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