Gary James' Interview With


She performed at the original Woodstock in 1969. She performed at the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970. She was chosen as Billboard's Number One Top Female Vocalist (award) for 1972. She is best known for her songs "Brand New Key", "Ruby Tuesday" (a remake of the Rolling Stones' song), "What Have They Done To My Song Ma" and "Lay Down (Candles In The Rain). We are talking of course about Melanie.

Q - Melanie, you now make your home in Nashville. Isn't that a place for Country singers and songwriters?

A - You would imagine, but of course things have changed. It's quite honestly a bit too Los Angeles for me. Big movie things are being done here. There's all sorts of music. Stevie Winwood lives here. A lot of people from my end of Pop music live here, not that I'm a hanger-outer much, but I do know this, there's all sorts of music happening in Nashville. East Nashville is like the new Village, the Greenwich Village of Nashville. It's really a nice place to live. Very community feeling. It's a big city, small town thing going. Of course there's universities and everywhere there's students, it's always a nice place to live because there's new ideas and thoughts and fresh energy.

Q - Do you still perform?

A - I'm pretty active. There are months when I don't perform and there are months when I go out on tour. I've been active nonstop really. I stopped for the period it took for me to have children. But I never really retired or went away. Of course I don't have a PR company and in fact my husband, who was my manager, producer of all my records and partner and father of our children, passed away a few years ago. I'm in an entirely different universe as far as what needs to be done. I never dealt with having a career. I just did these shows. I just went out and performed where they were booked. When Peter passed away, we were on the road, Beau and I. My son is my guitar player. He's amazing. He's not only a guitar player, he's a composer. He's doing a movie thing. He performs with me when I do shows, and he has for 15 years. Wow! It's hard to believe. To me he still a little kid (laughs) We were on the road when Peter passed away suddenly. We were always insulated and always surrounded by Peter's energy and what he would do. He handled all the logistics and all the bookings and all the interviews, everything. So, here we were in Massachusetts. We didn't know anybody. I actually did the show Peter booked. It was a few days later. We continued to do these shows Peter booked. We didn't know what else to do. Neither one of us really drove. We both had licenses, but we never really used them. Peter was the driver. He was a great driver. Beau and I would mostly keep Peter awake. That was how it went. That drastic change happened these past few years. I did a musical based on the life we lived together. It's a rarity that people in this profession are together that long and even more of a rarity that they are both in the same business. I mean, his profession was me. I didn't even know what that entailed. This is just the way it went. I had never made a record before I met Peter. So, it was an entire life of this. Coming out from that place into this new place is a frame of reference that this play uses.

Q - Melanie, you were ahead of your time. When you were recording, it was just "Melanie". Now, so many singers are known by just their first name.

A - Right.

Q - Your parents wanted you to go to college. So you enrolled in the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York to study acting. In 1966, what were you hoping to do with a degree like that?

A - (laughs)

Q - Were you seriously contemplating a career as an actress?

A - I think I was. Originally, I didn't want to go to school at all after I graduated high school. My dad wouldn't hear of it. In fact, we had so much disagreement about it, I ran away from home to prove the point, I was 16. I didn't think I was causing my parents any great grief. (laughs) Now that I'm a parent I realize what I did. It took weeks for them to find out because it's before the Internet and cell phones. The police in Los Angeles, that's where I ended up, found me and put me in a girls detention home until they could contact the right people to come and get me. Eventually, two weeks later, they did find me. But I spent a couple of pretty horrendous weeks in a girls detention home. They didn't know what I was there for.

Q - How did you get to Los Angeles?

A - I flew.

Q - When you arrived, what did you do when you got there?

A - I plotted this whole thing. I sold some things of mine. My name was made up. I didn't go as Melanie (Safka). I went as Eve Dane as a matter of fact. I really do believe that people have somewhat of a destiny. I met an actor on the plane. His name was Robert Ridgley. He was then in The Gallant Men. I didn't know who he was, but I found out later. He and I sat next to each other. He had a guitar on the plane. Now I had left mine because I thought that'll be a dead giveaway. At that point you didn't see girls with guitars you didn't see boys with guitars. You didn't see a whole lot of people walking around with guitars.

