Barry's Tales is a series that visits stories and incidents that occurred in the five decades (1968 - today) of his interesting musical journey. Each tale illustrates an event that made Barry the songwriter, storyteller and musician he is today. "move the rudder an inch, and you will end up somewhere else!"
‘Harry Nilsson’, a Barry Tale (# 1 in the series!) .
The time, 1973. The place, RCA Studios, Hollywood, (in the same studio where Elvis did his stuff). I was recording the ‘The EARLY YEARS LP (‘Blue Sky’)’. It was a Thursday, 10 am. I walked into RCA, flew past security, and then up the spiral stairs, to be greeted by many handwritten, posters, prepared by RCA staff, using various coloured sharpies. They were everywhere. ‘WELCOME RINGO!’ they read. Entering Studio B (the smaller one), I asked my producer David Kershnbaum, ‘what’s going on?’ As excited as me (David went on to win 75 Grammy Awards, but in 1973 he was as starstruck as me, it was early days for us both), he shared that Nilsson was in ‘Studio A’, and that Ringo Starr and Richard Perry were planning a visit. Nilsson? I loved everything he did. His writing. His vocals. His ideas. His originality. John Lennon called Harry his favourite American Artist. I think I agreed. ‘Spaceman’, ‘Coconut’, ‘Without You’, ‘As Time Goes By’, ‘Everybody’s Talkin’, ‘Jump into the Fire’, ‘The Point’, ‘Somewhere over the Rainbow’……….. the list is endless. Wonderful production, superb vocals, he was unique, and he was fresh! Harry had it all.
Distracted, I began the days work, which was putting an accordion on my new song ‘Jack and Jill’. At 11.30am nature called. Walking into the loo I see
Harry. I'm a shy guy, and I froze a little. In his right hand a small silver spoon, in his left, a small plastic bag with powder in it. That really freaked the Canadian kid out. ‘Hi’, he smiles. ‘Hello!’, I reply. ‘I’m Harry, who are you? Want some? A groupie laid it on me outside the building?’ ‘Mmm, No Thanks! I’m Barry Greenfield. I’m working in Studio B', I stuttered. We chatted for about 10 minutes, mostly about song writing, and how much it meant to both of us. He looked just like Harry. He sounded just like Harry. He was kind, friendly, open and normal. I relaxed. Things concluded with Harry saying, ‘If you have time come into A and help me with the mix’. He was gone. ‘Help Him with the mix?’ I ran back to B. Shared my story. ‘Go, go, go!’ I went.
I knocked on the door of A like you would a neighbour’s front door. I walked in, he invited me to sit in the large leather mix chair to his left. We spent three hours working on a Harry track. I played with the gain, the EQ, the auxiliary sends, the pan, the volume, the reverb levels; I learnt so MUCH that day from Harry. Three hours full of classroom. Then, at about 2pm the door swung open. The magic of that day was about to dissolve. Very quick. In walked Ringo Starr and Richard Perry (Harry and Ringo’s record producer back in the day). Ringo had a bottle of Jack Daniels, open, in his left hand; half empty, half full. He passed it to Harry, who took a chug. Then to Richard Perry, he chugged too. They chatted about the confusion in the RCA parking lot. I at once realized that I had become invisible. No one thought to offer the kid a chug. (I hear from others, who know such things, that that happens whenever a Beatle enters any room. Eric Clapton once said that he was a huge presence in London, they used to call the Man god, but when he went with George Harrison anywhere, every time, he became small). I was quiet, I was ignored, I felt uneasy. Then Harry turned to me and said, 'Richard Starkey this is Barry Greenberg’. He repeated the same intro with Richard Perry. It had been only a minute or two, but it was time to leave. (I know these things).
