Gary James' Interview With
Bobby Goldsboro

He traveled the world as a guitarist for Roy Orbison. He toured with The Beatles. He opened for The Rolling Stones on their first U.S. tour. He had sixteen Top 40 hits which included "Honey", the world's largest selling single in 1968. Other hits included "Watching Scotty Grow", "Little Green Apples" and "With Pen In Hand".

He had his own television show which became the highest rated variety show in syndication in the 1970s. He has his own music publishing company in Nashville which published such songs as "Wind Beneath My Wings" and "Behind Closed Doors". He's received twenty-seven B.M.I. Awards and his songs have been covered by a Who's Who in the music business...Paul Anka, John Denver, Aretha Franklin, Bette Midler and Dolly Parton to name just a few.

He's written twelve best selling children's books. His creation, The Swamp Critters Of Lost Lagoon has been carried on P.B.S., The Learning Channel, The Inspirational Networks and cable channels around the world. The 'live' show has played in theme parks and state fairs around the country. His first children's video, Easter Egg Mornin' was taken by the Disney Channel and went Gold within three weeks of release. It ran for eleven years, becoming Disney's longest running Easter Special.

His name is Bobby Goldsboro. (as if you didn't already know).

There is one other thing we can add to his long list of credits...he's one heck of a nice guy.

Q - Bobby, do you watch American Idol?

A - Yeah. I didn't until this past season because I was usually gone or I just never got into it. But, last year my wife and I started watching it and enjoyed it. I don't watch it every week, but if I'm home and it's on, we watch it.

Q - Do you vote?

A - No. There's a daughter knows Taylor (Hicks) and so we're kind of pulling for him. (Note: Taylor Hicks won the 2006 American Idol Show). I've never sent a text message in my life. (laughs)

Q - Let's say you were starting out today, how do you think you would fair on that show?

A - Probably not well at all. Of course it's a different era now. When I started out, you didn't have to be as polished as you do now. We kind of learned our trade on the road. Now you pretty much have to be ready to go from the beginning. Record companies put millions of dollars behind you when they believe in you, when you start out. It used to be you had to have several hits before you did an album. (laughs) Now, you got an album to start with, so it's a whole different ball game out there. I'm a little bit more laid-back than what they like on that show, so I probably wouldn't do too well.

Q - Is song writing a God given gift or can anyone learn how to do it? I've always said it's a gift.

A - Singing talent I think is a God given gift. Song writing is a God given gift. You can teach somebody to write a song, that doesn't make them a good songwriter. People will go to song writing classes. I know they're all around, but I don't know anybody who decided I'll become a songwriter and sits down and writes hit songs. It's something I think you can either do or you can't. People are born with a voice and they can either sing or they can't sing. When it comes to songwriting, I don't think it's something you can teach. You can teach better songwriting. You can critique somebody's songs...somebody says "what do you think of this song?" You can say, well, honestly I think it's a little too wordy. You need to shorten it. You got a five minute song. You need to cut it down to 2 1/2 - 3 minutes. Things like that. I still to this day get poems sent to me all the time. People say if you can just put a melody to this, it'll be a hit. I want to say "no, it couldn't." A lot of people write poems and they're using words and phrases that aren't commercial and just aren't the way people talk. Specially nowadays. You can't phrase things like "The sun it was coming up" People don't talk like that. If you read old poetry you might find things like that, but not too many hit songs have phrases like that.

Q - How long did it take you to write "Little Things"?

A - "Little Things" I wrote very quickly. I had the little riff and I started coming up with a little answer thing. It probably took about an hour, that's all. Then I started adding little things to it, little answers, little horns, things like that. But, the basic song lyrics and melody took me about an hour. I look back on a lot of successful songs I've had and it seems like the most successful ones were the ones that took the least amount of time to write. "With Pen In Hand" has been the most recorded song I ever wrote. I wrote that...I was driving from Alabama back to Nashville, Tennessee and I got caught in a rain storm. It was raining so hard I just pulled over on the side of the road. I had this idea in my head for a song. So I got in the back seat and got the guitar out and waited 'til the rain stopped and wrote "With Pen In Hand". Again, had it not been raining I may not have written that song. (laughs) But it didn't take me that long to write that one.

Q - With that in mind you could move to Syracuse. It's always either raining or snowing here. You could have one hit song after another being written.