Q - What year was that?

A - I don't know. I was in high school, my last year of high school. '65, '66.

Q - The British invasion had happened by then, so guys would be carrying guitars around.

A - Oh no, they weren't.

Q - They weren't?

A - They were not. Absolutely. The whole genre of singer / songwriter didn't exist. They called me in fact, the female Bob Dylan, because there wasn't anybody else who wrote their own songs and sang.

Q - What about Neil Diamond?

A - He was a Pop kind of guy. It wasn't the singer / songwriter. They didn't have a title like that. They would say the name of the person and he sang his own songs and that's how it went. But there certainly weren't people with guitars. They didn't put guitars in paint your room advertisements, with a picture of a room and a guitar propped against a bookshelf. You couldn't go to Juilliard and play guitar. You could study classical guitar, which was something we tried to do when my father picked me up from Los Angeles. On the way home he said, "I want you to get some further education." He said music school, but it turned out you needed to read and know theory to a degree and you had to be accepted based on a lot of that knowledge. I knew nothing about theory or how to write music or read music. I wasn't a candidate. It's changed. Everybody was sort of going to Berkeley at one point to learn about Pop music. (laughs) But at that point there wasn't such a thing available. So I ended up going to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. It was a compromise. I didn't know exactly why I was there, but I always enjoyed being theatrical. (laughs)

Q - Did you graduate from that college?

A - Yes, I did.

Q - Was that a two year or four-year college?

A - Two years.

Q - Your parents were accepting of that?

A - Well, my mother was all for what ever I wanted to do. If I wanted to stop school, that was fine. My dad wouldn't even hear of it. They weren't exactly in agreement about me. My father wasn't exactly fine with it, but at least I was off the streets. (laughs)

Q - When you landed in Los Angeles, where did you go? Where did you stay? Where did you eat?

A - This is what I was getting at with Robert Ridgley. On the plane we became friendly. He asked me my name and I told him Eve Dane. "Do you have a place to stay in Los Angeles?" "Yeah. I have friends." I had a phone number. I had one phone number of somebody that I might be able to stay with. I was a little bit nervous but not all that much. No matter what, I could get along. When I left the plane he said "your how old?" I said, "I'm 18." He said "and your name is?" I said, "Eve Dane." He looked at me like, yeah yeah yeah. (laughs) He wasn't buying it. He said "you do have a place to stay, right? You're okay?" And I went, "yeah, yeah." And so he saw me at the phone booth when I was trying to reach this one person, my one contact in Los Angeles and they weren't answering the phone. He said "do you need a ride somewhere?" I said, "well, I can't get through to this number" and he said "look, I know the girl who runs the Hollywood Studio Club For Girls and you have to be recommended by a working actor and I can get you in there. It's just like a couple of dollars a day." I said "great." (laughs) So, I get in the back of this big limo. I mean, he's a big star at that point. He's "The Gallant Man." I never really saw The Gallant Men, so I didn't know. He got me into the Hollywood Studio Club For Girls until the police found me and took me out of there and my dad came to get me and I went home and went on to the acting school. But I was at least in a safe place. You could say I was safe. I was out on the street wondering what I was going to do. I got a guitar, a cheap guitar. I met some people who also played and I got myself into one hairy situation and had to run out of somebody's house in the middle of the night. I'm down on the freeway and that's where they discovered who I was. I got my dad and that was my adventure in being a runaway in Los Angeles.

Q - You are so fortunate that Mr. Ridgley came to your rescue.

A - That's for sure.

Q - Now let's fast forward. How did you get a record deal on Columbia records? Who "discovered" you, for lack of a better word?

