Gary James' Interview With Anthony Gourdine Of
Little Anthony And The Imperials
He was born Anthony Gourdine, but the world knows him as Little Anthony. Along with his group, The Imperials, he recorded hit songs like "Tears On My Pillow", "Shimmy, Shimmy, Ko-Ko Bop", "Goin' Out Of My Head" and "Hurt So Bad". Little Anthony And The Imperials sold twenty-two million records world wide, and just recently Little Anthony has released his autobiography titled Little Anthony: My Journey, My Destiny (Mascot Books)
Q - There is a lot of detail in this autobiography? How did you remember everything? Were you walking around with a paper and pen all these years?
A - No. What it is is, my mind sometimes becomes very complex. I can't find where my shoes are or I can't find my glasses. They're hangin' up on top of my head and I didn't see 'em. I'm that type of person ever since I was little. What I do have is a gift. It's total recall. I just remember things that pay, say especially if it affects me positively or negatively. It just sits there. So I can just say oh, I remember when that happened. Actually, that's what caused me to write my memoirs with Arlene Krieger, who helped me out. It's really a conversation I have with people all the time. I'll say something to them, "Yeah. I remember that. I was with Tony Bennett." "You were with who?" That kind of thing. That's where the inspiration got to me. A lot of my friends say, "Man, the way you talk about life, the way you talk about what you've experienced, you need to put that down in a book," and that's what started this whole thing.
Q - Where did you get, for lack of a better word, your first break? Was it Ernie Martinelli booking you into some of New York's hottest clubs?
A - No. That came later. When you say "break", okay, 1958, or '57, it was a group called The Chesters. I was with another group called Duponts and then ended up with The Chesters. I don't have to get into detail how that happened. I met with The Chesters in Brooklyn 'cause we all lived in the same neighborhood. In fact, I could holler to his house, "Hey Clarence, hey Clarence," and he would hear me because of the window. This was the beginning of it. He went to New York City, 1650 Broadway, which was the independent record company Mecca at that time. He went to see Richard Barrett, who he knew as a kid. He found that Richard Barrett, Barrett was now the A&R man for End Records and Mr. George Goldner was the President. So, he went over there and said "I got a group." He took his group over, but this is before I got into the group. They did well, but they sent him back and said, "Look, if you get a leader, somebody with a voice, come back. We're looking for something like that." He said, "I know a guy," and that's how the whole thing started. It was 1958.
Q - You have such a distinctive voice! How old were you when you sang "Tears On My Pillow"?
A - I was seventeen.
Q - Where did you develop that singing style?
A - The singing style really came from Mr. George Goldner of Earl Records. When we were recording "Tears On My Pillow" he said, "You're doing a great job." He asked who were my favorite singers. I said, "Ella Fitzgerald, Frankie Lymon of The Teenagers, Nat Cole." He said, "Nat Cole. You know Nat Cole enunciates everything very clearly and distinctly." I said, "Yeah." He said, "I want you to do that, and Anthony you talk in such a tenor voice. You have such a high talking voice and yet you're trying to sing with this gutsy sound. That tells me you're trying to be like everybody else. But I want you to take that thing I told you about Nat Cole and think about this, that you want to enunciate the words. I want you to let your talking voice kick in." So, I did and that's why you hear, in "Tears On My Pillow", You don't remember me, every little word. That was the beginning. Pertaining to the voice I have, it's not natural. It's super-natural. It is a gift from my Father. God himself. I'm not doing anything. I got it on loan. A lot of my contemporaries ended up with no voices from the life they lived and I live the same kind of life. I still have that voice at 74. It's like Mel Torme, Tony Bennett. We're a rare breed, but that's a gift. It's supernatural. I don't even know how I sing like that sometimes.
Q - I always say, when you get right down to it, a voice like yours is a God-given gift. There's really no rational explanation for it.
A - None. No logical, rational explanation at all. Tell me, how does anybody do what Michael Jackson did? For that matter, how does anybody do what Sammy Davis did? And we can go on and on and on and on. How can anyone be a heavyweight in the ring and fight like a lightweight? That's Muhammad Ali. Cassius Clay when he first started. Or, how does a guy like Sugar Ray Robinson? I can go on and on, whether it be sports or politics or business or somebody does something so special that you go "Wow! How'd they do that?" I had a man once tell me, he was in a company called ACN. He said, "You know how you get through a minefield. You get through the minefield by looking for some footprints. If you don't see the footprints go all the way through, it's a minefield." (laughs) Put your feet in those footprints. So, I guess what he was trying to tell me is you follow what you learn. Michael Jordan, in the '90s, was in a championship game against Indiana. He had three guys guarding him. He fell back because he couldn't shoot and yet the ball went in the last three or four seconds. When the ball went in and the game was won, he turned around to the camera and said, "I don't know how I did that." (laughs)
Q - With you, you were on the ground floor of Rock 'n' Roll. Rock 'n' Roll singers were different than Frank Sinatra.
