This week In the Hot Seat with Larry LeBlanc: Desmond Child, songwriter, and producer.
Outside the global music industry, the name Desmond Child barely registers.
The Desmond Child people don’t know about is, however, one of music’s most accomplished hit makers with more than 80 Billboard Top 40 singles to his credit, spanning five decades.
He is, in fact, a magnificently successful and towering production and songwriting wunderkind.
Child was raised in the Liberty City projects of Miami with a musical lineage that runs deep. His Cuban mother, Elena Casals, was a celebrated songwriter and poet; his aunt, internationally acclaimed Olga Guillot, the legendary Queen of Bolero.
Child first made a name for himself as a leader of the ‘70s R&B-laced pop rock band, Desmond Child and Rouge, followed by creating fist-pumping classics for white rock bands with big hair. Next, he re-invented himself as one of the pivotal creative forces behind Ricky Martin’s emergence as the biggest Latin crossover star ever.
A minute sampling of Child’s chart triumphs include: “I Was Made For Loving You” for Kiss; “Livin’ On A Prayer,” “You Give Love A Bad Name,” and “Bad Medicine” with Bon Jovi; “Dude (Looks Like A Lady),” “Angel” and “Crazy” with Aerosmith; Ricky Martin’s “Livin’ La Vida Loca,” “She Bangs,” and the World Cup theme, “The Cup Of Life”; and “Waking Up In Vegas” with Katy Perry.
Furthermore, Child has also worked with Barbra Streisand, Garth Brooks, Alice Cooper, Mötley Crüe, Cher, Joan Jett, Cyndi Lauper, Michael Bolton, Christina Aguilera, Selena Gomez, Meat Loaf, Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, Sia, and many others.
Now living in Nashville, after two stints in Los Angeles, and being based in Miami, Child has yet to slow down. He was born with a drive, and a sense of destiny that keeps pushing him to greater heights.
Not only is he now firmly established within Nashville’s tight-knit songwriting community, he’s has reunited with the members of Desmond Child and Rouge for recordings, and is working on a TV series, and three Broadway musicals.
Of late, Child wrote the words and music to “Lady Liberty” for Barbra Streisand which she performed on her 2018 album “Walls,” that they co-produced together. He also released his album “Desmond Child Live” in 2019, as well as more recently co-writing the #1 European airplay hit “Kings & Queens” with Ava Max; and releasing the single “Viva La Diva” featuring Countess Luann from Bravo’s “The Real Housewives of New York City,” which was featured in the season finale.
This father of teenage twins is about to release his autobiography, “Livin’ On A Prayer: Big Songs Big Life,” co-written with David Ritz.
Child was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2008 and serves on its board of directors, as well as on the board of ASCAP. Along with songwriter/producer Rudy Pérez, he co-founded the Latin Songwriters Hall Of Fame where he serves as chairman emeritus.
You, your husband Curtis Shaw, and your twin sons Roman and Nyro, live on a piece of a mountain overlooking Nashville. So, you like Nashville?
I love it. We have a very special property. They say that it is one of the highest peaks in Nashville. We can see the entire city. Kind of like one of those Mulholland (Drive) views of L.A. with all the twinkling lights.
It’s 8 1/2 half acres?
Yep, 8 1/2 half-acres. We call it Broke Bacharach Mountain.
Producer Bob Ezrin and his wife Jan lived on Broke Bacharach Mountain with your family a few years ago.
I had met Bob in London with (the late producer) Michael Kamen, and Bryan Adams. The four of us had dinner. We bonded because I had produced “Trash” (1989) with Alice Cooper. We had a lot of Alice Cooper bonds together. So, Bob came to Nashville, and he called, and he said, “I’m thinking of renting a place here with my wife Jan. We were wondering where you thought we could be.” I said, “Come over here.” He came over, and I said, “You guys stay here.” So, he and Jan moved in with us for about 6 months. Eventually, Jan built a house for them. We just bonded. He was Uncle Bob. How cool is that? My kids hanging out with Bob Ezrin. They got their first electric guitars from him.
Is it advantageous living in Nashville away from some of the music industry madness of, perhaps, New York City or Los Angles?
I moved in and out of L.A. twice in two dramatic, and expensive moves.
After 9/11 Ricky Martin had gone off to tour, and rejecting his heart-throb past, never really returned to his hit-making treadmill with you in Miami as he matured. He decided to quietly raise his own children.
After 9/11, nobody was coming to work with me in Miami. I had 4 studios, 12 employees, and I started working with not great artists. Anybody that would pay the rent. When you get to that point, you go, “I’d rather just fold up the tent than make bad music.” Because there’s only so much you can do with somebody if they don’t have talent. I can’t have my legacy be bad records. Because I needed money.
But then “American Idol” launched, and you started working with that show, which meant moving back to L.A. where the American music business is largely centered.
Yeah, because I didn’t want to be away from my children, I did all that “American Idol” stuff. So, we said, “Okay, let’s move to L.A.”
Living in Nashville, you now seem busier than ever.
I’m in a different phase now. I’m in the phase where I did a lot of legacy stuff (projects). Writing my book. I did the album “Desmond Child Live” which is a retrospective of my biggest songs. It went back to my roots playing a little club in New York City. I am working on three Broadway shows, and I have a television series that I am producing with Andreas Carlsson. and Pressman Film called “Transcon, The Making of Lou Pearlman and the Boy Band Revolution.”
(Lou Pearlman, first cousin of Art Garfunkel, started Trans Continental Records with the intent of mainlining the boy band business model. His groups, Backstreet Boys, ‘NSYNC and O-Town, dominated the pop charts throughout the 1990s Backstreet Boys landed 6 Top 10 singles on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart, and a 9 albums in the Top 10 of the Billboard 200. ‘NSYNC had 6 Top 10 singles on the Hot 100, and 4 albums in the Top 10 of the Billboard 200. O-Town, had a single and an album in the Top 10.
As a result of those successes, Pearlman turned his Trans Continental businesses into a sprawling empire in the 1990s. In 2006, however, he was accused of operating one of the largest and longest-running Ponzi schemes in American history with over $500 million in debts. After being apprehended in 2008, he plead guilty to conspiracy, money laundering, and making false statements during a bankruptcy proceeding, He was convicted, and sentenced to 25 years in prison. He died in federal custody in 2016.)
You and Swedish producer/songwriter Andreas—who has written for the Backstreet Boys, ‘NSYNC, Westlife, Britney Spears and others–have been working on this project almost since you two met in 1998.
We are moving boldly forward. We have the rights to Tyler Gray’s book “The Hit Charade” which tells the story. We also have the rights to a Vanity Fair article by Bryan Burrough called “Mad About the Boys.” Andreas worked with Lou Pearlman. He co-wrote “I Want It That Way,” and “Bye Bye Bye,” and he’s worked with a lot with the boy bands out of Sweden.
Over the years you have released music as a solo artist on Capitol, Epic and Elektra (releasing your only solo album, “Discipline” in 1991). A bid to be a star, perhaps?
