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ET - Summer 1997
 
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Everybody's Talkin' - Summer 1997

Summer '97 Volume 1997.3
Everybody's Talkin'
The Schmilssonian Published Quarterly - $4.00
 

This Issue




Derek Taylor
Just as I was finishing up this issue of the newsletter, I learned that Harry's friend Derek Taylor died at his home in Suffolk after a long illness. He was 65. This article is based on an Apple press release.

Derek Taylor was born in Liverpool on May 7, 1932. He was educated in the city and became a journalist for "The Hoylake and West Kirby Advertiser" before joining "The Liverpool Daily Post & Echo." In 1962, he became the show business correspondent for the northern edition of "The Daily Express," based in Manchester.

In 1958 he married Joan Doughty in Bebington, The Wirral.

On May 30th, 1963, Derek covered The Beatles' concert at The Manchester Odeon. In his review in "the Daily Express" the next day he wrote: "The Liverpool Sound came to Manchester last night, and I thought it was magnificent. . . The spectacle of these fresh, cheeky, sharp, young entertainers in apposition to the shiny-eyed teenage idolaters is as good as a rejuvenating drug for the jaded adult."

Following a number of subsequent exclusive interviews and reports on The Beatles, Derek developed a close relationship with the group, ghosting a weekly column by George for the "Express," and then ghosting Brian Epstein's biography, "A Cellarful Of Noise."

In April 1964, Derek became Brian Epstein's personal assistant and scriptwriter and The Beatles' Press Officer. He traveled with The Beatles on their world tour of 1964, and then resigned and moved to California, where - as a publicist - he represented The Byrds, The Beach Boys, Captain Beefheart, Paul Revere and The Raiders and co-founded the Monterey International Pop Music Festival of 1967.

It was in California in 1967 that Derek Taylor first met Harry Nilsson. Taylor described the events leading up top the meeting: "Slanted-patterned parking lot and the children in the cars of many colors were whining 'Why' and 'When' and stout and bouncing bobbing frozen-food-faced ladies in wobble-pink capris were roller-curling their basket-way to the fat and hungry Riviera trunks and we, store-sullen men, waited in the scorching smog-stained sun on various vinyl-shining seats when I button-pushed into a 17-bar song-snatch and Timothy, eight and bright, said, 'Oh, you're smiling now, why? Oh why? Why ... the song had said: 'He met a girl the kind of girl he'd wanted all his life. She was soft and kind and good to him and he took her for his wife. They got a house not far from town and in a little while the girl had seen the doctor and she came home with a smile. And in 1961 the happy father had a son ...' Such a fragment of song it was and from whom? It was new and hardly anything is new! And how could something come so strong and sudden so swiftly to snap the sad and slumberous Safeway stupor? Hayes, who rides the discs like Joel McCrea, said, '"1941," folks.' Oh, yes, he said, '"1941," by Nilsson.' Nilsson. 'Nilsson' he said, again, and told us it was good, and that was why we smiled, Timothy, we smiled because it was good ..."

Derek tracked Harry down and met him at the bar of the LeBrea Inn. He also bought a caseful of Harry's Pandemonium Shadow Show LPs. He mailed copies to his friends ... including The Beatles.

According to rumor, Derek also brought Harry to the attention of Nat Weiss at the Beatles's management company, NEMS. According to rumor NEMS attempted to lure Nilsson from RCA but Harry was slow to decide. Before he was able to reply to the offer, Brian Epstein died and the offer was apparently forgotten.

In 1968, with the institution of Apple Corps, Derek returned to England with his wife Joan and their children to become The Beatles' Press Officer, casually establishing his legendary press "salon" at the Apple building in Saville Row, from where he befriended all comers and addressed the world.

With the break-up of The Beatles in 1970 Derek joined Warner, Elektra and Atlantic Records, rising to vice president at Warner Brothers in America by 1977. During this period, he produced albums by George Melly and John Le Mesurier as well as Harry Nilsson's A Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night.

In 1978, he left Warner Bros to become a writer. Derek wrote and consulted on numerous books, among them George Harrison's biography, "I, Me, Mine" and Michelle Phillips' "California Dreamin'," and his own works, including "As Time Goes By," "Fifty Years Adrift" and "It Was Twenty Years Ago Today."