A - (laughs) Oddly enough, I was in Pittsburgh years ago doing a TV show and I wrote "Blue Autumn" in the hotel room because it was like a blizzard outside and I couldn't get outside. So, I was kind of stuck in the room and I missed my plane and I just had to stay in the room. So, I got the guitar out and ended up writing "Blue Autumn", which had nothing to do with the snow out there, but again had it not been for the snowstorm, I wouldn't have written that one. You're just in the right place at the right time to write 'em.

Q - "Little Things" always sounded so good when you'd put that little transistor radio up to your ear, especially at night!

A - (laughs) I got a little sideline with "Little Things". I had written the song and was just about to record it when "Pretty Woman" came out. I'd been with Orbison for years. He was like a brother to me. When I heard "Pretty Woman", I had a 2-4 beat to "Little Things" and I put a 4-4 beat because I heard "Pretty Woman", which to me made it even better. So again, had I not heard Roy's song I might have had a whole different beat on the song. (laughs)

Q - How about this song "Honey", did you write that?

A - Bobby Russell wrote "Honey". Bobby Russell was a good friend and he had written several hits already. He wrote "Little Green Apples" also. He wrote "Honey" and produced it with Bob Shane of The Kingston Trio...formerly of The Kingston Trio. I don't know if you remember Larry Henley, but Larry was the lead singer for The Newbeats who had "Bread And Butter". Larry was also one of the co-writers of "Wind Beneath My Wings". But Larry called me one day and said "I want you to come across the street and hear this song Bobby Russell just produced with Bob Shane." So, I went over and listened and it was "Honey". I'll be honest with you, it didn't really thrill me all that much because it was so over done, over produced, lots of drums and things. So, about a week later Bobby came up to the studio to play some songs for me and my co-producer. Everything he played was kind of like more of a teeny-bopper song and I said "Don't you have something a little more adult, more of a ballad kind of like the thing you did with Bob Shane? Play that." He said "Well, it's called "Honey", but, it's coming out next week by Bob Shane, but I'll play it for you." He played it with just a guitar and it was like a totally different song. Me and my co-producer just both flipped out and said "man, we gotta cut that." "Well cut it for the album, but it's gonna be Bob's single in about a week. " So, we went in and cut it for the album and it just came off like a monster the very first take. Even the musicians, the violin players came into the control room to listen to the playback. So, we said "man that was the first take, let's go do it again." And the second take sounded exactly like it. We couldn't really improve on it, so we called Bobby from the studio and said "we have cut a monster with this song." Of course I never dreamed it was gonna be as big as it was, but we knew we had a hit with it. He said "Well, I'll tell you what. Give us four weeks with the Bob Shane (single) and if nothing happens, you can come out with yours." We waited actually four weeks to the day to release our record and luckily for me it became a hit. This is not trying to be modest, but if I had sung on Bob Shane's record and he had sung on mine, he would have had the hit. Mine was so much the arrangement Don Tweedy wrote, the high voice on there, the violins, everything he wrote in there. Don Tweedy's arrangement was as important as anything.

Q - Didn't you perform "Honey" on The Smothers Brothers TV show?

A - Well, what happened is The Smothers Brothers did a take-off on the song. They had the Honey house. They were doing like a tour and showing the tree. It was like a spoof of the song. They (The Smothers Brothers) told me years later when I ran into them, "we had more mail about doing that song than anything we ever did political or anything on that show, most of it put us down for doing it." (laughs) The bottom line was the people said you don't joke about things like that. When I saw the re-run of it, I thought it was funny, but the majority of people that saw it didn't like it.

Q - They just wanted to see you come on and do the song.

A - Right. They didn't want to see the Smothers Brothers do a spoof on it or anything like that. It was a special song for a lot of people. I still get mail to this day from people telling me when a member of their family passed away, the song means something special to them. I still get e-mails like that.

Q - Did you write "Watching Scotty Grow"?

A - No, Mac Davis wrote "Watching Scotty Grow". Again, talking about being in the right place at the right time, I was in a clothing store in L.A. and a friend of mine came in, Jerry Fuller, who was a record producer and he was producing Andy Williams at the time. He said "Do you know Mac Davis?" I said "I know who he is. I've never met him." He said "well Mac played me a song for Andy Williams the other day and I didn't think it was right for Andy, but I think it would be a good song for Bobby Goldsboro. You otta call Mac and ask him to play it for you. It's called "Watching Scotty Grow." So that afternoon I got back to the hotel, called Mac and he came over to the hotel and brought his guitar and we sat and played songs for about four hours. He played "Watching Scotty Grow" and I said great. So then I went back to Nashville and recorded it. So, had I not been buying a shirt that day, I might not have gotten "Watching Scotty Grow" I guess. (laughs)

Q - It's true being in the right place at the right time is important.

