Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Mid-life Maturing Of Barry Manilow

Source: http://scootertalk.blogspot.com/2006/08/tulsa-worldtulsa-oklahoma-january-21.html

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Tulsa, Oklahoma
January 21, 1983

Barry Manilow Keeps Flying High

Critics? 'They Really Can't Hurt Me'

By David C. MacKenzie
World Entertainment Writer

There's at least one guy around that doesn't mind being tagged with the Barry Manilow label and that's Barry Manilow.

He's heard all the jokes. He's read all the saber-rattling critics who've called him Barry Mayonnaise. He knows a lot of people think his music is marshmallows and butterscotch in Cinemascope.

Barry Manilow laughs. His agent sends a press release that tells you everything about him from his waist size (a svelte 31 inches) to his favorite TV shows (among them Family Feud, no less). And Barry Manilow keeps producing, concertizing and writing songs he says he wants to live forever. He says it like a Swiss watchmaker will tell you matter-of-factly his products will tick regularly and tell you the time of day whenever you need it.

Barry Manilow takes the long view.

He admits he doesn't like a lot of contemporary rock. He says calmly that he likes romantic ballads, and there's no defensiveness in his voice. Even though he's a whipping boy of the press, he merely shrugs when the subject arises.

"They say in a review I gotta big nose, what am I gonna do about that, you know?" Manilow said in a recent phone conversation about his upcoming Tulsa concert. "I got nuthin' to say about that. And they say they don't like the kind of music I play. Well, I do."

Manilow takes the long view. He insists he's not interested in making the Top 40, and he talked at length about the 'Songs They Used To Write.'

The guy calling mentioned one, Manilow's I Don't Want To Walk Without You, a reading of a 1941 ballad by Harry James' band.

"My mother used to sing that for me when I was a kid," he recalled. Little Barry probably never figured he'd sing it as a grown man, back when he was growing up in Brooklyn in the '40s and early '50s.

So when Manilow the grown man decided to record the Harry James hit he'd heard his mother sing so often, the tune was a measured and true friend.

"I didn't want it to be campy," he said. "I just left it alone. I remember singing it in one take."

His was the generation that learned to play the accordion. Barry was 7 when he started.

"How long did I study? As little as possible," Manilow said with a shudder. "I was like everybody. I don't even know if I learned to play Lady of Spain. I don't think I got that far."

On stage today, Manilow comes across as a fun-loving, sentimental ham, but he never thought as a kid that he'd be a performer, even though his youthful skill at another keyboard instrument, the piano, soon became apparent. His folks praised his decision to enter the music business - "my parents gave me a little shove" is how he remembers it - and he signed on at the New York College of Music and later at the Juilliard School of Music. The Brooklynite who later won scads of awards payed his rent in Gotham with a job at the CBS mailroom.

The little shove his folks had given him went a long way, though. Only 18, Manilow met a director at CBS who was doing a musical adaptation of the warhorse The Drunkard, and asked the kid to arrange some public domain songs for the melodrama.

With the enthusiasm he still shows, Manilow instead wrote an entire original score. The musical ran off-Broadway for eight years.

But being a performer was the last thing on his mind back then.

"I didn't think of becoming a performer until after I got married, at the age of 21. Before that, it was all a hobby. I wanted to be an arranger. Today, if I had my druthers, I'd stay behind the scenes. I didn't start out planning to be a singer."

But a performer he was, playing in night clubs. Manilow always goes back to those days. He calls them "dives," with the tough-guy affection a Hemingway character would show when he referred to his father as "my old man." Places where the pianists took requests. Clubs that produced a Willie Nelson, singing his own material, San Antonio Rose, Stardust and whatever else the crowd wanted to hear.

He remembers those days the way a Marine remembers taking a beachhead. It gives you a new respect for the Manilow who wrote a salute to every wild bar in the world - At the Copa.

"Any musician worth his salt has to have a background in the music of the '30s and '40s," he said, unthinkingly distancing himself from most of today's rockers. "You play in bars, you play in dives, you get a repertoire under your belt of standards. Guys ask for 'em and you gotta learn 'em. I mean, songs like Lush Life and Gone With the Wind. That's the kind of stuff I grew up learning in bars and night clubs."

Manilow soon learned about the hubba-hubba of show business. He might have started in night clubs, but the performer who won't play in Las Vegas was determined to get away from the smoke and the clatter.

In 1967, at the age of 21, Manilow became music director for the Emmy-winning WCBS-TV show Callback! That was followed by a stint conducting and arranging for Ed Sullivan productions, arranging a new theme for The Late Show, along with writing, producing and singing his now-notorious radio and TV jingles. He also landed a two-season run at New York's Upstairs at the Downstairs, with Manilow half of a musical duo.