I don’t think I would have been a good star, honestly. I am too thin-skinned.
In 2019, you issued “Desmond Child Live,” recorded over three nights at Feinstein’s/54 Below in New York City, performing “Livin’ On A Prayer,” “You Give Love A Bad Name,” “I Was Made For Lovin’ You,” “Dude (Looks Like A Lady),” and “Livin’ La Vida Loca” with friends and musicians that you have played with over the years including Maria Vidal, Miriam Valle and Diana Grasselli of Desmond Child and Rouge.
More recently there’s “Viva La Diva” (BMG) featuring Countess Luann, star of “The Real Housewives of New York City, which you co-wrote with Carole Bayer Sager, and Jay Landers.
And meanwhile, you dreamt that Desmond Child and Rouge would make music together once again.
Desmond Child and Rouge is back, and we are putting out new music.
(Desmond Child and Rouge has released re-mastered versions of their 1979 Capitol Record albums, “Desmond Child and Rouge” and “Runners In The Night,” along with a newly-recorded dance re-mix of “Our Love Is Insane.”
There’s also your autobiography, “Livin’ on a Prayer: Big Songs Big Life” co-written with David Ritz, that was slated to be a 2020 release.
I’m now going to self-publish. I had four deals on the table, and I just couldn’t bring myself to sign over my book. I’ll do an Amazon thing or with the Ingram Content Group. They can turn books around really fast.
David wrote superb autobiographies of Ray Charles, Marvin Gaye, Jerry Wexler, Etta James, B.B. King, the Neville Brothers, Janet Jackson, Buddy Guy, and Morris Day. Marvin’s 1982 hit “Sexual Healing” is credited as a collaboration between Marvin, Odell Brown, and David who was not originally credited as songwriter. Several sources claim that he contributed the title. Did you ask about that?
Our time was so precious together that I just got him to talk about me. Me, me, me. He’s been an incredible friend, and mentor.”
How deep did you go in the book?
I just told him everything. I held nothing back, No secrets. David was even saying, “No, we can’t put that in the book.” He’s been an incredible collaborator. I’m so lucky because my book is timeless. It’s cinematic. I think that it’s going to turn out fine. I may not sell as many books as if I was with a big company, but at least I own more of the book. So maybe it works out.
For more than a decade you have been working on a musical “Cuba Libre,” the story of your family before, and after the Cuban Revolution (1953-58), the armed revolt by Fidel Castro’s revolutionary 26th of July Movement, and its allies against the military dictatorship of Cuban president Fulgencio Batista.
I have been developing that since 2005 with (songwriter/producer/novelist) Davitt Sigerson. We did 6 workshops. Then we went into this long development period through a New York producer with a top director. The director was never happy with the book so we went through various book writers until Davitt and I finally took matters into our own hands. We’ve gotten the book into really great shape. We just finished all of the (music) demos. We are waiting for COVID to be over, and then we will go back to Broadway.
To successfully launch a Broadway musical is a high stakes experience.
To put a show on Broadway properly these days is a $25 million to $30 million investment. And then how many people are in that theatre to see it that night? You could spend that money making a movie that would be seen by millions forever.
“Kinky Boots” was Cyndi Lauper’s first foray as a Broadway songwriter. The production, with music and lyrics by Cyndi, and book by Harvey Fierstein, swept the Tony Awards in 2013 with 11 nominations, and 6 wins. Cyndi became the first woman to win a Tony alone in the score category.
I just adore her.
Cyndi’s next Broadway outing, a musical adaptation of the 1988 film “Working Girl” is currently under development.
Oh, that is so good. That’s so perfect,
As you said, you are spreading your creative wings.
I’m trying to work on things that paint a bigger picture; that tell a longer story. Where I am a buyer, and I’m not a seller. Meaning, I choose the songs that go into the project rather than being with my hat in my hand hoping that Selena Gomez cuts a song that I co-wrote with 4 or 5 other people. I was lucky last year that my song “If You Were A Woman (And I Was A Man),” that I solely wrote (in 1986) for Bonnie Tyler, was interpolated by Ava Max and her fellow 8 co-writers for “Kings & Queens.” They came to me, and we made a deal, and I became a co-writer of “Kings & Queens.”
Recycling is handy tool for creatives. “If You Were A Woman (And I Was A Man),” also served as a starting point for Bon Jovi’s “You Give Love A Bad Name.” With its 8 co-writers, Ava Max, Brett McLaughlin, Hillary Bernstein, Jakke Erixon, Madison Love, Mimoza Blinsson, and producers Cirkut and RedOne, the recording of “Kings & Queens” peaked at #1 in Israel and Poland, #13 in the U.S on Billboard’s Hot 100, and #19 on the UK Singles Chart. Today, so many pop and rap hits have multiple collaborators involved. I don’t get why many songwriters balk at the idea.
Well, it’s okay because I got the major portion of the song. And all of these people in their 20s, I don’t mind being surrounded by them at all. They had the song, and asked me what I thought, and I said, “Go for it.” It’s my sound.” Bit by bit, I’m now reaching out to the collaborators, and writing with them for other stuff. I got a chance to meet new people, young people. And I love doing that. I have been co-writing here in Nashville with different artists, working again with (writer/producer) Marti Frederiksen, and. I co-wrote a song with Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys. He’s producing Ceramic Animal. It’s really fun to write with new people. I am already vaccinated with two vaccines. I’m all good. We all go in with masks on, and we sit socially distanced. You adapt and life goes on. Nothing can stop the human spirit, and nothing can stop you if you are a born songwriter. Nothing is going to stop you from writing a song.
Aligning yourself with first-tier creatives enables you to walk into a room knowing everybody is working on the same high level as you are. After working with the likes of producer/songwriter Bob Crewe as you did early in your career, you soon reached that level in your career where you began working with the pros. And you have to be a hard ass. You have to be on your game. You can’t shillyshally or procrastinate. It’s part of the discipline needed to be successful is it not?
It is part of the passion. If somebody comes to work, and they stay on their cell phone with their manager instead of working, then they are going to get a shocked response from me.
You can easily spot that attitude too.
It is just their insecurity so they call the person that they think will give them confidence which is usually the manager. Just to shoot the breeze. They just want to hear that person’s voice because it makes them feel secure. At a certain point, there has to be a hand off.
You are very much like Diane Warren. When Bon Jovi’s “You Give Love A Bad Name” went to #1 in 1986, she called you, and said, “Hi, this is Diane Warren. Welcome to the number one club.” You two have co-written a bunch of very cool songs, including (with Paul Stanley) “Love on a Rooftop,” your first production you did with Ronnie Spector in 1987, and which was later recorded by Cher.
Diane is mad crazy about life and work.
She’s crazy like a fox.
She works 6 days a week.
Me too. I work 7 days. I never stop working because for me it’s not work. It’s a vacation It’s fun.
How do you balance work and your home life with your children, Roman and Nyro?
(Laughing) Well, I hand them off to my husband Curtis (Shaw).
