David Bruce: 250 Music Anecdotes — Songwriters, Television, Travel

Songwriters

• Some people know what they want. Carole King met fellow songwriter Graham Nash and asked, “So when are we going to write together?” He replied, “I’m not the guy.” She then said, “Oh, fine. I’ll be at your house at one o’clock.” He asked, “What?” She replied, “I’ll be at your house at one o’clock and we’ll write.” He said, “Didn’t I just get through telling you?” She replied, “I don’t care what you just said. I’m coming to your house at one o’clock. We can do this.” She came to his house at one o’clock, and they wrote a song together.

• Songwriter Steve Earle is not shy when it comes to expressing his opinions. Wearing his cowboy boots, he once stood on songwriter Bob Dylan’s coffee table and proclaimed, “Townes Van Zandt is the best songwriter in the world.” He later met Mr. Van Zandt, writer of “If I Needed You,” who told him, “That’s a really nice quote, but I’ve met Bob Dylan’s bodyguards, and I don’t think [what you did] is a really good idea.”

Television

• On 12 June 1936, Ella Fitzgerald recorded her first song, “Love and Kisses,” which she made with the Chick Webb Orchestra. The record was in a jukebox at a nightclub, but Ella was not allowed in the nightclub because she was underage. She remembered, “So I had some fellow who was over 21 go in and put a nickel in while I stood outside and listened to my own voice coming out.” The turning point in Ella’s life came in 1934 on an amateur night at the Harlem Opera House in New York City. She and two friends drew straws to see who would perform on stage, and Ella drew the short straw. She had intended to dance, but performing immediately before her were two sisters who danced much better than she did, so instead of dancing, she sang “Judy,” a song made famous by the Boswell Sisters. Ella was a hit with the audience and won $25. She called this “the hardest money I ever earned,” but added, “Once up there [on stage], I felt the acceptance and love from the audience — I knew I wanted to sing before people the rest of my life.” In her later years, Ella made a commercial for Memorex recording tapes. In the commercial, she hit a high note and broke a glass. Then a Memorex recording of Ella’s high note was played, and it broke a glass. The commercial then asked, “Is it Ella, or is it Memorex?” A boy once attended one of Ella’s concerts and afterward said, “I liked her singing all right, but she didn’t break no glass.”

• While doing research for The Drew Carey Show, Mr. Carey and his producer, Bruce Helford, stopped at a local pub in Lakewood, Ohio, where they heard some musicians play “Moon Over Parma,” a song that one of them, Bob “Mad Dog” McGuire, had written. The song is about a man who gives his girlfriend a bouquet of radishes. At best, Mr. McGuire thought that the song would be popular locally, so he was surprised when Mr. Carey and Mr. Helford said that they wanted to use as it the theme song to The Drew Carey Show. He ended up getting $750 to $1,000 each time the song opened the show. Mr. McGuire says, “It’s kind of like having another job but not having to go to work.”

Travel

• World-famous accompanist Gerald Moore detests background music, of which he writes, “I find it difficult to indulge in the process of thinking even at the best of times, but when this slime is being poured into my ears, thought or study or reading are quite impossible.” He once asked an American stewardess to turn off the background music during a flight. She did, but remarked, “Not musical, eh?” Of course, as an in-demand international accompanist, Mr. Moore frequently traveled. He once undertook a sea voyage to Dublin, Ireland, from Holyhead, Wales. He boarded in the evening, drank two large whiskeys, and slept soundly. The next morning, he told a steward, “That is the way to cross the Irish Sea. I slept undisturbed the whole night, unaware of any tossing and pitching, rock ’n’ roll.” The steward replied, “No, sir, you wouldn’t have felt much movement. You see, we haven’t cast off yet. It’s been too rough.”

• According to Michael Sellers, the son of British comic Peter Sellers, Henry Mancini, the composer of “Moon River,” liked to smoke weed, and he carried it with him when he traveled. Peter Sellers once asked him, “But what about Customs?” Mr. Mancini replied, “Who’s going to bust the man who wrote ‘Moon River’?”

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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