In the mid-80's, Derek returned to Apple Corps, from where he orchestrated and controlled the massively-successful launches of "The Beatles Live at the BBC" and, perhaps rock and roll's greatest multi-media success of all time, "The Beatles Anthology."

Sir Paul McCartney paid tribute to Derek. He said: "He was a beautiful man. It's a time for tears. Words may come later."

Paul McCartney's publicist and Derek Taylor's "Anthology" press assistant Geoff Baker commented, "Derek leaves a thousand friends. Derek was not only the World's Greatest Press Officer, he was also one of the funniest, kindest and most decent men you could have met. All who did meet him, loved him. In 1969, The Beatles sang 'and in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.' Derek Taylor was the proof of that equation."

Rupert Perry, Chairman of the EMI Records Group, UK & Ireland, said, "The untimely death of Derek Taylor is a sad loss for our industry and especially for those of us at EMI privileged to have known him.

"During his years holding the outside world together during the crazy days of Apple at 3 Saville Row, and more recently as the constant voice of sanity and reason amidst the furor of The Beatles' 'new' recordings and reunions, Derek's calmness and infinite charm and wisdom cooled many a hot head. Despite his illness, Derek continued to provide support to The Beatles, Apple and EMI, and we will remember him with great affection and gratitude."

Derek Taylor leaves a wife, Joan, and children Timothy, Dominic, Gerard, Abigail, Vanessa and Annabel - and thousands of friends.




Harry Who? Oh, He's on First!
By Sue Schnelzer

I know it's a little crazy, but whenever I meet someone new, I've gotten into the habit of mentioning Harry's name during the conversation just to see what they'll say. Most of the time the reaction will be "Harry, who?". The next most likely answer is, "Didn't he sing 'Taxi' or 'Cat's in the Cradle'? Every once in a while, thankfully, someone will mention "Without You" or "Everybody's Talkin'". But, I've been told that there's a restaurant in Boca Raton, Florida (if you're lucky enough to be there when the owner is around), where you'll find someone who will smile and nod in recognition when asked about Harry Nilsson. More than likely, he'll proceed to tell you stories about the Cincinnati Reds during the "Big Red Machine" era and about Harry's role in staffing the team with the talent that helped them win two back-to-back World Series titles in the mid- 1970's.

Now, before you think that the Florida sun might be getting to this person, let me explain. The restaurant is owned by Pete Rose, and the Harry Nilsson that he's referring to isn't our favorite singer at all, but Harry Nilsson, Sr., Harry's dad.

I was fortunate enough to receive an e-mail a few months ago from Gary Nilsson, Harry's half-brother. He had noticed that I live in Cincinnati, and told me that his dad was a scout for the Reds for 13 years.

I asked Gary if he'd be willing to share some more details about his dad's career, and he readily agreed. Here are some of the highlights of our conversation about Harry Sr., baseball, and the Cincinnati Reds:

SS: To start out with, I'd like to know how your dad, Harry Sr. ended up as a baseball scout.

GN: In the late 50's and early 60's Palatka, Florida, had a league called the Florida State League. The commissioners there asked my dad if he wanted to be the business manager of the teams. The business manager would handle all the money and schedules. From 1957 to 1962, we had the Cleveland Indians, White Sox, and the Cincinnati Reds. After it all came to an end, the Reds organization was very impressed with the knowledge that Harry had about baseball. So they asked him to become a scout for the Reds.

SS: Was your Dad ever a baseball player?

GN: Harry never played on the professional level, but he did play for a very well known team out of New York called the "House of David". This was a team that consisted of some of the best non-pro baseball players from the N.Y. area. they would travel around and play semi-pro teams and rumor has it that they even played the N.Y. Yankees on a few occasions. Dad said that no matter how good you were, if you couldn't grow a beard, you couldn't play! Oh yeah, and you also had to be a Catholic!

SS: What position did he play?

GN: He played second base, but also pitched from time to time.

SS: As for his time as a scout for the Reds; what years did he cover?

GN: He was a scout for the Reds from 1962 until the day he passed away in November, 1975.

SS: Who were some of the players that he came into contact with?

GN: There were a lot of players and coaches who later made it into the majors. Among them were Pete Rose (who played with the Tampa Tarpons at the time). Some others included Tommy Helms, Vic Davalillo, Mel Queen, Joe Azcue, and Dave Bristol. There was also Johnny Vander Meer, who coached in Palatka for the Reds. He's the only pitcher in Major League history to pitch back-to-back no hitters. (That was when he played for the Reds, I might add.)

