue this shaky Motown deal, having no idea where it would lead, if anywhere? Or was I going to London to write 84 pieces of music and conduct them with a world-class orchestra? Ha. Life, fate, karma, something was telling me where the hell my bread was buttered and before I finished that drink I knew I had my answer!
Now I had worked hard, for several years, for a record deal, thinking all along that a record contract was going to cinch my future. So when I chose the jingle world and the wonderful TBS project over my dream of a record deal, I did a little second-guessing. But after a successful trip to London and the memorable experiences we had there, I realized that the world of jingles and music for pictures was my forte, my safe haven… it was where I belonged.
After that, I continued to write more tunes from time to time, mostly instrumentals, with no thought of selling them or making an album with them. Many of them were electronic music experiments I did in my spare time… experiments with the new sounds and textures that kept rolling into the synth and computer world seemingly almost every month. Here’s one I did in ’88, called Jazzophrenic. As you can tell, the good digital sounds had not yet hit the market, and many of them, especially the horns and piano, still sounded cheesy. they were mostly analog samples from the venerable DX-7, with some Prophet 5 thrown in. The drum machine was a Roland, which came out shortly after the LynnDrum, which pissed off drummers all over the world. And rightly so!
That some people become jaded over the years, while others remain somewhat naive, is something I’ve never understood. It’s easy to think it must have something to do with one’s intelligence, or lack thereof. If that turned out to be true, then I would have to admit I’m not a very bright bulb, and my ego would find that news a difficult pill to swallow. I prefer to think of my remaining naiveté as one of the results of a lifetime of music, of living to a large degree in the intangible world rather than the tangible one. A little lame, perhaps, but I think it might have merit. After all, when one is composing, arranging and playing music for a living, one is somewhat cut off from the more seamy elements of daily life for large portions of their day. Yeah, that’s it… I’m going with that!
Here’s the flagship song of my first album attempt. Sung by Carol Veto, with a world class group of female vocalists singing background vocals, who sang their butts off for me. Once again, I truly believed America wanted to hear this song on the radio. “Don’t You Think It’s Time.”
Carol got an audition with Columbia Records from her performances on my first album, but I wasn’t invited to the audition, which was held at a jazz club in Atlanta…. Club 790 or something. That hurt, as I just wanted to be there, not disrupt the audition. I could have told the suits how easy she was to work with, how well she took directions, how happy I was with her interpretation… ah well…
I guess that ultimately I’m okay with being terminally naive, though I would have preferred to have been seen as a worldly, hip, sophisticated dude. What makes my lack of sophistication bearable, even forgivable in my mind at least, is the music I did during those years, which I still believe in. I was never a child prodigy, and the success I did achieve was totally due to my love of music and blind dedication to pursuing it. There are 12 year olds who already play better than I was able to, even after years of experience. It’s wacky. At some point we have to be able to see ourselves from a larger perspective, and be honest about who we are, who we became. And in that, I have a small, quiet pride in my career, and in my music. The whole idea, after all, is to share our thoughts and feelings with the outside world, through our art; and in that, we complete ourselves and hopefully make the world a little bit better, a little wiser, and a little more compassionate to others. And (oh, what the hell…) maybe a little less naive.