Gary James' Interview With
Jackie DeShannon

She's probably one of the best known singer / songwriters of the 1960s. Her name is Jackie DeShannon.

Jackie enjoyed huge success with a Burt Bacharach / Hal David song, "What The World Needs Now Is Love". She followed that up with "Put A Little Love In Your Heart". Jackie toured with The Beatles on their first American tour in 1964. She knew Elvis. She knew The Everly Brothers. She knew Ricky Nelson. She formed a songwriting partnership with Jimmy Page and co-wrote the song "Come And Stay With Me" for Marianne Faithfull. She co-wrote the song "Bette Davis Eyes" with Donna Weiss, which earned Jackie and Donna a Grammy for Song Of The Year in 1982. In June, 2010, she was inducted into The Songwriter's Hall Of Fame. That same year she was also inducted into the Hit Parade Hall Of Fame.

It's always an honor to present an interview with a talented singer / songwriter. It's an even bigger honor when it's Jackie DeShannon.

Q - Jackie, you'll be happy to know that we're both in this new book about The Beatles, titled The Lost Beatles Photographs by Larry Marion. The book features the photos of the late Bob Bonis, The Beatles' and Stones' American tour manager. There's a photo of you and my interview with Bob Bonis.

A - Oh, fantastic! I tell you, I was one of those young, foolish women who did not take photographs.

Q - You look so happy in this photo. Were you really happy, or was it just for the camera?

A - Well, that's going back a long time, but I'm sure I was pretty darn happy to be on the Beatle tour. It was such a great privilege and honor to be able to go out and play for that many people. You're part of history. It was their first American tour. I'm sure that I was pretty happy about it.

Q - It was Brian Epstein who called to tell you that you had been selected as one of the opening acts?

A - Correct.

Q - I'm sure you were very happy to get that gig, but it must've been a very tough job opening for The Beatles. How did the audience respond to you? Were they shouting "Beatles" or booing? What was it like?

A - All of the above. "Beatles" and booing! Oh, yeah. But the thing I was grateful for was that I had a chance to get out there and do my thing in front of that many people. A lot of times I would do things like stand up, and I did "Shout" at that time. I expected it. It was not something I was surprised (at). It was not a surprise to me. I think some of the acts were put off. A couple of 'em were pretty unhappy because they would be booing and screaming all through the numbers. But it didn't bother me at all. I just plowed ahead. I was happy.

Q - Did at least some of the audience listen to you sing?

A - Oh, yeah. They responded in a way that only they could respond. Waiting for the biggest thing in the world to happen. But I just rolled with it.

Q - That tour took you through the U.S. and Canada?

A - I think so. I'm not sure about Canada. But I know it was all through the U.S. I can't recall. Whatever that tour was, I was on it.

Q - According to Bill Harry, author of The Ultimate Beatles Encyclopedia, you were paid $1,250 a week for that tour. Was that for one show a night?

A - Oh, sometimes we did two shows, if we had a smaller venue other than a baseball stadium. But I don't recall exactly how all of that went down. I was just so engrossed with the creative process.

Q - $1,250 a week seems rather low. Did you get to ride on the same plane as The Beatles?

A - I did.

Q - Then it was worth it.

A - But you have to remember, we're going back a ways now. $1,250 wasn't all that bad.

Q - So, you got to meet and talk to all of The Beatles?

A - Yes.

Q - This experience was a big deal for you, but prior to 1964 you were a recording artist. You had charted records, didn't you?

A - Yes. I was getting on with it. I was moving up the ladder.

Q - Before you got the tour, were you a Beatles fan? Did you like them or did you like them even more after the tour?

A - Well, I loved their music, but I really didn't realize how hard they had worked before they became, quote, unquote, The Beatles, that everybody knew. Those guys worked in Hamburg. They worked in Liverpool. They played many, many sets, all night long. They were a very, very tight, talented, gifted band. When they came over here, they had kind of a different image. They were being marketed for the entire world. So they had sort of a different image and I think as their careers went on, people really got into what great musicians and what great songwriters they really were. But I think in the beginning with things like "I Want To Hold Your Hand" and the melodies and lyrics that I would say are a bit more aligned with commercial, "let's break this act", kind of records. But once you sat down with them on the plane and you hear all these great songs, you just knew. But at the time, I was not aware of what a really, really great band they were.

Q - Which Beatle would you talk to the most on the plane?

A - Well, we were not supposed to go to where The Beatles were. If they wanted to come and visit with us, then that was very cool. But we were not supposed to just pounce on them anytime we wanted.

Q - How was that made known?

A - That was just the one of the kind of things they talked about.

Q - Did that come from Brian Epstein?

A - I don't know who said it. But John Lennon played "I'm A Loser" for me for the first time and asked me "what do you think of this song?" (laughs)

Q - That must've been nice!

A - It was fantastic! (laughs) And, we had some pillow fights. I remember George saying "Show me that 'When You Walk Into The Room' lick, riff." They'd all come from time to time. It was really a lot of fun.