A momentous alliance was formed in 1972 (sic), when Manilow met Bette Midler, the Divine Miss M, the Queen of Tack. He became her music director, arranger and accompanist.

They recorded and toured together, and performed in Tulsa at the old Municipal Theater, now the Old Lady of Brady, just as Miss Midler's career was taking off. Current-day newspapermen still shake their heads in wonder over that concert, and Manilow fondly remembered it, too, when the guy called.

Manilow also worked with Bette Midler in the studio, co-producing and creating arrangements for her first two albums, the first of which, The Divine Miss M, won her a Grammy.

But Manilow's own career was forming, too. His first tour, in 1974, was started to capitalize on his hit Mandy, the first of 22 consecutive To-40 songs for Manilow.

There was talk of a rift afterwards between the two artists, but Manilow says he and Miss Midler are still friends. "I saw her last night at her show," he said. "What happened was, she took a year off, and that was the year Mandy took off. By that time, I was doing my own show and there was no way I could go back."

Since then, too, Manilow had found himself amazingly popular.

~ Each of his 10 albums has sold at least a million copies.

~ His 1977 ABC special drew 37 million viewers. Three more specials followed, one co-produced and co-written by Manilow.

~ Manilow's first venture into cable TV sparked a front-page banner headline in Variety.

~ Barry Manilow sold out on Broadway and won a Tony.

~ Barry Manilow was voted Photoplay's top vocalist of the year three years running.

~ Manilow was nominated for an Oscar the first time he recorded a song for the silver screen. The movie, the Chevy Chase - Goldie Hawn romp Foul Play, the song, Ready to Take a Chance Again.

~ By 1978 Manilow had five albums on the charts simultaneously, a record broken by only two other singers, Frank Sinatra and Johnny Mathis.

~ Manilow has sold more than 40 million albums.

The only problem with all this was, Manilow became something of a musical gag. Ray Stevens even had a hit with an uncanny pastiche of the Manilow style titled I Need Your Help, Barry Manilow.

"With the music around now, I have trouble getting play as it is," Manilow grumbled when the subject arose. "They have a point, but I know exactly what I'm doing when I do my stuff. I know exactly how I want it to sound. I do it because that's the way I think the songs should be sung. I laughed a lot when I heard Ray Stevens' song. Hey, when they make fun of me on Saturday Night Live, I know I've made it.

"I might've been burned by the press, but they can't really hurt me. They've given me a fair shake. They're writing their opinion. The more I live, the more I realize everybody gets it. It's their own personal opinion. I don't mind the press."

In 1981, Manilow set 12 box-office records in the United States, including one set by the Rolling Stones, and a year later made his debut (sic) in England, beginning with five sold-out nights at London's Royal Albert Hall. There were so many cops there to handle the crowds, the British press compared the commotion to the heyday of Elvis Presley and the Beatles.

It's possible that Manilow's latest tour, one that will bring him to Oral Roberts University's Mabee Center Wednesday, might bring similar attention.

"We're calling the tour Around the World in Eight[y] Dates," he said with a chuckle. "We're playing the United States, and then I'm going around the world - to Japan, Hong Kong, Manila, Australia and South Africa. Yeah. When they asked me to go to South Africa I wasn't crazy about it. But I'll actually be playing in Sun City, which is its own country. It appears that the international attention I'm getting is just starting, and little by little it's exploding."

That last sounds like Manilow the Superstar, except when he adds a characteristic, boy-from-Brooklyn afterthought. "I've never been to any of those places before."

If Manilow keeps a sense of wide-eyed wonder, he's shrewd about playing in Vegas, even if he sounds like a natural for that town. And he knows that New York is a place you sometimes can't go home to.

"Vegas? I haven't played Vegas in two or three years. I have NEVER liked Vegas. Some of the older entertainers might like it, but I don't know anybody my age who does. They work you to death. You do two shows a night for a lot of drunken people crammed into a room.

"I consider myself a New Yorker, but I live in California now. I've been Cali-fornicated, as my friends say. When success hit me, I tried to go back to New York, but it's not the same. I still have family and come back and visit."

Barry Manilow takes the long view.

"I record songs that live forever, not for six weeks on a radio chart. Sometimes they might sound a little dated. But I've got a catalog of songs that will outlive me.

"And I don't live my life around my career any more. I have my friends and my private interests. At the beginning, when I was working up a Mandy or Ready to Take a Chance Again, I was living it and breathing it. And I thought if it didn't work I would die.

"I don't die any more."

Originally posted 8/16/2006 12:13:00 PM

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