SS: Who was his favorite player? Favorite coach?

GN: I would say his favorite player was either Pete Rose, or Tommy Helms. His favorite coach was probably Dave Bristol.

SS: What do you think was the high point of your dad's baseball career?

GN: I think the high point of my dad's career is when we would travel around to all the Spring Training sites in Florida. By this time he was a scout and always had his scout card with him. We were able to get on the field before and after the game. We would make contact with some of the players and coaches we knew from the Florida State League.

SS: What memories do you have of your dad and his baseball career?

GN: My greatest memory of my dad's baseball career was in 1968. We were traveling out to Los Angeles to see Harry (at the Nilsson House production studio). On the way out we stopped in Houston just to see the Reds and Astros play. We met up with Pete Rose, Tommy Helms and Dave Bristol (who was coaching the Reds then) in their motel lobby. Bristol got us tickets right behind the Red's dugout. We had dinner with Pete at the motel before the game. In our conversation, he asked about our travel and vacation. Dad told him about Harry. Pete's remark was, "Tell Harry I would like to trade autographs with him!" At the game that night the Reds were getting clobbered. Then Dave started "showing his ass," by flipping chairs, water coolers and bats onto the field! Of course he was tossed out of the game. On his exit I'll never forget his voice as he looked up at my dad: "That show was for you Harry, see you after the game!"

SS: What is your most treasured baseball item?

GN: Some of my most treasured baseball items are: a couple of old Florida State League autographed baseballs, also an autographed ball signed by the Reds (from that 1968 trip), some pictures, and a 1942 NY Yankee Press pin (World Series). But I really think that my most treasured items are my memories of the games.

SS: Assuming that there is baseball in heaven (did you have any doubts?) and your dad and Harry have found their "field of dreams"....What baseball legends do you think they've chosen for their teams?

GN: If there is baseball in heaven, and I know there is, I think that Harry Sr. would be the coach and Harry Jr. would probably pick any position, but he would also sing the National Anthem before the game started. On this team would be "The Babe", Ty Cobb, Mickey Mantle, Jackie Robinson, and Lou Gehrig. I think this would truly be a field of dreams! The team would be called the "Harryheads" of course!

Gary's answer to this last question really stunned me! It's such a shame that Harry never sang at a Major league baseball game, but it is the makings of a wonderful daydream. Next time you're at a baseball game, picture this in your mind. The teams, of course, represent the "all-time, all stars." Right before the game starts, Harry steps out to the pitcher's mound and sings "The Star Spangled Banner" in a way that only someone with a 3 and 1/2 octave range can sing it. For that brief moment in time, music, the love of Harry's life, intersects with baseball, the love of his Dad's life. After the cheering for Harry finally fades, the greatest baseball game of all time begins.

I'd like to thank Gary for sharing his memories with us. Oh, and, if you're ever in Boca Raton, stop by and see Pete Rose at his restaurant. Just make sure to mention Harry's name when you talk to him!




What the Trades Said (Part One)
By Randy Hoffman

This is the first in a series of articles examining what the music trade magazines said through the years about Harry Nilsson's music and career. I am drawing all of my information for this article mainly from the three big trades of the times: Billboard, Cash Box, and Record World. For those unfamiliar with these publications, the magazines detailed new single and album releases and published news concerning the music industry. Back when I was in college, I would go to the university library and peruse the back issues of these trades and Xerox or write down word for word in my notebook the text of any articles I could find about Harry. I was fascinated by his music (still am!), and being a musician myself, had a great deal of influence on my songwriting. I shall always owe Harry a debt of gratitude for all of that.

Let's start off with the oldest article I could find in my search. As I was sometimes scarce in my notations, I am not sure which of the three trades this one appeared in, but in August 1967 the headline read "Link Nilsson as Dunbar Writer". The article went on to say, "NEW YORK -- Nilsson, new RCA Victor artist, has been signed to an exclusive writing contract by Dunbar Music (BMI), Victor's recently established publishing arm. Nilsson's single, 'You Can't Do That' b/w 'Ten Little Indians' was released last week as a result of continued air play by KRLA, Los Angeles". I also have a full page black & white (b&w) ad from Billboard magazine dated August 19, 1967 with the top third of the page reading "UNDERGROUND EXPLOSION!!!", the middle third being a picture of Harry Nilsson holding a huge umbrella, and the bottom third reading "NILSSON 'YOU CAN'T DO THAT' c/w '10 LITTLE INDIANS' #9298 New super-hero of the teen underground setting the coast right on it's inner ear with his electrifying new single. RCA VICTOR The most trusted name in sound. And the shock wave is spreading ... SPREADING ... SPREADING!"