Kiss, Bon Jovi, and Aerosmith were among the pioneering rock bands to use outside songwriters and, as you spent your teen years in Miami going to concerts featuring Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Joni Mitchell, and Laura Nyro. it’s not surprising you worked with those bands.
Starting with “I Was Made For Lovin’ You,” you have written over 20 songs with Kiss’ Paul Stanley, and none with Gene Simmons.
In the world of Kiss, Paul has his people and Gene has his people. That is cool. I have been so privileged to have Paul as a friend and mentor, and a fantastic collaborator. Paul, in giving me the opportunity to co-write “I Was Made For Lovin’ You,” opened the door for my entire career. I owe him everything.
You met Paul while Desmond Child and Rouge were regulars at the New York underground club Trax on 72nd Street. He would hang out with you and Rouge. Then he asked you to write a song with him for Kiss.
We wrote a song together with David Landau–Jon Landau’s brother who was one of our guitarists—called “The Fight.” So, then Paul said, “Why don’t you come to one of our rehearsals?” So, I went to SIR Studios and there was the whole Kiss set-up. And there was Gene and the other guys, and when they all split, it was just me and Paul sitting at the piano. We started writing the song that became “I Was Made For Loving You.”
We (Desmond Child and Rouge) just had our first hit called “Our Love Is Insane,” which was a rock sounding disco song. I then convinced Paul to do a rock song over a disco beat with “I Was Made for Lovin’ You.”
Kiss often gets slogged off musically. You, Paul, and Jean Beauvoir co-wrote the wonderful song “Who Wants To Be Lonely” for their “Asylum” album (1985).
(Sings) “Who Wants To be Lonely.” That’s one of my favorite songs with Kiss.
You’ve described “Livin’ On A Prayer, co-written with Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora, as the “centerpiece of your career.” Certainly, it one of the great anthems in rock history, despite the bass part having a bouncy R&B disco feel.
While Kiss and Bon Jovi were touring Europe together, Paul Stanley gave your phone number to Jon who had been knocked out by “Heaven’s on Fire” which you wrote for Kiss?
Well, yeah. Paul suggested to him that he might try writing a song with me. And he did. Not that he wanted me to write for them, but they thought, “This guy, maybe, can get us some cuts” with other artists that could bring some income into the situation. The very first day we wrote “You Give Love A Bad Name” which they kept for themselves, and then there was no turning back. And several weeks later we wrote “Livin’ On A Prayer.”
Your success with Bon Jovi so impressed Columbia’s then senior VP of A&R John Kalodner that he hired you, Jim Vallance and Holly Knight as the first outside songwriters for Aerosmith who were now working with Bruce Fairbairn at Little Mountain for the first time following the failure of “Done with Mirrors” (1985).
You flew to Boston and met with Steven Tyler and Joe Perry against their own wishes because they had never written with an outsider. To them, it was almost a sell out, especially because you had been successful with Kiss and Bon Jovi. Still, they played you a loop of some music, and Steven started singing, “Cruisin’ for the ladies,” and you said…
I said, “I wouldn’t put that on the B-side of Van Halen’s worst record.”
Steve had come up with the title after seeing the backside of Mötley Crüe’s Vince Neil in a club?
That’s how it started out. It was Steven who came up with the title “Dude (Looks Like A Lady).” But he had turned it into “Cruisin’ for the Ladies,” because they thought that “Dude (Looks Like A Lady)” would be offensive to the gay community. I said, “I’m gay. It’s not offensive. It’s great.” And I convinced them to go down that path. We basically told the story that he had told me where he had gone into a club and saw this gorgeous creature at the end of the bar with teased-up platinum mullet and black nails and porcelain skin and jewelry and with a curvy waist. Then the creature turns around, and it’s Vince Neil of Mötley Crüe. Then they were like, “My God that dude looks like a lady. Dude looks like a lady.” That’s where “Dude (Looks Like A Lady),” the alliteration came from. Steven loves alliteration.
(The first song Desmond Child co-wrote with Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler and Joe Perry was “Dude (Looks Like a Lady)” which was followed by “Angel” with Tyler, and then “Heart’s Done Time” with Perry. Child went on to also co-write such Aerosmith staples as “Crazy”, “What It Takes,” “Flesh,” “Hole in My Soul,” and “Ain’t That A Bitch.”)
So many proficient artists and engineers have told me how difficult it was stepping into a producer’s role. Did that happen to you?
A little bit, yeah. Because I was an artist with Desmond Child and Rouge, and then I had a hit with Kiss with “I Was Made For Loving You.” So suddenly I was getting all of these bands like Bon Jovi, and Aerosmith working with me.
Despite your contributions, Bon Jovi and Aerosmith were never ever going to let you produce.
They weren’t going to. First of all, being gay, it’s okay, maybe, co-writing because that is an equal position; but when you are the producer, you are the boss, and hetero bands were not ready then for a gay guy to be the boss. There really were no out gay producers in the business.
There aren’t that many today. Back in the ‘80s, neither label executives nor their A&R reps would hire anyone gay as a producer, if only due to the frat boy nature of the industry. Whispers and bigoted remarks from within the industry trailed behind you I know. You heard about certain A&R guys not liking like you because of who you were. They would dismiss you as a “faggot.” As you said, there were no out gay producers in the business.
There weren’t any until Linda Perry popped up. For decades I was the only one. They would never give me a band to produce. Eventually what happened is that people wanted the hits though. So, then I would say, “Okay then I have to produce.’ Then what they did is that they gave me the kind of weirdoes. They gave me Ronnie Spector, and then I got Jennifer Rush. and then I got Joan Jett. Then there was Alice Cooper, Meat Loaf, and Cher. All of these icons that were kind of androgynous, and very LGBT friendly.
Artists having a presence in the LGBT community.
Exactly. I spent a decade producing solo artists and having success with them and then eventually, eventually, I was asked to work with Ratt.
More balls out, rocking, and macho than most.
Right around that time I had my own solo Elektra Record album “Discipline” (1991) so what I did was I became the executive producer. I turned over the production of (“Detonator”) to my right-hand guy, Sir Arthur Payson. We had a great album. Then I got the opportunity to produce the Scorpions (“Humanity: Hour 1”). That was the first band that I produced.
(The Scorpions frontman Klaus Meine fondly recalls these sessions, “The thing with Desmond … he has his own ideas especially in the mixing process, but we definitely wanted this to sound like rock, but at the end of the day we are all very happy that we made the decision to work with Desmond, but it was not all Desmond Child, of course. James Michael was the guy who recorded most of the guitars, Desmond was very much focused on working with me on the vocals and he tried very hard to get rid of my German accent. So I said, ‘Hey come on, I have sold millions and millions of records especially in the U.S.A. — it’s my trademark,’ but it was funny.”)
Meat Loaf had first announced that Michael Beinhorn was producing “Bat Out of Hell III.” Not you. With 7 Jim Steinman songs, 5 of which had been previously released, the album came off as a pastiche. By then you were most likely thinking, “Do I need to spend months and months in the studio doing an album?” Working on the same song for weeks and weeks. Playing it over and over again, making a little adjustment here and there because with the technology, you can continue tweaking forever.
