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Hal David

Can we be living in a world made of paper mache?
Everything is clean and so neat.
Anything that’s wrong can be just swept away.
Spray it with cologne, and the whole world smells sweet.

– Lyrics from the song “Paper Mache’” by Bacharach & David

Those are words from my childhood that still stick with me to this day.  Simple, effective, thought-provoking.  Those are words of the great Hal David.

David — the outrageously talented lyricist, who partnered with music great Burt Bacharach to create some of the most iconic songs of the 1960s and 1970s — died just a few days ago at the age of 91.  Partnered with the vocally-agile Miss Dionne Warwick, they took pop music to incredible heights and created tunes that are beautiful, unique and timeless.

When I was starting to write my own music, I looked to Bacharach and David for inspiration constantly.  From an early age, their music resonated within me, and when I began developing my own style I wanted to know why.   Bacharach’s tunes were catchy and unusual, taking twists and turns you would never suspect, almost as if they were a hybrid of pop and classical.  David’s words were earthy and heartfelt; simple, yet sophisticated.  Whilst the tunes of Bacharach took you all over the stratosphere, the words of David kept things grounded and accessible.   (Look at Burt Bacharach’s work post Hal David and you will see that things never really worked so well without him.)  They were the perfect balance of innovation, sentimentality and tradition.

Warwick said of David in his book What the World Needs Now and Other Love Lyrics, “Hal doesn’t just write songs.  He writes himself.  There’s nothing contrived in what he does.  He doesn’t use a formula.  He goes by feeling.”  It is a basic approach, yet one that very few are willing to take.  And it is that willingness to express himself so freely and revealingly that made the words of Hal David so effective.

David never really got the credit he was due, and that’s part of why he split with Bacharach.  To this day, many think that Bacharach wrote all those songs by himself.  Their partnership truly was a partnership, and each played a pivotal role.  I saw Bacharach & Warwick in Long Beach several years back, and Hal David came in as a surprise guest toward the end of the show.  I knew immediately who it was, jumped to my feet and started to applaud.  I was the only one.  Bacharach actually had to introduce the audience to Hal David, saying, “He is the one who wrote all these wonderful lyrics.”

Though he may always have to play second fiddle in the big scheme of things, Hal David was a superstar in his own right, and those who care to know will always appreciate the love and wonder he brought to the world.

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Gilbert’s New Album in the Works!

For those of you who are unaware, the great Gilbert O’Sullivan realized a dream of his this year, recording tracks for his new album in Nashville, Tennessee. Like any great artist, Gilbert always challenges himself to try different things, going out of his comfort zone to produce material that is fresh and wonderful. Well, Gilbert’s huge trek clearly paid off in huge dividends. His new songs are amazing!

To hear three samples of what is to come, just visit HERE, at Gilbert’s official web site. I think you’ll agree he’s getting better all the time!

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“Ohh Wakka Doo Wakka Day”

Here’s the cartoon I did for Gilbert O’Sullivan that toured with him in 2008, and will be shown again at the Royal Albert Hall show in London this October. I figured since he had it on his web site, I can show it on mine. Until now, I have pretty much kept this thing under wraps.

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Performers I Love: Danny Deardorff

Danny Deardorff is not your typical musician, neither visually or thematically. In a world that often judges you at face value and latches on to the more familiar, it’s wonderful to see a man like Deardorff doing what he loves, regardless of preconceived perceptions. And for more than three decades he has inspired people of all ages with his words and music.

His songs have a pure sweetness about it them that cannot be manufactured. When you hear them, you know it is coming right from his big heart. On the surface, it might be easy to disregard his sentiments as cornball. Really, it’s just the fact we have become such a jaded society that it’s difficult for us to accept such sincerity. Like it or not, people do genuinely feel this way and should never be embarrassed about it. Deardorff is who he is, regardless. It’s yet another symbol of his tremendous courage.