Not long afterwards on October 14, 1967 there appeared in Cash Box a full page b&w ad advertising "Pandemonium Shadow Show" in which the bottom two-thirds of the page was a photo of the album cover. The top third read "Nilsson: the true one. He's the sound of today...and he sings the total truth. In this album, Nilsson delivers the message with such unique songs as 'Ten Little Indians', 'You Can't Do That' and '1941'. The subject of a big promotion, Nilsson is phasing in as sign of the times listening." Right below the picture of the album cover was the line "Available on RCA Stereo 8 Cartridge Tape. LPM/LSP-3874".

The next time I found a little touch of Harry in the trades was in the November 4, 1967 issue of Cash Box. There at the bottom of a page was a b&w picture of 8 people at a recording studio control room. We see Jack Jones seated at the mixing console with a bottle of champagne upon it. Behind him are various gentlemen with paper cups (one of them being Harry caught in the pose of taking a sip of champagne from his cup). The caption of this photograph says "LISTEN TO THAT! -- Jack Jones is shown listening to playbacks from his debut RCA Victor album, 'Without Her', to be released in October" (Being that the picture appeared in the November 4th issue, I think someone should have corrected that copy!). The blurb goes on to say "Shown flanking him in the foreground are RCA Victor execs....(here I am editing out the various names of people I don't really know, and getting to the good part)....RCA chanter Nilsson is the composer of the title song 'Without Her'.

The next time we look in on Harry we will be jumping to 1968, as the trades are announcing the release of his second RCA album "Aerial Ballet". Be here next issue for part 2 of "What The Trades Said".




The Early Recordings (Part One)
By Curtis Armstrong

The earliest known Nilsson recordings remain the demos recorded during a single, marathon session for songwriter (and Tommy Sands guitarist) Scott Turner in 1962. The story of Turner's first encounter with the young Nilsson, in the waiting-room of Leeds Music (a music publishing house) is well known and was oft recounted by both men. Harry was paid $5.00 a song to sing, in one or two takes, over twenty songs from Turners portfolio, including numbers co-written by such luminaries as Diane Lampert ("The Ash Grove"); Buddy Holly ("My Baby's Comin' Home"); and, unexpectedly, the most-decorated War Hero of WW2, Audie Murphy (who reportedly wept when he heard Harry's version of "Please Mr Music Man"). Likewise, the sequel: the weekend penning of "A Travelin' Man" for the New Christy Minstrels, leading to the brief but prolific song writing partnership which also produced "I'd Do It All Again" for Herb (Dore, in those days) Alpert's second single is the stuff of Nilsson legend.

The history of the Turner demos is a complicated one - at least three "sweetening" sessions having occurred: one in 1962, a second for the vinyl release (Early Tymes, Musicor, 1976) and a third posthumous session in 1994 for the "Complete Sessions" CD release (Nilsson '62---Harry Nilsson The Debut Sessions Retro Records, 1995).

Missing from both vinyl and CD releases were two songs recently discovered on a tape which included many of the released songs in their original demo form. The first, "Big Daddy," is the one about a boy who talks about how everyone in town looked up to his daddy ("the biggest man around") until, one day, someone shows up and kills him and it turns out that Daddy Was An Outlaw. It's Marty Robbins without the poetry; a downer in a way that only a C&W story-song of this type can be. "My Best Friend," the second unreleased track, is a little livelier and at least no one dies in a hail of bullets. A My-best-friend-stole-my-gal number, it has Harry's infectious enthusiasm to commend it but little else and is not up to the standard of the rest of the album. Included here also is an unedited version of the spoken-word closer, "End of Message To Scotty." Turner, having sent a copy of the demos to Harry in 1962, received a taped acknowledgment from his friend, whose opinion of the recordings appears to have been a little too frank for CD release. After thanking Turner for the tape Harry, in his best Maudie Fricket voice, says the songs "sound like the Oakie Hit Parade of 1962"---a critique understandably cut from the "Debut Sessions" release.

