WHEN YOU WALK IN THE ROOM: A CONVERSATION WITH JACKIE DESHANNON
This article is written by MIKE RAGOGNA at THE HUFFINGTON POST
MIKE RAGOGNA: It’s a joy to be talking today with JACKIE DESHANNON who has a new album: WHEN YOU WALK IN THE ROOM. Hello there, Jackie.
JACKIE DESHANNON: Thank you. It’s a joy for me as well.
MR: Jackie, I want to start out by recognizing that you have in your repertoire some of the biggest anthems of all time. One is PUT A LITTLE LOVE IN YOUR HEART and another is WHAT THE WORLD NEEDS NOW IS LOVE. You like this love thing, don’t you?
JD: I think that’s part of who I am. I grew up in Kentucky and started singing gospel songs when I was very young and the give someone a hug and try to be nice to people and help anyone you can way is really part of me. I think that, especially today, we need some love, sweet love and we need to put a little love in our hearts for sure.
MR: And we need to not be looking at the world through BETTE DAVIS EYES.
JD: (laughs) That’s funny. Yes, for sure.
MR: Readers may be confused by the BETTE DAVIS EYES reference. Don’t worry. We’ll get there, gang. So today we’re talking about the new album WHEN YOU WALK IN THE ROOM. It’s another compilation of your staples, filled with hits and a couple of songs here and there that have very interesting backgrounds. But Jackie, let’s talk a bit first about the early days. How did you get into the music business?
JD: Oh, well. That’s about eight hours…That’s where the camera pulls back. (laughs)
MR: Hey, we’ve got plenty of virtual space, Jackie. (laughs)
JD: (laughs) Actually, my parents were both singers and played musical instruments and I come from a varied background of classical and country blues and my mom was a big band singer. We always had musicians in the house, so music came to be pretty naturally. But, you know, in those days, it was pretty hard for a girl my age to actually break through. I just sang at different places to try to get noticed, made some demo records, made a few records that were breakouts locally and ended up meeting EDDIE COCHRAN. I worked with him at different parties we would do for disc jockeys when they had dances and were promoting their records.
He said, “I think you should go to California. You look like a California girl and I think you’d be successful there.” So, I said to my parents, “Well, if Eddie Cochran said so, we have to go,” and that’s kind of how I got out to L.A.
MR: What was your first big break?
JD: Well, I signed with LIBERTY RECORDS and that was the start of my recording career, basically. It just sort of happened. They were, I think, pretty much a singles oriented label – they were not like a COLUMBIA who did four or five or six albums with someone before they actually started selling. They were a young record company and I liked the president, so I ended up signing with them.
MR: One of your first hits NEEDLES & PINS was written by JACK NITZSCHE and SONNY BONO.
JD: Yes, that was a song that was written for me for a recording session. I had worked with JACK, he did a lot of arranging for me and we were really, really close friends. I helped with it, but didn’t really get any credit for it, which is fine. The thing was that the record company didn’t want to record it and I just ended up saying, “Well, if we don’t do this song, then I’m not gonna go into the studio for a while.” So they gave in…and that’s how the song happened.
MR: WHEN YOU WALK IN THE ROOM is another one of your hits and across the pond as they say, we have a group called THE SEARCHERS, who also had monstrous hits with NEEDLES & PINS and WHEN YOU WALK IN THE ROOM. What gives?
JD: THE SEARCHERS were a very big group in England and when my record of NEEDLES & PINS came out, they covered it and had a very, very big success with it. They were fans of mine and it was a little disappointing that it didn’t really happen as fast for me, but at that time, there was kind of this thing with BILLBOARD and CASHBOX where you needed to have bullets, as they say. You needed to be in the TOP 5 across the country and NEEDLES & PINS, oddly enough, was maybe TOP 5 in Chicago and then it was TOP 20 in Washington. It was just bouncing around. So we didn’t get the big broad connections that we might have. Nevertheless, THE SEARCHERS did a great record and I think that people were covering records more in those days, so they would’ve had a hit with it anyway…They were very big in London. And, of course, being a songwriter, I was absolutely over the moon that they recorded WHEN YOU WALK IN THE ROOM.
MR: And then there’s BREAKAWAY, which became a classic in a strange way and is my favourite TRACEY ULLMAN recording. What is the story on that one?