I was first introduced to him through the album Ma La Lady by Danny & Joyce from 1975. (Several of these songs were used on Danny’s best-known album, Deardorff & Joseph, a collaboration with Marcus Joseph.) I don’t know who Joyce is — she is not even listed on the album credits — but it doesn’t really matter. The music is a wonderful time capsule that takes you back to the mid-1970s, reminding you of a much simpler time. His songwriting style is very much rooted in his devotion to the Bahá’í faith — this is lyrically and emotionally evident. “Earth,” “The Little Kings of Earth” and the title track are personal favorites.

Deardorff has been recording without pause ever since. Living in the Pacific Northwest, he has done a great deal of work with Tickle Tune Typhoon, who perform children’s shows in the name of love and world peace. Deardorff also operates the Mythsinger Foundation.

Now I won’t claim to know and understand everything about him, but I sure do like what I have heard from him thus far, and I certainly hopes he continues making music and following his dreams until the end of his days.

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Performers I Love: Kenny Price

I have been a fan of Kenny Price for many years. Like most of you, I got my introduction to him through Hee Haw, where he was a featured player for well over a decade. In the mid-80s I was plum crazy about his travelogue program on the Nashville Network called Wish You Were Here, where he and his wife Donna drove across the United States in their RV and showed us all the places you can go. I was clearly not the target audience in that instance, and that was of little matter to me. Price was just fun to watch — a big, old-fashioned, charming, happy man with a natural comedic style.

Of course, he was a singer on Hee Haw, most notably with their famed gospel quartet that featured Price, Grandpa Jones, Roy Clark and Buck Owens. He was also a fine solo recording artist for a number of years prior to that, with a rich traditional style full of personality and warmth. Before he did television exclusively, he already had around a dozen albums under his belt plus a few hits like “Walking on the New Grass,” “Northeast Arkansas Mississippi County Bootlegger” and “The Sheriff of Boone County.”

Price could flat-out deliver the goods, no matter what the tempo. In my estimation, he was at his best when doing bouncy, upbeat songs. The first recording I ever heard of his was “Let’s Truck Together,” a classic trucker anthem that I feel is his signature tune. But when tackling love songs or spirituals, he was still very much in his element. Price recorded for Boone Records (working with the very capable Ray Pennington), then later RCA where he was perfectly complimented by the legendary “Nashville Sound.” (He again worked with Pennington, who always seemed to bring out his best, a few times during his RCA run.) His vocals were strong with plenty of character, and he did a lot of styles, which meant various production styles could be implemented.

Nicknamed “The Round Mound of Sound,” the 300-pound Price parlayed his size into a few fun gimmick songs that were self-deprecating to a certain degree, but also filled with a sense of contentment that I have always found refreshing. One of the best is “The Heavyweight” (from the album of the same name) where he tells the ladies “… You won’t get cold in the winter, and I’m shade in the summertime.” Price, just like contemporary Cass Elliott, acknowledged his mass and refused to let it be a disadvantage, turning it into a strength and part of his identity. And, like Elliott, most of his material is cheerful and optimistic.

His music may be (sadly) long out-of-print, but it is still as effective as ever. If you get the hankering to listen to some really solid country, hunt down some of his LPs and get ready to smile. Kenny Price will not let you down.

My top three albums…

SOUTHERN BOUND (1967)
Oh, boy, there’s a lot of beautiful 1960s country going on here. Released on the Boone label and produced by Ray Pennington, all of of these tunes were scattered around and re-packaged later on when Price went to RCA (under the LPs Walking on New Grass and Happy Tracks). Kenny plays the whole range, from the aching sadness of “I’m a Long Way From Home” to the overt joy of “Downtown Knoxville.” This also featured his self-penned signature tune, “Round Mound of Sound.” He walked the line between the Countrypolitan stylings of the 50s and 60s and traditional country at this point — a neat blend. Just great, great stuff that should not be missed.

THE HEAVYWEIGHT (1970)
Country music had changed a great deal by the dawn of the 1970s, and Price adapted nicely to the new surroundings. Now with a more modern edge, Price could stick to what he loved and not sound dated. The title track is classic Kenny Price: funny, bouyant, alive with spirit. The album is a fine sampler of his ability to convey different emotions, and tell stories with wit and resonance.