Whatever the demos may have done for Scott Turner, they appear to have done little to advance Harry's career. The same can't be said for Harry's personal relationship with Turner himself, as this led to an association with a man who was to have had enormous influence on Harry over the next two or three years. John Marascalco was a friend of Turner's and a seasoned veteran of the Tin Pan Alley Wars. Already established as a successful songwriter - Little Richard's signature hit, "Good Golly Miss Molly" came from his pen - Marascalco and Harry seem to have clicked at once. As the Turner-Nilsson teaming was petering off, Marasalco and Harry were producing their first collaboration - the very first released Nilsson record. Harry did garner a co-writing credit with Marascalco, though the single itself was credited to the improbably named "Foto-Fi Four". Musically negligible as "Stand Up and Holler" may have been, historically it was significant. The debut Nilsson recording was a tribute to the Beatles. The band that would have such extraordinary influence on Harry's life and music were the subject of this 1964 release -almost exactly four years from the time that he was ushered into that charmed circle by Derek Taylor.

"Stand Up and Holler" (a.k.a.: "All For The Beatles") is, musically, "Not Fade Away" with lyrics celebrating the Fab Four's arrival in the States in February, 1964. The single was packaged with a strip of 8mm film, stock footage of the Beatles arriving at airports and playing on stage, suitable for viewing while listening to "this specially scored song," as the cover said. Naturally the whole enterprise, down to the sketched "Beatles" on the cover, might have led eager Beatlemaniacs to assume they were actually buying a new Beatle single and is an excellent example of the sort of rip-off machine that was generated by the groups' arrival in the States. Because of the Nilsson connection, it has become a doubly-rare Beatle-related collectable. Copies with the film intact are virtually impossible to find. Due to a misprint in Andrea Sheridan's discography in Goldmine magazine, the B-side of "Stand Up And Holler" is listed as "Isamel." But "Stand Up" appears on both sides of the single -one side for general listening, the other cued for the film with the periodic screams of hysterical fans laid over the recording.

"BO-PETE" and "JOHNNY NILES"

At this point in Harry's career, it becomes increasingly difficult to tell exactly what came where. Even the actual release date of "Stand Up and Holler" is a matter of conjecture. The confusion is compounded by his frequent use of pseudonyms. Sheridan places "Do You Wanna (Have Some Fun)"/"Groovy Little Suzie" (TRY-501) next, chronologically, though giving the date as "circa 1964". With Harry singing as "Bo-Pete", this has been one of the best known of Harry's pre-RCA recordings, mainly due to the frequently-quoted comment of Little Richard, on hearing Harry sing the Marascalco-written "Groovy Little Suzie" ("My, you do sing good for a white boy---I hope you don't mind my sayin' white"). And yet, internal evidence points to another possibility.

Harry admitted to everything he ever recorded during this period, with one exception: "Baa Baa Black Sheep Pts. 1&2" (CRUSADER---C103). During the spate of interviews and career retrospectives toward the end of his life, he stuck blandly to the invention that he "produced a guy named 'Bo-Pete'". Surely, the nursery rhyme itself suggested the pseudonym and, therefore, "Baa Baa Black Sheep" must have come before "Do You Wanna." His decision to use the name again for the follow-up suggests that he may have toyed with keeping it for a while, which further suggests that, at this early stage, Harry was seeing himself more as a songwriter than a singer - and if a singer, a non-performing one. His dependence on pseudonyms and jokey monikers - even down to the unprecedented and odd use of his last name only - is an indication of an insecurity of some kind; one of the shields behind which he hid for much of his career.

In any event, this habit continued for his next single at least. Harry's new pseudonym was Johnny Niles, a name which successfully combined John Marascalco's first name with a corruption of Harry's last and still managed to sound like every other white male crooner of the period. According to Harry, producer Jack Tracy rushed into an office where Harry was sitting saying he had a sure-fire hit single ready to go; all he needed was a singer. The 'sure-fire hit" was Buddy Lee's execrable novelty number, "Wig Job." Harry's deal provided that he be allowed to record one of his numbers for the B-Side. Of course, when the single was released, probably some time in 1964, "Wig-Job" had been relegated to the B-side, with Harry's "Donna (I Understand)" occupying the A-side. (Mercury-72132) "Donna" was credited to "Harry Neilson", and sung by "Johnny Niles", so Harry's name never actually appeared on this, his first real single release.