A - Right.

Q - You were actually born in Marianne, Florida. Where's that?

A - It's in Northwest Florida, close to the Alabama line, close to the Georgia line.

Q - What kind of a place was that for a kid to grow up in?

A - It was a fantastic place to grow up in. It was a little town. I played Little League ball. It was a great place to grow up because there wasn't any pressure on kids at that time. I had a great childhood. I had an older brother and we just had a great time. To this day, I look back, it was one of the happiest times in my life living in Marianna. I moved away in the ninth grade to Alabama. That's where my parents and brother and his family are right now.

Q - Why the move to Alabama?

A - Well, my parents were florists. My Aunt had a flower shop in Dothan, Alabama and she passed away. They moved to Dothan to take over that flower shop, because Dothan was a bigger area, a bigger town. So we moved to Dothan and I graduated from high school there.

Q - Then you went to Auburn University, but only stayed there for two years. Why?

A - 'Cause the Summer of my second year we got with Orbison. We were hired to back him up four nights and he asked us if we'd like to go on the road as his band. We said you better believe it! We went on the road and I never went back to school. I'm very glad I went to college for two years because it was the first time I had every really been away from home and on my own, so I was thankful for that. I think the next two years on the road with Orbison I learned a lot more than I would have in college.

Q - So, when you joined forces with Roy Orbison you had a band?

A - Yeah, we had a little band from down in Dothan, Alabama called The Webs. We had a big spider web on the drum. We were just a local band and we would back up different singers that came into the area. We were really the only rock 'n' roll band in the area. Then, when Orbison had just fired his band because they were drinking or doing something they weren't supposed to do, he was looking for a new band. When he heard us play he asked us if we'd like to go on the road with him and I was with him for about 3 1/2 years.

Q - Where did you play with The Webs?

A - We played college fraternities, sororities and we played anywhere we could get work. We played a lot of bars. In fact, during the summer we'd go down to Panama City, Florida and play a couple of the clubs down there. They were really just some glorified beer joints, but it was a great experience in getting to play in front of all kinds of crowds and everything else. You pay your dues when you do that. I think it all paid off in the end because we played so many different places that by the time I was going out on my own as a single, I had already been up front with Orbison for 3 1/2 years in front of thousands of people, so it wasn't like I was starting out.

Q - Besides Roy Orbison, what other "name" artists did you back up when you were in The Webs?

A - Well, not too many big names. Sonny James was fairly big at the time. He came through the area and we backed him up. Bruce Chanel when he had "Hey Baby". But mostly we started getting on the bill with other acts. If somebody who had a hit record would come to the area, we were like the opening band for them. Then sometimes we'd back them up or if they had their own band we wouldn't. We got to be on a lot of the local shows and area shows like that.

Q - You teamed up with Roy Orbison in what year?

A - I think it was '61.

Q - You toured England in the early 60s?

A - Yeah. We worked The Beatles Tour. It was Orbison and The Beatles. In fact, Orbison was supposed to headline. He had never been to England and was second only to Presley in record sales over there. By the time we got over there to tour, The Beatles had become the biggest thing in the world and they really didn't know who should close the show, so finally the promoter decided that Roy close the first half of the show and The Beatles would close the second half. As much pandemonium as there was with The Beatles, they still wouldn't let Roy get off the stage until two or three encores every night. It was amazing.

Q - When you saw The Beatles, what did you think of them? They didn't look like anything that was around over here (America). Did you think it was unusual the way they were dressed and the way they wore their hair?

A - But again, that caught on very quickly. We were there for two weeks. I traveled with 'em on a bus everyday and got to know 'em and they were all good guys. I couldn't wait to get back because what we would do when Roy took time off to write or record, our band would go play some clubs somewhere. We started doing a lot of Beatles songs and Elvis songs at the time. The Beatles were just catching on over here. So we would kind of help introduce some of the songs that people had never heard.

Q - You probably weren't wearing your hair like The Beatles. Your hair was probably slicked back.

A - Yeah. That (Beatles cut) came later. That just became the new thing. At first The Beatles were the only ones doing that and then a lot of the English acts started doing that. The Dave Clark Five and all of 'em.

