January 19, 2011
“After playing Bobby Darin (“Splish, Splash”) a few of my songs backstage at an Alan Freed Rock and Roll Show, I tell him I’m going to sign a management contract with Alan. Then he speaks to me privately. He tells me that a payola scandal involving Alan is about to break, and I should wait before I sign anything with the controversial Disc Jockey.
Then Bobby tells me about a longtime friend of his who just opened a publishing company at 1650 Broadway. He writes down his friend’s name, and the next day I go to audition for Don Kirshner at Aldon Music.
After hearing my songs, Don or Donnie as he likes to be called, a large imposing man still in his 20’s, gives my Mother such a pep talk about my future, even I’m convinced I can’t fail. He tells her, “If you’ve got talent and perseverance; all you need is a little luck”. Then he and his partner Al Nevins convince my mother that I can learn more about the music business from spending time in their offices, than I can by going to college.
Over the next year and a half I sit for a few hours everyday in Aldon Music and become friendly with most of the writers who are signed: Neil Sedaka and Howie Greenfield (“Happy Birthday Sweet 16”, “ Breaking Up Is Hard To Do” ), Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil (“You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’), Carole King and Gerry Goffin (“ One Fine Day”, “I’m Into Something Good”) Larry Kolber (“I Love How You Love Me”, “Patches”), Jack Keller (”Run To Him”) as well as Brooks Arthur, Billy Michelle, Al Gorgoni, Tony Orlando and a 14-year old Toni Wine.
Everyday I learn something new from my pals who are becoming the tops in the music business. Donnie puts me together with Howie Greenfield who shows me how to tighten my lyrics, he asks Jack Keller to show me more interesting chords to play against my melodies, and gets me with Barry Mann to show me how to sing harmony.
I occasionally baby sit for Carole King, while she’s in the studio doing demos. In return she plays keyboards, arranges, and sings all the background parts on my demos. I remember one day she comes in to play her new song for Donnie, but he’s still out to lunch. She asks me if I’d like to hear it while she rehearses it.
She sits down at the old upright piano and starts to sing,
“Tonight you’re mine completely…You give your love so sweetly.”
I sit there with my mouth dropped open as she goes over “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” I know I won’t be able to write anything of my own for weeks as I devour every line!
Then she’s summoned to Donnie’s office. I think he likes it too…I can hear him yelling through the door, “It’s a Smash! It’s a F@#in’ Smash!”
Even though my Mother and Grandmother told me that I shouldn’t curse, from then on I thought it was cool…because Donnie Kirshner did it!
Don Kirshner truly has a golden ear, the ability to pick hit songs and match them to the right artists. Manager Ken Greengrass recalls: “Don and Sheila, his wife, Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, my wife Gerry and I were all pretty friendly. We dined, partied and in the hay days of Eydie and Steve’s appearances at the Diplomat Hotel in Florida, and had many good times. Don was a wonderful music man. He brought “Go Away Little Girl”, “Blame It On the Bossa Nova”, and other wonderful songs to us for Eydie and Steve to record.”
Former editor of Cashbox, Ira Howard who also worked with Kirshner at Screen Gems Columbia recalls, “The first time I met Donnie was when he came up to my office with Bobby Darin and the two hung around my desk. I thought they were important since they came up with some exec at Roulette Records. However, I later found out that they were struggling songwriters writing commercials for Bamberger’s Dept. store in Newark, among others. We became fast friends and since I had a car, after music men softball and basketball games, I would drive Bobby down to the projects around 23rd St. and Donnie up to his parent’s place in Washington Heights. I immediately realized and that Bobby had an unbelievable gift for singing and playing a piano without knowing how to read music and that Donnie had a great “ear” for a song.”
Spending time up at Aldon put me right in the middle of all the excitement in the golden age of Pop Music. I watched Al and Donnie become the most powerful new publishers in the business, as they elevated the song into the most important part of the recording process. And even though I never became a part of the inner circle, or even got one of my own songs recorded, I’ll always be grateful for the opportunities to learn as much as I did “at the ears of the Master!”
Don Kirshner R.I.P. ROCKIN PERPETUITY!
Or as my friend Grammy winning producer/engineer, Brooks Arthur likes to say, “ALDON MUSIC FOREVER!
Respectfully, Artie Wayne http://artiewayne.wordpress.com/about-artie-wayne/
Copyright 2011 by Artie Wayne from his forthcoming book “I DID IT FOR A SONG” http://artiewayne.com/book.html
photo at top l to r- Don Kirshner, Barry Mann, Gerry Goffin, and Al Nevins
second photo l-r Howard Greenfield, Don Kirshner, and Neil Sedaka
third photo Carole King
fourt photo Bobby Darin and Don Kirshner
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