I thanked Harry, bigtime; I smiled at his friends, (who didn’t see it, because I was Barry Greenberg the invisible one, who was so blown-away to be a yard from Richard Starkey, his favourite drummer, ever). and I went back to my safe place, my home in B. I finished up the accordion part (which you can hear on the YouTube video below) on ‘Jack and Jill’. I had become much smarter because of Harry Nilsson. He really understood music. A GIANT of a talent, and he was a wonderful person to me, in 1973, in LA. Loved every second in Studio A with Harry, and I became aware that Ringo was unique to all others......yes, that was ‘The Day I met Harry Nilsson’.
link to 'Jack and Jill on YouTube... https://youtu.be/UDyzOx5vaS0
‘ Three weeks in LA in 1973’.A Barry Tale (# 2 in the series!)
It was hot in LA in the summer 1973. A good comfortable hot. I was living on the 5th Floor of The Holiday Inn, in Hollywood. A standard 4-star room. It had an ok shower, a nice queen bed, and from time to time I saw interesting musicians in the elevator. The Holiday Inn was the centre of the universe for visiting Musicians of the day.
Up early, 6 am, to prepare the song that I would be recording in RCA Studio B that day. Looking back, 40 plus years, I think I can say that those three weeks in California were some of the sweetest, finest days of my life.
I had been working at The Hudson’s Bay, on the weekends, while attending University. When I had an idea. I approached the stores GM and suggested that I write a jingle for the store to use on radio. He listened to my submission, loved it, and gave me $600 for budget, and I got to work. The jingle took an hour to record. That meant I had $450 remaining to spend on music, so I recorded my song about pollution, ‘New York is Closed Tonight’. This all happened in 1971. To my surprise, and by pure coincidence, Mr. Bo Diddley was in Vancouver performing, and he heard it. Yes, Bo heard it, and decided to take the cassette of the song to New York City. He dropped it on the desk of Fred Ahlert Jr. in Manhattan, the Music Publisher of Bacharach and David.
Fred called me at home. His alien NY accent came through clear, ‘Barry, New York is Closed’ is a #1 song, and I want to get you a deal!’
‘What! No Thanks. I an going to complete my BA at UBC and enter Law School’. Its was before Carole King, James Taylor, Cat Stevens. The Singer Songwriter had yet to be invented.
For 6 months Fred would call from time to time. Then he invited me for lunch in San Francisco. He wooed me, and BOOM my song was OUT, and then it was on the Radio, over and over! Two months later it made #1 on the Canadian RPM Charts, and I won the Harold Moon SOCAN Award, 1972.
Fred cashed in these winning chips and he was able to sign me to RCA AMERICA. I was on my way. He got a $20,000 US advance, and a deal to record in Hollywood. Plane ticket in hand, I’m at Vancouver Airport flying South to the City of Angels. My guitar in the plane’s hold, I’m scared shitless, I’m so inexperienced, and way over my head, but I hid that, no one could tell. I’m good at that.
I had never played a real gig, I had minimal Studio experience, all I had accomplished to date was writing lots of solid music, and a big boost from CanCon on the radio. What is CanCon? I fit into the box described as Canadian Content, abbreviated CanCon, which forced radio and television to air a certain percentage of content that was at least partly written, produced, presented, or otherwise contributed to by Canadians. Susan Jacks, Anne Murray, Lightfoot, The Guess Who, Pagliaro, the Stampeders, Sugarloaf, Chilliwack, Frozen Ghost, Keith Hampshire et. al. All benefitted by this leg up in Canada. I did too. Toronto Bands were the main benefactors. Some were quite weak like the painful Murray McLaughlin, and Andy Kim. Others were deserving like the wonderful big sound of Lighthouse, or the good music made by Parachute Club, Pagliaro and a Foot in Cold Water.
Arriving in LA I met with three Producers that RCA wanted me to interview and select one. First, Paul Rothchild, The Doors producer; second, another famous older man whose name I can’t recall, and lastly the staff Producer, an unknown, 25 years old, David Kershenbaum. No contest I picked David.
Kershenbaum went on to work with many artists including Duran Duran, Joe Jackson, Cat Stevens, Bob Dylan and all of Tracy Chapman catalogue. He earned 75 international gold and platinum albums. His work has yielded multiple Grammy awards, and an Oscar nomination. But his first gig was me, and my beloved ‘Blue Sky LP’ (now renamed on iTunes as ‘THE EARLY YEARS’). I liked his energy, enthusiasm, heart and youth. Plus, we were two rookies. The other two guys were there for the cheque. Not David, he was there to make me shine!
