Wednesday, January 29, 2014

A Big Night and a Big Comeback for Paul Williams

Above photos from top to bottom. 1. Paul Williams with the Muppets. He wrote their song "The Rainbow Connection". 2. A current photo of Paul Williams. 3. Paul Williams in "Smokey and the Bandit 3" as Little Enos Burdette.

Watching the Grammys can make one feel old if you're not under 30. There is such an emphasis on youth, and the artists who are currently at the top of the charts. But, they had some of the "old folks" on this year's show. I saw Chicago, Carole King, Willie Nelson, Paul McCartney, Steven Tyler, and more. Paul Williams won a Grammy for his work with the electronic group Daft Punk. Who is Paul Williams? In the 1970's and 1980's he had a fair amount of notoriety. He appeared in the "Smokey and the Bandit" films, he was in "Planet of the Apes" and he was a regular guest on Carson's Tonight Show. He also had hits writing for "The Muppet Movie", "A Star is Born", The Carpenters, Three Dog Night and more. He wrote the lyrics for the theme song to "The Love Boat." Williams is a member of the Songwriter's Hall of Fame. He is candid about his battles with addictions but he has come out the other side, with an attitude of gratitude. He has been sober for 23 years. He is the head of the music publishing organization, ASCAP. A documentary was recently released about his life called "Still Alive." Anyway, it was nice to see an "old guy" (age 73) get some attention on the Grammy show. Check out his website here.

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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Jerry Seinfeld's Web Series

Jerry Seinfeld has a new show that is 100% online. Seinfeld is a car nut who has a collection of classic Porsche vehicles. So, it makes sense that his new show has to do with cars. He loves cars and he loves comedy, so his show has him driving classic cars and chatting with iconic comedians. He picks up a comic, they go out for coffee, and he takes them home. The episodes are shot either in New York or Los Angeles. It's called "Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee." You can watch it here. Season one has 10 episodes. Season two has six episodes. Currently the show is in season three, with four episodes completed. Most episodes are about 15 minutes long. In the Michael Richards episode, Jerry picks him up in an old, rusty Volkswagen bus. In the Carl Reiner episode, Jerry picks him up in a Rolls Royce and they later meet up with Mel Brooks. He picks up Patton Oswalt in a 1981 DeLorean. Jerry revealed that the DeLorean company received funding from celebrities like Johnny Carson and Sammy Davis Jr. Other episodes include conversations with David Letterman, Don Rickles, Larry David and more. This is a great program, and within the intimacy of a car, it almost feels like you are eavesdropping on a private conversation about comedy and the world of show business. It used to be that a comic would need to try and get a deal with a television network to get exposure. But today, one can have their own show on the internet. Ten years ago, a show like this one would not exist 100% on the internet.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Music Mavens Part Four: Quincy Jones

Above photo: Quincy Jones with Michael Jackson

Our final profile in this 4-part series takes a look at the legendary Quincy Jones. This man has a musical career that dates back to the 1950's. He has won more Grammy awards than any living artist, totaling a whopping 26 wins. Many people think of him as Michael Jackson's producer for "Thriller," the masterpiece that went platinum 100 times over. Or you may remember him from his coordinating and conducting of the USA for Africa benefit song "We are the World". But his musical career started decades prior to those landmark accomplishments.

In the 1950's, at age 17, he dropped out out the prestigious Berklee school of music in Boston to tour with Lionel Hampton's band as a conductor and trumpet player. Word of his musical talent spread and he composed, arranged and recorded with Duke Ellington, Ray Charles, Count Basie and other jazz legends. The excellent movie, Ray, starring Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles, documented the time when Quincy first met Ray in Seattle.

Jones became an executive at Mercury Records and he won his first Grammy in 1963. In the mid-1960's he became Frank Sinatra's conductor and arranger. He arranged one of Sinatra's biggest hits, "Fly Me to the Moon". He composed music for films and TV shows such as Sanford and Son. He said this about Sinatra:

"Frank Sinatra took me to a whole new planet. I worked with him until he passed away in '98. He left me his ring. I never take it off. Now, when I go to Sicily, I don't need a passport. I just flash my ring."

In 1978, Quincy Jones met Michael Jackson while working on music for the film The Wiz. The collaboration between the two of them would take Quincy's musical career into the stratosphere. Jones would produce the albums "Thriller" (1982) and "Bad" (1987) for Michael. In 1985 Quincy brought together musical superstars like Bruce Springsteen, Michael Jackson, Sting, Lionel Richie, Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon, Huey Lewis and more to record the song "We are the World". This single sold 20 million copies.

