Catching Up With Melanie, cont'd
Jim Morrison was part of a San Francisco' scene' and we often hear reference to the New York 'scene' and London 'scene', but what was it like from the artists perspective? Was there really a division?
Well,.. I don't know, I think I was just not in a 'scene'. I know there were scenes, but I know I definitely wasn't a West Coast person, I was a New York person and you how New Yorkers are. It wasn't a 'hanging-out' kind of thing in New York. There was a studio scene. I always felt that New York was where you make real records and (laughs) L.A. is where you make the other kind. I like working in New York because I'd go in, and it wouldn't be as pretty as an L.A. studio. They were pretty funky then, even funkier in New York, and the rent was expensive and there were very rarely any nice areas to hang out in. You just went in to make a record. For most of my records I was under a building, in a basement, in a studio called 'Allegro Studios'. Every once in a while the train, a subway, would go by and you would have to wait. You could be in the middle of a take and it was over, because you'd get a rumble. We just always felt like we were there with the purpose of making a record. I've been to all the different kinds of studios, like the 'glam' studios where you go to a ranch and ride a horse, then go in for an hour and make a record. Then you go out for a hike, eat a gourmet meal, sleep, watch a movie, get up at three in the after-noon, eat another gourmet dinner, ride a horse and then go in the studio for an hour and you get very little done (laughs). I can't produce like that. I like to go in and do the business of recording. I mean, it's not that much fun when your audience is a microphone, so you just want to get it over with and get out
…and play live. Will you be touring extensively this year?
The new record ('Freedom Knows My Name') is gettiing good response all over the country, and I'll be out there promoting it.
I'll be doing a lot of tours this summer. I have a folk tour with Al Stewart, Tom Rush and Steve Forbert. Richie Havens will be at all the Woodstocks with me. John Sebastian is doing a tour with me. The sad thing is, there aren't that many living from the Woodstock era and it's really sad. They would have been great people if they had just held on.
Do you still see many of the surviving people from that era?
Mostly the New Yorkers like Richie Havens, John Sebastian and Arlo Guthrie; East Coast people. I would love to find Fred Neil (the author of songs like 'Everybody's Talkin' and 'Other Side of This Life' among others,) and put him on my record label. I think he was a brilliant songwriter.
For the sake of your fans in Europe, I must ask you, will you be playing there soon?
Well, I'll be in England in the fall, and I may hit Holland. I hope I do because that's where it started. I mean, I had a hit record in France, but I had my first number one album in Holland. I had heard a weird statistic that one out of three households had my album at one time. (When I went there) they thought I was English, because I had this hit in France. The English thought I was Dutch, and everyone would always speak to me in another language.
It's funny, but every time I go over there I find some other package or bootleg. I even had a hit record in Italy that I didn't know I had (released). I had done 'La Bamba', and it was beautiful, I loved it. We had recorded it in Nashville, and I was on Arista at the time and there were problems with the albums and stuff, and it just didn't get out. Well, it came out in Italy and it was way up in the charts, I mean a hit! Somebody sent me a copy with a picture of myself on the cover, and I never got a penny for it. I don't know how they got the tape. It was never released. It was never even mixed (laughs).
What made you decide to re-cut 'Detroit or Buffalo' from your album 'Arabesque' on the new album with a new arrangement?
I had always loved that song, and I felt it just didn't get heard. And it feels like the story of my life. I don't know where the girl who wrote that song is. I think her name is Babara Keith. When I recorded it, she was a waitress in Boston, and she had one album and that was it. I got it in one of those record stores, with all these obscure albums, and it was one of those with a hole in it. That song really stuck out, and I really wanted to put it out, but it was just lost in the shuffle. I hope I can make her a million dollars some day, and maybe meet her. I never heard from her and I don't know anything about her life except that she wrote a great song and (if that song is an indication of her life) that we've shared a lot.
Do you have any songs that you'd like to cover?
Harry Nilsson's 'Mournin' Glory Story' from the 1968 LP 'Harry' is one I've always loved. God, it was a shame about Harry (passing away).
You just got the feeling that if only he could have hung on I met Harry at a restaurant in New York years ago and Harry, Peter and I shared a bottle of wine and talked for a few hours. He seemed like a nice guy, but he seemed to be always hustling (Pause)
There aren't that many songs. I'm saving some. I'm waiting for them to get old enough, so that nobody remembers so much. The problem is that these (U. S. radio) stations that play old songs play them in such heavy rotation that nobody gets to forget about some of these great old songs so you don't want to sing it while they're still playing it.
How did your biggest hit, 'Brand New Key', come about?
I had this feeling that I had written this sort of Cajun or 'swamp' thing. It was this picture of sitting on a porch somewhere in the South with a couple of black women and a guy playing the harmonica and maybe a tuba and we were just rockin' away and stomping our feet. (She breaks into a female Leon Redbone-type vocal) 'I rode my bicycle past your window last night'. It had that kind of groove to me. I wasn't trying to say something or trying to write any secret message. I mean, it was banned from radio stations because they thought it was all kinds of things; a drug song, a key club wife-swapping thing, maybe a key was drugs… but it was just a whim. I was on a fast, and I broke the fast, and it was a week later and I had this desire for a McDonald's (hamburger). I was a vegetarian, so that was very weird. I went and had a McDonald's, and French fries and a milkshake, and that song came popping out. I had no thought of what I was talking about. It was a nonsense type of thing, like "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover" (by Paul Simon). I never though it would be a hit record. It was the equivalent of a doodle. It was gonna be recorded for the album, and I went into the studio where Peter heard this hook (which was the tack piano 'lick' that opens the song), and as soon as that was played it was gonna be a hit. I think we used little sugar packets as shakers (laughs). I was a big Mungo Jerry ('In the Summertime') fan, so that got put on. So I left the studio because I had put my part down, and it was time for Peter to go to town and he did! He put in what, at the time, I thought was this hideous background vocal part. The singers were the guys who sang 'Lavender Blue, Dilly Dilly' (Sammy Turner and members of The Cadillacs). I was gone, and I couldn't protest, and when he sent me that tape I was convinced that it was over. I had a hit record, and it was so cute. Elton John told Peter that after he heard that song, he thought it was OK to be silly and he wrote those other silly songs like
Yeah, 'Crocodile Rock' and all that stuff. He said he was riding his bike in London and fell off his bike laughing because it was so cute. So, that's OK.
People and record companies have tried to put labels on you over the years. Without trying to do that to you, let me ask how you would describe yourself?
I think I'm a stylist, and I want to create a song on a song. I want to create and, of course, I don't go out to sound like the person who did it. I have the feeling that I can communicate something with a song, so that's why I wanna do it. It probably won't be on the collection, but I heard 'Long, Long Time', (the Gary White composition) by Linda Rondstadt and I really heard it for the first time, and I fell in love with this song. Her performance was really smooth and well I just don't know if the person who wrote that song was really feeling the way she sang it, so… I really needed to sing the song. Three days later we went into the studio and I recorded it. I don't know if it'll fit (on the album). I just love a beautiful song, or something that really needs to be communicated. It has nothing to do with whether it's my life or something, but it's been a moment in my life or some other life that I lived. It's real and it's some kind of truth that I hit, or that somebody hit on, and I just need to sing the song. It doesn't matter who did it, I'm completely irreverent. It could be God. I mean, I did 'Purple Haze' (on the new CD) because I really needed to hear those chords translated the way I would play it. And I love the way it turned out; was really happy with it.
Well, Melanie, I'd like to wish you the best of luck with the new CD, and with your tour, and I'd like to thank you for talking to 'Eurodisc Agenda'.
Thanks, I enjoyed it.