A - Yeah, they were, but I liked Sinatra. I was exposed to him because my dad was a musician, my mom was a Gospel singer. So, I had a lot of music around me. I was exposed to it.
Q - But you didn't have anybody who was doing what you were doing, did you?
A - I had The Flamingos, The Moonglows, The Eldorados, The Ravens, Sonny Til And The Orioles. So, there were many people, even Frankie Lymon, who I became friends with. Sinatra, Nat Cole, Ella Fitzgerald was not my era. That was that era. Actually it helped me sing Pop music. "Goin' Out Of My Head" and "Hurts So Bad" were Pop songs. It really did do me well. I was inspired by the people in my era.
Q - The songs you were singing were not written by you, they were written by somebody else, correct?
A - Yeah.
Q - Were songs being written for you or did you have to find these songs?
A - I'm seventeen years old. I can't find them myself. It was in the organization, Gone Records and Mr. George Goldner when I started out, who found Al Lewis and Sylvester Bradford, who were very prolific writers at the time. He commissioned them to write a song for me. They came up with "Tears On My Pillow".
Q - You liked Dick Clark, didn't you?
A - I loved him. He was my friend. I mean, I used to watch him on TV as a kid when he was doing American Bandstand in Philadelphia. So, you know I was watching him. I was watching him when I was fifteen, sixteen years old, never thinking that one day I would actually meet him, but not only meet him, but in time become a friend 'til the day he passed away. I was on The View a few weeks ago with Whoopi Goldberg and they found a video where he took a pillow and he's got an eye dropper and he says, "This is called Tears On My Pillow. Ladies and gentlemen, Little Anthony!" After that he said, "You know, he's got a unique sound that I never heard before." When I was on the show he just came and talked to me. I was going, "Dick Clark is talking to me!" He would come to the dressing room and encourage me. You don't do that to everybody. Something he must've saw in me that was unique to him. That went up all over the years to tours with him, about three major tours and all the way through his wife. I used to go on stage and I would have my children and she would say, "I'll watch 'em." So, it became an intimate relationship. It went from an interview to an intimate relationship 'til the day he passed away. And I'm not the only one. Frankie Avalon was one. Bobby Rydell. He had a relationship with him. Fabian. He just liked us personally. That's the kind of relationship I had with him.
Q - You would go on Dick Clark's Caravan Of Stars tours.
A - Yes.
Q - I spoke with Karl Green of Herman's Hermits, who I believe you toured with on those shows.
A - I did.
Q - He said Herman's Hermits were being paid $200 a week. That's for the whole band, a band with two Top Ten hits. What was Dick Clark paying you?
A - I don't remember. I actually don't remember. I'd be guessing. I guess we were getting $2,200 a week on the bigger shows, GAC (General Artists Corporation) show. But with Dick, I don't remember. When you're a kid you don't think about stuff like that. You really don't. Your handlers know, but that's the problem. Your handlers are not cool. So Dick cooked the books, you know what I mean? No different than anybody else. The books were cooked.
Q - When I interviewed Carl Gardner of The Coasters, I asked about his induction into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall Of Fame. He said he'd rather have had the 50 million dollars he was cheated out of. You're a member of the Rock 'n' Roll Hall Of Fame and you're saying that you too were cheated out of money?
A - Yeah, but I don't take the same attitude he had. I know Carl Gardner. He was a friend to the day he passed away, but he was an angry dude. I'm not angry. There was once a story about Thomas Edison. He was asked by reporters, "You failed nine times on this experiment you're doing. Don't you feel bad about that?" He said, "No. I realize I had to do it wrong nine times." And that's me. My best years are ahead of me. There's no bitterness in me. Not at all. Why should I? I'm 74 years old. I survived. Most of my contemporaries are not here anymore. I am. I'm here by the Grace Of God. It ain't natural. It's supernatural. I'm just loved. And I know that. So, every confidence in me comes out. I just like to talk about it. Yes, it was bad. Yes, I didn't get paid. So what? Okay, now I'm here. Now I'm getting paid. Now I'm getting things right. Maybe Carl Gardner didn't live long enough or he was so bitter he never saw the sunlight that was probably there. It may have been a pin light, but he didn't pick up on it because he was so angry. That's his take. Mine? I say God I had the experience, man. It's an honor to be in the Rock 'n' Roll Hall Of Fame.
