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Linus of Hollywood: Your Favorite Record
Fufkin News and Notes 11/00


This month, Fufkin.com presents an interview by Robert Pally with Margo Guryan, a significant songwriter in the '60s who wrote the classic Spanky and our Gang hit, "Sunday Morning". She recently was a contributor to the great Linus of Hollywood debut. Enjoy.

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Margo Guryan released one sole record in 1968. "Take a Picture" has since then become a sought after Softpop classic. Franklin Castle Records has just rereleased it.

How difficult was it for you in 1968 to make "Take a Picture" considering that it was not usual for women in the pop music world to write and arrange their own songs?

Then music world was very male dominated. Good question! The difficulties I had really became apparent when I began making the demos that led to "Take A Picture". The musicians (all male, to my recollection) did not take kindly to receiving instructions from a woman. Most often I would ask David Rosner (my publisher) or the engineer to push the "talk button" and tell the offending party to correct his pitch or rhythm. One day, David said, "Tell him yourself." I was somewhat uncomfortable doing it, but after a while it became easier. Also, as the musicians came to feel that I knew what I was doing, their resistance lessened.

During the recording of "Take A Picture", John Simon (produced "Don't Go Away") or John Hill (produced the other songs) were in the booth in addition to David and me; it was generally the producer's/arranger's job to direct the musicians, so though consulted, I was relieved of the responsibility of "sculpting" the finished product. "She's Her Own Man" was, I think, David's way of saying (in the 1968 liner notes) that I was my music was unique.

The reissue of "Take a Picture" on Franklin Castle (Linus of Hollywood) is not the first one. There was another one a couple of years ago on a label called Trattoria in Japan but with different bonus tracks. Who was this time the driving force behind the reissue?

There was indeed a reissue of "Take A Picture" on Trattoria, but this was only released on June 21st of this year. You may be thinking of a pirate version (no bonus tracks) released in Japan a few years ago. However, I would credit Mike Alway in London with familiarizing Trattoria with the album and arranging contact between them and us.

The Japanese version has 4 different bonustracks ("The 8:17 northbound success merry-go-round", "I don't intend to spend christmas without you", "Spanky and Our Gang" and "California Shake". From what period are they?

"The 8:17...." and "I Don't Intend...." (long titles, both!) and "Spanky And Our Gang" are all from the late '60's. "California Shake" was written around '74 or '75 - after moving to Los Angeles.

Since it is very difficult to get the japanese version are you going to make this songs also available in the US?

It is almost a sure bet that Linus of Hollywood will be releasing an album of my demos in the not-too-distant future. I'm quite certain these tracks will be included on that album.

"Sunday Morning", your most memorable song, was covered by Spanky and Our Gang, Oliver and Linus of Hollywood amongst others. Which version do you like best?

I like the Linus version best. This is not meant in any way to disparage the Spanky or Oliver records, which were very good and important to me at the time. But Linus listened to my demo and my recording (on "Take A Picture") and used elements from both. He stayed faithful to the feel and original intent of the song and made me proud and happy that he included it on his album.

Is it true that you wrote "Spanky and Our Gang" for the band with the same name to say thank you that they covered "Sunday Morning"?

Yes, it's true, but it was written about - not for - them. The song is a bit of fantasy, but the lines, "...throwing flowers to people they see, THEY THREW ONE TO ME" sort of says "thank you".

What made you write this song?

I was happy! Spanky and Our Gang had given me my first hit.

The horns part in "Someone I know" sounds familar to me. I just do not know from where. Was that used somewhere else?

What you are hearing in the background is J.S. Bach's beautiful Chorale, "Jesus, Joy of Man's Desiring". I wrote "Someone I Know" to work as a counterpoint against the entire Bach piece, but wound up recording the Chorale only from the bridge to the end.

Apparently, "Take a Picture" did not sell too well when it first came out. Isn't is a bit strange that people now pay up to $200 for it? What do you think about it?

You are quite correct that "Take A Picture" did not sell when it was first released. I had never fancied myself a performer and therefore did not "appear" or "tour" in support of the record. You must also remember the enormous quantity of great music being produced at the time by sensational artists! It is perhaps not so strange that my album got a bit lost. Why are people paying such astounding prices for it now? I don't know!! I think it is ironic, puzzling, stupefying and quite wonderful.

Do you still have a vinyl copy of your album?

Yes, of course. We have very few, though.

Can you tell me more about the strange intro to the song "Love"

This is a John Hill tour-de-force in both concept and execution. I wanted a harder, edgier, track on the album. John conceived of going through a variety of time changes (7/4, 6/4, 5/4, etc.) until the songs kicks in when he reaches 4/4. I thought then - and still do - it was brilliant!

Sometimes your beautiful voice stands in contrast to the music. For example in "Someone I Know". Was that intentionally to make it sound interesting?

Thanks for the compliment, Robert. The arrangement was intentional, but the purpose was not to "make it sound interesting." As I mentioned, "Someone I Know" was written note for note to work with the Bach Chorale. The Chorale itself is interesting for pop musicians; it is written in 9/8 and can really have quite a "groove". I wanted to take advantage of this feel, and simply sang over it. "Feel" in all music (classical, jazz, rock or pop) is the most important element to me; I think if music feels good, you are more than halfway to a good song - or record.

