MARGO GURYAN: DREAM, HOPE, PLAN, IMAGINE
Margo Guryan: Once again, David—and my demos—did the trick! David had taken the demos to various record companies to show songs for other artists. One record company exec asked, ‘Why don’t we just record her?’ There were a few offers and David chose Bell Records because it was a small ‘happening’ company and my record would be less likely to be lost among the popular artists who released albums on the big labels. Take A Picture was getting some good reviews and airplay. Larry Utall—president of Bell Records—called me into his office and told me that they wanted me to start performing: TV, record hops and such. I told him I didn’t want to perform—I simply wanted to write. All promotion was then stopped. The record tanked. I saw it in the 39¢ bin in Tower Records. A sad moment, indeed. Of course I’d hoped it would be right up there with Harry Nilsson, the Mamas and Papas and all the other wonderful artists and groups who were changing the pop music scene. I did not expect Bell Records to call on me to perform. And it did change the trajectory of my career. I continued to write songs, but got more into production—via David Rosner—than I ever expected to. Learned a lot, though. And I did manage to keep some of my own records.
Take a Picture is kind of the perfect Sunday listening record—it’s got a dreamy quality to it and strong themes of ideal romance. Was there a particular time in your life that inspired those songs?
Margo Guryan: Youth! I think most writers—of music, poetry, books, whatever—find their voice as youngsters. That’s when you dream, hope, plan, imagine. That’s when each new relationship is a novelty, fresh, to be reinvented … and to be voiced in song and story.
When you hear these songs now, what seems most familiar about the person who wrote and sang them? And what feels most unfamiliar?
Margo Guryan: Still the same person, I think. Today, I like some songs more than others…some records more than others. I can’t imagine anything feeling ‘unfamiliar.’ One of the earliest songs, ‘Good-bye July’ was one of the last demos recorded. Maybe I’ve grown a bit, but I don’t think I’ve changed.
Was there any kind of philosophical difference between writing for ‘someone else’ and writing for ‘you’? We’re inundated with the idea that music is so highly personalized to its creator—is it really?
Margo Guryan: No ‘philosophical difference between writing for someone else and writing for’ myself. I just hoped that some artist or producer would like a particular song and come up with a better arrangement. Unfortunately—to me—most artists and producers just copied my demo arrangement. The records I like best are the ones that didn’t copy my demos. And I don’t think ‘music is so highly personalized to its creator. I think Malcolm McNeill has made ‘Think Of Rain’ song his own.
I personally completely identify with being reluctant as a performer, but I find it really interesting that you were more interested in songwriting rather than performing—because I find your songs and the way you perform them so uniquely ‘you.’ Did you enjoy the recording process?
Margo Guryan: Years before I married David, I was married to Bob Brookmeyer. Bob was a performing musician; he worked with groups that included Gerry Mulligan and Clark Terry among others. I got an excellent education as to the people you had to surround yourself with, especially if you were successful. Lawyers, accountants, managers, booking agents, club owners, and on and on. People told you where to be, what time to be there, what to wear, who to meet. And on and on … It just wasn’t my cup of tea. But I did enjoy recording. Once it was discovered that if my voice was doubled I had an acceptable sound, it became great fun, and very satisfying. Turned out it was an easy process for me and the results put me in the Astrud Gilbert/Claudine Longet bag.
After the disappointment following Take A Picture, did you continue to write?
Margo Guryan: Of course. Many of them are on the … Demos albums. In fact there’s a vinyl edition on Sundazed coming out soon: 29 Demos with two new ones added. They’re versions of my songs by Malcolm McNeill and Chip Taylor which I love and make the record unique. And I was always more interested in being strictly a songwriter.
There are so many great songs on that collection, I am so excited to hear more! They all seem to vary in styles. ‘California Shake’ has an almost country rock feel to it, with guitar and drums that are quite different from your previous jazz inspired songs—where did that come from?
Margo Guryan: ‘California Shake’ is one of the few—if not only—songs I wrote with someone else. Richard Bennett, who was Neil Diamond’s guitarist, suggested we write together. This had never worked out well for me but I liked Richard, thought he was a terrific musician and his idea was well worth a try. Richard played a melodic fragment for me which I found intriguing. I said, ‘That sounds like a disaster song.’ It made me think of the Bee Gees ‘New York Mining Disaster.’ We had just moved to Los Angeles and I was very conscious of the fact that I was now living in earthquake territory. That fragment evolved into ‘California Shake.’ With Richard on guitar and Dennis St. John—also in Neil’s band—on drums it’s no wonder you perceive a different ‘feel’ on that song. I wrote the song on piano, but no doubt Richard’s guitar was an inflluence.