Supposedly written for a woman Harry was working with at his day job, "Donna" provides the first real indication of what was to come. Though unabashedly sentimental and as corny as they come, "Donna" was a well-crafted genre number which showed his extraordinary voice to good effect. It also showed he had been doing his homework. The song was so derivative you'd swear on first hearing it you knew it by heart. But if the song could've been written by just about any Tin Pan Alley tune-smith, it could have been sung only by Harry. Played today, we hear that clear, soaring "Donnaaah!" descending seamlessly into the intimately phrased "I understand," and wonder how anyone at the time could have missed it. But they did. It would be tempting to say the single vanished forever, leaving not a wrack behind, but that seldom seemed to happen with Harry's early, anonymous work. In spite of his impressive list of studio alter-egos, both "Baa Baa Black Sheep Pts 1&2" and "Donna/Wig Job" were to resurface in short order on other labels and with his full name boldly printed on the label. "Black Sheep" was re-released on the LOLA label (LOLA 102). Unlike the former single, though, "Donna" redux provides us with a mystery. Both "Donna" and "Wig Job," as released sometime in 1965 by Spindle-Top records (SPINDLE TOP 1929) are completely different recordings. With a different vocal track and differences in the arrangements and over-all approach and mood, the Spindle-Top "re-issue" almost qualifies as an original release. The reason for the two versions has never been explained, or even acknowledged, by Harry. It seems unlikely that two versions were cut during the original sessions, which raises the possibility that Harry himself re-did both tracks for the second release. If so, it would be the first example of what would become a familiar pattern of perfectionism that would lead to the "re-mix" album, Aerial Pandemonium Ballet and would drive producer John Lennon to flee Los Angeles for New York with the master tapes from Pussy Cats to prevent Harry endlessly fiddling with them.

Curtis's article is continued in the next issue.




Andy Cahan Interview
Andy Cahan, "the most famous musician you never heard of," has toured as a keyboard player with The Turtles and has worked with many rock and roll legends. As the "Demo Doctor," Cahan helps artists create self-produced demos in his studio.

Harry Nilsson's last recordings were made in Cahan's studio.

ET: How did you meet Harry?

AC: I joined Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan, aka The Turtles, in 1973. Since then I've recorded many albums , toured the world and did many TV shows with Flo & Eddie & The Turtles. In October of 1989, Flo & Eddie, who at the that time had their own radio show in New York on K-Rock 92.3FM in the afternoons after Howard Stern, were one of thirty radio stations doing a live broadcast from Universal City Studios for the Alice Cooper / Clarence Clemmons Octoberfest. Mark Volman asked me to drive a limousine and pick up the many luminaries; Eric Burden, Bobby Hatfield, Kevin Meany, Dean Torrance, Weird Al, Ray Manzarck, Rosanne Barr, Alice Cooper, Elvira, Mickie Dolenz, Richard Lewis, John Densmore, and Harry Nilsson.

I had my keyboard set up and performed either "Happy Together" or the "Hit" of each artist live on the air after they were interviewed in the little tent set up on the lot.

When I drove out to Hidden Hills to pick up Harry Nilsson, I was real nervous. After all, this was the Beatles favorite American singer/songwriter … Nilsson! When I arrived at his home, I opened up the rear door of the limo. Harry said, "no thanks, I'll sit up front with you." So there we were, driving down the 101 freeway to universal, jammed in traffic. What else to do but to light up a cig and talk about The Beatles! I was in heaven. Harry would tell me so many stories, I could hardly remember them all. But I do remember him telling me that Keith Moon and Momma Cass both died in his bed in his London Flat!

So we did the broadcast, and did a "Dillards" song that Mark & Howard sang harmonies while Harry sang lead. He forgot the name of the song, and to this day I still don't know the name! But I do have tapes of the show. After that, I took Harry to his office, Hawkeye, which was a company that supplied scripts to film production companies. It was just a month later that Harry found out his trusted accountant for eight years, Cindy Simms ripped him off for over eight million dollars. I do believe, that was the beginning of the end for Harry. He was devastated. Not only did he lose his land in Australia and Bel Air, but he almost lost his home in Hidden Hills. He also owed the IRS two million in back taxes. He took her to court, and she ended up in jail for maybe a year or so.....that's all!

