Gary James' Interview With
Freddy Cannon

I first met Freddy Cannon at a P.B.A. (Police Benevolent Association) show in Syracuse, New York back in 1978. He was appearing on the same bill as Bobby Rydell, Del Shannon and The Marvelettes at the Syracuse War Memorial. After the show, there was a party at The Hotel Syracuse, which I attended. Freddy Cannon introduced me to Del Shannon.

Freddy has just written his autobiography titled Where The Action Is (Publish America). Freddy Cannon has been called "a Rock and Roll original" by Chuck Berry and "one of the greats" by Jerry Lee Lewis. Freddy's hits include "Tallahassee Lassie", "Palisades Park" and "Action". He was featured on all of the top TV shows, including Shindig, Hullabaloo, Midnight Special and Where The Action Is. He was the most frequent guest on Dick Clark's American Bandstand.

Freddy Cannon talked with us about his life... and what a life it's been!

Q - So Freddy, why did you pick this time to publish your autobiography?

A - I think because it's the right time. I have a lot of stories in that book that people don't know. The people I've met, the people I've influenced through some of my records or my style. It's good to let it out there and let everybody know. The book comes right to the point. It's like me talking in that book. I'm talking about all the famous acts, and they were all wonderful people. My wife and friends in Connecticut were pushing me. "You gotta write a book. You got so many good stories to tell." A lot of people in this business, people that you've interviewed, Rock and Roll acts, don't even have the stories I have 'cause they don't meet those people or work with anybody like that, and I did. So, it worked out perfectly.

Q - Let me read what a couple of guys wrote about you.

A - OK.

Q - This is from Brown and Friedrich's Encyclopedia Of Rock And Roll: "Freddy rates high as one of the teenage idols who was manufactured and perpetuated by the proper amount of publicity and exposure. Freddy showed a surprising amount of staying power as an artist, thanks mainly to the heavy dance beat of his hits and his dark, good looks. Lord knows it couldn't have been his voice or his heavy Boston accent." What do you have to say about that?

A - (laughs) I never thought I should be a teenage idol. I never wanted to be a teenage idol. I'm a Rock 'n' Roll act. "Tallahassee Lassie" is a Rock 'n' Roll record. It's not a teenage idol record. Teenage idols are Frankie Avalon, Fabian (Bobby) Rydell. People like that. The Bobby Vees. I'm not any of those. I'm a Rock 'n' Roll act. And you can judge me by the records. As far as the voice goes, I do agree. I don't have a great voice, but I'll tell you something right now, I'll rock with the best out there, 'live' onstage. If they want to come and see me, they'll find out how good I am onstage. But I don't want to be a teenage idol. I never did. I don't know why I was classified in there. Because of my good looks? It didn't matter to me about good looks. What mattered to me was to sing real raw Rock 'n' Roll records. "Tallahassee Lassie". I keep using that record because to me, that's my favorite record and it's the best record. Not "Palisades Park". Not "Way Down Yonder In New Orleans". The second record I would say would judge me is "Buzz Buzz A-Diddle". It's another Rock record. It didn't go as high on the charts, but that's Freddy Cannon. That's who I want to be and that's who I am.

Q - "Action" was pretty rockin' too, wasn't it?

A - Yeah, that's pretty rockin'. Why would The Rolling Stones cover "Tallahassee Lassie" if they didn't think it was a raw record? What am I doing with these teenage idols? I don't want to be with those people! I want to get the record straight. That's why it's in the book. I don't want to be the Frankies, the Bobbys, the Johnnies and all those type of people. I'm not in that class. They sing pretty records. They sing light records. I mean, that's their style. My style is a Rock record. I'm doing Rock 'n' Roll records. They can dance to my records. That's to me what it is. I don't know what else to tell you.

Q - And when I saw you in 1978, who did they put you on the bill with? Bobby Rydell, along with Del Shannon and The Marvelettes.