My kids were little when I did Meat Loaf (“Bat Out of Hell III: The Monster is Loose,” recorded in 2005 and 2006), and that was 9 months of torture. It was so stressful. That was a very difficult time in my life. I put so much into it that I couldn’t walk away. So I felt very trapped in the situation.
Then came your production of the Finnish rock band the Rasmus with “Black Roses” recorded in 2007 and 2008 with the help of Finland-born Swedish producer Harry Sommerdahl in Helsinki, Stockholm, Singapore, Berlin, and Greece.
At that point, it was like, “Okay.” I don’t even want to produce records anymore. But there definitely was a glass ceiling as far as producing bands. I broke through it, but at that point, it didn’t matter anymore.
As Nirvana and Pearl Jam and other bands emerged from Seattle in the late 1980s as a bridge between mainstream 1980s’ heavy metal, legacy bands went overnight from playing arenas to club shows.
Rock was dead.
After the 6.7 magnitude North Ridge earthquake in 1994, you and Curtis moved to Miami Beach where you grew up. You got back into your Latin musical roots. Then you got a call telling you about this kid on ABC-TV’s show, “General Hospital.” Of course, that was Ricky Martin who turned your life around
We had come back to Miami right after the earthquake in L.A. We said, “We can’t face it.” We just ran away. So I had to start my career over again, I bought this house on the water right across the waterway from Jerry’s (Wexler) old house. I could see the house that I used to visit as a teenager right across. Then we started going to salsa lessons, and going to Latin clubs. Around that time I had heard about this young star who was on (ABC-TV’s) “General Hospital” (as the character Miguel Morez from 1994-96), and he had also been on Broadway in “Le Miz.” (“Les Miserables” in 1996) His name was Ricky Martin. They wanted to do some kind of crossover (project) with him. He lived 6 blocks away. So he came over with Draco Rosa who was his main producer and songwriter. They were both in Menudo. They were like classmates.
Puerto Rica’s Menudo had been the biggest Latin boy band in history.
And we really bonded. They were already working on a Spanish album called “Vuelve,” and “The Cup Of Life” which became the World Cup theme (for the 1998 FIFA World Cup in France). It became the #1 song all over the world and they put that on “Vuelve” Next year, Ricky received a Grammy (for Best Latin Pop Or Urban Album).
(Written by Draco Rosa and Desmond Child, with lyrics by Luis Gómez-Escolar. “The Cup of Life” became the official song of the 1998 FIFA World Cup in France, and charted in 60 countries around the world.)
So they asked me to write a Spanglish song (using words imported from Spanish to English, and from English to Spanish). Draco and I got busy, and over the course of three days, we wrote “Livin’ La Vida Loca.” That became the first single from Ricky’s crossover record, and the rest is history. Between that record, and the next record “She Bangs” that we cranked out like crazy, we sold something like 30 million records, All of the other Latin stars like Marc Anthony and J-Lo (Jennifer Lopez). they weren’t selling anything near that.
Ricky Martin’s 1999 hit “Livin’ La Vida Loca,” from his self-titled debut English-language album, arguably opened the doors for Latin music. It was his first #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, remaining in the top for 5 consecutive weeks
Driven by streaming services, the unprecedented growth of mobile phones, and the on-going adoption of social media, Latin music has since had a seismic-styled growth.
Sure Americans took notice of Gloria Estefan, Menudo, Selena, and went on to embrace Marc Anthony, Shakira, and later J Balvin, Nicky Jam, Pitbull, Daddy Yankee as well as Ozuna, Maluma, Luis Fonsi, Camila Cabello, and Bad Bunny, but “Livin’ La Vida Loca” was the kick-off of the modern-day Latin music phenomenon.
Well, it was a renaissance for sure. There was a little Latin music explosion with Xavier Cugat (a Spanish musician and bandleader who spent his formative years in Havana), and Desi Arnaz in the ‘40s and ‘50s that reached Hollywood.
Throw in Cuban percussionist Mongo Santamaría, and Cuban band leader Perez Prado in the ‘50s.
Then we had to wait a very long time until we got Gloria Estefan, and she encapsulated pop with Latin sounds (with 29 Billboard Hot 100 hits.) She created her Latin music explosion. Then we had to wait another 15 years for Ricky. In 2019, we had “Despacito” (by Puerto Ricans Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee). So there is always this re-emerging. So I was right in the middle of it.
You have described your childhood as painful. Your parents separated in 1958. and you grew up not knowing your father until you were 18. Your bohemian mother, Cuban poet, and songwriter Elena Casals was quite abandoning and, while beautiful and very charming, she could also be quite suffocating too. Her Miami home was always filled with the music, and the art of her Cuban homeland.
With her passing, Casals left a vast collection of poems and songs recorded by a number of renowned Cuban artists, most notably her sister-in-law, the famed bolero singer Olga Guillot, as well as by such revered performers as Lucho Gatica, and Roberto Ledesma. Signed to Peer Southern International, h er ballad “Muchisimo,” recorded by Ledesma and Gema, was a hit in Latin America. Other well-known compositions by her include “Noches de Maracaibo,” “Ponce,” and “Diosa del Mar.”
Your mother became a founding member of La Sociedad de Autores y Compositores Cubanos en el Exilio In 1965, along with Jose Carbo Menendez and Concha Valdez Miranda.
(Born in 1927, and raised in Pinar del Rio, Cuba, Elana Casals taught herself piano as a child. The daughter of a business school director, she wrote her first songs and poems at the age of 15. After graduating from business school. She taught elementary school students and adult typing classes in Havana. There she married John Frederick Barrett, an American petroleum specialist, moving with him a dairy farm near Gainesville, Florida in 1953 where their two sons were born).
Your mother would write songs on the piano at the farm where you were born, while you would be playing on the floor. When your aunt Olga, Olga Guillot the Queen of Bolero, came to visit your family from Mexico, with her then husband, Tio Bebo Rodriguez, your mother’s brother, they’d recite, and shout out their patriotic poems and iconic songs dedicated to Cuba.
I grew up in the projects but on the weekends, Friday and Saturday, all of these composers and poets would come over, and they would squeeze into our little living room, and sit on the floor like very bohemian, smoking and drinking. I would be at the top of the stairs listening, and they would be singing their new songs that later became classics.
Her apartment in Miami was one of the first stops for musician refugees who’d fled Cuba.
Yes, yes. We were like the immigration center. I would get up in the morning and there’s be like three guys with backpacks sleeping on the floor. There were always descargas (discharges in Spanish) at our house, my mother singing her own songs, people reciting poetry. Our home was filled with music and Cuban art.
People forget the conditions under which so many Cubans came to America. For decades, Cubans kept coming in droves and droves.
More than a million.