ET: How did you come to record with Harry?

AC: In the meantime, I asked Harry if he was still doing music. He told me that he sold his piano and guitar and was busy raising his family of six kids and a wife! So I said, "hey! why don't we get together and record some stuff in my studio." He liked the idea very much. so much in fact that he recorded twenty five songs. They are still on the shelf, waiting for his estate to figure out when or if they want to release them. The name of the album was "Papa's Got A Brown New Robe". Harry and I became real good friends. He would come over my house practically every day, and we would either record or go for a drive and visit Ringo, Timothy Leary or Joe Walsh. It was a lot of fun, sorta like when I was a teenager with my friends, just driving around, listing to the radio, laughing, telling stories and getting high. I do remember one time we were over Ringo's, and I picked up one of his custom acoustic guitars with stars inlaid in pearl on the neck, and started strumming … Harry started singing, "I listen for your footsteps, coming up the drive" ... then Ringo joined in ... there I was, playing a Beatle song with a Beatle and Nilsson ... I'm in heaven again!

ET: Can you tell us about some of the songs you recorded with Harry?

AC: Harry recorded several demos. The first song we worked on together was called "Bedsprings" from Harry's play "Zappata." One song was called "245 Lb. Man" - Harry had one of my clients, Jessica Silverstein, sing backup and double lead vocals. A song called "Rescue Boy" became "High Heel Sneakers" in a later session. We recorded "It's So Easy To Live" for Ringo's album, but Ringo turned it down. We recorded "Me, Myself, and I," the title song for the IRS film starring George Segal and JoBeth Williams. The film was released on video by IRS.

One day Harry noticed Arrow radio 93FM in LA. He said, "lets make a 30 second ad and send this as a gift to Arrow radio." I sampled the beginning phrase, "Me And My Arrow", then added the music and Harry's vocal, "93 FM".

Some of the other songs recorded were "Mother In Law," "Red Neck, (an alternate version of "245 Lb. Man"), "She's Tall" - we were asked by Deborah Hill (a film producer) to record this track for the TV film "Attack Of The Fifty Foot Woman" starring Darryl Hanna - and "Shrink Rap" - a hilarious nine minute song Harry wanted to record as a spoof on rap music.

ET: "Mother In Law" - the Allen Toussaint song? Harry once said in an interview that he'd like to record an entire album of Toussaint's songs.

AC: Yep!

ET: What's you opinion of Harry Nilsson as a song writer?

AC: Oh, incredible. He was a genius. He is a total genius. He was extremely intelligent. Like, we'd be sitting there watching Jeopardy on TV, and he would know the answers before anybody. And, he's an incredible, incredible story teller. He could talk your ear off for hours and hours.

ET: As a vocalist?

AC: Oh, incredible vocalist. He was the Beatles favorite vocalist. That's why when I was befriended by him for four years (the last four years of his life), we went over to Ringo's house a bunch of times. We'd also go to Timothy Leary's, Joe Walsh, and a whole bunch of different people.

ET: Your friendship with Harry only lasted four years ...

AC: Needless to say, when Harry died, I was totally devastated, and still feel a large hole in my life. At Harry's Funeral, George Harrison, Jeff Lynn, Van Dyke Parks, Paul Williams, George Segal and many other luminaries all came up to me and thanked me for being there for Harry for the last four years of his life. Even at the eulogy, Mark Hudson mentioned me several times as Harry's friend and home away from home.




Stop The Presses
By Curtis Armstrong

This is the first in an irregular column documenting Harry's appearances in the media.

