Jack Nitzsche at Spectropop presents
A Koppelman-Rubin Associates, Prod.
Arr. & Cond.Jack Nitzsche
|Written by Alan Gordon - Garry Bonner|
An Expected Bouquet For Bonner (and Gordon)
If you listen to the radio, watch television or go to the movies the chances are most days you'll hear a Garry Bonner and Alan Gordon song. Like it or not (and I think most of us like it!) their compositions have become part of the fabric of our lives. It would not possible to write a feature on Koppelman and Rubin's work with Jack Nitzsche without a mention of their musical contributions. Of the thirty odd tracks Nitzsche arranged and/or produced for Koppelman & Rubin over half of them were written by Bonner & Gordon. Likewise even allowing for the richness of talent that K & R had recruited, B & G were among their biggest hit writers. With Alan in particular there developed a mutual respect and trust in each others talents that was to accompany Koppelman's climb up the corporate ladder. Over two decades after their initial meeting, if K & R were personally involved in a recording then you can bet Alan would be called to write a song or three. I'm delighted that both Alan and Garry have been supportive of and agreed to contribute to this feature.
Alan recalls his first recorded compositions and meeting with Garry Bonner and Charles Koppelman and Don Rubin.
An assured debut and Koppleman & Rubin wisely choose their most commercial recording but despite the quality of "An Invitation To Cry", a Columbia picture sleeve, radio play and TV appearances the 45 failed to chart. Their three later 45s, good pop/rock/folk songs that reflected the individual talents and tastes of the group also missed out on chart action but there is enough in these recordings to suggest they could have been contenders. These and four previously unreleased recordings are now available on a Sundazed "Best Of" CD. Included is a cool booklet written by Karl Baker that details The Magicians recordings and beginnings. The CD only features two songs written Gordon-Bonner but by the time the group had called it a day, one of the most famous writing teams in pop had already penned their first smash, "Happy Together" for The Turtles. Koppelman and Rubin may have lost a highly promising group but with the now honed song writing skills of Gordon and Bonner they weren't shedding many tears.
Anyone with a love of music from the 60s can not fail but be impressed by the extent of their work, the quality of the songs, (including a very high percentage of chart hits, many regularly played today,) and the stature of so many of the artists who recorded them. A website discography compiled by Patrick Beckers, The Songs of Bonner-Gordon is an attempt to collate all their compositions and is a stimulating peak at Bonner and Gordon's musical legacy. The visual element is supplied by label scans and picture sleeves. The one thing missing is an appreciation of the music and lyrics. The perception, mainly fuelled by singing along to the chorus of songs such as "Happy Together", is of a bright and breezy, summer-happy pop. Many, when the lyrics are listened to carefully, including surprisingly "Happy Together" as well as the more obviously spine-tingling "She Knows" by Bobby Darin, are far from being jolly sing alongs. The songs may have been recorded that way; strong melodies and harmonies but the lyrics often belie, with darker twists and turns the joyus feelings evoked.
Despite their songs being recorded by many artists most were originally written for Koppelman and Rubin's artists but they also wrote for another production team, The Jerome Brothers. Steve and Bill Jerome had been working together since the early 60s and had, as with Koppelman & Rubin, established a roster of talented writers, artists and arrangers. An arrangement had been made between the two production teams, ostensively to free the Jerome's from paperwork, to create a new publishing firm, Goodness & Truth Music. (I assume the name was a little joke ;-) As well as lightning their bookkeeping duties the arrangement seems to have allowed The Jerome's access to Koppelman & Rubin's writing stable. Not an invitation they really needed to accept however they were delighted to produce many Gordon and Bonner compositions. Alan's favourite of the songs that were produced by the Jerome's was The Furnacemen's "Sleeping Out The Storm". Likewise Alan and Garry, who tried wherever possible to attend the recording sessions of their songs, had a ball. Alan has a store of humorous stories regarding the Jerome's crazy sense of fun.
The Magicians had broken-up but besides Garry Bonner's solo work, the pair continued recording under various group names; Elmo & Almo, "When The Good Sun Shines", The Parrots, "They All Got Carried Away" and with Peter Sando on lead, The Barracuda, "The Dance At St. Francis", three highly collectable 45s. Alan is a member of The Spectropop Group and has posted many funny and informative letters. These messages are, as with all the posts, archived and can be found using the sites search boxes. One message, a very humorous tale concerns the Elmo & Almo history. Click Here to read a slight edit of Alan's original message.
For Koppelman & Rubin it must have seemed a good idea to pair their new kids from the New York streets with their latest signing from LA, Jack Nitzsche. The fact that the three got on so well, socially as well as gelling musically, and remained firm friends up until Jack's passing, was a bonus. Alan recalls their early meetings.
I honestly don't remember who set up our first meeting; I assume it was a natural course of events. Garry and I went out to the coast by train; we stopped in Chicago and went to see the people at Chess Records. They had a driver pick us up and take us back to the station later in the day; the driver was the Legendary Willie Dixon!!! We first met with Jack at his small home in the Hollywood Hills, then at an apartment-hotel off Sunset Blvd where he lived after leaving his wife. He played us "Expecting To Fly" by Neil Young, we were blown away by the record. At the time Jack was very much into fencing (!) taking lesson's etc. I recall seeing a fencing helmet. Maybe he was planning to use a sword instead of an accountant to get his proper royalties'!!! Garry and I both recall his secret dream, he wanted to buy an old navy ship and convert it into a floating recording studio and a home on the high seas. We can't recall if he wanted to sail to the Arctic or the South Seas, but he was fearful of the end of the world or the sinking of California or something like that! When he had a beer or two look out! Jack's mood could become very sullen. We are talking about a genius here.