There’s a rumor you did a 70s disco song—is that true?
Margo Guryan: True. My step-son, Jon Rosner—who was 12 or 13 at the time±was into all kinds of music I rarely listened to. But I did enjoy Saturday Night Fever and came up with ‘Hold Me Dancin’.
How did the re-release of Take A Picture happen?
Margo Guryan: One day David received a royalty statement from Japan. He said to me, ‘This statement has all the songs from Take A Picture on it!’ What he found out was that Keystone, a Japanese label had issued a pirate copy. Shortly after that, Cornelius—a Japanese artist—put my record out on his Trattoria label. This was soon followed by a release on Siesta [a Spanish label] for Europe. About this time my step-son, Jonathan Rosner, played ‘Sunday Morning’ for Linus of Hollywood—a local artist. Linus recorded that song. One day he came to my house to meet me. He walked in saying, ‘I want to hear everything you ever wrote!’ It wasn’t long before Linus asked to release Take A Picture on his Franklin Castle label. That turned into a lasting relationship with Carl Caprioglio who still releases my records on his Oglio label. Finally, I was home!
How about the demos album? Had any other artists recorded these songs before the release?
Margo Guryan: It was either Linus or Carl Caprioglo who thought it would be a good idea to have another record out, and all of my demos were highly arranged—except for ‘I’d Like To See The Bad Guys Win’ which was a piano-voice demo—and therefore suitable for a release. By the way, ‘….Bad Guys…’ was written for Mae West after I heard her sing a Beatles song, but never got the song to her. Yes, other artists had recorded some of the songs before … Demos was released: ‘I Love,’ the Lennon Sisters. ‘Sunday Morning,’ quite a few. ‘Think of Rain’ and ‘I Think a Lot About You,’ Cass Elliot. ‘Shine,’ Linus.
Do you think the internet age has made it easier for those who are not interested in being performers—those who are more interested in simply writing and recording the music—to get their music heard and acquire a fan base? And do you think the internet has had something to do with your new fan base?
Margo Guryan: A qualified yes. I think writers still have to perform in order to get needed exposure. But music videos have made a huge step toward getting one’s music to its target audience. A hit video can take the place of many small-town tours. And limiting performing to TV and videos can work for a lot of writers. But I think big city venues will continue to play an important role because of advertising and the crowds that show up to hear favored artists. [Regarding the new fan base] again, a qualified yes. Don’t forget: it was Japanese record collectors who first sparked the interest in Take A Picture. I don’t think the internet had much to do with this. But today, with YouTube and social media, the internet plays a humungous role! It also makes correspondence between a writer and those who like his or her music possible. I assume this is gratifying to both parties.
Was ‘16 Words’ the hardest song you ever had to arrange? It only has 16 words, and few if any are obviously poetic.
Margo Guryan: I read Joe Wilson’s book The Politics of Truth. He was the former Ambassador sent to Niger to bolster Bush’s claim that large quantities of uranium was sold to Iraq. He found the statement to be untrue. I took Wilson’s book to the piano … opened to the page containing the ‘16 words.’ It wasn’t hard to come up with something that could be easily repeated. We recorded the track four times and proceeded to use different combinations of singers on three of them. We had one track left over—perfect for an instrumental! Probyn Gregory supplied almost all the instruments: guitar, trombone, trumpet. He was amazing! And then James Reitano created the video—a work of genius, I think. It wasn’t hard. And it was very, very satisfying.
You’ve recently recorded and released a few new songs, which are fantastic—I marvel at how your voice is still consistently wonderful. Do you have any plans to release a new full length album?
Margo Guryan: No plans. But I’ve been communicating with several wonderful young singer-songwriters and a collaborative effort is not out of the question. I’ve written a bit for Ashley Reaks, a terrifically inventive British artist who may weave what I’ve written into his startlingly original work. And I’ve sent Wyatt Funderburk, a Nashville singer-songwriter whose song ‘Cold’ knocked me out, some unfinished tracks which he has permission to use in any way that suits him. There’s a great example of how the internet connects people!
MARGO GURYAN’S TAKE A PICTURE AND 27 DEMOS ARE AVAILABLE NOW ON CASSETTE FROM BURGER RECORDS. A NEW DELUXE GATEFOLD EDITION OF MARGO GURYAN’S … DEMOS WILL BE RELEASED BY SUNDAZED IN 2016.