Gary James' Interview With Jeff Lehman of
featuring Elliot Lurie
In 1972 "Brandy (You're A Fine Girl)" made it all the way to number one on the Billboard charts. Elliot Lurie wrote that song and just happens to be the singer of that song. The band we're talking about it Looking Glass. There is still a Looking Glass group that performs, and we recently spoke with Looking Glass member Jeff Lehman.
Q - Jeff, "Brandy" came out at a time when a song had to have a melody and a story line.
A - Right.
Q - It's a pretty song, and if you listen to that song late at night or even early in the morning, say 2 AM or 3 AM, it sounds even prettier.
A - Oh, yeah.
Q - I believe that's what makes it sound so special.
A - I agree. It's incredible for that reason. When the song came out, that's one of the things that grabbed me about it. It just took you through a whole scenario. You could picture yourself in the bar, Brandy waiting on everyone. Sailors sitting around, talking about things. I could just picture it. It was really picturesque.
Q - Now, a song is just one phrase repeated over and over again. "Brandy" came out at a very special time.
A Absolutely. To add to that, it takes a lot more talent to develop a story song because you have to actually have a plot, whereas a lot of the songs nowadays it's just sort of a mantra. They repeat something over and over. A lot of boy meets girl, boy does girl wrong, kind of stuff. To me it's gotten kind of stale. I think the writing has gotten kind of stale. We have all this computerized stuff now that came make anyone sound like anybody, but the writing I think has gotten a little stale. You do hear every now and then a few diamonds in the rough.
Q - Like "Girl Crush" by Little Big Town. I know they didn't write it, but they made a great recording of it.
A - Yeah, absolutely. Even Bruno Mars in the Pop circles, a lot of his stuff is very melodic. It seems to beg of the '70s and '80s kind of period, that '80s Funk going. Some of his ballads almost sound like they could have been Soul ballads in the '70s and they're very melodic. I can tell even though he's a younger guy he's probably kind of cut from that mold of that era. That stuff I like. Some of this other stuff I don't even turn the radio on. (laughs)
Q - I recall Casey Kasem counting down the Top 40 and playing "Brandy". It brings back memories.
A - Oh, yeah. I does for me too. I was actually a child back then, but I have really good memories of that. I was nine when the song actually came out in '72. My mother used to drive me to school and I'd hear "Brandy". I'd say, "Boy, that song really sounds cool." The thing that kind of surprised me too is back then you didn't have the internet, so you really didn't picture the singer. I'm picturing this older guy with a big beard, kind of heavy set, singing this song. It turns out Elliot was a skinny kid from New York. (laughs) It totally blew my image of the singer.
Q - Almost like Paul Davis. I pictured him as looking like Bobby Darin.
A - He always looked like somebody who should've been in a Southern Rock band. You wouldn't think of it as this really mellow guy. I happen to really like his stuff too.
Q - What were you doing before Looking Glass? Were you in a band?
A - To give you a little background, I teach during the day. I teach on just a wide variety of things. I teach Business. I teach computers. I teach piano. I teach voice. I was playing in a variety of local bands and I was also doing road shows with Jim Gold of Jim Gold And Gallery. He lives in town here. I backed Cub Koda of Brownsville Station on the same bill we did with Jim. Just scattered gigs with Jim. How it came about with Looking Glass is I know Elliot was involved in the music industry as far as soundtracks go and that he was affiliated at one time with 20 Century Fox. So, my initial call to him, and I'd gotten a hold of his number through a contact, was just to pitch songs to him. It wasn't even about reforming an inversion of Looking Glass or anything like that. In the course of the conversation I asked him, "Did you ever think about getting the band back together?" I guess the original band, minus Pete Sweval who passed in 1990, had gotten together in 1995, but he said, "You know what? I'd actually entertain that idea if you could put something together in Detroit." This was around late 2002 that I called him. And so, needless to say we made a demo of "Brandy" and some of the other songs, "Jimmy Loves Mary-Anne", and we sent them to Elliot and he said, "Yeah, the band sounds good." We originally went out with live horns. We kind of nixed that idea after awhile for price reasons. It's really expensive when you have to have a horn section go with you, but we used some guys in town here. The first official Looking Glass gig after the one they did in New York in '95 was 2006. We played the Cannery Casino in Vegas and they announced it as the first Looking Glass gig in awhile. So, that was really cool. We were actually calling the group at that point Looking Glass Featuring Elliot Lurie, so people would know it has the original singer in the band. We did that to kind of differentiate, plus to just call it Looking Glass, Elliot considers all four original guys part of Looking Glass. At least three of them would want to use the name. But, having just him in the band, who was the singer of the song and the writer of it, we put his name out front so people would know. We've played Port Washington where we played with
Gary U.S. Bonds and Maxine Nightengale and a whole bunch of other people and did some shows with
Sonny Geraci And The Outsiders. God rest Sonny, he just passed recently. We did a show in St. Louis with
Chuck Negron of Three Dog Night and
Rob Grill of The Grass Roots, who has since passed in 2009. We had a pretty good run. We were doing maybe two or three shows a year. It was pretty cool.
Q - When you said you were a teacher, you're teaching what? Middle school? High school? College?
A - No. I teach proprietary school.
Q - What's that?
