Gary James' Interview With
Bobby Hebb

He toured with The Beatles in 1966. In the B.M.I. charts, his song "Sunny" is number 25 in the Top 100 Songs Of The Century.

Speaking of "Sunny", it is one of the most covered songs of all time. It's been recorded by Frank Sinatra (with Duke Ellington), Frankie Valli, James Brown, Wilson Pickett, Cher, Dusty Springfield, Stevie Wonder, Georgie Fame and Johnny Rivers just to name a few. He also had hits with "A Satisfied Mind" in 1966 and "Love Me" in 1967. And if that's not enough, he wrote the song "A Natural Man" for Lou Rawls, which became a hit in 1971. In October of 2008 he toured Japan.

We are of course speaking about Mr. Bobby Hebb. Bobby talked with us recently about his career in music.

Q - Ipanema Films of Germany is making a film of your life. This is a documentary or a movie using actors and actresses?

A - No actors. No actresses, so far anyway. It's just a documentary. It's really a portrait.

Q - Using vintage photos and film of your career I take it.

A - Right. And they came here (Nashville) to view some of the places I performed in years ago, back in the late '50s, early '60s.

Q - Speaking of performing, your still touring the world as we speak, aren't you?

A - Well, I still get around a little bit. Not as much as I once did

Q - Does that mean that you go out as a solo act or do you take musicians with you?

A - Well, I usually hire musicians within that area.

Q - Wouldn't that be kind of "iffy"? Shouldn't you rehearse with them first to make sure they're good musicians?

A - Well, you send your music up.

Q - What types of venues would you be performing in overseas?

A - Mostly nightclubs, sometimes concerts.

Q - According to Rolling Stone's Encyclopedia Of Rock, you've written over 3,000 songs. One third of them have been published. Is that accurate?

A - Maybe it's accurate and maybe it's not. I don't know how many have been published. I did get around. (laughs)

Q - I would gather that you probably made more money from your songwriting than you ever did as a performer. Is that correct?

A - Yes.

Q - Where do you think this talent for songwriting comes from? Is that something that comes naturally to you?

A - When I was a child, when my parents wrote cards and letters, they would usually send a poem. They would do this from the top of their head. This was something I was raised with as a child.

Q - In Chicago, did you graduate from a dental technician course?

A - No. That is not accurate. I did some work there as a dental technician. One of my brothers was a dental technician. He had taught me how to make false teeth and clean them.

Q - That's not something you ever considered as a career, is it?

A - No.

Q - Again, according to Rolling Stone's Encyclopedia Of Rock 'n' Roll, you studied guitar with Chet Atkins and he helped you break into show business.

A - OK, studied guitar with Chet - yes. But when I met Chet, I was on the Grand Ole Opry with Roy Acuff And His Smokey Mountain Boys when he made his debut. I was already in show business. I made my debut on July 26th, 1941.

Q - So, Chet Atkins didn't introduce you to agents, managers and record company reps then?

A - No. He had nothing to do with that. He was a very good guy and a very good friend.

Q - How many records, CDs and tapes have you sold worldwide? Do you have any idea?

A - I can't even imagine. I do not know.

Q - You probably do not know then, how many recordings have been sold by other people doing your songs.

A - No, I do not. I do know this, I am very happy when I receive the residual check.

Q - I can imagine.

A - (laughs)

Q - You received them every month?

A - Quarterly.

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

A - Approximately 45 minutes.

Q - That's pretty fast isn't it?

A - I really don't know because it was one of those songs that I didn't write the lyric first and I didn't write the music first. All of it came at once.

Q - Did you know you had a "hit" on your hands when you wrote that song?

A - No, I did not, because I had to edit it. I moved this and moved that around. It seemed to work. It seemed to flow the way I wanted it to flow. That's what I basically had in mind was the structure.

Q - Initially, you couldn't get a publishing company interested in your material, could you?

A - No, and some of those guys are still good friends of mine. But, they would say "I got 'When Sunny Gets Blue', I've got 'Sunny Boy'. I don't want another 'Sunny'." I went to some big publishers. Some very big publishers. Very well-known internationally.

Q - Did they ever listen to the song?

A - Yes they did, but they turned it down.

Q - Isn't that strange?

A - Yeah. But here's where I got my break. Ben Tucker, who's the bass player for Billy Taylor at a place called Hickory House in Manhattan, said "I know someone I want you to meet." I don't know if Billy Taylor was 19 or 20 years old. This was Cy Coleman's nephew. Ben Tucker liked it.

Q - How did you get the tour with The Beatles? Were you approached by Brian Epstein?

A - No. Sid Bernstein. That's who did that. Sid did that for me.

Q - Where did you go with The Beatles?

A - The U.S. tour. The last tour that they made. We opened up in Chicago and I think we ended in 'Frisco.

Q - How were you received by The Beatles audience? Were they screaming for The Beatles?

A - Oh, no. They listened to me.

Q - That's impressive.

A - Well, that was one of the highlights of my entire career, to have 50,000 people there and actually being heard. I loved the audience. They loved me very much and I'm very happy over that. That was one of the greatest things that I felt during my whole career.

Q - Had you ever performed before 50,000 people before?

A - Not 50,000, but with Roy Acuff And The Smokey Mountain Boys, there were some large crowds of people.

Q - How did touring with The Beatles help your career?

A - Well, it gave me a little encouragement and motivation on things that I thought I needed to do to continue correctly, even though I wasn't as strong as I wanted to become in certain areas. But once again, no one would listen to me. They wanted me to do what John Doe was doing.

Q - You can never be like the next guy.

A - That's true. That's an old Biblical statement there. Did so and so die for you? You must be yourself.

Q - What did you follow up "Sunny" with?

A - "A Satisfied Mind".

Q - After The Beatles tour, you went on tour with who?

A - Gary Lewis And The Playboys. And I did something with Gary four or five years ago. I'm a good friend of Gary's. He's always been a hard worker. I did something with Chuck Jackson. The Temptations.

Q - So, when is this documentary of your life going to be released?

A - That I do not know.

Q - Are you also writing a book about your life?

A - Joe Tortelli is writing that book. That is my life story. The things that Joe writes will probably be closer to the truth than anything else, because he's taken his time in doing research. As a matter of fact, He's found people I'd forgotten about. (laughs)

© Gary James. All rights reserved.