Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Phoebe Snow: An Untold Story


I read today that the amazing singer, Phoebe Snow, passed away at the age of 58.

Though she was legendary as a singer with the timeless hit "Poetry Man" in 1975, did the theme song for "A Different World" and the jingle for Stauffers (nothing comes closer to home), this gutsy lady would most likely prefer to be remembered as mom to Valerie Rose.

Although Phoebe grew up in Teaneck, my home town, I actually didn't get to meet her until I interviewed her for a show called TV LAND CONFIDENTIAL.  Born with severe brain damage, Valerie had just passed away a few months earlier and had been Phoebe's best friend and the light of her life.

Phoebe shared many stories with me during our interview.  I pulled up a transcript that I'll share with you now.

I wish you could actually hear her inflections and see the look on her face as she spoke.  She was truly one of a kind:

D: When did you first know that you wanted to do more than just sing in the shower?

P: I always fantasized about doing that, but I never thought in a billion years that I would be doing that for a living. I am as surprised as you are.  

I took guitar lessons from about the time I was 12 or 13, thinking, initially my real fantasy was I was going too be an A-List session guitar player. All the rock people are going to call me to have me play on their record dates but I thought never “singing”.  I don’t have the courage to do that. So it’s remarkable that I was able to do that.

I have no idea what changed. My very first boyfriend encouraged me a lot, and I think because I had such big crush on him and this was not reciprocal that this was how I was going to win his heart. I would sing because he liked it.

Isn’t that the way it always happens?  Trying to impress somebody.

D:  David Crosby said the reason why he started singing was he wanted to impress girls.

P: All the guy rock stars say that, they all got into it because they wanted to meet chicks. I wanted to meet guys.

D:  How did that work out?

P: Not well.  Not well at all.

D: But you got to sing and meet a lot of amazing people. When did people start to notice you?  I know you started to go to the village.  What did you do to start putting yourself out there?

P: There were amateur nights for singer-songwriters back in the late ‘60’s, early 70’s.

And they were called talent nights or hootenanny nights. I don’t even remember. I just forced myself to go largely at the urging of this first guy that I went out with. He said “you gotta get up there” and I was so shy.  

I was like mortified, I really didn’t want to do it. The more I got into the swing of it, I started really doing it on a regular basis.

I met a lot of people back in the day when I was just Pheobe singer/ songwriter the little folk singer.

And this is where I get to tell my first story: There was a lot of excitement after I have been doing it for about eight months.  There was a lot of excitement at this one club, the Gaslight on MacDougal Street.

 Tiny club, which I think now is a middle eastern restaurant. It seated about 4 people. It was a great showcase room back then.

Everybody wanted to do these little rooms. The Bitter End and the Gaslight were hot rooms because record company people were coming down.

And the big buzz one night was Bruce Springsteen-this guy, Bruce Springsteen- was going to audition for the venerable John Hammond. And I think some people had heard his name in connection with Bob Dylan. He supposedly found Benny Goodman. He found Bessie Smith. He found Billie Holiday. So he was like an icon.

And we were like freaking that he was coming to this club. And the key spot for the night was to go right before or right after Bruce Springsteen. The guy who was MCing that particular talent night said “don’t worry Phoebe. You’re in. I got you right after Springsteen.”

So I said okay. So I am waiting patiently and the night of the show, the MC (who I've just spoken to for the first time in thirty years aand will not mention his name because he was horrified when I told it: he said “I didn’t do that. oh yes you did”.)  He told me about 20 minutes before Bruce Springsteen went on “I’ve had to move you. There is someone I really need to do a favor for.”

You can fill in the blanks in your own mind.

“and she has to go on right after him, so I got to move you.” And I freaked.

“But I want to audition for John Hammond”

And he goes “I know, Phoebe.  I’ll try to keep him here, but I have to do this. I promised someone.”

And I was like “all right”.

