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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
APPLE RECORDS JULY 1968. This is episode #5 in the 'BARRY TALES' saga. My visit to Apple Records in London in 1968.
I was 17. I had been playing the same cheap acoustic guitar since age 15. I had been song writing since that first week. 'Josephine', the initial creation, 'many years you were my girl Josephine, then you weren't my only pearl Josephine...' It was Monday, May 14, 1968, I was excited. John and Paul were scheduled to be on the Tonight Show on NBC TV that night. It was midnight when they both walked through the Johnny Carson stage curtain, much like Don Rickles did. They were older than the Mop Tops of yesterday, but they looked ‘so cool’. They were collected, professional, wise. Their visit to NY was to announce the formation of Apple Corp. They spoke to me. Loudly and clearly.
John said, "So, we've got this thing called 'Apple' which is going to be records, films, and electronics-- which all tie-up. And to make a sort of an umbrella so people who want to make films, and don't have to go on their knees in an office, you know, begging for a break. We'll try and do it like that. That's the idea. I mean, we'll find out what happens, but that's what we're trying to do”.
As I recall, John and Paul invited any Artist watching, to come to London. In real Scouse John shared, ‘Bring yer songs, yer poems, yer books. No grey suited man will be waiting for you at Apple’ So, in July 1968 I flew to London with songs in my head, a smile on my face, and courage in my bag. I went to visit John Lennon at Apple Records. The Shrine of the Holy. (This remember is the Beatles after they had dropped ‘Rubber Soul’, ‘Revolver’ and ‘Pepper’. MUSIC that changed my life. What was I thinking? I was following my heart!). Great things come from courageous acts, methinks. Plus, I was invited.
I always research where I need to be before I need to be there. I like to prepare mentally, to be focused and relaxed. So, I went to Apple at 3 Saville Row as soon as I arrived in London. It was real. The stairs were there, as shown in the pictures I had seen. The Stairway to Heaven.
At 10am, the next day, focused and relaxed, I walked through the heavy front door with a #3 on it. I went straight to the big oak reception desk. ‘‘Hello”, said the receptionist. She was my age, friendly and Cockney. I smiled back, “Hello, my name is Barry Greenfield, and I came from Vancouver to meet John, to show him my songs!”. She seemed surprised . “Do you have an appointment?’’ ‘’Sorry, no I don’t” I replied. A bit puzzled she asked, “Can you take a seat please.” There were two long church pews in the foyer near her desk. I sat on the pew facing the stairs. After about 5 minutes, up the stairs came John and Yoko. John was dressed in a black suit, hat on, Yoko in white, hatless. “Hello Mr. Lennon”, I said calmly and in awe. Smiling broadly, he answered “’Ello”. Yoko was silent, a lot smaller, and three steps behind. I couldn’t breathe. I was 17, and here was my reason for loving Music. Here was my Lighthouse in the dark. John Lennon. John Lennon. I was in the same place as John.
They walked into the large office to the left of the Reception area. Waiting for them, in a large brown leather chair, was Allen Klein (I think?). I could hear them talking, and I could see John clearly. I sat there watching, listening, for 15 minutes. The stink of French Gauloise cigarettes permeated the air. All three were puffing away. I was in a smoke haze dream and then………… a man in his twenties, who I think was Derek Taylor, the Apple’s Publicist, (of this fact I can not be sure) approached. I shared my reasons for coming to London. He said, “Well John is rather busy today, can you leave him a cassette?”. I explained that I had never recorded any songs and therefore did not have one. He asked me how I had planned to show the songs to John. I said, “On this”. I held up my acoustic, asleep in its case. “Oh! Well then….will you play them for me?”
We walked down corridor after corridor. All empty rooms. Then we went into one, he sat on the carpet (white shag) and I pulled out my axe. I played for 45 minutes. 10 songs from memory, no lyrics, no papers. “You have amazing songs Barry. They’re Great. I love ’em” . Let me talk to John, come back tomorrow at 10. Bye Barry”. I was back into the street.
I was elated. I slept poorly. I dreamt of clouds and oceans and mountains. Up early, and on the Tube. Walking in the Apple door the same fellow was waiting, ‘Let’s go, Barry”. We walked, talked about The Beatles, (and Apple), until we arrived at EMI Head Office. Manchester Square. Soon I was standing in the spot where the 'Please Please Me' LP cover was shot. I stood on the Balcony railing. Blown away. This is where The Beatles stood. Then we went into the big Corporate office, the Office of Chris Webb, the head of Ardmore and Beechwood, the EMI Publishing House. He was waiting for us with tea and warmth.
Chris was thirtyish, a Londoner, kind and seemed very experienced. I was not nervous, I was ready. I always have had a confidence in my Art, even that morning, tired with jet lag, I ready to share my songs. I opened with ‘Paint the World Greenfield’.