(When Fidel Castro led his revolutionary army into Havana in 1959, he ushered in a new era in Cuban life. He also launched a new era of mass emigration from his country to the United States. In the decades that followed, more than one million Cubans made their way to the U.S. Once the new Cuban government allied itself with the Soviet Union, the U.S. and Cuba became open enemies, and through the years, as relations between the countries improved or deteriorated, the door of emigration was opened, and closed again and again.)
Has your company, Deston Entertainment yet published your mother’s writings, “Mis Cajas De Cartón/My Cardboard Boxes – The Poems & Lyrics of Elena Casals?”
I’m still working on it.
You have to publish it. You have poems that your mother wrote to her grandfather. Her family lived, like a lot of Cuban families lived, in his house. The house was said to be haunted with his memory, and she wrote many songs about him.
What happened is that I had hired all of these assistants for her, and they had been taking little scraps of paper, and typing down everything that they found. So I was finally bringing it all together working with Armando Suárez Cobián, a very important Cuban poet who is serving as an editor. We did over 150 of her poems, and her lyrics; just editing and putting them all together. Then I’ve been working with Jodi Marr who is this producer–she wrote (London-based artist) Mika’s single “Grace Kelly,” and she’s an instructor of music at Belmont University (in Nashville).
Jodi won a Grammy in 2003 for Alejandra Guzmán’s single “De Verdad” and has written songs recorded by Ricky Martin, RBD, Luis Fonsi, and Julio Iglesias.
Jodi is a very close friend, and she knew my mother, and she has a doctorate in Spanish. She and I have been translating all of the poems into English. Then I decided that I was going to go through the cardboard boxes, and see what the hell is going on. Well, guess what? I found another 100 poems. It is taking so long because I don’t want to leave anything out.
Another fantastic thing about your mother is that in 1954 Florida artist Lee Burnham sculpted “La Muse,” taking as a model your mother. “La Musa” was re-sculpted, by Nashville-born sculptor Alan LeQuire as the official Latin Songwriters Hall of Fame’s “La Musa” award trophy.
Around the time I was born, my mom had a best friend in Hawthorne near Gainesville. She was a snowbird who used to go down there and sculpt. My mother always drew in all of the artsy artist bohemians. Everybody loved her. She was full of life and could sing. She was just gorgeous too. She became a muse for sculptor Lee Burnham and he sculptured a little clay figure of my mom playing guitar. I don’t know how it survived all of the moves because it was so fragile. But it is still intact. So when we founded the Latin Songwriters Hall of Fame this sculpture “La Musa” became the statuette, the trophy for the award for the Latin Songwriters Hall of Fame. Alan LeQuire sculpted it for the prize because the original was too fragile to do a mode of. He did a beautiful job. It is so great because our very first inductee was Julio Iglesias who was my mother’s idol.
Was your mother alive to experience you winning awards?
She was there when I was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in New York in 2008.
She would sneak into the studio while you were working with Ricky Martin on “Livin’ La Vida Loca,” and “The Cup Of Life.”
When I would leave she would be watching from the corner of the property to see and she would sneak in knowing Ricky was in there. By the time I came back to the studio she was pitching her own songs, and he was weeping over a song that she wrote called “Diosa del Mar” dedicated to Puerto Rico. He never ended up recording it, but he still could on the tribute album I am producing of her music with all the biggest Latin artists He was crying.
That’s how she was.
She was a hustler. She was kind of one of the those Blanche DuBois (a fictional character in Tennessee Williams’ 1947 play “A Streetcar Named Desire”). And a little bit like Angelica Huston in “The Grifters” (1990). My mom was the way she was.
There are numerous magical moments in your life. Working in music is often like being able to continually visit a candy store. You got to hang out with your idol, the late New York City-born singer/songwriter/pianist Laura Nyro.
I know. How cool is that? When you were writing a lot of lyrics then, your chief influences were Laura Nyro and Joni Mitchell. I was impressed that they would write these very sophisticated, kinds of poetic words that you’d only find in a poetry book. So they were a big influence on me. And, of course, Elton John was another big influence.
(The late Laura Nyro was both a unique vocal stylist, and the composer of songs that were major hits for others; notably the 5th Dimension (“Wedding Bell Blues,” and “Stoned Soul Picnic”), Barbra Streisand (“Stoney End”), Three Dog Night (“Eli’s Coming”), and Blood, Sweat & Tears (“And When I Die”).
As a child, Nyro had taught herself to write poetry, and play piano. At age 8, she had composed her first songs. She entered the High School of Music and Art at age 14 in 1961. Despite two semi-retirements from the music scene over the years, Nyro continued to record, and perform periodically until her death from cancer at age 49. In 2012.)
You and Rouge had supper with Laura.
Yes, on February 11 and 12, 1995 she came to McCabe’s (McCabe’s Guitar Shop) in Santa Monica with (the back-up group), the Harmonies, Toni Wine, Ula Hedwig, and others. It was just her, the piano, and these wonderful singers behind her. It was just fantastic. I sent my business card backstage with a note saying, “I would love to meet you.” By the time I got home, there was a message on my answering service. It was wispy, and it was like, “Hi, this is Laura, and I would love to meet you too.” I just sat there, and by this time I was with my husband Curtis, and I started crying. He asked why was I crying. I said, “I waited my entire life for that phone call.”
That is what a great fan that I am.
So, we arranged for her to come over for dinner the next night. The girls from Rouge happened to be in L.A. that night so they came over too. We had this amazing dinner. Then we went to my music room and Laura sat at the piano, and we started singing all the parts. All of the LaBelle parts. on “It’s Gonna Take a Miracle” (1971)
Laura’s take of the Shirelles’ “I Met Him On A Sunday,” with backing by LaBelle on the same album, is a show-stopper.
“Well, I met him on a Sunday
And I missed him on Monday
Well, I found him on a Tuesday
And I dated him a Wednesday
Doo ronde ronde ronde pa pa
Doo ronde ronde ronde pa pa
Doo ronde ronde ronde pa pa
Doo oo oo oo ooo”
We knew every song on that album from heart, and she was like in 7th heaven. We were in 7th heaven. I took a very beautiful photograph of just her and me at the piano.
Laura asked you to open for her as a solo artist accompanying myself on piano at the Algonquin Hotel in New York City in 1996.
I closed my set singing “The Man Who Sends Me Home” with Laura watching from the wings.
When Laura passed, her partner Maria Desiderio, invited Desmond Child and Rouge to perform at the Beacon Theatre in New York City on Oct 27, 1997. You sang, “The Man Who Sends Me Home,” and then Rouge did “Christmas in My Soul.” Then. when Patti LaBelle came out and sang “The Bells” with that line, “I’ll never hear the bells?”
Everybody from the audience rushed the stage. People were like crying, screaming. It was like despair over the fact that we’d never hear her voice again.
But to sing with her and with Rouge on songs from her 1971 album “Gonna Take a Miracle” in an intimate setting is a fan’s ultimate dream.