Q - Did you spend any time with Brian Epstein?

A - No, not really. It was very, very busy. I didn't spend that much time with him.

Q - When I interviewed Bobby Hatfield of The Righteous Brothers, he told me everybody on the plane would sing. Did you experience that as well?

A - Yes.

Q - What a great time that must've been!

A - It was a once in a lifetime opportunity, that's for sure.

Q - You started out hosting a radio show. How did that lead to a recording contract?

A - Well, that's a very, very long story. I was always singing, since I was three years old. Some friends of my parents would pick me up and I would sing on their Gospel radio show. We'd have a little box and I would stand on it and sing Gospel music. We moved to Illinois when I was around nine or ten and I had my own radio show there. Then I just did different things around Chicago. I made a couple of records and did the normal promotion at that time, which was the DJs would have these dances and whoever was around would go out for promotion and sing their song and perform it, much like they do today, only with an extravaganza Cirque de Soleil show. We just were out there lip-synching our music. I had a record that was breaking out of Chicago and I had some offers from some different record companies. I came out to California and met with them and decided to go with Liberty Records.

Q - A big record label at the time.

A - Boy, it was a big label and there were so few labels that this was quite a big deal.

Q - The major labels weren't very interested in Rock 'n' Roll in the beginning. As time went on, they got more interested.

A - Yeah.

Q - I'm talking about people like Mitch Miller, the head of A&R at Columbia Records. He hated Rock 'n' Roll.

A - Oh, yes. That changed. He changed. They moved on. I think initially people just didn't like it because it's a big change for everybody. Once Elvis did "Heartbreak Hotel" and Ed Sullivan, it was all over.

Q - Yeah. Once they let Elvis in the doors...

A - That was it.

Q - Nobody should complain about Rock 'n' Roll. You want to complain, you want to blame somebody, blame RCA for letting Elvis record.

A - Exactly. Blame RCA and Sun Records. Elvis changed it all.

Q - Speaking of Elvis, you knew Elvis. You dated him?

A - Well, we were good friends. He loved Gospel music and he would invite me up to the house to sing with The Jordanaires. We were friends. I don't know if you could call that a date. We were just basically very good friends. He taught me a lot. He taught me there's really no need for errors in graces about being a celebrity, because Elvis was the most humble, and wore his crown very, very well. He was such an amazing person. When you were around Elvis, you just kind of forgot he's Elvis. You just want to hang out with him. He's such a fun guy, so sweet. He was just the best. He really set the standard I think.

Q - You knew Elvis and The Beatles. Imagine that!

A - (laughs) I'm a lucky girl.

Q - You really are! I've heard it said that Elvis should have married a Southern girl. Now you're from Kentucky...

A - Well, I think he should've married a Southern girl. Just kidding.

Q - He should have married Jackie DeShannon!

A - Oh, that's where you're going. (laughs) Well, that would've been very interesting.

Q - You were songwriting partners with Eddie Cochran's girlfriend. That must've been very interesting as well.

A - Well, I was out here (in California) and Jimmy O'Neill at KRLA; I met Jimmy and he said "I should hook you up with my girlfriend. She's a songwriter. She wrote 'Poor Little Fool'" I said "OK. We'll see how it goes." We ended up doing quite a lot of material together and I think some very good songs.

Q - How does Eddie Cochran enter the picture?

A - That's why I came out to California. Eddie was on a record tour, promoting his latest release. He said "You know, you look like a California girl. I think that you should be in California if you want to have a great career." So I told my parents "Eddie Cochran said we should move to California. So it's good enough for me!" Out we came.

Q - How did the song "What The World Needs Now Is Love" come to your attention? Did Burt Bacharach and Hal David think of you when they wrote it?

A - It came to me later on. I think obviously they had played it for Dionne (Warwick). That would seem the natural place to go. Whatever happened, I don't know. But we were scheduled to do a session together, Burt and Hal. So they were playing songs. Hal said "Play Jackie 'What The World Needs Now'" and Burt was a bit hesitant at the time and not really sure that's what he wanted to play me. Anyway, it went on for awhile. Hal kept at him to play it and so when he played it for me, I just fell in love with the song because it talked about cornfields, wheat fields and had Gospel changes, which is perfect for me. I really felt the emotion of the song and so I sang it. Once I learned the song and sang it, Burt said "That's it!" Off to New York we went. We recorded it in two takes with orchestra, vocals and Cissy Houston was one of the singers in the background.

Q - That's one of the songs that has lasted the test of time.

A - It has.

Q - The message is so universal. When you listen to that record, it could have been recorded last week.

A - It could have been. I'm very pleased to say that my record is now in The Recording Academy's Hall Of Fame. My version of that record is the original one. So, it's there forever. I'm really thrilled about that.

Q - There were so many songs written in the '60s with the word "Love" in them.

A - Well, I think in many ways it was more hopeful. I think we were searching for love. It just seemed to be a natural way to express it, in music.

Q - Certainly The Beatles wrote all those songs with "Love" in them.

A - They did.