Q - Do Rock musicians need to be in a museum? Isn't it enough that they were recognized with the fame, success and the money they received in their lifetime?
A - What I consider the Rock Hall Of Fame or any Hall Of Fame is history. It's history class. Look, there are kids that would never have seen what Willie Mays did or Babe Ruth, but they go to the Baseball Hall Of Fame, there it is! There's the story. Same with the Rock 'n' Roll Hall Of Fame or any Hall Of Fame. What it does is say, "Hey! Your contemporaries have said you're cool, man. You're really good." When people come in, they take their kids. That child is being educated about history that he wouldn't have known because he probably wasn't born yet or he was too young to understand what was going on. Someone once said to know one's history is to respect it. We're dealing with that right today. I've never seen people that went over the same problem and still don't get it right! The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame is wonderful. I can take my grandchildren in there if I go to Cleveland. "Hey! Here's your Poppy! Here's the guy you see that takes out the garbage, changes your diapers. This is who I am." That's a part of me. That's who I am. That's cool, man. I can't think of anything better. That was a wise thing for them to do.
Q - You mentioned GAC. Were they your agents when you were starting out?
A - Yeah. GAC was the biggest organization in the world. Them and William Morris, in those days. I think ICM was just coming in.
Q - GAC was booking The Beatles. Did you meet The Beatles?
A - No, because Ernie Martinelli was at GAC. George Harrison, when they came in 1964, they did the whole campaign in America. Nobody ever saw a Beatle until The Ed Sullivan Show, right? So what happened was, everywhere, The Beatles were coming! Everywhere. The subways of New York. We said, "What the heck is a Beatle?" Then we got a call from our agent, Ernie Martinelli. He said, "The Beatles are coming. They want you to open for them." I found out George Harrison was a fan. So they decided to let us be the opening act for them at Shea Stadium. We turned it down. We turned it down because we had the number two record in the world, "Goin' Out Of My Head". We said, "What the heck, why do we need to be an opening act for them, for somebody we don't know?" That's one of the stupidest things we ever did. So there you go. Ernie said, "I think you're making a mistake!" We said, "We're not opening for no bugs!" (laughs) In retrospect, hindsight being 20/20, looking back on things, wow! What a huge mistake we made.
Q - You were friends with Elvis throughout his life?
A - Yup.
Q - Did you see the decline in his health?
A - Yeah. I saw the decline in his health. I was there. I was there when all this was happening. In fact, his masseuse in Las Vegas at The Hilton was my masseuse. In fact, the masseuse used to tell me, "Your skin is so nice, well toned." I met Elvis on a tour officially that we did. Chuck Berry was on the tour. Chuck was his friend. He introduced me to him when he came backstage, but I didn't connect. That was like '57, '58. Anyway, Elvis, after all those years passed by, in 1970 we were at the Hilton Hotel and he was opening up in the main room and the whole town was a buzz. He was in the movies so long he didn't do a whole lot of stuff. So, this was the first time he was coming back. He did that television special and then he came into Vegas. There was such a big buzz in Vegas. At that time, Vegas was very small. Every hotel room was booked to come see him. We happened to be in the same hotel playing a theatre there with Red Foxx and Bobby Vinton. And that is where I met him. He came in with quite a few interesting people. A guy ran up to our dressing room and said, "You know who's in the audience?" We said, "Who?" "Elvis. He wants you to come down after the show and come to the table." We went over to the table and that's how I met him.
Q - When was the last time you saw him, 1977?
A - No. I'd not seem Elvis since '74. I lost contact with him. I called him El. He called me Antony. (laughs)
Q - You made your first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1965?
A - Yeah. (laughs)
Q - That was a big deal, wasn't it?
A - Big time. That was the Mecca. Everybody came on there. He'd been on TV many years before. It used to be called Toast Of The Town. Then they changed it to The Ed Sullivan Show. He was a writer for The New York Mirror, so he didn't have any personality. He wasn't an entertainer. And Ed liked to get a little taste there before he went on. (Laughs) Sometimes he'd take too many. And people wondered why he'd get names mixed up. (Laughs)
Q - That's the reason?
A - Yeah. (Laughs)
Q - I never heard that before.