A - Well, Del Shannon belongs with what I do. Del was a Rock 'n' Roll act also, like me. He was not a Bubblegum act. He was not a teenage idol act. It's Bobby Rydell, Frankie Avalon, Fabian, Bobby Vee, Johnny Tillotson. You go down the line. I can name you thousands of them. Those are the people who should be separated from me, and even Del Shannon. Poor Del is gone. I'm speaking for him. Him and I should have been on the show and maybe one or two other acts. Bobby Rydell wants to be like Frank Sinatra. He wants to be pretty. That's not me. That's not us. I'd love the whole world to hear what I have to say. I'm sure some of the fans who liked me don't think that way. They think, "yeah, he was a teenage idol. He played with all those other acts, the Avalons and all those other people." I was thrown into that. What else could I do? Look at the back of my book. Chuck Berry says I'm an original Rock 'n' Roll act. I'm not Bubblegum. I'm not any of that other junk. I was tossed in there because of the record I made. I was singing songs that Frank Slay and Bob Crew were giving me that were light. To me, a lot of those records I made were too slick. They were done too well, too nice. That made me into the teenage idol. I wanted to keep cutting records like "Tallahassee Lassie". If I could've cut a string of records like that, that's a Rolling Stones' record. That's why they cut it. (Note: Mick Jagger said, "Freddy Cannon inspired Brown Sugar").

Q - You and your mother wrote "Tallahassee Lassie", correct?

A - Yup, yup.

Q - So, in order to capitalize on the success of that song, you and your mother would have had to write another song that was just as good, and that didn't happen, did it?

A - No. They wouldn't let me do anything else. I would submit songs to Swan Records and Slay and Crewe, and they would say "No, we already have a song for you." You see, I was trapped into that thing. I could never bring a song to anybody in there because nobody wanted to hear it and nobody would let me do it. They didn't believe I could do that. So, I brought "Tallahassee Lassie", the melody and the song to them in the very beginning. They didn't think I had anything else. So, we never had a chance to prove what we could do, to be honest with you. That's why.

Q - One of the more interesting things that was brought up in your autobiography was your business team. You didn't even have a manager, did you?

A - No. No manager. I had nobody. All those acts that we just mentioned, when they went to get started in this business, the label put up the money so they could cut five, six, seven, eight songs before they had a hit. I would say 99% of the acts had that kind of chance. Not with me. I had one chance. "Tallahassee Lassie". If that didn't make it, I was done. You wouldn't have heard of Freddy Cannon. I only got one chance. No one else put money behind me to push me and cut another record if that failed. Everybody I knew from that era had two, three, four, five, six, ten chances to keep cuttin' records 'til they had a hit. I want people who read this to know that. I'm honest about what I'm saying. I'm not making things up here. I wanted to be a Rock act and that's what I want to be remembered by. Not Bubblegum, teen idol, or any of those other things. I'm not that. I don't want to be that. In England they know I'm a Rock 'n' Roll act. I'm a real Rock act. Maybe over here they don't know that, but over there they do. I had one chance. I took the chance. I got lucky and I was happy that the song was good enough, but after that, everything was handed over to Bob Crewe and Frank Slay and Bernie Binnick at Swan Records and they took control of Freddy Cannon from then on, so I didn't have anything else to say. Not to say that it was bad. I cut a lot of records and there were a lot of hits, but I wanted to sing some more of my own songs that I had. I had maybe five or six other songs at that time to present to them, but they wouldn't even listen to them.

Q - Could you cut them now?

A - No, because they're dated. I don't want to do something I've written fifty years ago. I have to write more new sounding material. I'm gonna start writing more now. That's what I'm gonna do.

Q - You were on those Dick Clark bus tours, weren't you?

A - Yeah.

Q - Were you playing to segregated audiences in the South?

A - I did, yeah.

Q - Who was on the bill with you back then?

