Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Sitting around at Barry Manilow's house talking music

Posted 7/15/2008 7:42 PM PDT on

I’m known as the biggest Fanilow on The Desert Sun.

I’ve never taken a poll of the employees, but I do appreciate him as a musician and a Palm Springs neighbor.

And I love that Guillermo del Toro used his song, “Can’t Smile Without You,” in “Hellboy II: The Golden Army.”

I saw the film with my son, Clay, and couldn’t help but reminisce about Barry as we walked out of the theater with Barry singing on screen.

Clay met him back stage at the McCallum Theatre once. Later, Barry asked me about Clay’s school music experiences. Clay hated his middle school music program. He transferred out and joined the Buddy Rogers Youth Symphony, where he was given a trumpet and free music lessons as a scholarship recipient.

Barry then bought instruments for all of the local schools. I guess he thought the Buddy Rogers Youth Symphony was already doing its share of the load.

Inside the Manilow estate

Barry invited me to his house to tell me about his plan to raise money for school instruments.

Actually, he invited me to his back yard. I drove to his gate at the end of a cul de sac and a woman in a golf cart greeted me. Then the gate opened and she drove me 100 yards to some lawn chairs and a table where Barry and his assistant, Marc Hulett, were enjoying the Great Gatsby-type ambiance.

Barry spent about a year designing the landscape. There were pepper trees, with skinny leaflets hanging like vines, all around the massive green lawn. Jazz recordings wafted from his house in the distance.

The '80s music project

Barry told me about a CD of ’80s music he was planning. He was looking at songs with great melodies like Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” and “Careless Whisper” by Wham! He said he was doing the album for his record label chief and mentor, Clive Davis.
He’s in the studio now recording it. It will be his fourth “decade” CD for Davis. His first, “The Greatest Songs of the Fifties,” opened at No. 1 and revitalized his career.

“I’m just a grateful recipient of this man’s genius,” Barry said. “I’ve never in my life been involved with anybody like this. This is as close to Einstein, as close to genius as I’ve ever stood.”

The rock project

But the CD he’s dreaming about is his first album of original, guitar-driven rock music. He’s started it, but he’s trying to make it as authentic as when Ray Charles put his soul touch on country music.

“I’ve been studying what’s been going on out there, from the Foo Fighters to The Fray to Garbage,” he said. “Usually it’s jazz or pop or show tunes, classical or Dave Koz. This is the first time I’ve ever been serious about tackling an album that would be more guitar rock-driven.

“I’ve written all the songs and now I’m beginning to think of ‘How do I do this?’ The arranging I’ve got down. But, how do I record this album and make it authentic and not just a pop singer with guitars.

“These guys I’ve been listening to, they’re the real deal. It comes from their guts and if I can’t figure a way of it coming from my gut, then it’s just going to be a poseur. I have to find a way of doing my own genuine, truthful way of doing a rock album.”

I suggested a guitarist to listen to — another guy named Clive who plays with an English punk band called Cock Robin. He has this atmospheric sound that takes whatever he’s playing to a different dimension, like Brian Eno. I thought they’d be a great combination.

But Barry has to feel it in his own gut.

“I have the whole thing on my iPod, I listen to it all the time,” he said. “I’ve got to go dig into seeing what it is.”

I hope his fans will encourage him to finish it because he said, “It’s kind of scary and exciting. I’m not sure I’m even going to show it to anybody yet. If I actually finish it and we like it, I may say, ‘Well, that was fun,’ and go on. But, if I really like it a lot and want to share it with people, we’ll see where it goes.”