A - It was Peter. Peter was the producer. He had been producing what they considered Psychedelic music. He produced a group called The Balloon Farm, with the first group that used a theremin on a Rock record. He produced some other funny named groups. There was one called The Marshmallows. What he did, and I didn't know this, he pretended like he was going to the studio with The Marshmallows, when in fact it was me. He used their session to record me. I don't know how he was gonna work it out, but he was so completely positive that the outcome of this session was going to be so amazing, that Columbia was going to be so knocked out that they would want to sign me. Peter had made the deal with John Hammond, who was the A&R man there. A&R at a label as prestigious then as Columbia was musically knowledgeable. And A&R man meant that you truly did graduate art or another music school. You knew what counterpoint was, what melody was. You knew what it took to make a good song, what a melodic song was, what a voice was. It was right before lawyers took over the industry. John Hammond wasn't a lawyer. He was a music person. He came from a music place. Most A&R men at that point were music people who understood what music was. So, I was signed through Peter to John Hammond at Columbia. Right as I was going to do this session in question, now again Peter is pulling this off; he was the amazing gambler. He would do things that nobody would do. He had a full-out string session and we were recording "Beautiful People". It was right before the end of John Hammond's reign at Columbia and all of a sudden there's a man called Clive Davis, and he's a lawyer. We are all wondering what's a lawyer doing being the head of Columbia Records? It was before that was the norm.

Q - He was a creative lawyer.

A - Do you know Clive Davis?

Q - I don't.

A - I didn't see it that way. I saw him as a lawyer. He surrounded himself with creative people.

Q - Look at the people he signed. Janis Joplin, Whitney Houston.

A - I know. You must to read all his biographies. (laughs)

Q - I did.

A - There's nothing better... He is a really good promoter, of himself. He didn't sign Janis Joplin. She was on the label. I'm not going to make this interview about Clive Davis. He surrounded himself with talented people and that in itself is a talent. At that point, when I met Clive Davis, he wasn't a music person. He was telling me that they had just signed Michelle Lee and that she was making an album, but that I wasn't going to make an album. What he didn't know was that Peter had an escape clause in the CBS contract that let me split immediately and I went to Buddah Records. Clive Davis believed he had me signed for the duration, which was normally the case, but we did have a way out.

Q - Buddah Records did a better job for you than Columbia?

A - I had my first hit with Buddah Records, "Candles In The Rain (Lay Down)", with The Edwin Hawkins singers. Actually, Peter signed with Clive Davis twice and again it was Peter who made the deals. I didn't have hands-on in making the deals. I really objected because Clive Davis was a great intimidator. He totally intimidated me. I was in his office and he made me cry. I felt like a complete idiot. Here I was, a person who at that point had maybe 60 songs that I felt like I needed to make this album, and I went in there very, not even thinking I would get resistance because of this beautiful record. Under Clive, they didn't release it. "Beautiful People" was never released. It was a turntable hit. It got a lot of attention and it was a number one record in Europe, but in this country it was never released. It was just underground, Ruscoe on WNEW FM was the first DJ to play it. Underground radio stations at that point where FM and they would play my record and that's how come I became a little bit of a buzz in the industry. With only that, I did Woodstock.

Q - That was my next question; how did you get to perform at Woodstock? Was that also through Peter? Did the Woodstock promoters contact you?

A - It wasn't the business it is now. People had ideas and they would just go with them and things were happening in different genres of music. They were all coinciding and being invented. Peter had an office in the same building as Kama Sutra, Artie Ripp and Artie Kornfield and Mike Lang. They were all hanging out downstairs. It sounded nice. It was three days of peace, love and music. I had no clue. Nobody did at that point. It was just in the planning stages. They hadn't even booked any really big acts yet. I asked if I could be there and they said "yeah. Three days of peace love and music. You'll be perfect."

Q - You weren't in the Woodstock movie, were you?

A - Not in the first one, the second one. I only had one record that was being played in underground radio stations. I would think only one percent of that audience knew anything about me before I went on that stage. The phenomenon of me at Woodstock was that I walked on stage an unknown person and I walked off a celebrity.

Q - What day did you go on?

A - Day one.

Q - What time slot?