A - The Drifters, Bobby Blue Bland, The Coasters, the original Coasters, The Shirelles. A lot of those groups on the bus couldn't get off the bus to go into a restaurant and eat. There were maybe three or four Black acts on the bus. We'd ask them what they wanted, go into the restaurant, buy it, bring it back to the bus so they could eat 'cause they wouldn't let them in the restaurant. That happened many times on the tour. We'd be doing forty-one, one-nighters. And even when we checked into the hotel, the road manager would have to go in and make sure that they could be checked into the same hotel. We all wanted to stay together. He had to go to the front desk of the hotel when we pulled up with the bus, to make sure that the Black acts could go in there. It was sad to see this going on. It was crazy. We're all one big family. Why did we have to be separated like that? That's what I thought.

Q - You cheated death in 1960! You could've been riding in the car with Eddie Cochran.

A - Right.

Q - You have something in common with the late Waylon Jennings. He could have been on the plane with Ritchie Valens and Buddy Holly.

A - Right. Same thing. Same idea. I did a ten day tour with Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent in England in 1960. It was a short tour. We went to London. We went to Scotland. All different cities throughout England and then went to Scotland. My Dad was with me. He became friends with Eddie Cochran. He's a giant to this day. People love Eddie Cochran. This guy was the nicest many anyone would want to meet. He was a gem. He was very talented. He could play the guitar very well. He was really good. We stayed in the Strathford Court Hotel (in London). That's where we were. Eddie Cochran got up early with Gene Vincent. They were gonna go to the airport with Sharon Sheeley. They were in the taxi, but he called us in 'cause he loved my Dad and myself. He said to my father, "Fred, is Freddy ready to go to the airport? We've got a cab downstairs." My father said "No. You go ahead. We're still packin'. We'll meet you at the airport. We'll be there shortly after you." Well, they took off and you know what happened after that. I could've been there. My Dad could've been with me. We don't know if we would've died. Gene Vincent hurt his leg, but he (Eddie Cochran) died. We were so sad. We got to the airport and it was on the radio in the taxi. They announced that he died. It was crazy. But that's the way that happened. Things happen in this world and all the good people, talented Rock 'n' Roll acts, go by the wayside and he was one of them.

Q - Was it sad for you to have to recount the stories of the people who are no longer with us?

A - I met them all. They were so nice. Whoever I met that's gone, always made me feel ten feet high. All those acts. They're all missed. And I miss them because I knew them. I talked to them. It's sad, from Elvis Presley to Bobby Darin. You could go down the line of all those people. They were all terrific people. If anybody wants to say something bad about them, go ahead and say it. I think everybody I met that's gone that's in my book were great guys, great women. They were all nice to me. That's all I needed to see. The first impression was that.

Q - There were two people in book who you didn't particularly care for, Dionne Warwick and Cher.

A - Yup. Dionne Warwick was something, I'll tell you. To this day, everybody says the same thing. When I talk to other interviewers, they've said they've interviewed her before and she still is like the way I described it. So, I don't need to get into her. I don't even want to talk about her. Cher, maybe, because she was too young of a kid. But I met her when she was Cleo with Sonny when they first started. She acted like she was already a giant star. I had hit records. I had "Palisades Park", "Way Down Yonder", "Tallahassee Lassie". I was doing a record hop and they were backstage. She came on like she was already a hit. She had nothing yet. She was doing record hops for the local radio station here in Los Angeles, where I was. I was on a promotion tour. So that left an impression on me. Maybe 'cause she was young. She must've been what, eighteen years old? Seventeen years old at that time?

Q - Something like that.

A - That could be why. We all get that from superstardom. You see stars in your eyes and your head gets big. I know there are greats above me. I know that. People who led the way in this music, this Rock 'n' Roll music. Jerry Lee Lewis is a terrific guy. Every time I've worked with Jerry Lee, we'll sit in the trailer of his dressing room and he wants to talk to me. There's guys that are so nice. You won't believe how good they are. And friendly.

