IS AN EXCEPT FROM A FANTASTIC
INTERVIEW WITH SHADOW MORTON
CONDUCTED IN 1991.
Please note that some of Shadow's recollections and accuracy in this article on how and who wrote and produced certain songs are deemed questionable from information released after this
is a story about "Remember (Walking In The Sand)" being Billy Joel's
first studio session. However, Billy remembers working on the demo of "Leader
Of The Pack."
"Shadow" Morton: I don't think it was "Leader..." Maybe, I could be wrong but the way I was told, I'm thinking it was "Remember (Walking In The Sand)."
Goldmine: How did this come about?
"Shadow" Morton: Gee...I'd better start from the beginning. Let's see now...I found myself in Philadelphia. I was hitching to New York and nobody was picking me up so I made a phone call to an old pal, Jerry Love, in New York. I had seventy cents to my name. Jerry said, "That'll get you six cups of coffee. Wait there." Jerry drove down and picked me up at some diner on the edge of Philadelphia. On the drive back, he asks me, "Do you remember the accordian player...the organ player...that girl from the high school, she sang, too--Ellie Greenwich?" I said, "Yeah, what about her?" And he says, "Well, she's got hit songs out." I said, "No. I didn't know" I was trying to be cool...I must have missed that one. And he rattles off "Be My Baby", this one, that one...and I was really stunned. I couldn't believe it. So the next day, I went to The Farmer's Market across from Grumman and went through the record pile. Sure enough, there's her name and Jeff Barry, who I don't know. Just for the hell of it, I called up Ellie. And I think, just as a courtesy, she took the call. After some small talk and b.s., she invited me up to her office at 1619 Broadway, The Brill Building, if I was ever in the area. To this I responded, "It just so happens, I'm going to be in that neighborhood tomorrow."
I hitched into New York City the next day and went to her office. I met her and Jeff Barry. It was very cordial and very nice between me and Ellie, but there was a certain amount of tension. I guess that maybe Ellie had moved into a different world. However, I didn't take it that way...I figured it was that there was a stranger in the room--not that I was the stranger but that Barry, her husband, was the stranger! He had probably seen a half a dozen guys a week come through that door with songs and I'm just another guy. But I didn't like his attitude. I mean, I'm originally from Brooklyn and you don't take that attitude with me very long. But he was just being himself. When he turned to me, because he kept his back to me while he was tinkling on the piano and I didn't like that...he turned to me, and I guess to jam me, said, "And what do you do for a living?" To jam him back, I said, "Same thing you do--I write songs." And he said, "What kind of songs?" And I said, "Hit songs!" And he said, "Bring 'em to me." I exited the room, I remember waiting about ten seconds, and then I knocked on the door. When he leaned over to open the door, I guess he figured I was going to apologize or come up with some excuse because he put a smile on his face and said, "Yeah...go ahead." And I said, "We forgot to discuss something. Do you want a fast hit or a slow hit?" He laughed and said, "Kid, bring me a slow hit."
Just for the hell of it, just for the sheer craziness of it, I called my friend, George, and said--and I did this in such a New York way--I said, "Listen, I got this record company in New York and they want to hear my material." He said, "What material?" I said, "Songs. My songs." He said, "What songs?" I said, "Songs. I got lots of songs!" "You do?" This guy hung out with me every day. I said, "Now, you know guys who know music. Get me four pieces: bass, drums, piano and guitar." Then I called this studio, where my high school group, The Marquees, had hung out and done all this singing. It was in Bethpage, off Bloomingdale Road down from Ray's Diner...and this guy, Joe Mondria, had set up a small studio in his basement because of us singing down there--he still had my old tape machine there. I said, "Joe, listen. George is getting me four musicians...I got a band, I got a record label in New York that wants to hear my material..." He says, "You got a record company in New York?" I says, "Yeah. I need a studio. How 'bout Sunday?" "Okay," he says.
Then, I went to see The Shangri-La's. They were playing at some club in Queens. They did the first set--so-so. Before the second set, I got them in the dressing room and said, "Look, you've gotta do this with the skirts (makes as though to hike up the hemline)...you're not gonna make it with just the singing, not with this crowd...you've gotta pull those garters off and throw them into the audience..." And when they did it, and people are standing and clapping like crazy. Their brother, who was, I guess, like their manager, wants to kill me. It was a quick exit that night. But I went back to see them and I told them, "I got a studio, I got a band, I got a record company--let's make a record!" They agreed and I gave them directions to Bethpage.
And everything is going so smoothly, everybody is saying yes...it wasn't until Sunday, on the way to the studio, that I realize I haven't got a song! So I pulled the car over to the side of South Oyster Bay Road, just past the railroad tracks, and I'm sitting there like I don't know what and I wrote "Remember..." I walked down the steps to the basement where the studio was...George turned to me and said, "You're late! Where the hell have you been?" That's when I turned to the piano player, who I believe turned out to be Billy Joel, or so I've since been told, and said, "Here, play this: bom-bom-bommmm." And that was it.