A - I don't know what time it was. I waited all day and every once in a while someone would come in and say "your on next" because I was an easy set up, like Richie Havens, pretty simple. Acoustic guitar. Then they would say "never mind." (laughs) And that went on all day long until after Ravi Shankar. I was in Woodstock Two. I didn't know until they did a documentary on Woodstock what my set was. I didn't walk up there with a set. I was just going to wing it in front of 500,000 people. (laughs). It started to rain. I sang a song I had just written called "Birthday Of The Rain". I never sang it again. Years later I'm doing this documentary on Woodstock and they showed my footage. I had never seen the footage. I did a whole set. I didn't know that.

Q - How were you introduced? Who introduced you?

A - I don't know. Right before I went on, I think the emcee was Wavy Gravy. They were saying something inspirational about hog farms. It started to rain and I actually believed everybody was going to get up and go home. Somewhere in my dreams, my hopes, I thought I was going to be saved from having to go do this. I was in total terror. The announcer made some inspirational message about the hog farm and passing out candles and everybody should light a candle. Anyway, I was introduced. I went on next. During my set I got to watch the hillside light up with candles, giving me the inspiration for "Candles In The Rain". I wrote it as I was leaving Woodstock. It was out a few months later. If I had the savvy that other people had, to call it "Woodstock", it probably would've been even a quicker hit, but it was still a huge hit. The eight minute version came out two or three months later. It was called "Candles In The Rain", referring to the event of people lighting the candles. From that moment on, people would bring lighters or matches or candles, signaling that they had been there even before the song was released. Then once the song was released, it was like the thing to do, to bring your wire hangers to Mommie Dearest. It became the thing to do if you're going to a Melanie concert, you bring your candles, your lighters or your matches. Now of course people bring cell phones, their apps. Not many people realize that the entire event of lighting things at concerts begin with me at Woodstock.

Q - You performed at the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970. Wasn't Jimi Hendrix there as well?

A - Yes.

Q - Did you see him or meet him?

A - Yes, I did. Actually, we went home on the same flight from London to New York. I spent nine hours in the plane with Jimi Hendrix in the next seat.

Q - What did you think of him? How did he come across to you?

A - He was very soft-spoken. I don't remember a whole lot. I remember there was a couple of smart ass businessmen who were throwing little digs over at him. It was definitely the them against us mentality that was happening between the straight people and the people like us, highly suspect people like us. I was the one who was really getting upset with these guys, but he was very cool. At one point I remember we somehow got on the subject of Appalachian music and he said he was really influenced by Appalachian music. You can really tell that in his chord progressions.

Q - Do you remember what Keith Moon said when he introduced you?

A - Not a thing. (laughs) I was too nervous to even think about it. I know it was approaching dawn and I had to follow The Who. Nobody wanted to follow The Who. No one. No one would do it. Jim Morrison was supposed to go on after The Who and he wouldn't do it. He absolutely refused.

Q - Did you see Morrison there?

A - Yeah. I saw him running. (laughs)

Q - That's it?

A - That's about it. No one wanted to follow The Who. It was the unbelievable presentation, unveiling of "Tommy". Roger Daltrey in all his glory. Amazing theatrically and lights and smoke. It took them over an hour to clear the stage.

Q - So why did you and your husband launch Neighborhood Records? Wasn't it expensive to launch a record company?

A - I was never involved in finances. Peter just did what he did. He was the record man and I was the singer and that's how it was for 45 years. That's why the show was such an amazing story. Two people who were so completely different, living our parallel lives together, but into separate areas. We were starting a record company. I thought it was a good idea. I was sold on the idea of creative control. The irony is, the first record he released was "Brand New Key". (laughs). It was my last thing I wanted to do. At that point in my life I was already highly suspect. I was entirely too cute and beautiful. The girls were all angular and angst full. That was the accepted image of a girl who had something to say.

Q - Did you write "Brand New Key"?

A - Yeah, I did. I wrote all my songs, except for "Ruby Tuesday", which I am sometimes, believe it or not, given credit for because it was such a huge hit in Europe that I am associated with. If all else fails and you say "Melanie, Melanie who?" And you say "Ruby Tuesday", "oh Melanie, Ruby Tuesday", then they know.