How exciting is that, right? You’d have to be a real Laura Nyro fan to understand what that means. That was my life dream since I was a teenager for that to happen, from when I first heard her music at Jerry Wexler’s house in Miami. I was friendly with Lisa Wexler, his daughter. I would go and hang out over there. They would invite me to have meals with them because I was the tag-along. At the table would be Tom Dowd, Arif Mardin, and sometimes Ahmet (Ertegun). Lisa would be like pulling on my shirt, “Let’s go to my room. Let’s go to my room” to go and smoke pot.
How old were you?
I was 14.
Your family was living in Miami at that point?
I was born in Hawthorne, Florida, Gainesville. We were living in the projects in Liberty City, and I would take three buses to get to Miami Beach from where I was. I had to start out early and take three buses back. So I was living in Miami Beach and hanging out with kind of rough kids that were hanging out in the lower lobbies of the big hotels. At the Fontainebleau in the lower lobby there’s a coffee show and I met this cool girl-guy, very manly girl who was androgynous, and I was. I was a girly guy. We bonded and became best friends. So she would ask me to hang out with her family. She took me into the room and played me Laura Nyro’s record for the very first time. It was the first album on Verve Folkways, “More Than A New Discovery.” So many hits came out of that little record.
The big one being “Wedding Bell Blues.”
st Street, and we had a little piano that I had brought up from Miami Beach. It was in a piano bus, and the back of it was tufted (upholstery) with black and then red vinyl buttons. We stuck it into a crevice in the wall. I would have Laura Nyro’s dad (piano tuner and a jazz trumpeter Louis Nigro) tune the piano. I had found out who he was to come and tune it. It wasn’t even worth tuning it was so bad. All we did was ply him with questions about Laura. Like crazy fan questions. “Where does Laura live? What kind of piano does she write on.” All of these questions. Then we found out where she lived on the Upper West side, on Riverside Drive overlooking the water.
Several times I would go and stand in front of her building hoping that she would come out so I could meet her. Then she played Carnegie Hall, and the most shocking terrible thing happened. We had this crazy manager Harriet Leider who was a cabaret manager. She was more like a madam. She was very heavy set, and she had her own act. Big body act that she was playing in all of these little cabarets in New York.
Harriet Leider was a cabaret performer who often worked “blue,” and she specialized in campy put-down humor.
She claimed to be Laura Nyro’s best friend, and that she got us to be her opening act on a national tour. She had told us that—because we were anxious for something to happen—she told us that her best friend Laura Nyro heard a demo and had chosen us to go on tour with her around the United States. We would be the opening act. We were over the moon.
So you all went to Carnegie Hall to meet Laura?
I brought these flowers, and we went on West 56th Street. There was a trailer where her dressing room was outside. There was a line of people trying to get into the trailer. I’m first and the girls of Rouge were behind me. I handed Laura the flowers. This is the first time I’m meeting her. And I said, “Hi, we’re Desmond Child and Rouge.” She’s looking at us like, “What.” I said, “Harriet Leider told us we would be opening for you on tour.” She says, “Harriet Leider, I think I know that name.”
Harriet had told us that she had been with Laura and LaBelle up at her apartment, singing through the entire “It’s Gonna Take A Miracle” album. They were all singing. I was so jealous. I was just dying with jealousy. So I handed Laura the flowers, and I started backing out, like you back away from the Queen. Backwards, backwards, and then down the steps. I ran down. The girls didn’t know what was going on because they could barely hear what she was saying. I had a quarter, and I went to the phone booth, and I called up Harriet. I said, “Harriet, I just talked to Laura Nyro.” She clicked. She just hung up on me, and we never heard from her again ever.
I’ve never understood how she could say such a blatant lie and not expect the consequences. It seemed so self-destructive to end our relationship that way.
I can go on and on about Laura Nyro. Let’s do a Laura Nyro special.
You used your aunt’s address to enroll at the Miami Beach Senior High School which is where local children from prominent families attended. Your protector from bullies was future actor Mickey Rourke.
Everybody has a shady past.
You had the duo Night Child while in high school.
With Virgil Night.
That was Debbie Wall who changed her name to Virgil Night, and you became Desmond Child—Desmond from the Beatles’ song, ‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da’.”
Yeah, Virgil Night is Corey Hart’s first cousin. She was from Montreal. Corey was younger. A little boy when we were a duo. Debbie was a singer and a songwriter. We would go to her house after school and drink English tea, eat brown rice, and write songs. We had this idea to form a duo called Night Child. I came up with the name Virgil Night for her, and I became Desmond Child.
After high school, you left Miami and went to New York City, where you studied at the New York University, and met your girlfriend, and eventual bandmate, Maria Vidal.
When I went to NYU, I met an artist who was an incredible R&B singer that sounded like a male Aretha Franklin. I wrote songs for him, and I attended the Chappell Music Songwriting Workshop where everybody was black but me, and I started writing R&B music.
(In 1975, Child and Vidal, together with Myriam Valle and Diana Grasselli, launched Desmond Child and Rouge with backing by hired musicians They opened for punk groups like Patti Smith, and the New York Dolls at the Lower Manhattan Ocean Club or CBGB. They were a regular headliner at Trax where Paul Stanley hung out, and where George Harrison turned up one night sitting at a front table. They played upscale Reno Sweeney’s where Jacqueline Onassis would walk in with Henry and Nancy Kissinger, and they made a stunning debut at The Bottom Line. Lines around the block. Then “Saturday Night Live” cast member Gilda Radner hired Desmond Child and Rouge to be with her on her limited Broadway run show at the Winter Garden Theatre, “Gilda Live from New York.”)
By the end of 1979, it was all too much for us. Everything happened all in one year. Two albums came out in six months Our song, “Last of an Ancient Breed,” made it onto “The Warriors” film soundtrack. We toured the country, and had a hit with Our Love Is Insane.” From nowhere to all that. One of the last things we did was appearing on “Saturday Night Live.”
By then, Bruce Springsteen’s manager Jon Landau was encouraging you to leave Desmond Child and Rouge, and become a solo act. Jon later told you that he came to see Desmond Child and Rouge at Redbank. He had snuck in at age 16 after seeing a poster of you with the girls and was impressed.
I would go and hang out with Jon, and he would talk to me. He saw promise in me. At one point, he said, “You are the only other person I would manage other than Bruce. And maybe that could work out someday.” But he was concentrating on getting Bruce’s career. And I just said, “Oh, I will just wait.” So I waited and waited and waited. Then eventually he didn’t have the bandwidth to include me. That is when I kind of drifted toward working with Bob Crewe which was like going to songwriting university. So it was more helpful for me to do that.
Obviously, adding to your music acumen was spending two years alongside Bob Crewe, renowned for producing, and co-writing, largely with Bob Gaudio, a string of Top 10 singles for the Four Seasons including, “Big Girls Don’t Cry”, “Walk Like a Man,” “Rag Doll”, “Silence Is Golden”, “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine (Anymore),” “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,” “Bye, Bye, Baby” “Let’s Hang On!,” and “My Eyes Adored You.”