SEA OF HEARTBREAK AND OTHER DON GIBSON HITS (1972)
These songs had been covered ad nauseam at this point, and it might look like another tired old filler album on the surface. But the old hand breathes new life into these standards. I won’t go as far as calling this his very best record, but I like to list it as an example of the true talent of Kenny Price. To make something familiar sound fresh and exciting again is no small task. As far as I’m concerned, Price’s lusty delivery on “Sea of Heartbreak” is enough to sell the whole package.

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Performers I Love: Gilbert O’Sullivan


One of the most misunderstood and underrated performers in pop music, Gilbert O’Sullivan has weathered the storm that is the fall from the top of the mountain (as an international recording superstar in the early 1970s) to stand tall as a proudly independent musician who never ceased being who he is. More than just a one hit wonder, O’Sullivan has soldiered on for four decades, making albums of quality, brimming with joyful wit, insight and youthful exuberance.

Gilbert O’Sullivan has always produced strong, uncluttered tunes bursting with unusual musical and lyrical twists. Some of the songs happily stick in your head and carry you through the day; others can consume you with a genuine sense of sadness and melancholy. O’Sullivan paints with a palette very similar to that used by country legend Roger Miller, affording him tremendous creative leeway. He primarily deals with the sweet, obscure and absurd, while at the same time touching on issues that are universal and meaningful. He also focuses on moments and very particular imagery in a way that is very real and personal. Gilbert is very proud of his English and Irish isms, and those specific qualities pepper much of the material. As an American, I must admit I don’t know what he is talking about all the time, but that never detracts from the music.

He possesses a voice that is uniquely his own. When you hear Gilbert O’Sullivan, you know it. His sound is whimsical and easy-going, but the lightness does not disguise the underlying depth and sincerity. Time has not dulled his trademark impish buoyancy, either — it has given it a few extra threads of complexity, and perhaps improved the whole package. For, while the core remains essentially the same, O’Sullivan is an artist in constant development, thus he remains fresh.

Gilbert has never had a “down period,” meaning his career has been solid throughout. His later albums are every bit as good as his earlier works. I will state that Singer Sowing Machine is the one I connect with the least, and I would count that as the one true misstep in his otherwise consistent career — but there’s still good points about it, too, so it’s not a total wash. His catalogue, otherwise, has the same magic, charm and beauty that one expects out of Gilbert O’Sullivan. You can pick up any of his albums with confidence, knowing you’ll get an excellent product no matter when it was produced.

He may be 60 now, but I feel his career is far from over, and there are many avenues he will explore creatively before he steps away from the piano.

If you care about excellent pop music with roots in Tin Pan Alley that goes across many genres, I highly suggest you give this man another look. “Alone Again (Naturally)” is just a fraction of what this tremendous talent has to offer.

My top three albums…

BY LARRY (1994)
This album features the unique concept of orchestra in the instrumental sections, and Gilbert’s joyful percussive piano only during the vocal sections – a highly complimentary presentation. Most importantly, some of the most memorable, organic, expressive songs he has ever produced are tied together with his ageless style and fabulous wit. It is a classic album on every front, without a shred of filler. This is the album that, to me, best expresses who Gilbert O’Sullivan is.

Note: The Little Album is the same thing, minus two tracks. That’s how I was first exposed to this wonderful grouping of songs.

I’M A WRITER, NOT A FIGHTER (1973)
As a whole package, I think this completely encapsulates the Gilbert energy of the early 1970s. There’s the hits here – “Ooh, Baby,” “Where Peaceful Waters Flow” and “Get Down” – but it’s the remainder of the songs that really do it. The overall feel is much looser and casual than his first two albums, and Gilbert’s wonderful personality is more prominent (not that it was ever hidden to begin with). To me, it was when Gilbert completely asserted who he was… and his music only became better because of it.

SOUTHPAW (1977)
Though Gilbert had started to fade a bit as a major star at this point, he still churned out first class material that could go toe-to-toe with any of the top albums of the day. This is packed with songs that are classic GOS, ones that touch your heart and fill you with tremendous energy, like “The Best Fun I Ever Had,” “That’s Where I Belong” and the heart wrenching “Miss My Love Today.” Southpaw is a cornerstone of his musical career.

For more information on Gilbert, visit his official web site: www.gilbertosullivan.com

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