Gary James' Interview With Tim Hauser Of
Since their formation in 1969, the Manhattan Transfer have made quite a name for themselves in the music world. They were the first group to win not one, but two Grammy awards in both the Pop and Jazz categories. Their song "Boy From New York City", which was a cover version of The Ad Libs' 1965 recording, went to number 10 on the Billboard charts, winning them the Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group With Vocal Grammy. "Until I Met You" (Corner Pocket) garnered them a Grammy for Best Jazz Performance, Duo or Group. That was in 1981. The following year, 1982, they won another Grammy for Best Jazz Vocal Performance, Duo or Group for their recording. In 1985, their album "Vocalese" received 12 Grammy nominations, second only to Michael Jackson's "Thriller" as the most nominated single album ever. In 1998, the Manhattan Transfer was inducted into The Vocal Group Hall of Fame. The Manhattan Transfer's Tim Hauser spoke with us about his group.
Q - When the Manhattan Transfer was formed in 1969, Rock music, part Hard Rock music, was in full bloom. The original Woodstock Festival was held in August of that year. Remnants of the San Francisco sound were still around, The Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, people like that.
A - That's right.
Q - Why were you so confident that the Manhattan Transfer would succeed?
A - I wasn't that confident.
Q - What do you mean you weren't that confident?
A - Well, I mean... Okay. I was at Woodstock, my sister Fayette was an integral part of the San Francisco Rock scene, the cultural scene. In fact, there's a book out called Season Of The Witch . It came out last year (2012). It's the story of San Francisco history and she was the basic contributor of two chapters. She was a very close friend of Nancy Gurley, who was James Gurley's wife. He was the lead guitarist for
Big Brother And The Holding Company. So, my sister used to hang out with Janis Joplin and that crowd. She was also an original member of The Cockettes. That's a whole other story. (Laughs). She would fly into New York from San Francisco to visit me and her other friends. She told me in my apartment and we would talk about music and I was telling her about these ideas that I had about doing eclectic music and music that incorporated earlier periods of Jazz, the 1920s, the 1930s. But I said, "I don't know." I said, "I think I'm nuts. Nobody's doing this." Now, I went to Villanova University. Actually, I started out as a Doo-Wopper in high school. I was very happy to sing Doo-Wop in college except that I was the first of the Rock 'n' Roll generation and the older students didn't want to hear that stuff. They were into Folk music,
The Kingston Trio. And so, I went out and started buying these records. I became an addict to The Kingston Trio. I loved them. I loved that sound. So, I started playing and three of our group, we started playing Folk music when we were at Villanova. We were a classmate of Jim Croce. He and I and my buddy Tommy West all became pals. When I got out of school I was kind of doing this Folk / Rock thing, but I was incorporating it into a Doo-Wop song and some '20s stuff. I had this conversation with my sister and I said, "I don't know if I'm out of my mind bringing in these different eclectic elements of music." She goes, "Listen, you're on the right track. My friends..." and I knew who were her friends in San Francisco, "Are a very hip crowd and we collect '20s records and we listen to that. It's very, very popular in San Francisco. You are on the right track." Nobody was doing that in New York. In San Francisco, there was Dan Hicks And The Hot Licks and there were The Pointer Sisters. The Pointer Sisters were doing "Vocalese" back in the early time. So, I pursued it and it started to generate a great response. I just stood back and went "Wow! This works." (Laughs).
Q - What does that mean when you say you used to pal around with Jim Croce and Tommy West?
A - We were classmates. Tommy was my singing partner in high school. He eventually ended up in a band called Cashman, Pistilli And West. Cashman and Pistilli wrote "Sunday Will Never Be The Same". Pistilli went on to become an original Manhattan Transfer. We were all in this together. At Villanova, Tommy and I were in The Villanova Singers together. Jim Croce came on to join the glee club singers one day and we started talking to him and he turned out to be a folkie. He was a day hop. He didn't live on campus. He lived in upper Darby with his parents. His father worked for the post office. He would just invite us over for dinner. His mother would cook great Italian food and we'd bring our guitars down and banjos to his house. We'd all play. That's what we did basically through college. We just played. Then Tommy West ended up basically producing all of his (Jim Croce's) records.
Q - Were you listening to Jim Croce's original material?
A - Oh, yeah. I took the whole ride. I'm on the first record with him. I saw the whole show. We had fun.