JD: I don’t know the story on BREAKAWAY. (laughs) It kind of has a life of its own. I was so amazed to see it in THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES, being performed at the kitchen table by ALICIA KEYS and QUEEN LATIFAH and JENNIFER HUDSON. It was amazing. It just has a life of its own. I really don’t know how to say much more. TRACEY ULLMAN did a fantastic version of it that was a major hit in the U.K. It’s just, you know, one of those songs that does its own thing.
MR: Now Jackie, there is a certain BEATLES connection – a certain someone went on tour with them. Would you care to elaborate?
JD: Well, I had the great honour of performing with and opening for THE BEATLES on their first U.S. tour, which went across America. It was for about six weeks and I just had an amazing, amazing time. And of course, nobody needs to say how great THE BEATLES are, but we’ll say it anyway. They’re the best.
MR: Um, this same certain someone dated ELVIS PRESLEY, right?
JD: Well, yes…We had some interesting dates. Our dates were musical dates. I would go up to the house and sing with ELVIS. He loved gospel music and he’d have THE JORDANAIRES up there. And, you know, being from the south myself, we had that connection with the church and gospel music. I went to see him a couple of times in Las Vegas and he introduced me from the audience. He was an amazing guy. I learned a lot from ELVIS. He loved his fans more than life and he just was so humble and so amazing. I think that people who have a big attitude are not on the right path, because this guy sells more records than practically anybody and his fans love him. I think that’s great.
MR: There are so many ELVIS stories and they range pretty broadly. Of course, people like to tell the horrific ones, but there are all those beautiful stories as well, like the one you just told.
JD: Those negative stories? That was not really ELVIS’ spirit and if you ask anybody that’s had an opportunity to see him or meet him, they will tell you exactly what I did – that he was an amazing talent. And actually, he didn’t have as much opportunity to show his talent as he could have. ELVIS was a great actor, but for some reason, the Colonel didn’t really push him or get him out there the way he wanted. I think ELVIS was always frustrated by that.
MR: You were also friends with THE EVERLY BROTHERS and RICKY NELSON.
JD: Yes, yes. One of the things that would happen out in Los Angeles at that time – when I was recording and when other people were recording – we used to go to each others’ sessions. If I was recording, maybe they would drop by or I would go to one of their sessions. It was just kind of a thing that artists did in those days.
MR: It was almost like a big support group.
JD: Yeah, it was. It was very different and I love that and cherish those memories for sure.
MR: Jackie, you also were a movie star!
JD: (laughs) Oh, well. I think SURF PARTY has circled around the globe by now.
MR: (laughs) Everybody has seen that movie.
JD: I think that, you know, it’s a classic. And C’MON, LET’S LIVE A LITTLE is a classic too. But I did have an opportunity to do some of the TV shows, which I really was a big fan of. I did THE VIRGINIAN and THE NAME OF THE GAME – I did a lot of fun stuff.
MR: And of course, there was READY STEADY GO!
JD: Of course, of course. You know, things were happening and I was right at the centre of the scene at the time. It’s hard for me even to think back and go, “Was I really there?” But I was!
MR: I also want to ask you about your MARIANNE FAITHFULL connection with COME & STAY WITH ME. At the time, you and future LED ZEPPELIN member JIMMY PAGE were writing together. How did that come together?
JD: Well, I was in England recording and I was very used to working with people like GLEN CAMPBELL and JAMES BURTON and TOMMY TEDESCO – all these great, great guitar players. So when I was there I said “Who’s an amazing acoustic guitar player that I can have on my sessions?” and they all said that JIMMY PAGE was the guy, because he had played on a lot of different hit records at the time and was one of the guys on the A list of studio musicians to call.
So I said, “Great, let’s have him,” and they said, “Well, you can’t get him here because he’s in art school.” I said, “What???” Anyway…He did come over and I knew right then that he was an amazing talent, so he played on a song of mine called DON’T TURN YOUR BACK ON ME, BABE and we did some writing together. One of the songs that was inspired by that relationship was COME & STAY WITH ME. MARIANNE FAITHFULL recorded it and it was a big hit for her. We’re big fans of MARIANNE’S.
MR: After that, you started cowriting with RANDY NEWMAN.