On Monday, I brought the tape to Ellie and Jeff and my career began. Jeff said, "Can I play this for somebody?" and ran out of the room. I asked Ellie, "What's going on?" She says, "You've got something there." I said, "Are you kidding?" "No," she said. "You've got something for real!" The door opens up and a guy with one blue eye and one brown eye sticks his head in--Jerry Leiber--and asks me, "Did you write this?" I said, "Yeah." "Did you produce this?" I said, "What does that mean?" "Did you tell everybody what to play and how to play it? Did you tell them how to sing?" I said, "Yeah." He must have opened the door and asked me if I wrote it and produced it about three times. I took it to mean that he didn't believe me. He opens the door again and says, "Well, how would you like to work here?" I said, "What to I have to do?" "Do exactly what you did here! Make songs! Make some records!" So I did...and the money was good.
Goldmine: Amazing. That is some story. And that recording is a classic. Recently, a friend told me that when she hears that song today, she can "smell the summer."
"Shadow" Morton: Hmmm. That's wonderful--what a lovely compliment.
Goldmine: So you became a staff producer for Red Bird. What was it like working there?
"Shadow" Morton: At first, until the contracts were drawn, they put me on as a P.R. man and I hung around George Goldner. One day, right after I started working, George said to me, "Do you know how to drive? Ever been to Detroit?" I had three hours to run home, get some clothes and take off. Quick. I drove him in this big, beautiful Lincoln to Detroit. He was a wonderful passenger, he had such great stories about the business. He was telling me inside stuff. (smiles)... We take a room in this nice hotel. And he gets into bed with a book. You had to see this man...he's got the blankets pulled up over him, he's got a glass of booze in one hand, the book in the other...and he says to me, "Why are you pacing?" I said. "I didn't know I was pacing!" Then he says, "I know what it is! You've never been to Detroit." So he laughs (and he had this wonderful laughter) and gets up out of bed and hands me $300.00. He hands me the keys to the car. He says, "Go out. Have a good time. See Detroit."
Whew. Four days later, about ten o'clock in the morning, (laughs) I stagger back through the door. He's standing in front of the mirror fixing his tie which usually took twenty to thirty minutes (laughs). He's fixing and fixing and fixing his tie, he glances at me and goes back to the mirror and fixes his tie...and he whistles a little bit. (He had a thing about his tie being perfect and he always fussed over it.) I sit down on the bed. I haven't shaved, showered, nothing in four days. He's ignoring me. Finally, I just can't take it anymore so I said, "I think that if you knew where I was, you wouldn't be so upset." He smiles at me and says, "I know where you were." I was surprised. I said, "You do?" He says, "Yeah. On the first night out of here, you went to The Pussy Cat Club and you ended up with the barmaid...who took you to a whorehouse. And you've been servicing all six whores for the last four days!" I was speechless for a long time. Finally, I said, "So how come you know that and you're still mad at me?" He said, "I've never seen anybody enter and exit the music business as quick as you did!" (laughs) And he laughed, too. (laughs) I said, "George, wait! I couldn't pass that up!" (laughs) He laughed, too. He was a wonderful person.
Goldmine: Tell me more about George Goldner. What was he like?
"Shadow" Morton: George was an incredibly generous man. I loved him...everybody loved George. There was never a bad word...Now there's the man they should make a movie about. He did more for the foundation of rock than anyone. He had both sides of the coin; he was a creative man and a business man. When they started pulling people into the hearings about payola, it was George Goldner who got upset and started hollering, "Do not prosecute them. This was all my idea! I invented this!" He saw it as business. He didn't see it as something illegal. That's how business was done. It's still done the same way. Maybe they call it something different and maybe the methods have changed but it's the same thing still going on.
Goldmine: Let's talk about "Leader Of The Pack." I always felt that Mary Weiss, the lead singer of the Shangri-Las, sang that song as if she knew "The Leader."
"Shadow" Morton: No. She had her fantasy of who it would be. You've got to remember those girls came out of Cambria Heights, Queens. And, you know, up until about five years ago, I had no reason to listen to those records and I never did and I still don't. I listened then and I was stunned. 'Cause I can remember spending hour after hour on those vocals...how to say something, what it was about...I was more a director than I was a producer. I still consider myself that. And I listen today and...I lucked out! Four girls, out of Cambria Heights, who fell into my lap from the get-go, and I never realized how much talent I had on my hands. Mary and the others had the ability to make my stories believable. I don't know too many actresses out there who could do it. If you took them off the screen and told them, "By word alone, convince people," they'd fail. the Shangri-Las were capable of pulling that off.
Goldmine: "Leader of The Pack" is a rock standard now. I wonder how you can relate to that...
"Shadow" Morton: Someone told me that "Leader..." is the number one selling record of all time because it's been put into so many oldies albums, and soundtracks...
Shadow" Morton: When I wrote "Leader Of The Pack", I was told not to produce it! "We will not pay for that!"
Why not? What was wrong with it?
"Shadow" Morton: It was dangerous. They were afraid of the repercussions. "Radio stations aren't going to play it! Parents aren't going to let their daughters go out and by it!" I mean, it's a song about a young girl falling in love with a motorcycle man.
Goldmine: A girl in a skintight jumpsuit and go-go boots...