A - Oh, yeah. When people say that, I say that's why I wrote this book. People say "What!?" I say I'm telling you this 'cause I was there. (Laughs) Ed just had a few. Everybody knew it. He wasn't a bad drunk. To the contrary, he was very nice. His dressing room was next to us at the CBS place, where the Letterman show came from. He came into our room and he was so nice and said, "Are you boys nervous?" (Laughs) I said, "Yeah." In those days it was 'live' television. "Don't worry about it," he said. "I saw you in rehearsal. You're really gonna be good." And that was very encouraging.
Q - I believe Eric Burdon said Ed Sullivan made The Animals rehearse their songs for a week before their appearance. Did you have to go to the studio for a full week to rehearse your appearance on the show?
A - No. I remember I was on there with Tom Jones. That was the first time I met Tom and we were sitting there talking. We had to go to a studio and the Ray Bloch Orchestra was there. So, what they did was blocking. They did what you would call "mark" where you stand, the black tape they have on there. They prep you. So, we did have a couple of rehearsals. I don't know about the other groups. We had one, it really wasn't a dress rehearsal, but it was something like it. It was 'live' television. That's it. One shot. If you screw it up, it's over.
Q - Well, maybe not over.
A - Yeah. It's over. It could be over. There's some people that blew it. We knew that. In our case we were very fortunate and it was dynamic. Whenever Ed would call you over, that was the big time.
Q - You were booked by Lee Solomon at William Morris. I happened to interview him twenty-five years ago.
A - Wow! Lee Solomon was a bridge from that lollipop music to the Teddy Randazzo and Dan Costa productions. It changed everything. We went from a street sounding group to an R&B contemporary group and I say that sincerely. I hate it when people talk about Doo Wop. I don't know what the hell Doo Wop is. Excuse my expression. I'm not sure what it is. I got my theory. There was a man by the name of Gus Gossage who was a disc jockey in New York in 1973 when the Disco thing was starting to come up. So, he was trying to explain what I heard about those days, the old days. He couldn't explain the groups and singing. He called it Doo Wop simply because the Black groups were singing R&B and Soul, but the White groups couldn't match up. They couldn't do it. The Duprees, The Elegants, Dion. They couldn't do it. They couldn't match, so they created their own sound. So he just said that's what that music was. No, it wasn't. It would do a dis-service to The Moonglows, who did "Sincerly" or The Flamingos, "I Only Have Eyes For You". I could go on and on. It has nothing to do with that type of music. I'm not against anybody wanting to be a Doo Wopper, but Little Anthony And The Imperials is not Doo Wop. That would be a dis-service to the late Teddy Randazzo and the late Don Costa and all those wonderful people and the orchestrations and the music. Forty seven pieces! What are you talking about? No. No. We were a street corner bunch of guys, like all groups in those days, and we were called R&B Contemporary singers.
Q - Was Lee Solomon instrumental in getting you and The Imperials to develop a show? You couldn't develop anything by doing those Dick Clark Caravan Of Stars tours.
A - That was before that. When I went away from the group, they were working the bar circuit. They learned a lot. A gentleman by the name of Kenny Seymour came into our life. He became an Imperial, but he was a very accomplished musician, writer, pianist, composer. He turned us around, at least then. When I got back with them they were doing four part harmony. They were studying The Hi-Los and The Freshman and that kind of thing. They were doing Jazz progressions in their notes. So that's where we changed, but Lee Solomon came into our life because he saw us on The Ed Sullivan Show and said to me, and us, and Ernie Martinelli, our manager at the time, "This group is a Pop group. We gotta go that way. We gotta go the Tony Bennett way. We gotta go that way." It was because of him that we got into the Copacabana and we were there four times. That's success. He was the one that put us in the Lincoln Center with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra with Dionne Warwick. He did so much for me and they guys, but we had to produce. He could get the gigs, but we had to produce. He would always say, "Hey, all I do is get it. You make me look good." He was the one that put us in the Eden Roc in Miami and the Fontainebleau. He was the one that turned our lives around to this day. He was one of the people that if there's any longevity to Little Anthony And The Imperials, it's not the original Imperials anymore, there's only one left, but as far me, I'm me. It was him, and I've said that in many interviews. I give credit where credit is due. I give him his kudos. Lee was fun. Even when we would work, he would come down to Miami and we would party. It was just fun. His son Allen has booked me a few gigs now. His son got his own agency deal somewhere. Allen calls all the time. He was there when he was a little boy. So, that's the kind of relationship I had. I had to put that in the book. It's a different thing with me, man. It's not what people think. It's like people like to define who I am. They can't do that, because you can't define me. They didn't induct us into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in some special category like Doo Wop. We went in there as Contemporary R&B Pop singers, okay? The industry knows who Little Anthony is, absolutely. You have a lot of people running around saying "Oldies but goodies." I pray to tell them, no! We don't even do the circuit anymore. The only guy I'd do it for, because he's been my friend for years, is Jon Bauman, okay? Sha Na Na. He's been producing. We're doing a thing with him in January at the Mohegan Sun up in Connecticut. He's the only one. I will not ever do it for anybody else. It's a friendship thing. "Hey man, I need a headliner. Help me out, man." And he paid the money. But other than that, we don't do that circuit. We're going to be in New York City at the Resorts Casino. We do casinos. 70% of our business is casinos, concerts, theatres. I do a one man show. I just came out of Long Island at the Suffolk Theatre and sold out! Just me and a pianist. I've been in movies, in character, and people didn't even realize it was me. I'm a character actor. Television, movies. You name it. I've been in 'em all. I've won awards. I won awards with Ed Harris. We did a play in 1979 called Are You Looking? in L.A. I won the Best Actor. Does anybody tell me they know who I am? No! Doing this interview they got to know who I really am at 74. It's time that they know! I am not your typical cat out of that era.