The morning flew by. I played Chris 10 of my original songs. He too smiled. Then we walked downstairs to the bowels of the EMI complex and into Studio A. Larry Page, the successful music manager, record producer, and record label owner waited for us. He was known for his work with The Kinks and The Troggs, for whom he produced a string of hits, including ‘Wild Thing’. Chris asked Larry to demo two of my songs, “With This New Girl’ and “Love is for the Young and Old”. It was orderly and organized and I felt protected. “These are two Barry Greenfield songs”, Chris Webb explained to Larry Page, and the teenage EMI Engineer. Then the 5 Troggs arrived. They all sat and watched as a performed my two songs over and over until Larry was content with the takes. He then introduced me to the Troggs. Reg Presley, the Troggs song writer, and lead singer, suggesting that his Band would be a good fit for me and my songs. I didn’t feel it.
Then we went back to Chris Webb’s office on the Third Floor of EMI. Chris told me that he had spoken to John Lennon, on the telephone, earlier that morning, and gave him an update on my day. John wanted to prepare a 45 single of the two songs that we had demoed, that Chris and Derek selected, for Apple Records. Apple would release them as my first single, and if it was received, and charted, Apple would then produce a full LP of my original songs. ‘Love is for the Young and Old’ would be the A side.
I was scared and overwhelmed by it all. Too much. Too quick. I called my Mom from a pay phone on the street, you could call collect in those days. ‘Mom I saw John Lennon, and Apple like my songs”. I took photographs in a photo booth to commemorate the day, (please check out the FB pic atop this page to see the picture). Then I went to the Hyde Park to walk. To think. To absorb what had happened, in the last 48 hours. I walked the street of London for hours.
The next morning, I went back to EMI HO, at Manchester Square. I told Chris Webb that I had never sung in public. Barely knew what I was doing as a guitar player, and that my only reason to come to Apple was to get them to use my songs for other artists. I saw myself like a Tin Pan Alley Writer. The fellow who composed and stayed off the stage. He understood and supported my conclusion.
This offer from Apple preceded James Taylor, Jackie Lomax, Mary Hopkin, Badfinger.
I came home and I have thought for 5 decades about that decision. I have always seen fame as a poor win. I love making music for Arts Sake. Later, I worked with many Greats. (Future ‘Barry Tales’ will talk about that, and previous ‘Barry Tales’, on my website, discuss a few of these relationships that shaped me). One can look back and wonder, but the only answer is to look at today. At 70 I am happy with all my Journey. My music is still being BORN. New songs are always a delight to me. I have great partnerships in Music, (Graham Gouldman of 10cc, Shane Fontayne, David Sinclair, and now Mick Dalla-Vee, where we work under The Wizard Brothers nom-de-plume). I think Music is an Art, and selling it is not as important as creating it. My Marriage, my Family, my Career, my 10 Cd’s on iTunes that sell globally (albeit like a gentle stream, that slowly meanders), my LIVE gigs, and my Songs, are the real story.
Both songs, chosen that Apple day by Chris Webb, were recorded by Norrie Paramour, Cliff Richards Orchestra Leader, who was a huge name in the UK. It all turned out OK. I will never fully know John’s plan. I think they were trusting and respectful of Chris Webb, the Apple guy who shepherded me around London, and maybe the receptionist told John I was polite? Plus, I had a Union Jack button on my army jacket.
I believe, and I am, a Canadian Artist. But I always want to mix my Music with Musicians, and Music, from the World. I continue to seek out ears from other Countries. Courage and belief are keys to Growth.
Here is a song about this stories’ ending. Recorded in Tennessee with Nashville heavyweights ‘(I want) THE SIMPLE LIFE’.
On YouTube, '(I want) THE SIMPLE LIFE' by Barry Greenfield https://youtu.be/BA68yYdDJ4s
‘the first Barry recording Produced by Graham Gouldman’. This is episode #6 in the 'BARRY TALES' saga.
Last week (April 2021) I received an e mail from two Manchester journalists and authors. They are writing a book about Manchester’s 10cc. They asked me to share my ‘tale’ about my 10cc experience in 1970, and working in the legendary Strawberry Studio in Stockport, outside of Manchester, with a Band who were beginning their long journey to stardom and stress.
10cc were Graham Gouldman (writer of ‘Bus Stop’, ‘No Milk Today’); Eric Stewart (The Mindbenders ‘A Groovy Kind of Love’), Kevin Godley and Lol Crème. (The Directors of early music video ‘Every Breath You Take’, ‘When We Was Fab’).
The tale begins with me, a 19-year-old, upstairs in a double-decker bus in Manchester. I had my guitar with me. I chatted with Bernice Seger, another teen on the bus, about music. Turns out, her boyfriend was Lol Crème. She gave me Lol Crème’s number. I called Lol. He was a bit testy that I was calling, seeking guidance on the Manchester Music Scene. He gave me his manager’s, Harvey Lisberg's, number, with direction to ask him. I was thankful.