Q - It seems if you want to make it in the music business, you audition for American Idol. What do you think the judges would say about Freddy Cannon?

A - They would count me out and send me home. They wouldn't like me.

Q - They believe that a singer has to have this absolutely perfect voice.

A - Right.

Q - But, how many people in Rock 'n' Roll have this perfect voice they're looking for? It doesn't exist.

A - Right. It doesn't exist. And you know what? The whole key to this whole thing comes down to this; why did I make it? Why do acts with hit records make it? Because they wrote and have an original song. None of those American Idol people they're looking for have a song. After they became the American Idol, someone has to give them a song, unless they write. And most of 'em don't even write songs. That's the key. The key is the song. Not how great you can sing. So to me it's a big joke. I watch American Idol and I see what they do. I hear what they're saying about this guy's voice and that girl. Wow! She knocked me out. She's got a Bluesy voice. She's this. She's that. Who cares? If you don't have a song, you'll never hear from that person again anyway. How many people do we hear from American Idol that have big hits so far? Carrie Underwood.

Q - She's one.

A - I can count maybe on one hand. I don't even know the other one. I'm trying to remember. There's another girl too. Kelly Clarkson. How many guys though? Nobody I don't think. Who had giant hits that you can hear people talk about? I don't see anybody talkin' about anybody. Do you?

Q - I do not.

A - If you don't have the song, nobody cares anymore. The girls can scream. The guys can yell. And all of this stuff doesn't matter. What matters is, you better write a good song. You better have a great song. If you don't, I don't care how good you sing. It means nothing. It means absolutely nothing. The song comes first. That's the whole key to the whole Rock 'n' Roll business. So all the people that have made it, all had good songs or somebody gave them a good song or they wrote the song themselves. That's it. Most of the big acts of today write their own stuff. And they write some good songs. That's why I keep writing. It doesn't matter how old I am or how long I've been in this business. Writing is very important in this business. Not how good you can sing. Yes, you need to be able to sing the songs after you write them, but you better have a great songs. People aren't going to pay attention if you don't.

Q - Where do you draw inspiration from to write songs? Something you see on TV? Something you read in the newspaper?

A - Well, the song I just wrote, "Covered By The Rolling Stones", that was because they covered "Tallahassee Lassie". It took me two hours to write. See, you need an idea. The idea came from them. The minute I heard (that), I got my guitar and wrote the words down. I was getting excited as I was doing it. Words were spitting out of me. I mentioned Mick Jagger and Keith Richards in the song. I compliment them because it's a big band and for them to do that, it made me feel so big. Here, I influenced The Rolling Stones. That's crazy. I never thought that would happen. They got the idea of "Brown Sugar" from "Tallahassee Lassie". So that's why this all happened.

Q - Go back to 1963. Did you ever hear any talk in the offices of Swan Records about The Beatles? They were trying to push their records.

A - I think they were trying to push "She Loves You", but they couldn't get it off the ground. They were so small they didn't know where to go with it. They brought it to Dick Clark and American Bandstand, but he turned it down. He wouldn't play it. So, I don't know what happened on that thing. They sold that master because they owned that master of "She Loves You". They sold it back to Capitol Records for $100,000, thinking that's fine. That's nice money. That's a lot of money. Little did they know, it was probably worth two or three million dollars in the long run. The record was a giant. They didn't know that. All I know is they had it and tried to get it going.

Q - You say that Frank Barsalona booked The Beatles into Carnegie Hall. I always thought General Artists Corp. booked The Beatles.

A - G.A.C. Yeah. He worked for G.A.C.

Q - Before starting Premier Talent?

A - Right. G.A.C. probably booked them and he was friends with the big cheeses at G.A.C. that invited him to be there. And then he invited me to come backstage. He was with G.A.C before Premier, so the connection was there. Frank was a great guy. He was a wonderful man. He was the back bone for Freddy. Always pushin' the heck out of me. So we just became good friends.