I don't think there can be any doubt that Jack viewed both Alan and Garry as gifted artists. In his BOMP! interview Jack, not known for going overboard in his praise paid tribute to the singing skills of Garry.
A decade later Jack was to produce Alan Gordon on an LP's worth of vocal recordings but despite his admiration for Garry's voice only one cut of his, produced by Jack, was to sneak out. Highly regarded and recently issued on the Ace CD, "Jack Nitzsche - Hearing Is Believing", "The Heart Of Juliet Jones" features a power-house vocal from Garry. Released in a picture sleeve with a Cashbox advert and high expectations, disappointingly the record failed to chart.
Jack had plans for a 'super-group' to include Garry, Denny Bruce told me the story.
It must have been frustrating for Garry, one half of the successful Gordon-Bonner writing team, his voice praised to the rafters by Jack and others, but yet this had failed to translate into chart success for his vocal recordings. Garry strikes me as foremost a singer who contributed to writing songs whereas Alan comes across as foremost a writer who liked to sing. Garry has this to say on Jack and his later releases.
Two 45s were released after "Juliet Jones" on Columbia before an early 70s 45 on Faithful Virtue, another Koppelman-Rubin label. He signed for MGM a little later, a whole albums worth of material was recorded but just the one 45, a version of "Everlasting Love', was released on MGM's subsidiary label, Verve. A good choice of song for Garry's voice but perhaps the release was too soon after Robert Knight had hit the charts with the song in late '67. Three 45s for Atlantic followed. In the 90s he joined Kenny Vance in The Planotones, an oldies styled group with a big reputation in the New York area for their live shows.
For these two guys it didn't matter what triumphs or disappointments had gone before or what new strings had been bowed the love of music and the need to perform is etched in their psyche. I asked Garry to mention any of his favourite recordings - alright, I know, as an interviewer I shouldn't give up my day job but - I was pleased with Garry's answer.
Both men share an endearing friendship and respect for one another. Garry again ;
While Garry was off singing for his supper Alan was shut away in his garret concentrating on his writing career. New partnerships were formed with Carole Bayer Sayer, Peter Galway, Susan Sheridan, Jack Nitzsche and others but for the most part his were solo compositions. He also found time for occasional flurries of activity behind the mike. A solo 45 sneaked out, "Anna No One Can Do" on MGM in '73 and two LPs, (with accompanying 45s) "Alan Gordon and his Extragordonary Band" on RCA in '76 and "Alley And The Soul Sneeker's" on Capitol in '79. He joined his former 'boss', Charles Koppelman as a staff writer at EMI where Barbra Streisand, Michelle Phillips, Ronnie Spector, Helen Reddy and Tammy Wynnette were among the recipients of his songs.
The song he wrote with Jack Nitzsche for Tammy and Freddy Fender is one of the great 'lost country' songs, a beautiful song, arrangement and vocal but tragically only to be heard on dodgy video copies of the film. Alan tells some of the story behind the track;
Both Jack and Alan worked on Barbra Streisand's "Superman" LP but Charlie Calello arranged Alan's songs. I don't think Alan was too disappointed. "My Heart Belongs To Me" was a top 5 hit and earned him another BMI Award to go with the three previous awards Bonner and Gordon had received for "Happy Together", "She'd Rather Be With Me" and "Celebrate". Alan who still liked to be involved in the sessions when his songs were recorded, loved being with Barbra. Describing her as a joy to work with, he managed to blag a 'Superman' costume for his wife, Annette. The word on the street is Annette looked as good in the t-shirt as Barbra did.
Alan wrote "Let The Music Begin" for Michelle Phillips' "Victim Of Romance" LP and shared the arranging credit with Jack. The LP didn't jump-start the former Mama's And Papa's solo career but the title song, a 'Spector' styled romp, written by Moon Martin did attract a fair bit of action as a 45. The album's reputation has also increased, with first a Japanese CD release and now a new reissue, with bonus tracks, on Universal's mail-order outlet Hip-O Select. For Alan's "Alley And The Soul Sneeker's" album Jack assembled an all-star support cast. With vocalists of the calibre of Carl Hall and Vanetta Fields in 'support' the LP had to sound good and it did. Both of Alan's LP's sadly received far more attention and critical acclaim years after there release than at the time. The UK quarterly soul magazine, "In The Basement" penned a review of Alan's, "Alley and The Soul Sneekers" LP, that is so fulsome in its praise you've got to wonder if Alan's son Christian, penned it! (To read the review click on the picture to the left.)
The story goes that true art comes through pain and suffering; thank goodness this is one book Alan hasn't read. Now a proud grandfather and happily married for the last 38 years, he lives in Arizona, as far away from the glamour and fake glitz of showbiz as possible. More likely to say his first "Good Morning", to a coyote than a human, he appears utterly content. His love and enthusiasm for live is as strong and infectious as it was almost 40 years ago when he penned "Happy Together". The hunger and need for success may have dimmed but the inspiration to write, and not only music but plays now as well remains as strong. It's what he does, why change now?
|(Part 3)||(Part 5)|