I called Lisberg. He invited me over to his home. I immediately walked the 25 minutes, guitar in hand. We went into his sitting-room. I played him about 30 seconds of a Barry Greenfield song, when he stopped me and telephoned Graham Gouldman. Lisberg, was the manager of Herman’s Hermits, Andrew Lloyd Weber, Freddie and the Dreamers, 10cc, and more.
“Graham I have this kid here who’s great, sounds like Cat Stevens”. (I had never heard of Cat Stevens). Graham was about to leave with his wife Susan for Ringway, and Majorca, on holiday. “Can you stop by, on the way and give a listen? “
Graham was one of my heroes. His catalogue shaped my music. The first song I learnt on guitar living in Durban SA, at age 15, was ‘For Your Love’. ‘Look through any Window’ had a brilliant riff! Graham walked in. Heavy coat, scarf, successful and cool in appearance. Susan by his side. I played him a few songs.
He didn’t sit down. Didn’t remove his coat or scarf. His decision was immediate. He asked me to write a single and concluded by saying that he would produce me at Strawberry in 10 days. Gone.
I wrote ‘Sweet America’, about Viet Nam. On his return Graham popped over. He approved my song.
When Graham and I arrived at Strawberry it was early afternoon. I recall how weird a place it was for a Studio. It was a street where one should buy apples and tea towels, raise a family, not make hits. Once inside it felt great. Small but compact small.
Eric, Lol, and Kevin were waiting to work. The song needed a bridge/middle eight, and together Gouldman and I banged it out. Graham played bass, lead guitar and produced. Kev on the kit, Lol on Rhythm, Eric on the Board, with Peter Tattersall alongside. I sang. Personality wise, it was fun. They all worked well together and were happy to follow Graham’s instructions. They were supportive and interested. Eric and Kevin kept checking with me, ensuring the Artist was happy with the plan. Lol was colder and more aloof.
When we had the band-track complete, 2 hours later, it felt good. The feel matched my writing. I sang the verses with ease. But I struggled on the bridge. Graham took a few passes at it. That worked, and we kept his voice on the take. It was evident that the boys worked well together. Laughter. Ease of chat. Democratic. Eric asked me questions about choices, and I felt welcome.
The Studio was small and cozy. It was tidy and we were close together. I had a choice of microphones. The Boys took their places and worked diligently. I remember being interested in Kevin's drum part and thinking that he didn’t look like a drummer. Lol was short and loved his own humour. Graham was the Captain that day. It was his project and his friends seemed okay with that. I sensed only joy. It was my first Studio experience, at this level, and though I was petrified going in, Graham made the experience safe and rewarding. ‘Sweet America’ was complete.
We approached ‘Dorothy’s’ Daughter’, the B Side. We duplicated the process, but the result was not the same. Kevin and Lol couldn’t quite understand the song, or my vision, or didn’t care. We spent some time on it, but I eventually surrendered, and the result was a crap recording of an okay song. To this day I see it as a missed opportunity. The song was always special to me but the recording, not so much.
When it was time to do the background vocals, Graham sang a harmony on ‘Sweet America’, that worked. The three, Kev, Lol and Graham, with me joining in, took a shot at ‘Dorothy’s Daughter’ on background vocals. It was weak and soulless and made the track worse. They made me feel uncomfortable. The experience was over.
Lisberg made a deal with Philips Records. ‘Sweet America’ came out and was named Tony Blackburn’s BBC Record of the Week. The week proceeding was 'Another Day' by Paul McCartney, and the week following was ‘Ticket to Ride’ by the Carpenters. At 7:45am, Monday to Friday, Tony announced that Barry Greenfield had the BBC Record of the week. I listened on my transistor radio all 5 days.
Looking back, it was a good ride, mostly due to the warn hearts of Harvey Lisberg, Graham Gouldman, and working with the uber talented Eric Stewart. I worked, and played, with Graham for the next year. Living with the Gouldmans’, loving my Manchester life. Writing and learning from the Master tunesmith. I was in school. Those lessons shaped me. Graham and I remain in constant contact to this day. Brothers in arms.
Strawberry was finding its legs when I got my turn. It obviously grew steadier, found confidence, and became historic. Its always little steps that get you there. These steps were at the start of my long journey that continues today. I am grateful for that wonderful experience.
Every brick in my wall is an important brick. 1970, in Strawberry, taught me how to work with others, to listen, and to be courageous enough to offer my two cents. I have carried these early lessons forward.
Here is ‘SWEET AMERICA’ on Philips Records. https://youtu.be/n7iThcKh-nI
Thank you for reading. Comments welcome of course.
An evening with Supertramp at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, 1975. This is episode #7 in the 'BARRY TALES' saga.
Here is the story of my day and evening with Supertramp at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on Sunday, July 31, 1975.