Bob also co-wrote “Silhouettes” recorded by the Rays, the Diamonds, Herman’s Hermits, and Cliff Richard; and “Lady Marmalade,” recorded by LaBelle, and All Saints. There was also the 2001 rendition by Christina Aguilera, Mýa, Pink and Lil’ Kim, recorded for the “Moulin Rouge!” soundtrack. Bob also had hits with Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels, Freddy Cannon, Lesley Gore, Eddie Rambeau, the Toys, Disco-Tex and the Sex-O-Lettes, Oliver, Michael Jackson, Bobby Darin, Roberta Flack, Peabo Bryson, Barry Manilow, and his own Bob Crewe Generation.
Were you the only songwriter Bob was tutoring?
Yeah. Just me, and him.
How did that come about?
My friend Eliot Hubbard was one of the co-founders of Reno Sweeney (a Greenwich Village supper club, and he had met Bob at, maybe, an AA meeting or something. He introduced us and the first question from Bob was, “What sign are you?” When I said, Scorpio.” He said, “Okay, we are working together” It was just like that.
Your zodiac sign was the entry to change your future?
Well (Bob’s collaborators) Bob Gaudio is a Scorpio, Kenny Nolan is a Scorpio, and Bob is a Scorpio. He would only accept someone if they were a Scorpio. So I lucked out on the first question. I had Bambi eyes and just looked at him adoringly. And he took me in. He really taught me everything about life. He would just talk endlessly his whole life.
If Bob Crewe didn’t have your recording or publishing rights, what was in it for him
Bob worked with me because he thought I was a star and because I was a Scorpio. His role was to be my co-writer and producer. He got me a singles deal at Epic Records. It didn’t work. It didn’t work out. I got dropped and ended up going to India. Bob never asked me for a piece of my publishing or any sort of proprietary commitment to him. Remember that at 25 years old, I was already a recording artist with Desmond Child and Rouge, and had one of the biggest hits in the world (with Kiss’ “I Was Made For Lovin’ You”) a few years before so I wasn’t going into the relationship as a total nobody.
Bob was a noted hard-ass, and one of the best producers and songwriters of all time. Celebrated songwriter Ellie Greenwich once said, “He was a joy to work with on all levels . . . he’s a perfectionist, he’s open to any outside ideas, he really knows what he wants and gets it, and most of all, he is passionate about what he does. He puts all of himself into everything he touches.”
What did you learn from Bob Crewe?
Well, he became my all-time mentor. Those two years that I spent with him he taught me how to write hit songs. He was a hardass but I could take it because I am a hardass. I owe him everything because I wouldn’t have become the songwriter I became without him or those two years in that strange room.
(Even though Bob Crewe’s hit streak extended into the ’70s, the decade was not a happy one for him. He endured a rocky tenure as a Motown Records staff producer, clashing creatively with Berry Gordy, Jr. Later, he struggled with writer’s block, and alcohol addiction.
After Jerry Wexler produced his Elektra album “Motivation” in Muscle Shoals, Alabama in 1977, Crewe fell victim to a crippling hit-and-run car accident. Months of slow, painful rehabilitation followed. Crewe re-emerged in the ’80s, writing new material with Sugarloaf’s Jerry Corbetta, and producing the cast album of “Leader Of The Pack,” the 1985 Broadway musical about Ellie Greenwich’s life and career.)
Tell me about the time period working with Bob.
He had come back to New York after having been away. He had been to get sober, and he had been hit by a car which sidelined him. His leg was broken in 28 pieces. He had multiple surgeries. He finally got it in his mind to move back to New York. He got an apartment, and he got separately a writing studio. A beautiful very clean modern studio apartment. It had no bedroom. Just one room, and a little kitchenette. It was on 56th Street and Broadway. We would meet across the street at Coq au Vin, this little French restaurant down on 56th Street and west of Broadway with these little steps off the sidewalk. They always had a special for something like $4.99, and you’d get a 5-course lunch. We always went there. We meet there at noon, and by one o’clock, I would be sitting at the bench at his piano.
There was nothing in the room?
Nothing on the off-white walls. No awards nothing. Blank walls and a beige carpet and a black Steinway baby Grand piano with a hard piano bench for me. He had his own comfortable stool with arms. I had the hard bench, and if I didn’t like the bench I could sit on the floor with my back to the wall. There was no couch. There was no other furniture. There was black coffee with Sweet & Low, and just the chalky powdered Coffeemate non-dairy creamer.
Being around a creative person like Bob Crewe rubs off, and then you begin to understand how to use your ear.
Bob wouldn’t start a song unless it was clear what the song was about. Ideally, we would start with a great title, and the lyric would be about finding its way back to that. He was meticulous. We would drill down on every line. It might take us two or three days to write one song. We had a little cassette recorder, and it would record our sessions. He would always make me play the song from beginning to end on a separate tape. He was very careful about copying the lyrics by hand. And, if he made a mistake, he’d rip up the pages and start over.
You’ve also worked with Clive Davis who, as the head of Columbia, Arista, and J Records over the decades, is renowned for his knack for connecting creative people and bringing out the best in artists, songwriters, and producers.
Well, he’s bigger than life. He always has been. He has that kind of grand confidence and has what they call aplomb. Whether he had successes or failures, it’s all been done with grace.
In 1972, you and Virgil as Night Child, crashed a music convention in Miami Beach disguised as John and Yoko Lennon. Making a beeline for the front tables, you spotted two seats at the next table to Clive, then president of Columbia Records. You ate dinner, saw the show, and as Clive stood up, you stood up, he broke into a smile as he realized you weren’t who everyone thought you were. You handed him your Night Child demo tape. and he took it. Months later, you received a rejection letter. Almost 40 years later, Clive presented you with The Clive Davis Legends of Songwriting Award.
I did a show stopper album for him for “American Idol” that he was very much involved with. I was one of the first to produce Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, and Clay Aitken and have hits with them. He had me do this showstopper album. I didn’t know what I was getting into. I just did it because he told me to do it. I had to record all of these classic songs. It wasn’t just interpretations. It was exact reproductions. They were beyond karaoke. You could A and B them, and you couldn’t tell one from the other because we had to match the reverb, match the delays, match the timbre, and put the music parts on the correct side of the stereo. Then the person singing had to do an exact reproduction of the original performer like Steve Wonder or Martina McBride or whoever it was that we were doing the tribute to. It was very intense. I would send Clive something, and he would send it right back saying, “The tambourine is wrong.” I would A and B back-and-forth, and I just could not understand what he was talking about. And why did it matter? Why did it matter when this was a promotional album for a tour?
Clive is truly a music man with an uncanny ability to identify, and fix musical issues.
He has great ears. His hearing is just impeccable.
What was it like going to the Soviet Union in 1988 as part of a songwriting project called Music Speaks Louder Than Words? With such songwriters as Cyndi Lauper, Michael Bolton, Brenda Russell, Barry Mann, Michael Bolton, Tom Kelly, Billy Steinberg, Diane Warren Mike Stoller, Holly Knight, Franne Golde, Albert Hammond, and Gregory Abbott, spending a week in intensive collaborations with a team of Soviet writers?