Q - You own the masters to your recordings. So, where is the marketplace for your material in 2012?

A - I do a lot of business with my masters in England, in Europe. There's always someone who wants to put a compilation album of my songs, with my songs and other songs on an album. So, I do a lot of record deals overseas. Sometimes over here. I did an album on Shout Records, that used to be Rhino Records, has an album on me. All the albums you see on Freddy Cannon usually are coming from me. I own every master that I ever made. All the Swan Records, all the Warner Brothers Records and even the small labels I was on. I got all the masters. It's been very good for me to have that. I learned a lot by having them. We had a song in Chuck Barris' movie Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind. "Palisades Park" was in that one. I did very well financially by having these songs in movies, on these other records, over the years. So, I've been very lucky that way.

Q - Very few people own the masters to their recordings. Dave Clark does. Paul McCartney does.

A - You're right. There's probably five or six people. Big labels bought everything up and own them. I am fortunate.

Q - You are not a member of the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in Cleveland, are you?

A - No, I'm not.

Q - So, what difference would it make to you if you were? You had hit records. You've done what you wanted to do. Would that be a big deal to you?

A - I'd love it. I don't even think about it anymore. I got so tired of all the politics involved. The reason I'm not in there is I've been put in the category of Teenage Idols, Bubblegum and all that stuff. That's why you don't see any of those people in the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, and I'm classified as one of them. I feel that I should be in there. I'm a Rock 'n' Roll act. I just proved it with the book and all the giant acts that said things about me, that I influenced. Why shouldn't I be there? But it's politics and I probably won't ever see it. Who knows?

Q - What do you mean by politics?

A - I think it's got to do with the sound. You'll notice most of the acts, a good portion of them are from England. The English acts. The European acts. They're all Heavy Metal or Hard Rock or really heavy dance acts. I've got a gut feeling that's it, because for me, I'm classified in, which I never wanted to be in and it's been embedded in everybody's head, that I'm a Teenage Idol act. That's destroying everything. That destroyed it right there. It really did. Del Shannon died and then they put him in there. Del should've been in there while he was alive, not when he was dead. I just think the committee that does all that, and there's a couple of people who run the whole thing, they only put the heavy rockers in there. Freddy Cannon is not a heavy rocker.

Q - Maybe your time is right around the corner. You never know.

A - Different acts from the era are trying to get petitions of thousands and thousands of people to send in. That doesn't do any good. That doesn't do anything. You're already classified as this kind of act. If you're classified as that kind of act, you're never gonna get in. Believe me. I don't care what you do, up and down. You can try all you want. It won't happen. The only thing that makes me feel like I should, is right now, in 2012, here's this book (Freddy's autobiography) telling you that these giant acts have been influenced through my songs, through my me, whatever. So why shouldn't I be in the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame? C'mon. How blind can you be? Before, I had no hope. If anything was gonna happen, it would happen now. Read the book and see what's going on. See where I'm at in music today. I don't care about all the hit records I had before. Go by what kind of act I am. What style did I have. Am I a Rock act or am I a Teenage Idol, Bubblegum act? I don't think I'm any of those.

Q - Where is the action for Freddy Cannon today?

A - (laughs)

Q - Where do you perform? Do you still perform?

A - Yeah, I still perform. Most of my shows are on the East Coast, Mid-West. Not too much in Los Angeles, although I would love that. If this song that I just put out gets on a label and happens, it's gonna give me more work out here and I can use my son's band, which I think is really an excellent band. That would make me be very happy, to work with them all around California and out in the West. So, we'll see. I appreciate you and thank you so much for letting me say this today. Sometimes I don't get a chance to spit everything out like this. I want to be real honest with you and the readers so they know what Freddy Cannon is all about.

© Gary James. All rights reserved.

Freddy Cannon
Photo from Gary James' Press Kit Collection