This is Episode #7 in the ‘Barry’s Tales’ saga. The first 6 episodes are ‘John Lee Hooker, Nilsson, RCA. Kenny Rogers, Mike Nesmith, and Apple Records’ and can be read at my website’s ‘Barry’s Tales’ page.
I was living in the heart of Kitsilano, in a 2-bedroom flat with my cats Rosh and Masara. It was Sunday, grey, cloudy, and I was relaxing with my Gurion 6 string. I filled the afternoon by drinking tea, munching on chocolate digestives. Sunday was always my favourite day, it still is. Time fades away.
No one had cell phones back then. We all had attached phones that sat in the kitchen, or bedroom. Mine rang. I still don’t like answering phones, but this call I answered.
"Greenfield? It’s Bruce Allen. Triumvirat got busted in Salt Lake City, and they can’t play this evening. Can you open for Supertramp at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, tonight?"
"What/Huh/Supertramp?" I mumbled back at the obnoxious one.
"I’ll get you $400. The sound check is at 4pm at the Q.E."
"OK Bruce, how long a set?"
Like any UFC Martial Artist, you must stay ready, so when the opportunity to fight arrives, you are fit, strong and the right weight. You must work hard in the gym, daily, stay mentally fit. Keep alert, so that when Dana White calls you can say "Yes!". I am always ready to entertain the masses if asked, to this day.
"OK Bruce, I’ll do it. See you tonight."
Triumvirat was a West German progressive rock band from Cologne in then-West Germany. They became, during the 1970s, a key figure in Eurock, the progressive rock of continental Europe whose German variant is called Krautrock. The name Triumvirat comes from the Latin word triumvirate, which refers to a group of three powerful individuals.
Me? I am basically your soft-spoken mild-mannered, singer-songwriter. More Clark Kent than Superman. More George than Keef. I’m not metal. I’m not loud. In those days, and to this day, the common thinking is Barry is ‘Cat Stevens like’. Bruce picked me because I was reliable. I sing in tune (kinda). I entertain. Plus, I had no gear to worry about. Give the kid a stool, a microphone, and he will win the hearts and minds of most who listen. Plus, he’s cheap. $400 is a lot less than a three - piece Krautrock unit from Cologne. And Barry won’t let you down by being irresponsible in the 1975 drug paranoid world, that we all lived in.
I had less that two hours till Sound Check. Imagine that. Wake up at 8am. No plans. Work on a song, then boom….the Queen Elizabeth Theatre in two hours! ‘Life is what happens to us while we are busy making other plans’.
Arriving at the QE I was assigned dressing room B. My name was on the door. I put down my extra blue denim shirt (my stage costume for the night) and followed the signs to ‘Backstage’. It was empty of people, but full of gear. Supertramp gear. An amazing amount of stuff. Laid out beautifully.
The Soundman’s voice came from nowhere. "You Barry?"
"Is that stool OK for you?"
"Yup." I walked to centre stage. Stood there. Looked at 3000 empty seats. Gulped. Fear set in. What the fuck have I agreed too? Prior to this gig, I had sung in clubs, the occasional ballroom. Sometimes a school gym. Here I was in the Big Time. A giant step down the road.
My sound check went well.
The Soundman was professional, smart, kind, and appreciative. "You sound great Barry, but I need one more please."
I decided to play one that wasn't going to be in the set. I played Paul’s and John’s ‘She Loves You’. It was a Beatle song, and I wanted to share this important day with The Boys somehow.
The Soundman’s Cockney voice appeared for a last time. "Great. See you at 8. You sound wonderful Barry."
I sat perched on the stool, drinking the view in…..when………..
"Hello. I wanted to say thank you for helping us out.” It was Rodger Hodgson, my favourite, and the best, Supertramp member. Guitarist extraordinaire, superb singer, the glorious composer of 'The Logical Song', 'Dreamer', and ‘Hide in Your Shell’. He was a deep, rich talent.
"No Rodger, thank you, for this splendid opportunity,"I stuttered back at him.
"Who arranged the Beatle song?" he asked me.
Looking directly at me he said, "Barry it’s bloody brilliant".
"Thank you very much." I might have blushed. I told Rodger that I thought that no one listens to the superb lyric that John wrote in ’63. All that people hear is 'Yeah Yeah Yeah,’ He thought about it, and agreed.
"Do you have time to talk?" he asked.
"Love to." (a link to my version of ‘She Loves You’ is found at the end of my tale).
We sat backstage for an hour or more talking music; our love for The Beatles; the craft of song writing; about Canada; about favourite records.
I found great joy on the highway to art. He, like me, was focused on music not commerce. To this day I believe that I am blessed to be making and creating music. At 70, I am still Barry at 23, the entertainer who played that night at the QE. Sharing my journey through my songs. I am a happy camper. Music heals.