Q - You are the original member of the Manhattan Transfer?
A - Yeah.
Q - Where did everybody go?
A - Let's see: Pete Rosalia passed away about two years ago (2011), Marty Nelson still lives in New Jersey. He's still writing songs. Gene Pistilli is a songwriter and lives in Nashville. And Erin Dickins is just getting ready to put out a new album, her second solo album. She lives in Maryland. I don't know exactly where in Maryland, close to the DC area. She sings in a lot of Jazz clubs there. She's very active. She's married to a lawyer, Tony. Nice guy. And that's what's happening. I'm in touch with everybody.
Q - Was Capital Records the first label you were on?
A - Yeah.
Q - Did a representative of the company see you perform somewhere?
A - No. It wasn't an A&R man. The late David Braun was my attorney. When I first started to take the plunge into the music business, I said to a friend of mine, "I don't know what I'm doing". He said, "Well, you gotta get a lawyer before you do anything." I said, "I don't know any lawyers." He said, "Call up David Braun." I said, "Who is David Braun?" He said, "He handles all of Albert Grossman's acts, Bob Dylan, Peter Paul And Mary. He's really good." So, I called him up and I had a meeting with him and that's how it started. I guess David took a liking to me. I wasn't anybody. I was nothing. I gave him a modest retainer and he got us a deal with Dick Asher on Capitol and that's how it started. Dick Asher was a really good guy.
Q - I recall seeing the Manhattan Transfer on the Johnny Carson show. He really liked your group.
A - He did. We did a lot of shows with Johnny Carson. It was fun. He was a cool guy. Different generation.
Q - He didn't invite you over to the couch, did he?
A - No. Never did.
Q - You did meet him before or after the show, didn't you?
A - Yeah. We would say "Hi", but it wasn't a long schmooze. I'll tell you a great story about Leno. Leno knows that I collect old cars. I only have three. He's got like a million. But that's not the point. The point is, I'm there with that shit. The last time we did The Tonight Show and it was a long time ago, we're not like one of the new, cutting edge flavor-of-the-day bands, but we went on The Tonight Show with Leno. He said to me, Listen, when you guys are done tonight, don't leave right away. Stick around. I want to show you something." I said "Okay". So we were done and everybody split and I'm just sitting around, not very long, sitting, waiting for the show to end. So the show ends and he comes over and says "C'mon over to the parking lot." There was a 1959 Ferrari, red. He said "I just bought this. Get in." (laughs) I get in and he drives me all around the fucking parking lot in this '59 Ferrari. He was like a kid, you know? It was great. He was so excited.
Q - The Manhattan Transfer performs how many days a year?
A - Last year our agent said we did about 75 to 80. So, when you take the outer end of that, which are traveling days, it's probably 100 days out of the year.
Q - You're performing where? Not only in the U.S., but overseas as well?
A - Yeah. We perform regularly in Europe and regularly in Japan. This year (2013) in August we're going to Australia and South Africa and we've never been to South Africa. This will be our fifth or sixth trip to Australia. We're going to Japan in October. We may go to Japan for a day or so to do the Tokyo Jazz Festival in September, but we're going in October for about a week or two and then we're going to Europe in November. We play Singapore like once every two years. We've played the Philippines, but not recently. Our agent is in negotiations with a promoter for us to play a third time in Buenos Aries and then play in Santiago, Chile for the first time. We've played in Russia. We've played in Istanbul many times. Athens, Dubai we've played once.
Q - Do you guys carry an opening act with you?
A - No.
Q - How many people does it take to put the Manhattan Transfer on the road? How many people are traveling with you?
A - We just can't carry the number of people we used to carry. We used to go out with two buses and a truck. It was like Rock 'n' Roll days. Good God, there must have been close to twenty people. Now, our guitar player got hired away last year by Jennifer Lopez. We didn't replace him. We just kept it as a trio. So, there's four of us. There's three guys in the band. So, that's seven, then there are three crew people on staff. Lori Green is our road manager and she handles our wardrobes. Matt, who does our front house sound, and then we have a couple of different guys that do monitors. We have one guy that lives in Berlin. He's our monitor guy overseas and sometimes here. We have a couple of different monitor guys. There's ten of us.
Q - Who's more appreciative of your music, American audiences or overseas audiences?