That afternoon I was taken to the home of the wonderful music arranger Jimmie Haskell. It was time to write 12 arrangements. The GREAT Jimmie had won an Oscar, he was awarded Grammies for his arrangements of Ode to Billie Joe, and Bridge over Troubled Water, among others. He was so nice. So good. He and Mrs. Haskell took me into their home and treated me like a loved son. We worked for three long wonderful days. Me playing my Gurion acoustic, and he on Fender Rhodes. When done, we had all the Sheet Music (in ink) ready for the Studio. 12 songs! Then, I got one day off, ate at Arby’s, swam in the pool, walked Sunset Boulevard, and slept. As the Great Judy Garland would often say, it’s ShowTime………..!
Each day began with breakfast at 8 in the Hotel restaurant. All paid for by RCA. Strange for me to have this attention. I did appreciate it. I sat each morning in the back of the restaurant waiting for the same crew to join me. First to arrive Victoria’s own, David Foster. In 1973 David led, and played keys in an LA Band called ‘Attitude’. He was confident and smug. He told the table that his group was going to be huge. He was wrong, but David Foster became bigger than huge. He produced Celine Dion, Chicago, even Michael Jackson. Foster won 16 Grammy Awards. He is very talented but brought us little joy each morning. Humble people are more attractive.
The others at the table were cut from different cloth. Four lads from Yorkshire. The Bands name was ‘Slade’. Man, they were funny, normal and kind. I liked Noddy Holder and Jim Lea, and to this day I love their albums. Slade made my mornings smile. Foster was always the first to leave, and when he did we relaxed, ordered more tea, and talked FA Football (Manchester United me, Wolverhampton Wanderers them) and always ‘The Beatles’. Great chats that made the day begin with laughter, marmalade, toast and music. ‘Slade’ had six number ones on the English charts in the seventies.
Then the black limo was in front waiting, it was half nine, ‘please don’t dare forget the ‘all access laminate’ around my neck’, I was heading to the Studio in style. A warm hello to the staff, whom I truly liked, and into the studio to work on my craft.
I was so fortunate to have the best players in LA. Larry Carlton on guitar (Steely Dan), Joe Osborne on Bass (the Byrds), Larry Muhoberac on Keys (Sinatra) and Jim Gordon on Drums, (Derek and The Dominoes, the dude who wrote Layla with Clapton). We were a great team. Fond of each other. Respectful, and always serious about the music. I learnt the true meaning of the word professional, from these gentlemen. That lesson lives with me in everything I do to this day. They were awake, vigilant, dedicated, and came to my music with heart and respect.
I have met and worked with many super talents, Sonny and Cher, Kenny Rogers, Graham Gouldman, Harry Nilsson, Chris Nole, and others. What they all have in common is that, diligent, focused, respectful and lovingly kind.
The day began with the Boys forming a circle in the room around me. I sat on a chair and played the song-of-the- day. They gazed at the arrangement written on sheet music that sat obediently on the music stand in front of each artist. Questions flew at me. ‘do you want this Barry?’, ‘will this idea work, Barry?’ It blew my young mind to have my simple 4-minute songs come alive in the hands, and through the hearts, of these geniuses. I recall the rush we all felt when it was 8pm , and we had it done. Larry Carlton’s guitar was so fine. Jim Gordon hit the drums with anger and great power. I LOVED IT!
Below is a link to “New York is Closed’. How did I find the road that led me to such musical ecstasy? I think courage, timing, an open-heart and staying level everyday, helped. Opportunity is never far away, you just have to see it!
The three weeks flew by. 12 tracks in the can. Now for a photo shoot to create the LP cover, marketing, meetings, hair, and an offer to appear on The Dating Game to pick a date. Yikes!