Supertramp was formed in London in 1970. Rodger Hodgson, Rick Davies (writer, piano), Dougie Thomson (bass), Bob Siebenberg (kit), and John Helliwell (MC and sax). LP’s sold, 60 million. As good a Band as any, anywhere, anytime. Tight. Brilliant. I was so excited to play at 8pm. Looking at their ‘Crime of the Century’ stage set I was at once scared, and yet comfortable. I sensed that Rodger, like me, sought humanity in music, every night that he performed, not another box ticked off. A kindred spirit. I belonged there.
8pm……the lights came down. A deep voiced DJ from CFUN or some sister FM station, walked out into the centre stage spotlight. Revealing a single stool, and my Gurion in it’s stand.
"Good evening music lovers. I have some bad news. Triumverat won’t be playing tonight. Refunds are available at the box office for any who want it……….but we have in their place, Vancouver’s own, Barry Greenfield". He ran off.
I walked on, smiling.
The Boos grew louder with each step I took. People got up, left their seats. They would rather have a drink in the QE bar that share the night with a long haired, folk singer. About 20% of a full room walked out.
I sat down and smiled again. "Thanks for coming. I am going to sing my songs for you, I’m going to tell a few true stories. Let’s make the most of this special night."
I opened my set with ‘Rodeo’, ‘………I broke my heart sometime ago, so I joined this rodeo, to try to earn myself some fame….’. An upbeat Barry song that I generally opened my night with.
The next 45 minutes flew by. I did a good, cohesive, thoughtful set. Sang strong, made them laugh, and as I looked out into the QE, I kept seeing more people walking back into the room to see why the audience was clapping loudly, occasionally whooping, and digging the guy on the stool.
I earned a double encore. ‘Free the Lady’ https://youtu.be/TccOLfgvvxo and ‘New York Is Closed Tonight’ https://youtu.be/OMyLfnu88xY (my first #1 single, and main reason I got invited). The entire set took about an hour, and I remember the sweet feeling of relief, and an overwhelming state of joy that covered me.
I watched Supertramp from Backstage that night. They were flawless in their delivery. I loved the show. The songs were all carbon copies of the ‘Crime’ LP, but as with all great Bands they feel bigger and better LIVE.
I took many lessons away from that night. If a door opens walk through it, if it feels right, and is right. Face your fears, don’t deny them. Always be ready. Always have good strings on your guitar and a clean shirt in the closet. Be positive as you walk through life. On stage, smile. In a room with people, listen. Be grateful for what comes your way. Make a stranger feel like a friend.
Here is my arrangement of ‘She Loves You’ on my YouTube channel https://youtu.be/d5uZlqnxRYo
PS. Leonard Albert (Bert) Goulet lives in Dawson Creek, BC. He was there that night. He was 18.We’ve never met, but we’ve e mailed about that night, and I asked him to write a thought or two down, he writes…………… Back in the day Supertramp came to the QE with a backup band called Triumvirat, an ELP style band which all us Proggers were looking forward to seeing but they had to cancel. Lots of rumbling in the forya about it and who was going to replace them. This guy, Barry Greenfield, was super soothing, which looking back at probably was a good thing, because it flowed so sweetly into the Supertramp vibe.
‘Four Feet Wearing One Shoe'. The birth of THE WIZARD BROTHERS. This is episode #8 in the 'BARRY TALES' saga.
I work with a few talented Artists. Two in London, one on LA, and one in Nashville. But my main Musical Brother is my ‘twin by a different Mother’, Mick Dalla-Vee on Vancouver Island.
We met on February 26, 2020. A year ago.
We have been connected, emotionally, musically, and creatively since that day, and we have recorded, 20 original songs. All were done as we remain in isolation in our homes, hiding from a virus. Me in Olympic Village, Mick outside Victoria. Me with Lori, he with Kelly.
Me, I do what I have always done. I write songs. I share them with Mick in demo-form. Mick has great ears, and an uncanny musical intuition. Priceless attributes. Together we have fun, as we shape the tunes into recordings. We use e-mail, wave file transfers, texts, and lots of cell phone chats. Mick, the brilliant multi-instrumentalist (drums, keys, bass, guitar), adds the twists and turns, using wonderful and inventive arrangement ideas. My vocals sit in the middle (double-tracked, here and there), and then he adds the background voices that make us who we are: ‘THE WIZARD BROTHERS’. A combination of two visions, without ego, and channeled through the heart. A 50/50 adventure.
How did ‘we’ happen?
For many years Bob Soltis, a mutual friend, shared his belief, with each of us, that we should meet. I was about to see John Shields for our quarterly gab, and lunch, in Victoria. Thinking I’m already on the Island, I decided to write Dalla-Vee an e mail.
I pencilled in 30 minutes, to meet and talk music. We picked Caffé Fantastico on Kings Road.