"Shadow" Morton: Clearly a bad girl. And you know, there's an inside story about that song. "Leader Of The Pack" was not written for the Shangri-Las. It was written for another Long Island group called the Goodies. They never had a lot of success--I have no answer as to why?--Four girls...good singers. I found this group during the time "Remember..." was out. It just seemed natural to me. I liked them. They liked me. They sang good. I simply wanted to make a record with them. And when the company came to me and said, "No dice! You give everything you've got to one group." Of course, nowadays that's all changed. But not then--I got shot down. That was it for me...I was ready to quit.
Goldmine: Not really!
"Shadow" Morton: Well, see, the Shangri-Las ended up with that song, but Jerry Leiber didn't know what it was until just before we went into the studio. Leiber came to me, as was the way in the business, and said, "Remember..." is falling off the charts. Do you have anything?" And I said, "Sure--it's called "Leader Of The Pack" and I tell him what it's about; it's been floating around in my head for a couple of months; and I really didn't have the song yet. And he says, "No." And that's when I went out looking for a group to sing the song. Again, I did a con job. I recorded the song secretly. I snuck out to Ultrasonic and cut it. I had a wonderful relationship with Billy Stahl, who owned Ultrasonic--the studio really was his vision--he let me have free rein. So, I called musicians as if everything was okey-dokey and we recorded it privately, with no interference. And it worked! In fact, it sounded great! Leiber had to accept it! In fact, I don't think Ellie heard the song until it was on the radio!
Goldmine: I recently read Joel Whitburn's Top 10 Hits. Ellie Greenwich describes the recording of "Leader Of The Pack" and yet, your name is never mentioned in that account. What's that all about?
"Shadow" Morton: I repeat, I don't think Ellie ever heard that song until the radio played it. A lot of things went down and even today, there are hard feelings between many of those involved. These memories are difficult...I'd rather let it go at that.
Goldmine: But Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry share writing and producing credits with you?
"Shadow" Morton: Look, I was young. I was the "new kid on the block." I gave them credits because I thought it was the right thing to do...I felt I owed them something for bringing me into the business. I gave them a piece of the action...but just a piece, mind you. I still retain majority rights. But, as I say, a lot of things went down...
Jeff Tamarkin, editor of Goldmine Magazine, added this note to the original publication: Editor's Note: Reached for a comment on these allegations, Ellie Greenwich responded: "I find that amazing, mind-boggling that he would say that. It's unfortunate that his memory has dimmed to such a point. How can I even respond to something like that? All I can say is that he had a very good time at "Leader Of The Pack" on Broadway (the show was based on the song). Maybe his mind snapped during intermission!"]
Goldmine: Ellie also says that the Shangri-Las were difficult to work with. Is that true?
"Shadow" Morton: Not exactly. Let me say that some of the girls were tough. Remember, we were kids. Mary and Liz had very particular opinions, you know.
Goldmine: The other sisters, the Ganser twins, reached tragic ends...
"Shadow" Morton: Why do you say that?
Goldmine: It's published that Mary Ann died of encephalitis in 1971 and that Marge died of a drug overdose.
"Shadow" Morton: (Laughs) Marge is not dead! (Laughs again) No, Marge is alive and well and lives out on Long Island. Let me tell you, she's a great lady and a terrific singer. I hope to get her to sing on my record. You know, Marge comes off with a real tough exterior but that lady has a heart of gold. She's very soulful. the Shangri-Las were like that, too.[Ed. Note: Marge is indeed alive and occasionally performs with the reunited Shangri-Las.] - keep in mind his interview was conducted in 1991
Goldmine: The album that followed was full of hits..."Give Him A Great Big Kiss!" and...
"Shadow" Morton: The one song on that album that Artie Butler can never get out of his head is "Sophisticated Boom-Boom." That song was written in the studio. The same one that was recorded. (laughs) We needed filler. It was just a one-joke song!
Goldmine: Where did it come from?
Morton: You mean, how far back? (laughs) What were my influences?
That kind of thing? Well, the two I always listened to the most were Miles Davis
and MJQ. I listened first through a man on the radio named Symphony Sid. He
was the best. He didn't care what he played--it was all music.
Goldmine: It's a shame that Sid isn't remembered the way Freed is. Sid was the greatest.
Shadow" Morton: Symphony Sid was the best. It was all music to him. His playlist included only good music. I used to call him all the time. He knew my voice, you know, and he's say, "Hey kid. What do you want to hear? "Sketch"? "The Prayer?" What is it tonight?" Sid knew what I wanted to hear. Miles Davis or MJQ. They were my two favorites. And Sid. The radio was my influence...I'll tell you something else. It was many years later after I had established myself in the music field, that I was at a party and a jazz buff walked up to me. He said, "Did I hear you say that MJQ was your favorite group? What song did you say was your favorite?" I said, "Sketch." He said, "Sketch...as in "Remember (Walking In The Sand)?" I said, "No. I wrote "Remember (Walking In The Sand)." And he said, "Yeah, well play the first three notes of both songs..." He was right on the money.
The above interview is © Richard
Revised 1995. All Rights Reserved