There was apparently a special incident that started your interest in pop music, when you heard Beach Boys "God Only Knows". Can you tell me more about it?

Sure. Since my college days, I was strictly a jazz fanatic. I had stopped listening to pop music and so I was unaware of the growing number of beautifully-written songs and inventively-produced records that began to appear in the mid-60's. One day a friend of mine (the superb jazz pianist and composer, Dave Frishberg) called and said he had something I "must hear". I went to his apartment (we both lived in New York at the time) where he played Brian Wilson's "God Only Knows" for me. I was stunned; it was so wonderful! On my way home, I bought a copy of "Pet Sounds". I listened to "God Only Knows" over and over again; I learned the words and sang along with the record. After a long time, I turned off the phonograph, sat down at my little electric piano and wrote "Think of Rain". It seemed to happen in about 20 minutes, though it may have taken longer. Brian, via The Beach Boys, had shown me how to think differently about structuring the harmonies I used. ("Think of Rain" is probably still my favorite of the songs I've written.)

Margo Guryan is not a typical American name. From where are you or your parents originally?

My parents were both born in New York; however, both sets of grandparents were Russian.

Did you grow up in a musical family?

Interesting question.... My mother and father met at Cornell University. My mother was a piano major, but I never really heard her play. I recall her sitting at the piano once or twice, when I was young, and playing a classical piece - badly - and giggling like a schoolgirl. She had beautiful, long, red-polished fingernails that clicked away as she played and laughed. My father had studied liberal arts, but played the piano "by ear". He played all the popular songs of his day, and he played well. He was, in a way, my first teacher. The first song he taught me was "Tea For Two". I sat alongside him playing the melody an octave apart with both hands while he played a grand accompaniment, much to the delight of the grown-ups (family and/or guests).

Can you name me some important points in your music career?

Let's see... when I was still at Boston University, I was signed to Atlantic Records by Jerry Wexler and Ahmet Ertegun. The recording (supervised by Nesuhi Ertegun) didn't work out well, but it led to my first record as a songwriter. It was a song called "Moon Ride" and was recorded by Chris Connor, a jazz singer who was a favorite of mine. More good luck: I was accepted at the Lenox School of Jazz which was run by Gunther Schuller and John Lewis (of The Modern Jazz Quartet). At this wonderful 3-week school during the summer, I got the opportunity to meet, play with and write for some superb jazz musicians; some were teachers, others were students. I then was signed to MJQ Music, the publishing company run by Gunther and John. They gave me a beautiful Ornette Coleman instrumental, "Lonely Woman", to fashion into a song. This, too, was recorded by Chris Connor - and many other singers as well. John and Gunther gave to Leon Bibb, a popular folk singer at the time, a calypso song I had written. He recorded the song ("On My Way To Saturday") - which led to a recording by Harry Belafonte. The irony of this is: I wrote that song when I was about 16 years old - sitting at my piano in my living room, with fantasies of Harry Belafonte singing it. To have this daydream come true was mindblowing! After I graduated from college, I got a job as secretary to Creed Taylor, at the time a young record producer. I learned a lot about how records were made, and what to listen for (aside from the musical content). While working for Creed, I took 3 weeks off in the summer and again went to The Lenox School of Jazz. Another amazing experience! And it was Creed Taylor who sent me to April-Blackwood (the publishing firms of Columbia Records) where I ultimately met David Rosner. It was David who first suggested I arrange my demos (the usual practice had been to hand out lead sheets to the musicians and hope to come up with something). And it was David who first decided to try doubling my voice. These two elements were basic to the success I later enjoyed with my songs and led directly to the recording of "Take A Picture" for Bell Records.

What did you do musically after your album "Take a Picture"?

We moved to Los Angeles in 1974. I was still writing, but the great music of the late 60's began to disappear, and my songs were not being recorded as frequently as they had been. In 1976 my step-son, Jonathan, came to live with us, and I sought out a piano teacher for him. I was so impressed with the way the young pianist (Howard Richman) was teaching Jon that I began to study with him as well. I had not practiced classical music for many years, and my technique had grown rusty. I practiced! At the same time, David had signed some talented young singer/composers, and together we produced recordings which I still hold dear today. And, as it turned out, Howard had made me into a teacher! I began to teach children and found that I loved it. I still teach. In '95 I wrote a set of variations on "Chopsticks" which was published by Hal Leonard, a highly respected print publishing firm. And in '99 I met Linus, who recorded two of my songs on his "Linus of Hollywood" album. It took a long time, but I finally found the perfect artist for my songs! (Actually, he found me!)

What musical plans do you have for the future?

I don't really have any plans, Robert. The ideas that generate what I write come to me unbidden. I hope always to have ideas that nag at me until they are realized. I hope to work more with Linus (I have just done another piano track of a song of mine for him which, if it turns out well for him, will be on his new album). The new friends I have made because of the re-release of "Take A Picture" are a source of great pleasure to me, and I expect some of these friendships may even bear musical fruit, as well. Linus plans to release an album of song demos I made years ago, and even threatens to release "The Chopsticks Variations". And I plan to continue teaching; I cannot think of a better way to give back some of the joy that music has given to me.

 

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Fufkin News and Notes: September/October 2000: A Barry and The Remains Reunion

 



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