Q - But again, the very first time you saw The Beatles, did you think to yourself... what's this?

A - Well, it looked different. I could see the reaction of the people and the kids was just phenomenal. I knew right away these guys are gonna be... if they hit here it's gonna be the biggest thing in the world. It didn't take 'em long (laughs)

Q - How about Brian Epstein...did you meet him?

A - Yeah.

Q - What did you think of him?

A - I only spoke to him a couple of times. We didn't really get to talk that long. It was just kind of in passing, that we were introduced. I never really knew him.

Q - So you liked The Beatles as individuals?

A - Yeah. We had a great time. I put 'em on for the first week with my frog noise. Finally, they realized they never heard it except when I was around, so they knew it was me doing it. Paul McCartney actually got to the point where he could do it pretty good.

Q - You co-wrote a song with Roy Orbison?

A - We wrote actually four songs in about a three hour period one morning. We started about 9 AM and by noon we'd written four songs. He said "We're gonna write a thousand songs together." The following week I got a call from my publishing company and they told us we couldn't write together anymore. He was with a different publishing company than I was and his publishing company said "if they write together we have to have 100% of the publishing or nothing." So, they wouldn't split publishing with my publishing company, so they told us we couldn't write together anymore. That just shows you how dumb some of these business executives can be. I think we could've written a ton of hit songs together. At the time you were writing on one and couldn't wait to finish it so you could start another one.

Q - I guess that means nothing was ever recorded then.

A - There were two things recorded. Roy produced two of 'em. He wrote for Acuff - Rose. I recorded a song called "The Runaround" for Laurie Records before I signed with United Artists. And they had to give all the publishing to Roy's publisher. That's the only ones we got to write. Three of the four were recorded, but no hits.

Q - What a privilege, what an honor to have worked with Roy Orbison.

A - Yeah. It was amazing. He did more for me, for my career than anybody. We were like brothers. We'd stay together on the road, stay in the same room and talk music. People don't know...he was a funny guy! He never showed it. He was very quiet. He was kind of shy. But, when it was just the two of us, he was funny. We would be rolling on the floor laughing all the time.

Q - And he was cranking out the hits at a time when he had a lot of tragedy in his life.

A - Unbelievable. He lost his wife in a motorcycle accident. Then he lost two or three of his kids in a fire. It was amazing what he went through. He had open heart surgery. I called him at the hospital a couple of days after he had the surgery and he said he felt like he was twenty years old. But Roy was a chain smoker and the doctor told him to never smoke again after that open heart surgery and within a week he was back to smoking one after another. And he finally had a massive heart attack that killed him.

Q - Did you open for The Beatles at some point?

A - Their final concert for that first tour (1964) was in New York at The Paramount Theatre. They had Ed Sullivan emceeing the show. The promoter had said whoever you want to have on the show, we'll see if we can get 'em. They liked Steve Lawrence and Edyie Gorme and they were on the show. They liked the Brothers Four and they were on the show. They wanted to know if I could do the show 'cause I'd been with 'em over in England. So, I did the show with 'em in New York at The Paramount.

Q - You opened for The Rolling Stones in the U.S.

A - Yeah, but we only played four or five dates. We played Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, Hershey, Pa. We played one other date, then we played Carnegie Hall. They said it was the last rock 'n' roll show they'd ever have there because the kids tore all the seats up. (laughs)

Q - What did you think of The Rolling Stones?

A - Well, they were just about the antithesis of The Beatles. One of the guys would wear the same coat ever day, day and night. He would roll it up and use it as a pillow on the bus. Then he'd unroll it, put it on and go on stage. Then he'd come back and roll it up as a pillow. (laughs)

Q - Which guy was that?

A - Charlie Watts I think it was. It's weird things you remember like that. But they were good guys too. I enjoyed working with 'em.

Q - How many records have you sold? Any idea?

A - The best estimate by a record company executive awhile back was thirty-five million. So, I just go by that. I'd like to be paid on all that I've sold, but you never get a true accounting of that. (laughs)

Q - Where are you performing at these days?

A - All over. We just played a couple of performing arts theatres in North Carolina and South Carolina a couple of weeks ago. I play a lot of the casinos all over the country. They're fantastic to play. We play the Mohican Sun in Hartford, Connecticut. We play the Soaring Eagle, which seats three thousand people up in Michigan...played in Las Vegas last July. (2005) All over.

© Gary James. All rights reserved.

Bobby Goldsboro