by Alex Cosper
Alex: Ladies and gentlemen, kicking off my Summer 2016 interview series for my site Playlist Research are friends of mine from the Sacramento / Davis area. Authors Marti Smiley Childs and Jeff March from EditPros.com have written a series of books based on over 100 recording artist interviews called Where Have All the Pop Stars Gone? Marti and Jeff, thanks for joining me. Before we get into the book series, please briefly give us your backgrounds leading up to becoming writers.
Marti: Prior to starting EditPros LLC in 1993, Jeff and I worked together at University of California, Davis, in a publications unit.
Jeff: During the first four years of operating EditPros, we worked exclusively for clients on newsletter, web text and other assignments. But on the way back from a business meeting one day, we hatched the idea of a book exploring "whatever happened to ..." some of our favorite recording artists from the sixties who were (to our knowledge) no longer actively touring or recording. That conversation led to publication of our first book, Echoes of the Sixties (Billboard Books) in 1999.
Alex: And I know Jeff, you've worked in Sacramento radio. How did getting Billboard to publish your first book come about?
Jeff: We began by contacting Peter Asher, described our intended project for him, and he and his singing partner Gordon Waller agreed to speak with us. That conversation led to contacts with other performers, and after we had our first three chapters written, we developed a detailed proposal that we submitted to only one publisher, Billboard Books, because that was the one publisher that we thought would understand what we were trying to do. We were thrilled when Billboard's acquisitions editor approved our proposal and issued a contract for publication of that book.
Alex: What is the premise of Where Have All the Pop Stars Gone? and for Volume 3? What can readers expect to discover when they read it?
Marti: The three volumes in our Where Have All the Pop Stars Gone? series nonfiction biographical books. Each one contains chapters about solo singers and band members who recorded hit songs that attained ranking on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. More specifically, our books are about the lives of the performers. All four of our books delve into very personal aspects of their lives. We wanted to know what drew these performers into music.
We wanted to learn about where they were raised, what their household environment was like, and which experiences and influences inspired them to pursue careers in music. We also wanted to know how they evolved, personally and professionally, during the years following their initial success on the pop music charts. We were especially interested in their insights as they reflect on their fame and the sacrifices they had made to achieve it.
Alex: How did you obtain your information for this series of books?
Jeff: Alex, we obtained information about all artists from conversations we had with the performers themselves -- and with family members of some of the deceased performers. To help ensure accuracy, we worked collaboratively with the performers. By that I mean they reviewed our drafts, corrected any inadvertent errors or misinterpretations, and thereby authenticated our manuscripts.
Alex: Tell us about Volume 3, your latest book. When was it released?
Marti: Where Have All the Pop Stars Gone? Volume 3 was published last month. The performers include:
ANNE MURRAYAlex: How do the Where Have All the Pop Stars Gone? books differ from Echoes of the Sixties?
Jeff: Well, Echoes of the Sixties focused primarily on the music and the hit-making years of the performers. For our subsequent books, we wanted to create biographical segments in greater detail than those in Echoes, and to sharpen the focus on the artists themselves. We decided that shift in emphasis warranted a new title.
Alex: Speaking of that, please tell us about the significance of the series title Where Have All the Pop Stars Gone?
Marti: The title Where Have All the Pop Stars Gone? is a tribute to the Kingston Trio, the most successful musical group in the early era of modern pop music. Our Volume 1 contained a chapter about the Kingston Trio, whose string of hits included the poignant song "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" The word "gone" in the title of this series of books is an intentional play on words, referring on one hand to performers who may have stepped away from the spotlight.
Some returned to the stage and recording, and others as we learned did not. It also refers to our principal focus on the lives of the performers, where their career paths eventually took them, and what they have done for personal growth and enjoyment -- marrying, raising families, and pursuing personal interests outside the realm of music. Our books are about where performers have gone with their lives, professionally as well as personally. The content has everything to do with musical artists' attainment of success, some of which may have not been apparent to their fans.
Alex: You've already mentioned artists in Volume 3. I've read Volume 2, which includes Moody Blues, Buckinghams, Bobby Goldsboro, Grass Roots, Sam & Dave, Ray Stevens and Donnie Brooks. The one that stands out for me personally is Moody Blues, who introduced the "Mellotron" to pop music. Please explain the significance of how that changed pop music.
