Back to the start

To whom it may concern:
I was 12 years old and playing professionally at high school hops for the WMCA Good Guys. JACK SPECTOR, in particular, loved me, partly because I knew every song, but mostly because I would work for 20 dollars a day.

There I met TONY ORLANDO, who was a very young "used to be", having cooled off after two big hits, "Halfway to Paradise" and "Bless You".

Kenny 12 years old Kenny & Meryl going steady at years old Kenny's earliest payed gig

Seven years later songwriter BO GENTRY and I found him looking rather portly, and working behind a desk at April Blackwood Publishing. We talked him into singing a hit called "Make Believe", a shameless FOUR SEASONS knockoff. I sang the high voice and Tony sang baritone.

After that hit, we were at WES FARRELL's office when TONY WINE was just completing a new song, "Candida". We loved that song so much we immediately recorded it with Tony, who promptly took the tape to the TOKENS. They stole our idea and created this group they called DAWN. We were so upset, we scrapped our great recordings with him until I uncovered the absolute gem, "In the Name of Happiness".

This is the first time it has been on record.

When "Make Believe", the first WIND (TONY ORLANDO) single was ready to be released, we needed a B-side. Our Buddah releases were known for their ridiculous B-sides, like A-side played backwards in order for the business dudes to copyright something with themselves as writers, even though they couldn't write songs. (One of the record company heads actually had a 3-year old daughter who had "written" more songs than COLE PORTER).

We dusted off a backing track from a "Yummy Yummy", "Chewy Chewy", "Sugar Sugar", "Money Money" wannabe song that was called something like "Bingo Bingo" and improvised a haphazard harmonica and melodica overdub for the B-side. After "Make Believe" was a Top 20 hit in the United States, we sent it to England. There, the very exited and supportive BBC national radio station was happy to showcase the latest hit by our bubblegum dynasty. It was an instant success. I got a call from BO GENTRY, who said, "- I've got a wedding present for you, you wrote the #1 record in Great Britain." "What song?" I asked. "Groovin' with Mr. Bloe" was the answer. I didn´t remember a song with that title.

It turns out the Beeb (BBC) had unwittingly played the wrong side of the single and the throw away B-side became a worldwide hit, one of the biggest instrumentals of all-time, one of my greatest songwriting efforts, and, although in the U.S it only reached top 50 in Billboard, it was used as DICK CLARK's "American Bandstand" theme for many years.

Who'd-a-thought?

In 1968, our little bubblegum group was so hot, we could get any label to put out our singles. I began to produce them myself, and sell them to labels at a big profit. One Friday, I booked a session for the following Monday, without even a clue of what I might record. So Saturday I am on the beach with my guitar, knowing I needed something great, and feeling like an idiot for putting this kind of pressure on myself. All of a sudden, like a flash from the muses, this amazing song "Lord" comes into my head about a western desperado who got shot trying to steal gold, and begs the Lord to let him live to see his girl one more time before he dies.

That Monday I recorded it, and got STEVE TRACY, a fabulous lead singer of a New Jersey band, to sing it. Now this material had nothing to do with what his band was about, but that's how we did it. We sculpted a record and made any artist fit into our concoction of the day. When BO GENTRY wandered into the studio during the mix, he said, -"This guy sounds like we have to call him SPENCER BAREFOOT." So, for the purposes of our recordings, STEVE TRACY became SPENCER BAREFOOT.

The session was done with appearances by LOUIS ST. LOUIS, who later became famous as the composer of "Grease", and MECO of "Star Wars" fame, who did the horns and strings. Every record company began fighting for it.

MIKE CURB paid me a fortune for it. But unfortunately, by the time the record was ready to come out, the 21-year old head of MGM Records was on to bigger and better things (politics and the lieutenant governorship of California).

Many people tried to make a hit with this song, including PETER ANDERS (we got MIKE STOLLER to write string arrangements for that version), BILL MEDLEY and others, but for one reason or another, the song never came out until now. "Lord" has to be one of the best songs by someone with a track record never to be released.

