October 4, 2020
Okay, so much to cover, where do I start?
First of all—forgive the cliché’ but it’s heartfelt… I hope this finds each and every one of you—and yours—safe and well.
Do the right thing. Wear a mask! Please!
Being a geezer, I’ve pretty much stayed in our air-conditioned home, which, at this time of year in SoCal, is a lot more enjoyable than sizzling out in the 104° temps anyway.
Now for a quick review since we were last in touch.
For years, my storeroom/studio has been packed with a treasure trove of all kinds of items from the “good old days”. (Come on now, admit it, don’t we ALL have some room or closet or garage about which we say, “One of these days I’m gonna rummage through all that old stuff while I still can.”
Well, since you last heard from me, I’ve done exactly that… with uncountable jabs of nostalgia hitting me every time I fish out a faded, dog-eared envelope and find it filled with memories.
I’ve spent the last month going through trunk after trunk of memorabilia, ranging from the Hollywood High yearbook of 1955 to the Preps’ souvenir concert programs from the Hollywood Bowl and Greek Theater, and scribbled wise-cracking notes from Dick Clark… …backstage photos chatting with Ed Sullivan—and of course there’s lots of “Ozzie and Harriet” and “Gidget” stuff too.
It all put me back in touch with how lucky I’ve been all my life to share adventures with one show biz great after another.
Some of the images, newspaper clippings, reviews, etc. are so significant and enrich the book’s text so much, I felt a responsibility to deliver two things to you readers: not only “lots of pictures”, but the story behind each one, which I knew I had to insert into the present text.
No big deal. Inspired by all the things I’d found, the stories just tumbled out as fast as I could write them down.
This is NOT what I want this letter to be about.
But, I have to get this off my chest—or more accurately—my heart.
Stuck at home? Bored? Depressed? Lonely? Scared?
Try a huge dose of nostalgia.
Get out an old photo album, a school yearbook, past travel itineraries, home movies, letters and notes from long ago, and old LPs you’d forgotten how much you loved.
When we relive our past pleasures and friendships, it can help revive our spirits in today’s chaotic world.
Go ahead and call or e-mail that friend from years ago you’d love to catch up with. Trust me, you’ll reminisce—and LAUGH your asses off.
In these past months I’ve had a half dozen hour—or sometimes longer—phone conversations with buddies—and girlfriends—from the past.
It lifted my spirits for days afterward.
All right. That’s the preacher’s son coming out in me… sermonizing.
But I am a huge promoter of stirring up precious memories.
The longer I live, the more I realize the time ahead of me has grown shorter than that from the past.
Getting old happens to each of us.
One friend of mine joked, “I don’t mind getting older, I just don’t want to be OLD!”
Embrace and remember all the years you’ve been given and all the friendships they have brought you.
GET IN TOUCH… with those people who were important to you earlier in your life.
You’ll be amazed at what a delight it can be and, admittedly an occasional heartbreak, but friends are gold as the years pass.
During these days when solitude is forced on us… take time to re-visit old memories and old pals.
End of sermon.
I didn’t reach out to an old friend before she passed and I regret it.
I had good intentions, but somehow kept putting it off despite the fact she had recently moved about a mile from me.
Her name was HELEN REDDY and I have vivid memories of crossing paths with her through the years—always with hugs, lots of laughs, and “catching up” conversations.
Then, we’d both go our separate ways and not talk… sometimes for a decade.
But there are some people you may not have seen for ages, yet when you meet them again the two of you fall easily into the old familiar rhythm of your relationship as though you’d spoken yesterday.
Helen was one of those people.
Here’s my remembrances of a remarkable woman.
In the late 60’s and early 70’s, David (Diamond Dave) Somerville and I are under contract as songwriters to Warner Brothers.
At the time, David and his then-wife Judy, live on the lower floor of an artful Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home in the Hollywood Hills.
