June 4, 2007


SHEL SILVERSTEIN  9/25/30 – 5/12/99

“In the late 50’s, I was familiar with Shel Silverstein as a regular contributor to Playboy magazine as an artist, photographer, travel journalist and writer of children’s books. It wasn’t until 1969 when Johnny Cash took Shel’s song, “A Boy Named Sue” to the top of the charts, did I realize what a great songwriter he was as well!

Producer, Ron Haffkine was staying at my apartment in New York, while we were recording my “Shadow Mann” album for the legendary Morris Levy. At the same time he was producing his girlfriend, Sunny Monday for Decca on one of Shel’s song, “You’re Always Welcome At Our House” and cutting a few singles for Columbia Records with Shel Silverstein Himself.

The first time Shel came over was with Ronnie and Sunny, after midnight on one night during a quiet week. We played each other a few of our songs, as songwriters are known to do, and started a friendship that would last for years. Then I played him my latest song on a Telecaster electric guitar. When I had finished, he asked if he could try it. This was the first time he had ever played an electric guitar and he was as excited as a little kid with a brand new toy!

When Shel turned the amplifier all the way up, the neighbors started to stir…then curse…then started pounding on the walls! We agreed that he should come over to the house the next day, when we could play and sing as loudly as we wanted!

Before we started playing again, Shel and I talked about songwriting in general and our own shortcomings in particular, that’s when we made a deal with each other. I wanted to be able to write better lyrics and he wanted to learn some more interesting chords. Every time we got together after that, he would critique my lyrics and I would show him a new chord or a new way of playing the one he already knew.

He once told me something that I still think about today, ” Your first verse of a song is usually the best, but don’t follow it with a 2nd verse and a bridge that’s just a variation of it. Take each section, add new information and ideas, then end up in a place where no one expected you to go.”

Through the years I heard little nuances in the chords of songs that he wrote for Doctor Hook and the Medicine Show like, “Sylvia’s Mother” and “The Ballad of Lucy Jordan”, that he started developing in my apartment all those years ago.

When I stopped writing and singing and moved to Hollywood, I went to work for a publishing company. I remember running into my old pal, outside of the Troubadour. When he asked what I’d been up to, I lowered my head, and almost apologetically said that I was showing other people’s songs at Warner Brothers Music.

Shel didn’t bat an eye, and said, “You don’t have to be ashamed of that…you could be just as creative as you’ve always been, just in another area!”

I never forgot that.

(To Be Continued)

From my forthcoming book, “I Did It For A Song” Copyright 2009 by Artie Wayne

Special thanks to Ann Munday for locating the clip of Shel on the Johnny Cash Show



For the story of Shadow Mann with pictures



  1. steveo Says:

    Thanks for the article on Shel..never met the man…
    sounds like he was a divine person..Sorry to hear of his passing!


  2. El F Says:

    Some people color our lives so vividly that it stays with us forever. Shel was certainly one of them, and one of the most talented people I have ever known. Certainly he was his own most unique creation.

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