Q - That's so strange to me. When I think Ruby Tuesday I think Rolling Stones.

A - That's because you're not European. I'm telling you this is what happened in Europe.

Q - Why do people think "Brand New Key" is a drug song?

A - Well, it was banned by certain radio stations. People are reading things into lyrics. I guess it was a little left over McCarthyism. I was a subversive because I was associated with the anti-war demonstrations. I always felt my stance was more pro-peace then anti-war. They would just read things into lyrics so they thought "key" was a kilo, a drug reference. It got banned by a lot of radio stations. Ironically, it doomed me to be cute for the rest of my life because it was a very cute song. I kind of appreciate it now because those kind of songs that can transcend a time are not that common.

Q - You're right. Songs like "Brand New Key" aren't being written. And if you're a singer and a woman, they want you to be a diva.

A - Yeah. I watched the industry go from music motivated to a business. Of course everybody wanted to sell records, but the assumption was if it was really good it would make money for the record company. As the lawyers became more powerful, it became "if we promote it enough, it'll make money if it's promoted to the right market." It used to be marketing was the study of demographic groups that would buy Melanie records. So they would find out and promote it to those areas. Now, it's to the point where they create the groups that they marketed to. They plant the seeds in those very impressionable people out there. This is the type of music you'll like if you buy those particular genes, if you buy that particular car, if you vote for Obama. It's a lot more of the meddling realm than it used to be. It used to be they'd find out who would like what, but now they actually create who would like what.

Q - And the reason that's being done is because record companies cannot wait for someone to come up through the ranks, so to speak. The system that allowed Melanie to develop is no longer in place.

A - That's really not the reason why we have manufactured music. We have manufactured music because with the advent of video, MTV, basically it became less about the audio and more about the visual. It became a visual art. I always laugh at poor Milli Vanilli. They got this terrible rap because they didn't sing their own song. I'm thinking this is very funny because right now there are very few people on the charts that are actually using their own voice. It's computer enhanced and generated to the point where you don't have to be a singer of any kind at all to make a presentable record, if that's what you can call it. You don't even have to carry a tune. You could be tone deaf and it doesn't matter because you can sing into a microphone and it will correct. People have no idea how sophisticated it is. There is a program where you can actually just breathe into the program and it will turn it into some kind of music.

Q - Never heard that before. They been doing this for a long time?

A - The technology wasn't there.

Q - Go back to the late 1950s, Fabian couldn't sing, yet he became a star.

A - Yeah, but he carried it to a lot better than most of the people who are making records now. I mean, he wasn't a great singer, but he could sing. Yes, they made have a big star and promoted him. People can always sense those were the manufactured ones and then there was the real talent. A real talent would emerge and they would know that. But now, it's so sophisticated and PR is so sophisticated. You could say a name of somebody and it'll just bring up images, anything they want you to believe.

Q - In "Brand New Key" you wrote and sang "I ride my bike, I rollerskate, don't drive no car." Are you describing yourself?

A - No, not really. It was just a whimsical thought about when I was rollerskating when I was little. This memory came back to me. I didn't drive. There's always several little snippets of what is factual in a song, but they're all not autobiographical.

Q - "For somebody who don't drive, I been all around the world. Some people say I've done all right for a girl." At that time, you had been all around the world!

A - Yes. I'd been all around the world. I had done Woodstock. I became like Festival Queen after Woodstock. I would be the choice of a girl to sing at a festival. In fact, I had to sign papers saying I wouldn't do "Candles In The Rain". New Jersey had band festivals. It was illegal to have a festival in New Jersey at one point. I was booked at a Garden State Arts Center, which was a big, outdoor venue. I think it's now the name of a bank. I was booked to go on and the Governor, the night before, banned the concert, saying that I constituted a festival, and they didn't allow festivals in New Jersey.