Bruce Springsteen goes on and my memory of his performance was he played ballads.  A few ballads on a piano and just sang with the piano. And he might have had that harmonica thing, I don’t know. He was great.

He was great, but we were all cynical little hippie kids.  We were like “who’s he to get John Hammond to come in? Who is this guy?”

We were told he was virtually already signed to what was then Columbia. So it was just a formality they just wanted to hear him do a performance.

Anyway, Springsteen finishes and the other girl gets up to take my spot. That I am supposed to have. And John Hammond stays for her set. And we’re all watching him in the audience and he gets up at the end of her set and goes “I gotta go to another club” and he’s talking to the guy, the MC. And I run over to the table and I was devastated. And John Hammond says “is there any one else I should see here tonight?”

And the MC says “well there is Phoebe here, Phoebe is great.” And he looks at me and goes “Yeah? Oh well I do have to go to this other club and see this other act. I’ll try, when is she going on?”

“Oh in about 3 or 4 other people.”

“Well I’ll try to come back.”

And I feel my heart just going shhhhhhh like this and I’ll try to come back. And he gets up and leaves.  And I follow him out into the street at a safe distance and watch him leave and burst into tears.

And I am standing on the sidewalk (with my guitar strapped to my shoulder, by the way) sobbing. And I am out there I don’t how long.  And Bruce Springsteen comes out. You know kind of just standing around looking around. And he sees me and goes “what’s the matter?”

And I said “Mr. Springsteen, how did you get John Hammomnd to discover you?”

And I’m sobbing. I’m a basket case.  And he says “ohhh…” He says “ohhh what’s your name?”

And I said “Phoebe.”

He goes “Phoebe…” and gives me a big hug. He’s such a great guy. And he’s just standing there hugging me, he goes “don’t worry.  “Someone will discover you too.”

“Are you sure?”

 Oh I think I might have been really audacious  at that point. Being as shy as I was and said “Can you ask John Hammond for me personally if he would?”

Anyway, so that was like 1972.   I went on to make my first album in 74 and did very well.

In 1977 I get invited to a huge press event in some gigantic loft in downtown Manhattan. Now, Bruce Springsteen was blowing up like crazy.  He was like The Man.  He was like a deity.

And whoever was managing me back then said “you know, you really ought to be there. Springsteen is going to be there.”

I said “oh yeah, I’ll be there.”

So there is a press area,  a VIP press thing, big photo op thing and they have me go over there and wait. He’s coming in and “we want the handshake shot with you guys. And I want you to meet him.” So I said I’ll meet him.

He comes in. And we do the handshake.  and he’s like “its very nice to meet you. I like your music.”

 And I said “we’ve met.”

And he looks at me and goes “no we haven’t. I think I’d remember that.”

And I said (By the way- any one of you can ask him about this, because I bet he remembers) “oh yess we have.”

This was great. There was like a hundred photographers flashing away. And he said “I would have remembered. Where do you think we met?”

And I said “I know we met. Remember when you auditioned for John Hammond at the Gaslight in the Village in 1972?”  And he was like yeah. I said  “remember there was a girl outside crying, saying how did you get him?”

 And he stops dead in his tracks and goes “oh my god. That was you.”

It was great, great moment. Great in my history. Great on my bio.  Total validation. And every time I see him we say “Gaslight.” 

    Never Letting Go         

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

AsK DR AL - What's a Pariel??

Steve Dworkin of Little Neck NY asks the smartest man on Earth about delicious candy. Plus: Doctor Al's chopped liver recipe! Ask Doctor Al your own questions at askdoctoral@gmail.com

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

First Drew's Day: Yakety Yak

And, not quite batting clean-up, we have the ice-cream man's brother, the custodian, in to sweep up the place on this First Drew's Day for April.  (Sorry to ruin your spring)

Just one more Sing Along video after this one, so we'll see you next month for our FINAL Drew's Famous Magical Jukebox Kid's Sing Along!

Be there!