I arrived at 11am sharp. Mick was waiting. I quickly bought us coffees and muffins. Too soon it was 1.15pm. Two hours plus, and we had just got started. Time flies when you’re having fun! We talked Beatles, marriage, money, family, health, and shared our musical history. Both journeys have elements in common, yet both are unique. He is Sault Ste. Marie Italian, and I am Manchester Jew. Both acknowledged our heritage, both real, both obviously honest. We fit together well, and we appeared to be in-tune, to a natural-E.
Back at home, we both reflected, about our Caffé chat.
“Hey Mick? Wanna try a song together?”.
‘Yeh. Let’s do it!”
Two courageous, been-there-before, no expectation, musical guys. I have been selling my songs since age 17. A Financial Planner since 1978. When opportunity knocks, walk in the door, no regret when you take the step.
On that call the conversation bounced about, as it does when men chatter. Eventually we got to Global politics, soon the evil trump, and suddenly Mick said, “I wish Obama was here!”.
I always look for a good song title. I had found one. That day I wrote the lyric. I sent it to Mick. He suggested I write a melody. It took about 20 minutes. I demo-ed it, sent him an Mp3 of me on guitar, singing the song in my studio. He got to work. The wonderful Jim Vallance had an idea for us, which we used in the chorus. We had our first completed track, ‘I Wish Obama was Here’. After each song is mixed, I make a simple lyric video, usually a collection of short 10 second films, or stills, and Bob’s Your Uncle. Next! Here is ‘Obama’ on YouTube https://youtu.be/akRykozD8J0
Our friendship and collaboration flourished. We were working intense long days. Discussing arrangements, videos, mixing concepts, guitar solos, lyrics, more reverb, less bottom end, et. al. The fun went on and on. Song after song was born. Then onto the ‘next one’. I would text, “I have a new one.” ‘Cupids’ Arrow’, his retort, “Send it over”.
We were two souls in isolation, COVID-19. Time was on our side. Work made us stronger, more positive, it helped us both mentally. Baz Wizard and McWizard were born.
One of our songs, The Roadie, came to me after hearing Mick share a story about a Randy Bachman employee. It struck a chord with me. I mentioned that I saw it as ‘Pink Floyd’ type opus. Mick dug deep into the vault, and found a beautiful Dave Gilmour tone on his electric. We had reached a new level with this weird song. It spoke to us . Mick made it heavy, solid, the way I love music. We both seem to satisfy the others’ artistic crave. It’s a very fortunate thing we have found. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. On You Tube ‘The Roadie’ https://youtu.be/6LVjsPtsplo
We needed a name. A handle. Something like, ‘The Glimmer Twins’ (Jagger and Richard), or ‘The Nerk Twins’ (what John and Paul called themselves in their only ever gig as a double act); or the non-related duo of Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield, ‘The Righteous Brothers’, or even the early incarnation of Simon and Garfunkel, ‘Tom and Jerry’. I wanted words that reflected the Art we were crafting. I suggested ‘The Wizard Brothers’. It felt right. We had our nomenclature.
A week after I met Mick, I had a bicycle accident, three broken ribs. I was sentenced to chair rest for 10 weeks. Barely healed, I had surgery. This led to 6 months of rehabilitation. Lori, my Angel, was brilliant, always patient, and deeply kind. Love was ever-present in our Home, and I am eternally grateful to her. Throughout this ordeal, though immobile, I worked on Wizard music with Mick. It helped me mentally. We went deep into the well, and drank what The Beatles taught us, focused, open, disciplined work. Always with a healthy attitude to keep trying new ways. The Wizards and Music heal!
One afternoon I began a new song, an ode to George Harrison. Not all my songs are right for ‘The Wizard Brothers’, but I knew this song fit us like a hand in a glove. I made a simple, basic guitar loop. Wrote 4 verses. George, Paul, Ringo, and John. The whole song was built on one chord. ‘The Beautiful Band’ comes from the Heart of Wizard Brother Music. On YouTube ‘The Beautiful Band’ https://youtu.be/3k46RzcPWrE
It's been a year, and we both feel that it’s time to pick 10 songs for an LP collection that we will call ‘The Wizard Brothers’. We will share it with everyone shortly. All the songs included will have Barry and Mick in full flight, flying the WB flag high.
In conclusion, it’s been a gas gas gas, all day and all of the night, tomorrow never knows, working in the coal mine, with my partner. Before I say goodbye, and thank you for reading about my never-ending musical journey, here’s one last WIZARD BROTHER song. ‘Dance Little Sister’ our most recent creation. On YouTube. https://youtu.be/Y0okEF2N8eA
‘song writing is essential for me’. This is episode #9 in the 'BARRY TALES' saga.
I started writing songs at age 15. I had no training, no teacher, no idea what to do! Living in Zimbabwe all I heard on my transistor radio were Country singers (Eddy Arnold, Dottie West, Jim Reeves), easy listening, Montovani (a light orchestral style entertainer), and smaltz, The Andrew Sisters (3 safe white ladies).
