I hate bland boring bio's, hopefully this one isn't. I was born in Hollywood, CA, October 3, 1940, & this event has affected my life greatly. As a little kid, I was sick often, but the fevers caused me to have very colorful dreams. My dad used to give me back rubs with syncopated hand-pat drum figures. My mom tried to keep me away from germs, & sang me silly songs.
When I was six, I started creating melodies on a xylophone. At age seven, we moved from L.A. to Palm Springs, this having nothing to do with my xylophone work. I graduated to the ukelele, & soon was singing to my classmates. On records (remember records?), my idol was Spike Jones.
1954 found me entering Coachella Valley High School, & playing piano by ear. I started my first band, now emulating Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard (I was hoarse a lot), Elvis & Fats. Besides figuring out chords on the piano by ear, my spare time at home was divided between 1) soaking up records on the radio, & 2) "over-dubbing" my musical ideas on two borrowed tape recorders.
The Coachella Valley has a large Spanish-speaking culture; my band gradually morphed into six Mexican Americans and me, affording me new chord & melody ideas from our latin reportory of boleros, cha chas, & corridos. I started writing & performing my own "pop" songs, often inspired by dark-eyed untouchable high school senoritas.
The band became immensely popular locally. In my senior year we performed for a school assembly. I sang my songs, girls screamed & cried, & I’ve never recovered!
Through my college years in Pasadena & San Bernardino, my mind was more on music than my liberal arts studies. New friends turned me on to B.B. King, Bobby "Blue" Bland, Jimmy Reed, John Lee Hooker, Little Walter, Muddy Waters. Deeply bluesified, I began teaching myself guitar & harmonica. Little Richard was too white for my tastes at that point.
In 1961 I teamed up with a high school guitarist friend, Archie Hall, Jr., whose father ran an independent movie company in Burbank, CA. It was here that I first scored... I was the “Musical Director” for the movie Wild Guitar, starring Archie Jr., produced & directed by Arch Sr. What this meant was Archie & I did the music for the film on two home tape recorders, overdubbing guitar & electric piano. Later, we put together a four-piece group & began playing clubs. Calling ourselves “The Archers”, we did funk & rock stuff with four-part harmonies. I played Wurlitzer electric piano with a Farfisa organ strapped underneath. (For a deeper look-and-listen from this era, see the CD “Wild Guitar”, available from Norton Records. It features vintage tapes rescued from my garage, & extensive photos & liner notes).
I continued performing in bands for several years, gleaning most of my musical education from records ("Let's see, if I play this 45 at 33 rpm, I can figure out the piano riffs"). I had some exciting moments: performing on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1965, recording for Dunhill Records in 1966, entertaining our troops throughout Europe & the Far East in 1967.
In 1969, I cleared my head to try songwriting full force. I stopped performing, & survived by working part time at a Hollywood recording studio. I was "Head of A&R", which included sweeping floors & emptying wastebaskets, but it gave me time to learn some technical stuff, & write & exploit my songs.
Signing as a writer with E.H. Morris Music in 1969, & Warner Brothers Publishing in 1971, led to my first hitas a writer: Bobby Sherman's "The Drum". What a thrill it was to hear my song on the radio!
I broadened my arsenal of musical & electronic equipment, so that on my demos I could do all instruments, voices, & mixing. This gave me more control over presentation of my songs. My demos became a minor legend in the biz; virtually all the successful records of my songs followed my arrangement & feel. One example is Helen Reddy's "Angie Baby", which hit #1 in December of 1974, & became her biggest selling record (see “The Story of Angie Baby” in the Articles section).
In 1976, I signed as an artist with Pacific Records, a brainchild of my WB publishers. I was the first, & at that time the only artist on the new label. Distributed by Atlantic, my first release, "Undercover Angel", zoomed to the top of the charts in July 1977, selling about two million copies. A follow-up single, "Skinny Girls", became a #1 song in Australia in 1980, & in 1981 I co-wrote "Your Eyes" with singer-songwriter Tatsuro Yamashita, which became a hit for him in Japan.
I left Warners in 1982 to write & self-publish. In 1983 I was invited to Tokyo to cowrite 6 more songs with Yamashita for his album "Big Wave". The collaboration yielded a Gold Disc Award in Japan, & I still co-write occasionally with Tats.
In 1983 I met, & co-wrote a children's song with, singer-songwriter Janis Liebhart. This was on "spec" for a new animated TV show, which became "Jim Henson's Muppet Babies". Unbelievably, eight years later we had written almost 100 songs for this Emmy Award winning Saturday morning program, which was syndicated worldwide. Janis & I continued co-writing for kid-focused projects, including National Geographic's Really Wild Animals, an acclaimed series of videos which features our singing & production chops as well. As of this writing, re-runs of these shows are airing Saturday mornings on Fox TV. Janis & I also wrote for Disney projects, Alaska Video, and National Geo’s “Animal Tales”. For further exploits of my talented friend Janis, including her ongoing tours with Michael Bolton, hit Google!
More recently, with my pal & children’s songwriter Dave Kinnoin, I have cowritten several special songs through an organization called “Songs Of Love”. They give us the opportunity to create & produce a song for and about a child with a life-threatening illness. Lyrics are never about the illness, rather they are a positive scenario of their pets, hobbies, parents & friends. I don’t have to explain how rewarding & healing this is for the writers as well as the recipients, do I?
I’ve become immersed in country & country-pop writing, for several reasons: The lyrics are often so wonderful, the genre is so challenging, its more about the song than the production, and Nashville in particular is a friendly place to work & visit. My old pal Denny Martin, a bandmate from the late 1960’s, is now located there, with a wonderful studio and valuable expertise in production and writing (see links).
So my musical life carries on, in great gratitude!