For a taste of ‘Blue Sky’, here is the YouTube link to ‘NEW YORK IS CLOSED TONIGHT’ (1973 RCA version) https://youtu.be/q8p-Alzk_2E
The Afternoon I met Kenny Rogers. A Barry Tale. (#3 in the series!)
In 1969 I visited Kenny Rogers, at The Cave Supper Club, on Hornby, in Vancouver. He passed earlier this year, and I felt a certain sadness, I had lost a mentor.
I was 18 when I went to the Cave to meet Kenny Rogers. Kenny and The First Edition, were performing in this Vancouver Historical Music Room. I loved their singles. They were so different! 'Just Dropped in (to see what Condition My Condition Was In’), 'But You Know I love You', both gems to my ears.
I walked in the Cave slightly after noon, I knocked on Kenny Rogers dressing room door. "Yeh" he said, "Come in". The room was small but musical. He was smiling and said in his Texan drawl, ‘Who are YOU?’. I had a routine. I used it on Sonny and Cher, Bobbie Gentry (in this very dressing room), The Fifth Dimension, 10cc, and later at Apple Records in London. It went ...'Hello, I'm Barry Greenfield, a songwriter, and I love what you do. I was hoping that you would listen to a song of mine, and talk song writing with me?'. Then I'd shut-up, and wait. He smiled. Understood, and said ‘What you got Barry?’.
For the next few hours I was in class. He was kind, open and delightful. Kenny helped my song, my craft, and my confidence. Ask and you shall receive. But ask nicely, and always listen when class is in session. He later went on to produce the first Eagles demo's, he told me that he saw himself as a Producer. He shaped the greatest American Rock Band in their youth. Kenny works well with people. Dolly Parton. Lionel Ritchie. We all know how his career went. He confirms a lesson I have learnt frequently over the decades, the Big Ones are usually nice.
I had my cheap acoustic, a few of my lyrics, and I tried to look calm. Together, we worked on a skeleton of a new Barry song, Can’t recall which one, but he encouraged, explained and listened. I think I was there for about 3 hours. (But who knows, I never wear a watch, and cell phones………) . He gave me growth, and I am grateful for his time, expertise, musical insight, kindness and intelligence.
In conclusion, a few months ago The Wizard Brothers recorded ‘Hanging on to You”. It contains a valuable lesson in it, a trick I learnt from Kenny Rogers that afternoon in 1969. He said “Barry sing songs that are true. True stories, true words, and you’ll be Ok”. I loved that gift. I only write, sing, and I only do, honest songs”. Be it in my Live show, or any of my 10 Lp’s. The songs are a journal of my journey. Thanks for that Kenny.
I love my wife Lori, and the lyric of ‘Hanging on to You’, simply say that. The truth is easily understood.
Here is a YouTube lyric video that I made, of an early take, of that song (the early takes are often more basic, more pure!) Mick Dalla-Vee and I are The Wizard Brothers. Another example of two working together making music from the heart. On YouTube https://youtu.be/AObGSqiooHg
‘A Barry’s Tale’; Episode #4….JOHN LEE HOOKER.
The Barry Tales are a look back to my early years in Music. Stories that helped me grow, and that shaped me as a young man.
Before NEW YORK IS CLOSED got played on the radio, I had always, and only, played my new songs for Suzan, my sister. I played them as they were created in my small bedroom, sitting on my single bed, in a flat in Marpole that I shared with my family.
My first purchases of music were ‘BEATLES FOR SALE’, and ‘IN TOUCH WITH PETER AND GORDON’. I only listened to the British Invasion stuff. Kinks, Hollies, Stones, Beatles! I had never played a concert. I had never thought about it. Also I knew nothing at all about ‘The Blues’. ‘The Blues’ section, in A and B Sound, had no pull for me. It wasn’t on the radio. I had never heard the name John Lee Hooker. My life was simple. 2 min 30 second radio songs, sung, written, and performed by white guys from England.
Then NEW YORK IS CLOSED topped the charts for 2 months and a new door opened wide.