A - It's a school where you can get a certificate in medical billing or an electric trade. Something like that. The stuff that I teach is the business curriculum. Then on the side I also teach programs that I put together under my own sole proprietorship called Musicom, which stands for Musi for the music and Com for computers. Stuff like voice lessons, piano lessons at Birmingham Schools and some of these other places where they have these after school programs. So, I stay pretty busy doing that and play the roadshows when they come about and also play locally too.
Q - When Looking Glass goes out on the road, everyone wants to hear "Brandy".
A - Sure.
Q - That's probably not the song you lead off with. You probably leave that for the very end.
A - Right.
Q - That being the case, what kind of material are you playing? Is there more material from Looking Glass that you can play?
A - Yeah . We do the album cuts. We do "Jimmy Loves Mary-Anne", which was the follow-up hit off the 1973 "Subway Serenade" release. We do songs off of that. We do "Wait". We do "Golden Rainbow". We do a handful of songs that the other singer, Pete Sweval, who was the bass singer sang, like "Rainbown Man", and "Jenny Lynn". Those are a little higher, so I take those and Elliot does all his things. Pete had a higher voice than Elliot.
Q - How much work is there for the band?
A - There was a lot of work years ago. What has since happened is, it's been getting a lot harder for groups that have one, two and three hits to go out there and so a whole show. Some of the shows we did were one and two hours long and we had to combine it with some of my originals like "My Heart Wants To Believe You". Stuff that sounded Looking Glasseaque. Then we also did some album cuts that were big back in the day. So we kind of mix it up like that.
Q - I would guess that the majority of your work would be those package tours then.
A - Right. That's most of the shows we get are from that ilk. They've combined us with a bunch of acts together. Sometimes they'll have one band back the acts. The ones that we did we went out with our full band. We would back Elliot and the other bands would back whoever they were backing.
Q - Looking Glass has never been featured on one of these PBS Specials, have they?
A - No. We were approached to do one. Elliot wanted us with the two other original guys. He didn't want to leave them out of the picture. We just couldn't make it work as far as getting everyone's schedule together. It unfortunately never happened. I was really bummed about it. I wanted it to happen.
Q - If you're not out there, if you're not visible, people tend to forget.
A - I agree, and I think what has happened since this whole thing came back together around 2003, and it took a few years after that by the time we got the work together, the band learning all the tunes and all our schedules got together, it was really around 2006 when we started playing out. People started becoming aware of us. The Facebook page has grown. People are now now more aware of who Elliot Lurie is. Before they knew "Brandy", but they didn't even know who did the song. (laughs) It's kind of funny. I was talking to
Rod Novak (King Harvest) and Elliot's voice was very similar in range and style to Doc Robinson's, the late Doc Robinson. Unfortunately we lost him too of King Harvest. So, a lot of people thought we did "Dancing In The Moonlight" and they did "Brandy". (laughs) I said if we ever get together we're going to really screw 'em up. We'll both do each other's tunes and they'll be less confused. (laughs)
Q - What does Elliot Lurie do with himself these days?
A - He's doing these shows called the Yacht Rock, which they go out with a bunch of guys. They do shows on boats. He's doing that. He's been doing a lot of solo performances. As a matter of fact, him and I have a duo show which I'm trying to book where I open for him. He comes out and it's like a storyteller kind of thing, where it'll be acoustic and then I'll join him at some point. I've been trying to get those going. We have one that's tentative here in Detroit, but no date on it yet. He does a lot of writing, occasional sound track stuff, but not as much as he used to from what he tells me anyway. He's not doing quite as much of that anymore.
Q - The success of "Brandy" was really a fluke, wasn't it? This D.C. disc jockey, Harv Moore, was the first person to play "Brandy"
A - Absolutely. And another one of the songs, "Don't It Make You Feel Good", which is another one of the songs we do 'live'. It's really a cool tune. It's off the first album. To me anyway, it's got kind of a Blood, Sweat And Tears, Chicago kind of feel. Horns. Kind of rockin'. That was actually the first single that they promoted from what I've read off of the album. "Brandy" didn't go anywhere. It was only after Harv Moore had played it that a lot of stations jumped onboard after that.
Q - The follow-up to "Brandy" was what?
A - "Jimmy Loves Mary-Anne", but that wasn't off the first album. It was off the second album called "Subway Serenade". That was roughly around late Summer, early Fall of 1973. That's when that song came out. "Jimmy Loves Mary-Anne" obviously didn't chart as high as "Brandy". I believe the highest it got was in the 20s, 28 somewhere. It didn't get quite as high as "Brandy", but it was the follow-up. We do that one as well. That one has a little bit of Soul feel to it. They're both really fun songs to play.
Q - "Brandy" was number one for one week. What knocked it off that number one spot? Do you remember?
A - I'm not sure if "Alone Again (Naturally)" bumped "Brandy" off or we bumped Gilbert O'Sullivan off.* (laughs) But it was around August 26th of 1972. Yeah, it was up there for awhile. That's for sure.
Q - You guys call New Brunswick, New Jersey home?
A - Well, that's where the original Looking Glass was from. Elliot is actually from New York and the other guys were from New Brunswick, New Jersey. They rented a home in Glen Gardner, which actually, as of three years ago, was up for sale. He (Elliot) is based on the West Coast now. He lives in California. He moved out there when he hooked up with the movie industry. It's been a really fun ride and I'm hoping we're going to have more shows to do with Elliot. I like working with him.