Now and then, David will be out on a morning walk through the neighborhood and run into Helen who has just recently arrived here from her native Australia.
They exchange chit chat and move on.
Then Warner Brothers sets up a meeting for us with “a promising new singer from Australia”, meaning Helen of course.
It turns out she lives a short walk from David and the next day he and I head over to her place and ring the bell.
Her Husband /manager—a hard-charging, ball breaker named Jeff Wald—opens the door, motions us towards the living room, and disappears the other way up the hall without a word.
We walk through the picturesque hideaway Helen and Jeff call home and into the smallish but inviting living room.
The atmosphere reeks of mellowness.
Helen pads into the room barefoot, wearing an over-sized sweatshirt and black tights.
She looks sort of “enchanted” to me. A corny word I admit, but she radiates such a quiet confidence and engaging presence that I am immediately in love. (I fell in love a lot back then.)
Helen sits down cross-legged on the floor in front of us, lights up a joint, takes a long, deep hit and smiles, “Okay guys… thrill me!”
David picks up his guitar and the magic begins.
The two of us sing song after song for her and she reacts with enthusiasm and candor—always kind but direct and honest.
We’ve selected about a dozen tunes to show her and she particularly likes one called “Sausalito Sunrise”… a simple and delicate little melody with the lightly poetic lyrics the title suggests.
(Her later hit of “Peaceful” will have the same feel.)
It’s a loose, laugh-filled afternoon, and David and I leave that day as huge fans of this lithesome lady from down under.
As so often happens in a songwriter’s life, Helen never records “Sausalito Sunrise”.
As I recall, Jeff Wald wanted a slice of the publishing and Warner Brothers was not about to make any such deal.
But she and I remain friends and cross paths from time to time at various show biz and charity events around town.
Eventually, Helen and I lose touch with each other for the next 35 years while she turns out hit after hit.
“I Don’t Know How to Love Him” (from “Jesus Christ Superstar”), “Delta Dawn”, “You and Me Against the World”, “Angie Baby”, “Ain’t No Way to Treat a Lady”, and her self-penned feminist anthem “I Am Woman”.
Helen was a resolute activist and made no bones about her militant feminism.
When she accepts her Grammy for “I Am Woman”, she thanks the Academy, Capitol records, her husband Jeff, and “above all, God because she makes everything possible”.
Years later, I host a weekly radio show called “Pop Americana” for Gold Coast Broadcasting and Helen is my guest.
I re-play that speech for her.
She hams it up and sarcastically feigns abject horror at her cheeky remark. Then she gasps in mock embarrassment, “I can’t believe I actually said that!!!”
Behind her playfulness, I could sense her quiet pride in the memory.
It was a great visit after which we don’t cross paths again until 2007.
The other guys in the band and I are waiting by the luggage carousel at JFK airport in New York where the re-formed Four Preps are scheduled to do a concert.
Suddenly, I feel arms wrap around me from behind and a warm voice purrs in my ear, “I still love Sausalito Sunrise”.
We hug hard and laugh easily as we catch up with each other’s lives.
Helen, now divorced, has flown in to visit her Grandkids and it’s such a pleasure to connect with this vivacious and vital lady again.
Then we drift apart for another few years until 2019, when I hear that Helen has taken up residence at the beautiful Motion Picture Country Home which is about 10 minutes up the road from our home in Woodland Hills.
I vow to visit my old friend there and renew memories, but I’m wrapped up in the book and keep putting it off.
Then, before I can act on my good intentions, the Covid19 crisis hits and I’m no longer allowed to visit her.
Got an old friend you haven’t talked to in a while?
Act on the impulse and get in touch.
You’ll be glad you did.
I didn’t do that with Helen and I’m sorry.
In later years she had gone back to college in Australia, earned a degree, and become a Clinical Hypnotherapist.