In 1990, Quincy wrote a song for a new sitcom starring Will Smith, "The Fresh Prince of Bel Air". He was also the executive producer of the show. His production company made many shows, including Mad TV for the Fox network.

The legacy of music that will be left behind when Quincy Jones is gone will live on forever. No doubt, he is one of the most celebrated and accomplished artists in the history of music.

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Thursday, January 23, 2014

Music Mavens Part Three: Clive Davis

Above photo: Clive Davis with Janis Joplin

In honor of Grammy week, this is part 3 of our 4-part series on the most influential people in the music industry. Clive Davis knows how to spot musical talent. His nickname is "The man with the golden ears". He is a Brooklyn-born, Harvard-educated lawyer who started at Columbia Records in 1960. By 1967, he was president of the label. During his time with Columbia Records he signed Janis Joplin and Carlos Santana. He started his own label, Arista Records, in 1974. He discovered the talents of Barry Manilow and Whitney Houston and signed them to his label. He said this about Whitney Houston:

"You wait for a voice like that for a lifetime. You way for a face like that, a smile like that, a presence like that, for a lifetime. And when one person embodies it all, well, it takes your breath away."

In 2000, he started another label, simply called J Records, which would have music distributed by BMG. Also in 2000, Davis was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He has won five Grammy awards. During his amazing career he discovered artists such as Pink Floyd, Chicago, Billy Joel and Bruce Springsteen.

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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Music Mavens Part Two: David Foster

It's Grammy week, and part 2 of our series on heavy hitters in the music industry looks at David Foster. He is a composer/producer/arranger/musician who has worked with many soft rock/easy listening artists. He has worked with Barbra Streisand, Celine Dion, Madonna, Diana Ross, Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, Paul McCartney, Chicago and more. He has worked on soundtracks for such films as The Wiz, St. Elmo's Fire, Secret of My Success, Dances with Wolves, The Bodyguard and many more. He has written and/or composed music for television shows like Glee, Criminal Minds, Dancing with the Stars and others. He wrote the hit song for Chicago, "Hard to Say I'm Sorry". He wrote Neil Diamond's song "Heartlight". For Michael Jackson's breakthrough album "Thriller", Foster was a guest artist who played the synthesizer and wrote synthesizer arrangements. He played keyboards on the 1975 Lynyrd Skynyrd album "Nuthin' Fancy". He was the composer for Chicago's third album in 1971. If it involves music, this Canadian music maven has probably done it. For over 40 years, David Foster has been a pivotal force in the music industry. Foster has 3 Oscar nominations, 4 Grammy nominations, one Golden Globe win, and one Primetime Emmy win.

Here's a quote from Foster:

"Every single day I wake up, I try to do my very best. I give 100-per-cent, and absolutely 100-per-cent love what I do every day. I've been doing this for forty years. I'm obsessed with what I do, and I just love it."

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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Music Mavens Part One: Rick Rubin

It's awards season once again. Many of the big award shows are already over, such as the People's Choice Awards, The Golden Globes, The Screen Actor's Guild Awards, and the Oscars are a couple months away. This Sunday is the grand daddy of award shows for the music industry, The Grammys. So, over the next few days, we will have a 4-part series looking at some of the heavy hitters of the music industry.

You could say that Rick Rubin has the Midas touch. Many recordings he has worked on have turned out to be gems that have yielded gold or platinum records. In 1984 he co-founded Def Jam records with Russell Simmons. That label became the go-to company for hip hop stars. They signed Run-DMC, Beastie Boys, Public Enemy, 3rd Bass and LL Cool J. Rubin has worked as a producer and/or composer for the hip hop artists as well as a variety of artists from all genres over the years. It seems like when a musical artist has a career that needs a shot in the arm, they call in Rick Rubin. He has worked with Johnny Cash, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Nine Inch Nails, Slipknot, The Black Crowes, The Cult and many more. He has contributed songs to film soundtracks for Less Than Zero, Pump Up the Volume, Can't Hardly Wait, Friday Night Lights and many more. He has won 10 Grammy awards.

Here are just a few of the recordings he has worked on as a producer and/or composer.

