Gary James' Interview With
Brian Hyland

He had the best selling single of 1960, a record called "Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini". It went to number one on the charts and sold over two million copies. Other hits followed, including "Sealed With A Kiss" (#3 in 1962), "Ginny Come Lately" (#21 in 1962) and "The Joker Went Wild" (#20 in 1966). He appeared on American Bandstand and The Jackie Gleason Show. He was part of Dick Clark's Caravan of Stars tour. In 1970 he had another big hit with "Gyspy Woman (#3). If you said that sounds like Brian Hyland, you'd be right.

Q - When you tour these days, your son plays drums in your band?

A - Yes. My wife Rosmari is my songwriting partner and has been singing back-up and playing percussion with me since 1969 and our son Bodi has been on the road with us and playing drums for about twenty years. He is a natural, self-taught and very solid. He became interested in percussion early on, around age five. So we got him a Junior Remo drum kit and in 1992 he sat in on three songs on a U.K. tour and never missed a beat. He's been our regular drummer ever since.

Q - Where do you draw the most and get the most air-play for your music?

A - Well, since 1960 I have been fortunate enough to have sold records and received air-play on every continent and country in the world except Antarctica or the Galapagos Islands. I guess I would say the U.S. and the U.K. have been the highest name recognition and air-play, such as it is these days.

Q - What type of venues are you performing in?

A - We have been playing casinos, state fairs, theatres, auditoriums, civic centers, all the places people go to enjoy 'live' music today, both here in the U.S. and internationally.

Q - Are you releasing new product?

A - Yes. We have been continually writing and recording new material and have had a five song holiday E.P. currently on iTunes called "Blue Christmas" right now. And we are working on our web site into the future.

Q - You appeared on The Jackie Gleason Show? What was that like?

A - Actually, I saw the Jackie Gleason Show taping once as an audience member. A real thrill! I watched it along with millions of Americans every week. Ralph was way cool! The Honeymooners had a magical quality, especially for people who lived in New York City.

Q - You toured with Dick Clark's Caravan of Stars. What was that experience like? How long did you actually have onstage?

A - On the Caravan of Stars tours we did ten to fifteen minutes. I enjoyed the tours, though it was hectic. I enjoyed playing my guitar. I made a lot of friends and learned a lot about Rock 'n' Roll.

Q - You were actually in Dallas, Texas on November 22nd, 1963, with the Caravan of Stars tour. Were you supposed to perform?

A - The tour was in Dallas on November 22nd, 1963, for a show at the main venue. Obviously, it was cancelled.

Q - You saw President Kennedy's motorcade minutes before he was assassinated. Where were you standing? How did he look?

A - I saw President and Mrs. Kennedy drive by in the motorcade on the main street before the turn on to the Plaza. I was on the sidewalk on the side Mrs. Kennedy was on, a few blocks from the Sheraton Hotel. We got there about half an hour before and heard the sound of the motorcade, the roar of the crowds and saw Mrs. Kennedy in pink. I just caught a glimpse of President Kennedy's hair real fast as they went by. We heard about the shots a few minutes later on a TV in a men's store. I walked back to the Sheraton and can still remember the sound of the screaming sirens echoing through the empty streets. When I woke up on the 23rd, I just couldn't pretend it was all a nightmare. I saw a flag at half staff outside my window. I was in a cab with Bobby Vee and The Dovells when we heard about Oswald being shot. We were already in Oklahoma City. It was a very surreal time.

Q - You heard The Beatles before the rest of the world had. What did you think?

A - Yes, I heard The Beatles while on tour in England. I thought they were fresh and energetic and it wasn't rocket science to know it was their fresh interpretation of Rock 'n' Roll. What goes around comes around.

Q - Did you ever meet The Beatles? How about their manager, Brian Epstein?

A - I did not meet them. I thought they were all great musicians with great harmony and of course a cheeky sense of humor, all great elements of Rock 'n' Roll. I did meet Paul a few years later while having dinner at Peter Asher's house. Nice guy. I did not meet Brian Epstein.

Q - Did the "British Invasion" halt your career?

A - I saw and heard fresh inspiration to continue my career playing and recording new music and was fortunate to continue having hits through the "British Invasion" and beyond by changing (record) labels and producers and finding good songs.

Q - How is it that you were chosen to record "Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini"?

A - After recording some demos for Sammy Kaye's publishing company, I was signed to Kapp Records to record my first record, "Rosemary", which sold about 20,000. While preparing to record a second session, the writers, Paul Vance and Lee Pockriss brought in the Bikini song, which I learned over the weekend and then recorded. It was released within weeks.

Q - Is it true you were still in high school when that song went to number one? How were you treated by the other students and teachers when you'd walk down the hallways?

A - As it turned out, the "Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini" record came out and up the charts to number one in the Summer of 1960 and I was on the road in the Fall and never returned to high school. I finished at a school for professionals in New York City with actors like Patty Duke.

Q - You actually started your career off with a group called The Delfis. You were 12 when you put that group together?

A - Well, my group The Delfis was actually a Doo Wop vocal group for fun and I played guitar. We made a demo tape and took the subway to make the rounds of record companies. We were young and basically dismissed, but I was persistent and ambitious, that's all.

Q - What did your friends think when you decided to go solo?

A - My friends were supportive and encouraged me to go for it when I was offered a management contract with Sammy Kaye's office, where I recorded demos for them.

Q - Kay Twomey brought the demos to the attention of Dave Kapp at Kapp Records. Who is Kay Twomey?

A - Kay Twomey was a songwriter who worked for Sammy Kaye. I took demos around to different record companies to place them. Kapp Records was one of them and wanted me to record the demo for their label.

Q - Why were you signed to Leader Records, a subsidiary of Kapp instead of Kapp Records itself?

A - Kapp Records thought Rock 'n' Roll was bad for their reputation, so they started the Leader label, but quickly changed their minds when it went to number one! Long live Rock 'n' Roll!

Q - You're a cousin by marriage of the late Louis Feinberg (Larry Fine) of The Three Stooges. Did you ever meet The Three Stooges?

A - I met Larry years later, about 1968, in Hollywood for the first time. He was a great actor / comedian and a really nice guy. The Three Stooge will be around forever.

© Gary James. All rights reserved.

Brian Hyland