Jeff: Sure. The Mellotron was a precursor to the Moog synthesizer and other electronic synthesizers that have been developed since then. But, as Moody Blues keyboard player Mike Pinder explained to us, the Mellotron was more mechanical than electronic. It consisted of a whole bunch of tape loops of sounds that the keyboard triggered -- all very primitive by today's standards, but ingenious and groundbreaking for that era. Mike ought to know; he actually worked as a quality control inspector for Streetly Electronics, the manufacturer, as a tester of the instruments.
Here's what he told us: "The Mellotron is actually a mechanical device, a playback tape recorder with 70 heads and 70 pieces of tape on a giant pinch roller. When you press down a key, you're literally playing a tape recorder. My job was to play the Mellotron to make sure that each machine worked perfectly and that all the tapes were timed correctly." There you have it from the master himself!
Alex: Let's talks about the quantity of interviews you've done. What's the grand total including other behind the scenes people beyond the recording artists in this book series?
Jeff: Since we began work 19 years ago on the first of our four music biographies, we have profiled the lives of 105 hit-making singers and musicians, encompassing nine soloists and members of 23 bands and vocal groups. We gathered information through extensive conversations with them and 25 of their family members, and we were in contact with more than 100 other people involved in the music industry, including talent agents, personal managers, record producers, label owners, concert promoters, nightclub personnel, music historians and curators, and songwriters.
Alex: What career changes did some of these performers you interviewed throughout the series make?
Marti: Here are a few: Grammy-Award winning singer Anne Murray already had embarked on a career as a high school physical education teacher before being persuaded to take time off to record an album. Three Dog Night singer Chuck Negron was on course for a pro basketball career until a recording contract lured him off the court. Standells and Love bass player John Fleckenstein became a camera operator and director of photography in the film industry, in which his achievements included filming the climactic scene in which hazmat-suited workers apprehended E.T. in the 1982 motion picture E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.
Alex: Which performers had to overcome the greatest obstacles?
Jeff: Marti and I had learned that several of the performers grew up in poverty and endured hardships of various kinds during childhood, including singer Chuck Negron of Three Dog Night, Billy Joe Royal and Atlanta Rhythm Section rhythm guitarist J.R.Cobb. Both Chuck and J.R. spent several years of their childhood in an orphanage, due to their parents' financial struggles. Standells keyboard player and leader Larry Tamblyn encountered a different situation. Following the death of his father, Larry endured verbal abuse from his stepfather who persistently told him he would never amount to anything -- which strengthened Larry's resolve to succeed on his own terms. These guys and others found solace and purpose in music, and struggled hard to carve out a living doing what they enjoyed.
Alex: Billy Joe Royal passed away last October but I didn't hear about it in the media and only learned about it after researching your latest book. Was that his last interview?
Marti: We interviewed Billy Joe Royal a few months before he died. We contacted his daughter Savannah to obtain photos, and to have her verify our manuscript. Savannah confirmed the information we had written about him as true, but also told us that from our chapter, she learned some things about her dad that he had not told her. He may have had other interviews after we spoke with him but probably not as substantive as our conversations with him.
Alex: How long did writing this latest book take you?
Jeff: We had to obtain and organize a LOT of information, and write about it an an entertaining fashion. We began contacting performers in September 2013, and the book was published in June 2016, so the entire process took two years, nine months. Expanding on your prior question, our conservations with Atlanta Rhythm Section bass player Paul Goddard likely constituted his last substantive interview. Rolling Stone magazine identified Paul's bass solo on ARS' live version of "Another Man's Woman" among the top five most extraordinary bass solos ever recorded. Paul told us his conversations with us were "cathartic" and he died only seven weeks afterward.
Alex: How can people obtain the Where Have All the Pop Stars Gone? series and your other books?
Marti: Echoes of the Sixties is available only as an e-book. Where Have All the Pop Stars Gone? Volumes 1, 2, & 3 are available in paperback and e-book formats from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and online retailers. Visit EditPros.com and click "Bookshelf" for ordering information for all four books.
Alex: What sense of accomplishment do you derive from your writing?
Jeff: Alex, our intention has been to celebrate the lives of praiseworthy recording artists whose achievements were not as widely and consistently recognized as they should have been, and who deserved greater acclaim and more coverage than they received. All of the performers in all four of our books are artists whose music should be preserved and acknowledged in perpetuity.
Alex: Jeff and Marti, thank you very much for this interview.
Marti: Thank you, Alex, we enjoyed it!
Jeff: Alex, we recognize how knowledgeable you are about the interactions among popular music, playlists and radio and we appreciate your acknowledgement of our writing. Thank you!
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