 

Kenny at 16 Moose And The Pelicans jacket Kenny behind the Shangri' La's  (13 years old)

When I was 16, I was kind of a hot shot. I was hired to produce some early solo efforts of BILL MEDLEY, right after he left the RIGHTEOUS BROTHERS.

So I am in this California studio when in walks the legend, DARLENE LOVE ("He's a Rebel", "Zip a Dee Do Da", "Today I Met the Boy I'm Gonna Marry"). She was known around my Brill Building crowd as the best voice around. She sounded either 16 or 60, black and white at the same time, and she was so good looking.

After she sang background with me (I was the flat voice) on the BILL MEDLEY sessions, I was so taken with her that I recorded her and the BLOSSOMS (stars of the monster TV show "Shindig"). The song was never properly released, but it did get chosen for some kind of minority rights campaign. DAVID GATES of BREAD appeared on the record and a lot of the other PHIL SPECTOR graduates, including Darlene's sister, EDNA WRIGHT, from HONEY CONE ("Want Ads", "Stick-Up").

When the recording of "Make a Change" was delivered, the folks at the record company thought it was a disgraceful, bubblegum way to record DARLENE LOVE.

In fact, all the best producers on the planet had failed with Darlene (after PHIL SPECTOR) by trying to make "soul" records with her. LARRY UTTAL, head of the label at the time and a friend of mine, finally gave me the rights to have the song come out if I ever got a label to do it. Nearly 30 years later, I am able to do it on my own label, and I sure love the way it sounds. I hear it as a pure rock and roll record.

I got a message from Darlene 15 years later while I was on tour in South Africa. I called her back from Venezuela, and it blew her mind.

It blew my mind to hear that she had fallen on hard times and was cleaning houses to survive.

I moved her to New York and paid all her expenses for 10 years or so, got her a record deal, hired an acting coach for her to help her get the job as DANNY GLOVER's wife in the Lethal Weapon movie series, handled her two ridiculous Broadway situations (Carrie and Leader of the Pack), hooked her up with JIMMIE IOVINE for the Special Olympics platinum Christmas record, and I held her hand during MIAMI STEVE's Sun City sessions with BONO, SPRINGSTEEN, and a hundred other heavies. I spent a fortune and I never charged her back or commissioned her record earnings.

When she wrote her book, she slagged me off. That helped me learn a lot about human nature: mainly, no good deed goes unpunished.

"The Champion" was created because I loved MUHAMMAD ALI. In 1968, they took away his heavyweight title and I was frustrated and incensed. I wrote a song about the situation, and designated the royalties to his defense fund. I took the records around to R & B stations across the country stored on top of a car, and remember buying pick hits of the week for $200. I suppose that was the birth of Blackheart Records. My godmother, with the help of the fight doctor, FERDIE PACHECO, actually got the record to ALI on the night he fought JOE FRAZIER.

We didn't get very far, although JERRY WEXLER came within a whisker of putting it out on mighty Atlantic Records. It all fell apart when Ali lost the fight.

Many nights, I was left on my own to be fought over by strange Greenwich Village flaming hipsters, while preparing the music in the midst of psychedelic insanity. This recording became a melding of my pop, rock and roll world with the pop art genius of Warhol and his partner PAUL MORRISEY. When I tried to talk about the "art" I was creating they told me: "It's not the art we care about, it's the money".

Meryl and I were living with SISSY SPACEK, a struggling young country pop singer, and legend BOBBY BLOOM ("Montego Bay"). Bobby sang lead and Sissy sang the bridge. The backing track was played by my band, the TRADEWINDS (who were also playing the music and vocals for the OHIO EXPRESS ["Yummy Yummy", "Chewy Chewy"] 1910 FRUITGUM COMPANY ["Simon Says", "1-2-3 Red Light"], MUSIC EXPLOSION ["Little Bit of Soul"], TOMMY JAMES AND THE SHONDELS, JAY AND THE AMERICANS, DEREK ["Cinnamon"], and a host of others).