JD: I did write a couple songs with RANDY NEWMAN, which I’m very proud of. I don’t think he’s cowritten too many songs with that many people. He was a friend, and again, people were just kind of hanging out. I think he was writing some songs for the publishing company that I was with and I was fortunate enough to have him for a partner.
MR: You’ve also musically partnered with VAN MORRISON.
JD: Yes, I was fortunate enough – again – to work with VAN. He’s an amazing talent. I did a little back up for him on a couple of his concert dates and we ended up doing a few sessions together and writing a couple songs.
MR: And a couple of them are on my favourite album of his: WAVELENGTH.
JD: Oh, I love that album. It’s amazing. I’m such a VAN MORRISON fan, all the way from ASTRAL WEEKS on down.
MR: With him, it’s hard to find what album is your favourite – most people say MOONDANCE or ASTRAL WEEKS or SAINT DOMINIC’S PREVIEW – but for me, it’s definitely still WAVELENGTH. It has KINGDOM HALL, WAVELENGTH and the hit that should have been: NATALIA.
JD: He’s awesome.
MR: He is awesome. Let’s move on now to the BURT BACHARACH and HAL DAVID song WHAT THE WORLD NEEDS NOW IS LOVE.
JD: WHAT THE WORLD NEEDS NOW IS LOVE was a song that I think that several people had passed on. I was told that I would have the opportunity to work with BURT BACHARACH and HAL DAVID and I was really over the moon. I was so excited to work with them. We were rehearsing songs that would possibly make the session and HAL DAVID wanted BURT to play WHAT THE WORLD NEEDS NOW IS LOVE and he was kind of reluctant to do it. So, finally, after a bit and going over some more songs, he said, “Please play this for Jackie.” So he did play it for me and after I learned it, BURT just said, “That’s it. We’re going to New York. We’re gonna record this song.” He was very excited about the way that I sang it. It’s become a classic, so I’m very pleased about that.
MR: You’re also in the SONGWRITERS HALL OF FAME.
JD: Yes I am and I…wow. That was a pretty special evening.
MR: How so?
JD: Well, I think every songwriter would like to have that happen to them and although there are women in the SONGWRITERS HALL OF FAME, there are less women. I kind of love the fact that a lot of times, I would be so inspired by ELIZABETH COTTON and some of the great blues singers that will not get the recognition that they should or haven’t to this day. The first thing that I thought of was ELIZABETH COTTON and I thought, “Wow. This is so cool. I’m a woman and I’m in the Songwriters Hall Of Fame.”
MR: And then there was a certain song called PUT A LITTLE LOVE IN YOUR HEART, which has become a perennial.
JD: (laughs) Well, that song is definitely my favourite for a couple of reasons. The first one is the fact that, as a songwriter, a lot of my songs were passed on to other people when perhaps I might have had a hit with it, but who knows? But I got a chance to sing this song and it became a very big record. And I love the message. That’s what makes it my favourite song.
MR: And then, of course, it was redone by ANNIE LENNOX and AL GREEN years later.
JD: Oh yes – there have been so many great records of it. But it doesn’t get a lot better than AL GREEN and ANNIE LENNOX. And to have MAHALIA JACKSON record it and so many other great singers…It’s just a gift that keeps on giving, really.
MR: What was it like to create that song? We haven’t even touched on your creative process yet. Can you use this song as an example?
JD: Well, I wrote that with my brother RANDY MYERS and JIMMY HOLLIDAY. We were working on an album at the time and he was actually just at the piano playing this little theme (Jackie sings) and it was one of those things that kind of fell out of the sky. The whole chorus came out very fast.
MR: There’s no better song that I can think of that sends out that message.
JD: It’s interesting because I will be at a place and I’ll ask somebody about that song, just off the cuff and they know that song. It’s just one of the best feelings you could ever have to be able to write something that people remember and that reaches them in a very spiritual way.
MR: We’d be remiss if we left out BETTE DAVIS EYES.
JD: Yes, don’t leave BETTE out!
MR: What’s the story behind that song?
JD: Well, it’s kind of an interesting story in the sense that DONNA WEISS and I wrote the song and we made this rock demo with a very driving rhythm – a really uptempo beat. (Jackie sings) I was going into the studio to record it and I thought that it would be the same arrangement that I had on the demo, but in contrast, the producer and I had a disagreement on how the song should be recorded. In those days, the producer really was the guy that had the last say. At the record company, it was a, “Well, what do women know?” kind of thing and we ended up recording it that way…and it was a good record, but it was a different record. So, DONNA happened to take this demo to KIM CARNES and she was recording. Obviously, she liked it and she recorded it. They went on a big promotional tour and finally got a lot of people to listen to it and it became a great record.