I began my songwriter life by choosing song titles that intrigued me, that I had read in the newspaper. I wrote my own tune, using the title that I read. The first two were ‘You Can’t Do That’ by John Lennon, and ‘My Generation’ by Pete Townsend. I used the title to create my own lyric and original melody. I thought it was a fun thing to do with the three chords I had taught myself. G, E minor and A minor.
From that point on, song writing became me. Still is, 55 years in, with lots left to do. It’s still fun. When I’m sitting on the couch with my acoustic; when I’m cooking with Lori; in my nightly dreams; in the bath. Why not? It’s who I am. It’s what I do. I like it!
Lori asked me this morning, knowing I was writing this ‘Barry Tale’, ‘‘Barry, why do you write?”.
It gives me a sense of accomplishment when I finish ‘another one’. It teaches me who I am. It provides me with some life understanding, and clarity, about the topic I am writing about. Be it love (‘Lori’s Song’), my daughter (‘Barleycorn’), pollution (‘New York is Closed’), or whatever.
Gratefully, I have collaborated with many song writers. In Nashville, London, LA, and Canada. Some world known, some unknown. I learnt so much from so many.
I also teach what I know. It’s batá in a real sense. If they are not heart-centred, I politely walk out.
The Music Business is different in 2021. I entered it in 1968, maybe its peak? One aspect that remains constant is that it has always involved ‘suits’. People who don’t think music, people who think commerce. In 1967 I wrote a song called ‘The Music Business’. Its lyric read, ‘don’t forget it’s the music business, don’t forget where the emphasis is, it used to be the music, now it’s completely on the business! ’ I had no conception of how much truer these words would become with each passing decade.
In 1963 The Beatles arrived. Before this momentous shift, songs came from ‘outside’. Meaning they were written by a writer, and sung by a singer. Some examples being, Tin Pan Alley (‘Ain't She Sweet’, by Gold, Yellen and Ager, 1927, a song written about the lyricists daughter), Cole Porter (‘Night and Day’ Fred Astaire, 1932). Porter's most popular contribution to the Great American Songbook. Sammy Cahn (‘Three Coins in a Fountain’ Frank Sinatra, 1955), and Abel Meeropol (‘Strange Fruit’ 1939). An important song with lyrics that compare the lynched victims to the fruit of trees. The song has been called "a declaration" and ‘the beginning of the civil rights movement’.
The arrival of Lennon and McCartney opened the flood gates. Soon, every guitar player, keyboardist, singer, every wannabee, figured, ‘hey, I can write songs, and make money, too!’ If only it was that easy!
Soon LPs were released with one strong song and 11 fillers, all composed by the unit. The LP lost its credibility over the years, and with-it song writing quality declined too. One example is songs performed by manufactured acts, like the 1910 Fruitgum Company (‘Simon Says’, written by Elliot Chiprut). The retreat from quality song writing was obvious and everywhere. Weak songs sold because of the beat, or a gimmick, or heavy promotion.
Next came The Fairlight Synth, introduced in 1979. Then the sad auto tuned vocals arrived, (Back Street Boys). This led to a period of the beautifully coiffed singer soul less music sold to us by MTV and MUCH MUSIC. Video killed the radio star. Beauty meant more than brains. For every Ray Davies (‘Waterloo Sunset’), and Jimmy Webb (‘Wichita Lineman’), we had an Elliot Chiprut. The glory days of great songs, by great song writers, ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’ (Booker, Reid and Fisher), ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ (Dylan), ‘God Only Knows’ (Wilson) , ‘Superstition’ (Wonder) , ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ (Lennon), ‘Bus Stop’ (Gouldman), ‘Here Comes the Sun’(Harrison), and ‘Eleanor Rigby’ (McCartney), were no more. Of course, there were exceptions, ‘Earth, Wind and Fire’, ‘Genesis’, ‘The Temptations’, ‘Jimi Hendrix’, ‘Donavon’, and later ‘Bruce Springsteen’, ‘Annie Lennox’, ‘The Clash’, to name a few. But the Glory Days were history.
In 2005, I was in a Vancouver restaurant. I found out that my waiter was a singer song writer. He told me, and he was proud of it. We talked at some length, when I found out that he had never heard of Cat Stevens, and that he barely knew the body of work that Paul Simon had given us, (did he sing the song about silence?) Further inquiry left to my discovering that he had not ‘looked back’ or studied the craft. He felt no need. I maintain you can’t be anything without finding out who has been there before and learning from them. I ate my Buddha bowl.
We all have favourite song writers. Many we can’t name, but we love their work. Mine, whom I have studied, are George Harrison, John Lennon, Graham Nash, Joni Mitchell, Graham Gouldman, Jimmy Webb, Paul McCartney, Laura Nyro, and Harry Nilsson.