The horns were supervised by MECO, who later had big instrumental hits like "Star Wars", and the strings were played by the IRVING SPICE STRINGS, who played strings on almost every New York hit, such as those by the FOUR SEASONS, SIMON AND GARFUNKEL, etc.

This was one of the greatest gatherings of past, present and future hit makers I have ever seen, and yet the record never came out because the label went out of business before the release. ANDY WARHOL designed an album cover for Lonesome Cowboys. It was a cropped denim pants with a zipper that actually went up and down, and these "Lonesome Cowboys" sure liked a zipper they could open.

When it became apparent the record was never going to come out he gave the idea to the ROLLING STONES who used it for Sticky Fingers.

It was 1969 and I was living in a duplex on 15th Street with singer-writer BOBBY BLOOM ("Montego Bay"). One night we got this idea to put together a bunch of us tin pan alley cats in a late-model stand-up singing group called MOOSE AND THE PELICANS.

MOOSE AND THE PELICANS was a five-part harmony a cappella group with the permutations of Bobby, PAUL NAUMANN (guitar player and singer for TRADEWINDS), TERRY MARZANO, wife of our bass player NORMAN MARZANO, SISSY SPACEK and me.

We spent endless hours practicing our vocal harmonies in subways and under the pedestrian tunnel on West 72nd Street. We worked up some very excellent vintage macho dance steps reminiscent of the doo-wop groups of the late '50s.

There is nothing so exhilarating as hearing natural echo enhance a five-part a cappella group. "We Rockin'" actually got to #105 in Record World. But by then Bobby was off to his new career working with JEFF BARRY, which yielded him a Top 10 with "Montego Bay". I have always thought we would have all been bigger if we stayed with the vocal group.

"Davey Crockett", the B-side is off-the-wall, but I love it. It is so American.

When the bubblegum thing broke up, mainly because we all wanted to be doing something a little cooler than nursery rhymes, I was working and singing with PETER ANDERS, who had written major RONETTES' songs, an ELVIS single and also sung lead on many hits. We moved to California and hooked up with the Los Angeles studio crowd that were playing with JAMES TAYLOR, CAROLE KING, JACKSON BROWN, etc. These LA dudes found us to be a refreshing insanity. We recorded "Sudden Death" with RUSS KUNKEL and LEE SKLAR playing drums and bass. This gorgeous number never came out because we were all too high to follow through, including the guys who owned the record company.

Kenny, Bo Gentry & Paul Naumann 1969 at Bill Medley session Paul Naumann, Bill Medley, Bo Gentry & Darlene Love, at the same session

Then I limped home to New York and started playing in a spinoff of my ANDERS, LAGUNA, GINSBERG project (sans Anders) called the NIGHTHAWKS. One of the guys had been a member of a band called BUFFALONGO and I became enamored with one of their songs, "Dancin' In the Moonlight". Eventually songwriter, producer RITCHIE CORDELL and I were asked to produce a singer for RCA named PETER WEINSTOCK. We got the idea to have him sing "Dancin' In the Moonlight". It was an inspired session. We saw God.

As luck would have it, the great idea was heard by some of the more important players in the corporation, and RCA ended up chasing a version of the same song by a band called KING HARVEST. If we never recorded that song, the KING HARVEST record would never have gotten their attention. Once again, "we was robbed".

By 1972, when bubblegum was virtually over, I had played or sung on more than 50 Billboard top 40 hits. Along with the Buddah and TOMMY JAMES records, there were recordings by BARBARA STREISAND, JOHNNY MATHIS, PAUL ANKA, and a particularly interesting project playing some piano on the soundtrack of Hells Angels 1969.

Through all of this I had remained clueless as to how information got into the press. For one thing, no one in the mainstream press ever wanted to write about my bubblegum stuff anyway. But still, I never understood why the music trade magazines always had blurbs and articles listing people in the indie labels who represented me exclusively, when I was signed to no one.

In 1972, I was surviving by playing with TOMMY JAMES AND THE SHONDELS on the road when we landed our last recording deal on the San Francisco area label, Fantasy Records. They were insane enough to believe we could fill the void left when CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL stopped making records for them. They got the idea when a very influential rock columnist named JOEL SELVIN wrote an incredible review in the San Francisco Chronicle.