Radio--- LL Cool J--- 1985
King of Rock--- Run-DMC--- 1985
Reign in Blood--- Slayer--- 1986
Raising Hell--- Run-DMC--- 1986
Licensed to Ill--- Beastie Boys--- 1986
Tougher Than Leather--- Run-DMC--- 1988
South of Heaven--- Slayer--- 1988
It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back- Public Enemy- 1988
Root Down--- Beastie Boys--- 1995
System of a Down--- System of a Down--- 1998
Renegades--- Rage Against the Machine--- 2000
Audioslave--- Audioslave--- 2002
Neil Diamond--- 12 Songs--- 2005
Red Hot Chili Peppers--- Stadium Arcadium--- 2006
Johnny Cash--- American V--- 2006

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Monday, January 20, 2014

Showbiz trivia: Bill Cosby

Few comedians have had the staying power and versatility of Bill Cosby. From the 1960's to today, he has been relevant for 50 years. Here is just an overview of a few of the TV series he has done.

1965-1968 I Spy (Cosby co-starred with Robert Culp in this show about 2 undercover agents)

1969-1971 The Bill Cosby Show (Cosby played Chet Kincaid, music was by the legendary Quincy Jones)

1971-1973 The Electric Company (Retro show for kids that also starred Morgan Freeman)

1972-1985 Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids (Cartoon show that was based around Cosby's days growing up in Philadelphia)

1984-1992 The Cosby Show (Cosby played Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable, and this was the lead-off show on Thursday nights for NBC's era of Must See TV)

1992 You Bet Your Life (This was a re-make of the classic show that originally starred Groucho Marx)

1994-1995 The Cosby Mysteries (Cosby played Guy Hanks, a New York criminologist)

1996-2000 Cosby (Cosby played Hilton Lucas and this series reunited Cosby with his TV wife from The Cosby Show, Phylicia Rashad)

Cosby is a stand-up comedian, actor, author and even a music composer who has written music for many TV shows.

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Sunday, January 19, 2014

Showbiz trivia: Regis Philbin

In 2012, 80 year old Regis Philbin was added to the Guinness Book of World Records. He has logged more hours on television than any other person in history. He was co-host of Live with Regis and Kathie Lee, later Live with Regis and Kelly, for 28.5 years. That adds up to 995,600 minutes. In total, he has been in front of the television camera for over 17,000 hours. Born in New York City, Regis is a US Navy veteran and a graduate of Notre Dame. Early in his career he hosted a talk show in San Diego. He gained national attention as the sidekick on The Joey Bishop Show, which aired late nights on ABC in the 1960s. This show originated from Desilu Studios in Hollywood. Desilu is the company owned by Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball, hence the name. Philbin is an actor, singer, author, producer and host. He has hosted game shows like Who Wants to be a Millionaire, Password and America's Got Talent. As an actor he has appeared on Saturday Night Live, Mad About You, 30 Rock, Family Guy, Spin City and many more.

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Saturday, January 18, 2014

Showbiz trivia: Chuck Barris and Milton DeLugg

Chuck Barris was the host and producer of The Gong Show (1976-1980). This was an odd talent show where three celebrities would judge the contestants. If they liked the act, they would hit a large gong, signifying the end of the performance. If they did not get gonged before their act was over, the celebrity panel would rate the performers on a scale if 1 to 10. Barris was also the executive producer for The Dating Game (premiered in 1965), The Newlywed Game (premiered in 1966), and The $1.98 Beauty Show (1978-1980). The 2002 film, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind was about his life. The movie was based on a book by Barris that claimed that he was not only a TV maven, but also a hitman for the CIA. The bandleader for The Gong Show was Milton DeLugg. He also wrote the theme songs for many of Barris' shows. One obscure piece of trivia is that DeLugg was bandleader on Johnny Carson's Tonight Show from 1966-1967, after the tenure of Skitch Henderson and before Doc Severinsen.

Showbiz trivia: Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis

From 1946-1956, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis ruled show business. Their live shows were a hit in New York and sometimes they performed as many as 6 shows per day. In his book, "Dean and Me: A Love Story" Jerry described them as the playboy and the putz. Dean was the suave Italian singer and ladies man who played it straight. Jerry was the manic, crazy nerd running around the stage like a madman. By 1948, the Copacabana club in New York City was paying them $7500 per week each to perform there. After parting ways in 1956, Jerry went on to direct and star in many films. He became known as a brilliant film director who taught students how to direct at USC. Two of his film students ended up quite successful: Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. Jerry starred in the 1982 film The King of Comedy with Robert DeNiro. Martin Scorsese was the director and Lewis played Jerry Langford, a Johnny Carson-like late night host. Dean Martin went on to have a successful singing career as a member of the Rat Pack, along with Sammy Davis Jr., Frank Sinatra, Joey Bishop and Peter Lawford.