Q - I almost forgot to mention that when I mentioned to Lee Solomon how powerful an agency like William Morris is, he stopped me and said, "The buyer, the person with the money is the powerful person."
A - That's really it. The old school agents like William Morris, they actually sold things. They went out and got it. A lot of these independent agents today wait for the phone to ring. Heck, I don't need them. I can give my phone number and then I don't have to pay the percentage. So, it's a different era now and Lee Solomon was the last of the great agents. He's gone. I don't think there's many left. Shelly Berger, who had the original Temptations and who Lee pushed to take over. Motown went to William Morris. Shelly Berger is the last I remember, but there's not many left. Just like record people. There's no more record people left. No more George Goldners, no Clive Davis'. There's no Berry Gordys. There's no Lieber / Stollers. It was a very creative era and I'd like to say that sincerely. It was the introduction. It was the '60s. The '50s was the introduction. The '60s was unbelievable. The only era that matched it a little bit was the '80s, early '80s and mid '80s. Hall And Oates came out. Sting.
Q - Whitney Houston. Michael Jackson.
A - Whitney. Oh my gosh. Bite my tongue. Forgive me, yes. (Laughs) The great Michael Jackson. Look, there's only two vocalists like that. Some say it's Al Jolson back in the '20s. Michael Jackson and Sammy Davis. After that, I don't know anybody as performers, singers, entertainers, all around everything. They're like the Willie Mays of show business. (Laughs) They could do everything. They had it all. I watched him (Michael Jackson) come up as a young kid. They told me Berry Gordy told him to listen to two people, Jackie Wilson and Little Anthony. I was told that by David Getz, who was Michael's best friend. Like I said, this tells people who I really am, not who they perceive I am. What I'm speaking to you is who I really am. In the book is who I really am. When I perform is who I am.
Q - You sure have a lot of energy. I'd never guess your age.
A - I tell people all the time there's a 30-year-old dude inside of me. He ain't got much sense to know that he's older and he still loves everything. He loves people. He just likes life. My best years are ahead of me. They're not behind me. I tell people it's not religion, it's relationship. You're here for a reason. That's why I called the book My Journey, My Destiny and in the front of the book is says, quoted from the Bible, Jeremiah 1:5, "I knew you before I formed you in your mother's womb." God knew who I was before I was born. It was laid out for me to talk to you right now. I get a chance to explain myself. This is me. Hello! This is who I really am.
Q - Did Bruce Springsteen open for you one time?
A - He didn't open for me. I think somebody misquoted that. He didn't really open for me. If you know anything about Jersey, Route 46 went from East to West and then they built the 80 and that's a freeway. All along Route 46 was one nightclub after another going West. I don't even remember the name of the place. It's just too many years ago, but I remember the stage was over the bar. That I remember. And these two phone booths. The Duprees were on the show. We were on it and this band. They just did their thing and everybody dug it, loved it and all that. They one thing I remember, more than Bruce Springsteen, was Max Weinberg. He was playing drums, but he doesn't look like a drummer. He looked like a lawyer. (Laughs) I remembered, Hey! I played with those guys! He was the first act. I think we were the second and The Duprees were the third.
Official Website: LittleAnthonyAndTheImperials.org
© Gary James. All rights reserved.