When she returns to the states and resumes her performing career, she quickly emerges as an activist and massive fund-raiser for feminist, ecological, and other liberal causes and is ultimately appointed to a nine-member ecological watchdog commission by Governor Jerry Brown.
She was one strong, gifted, tough and tender lady and I cherish the times we had together.
“I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar”.
We heard you—and we still do.
RIP dear Lady.
There’s much less to say about Mac Davis who passed away on the same day as Helen, but it’s kind of interesting… and ironic.
For a while, Warner Brothers gives David and me an office in the 9000 Sunset building exactly 5 blocks from where I grew up in West Hollywood.
At the time that building is the West Coast equivalent of New York’s Brill building where songwriters like Carole King, Neil Sedaka, and Barry Mann got their starts.
If you take a stroll down the hallway, you’ll hear guitars and pianos and songwriters (a lot of whom are terrible singers) hacking away at some new creation.
One day, Mac Davis sticks his head in and asks if we have time to listen to something he’s just finished writing… a common practice among a lot of us striving go-getters in the building.
We say “sure!”
Mac walks in and closes the door behind him.
You should understand something right here about songwriting and songwriters.
The first time you sing your new creation for another person is a very significant, and sometimes revealing experience.
David and I probably wrote 100 songs together over the years.
Whenever we felt we had finished a piece we had toiled over, I would ask him if he now felt the song we’d written “works”.
He’d always reply, “We won’t know until we sing it for someone”.
Mac tunes up his guitar, David puts the phone on “mute” and the two of us sit back to listen to our buddy’s musical newborn.
Mac begins to sing softly.
Eight bars into the song, David and I are spellbound… leaning intensely towards him totally hooked as the song unfolds.
The song is “In the Ghetto”—fresh out of the oven.
Once we recover from being overwhelmed, we congratulate him and speculate on what artist could deliver the song most effectively.
That’s another songwriter ritual, creating a fantasy list of artists you feel could best sell your song.
Mac doesn’t hesitate with his answer.
He’s taking “In the Ghetto” to Sammy Davis.
We nod in agreement—it’s a natural… a perfect piece of casting.
As the legend goes, for some reason Sammy doesn’t record the song.
So much for dream casting. Welcome to a songwriter’s life.
But Jesse Jackson hears the song at a political rally and urges Mac to get it to some artist who will do it justice.
A short time later, I run into Mac and sympathize with him about Sammy’s turn down.
I ask him if he’s got a Plan B for his song.
Again, his answer is instantaneous… “Elvis!”
I shake my head skeptically. At this point, Elvis really hasn’t done any social commentary or protest songs and the idea seems highly unlikely to me.
None-the-less I give Mac my encouragement and we say goodbye.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Time moves on and later I watch with satisfaction as Mac’s solo career takes off with “Baby, Baby Don’t Get Hooked on Me”, “I Believe in Music” “Memories” and “Stop and Smell the Roses” which he co-writes with a guy who will become a good buddy of mine later in my life, Doc Severinsen.
There’s a wonderful plus to being a songwriter.
If you’re lucky—and believe me, luck has a whole lot to do with it—you may put some words and music together that will bring people memories and pleasure long after you’re gone.
Mac is still around… every time you sing along with one of his songs.
Mac Davis… another reason “I Believe in Music”.
He leaves a rich legacy.
A final note about the book.
The manuscript is now completed and I’m busily adding about half the 100’s of photos that will be in the ultimate version of the book to my submission package to titillate prospective publishers.
Here’s a few teasers. You think there’s a story behind each of these?!
The whole presentation will be submitted within the next week or so.
Keep your fingers crossed.
Good grief—I’m 84 and still auditioning!
You know what I miss most during this cursed pandemic?
So, here’s a virtual hug to each of you and a laugh for these dreary times:
“I am not adding the year 2020 to my age. I did not use it.”
We will get through this.
In the meantime, STAY IN TOUCH—I love hearing from you guys—and, above all, take good care of yourself and each other.
All for now,