As we began recording, Joel became my first friend in the press. I began to learn how things worked. Unbeknownst to me, Joel was doing his own research and decided he had found "the man behind the man". This was actually not the case, since Tommy was a brilliant musical talent, though he was a little out of touch with the Bay Area community that was trying hard to adopt us.

Offhand remarks I made about my lead singer were finding their way into Joel's column, and while my notoriety was increasing, I was severely alienating my band and the manager. Before I understood how to clarify what conversations were on or off the record, Joel had put some of my stupid remarks in the newspaper.

In the meantime, the whole East Bay was tuning in to our little Brill Building clique, and before long, we had been manipulated into sending the SHONDELS home and replacing them on the tracks with Beserkley's first band, EARTH QUAKE.

By the time Joel brought me my first project, Kinks Sides, by LITTLE ROGER AND THE GOOSEBUMPS, he had bolstered my confidence, but isolated me from the group I came there with.

During those sessions, I got a call from New York saying I could stay in California because I was no longer a Shondel. I was devastated, but Joel was laughing at all of this and assured me it was a good thing. I sure didn´t see it that way.

Anyway, he did turn out to be right. Two EARTH QUAKE LP's, one GREG KIHN, and a JONATHAN RICHMAN album later, Joel and Little Roger came up with the concept to record "Stairway to Heaven" and the "Gillian Island" TV theme in a convoluted and comical way.

EARTH QUAKE, who could play every note of the Led Zep classic, did the backing track in THE WHO's London Ramport studio, and Little Roger (Clark) did the lead in San Francisco.

When this record came out it was all over West Coast radio, and was on its way to becoming a huge novelty hit.

PETER GRANT's empire came crashing down on this project like Desert Storm. There were lawyers from LOUIS NIZER, private eyes, and just plain bullies. My chance at a hit dissolved in a whirl of injunctions and professional bring-downers.

Luckily, one of my best friends, BILL CURBISHLEY, legendary manager of THE WHO, is now working with ROBERT PLANT and JIMMY PAGE. After all this time, Bill played the parody for Robert and he laughed.

Beserkley Records was the first punk/new wave label. It predated Stiff and Sire. They prided themselves on their antiestablishment attitude. MATTHEW KING KAUFMAN was the leader of this commando unit. I was lucky enough to become their outside ringer at the time my stint with TOMMY JAMES was reaching an end.

One day, Matthew decided to set up all his bands at once in the massive San Francisco CBS studio where the likes of SANTANA, JANIS JOPLIN and others had made history. This mess of hard rock rebels included EARTH QUAKE, THE GREG KIHN BAND, THE RUBINOOS, and JONATHAN RICHMAN.

GLEN KOLOTKIN, the great CBS mixer ("Time Has Come Today", "I Love Rock and Roll", "I Want Candy") was trying to make some kind of technical sense out of 15 guitar amps, four bass amps, several sets of drums and my keyboards.

Matthew shows up and demands "a more organic, metaphysical approach" and has all the baffles and sound separation devices removed to allow the bands to feel more like they were playing in the garage where they practiced. Glen was sick, and to tell you truth, I was feeling pretty weird about this sonic insanity. But, in the end, the sound bounced down to two tracks and it sounded really quite amazing. "Let Her Dance", lead vocal by EARTH QUAKE's GARY PHILLIPS, is such a hit, but it never did get to be released as a single.

After bubblegum died, I couldn't get anybody in the American record business to notice me. After slightly reviving myself in England with the help of BILL CURBISHLEY and THE WHO, I came home, and by the middle seventies disco and heavy metal were what was happening and I was not known for doing that kind of music. RITCHIE CORDELL and I came up with an amazing song idea written by AUGUST DARNELL of KID CREOLE AND THE COCONUTS. We went all over town begging anyone to listen to our idea, but even guys who had made millions from our work only a few years back treated us like the plague.

The odyssey of the selling of "Dario, Can You Get Me Into Studio 54" is chronicled in the song "The Big B-Side". The voices of the record company people were really them.