To explain other perspectives about the art, I give you ten songwriters thinking out loud:
Neil Young, “I don’t force it. If you don’t have an idea and you don’t hear anything going over and over in your head, don’t sit down and try to write a song. You know, go mow the lawn. My songs speak for themselves.”
Bob Dylan, “It is only natural to pattern yourself after someone. But you can’t just copy someone. If you like someone’s work, the important thing is to be exposed to everything that person has been exposed to.”
Carole King, “One of the things that I try to be conscious about in crafting a song is the concept of bringing it home. I like to bring it somewhere familiar, someplace that people feel it's resolved, it's settled”.
Smokey Robinson, “The Beatles were huge. And the first thing they said when you interviewed them, 'Oh yeah, we grew up on Motown.' They were the first white act to admit they grew up listening to black music”.
Diana Krall, “I'm not a writer, I was not born to be a songwriter. I was born to improvise, to play jazz piano. But you did write songs. Krall: Yes, but it wasn't very easy.
George Harrison, “There was this big skiffle craze happening for a while in England... Everybody was in a skiffle group... All you needed was an acoustic Guitar, a washboard with thimbles for percussion, and a tea-chest- you know, the ones they used to ship tea from India- and you just put a broom handle on it and a bit of string, and you had a bass... you only needed two chords. And I think that's basically where I've always been at. I'm just a skiffler, you know. Now I do posh skiffle, that's all it is.
Mick Dalla-Vee, “Song writing is a craft and like any craft it generally takes years of hard work to perfect it. For most of us, it’s a tremendous amount of work. For all musical artists, song writing is always happening in the brain in some form or another. 1) You’re driving your car and you read a billboard that sparks a lyrical idea. 2) You’re lying-in bed and a snippet of a melody you swear you’ve never heard before is running through your head. 3) You have a deadline for a project, and you need one more song to complete it”.
Ray Charles, "My version of "Georgia" became the state song of Georgia. That was a big thing for me, man. It really touched me. Here is a state that used to lynch people like me suddenly declaring my version of a song as its state song. That is touching."
Paul Simon, “It’s very helpful to start with something that’s true. If you start with something that’s false, you’re always covering your tracks. Something simple and true, that has a lot of possibilities, is a nice way to begin.”
THE BEATLES: The Beatles were instinctive songwriters. None of them read music and they were self-taught as instrumentalists and vocalists. Interestingly, Lennon, McCartney and Harrison all wrote both words and music for their songs. In 2016, Paul said in an interview that songwriting “is not one of those things that you ever really know how to do.” “She Loves You” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand, were songs the Beatles describe as having written “eyeball to eyeball.” “I Want to Hold Your Hand” was actually written on a piano (not guitar) in Jane Asher’s home. Paul played the piano and John and Paul each came up with lines and parts of the melody as they cranked out the song in one sitting. “She Loves You” distilled the essence of the Beatles —the driving beat, the harmonizing, and the “yeah yeah yeah” tag, which included the famous G6 chord they ended on. Other collaborations came later in their careers, such as “We Can Work It Out” and “A Day in the Life.” Paul was more music-oriented and often came up with the music first. Paul quotes Allen Ginsberg who said, “First thought, best thought.” So, Paul would often go with the first music idea that hit him.
The greatest songs often start with ordinary, real, things. An example is a wonderful song by Nine Inch Nails, ‘Hurt’. ‘I hurt myself today, to see if I still feel.
I focus on the pain, the only thing that's real’. Written by Trent Reznor but nailed by Johnny Cash, and produced by the brilliant Rick Rubin, here on YouTube… https://youtu.be/8AHCfZTRGiI
Folks often ask the writer, “What came first? The words or the music?” In the interest of full disclosure, I vary the diet. Sometimes words, sometimes music, occasionally they are born together. I know the truth is that every song I write is different. Each tune has a different answer, each song is based in truth, and each song has its own ‘Barry Tale!’
In closing I would like to address compensation. The big money days of Classic Rock that made the song writers rich and gentlemen of leisure, ladies of the canyon, are no longer. Peter Frampton speaks to the fact that ‘Baby I love Your Way’ had 16 million plays on Spotify. His cheque was $1800. In yesteryear a big song like ‘Taking Care of Business’ bought you land, a home, and a basement recording studio on Salt Spring Island, and enough left to shop at Gruhn Guitars, a vintage guitar store in Nashville, many times a year. Every year. Today, most of us work in music because we always have, and because we WANT to. Writing songs, sharing them, staying creative, for me is an Essential act.
Thanks for reading ‘Barry Tale #10’. I leave you with the newest song on YouTube. A collaboration by THE WIZARD BROTHERS ‘astronaut’. https://youtu.be/N_1vXuzNP4U
We are busy working on the next one, ‘I can’t make the Moon leave the Sky’. The story continues, the song remains the same……………..Barry Greenfield
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