MR: I believe it’s the first official sort of new wave song that hit the top of the charts with the synth patterns and all. (sings synth part)
JD: Yeah, it’s definitely a classic and of course, KIM did wonderful vocals on it. The whole record, I think, is just a masterpiece.
MR: Yeah, I think so too. MISTAKEN IDENTITY was a very strong album. Speaking of masterpieces…
JD: …Uh oh, here we go!
MR: (laughs) You were portrayed in a certain NBC series: AMERICAN DREAMS. I loved that show. It’s a real shame it went off the air so soon.
JD: Wasn’t it a great show? It was an amazing show.
MR: The very lovely LIZ PHAIR portrayed you in it.
JD: She did and I was invited to watch her film that and the tears…I was just crying. She was so perfect. She’s such a great talent and I couldn’t have had anyone do it any better. She just owned it. It was so amazing.
MR: Jackie, what advice do you have for new artists?
JD: (laughs) Well, it’s such a different planet today. I guess that you can just get on the internet and get your exposure. It’s very easy to do in that sense. When I was doing it, there were just a few tiny labels, so it was very, very hard to get your songs out and get your music out. But I think the main thing is you have to believe in yourself and have the drive to continue when people say, “I’m not interested,” or “I don’t want to know.”
Adding to that, the other thing I would do is get a really great music attorney so that you get paid for whatever you do and so that you really understand how the business side works and so that when you make decisions, you are informed. So many people coming up in my day just didn’t understand and a lot of people don’t want to listen if you say, “You have to think about this because you may not get paid the way you think you will.”
They’re so excited to do something that they don’t take the time to make sure that they understand it from a business level and then when the disappointment comes and they don’t get paid properly and they don’t see the kind of royalties they’re looking for, then they don’t understand what happened. So I think being informed is really, really, really important.
MR: You have a new song on WHEN YOU WALK IN THE ROOM: STAY IN MY LIFE.
JD: I do. I’m very proud of that song. I haven’t been writing a lot lately, but that kind of got me on a roll and I’m starting to write a lot more.
MR: Ooh, so you’ll be recording another new JACKIE DESHANNON album soon?
JD: I will. I’ve got like five songs all ready. I’m a little bit of a cook in here.
MR: Congratulations, Jackie. Great news. Are you going to tour?
JD: I am doing a day here in Los Angeles – OCTOBER 24 – for THE SOCIETY OF SINGERS and I will be doing a lot of the songs from the new album. I think we’ll have to see how it goes. But we’re going to do this set pretty much acoustically. We’re going to sing a lot of the favourites and I’m really looking forward to doing that. Hopefully, as it goes along, we’ll just see what the muse has in store for us.
MR: The acoustic approach on this album is so smart, because sometimes when a pop record is produced, songs get lost in the production. But not these with the approach you took.
JD: Exactly. I wanted it to be like that. What we did is revisited the songs, so it’s no comparison to the real record; we never tried to go that direction. It’s, “Gee, I’m stopping by your house for a cup of coffee. Would you like to hear Put A Little Love In Your Heart? I happen to have my guitar with me.” It’s that kind of thing. It’s inviting someone into your living room or just sitting on the beach and playing the songs and letting the audience get a picture of what the songs are about – as opposed to the production being the focus.
MR: On the album cover, there you are sitting on the couch – in your living room maybe?
JD: I’m sitting on the couch. The photograph – I am so proud of – it was photographed by HERB RITTS, who was one of the most brilliant photographers. He goes everywhere, from VANITY FAIR to all of these great portrait pictures. It was a great honour to have him photograph me and I’m so sorry that he’s not with us – but he is in spirit. I said to him, “I never really knew myself until that photograph.” It was a picture of me, really of me, as an artist. I was so grateful and feel so privileged to have that photograph that he did on the cover.
MR: We’ll have to stop there, Jackie. But this has been incredible, as always. Whenever we do this, I’m giddy for weeks.
JD: We have a good time! We’ll do it again.
MR: Jackie, all the best with the new album.
JD: I appreciate your support and thank you. Thank you.