Q - Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock 'n' Roll said this about you: "While she sold over 22 million records around the world, her childlike demeanor, cracked voice and na´ve lyrics made her a novelty act before her time." Novelty act? So you're in the same category as Tiny Tim? Mrs. Miller? Weird Al?

A - I don't know. At one point Rolling Stone waged war against me. I don't know exactly where it came from, maybe something Peter did or said to Jann Wenner. It became a very California paper. Everybody was hanging out in Topanga Canyon. It was all very LA and I was in New York. I never left New York. I was never treated with any sort of seriousness or respect. Whenever they did do an article on me, it was never good. It would be deliberately out to tear me down, or they would couple me with Bobby Sherman. (laughs) It was all to make very light of everything I did. The review for "Candles In The Rain" was: "The Edwin Hawkins singers are incredible", the song they didn't realize I wrote is very good. What they said about me was I sound like a pencil scratch across the record. I don't know what they were hearing because the vocals were brilliant. That really used to hurt me, but now I look at it and call it "find Patti Smith." (laughs) Every Rolling Stone has one little blurb about Patti Smith. I'm not taking anything away from her, but there is a persona that they approve of and I had the one they don't. I was much too adorable. I was not allowed to surface as anything of worth in that paper.

Q - Do you know how many records you've sold?

A - I just listen to people what they say. Somebody told me 80 million. I'm sure that's true. It has to be. I have 45 albums out. There's a lot of bootlegs and a lot of "Best Of"s, but regular studio recordings, I have 40 some odd albums out.

Q - In 1972 you became an official UNICEF Ambassador. What did that job entail?

A - It entailed me going around the world doing concerts to raise money for UNICEF. A good portion of those concerts I was with Peter Ustinov. I would lend my services to raising money for UNICEF. That was before people got the idea that it was a career move. I didn't have that motive. I was always a kid who collected for UNICEF on Halloween. That was my big thing. I would go out one night for me and candy and the next (night) I would go out for UNICEF. I would do ads for television and it was in Europe at the time when I had to cancel a lot of touring money to do this. I completely donated my services. Now, most people who are doing charities in this day, it's part of the expense and their expense is covered by lending themselves to the charity. Mostly nobody gives up anything, but in my case I actually did give up, I'll say $1 million worth of bookings. My husband was most upset. In many cases we were even sued by different people because I decided I had to do something. I wanted to be in the Peace Corps and I met Peter and my life took a different direction. It's all in Melanie And The Record Man and hopefully it will go to off-Broadway and other people will know besides the people in Rochester (New York). It was a great success though. We had some amazing reviews. There was a paper called The Democrat and they weren't presold or had any ideas of what they were gonna get. Most people thought it was going to be a glorified Melanie show with "and then I wrote..." It was anything but.

Q - You are in the process then of trying to take Melanie And The Record Man on the road or to a bigger scale?

A - I am meeting with people who are thinking about off-Broadway. Then I actually have one guy who was thinking of Broadway. That's a bit terrifying because they can close before you open. I'd just like to work out the kinks. It started out as a three-hour show. We whittled it down to 2 hours, 40. People were walking out saying "I could never believe it was that long" because it just moves from one thing to another. It's not linear. It starts with Peter dying and I tell about what happened and I sit on a haystack and tell how it happened and how I found out and police cars came and told me. My son was in one of those Residence Inns. We were there. We were gonna be there for a week and I was stocking up. Peter was gonna pick me up and he just never came back. So that's how it starts out and then it shoots right back to how I got booked at Woodstock. A girl plays a young Melanie. There's a guy who plays a very good Peter from early on to later. It was very difficult for him. It was horribly emotional. Almost too much to bear. In the same breath it was also therapeutic.

Q - You're on stage during this show?

A - Yes, I narrate. I'm Melanie, who I am. I tell about something and it gets re-enacted or its first re-enacted and then I comment on it. I have a scene in it about Clive Davis. (laughs) Not that I'm an iconoclast. You could still worship him if you want. I have my own hands-on version.

Q - See, I can only relate to what I've read. He's made out to be this genius.