A - I don't know. I tell you, the Japanese are incredible. Culturally, they don't behave like Americans do, although they are far less formal today than they were back in 1980. But still there is a formality about them as a culture. Their I.Q. of American music, particularly American music of substance, and I'm trying to avoid the use of the word Jazz; let's just say American music of substance, their I.Q. of that is incredible, which bespeaks their intelligence as a nation. They are as a group, a very intelligent bunch of people who appreciate those things. They know their stuff. There are still retail record stores in Japan. You can go to Tower (Records) in Osaka and it's a huge store. There's a couple of Towers in Tokyo. It was always a thing about musicians. They would always talk about, even in the days of vinyl and CDs, Japan. Go to Japan and you can find great records that are not even in catalogs in America. Stuff that might have been in a catalog 40 years ago, 50 years ago. I found stuff that I didn't even know existed in Japan.
Q - In other words, you still have your record player!
A - Yeah. I still have my vinyl collection. I never got rid of my 45s. Have you ever heard of a singer / songwriter named Billy Vera?
Q - Oh, sure.
A - Well, Billy is one of my best friends. He and I, we trade off on this stuff. We both have really good 45 rpm R&B collections. So, I'm definitely a vinyl head. Vinyl sounds better.
Q - Tim, I'm thinking you should put something together about your experiences in the music business.
A - Well, yeah. My experiences go back to... I saw Buddy Holly And The Crickets in person. I met Frankie Lyman And The Teenagers. I met Bob Dylan before he made his first record on McDougal Street.
Q - Did you ever meet Elvis?
A - I never met Elvis.
Q - How about Frank Sinatra?
A - Yes. The most interesting one for me was when we played Tahoe. Sinatra was opening and there was a day in between, like a Monday. We closed on Sunday and on Monday he was rehearsing. Tuesday he opened. We were still hanging around. We were going to go driving through the mountains the next day, but we found out someone the next morning said, "Listen, Sinatra is rehearsing. Do you want to come to the rehearsal?" My partner, Alan, who is a Sinatraphile of great knowledge, he and his brother have Sinatra down. So, we walked into the rehearsal and Sinatra was on stage with a baseball cap on his head, practicing with the band. He looked at us and over at someone like, "Who are these two guys?" Somebody whispered in his ear and they must've said "Two guests from the Manhattan Transfer." And he looked at us and nodded his head. That was a nod, like" You're cool." We got to stay and watch him rehearse. So, it wasn't a performance. It was a rehearsal. The first time I saw him perform was at the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium in 1965. He was playing with The Count Basie Orchestra. I got a ticket at the last minute and I went out there. It was incredible.
Q - Did you ever meet any of the guys in The Beatles?
A - Yes. I met all of them except John Lennon. I knew Ringo. I used to hang out with Ringo. I know him quite well. I met Paul McCartney a couple of times, on a couple of different occasions. I met George Harrison once in San Remo, Italy, in a garden in a hotel we were staying in. Ringo played with us on a couple of cuts when we recorded with Richard Perry. He was on our second album "Coming Out". I hung out with him a little bit. Nice guy.
Q - Did you ever meet Jimi Hendrix?
A - I was walking down the street one day in New York and we ran into Joe Zagarino. He was a recording engineer. He overdosed on drugs out here in LA. He produced "The Thrill Is Gone" for BB King. He used to do a lot of work at The Hit Factory when it was on 49th Street, when it was owned by Jerry Ragovoy, who was a songwriter and a record producer. He produced Garnet Mimms And The Enchanters. He was Paul Rothchild's engineer who produced John Sebastian and The Doors. So, I ran into Joe on the street and he said, "What are you doing?" I had a straight job at the time. I had an ad agency. I said, "I'm on a lunch break" and I was wearing a suit. He said, "I'm doing a session with Jimi Hendrix. You want to come?" I said, "Yeah." He said, "C'mon and stay if you have an hour and hang out." So, I went to the studio. When I walked in, everybody looked very paranoid. (Laughs). I was wearing a suit. They thought I was a cop! Joe said, "He's cool." Hendrix was doing a vocal and he was very, very nervous about anybody seeing him sing. So, Joe put a baffle up in the studio. Jimi was on the other side of the baffle, singing. We couldn't watch him sing. After that take, he came back in the studio and they introduced me to him. So, that's my one and only Jimi Hendrix experience.