After going everywhere we could think of, the only guy who would give us the time of day was a longtime hitmaker named EDDIE O' (O' LOUGHLIN), who at the time ran Midsong Records with BOB RENO. They were disco pioneers and their label was immensely successful. They broke acts like SILVER CONVENTION and JOHN TRAVOLTA, the singer. (Eddie later became a rap and hip-hop pioneer, the first one to believe that women could rap and made about one hundred million dolllars with acts like SALT 'N' PEPA on his own label, Next Plateau Records).

Eddie loved the song and gave us a budget to record it, "disco style". He arranged for us to have the very finest disco musicians, including drummer ALLAN SCHWARTZBERG, who basically had invented disco drumming and was on every important New York disco record at that time. I remember Eddie coming into the studio to announce that "120 beats a minute" was the right speed for the trendy dances of the moment. They used a metronome (click track) to set up the track and we were blown away with culture shock.

In the end, we were able to incorporate our techniques and style with the disco guys, and there was a great melding of musical cultures. It culminated when our friend, songwriter extraordinaire ELLIE GREENWICH, came to visit us at Media Sound on 57th Street during the sessions. While we were recording, Ellie (who had written such awesome hits as "Be My Baby", "Hanky Panky", "Da Doo Ron Ron", and about a million others) began to sing this vocal ad lib that was so great we made her sing on the record. The "wo-awo-a's" and "Gotta Go's" after the breakdown is Ellie. That was a real melting pot of a session.

After my production of "I Love Rock and Roll" put me back in the "Little Leagues" (as per PETE TOWNSHEND), my ability was revalidated for a while. RCA Records was dying for me to produce BOW WOW WOW and I was trying to get out of it by asking for a ridiculous fee. They said yes. At the insistence of JOAN JETT and my other think tank members Karol Kamin, Steve Leeds and Meryl Laguna, I booked Criteria Studio in Florida to record and then I went up to mix at the equally legendary studio Power Station. (The echoes in those two studios were amongst the best in the world).

MALCOM McLAREN was quite a character. He hated what I did with his band. Only it turned out I did their biggest hits ("I Want Candy", "Baby Oh No", etc.) and now the liner notes on the BOW WOW WOW compilation claim that Malcom conceived those records without me.

PETER MEADEN was a visionary British music business guy who was THE WHO's first manager, producer, and songwriter when they were called the HIGH NUMBERS. It was his idea to use the Mod thing as an identity builder.

He ended up selling the rights to THE WHO for 500 pounds and, the way things turned out, the deal didn't do very much for his psychological well being.

At the point when Peter was really in bad shape, PETE TOWNSHEND felt the need to help him, and basically left it to THE WHO's manager, BILL CURBISHLEY, to figure out a way to give Meaden a new lease on his career.

Meaden was fixated on a brilliant and charismatic singer, poet, songwriter named STEVE GIBBONS, and his band, which included TREVOR BURTON of THE MOVIE. One day I was on the road with TOMMY JAMES, and I get this call from Meaden asking for super star producer songwriters LEIBER and STOLLER's number, and then for VINNIE PONCIA's (RINGO, NILSSON, MELISSA MANCHESTER) number. Obviously he didn't connect, because the third call was to inquire if I could come over and deliver an album with THE STEVE GIBBONS BAND in three weeks, to be ready for the upcoming WHO stadium tour, which THE STEVE GIBBONS BAND was to open.

Tommy was great and canceled the upcoming gigs to allow me the opportunity to work for the legendary WHO organization.

We got a USA chart record from that fist album and so they asked me to do the follow-up at a studio on the grounds of PETE TOWNSHEND's estate on the Thames River at Goring-on-Thames.

This was quite an experience for a bubblegum guy, being around a band of that caliber. But Gibbons didn't have enough commercial stuff for singles. In a panic, I came up with this obscure CHUCK BERRY song, "Tulane".

The BBC played the record off the American version and it reacted great. The record went Top 10 and it was such a relief to me to come through for the greatest Rock and Roll band in the world.