It was mid afternoon, when out-of-the-blue, I got a phone call offering me 13 Canadian Concert Dates with JOHN LEE HOOKER. Who? Not missing a beat, I said Ok. I asked how long I needed my set to be? 45 minutes. I had enough material for that. A small suitcase, 2 blue denim work shirts, clean blue-jeans, my Gurion guitar, a taxi ride to downtown, and onto the tour bus with John. Away we go.
John and I were together most awake hours for the next 18-days. I became his bud. He mine. I counted his money (his pay) for him, every night. He insisted on cash, and he liked me to check that it was all there. It was. He’d be stiffed before, many times, by unscrupulous promoters. (A year later when I played with The Pointer Sisters, they had the identical rule, although they counted, they own wages!) John was kind, old, Black, cool (Miles Davis cool) and talented (Keith Richards talented).
Every night, after me, he sat on a hard chair on the stage. He hit his electric hard and true. He demanded attention and he got it. His 4-piece Band, called the Coast to Coast Blues Band, was led by his heroin addicted son John Jr. John threw him off the Road mid tour. Uncomfortable for all. It was a world I had never seen, never known. Electric music and sold out shows, every night. Radio interviews. Fame with a small ‘f’.
Hooker’s own style of guitar playing has been imitated but never matched. As opposed to the 12-bar blues that became a form of mainstream, post-war party music, Hooker’s blues is often based on just one chord pulled to its limits. With his right hand and foot, he keeps the rhythm: the thumping bedrock for his lyrics, which he delivers in an emphatic speak-sing, shaped by a childhood spent listening to church sermons and local blues singers. He became a music hero to me.
I played my 45-minute set, (‘Paint the World Greenfield’, New York is Closed’, ‘Free the Lady’, ‘John Roll On’) before The King came to please. Playing a 30 minute set before me, to open, was a 5-piece Prog Band, ‘Street Noise’. They sucked most nights. Not John. He rocked good.
We played Prince George, Calgary, Saskatoon, Kelowna, et.al. 13 stops. Fun Fun Fun! Each Hotel a three star. Each meal at a café with John. Each night an encore or two. I loved it a lot. I had some of my best times, ever, over those thirteen live nights.
One special night was in Thunder Bay. Most days we rode the Tour Bus with the other players. But Thunder Bay was too far from Regina, so we flew in on our own Cessna. John, me, and the pilot. John and I were a bit freaked (the pilot smoked weed!), but we survived the long, scary, flight. A great chat was had that day. It was on that day that John told me he invented the word ‘Boogie’. Hooker had his first hit single with “Boogie Chillun” in the late 1940s when producer Bernard Besman recorded him alone at the microphone with an electric guitar. A second microphone was placed in a wooden pallet beneath his feet to capture the sound of his foot stomping to the rhythm. Now that’s Music! In his deep, growl-like stammering voice he explained how he was the first Artist to use that word, ‘Boogie!’ I was mesmerized.
All the ‘stars’ I’ve met have changed my music. They all have a lesson for me. Graham Gouldman, was work hard. Buffy Ste. Marie was truth and courage, Mel Torme showed me that they ain’t all nice, (he wasn’t), the Fifth Dimension taught kindness and humility, John Lee Hooker taught me to play only because you ‘love to play’, and always sing like an original. He was all Street. A true Southern Man. A man for all seasons.
John and I never crossed paths again after that Tour. He passed in 2001. I leant from him that I loved playing live. I loved the Road. I loved John Lee Hooker. Seems like yesterday, but it was 50 years ago. I had hair then, and I was new to the Music business. What a fine Teacher John Lee Hooker was to me.
In conclusion I have a song that I wrote to share with an audience, when/if I ever play Live again. It’s a 2020 Wizard Brother tune that I recorded with my partner, Mick Dalla-Vee. A song called ‘THE ROADIE’. Its about a life on the road for a working musician, a fictitious dude, but it is also inspired by my 18 days with John Lee Hooker, when I was a kid with a six string and a radio song. .. ‘all my dreams came true , on the Road’. on YouTube https://youtu.be/6LVjsPtsplo