A - Yeah. He discovered everybody. I was on his label twice. I told you Peter signed with him twice. I couldn't believe him. (laughs) The first time he sort of took over the record label. Second time it was Arista Records. He had just embezzled for his son's bar mitzvah. We don't talk about that. Nobody talks about that. They got him out. He ran. He was hiding. In fact, there was one day he was going down the back stairwell of Arista because they wanted to serve him with papers. But he's a smart lawyer. He got out of it. He still smells like a rose. It's amazing. It's absolutely amazing.

Q - Look what he lost with Whitney Houston. The time he invests in her career, right?

A - Oh, please. Please. No. I think Clive Davis is the kiss of death for an artist. Yes, he finds them. He discovers them. He builds them. When I was at Arista, I told him I was going to have a baby and he basically told me it was not a good idea.

Q - What did he say, it wasn't a good career move?

A - He didn't have to. Janis Joplin didn't do so well without Big Brother And The Holding Company. He just has those ways of pulling the strong things, the things that make an artist able to continue. He has a way of pulling them out from under them. To me, he shouldn't be anywhere near an artist. I was told, "don't tell Clive Davis stories are you won't work much in this town again."

Q - Who was telling you that?

A - A messenger.

Q - From the record company?

A - No. Artie Ripp. He's had dealings with everybody and he actually is holding my Emmy as we speak. He's not such a great guy, but he did warn me if I didn't stop telling Clive Davis stories, I was going to have a problem. I kind of laughed but then I thought, maybe I better. Now, nobody can hurt me. I've been hurt as much as a person can be hurt.

Q - Have you ever met a record company president that was better than Clive Davis?

A - Yes, I have.

Q - Did you ever meet Joe Smith of Warner Bros. records?

A - No, I never met him. I met Ahmet Ertegun. Ahmet was motivated by music. There was an agenda that was happening in the '80s. It wasn't like other eras. At the end of the '50s, a little '50s worked its way into '60s, and then at the end of the '60s, a little of The Four Tops and that stuff would still be in the music that was being played on the radio. In the '80s the wall came down. Everybody who wanted to be heard on the radio had to conform to the new agenda. I basically refused.

Q - What did they want you to do?

A - First of all, I was told "don't play your own songs anymore. Put down the guitar. Cut your hair. Be the '80s woman." I really thought they were crazy. (laughs)

Q - Who did they want to model you after, Madonna? Pat Benatar? Cyndi Lauper?

A - Cyndi Lauper came way, way after me. In fact, people were congratulating me on my new record and she came out. She was actually told to imitate Melanie. They wanted me to be a controllable entity. Neil Young was putting on a glitter suit and performing with his '80s punk band. Melissa Manchester, who was a singer-songwriter who came across as a very real earth the person, was all of a sudden with Clive Davis doing "Rub Up Against My Shoulder Baby". He wanted me to be produced by Barry Manilow. I thought my God, it's hard enough to give up doing things I love night after night, but to get up doing something I detest, which was a song he had picked out for me, Clive had picked this song out for me. Barry Manilow was gonna produce it. I just said" I don't think I can do this."

Q - Did that song become a hit?

A - Yeah, by Barry Manilow.

Q - What was the name of it?

A - "Somewhere In The Night". That was the song I was supposed to sing. In fact, they actually did take a little of what I created in the song and used it at the end, the chorus, the tail out. I did that all the way through. I had to try and make it my own, but I tried and I thought, oh no. This is really what I would call selling out. So, I didn't do it. Doing things for personal integrity is very expensive. That's what happened.

Q - As different as it was for you, can you imagine how difficult it is for today's singers? Well I guess you can imagine.

A - Oh, I can certainly imagine. But the motivation of a lot of people is different. The motivation is to become famous. The motivation is to become a celebrity. I see people's faces and I think, are they singers? Are they actors? Are they reality show people? What do they do exactly to be famous? They're famous for being famous.

Q - Melanie, for a girl who don't drive, you've done all right for a girl!

A - (laughs) Thank you.

© Gary James. All rights reserved.