It was a foregone conclusion that Harry's name should have been invoked in Goldmine Magazine's excellent Jim Webb article (Dec. 20, 1996). An added treat for the eagle-eyed was an uncredited photo of Webb and Harry seated at a piano together, circa 1970…

Los Angeles Magazine's January issue included a vigorous squib on a local band, The Freeloaders, and I quote: "For the more lascivious of the bred-on-the-Dead fans, the boys got that nasty bump and grind down [emphasis theirs]. Throw in a singer who inherited Nilsson's sore throat to front the swamp land boogie-woogie that chugs alongside the locomotive-driven rhythm section, and you've got stuff you'd never expect from a bar band that looks like it ditched yeshiva for the day." This writer recalls in 1974, Harry's "sore throat" was greeted by the press with considerably less enthusiasm. Ragged chords, it would seem, are now a plus. As the Bard of Avon might put it, "My kingdom for a hoarse."…Thanks to Marianne Faithfull's extensive "20th Century Blues" tour, Harry's name has appeared in more newspapers this year than since the Troubador glory days. Reviews tended to focus on him as a result of her stunning cover of Don't Forget Me and - possibly more importantly - her increasingly bizarre tales of his death in a dentist chair and his body being swallowed up by the Northridge earthquake. People Magazine mentioned him (though I've misplaced the date) and The Hollywood Reporter (March 27, 1997) referred to Faithfull as being like "…a dinner party of one, regaling the rapt crowd with tales of [Kurt] Weill's life, her life, Harry Nilsson's life"…

Goldmine Magazine struck again in its June 20 issue. In an extensive interview with Peter Wolf (late of the J. Geils Band) he is asked about running into Harry and John Lennon during the "Lost Weekend." Wolf recounts running into a pie-eyed Nilsson in a hallway outside a rest-room at the Record Plant in New York. He describes finding Harry "sitting with a limousine driver, trying to explain to this man how he should invest his money so he could retire at an early age. I thought he was hilarious and very engaging." Harry then invited Wolf into the studio where Lennon was laying down a demo of Goodnight Vienna. They were joined eventually by visitors Paul Simon, Art Garfunkle and Diane Keaton. The drinking "seemed to go on for several days….it was just a very spontaneous and casual bunch of days"…

Finally, Modern Drummer (July 1997) features an extensive interview with Ringo himself, in the main discussing the "Anthology" recordings. But a great Nilsson story pops up as well. Ringo talked about the number of rehearsals it would sometimes take before they felt they were ready for a take. "A song would just evolve because that is the nature of music….sometimes…we would want to do a track a certain way and try take after take after take….The best representation of that was when I recorded Take 54 with Harry Nilsson in London with Richard Perry. We did 53 takes that didn't work. When we got to take 54 we said, "This has got to be the one; it's the name of the song!" And it was crap."




Sailing On a Moonbeam

The yellow crescent moon hung in the darkness

catching the night in the western sky

greeting the Unicorn in Winter

Today the singer said goodbye

his song sings to the echo of memory, deep in the heart of the Earth

now on the banks of Lethe, going to the afterworld

Sailing on a Moonbeam, above the astral plane

like the snowflakes make a sound

a chord, as they fall silently to the good white earth, tasting stone

Still, the cat catches the moonbeam by the fireplace and holds it in his eyes

Blown there by a moonbeam

Sailing on a moonbeam

the dream came true, if only for a while

to touch the tide in the waves of wishing

Still, now the desire is at peace

the crumpled brown flowers catch and are covered by tufts of snow

the little blue flowers on the windowsill

catch the icy moon white in the day and night sky

and so we will remember

The cat sits in the shadows of the window-shade, sailing on a moonbeam

-- Martin Dahlgren

Jan. 16, 1994

In Remembrance of Harry Nilsson




Gary Usher
By Curtis Armstrong

I have learned, belatedly, of the passing of producer Gary Usher, of surf and hot-rod fame. Gary deserves mention here not just as an incredibly busy contributor to the West Coast Sound, but as someone who knew a good songwriter when he heard one. For in 1964 he produced, arranged and conducted a classic hot-rod number called "Readin' Ridin' And Racin'", co-written by Sebastian Stores and Harry Nilsson. [According to Rob Burt (producer of the great British Very Best of Nilsson two CD set, as well as A Touch More Schmilsson in the Night) in his astounding surf compilation, The Surf Set (Sequel Records, 1993), it was Stores who encouraged Harry to audition for Rick Jarrard at RCA.] A few years and several groups after "R,R and R", Usher had formed a band called Sagitarius with Curt Boetcher and Glen Campbell (of "Without Her" fame) and the B-side of their last single was a creditable version of "I Guess The Lord Must Be In New York City" (TOGETHER 122).


This issue of Everybody’s Talkin’ is copyright © 1997 by Roger Smith. All rights reserved. No portion of this publication may be reproduced in any manner without the permission of the publisher.
 



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