Q - "All You Need Is Love".

A - That's one of my very, very favorites.

Q - You and Donna Weiss wrote "Bette Davis Eyes".

A - Yes.

Q - Where did the inspiration come from for that song? How come Kim Carnes recorded it? Why didn't you record it?

A - Well, we loved Bette Davis. We were always talking about what great movies and how we love her. Anyway, Donna had this idea and she brought a lot of papers over one day. She said "Do you think you can make anything out of this?" So I kind of went through and looked at some lyrics and put some things together and we wrote this song. We went to demo it and we did a pretty good Rock version. And we have demos of that. When I went in to record it, the producer said "I don't hear it that way." He was very adamant about turning it around into another version. So, time went on and Donna was sending the song around to different people, the version that we had recorded on the demo. She was taking some other songs over to Kim Carnes because she was recording and she just happened to have that demo with her and she gave it to Kim and the rest is history.

Q - How was that song written? You're a singer. Do you play an instrument?

A - Yes, guitar. And Donna plays guitar.

Q - Did both of you contribute the melody as well as the lyrics?

A - Well, I think probably more Donna's lyrics on that particular song. I did have some, but basically Donna did most of the lyrics.

Q - I forgot to ask, did you ever do those Dick Clark tours?

A - Oh, sure I did.

Q - Who did you appear with? Do you remember?

A - Oh my God. Gene Pitney, Bobby Vinton, Tom Jones, Peter And Gordon. The list goes on.

Q - Did you do the supper club circuit as well?

A - I did. I did The Copa, The Fairmount, New Orleans. I did quite a good swing with the supper clubs, yeah.

Q - You had experience in every single venue across the board, didn't you?

A - I did.

Q - That's what young singers starting off today do not have.

A - Yes. It's impossible. There's nowhere really to perform on your own and develop your instincts and kind of just get it. For me, it was organic then. You just kind of came out and you really had to hold your own by yourself without all the scenery and the fifty-thousand dancers. You had to sing. You couldn't lip-synch. So many of the tours today are all lip-synching, depending upon dancers and scenery and they don't have to do that much.

Q - In your time, coming up, it was all about the song. If you watch American Idol, it's all about hitting the high notes.

A - Yeah. It's just a different time. It's just a different way of doing things. I prefer, as a songwriter, I'm very interested in the song. It's just a different time. It's very hard to say, "well, this is not great, we did it better." It's just very different. Different times. I don't think we have the where with all to get to know artists the way we used to. It's more like a Ford car. It's more branding. How can we get the perfume out? How can we get the clothing line out? It's become, to me, really a branding game?

Q - Are you still recording? Are you still touring?

A - I guess when I was with Liberty, the publishing company wanted me to really be a big writer. They did not encourage me to do tours. When I would want to go out, they'd say "No. You better be here to write." I just feel with travel the way it is, it's really difficult to get around. I do a lot of charity things. I'm involved with The Seeing Eye in Morristown, New Jersey and I do things for them. They started The Seeing Eye in 1929. It's a great organization, what they have done with them, these wonderful dogs they raise for the blind. I was back there not all that long ago. People had just returned from China. They'd been on this tour and that tour. They take their dogs and off they go. They have a life of dignity. That's really my one thing I love to be a part of. I do different things. I'm writing a song for Africa now. I have a new album coming out where I've re-worked all my songs. It'll be out in August. I'll just give you a big clue: "Bette Davis Eyes" is a ballad to start off with. (laughs) I've done it just with guitar and very, very minimal backing.

Q - Is this something you're putting out yourself?

A - No. It's gonna be on Rockbeat Records. I did "When You Walk In The Room" and "Needles And Pins" and "What The World", all the things that are kind of classic for me, but did them in a very soft, laid-back way. You can put this on while you're exercising or having dinner. (laughs) Either one.

Q - Why don't you have your own radio show on Sirius radio?

A - Well, I'm on Sirius with Breakfast With The Beatles. I do the news every week. We're sort of under the umbrella of Little Steven's Underground Garage with Chris Carter. He's been doing it for a long time. We're on KLOS out here and with Sirius we go all over the world. So, I do the Beatles news every week. But it would be fun to have my own radio show. I'd love that!

Q - You probably have a lot of stories that I haven't asked you about.

A - I do. I don't know, maybe that will happen. Why didn't you put a bee in the bonnet of Sirius? (laughs)

Q - We'll put it in the interview. You've never written your autobiography, have you?

A - I'm not going to do that. I'm too private. I'm not going to do that. They don't want anything that's tasteful. They're gonna want to know everything. They want things that are just not in my nature to talk about.

Q - You liked the road, didn't you?

A - I did. I had a really, really good time. I always had a great band. I liked what I did. I think it's a very difficult place to be on all the time. I need down time. My hat's off to everybody who's always on the road all the time. Of course, it's much different now. They have mobile homes they travel in on the buses. These buses are amazing. But I'm in a time in my life where I want to do things on my own terms. I've always been kind of a rebel that way.

© Gary James. All rights reserved.