There were so many important writers on this trip.
(Cyndi Lauper, Roberta Flack, Earth, Wind and Fire, Phoebe Snow, and Patti LaBelle were among the 11 acts to perform on the album, ”Music Speaks Louder Than Words” (Epic). A sum of composer royalties went towards AFS Intercultural Programs, the international body based in 70 countries which places exchange students with host families.)
What were the Soviet songwriters like?
They were just so sweet. They would put two Russians with one of us. So we were driven all around the city (Moscow), and we’d go to what seemed like institutional places. Not anybody’s home or anything like that. We weren’t allowed to go into someone’s home. They weren’t allowed to invite us. My translator was Olga Zakharova. We went to this music school. and there was this kid, Lonya Alexenko, who looked like Jim Morrison. That kind of hair. He was Ukrainian, and his face looked like a lion. Very flat with these blue eyes. And the two of them became my constant companions. To the point where Lloyna snuck into my room, and he was sleeping on the floor. He would not leave my side. In the morning Olga would pick up us. Then one day. they snuck me out and took me to her apartment, and she had sheets all over the window. Nobody could see in. She had this beautiful candlelit dinner with incredible delicacies. There must have been her annual salary that she had spent to honor me.
Two years later, I brought Lonya, Olga, (Soviet composer, producer, and radio presenter) Vladimir Matetsky–Bad Vlad, who kept saying, “You Give Vlad A Bad Name”–-and a couple of others over to L.A. for three weeks. I put them up in a motel. When I took them to a Publix (supermarket), they saw all of that food, all of the variety, and they started weeping. Their whole lives they had to stand in line for one egg.
Where else did you take them?
We took them to Las Vegas for two wild nights, and to the Grand Canyon where Lonya went down on his own and got lost and dehydrated. We had to show them the whole thing. By that point, glasnost (increased openness and transparency in government institutions and activities in the Soviet Union) had done its work, and the Soviet Union had just completely collapsed. Lonya moved to Nazareth, Israel where he became a professional musician with his Christian Palestinian wife
In 1996, you had offers for your music catalog, and you sold your songwriting and publishing share to Polygram [now Universal Music Group]. You retained your songwriting performance rights.
I had been co-published with EMI, and then the moment came that rock had died. The acts that I had been working with that I had success with were already on their third compilation. My manager said, “Maybe, this is the moment to cash in at this stage. And then start anew.”
Have you since kept your full music publishing rights intact?
Yes, I have. I’m with BMG for administration. The good thing (about the early catalog) is that there is a reversion of copyright of 35 years.
Only for America.
It’s 25 years after the death of the writer in Canada.
(Reversionary rights allow authors, songwriters, and recording artists to terminate poorly bargained transfers made in the beginning of their careers. But comparing U.S. copyright law to laws in the United Kingdom, Canada, and other British territories shows a stark difference in how copyright transfer and termination functions around the world.
In the U.S. if songwriter transfers their interest, they may terminate the transfer after 35 years. Copyright ownership then reverts back to the original owner.
Reversionary rights in the United Kingdom, Canada, and other British territories allow an author’s heirs to automatically regain control of copyrights 25 years after the author’s death.)
Rolling Stone recently reported the major music publishing companies have signed as many, if not more, new composers to publishing deals during the past year than in 2019. But some, like Akil King known as Fresh, and Tiffany Red, are fighting to get out of their publishing contracts.
From a publisher’s standpoint, if they truly invest in a songwriter, they might deserve to control the music publishing for life of the copyright.
It depends. Everything is leverage. I’m a publisher as well, but things have to be fair. The writers that I publish, they have never recouped.
Still, many publishers offer a reversion of rights.
In some cases, yes. But in Nashville, it is a little different. I have a couple of writers and they are for life of copyright. I’m stuck with these writers/artists for years upon years upon years, paying salaries every month with nothing coming toward me. So I see it from both sides.
In three sections of “Thong Song”, Sisqó (aka Mark Evans) croons: “Cuz she was livin’ la vida loca!” but producers and co-writers Tim Kelley and Bob Robinson, aka Tim & Bob, claim Sisqó didn’t clear the use of the lyrics in the song. Therefore you and Drago were able to negotiate a share of the song’s rights.
(“Thong Song” peaked at #1 on the Billboard Rhythmic Top 40 chart and #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and reaching the top ten throughout Europe and reaching #3 in the United Kingdom, Netherlands, and Denmark. The recording also topped the chart in New Zealand.)
Does your music get appropriated often, where you have to had to step forward like this?
I know that they did a documentary recently on YouTube about the making of “Thong Song.” It was kind of cute because they said, “Well, everything was going so great, and then we got that call that Desmond Child was after us. In the end, he makes more than we do.” That’s not really how it went. They fessed up from the beginning that they were going to interpolate “Livin’ La Vida Loca” into “Thong Song.” That’s how Drago and I got into it.
They failed to clear the use of the lyrics?
They did clear it. I don’t know why they are saying that they didn’t clear it and that it was already a huge hit, and it was going to be a huge problem. That is not how it went down, That’s what the guys themselves are saying in the documentary. I’m not sure why they are saying that. I am not making more than them. Drago and I got one quarter of the song, and we split that. So I don’t know what they are talking about.
There is a very blatant interpolation of “Livin’ La Vida Loca” with the Black Eyed Peas’ “Vida Loca” with “It’s mi vida loca (it’s mi vida loca).” In the second verse, it says something about Ricky (Martin). And they have a sample in there from MC Hammer.
Nicky Jam jumps in for the second verse, singing in Spanish. He starts off by riffing “Livin’ La Vida Loca with “Vida loca y no e’ la de Ricky (Ah) Con una canción y me busco el ticket.” Rick James and MC Hammer got songwriting credits because “Vida Loca” interpolates “U Can’t Touch This.” The music of Hammer’s 1990 hit was based on Rick James’ “Super Freak.”
They didn’t come to us. The song title is “Vida Loca” and they sing, “I’m livin’ La vida loca (la vida loca),” throughout the song. That’s kind of a problem. We will see what they come back with.
Was a lawyer’s letter sent on your behalf?
I’m not sure the letter has got to them yet. But it’s so obvious. I think that they were doing a tribute to the song, kind of a homage. But it crossed a line. I’m happy for the tribute, but where’s my piece of the song?
Larry LeBlanc is widely recognized as one of the leading music industry journalists in the world. Before joining CelebrityAccess in 2008 as senior editor, he was the Canadian bureau chief of Billboard from 1991-2007 and Canadian editor of Record World from 1970-80. He was also a co-founder of the late Canadian music trade, The Record.
He has been quoted on music industry issues in hundreds of publications including Time, Forbes, and the London Times. He is a co-author of the book “Music From Far And Wide,” and a Lifetime Member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
He is the recipient of the 2013 Walt Grealis Special Achievement Award, recognizing individuals who have made an impact on the Canadian music industry.