THE WHO had built a studio called Ramport with the budget from Quadrophenia. Thereafter, they seemed to start every album in this fabulous studio. Then they would grow bored of the place they owned, and end up elsewhere.

In 1978 and 1979, I was their biggest client. Eventually the management told me I could use all the "downtime" to create singles a' la my '60s records. We could make some hits and share the money.DION is one of my very favorite artists. I recorded "Donna, the Prima Donna", which he had written, in kind of a punk, glam doo-wop style. On this record, the bass vocal was sung by the guy from SHOW ADDYWADDY, a legendary British quasi-doo-wop band.

"Home for Christmas" was also recorded during these sessions. I wrote it in 1979 standing over the cradle of my newborn baby girl, Carianne.

In 1986, I was working with JOAN JETT on Light Of Day, her movie with MICHAEL J. FOX, and we were hanging out with the BEACH BOYS. In fact, we were very close to CARL WILSON. I wanted him to overdub a guitar part like he played in "Sloop John B". All the BEACH BOYS were in New York for a show when I called up Carl to come over to the Record Plant Studios for the overdub. We knew if we asked all of them to come, none of them would, since one of the things that happens with long-lasting music groups is that everyone eventually hates each other.

Carl was into singing some Beach Boy harmonies as well as playing guitar. So I gathered Joan, DARLENE LOVE, and myself, only to find out by a weird coincidence that Darlene had sung on their greatest hits, including some done in BRIAN WILSON's empty pool. Anyhow, when word got out that Carl was hanging out in a West Side studio with JOAN JETT, BRUCE JOHNSTON took a subway over in his hot pants (actually a daring move), and the four of them sounded so good I nearly came in my pants.

Then their tour manager called because some of the other guys were feeling left out. I heard this voice behind me say "Hey, do I have to take a number to get on this record?" I turned around to see none other than MIKE LOVE. He showed us how to add a Beach Boy bass voice. One by one, each and every Beach Boy showed up and we created this beautifully eclectic vocal adventure (a later version of the song became the title song of JOAN JETT AND THE BLACKHEARTS first CBS [Sony] album, and a Billboard chart entry as well).

In 1997, there was a movie coming out called Tank Girl and the director wanted JOAN JETT to sing a version of COLE PORTER's "Let's Do It" with the lead singer of BAD RELIGION, GREG GRIFFIN.

He brought his guitar player, BRIAN BAKER, who had played in MINOR THREAT with our friend IAN MacKAYE of FUGAZI. We brought the Blackhearts.

There were some weird vibes between the Blackhearts and Greg, but he and I were magic together. We came up with this arrangement that sounded like a smash.

When we parted company, Greg and I were planning our hit together. Soon after, the movie company asked us to do a video. Now BAD RELIGION had an album out at the time, and someone, either from the label, management, band or some combination of them all, decided that they didn't need our hit and refused to participate in the video.

The movie folks couldn't understand why Greg did the record if he didn't want it to be successful and they were furious. They wanted Greg's fabulous vocal removed.

Warner Records got PAUL WESTERBERG, a close friend of Joan's and mine, to sing it instead. Then Paul didn't want to promote it, either. I think Paul got a little worried when the president of his label thought the song was a new one, and suggested it wasn't one of his better efforts.

The fact that this COLE PORTER standard has been recorded over thousands times, by everyone from BING CROSBY to BILLIE HOLLIDAY, should give you an idea of what acts have to deal with in the corporate record company environment.

Mastering this album has been a bitch, since the program is so eclectic and some of the recordings have been stored in somewhat perishable formats. We had to go all over the world to gather the masters.

JOHN AIOSA, a great engineer (BRIAN SETZER, TWISTED SISTER, JOAN JETT) who I have worked with for many years, was instrumental in dealing with the diverse technical problems that this project presented. And leave it to Joel Selvin (now a big shot bookwriter and entertainment editor of the San Francisco Chronicle) to come up with copies of my old records which nobody else in the world could find.

Hope you enjoy it. I did.

Kind regards,
Kenny Laguna

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