The Truth About That Fine Day Randy Newman Rendered Me Mute

I Love L.A. by Sam Howzit
I Love L.A. by Sam Howzit Creative Commons license

In fifty five years of knocking around the music game I’ve been lucky enough to rub shoulders with a shipload of folks; some idols, some peers, some up and comers, and the occasional nasty, but surprisingly few of those, when I think about it. The nature of the business requires a modicum of social skills, including when and when not to impose, or insert oneself into a situation. I’ve only been completely awe-struck and dumb-struck once, and I mentally kicked myself for years because of the lost opportunity.

At the time, Randy Newman was at the early stages of his career and was probably best known in the U.K as a result of Alan Price covering several of his songs, most notably “Simon Smith and the Amazing Dancing Bear.” A friend of mine had brought me a copy of his first album back from the States, so I’d had almost a year to become completely besotted by his style in every facet….a real game changer for me. I must have become a very quick study, because by the time Randy arrived in London for his first appearances, I had already written a big hit for Alan and Georgie Fame, “Rosetta”, which owed a debt to both Randy and Fats Domino (I wasn’t yet aware of Randy’s New Orleans background, or that Fats was a huge influence on him). Alan very kindly invited me as his guest to Randy’s first concert at the Festival Hall, and lo and behold, I found myself backstage in his dressing room after the show- just him. Alan and me. Being a Liverpool/ Irish lad I’ve never been short of the gift of the gab….but Alan was a rather taciturn Geordie, and Randy wasn’t overly talkative either, except for general pleasantries. They had obviously met before, but the level of cool, as I perceived it, was such that my usual blarney was severely compromised. There was so much I wanted to ask him, but I couldn’t do it. After half an hour or so, the meet came to a conclusion, and I’ve always regretted not jumping in. Years later, when I was able to link up with Van Dyke Parks, who produced that first Newman album, and became equally influential on my own musical path, I was far less reticent.

If You Liked This Post Try This One: Still Chirpin’ After All These Years

From The Desk… Something in the Way They Play: Legendary Female Guitarists Part 4

Sister Rosetta Tharpe by JOtwell (click to buy)
Sister Rosetta Tharpe by JOtwell (click to buy)


Continued from

However, the real First Lady of Rock ‘n’ Roll was not yet gracing the pages of upscale musician magazines.  Rather, Sister Rosetta Tharpe was sweating it out in Pentecostal churches, as she’d been doing since the 1930s . . . only now she was most often to be seen ferociously wielding a white solid-body Gibson SG Special or a Barney Kessell Gibson double cutaway archtop.  She created a sensation on her first visit to the U.K., the first of many, with her rafter shaking vocals, high-intensity guitar shredding, and a pigeon-toed stomp and strut that let you know exactly where she was feelin’ the groove.

Born Rosetta Nubin in Cotton Plant, Arkansas, she had become a huge celebrity in the black gospel world in the early ‘30s and as her career progressed she became irresistible to secular audiences world-wide with her potent rhythmic drive, still acoustic at that point, and that stone-cold soulful voice. Once she got her hands on an electric guitar all bets were off.  Her electric guitar playing set the template for rock ‘n’ roll guitar as surely as Professor Longhair did for rock ‘n’ roll piano and Earl Palmer did for rock ‘n’ roll drums. That big . . . That important.

(During the time that I was fortunate enough to play piano with Chuck Berry, and get at least a little close to this most enigmatic of men, I asked him who his own biggest influence had been. “The Sistah, young man, the Sistah,” was his reply.)

Sister Rosetta never felt that she’d left the church, and she continued to contribute award winning music year after year. Her influence on black gospel, rock ‘n’ roll, rhythm and blues, and soul music is immeasurable.

Unquestionably the original Soul Sister!

From the Desk … How Deep Is Your Love

Al Green - How Can you Mend a Broken HeartThe Bee Gees - How Can you Mend a Broken HeartGeorge Fame and Alan Price - Rosetta

Sometimes it can be a shock when you get a coveted cut, and then when you hear the record, the artist has taken it to a place you didn’t envision your beloved composition residing. I experienced this phenomenon many years ago, when my song “ Rosetta” became a huge hit as done by Georgie Fame and Alan Price, but I was resentful at the time about how it was interpreted….well, I was a young lad at the time, and didn’t know any better, but after forty-odd years of royalties I’ve got over that .

During that same period, while I was working in the publishing division of R.S.O. ( The Robert Stigwood Organization), whose flagship act was The Bee Gees, I came to realize that the parental concern one can feel for one’s song can kick in, no matter the elevated level of the composers.

One day we received a 45 acetate in the mail from Hi! Records in Memphis.  In those days it was a courtesy to send singles to the publisher before a single was issued, so when we spun it, and heard Al Green’s monumental version of what was already a monumental song “ How Can You Mend A Broken Heart”, my boss John Davies and I were over the moon.

John wanted the guys to hear it ASAP, and after a few phone calls established that the three of them were at Maurice’s house, so I was dispatched by taxi to Hampstead with the acetate. Being only an errand boy in this situation, I kept the cab ticking over in the driveway, and delivered the vinyl. I was reasonably friendly with Maurice, and he being a warm and hospitable fellow, offered me a drink and asked me to listen with them. I’d already heard it twice, so number three, on Maurice’s state of the art sound system was sublime to me, but when it finished the reaction of the brothers was pretty muted.

At that time Al Green wasn’t a huge artist in the U.K., mainly known to soul music fans, and his sparse, intense reading was quite a departure from the Bee Gees orchestrated version…I finished my drink and took the taxi back into the city, where I reported to John that the fellows had seemed underwhelmed by what they’d heard. “ Oh. They’ll come around to it “ he replied, which of course they did, but it can phase a composer when other hands and minds get hold of one of your babies.

Let it be, get over it, and count the pennies!

Spotify: How Deep is Your Love