Gary James' Interview With
Paul Evans

Paul Evans has spent the major portion of his life on the charts. From his 1960s Guaranteed Records hits: "Seven Little Girls Sitting In The Back Seat", "Midnight Special", "Happy Go Lucky Me" and "Hushabye Little Guitar", to his 1979 Spring Records hit: "Hello, This Is Joannie". (#4 on the British Pop charts, Top 40 on Billboard's Country charts)

In 1996, his own recording of "Willie's Sung With Everyone (But Me)" was released on Willie Nelson's "22 Legendary Duets" CD. A retrospective of Paul's hits "Paul Evans - The Fabulous Teens And Beyond" was released on Ace Records in England in 1995. "I Was A Part Of The 50s" is a collection of Paul's hits and some hard to find and never before released tracks available in the United States on S-Star Records.

Paul has written hits for himself as well as Bobby Vinton (the classic "Roses Are Red My Love", which was featured in the movie Good Fellas), The Kalin Twins ("When"), Elvis Presley ("The Next Step Is Love" and "I Gotta Know"), as well as songs for Jackie Wilson, La Vern Baker, The Mello Kings, Frankie Lymon, Fabian, The Coasters, Pat Boone and Reba McEntire.

After a lifetime in New York recording studios, Paul joined Group Five, a vocal Jazz quartet that has performed in clubs and concerts around the United States and several European Jazz festivals. And now Paul is back on the oldies circuit, performing the hit songs that he took to the charts as a singer and / or writer. He also released "Roses Are Red My Love" on the Wizworks Records label.

Paul Evans gives us that rare look at what it was like for a songwriter in New York before The British Invasion.

Q - Paul, let me read you what Brown and Friedrich, authors of The Encyclopedia Of Rock And Roll had to say about you: "Paul Evans is living off his B.M.I. royalties."

A - You know, I read that. So, the first thing we gotta correct is that . I'm not in B.M.I. I'm in ASCAP.

Q - So, you've earned enough money in your lifetime where you don't have to worry about writing another hit song?

A - Well, that's not really true. I started out as a singer / songwriter. My first success was in 1958, "When", The Kalin Twins. I stayed in the business a long time. I had my own hits. I wrote "Roses Are Red". But, when The Beatles hit, I guess it was around then, we all got scared here in New York. There really was a whole new thing happening. We really didn't know what it was all about, this English Invasion. There really was no room any more for writers because of The Beatles. When I got into the business in the late 50s, there were writers who wrote and singers who sang. There were very few crossovers. I was doing it. I remember when (Paul) Anka hit real big, really all the writers got a little nervous. He was such a fine writer / singer. But anyway. I saw the writing on the wall. I wound up in the studios of New York, which is where I made the bulk of my money, singing background or on jingles, doing movie backgrounds, backing up records, mostly commercials in the New York studios. So, that's really where my bread and butter came from. That business lasted me for many, many years. Believe me, I'm not complaining about the royalties on songs. Honestly, I don't think I could be living on royalties from my songs alone. I certainly wouldn't be living as nicely as I live.

Q - How many records have been sold with your songs on them?

A - That would be impossible to know. Think of "Roses Are Red", which has sold multi-millions on its own as just a song. It's also hard to say because of sales of CDs from the movies. I know what I make and it's decent money. Again, you don't want to try and live on the monies my songs earn by the year. That's not enough.

Q - How long did it take you to write "Roses Are Red"?

A - This is an embarrassment, but that was probably the fastest song I ever wrote. My co-writer came into a demo session I was doing with some new songs and I don't remember which songs they were, and this is Al Byron who had written "Happy Go Lucky Me" with me. He came into the session and said "Paul, I got this lyric." I made a joke. I said to the musicians "Take five. I'm gonna write a hit song now." And I took his lyric, which by the way was complete, the way you hear it on the Vinton record, I wrote the entire melody in one pass. I started to laugh. My co-writer Al Byron said "Why are you laughing?" I said "I'm just joking. I'll take this home and work on it." He said "No. What you did is very good. Write it down." I said "No. You can't write a song in two minutes like that." I tried for a couple of weeks to top the melody, but I couldn't do it. I actually had the song brought over to Epic Records. I thought I should record it. Rob Morgan, who was the A&R man over there said "I got this guy and we got one more shot and I'd like to show it to him", which broke my heart. So, I can tell you my biggest hit song was written in 2 minutes.

Q - Why would you feel embarrassed about writing a hit song in 2 minutes? Would you feel better if you had labored over the song for 2 months?

A - I don't know. You don't feel like you're working hard enough. It's an ethic thing I think. You have a certain work ethic. It doesn't sound like it's much of an effort, but when it doesn't work, it's heart breaking. You know how often I worked on a song for 3 weeks, a month, maybe 6 months on and off? Who knows. When I finished it, I'd say "This is great. This is it. This is the greatest song I've ever written", and nothing happens to it. So, I guess the scales balance out eventually.

Q - How do you know when you've written a "hit" song?

A - I don't know. Many times we've been wrong. You think you've written a hit song.

Q - Where did this ability to write a hit song come from? Do you know? Is it a God-given gift?

A - Yeah. I don't know. I can tell you I loved Rock 'n' Roll. I grew up on "Earth Angel" and Little Richard and Chuck Berry and the R&B ballad singers and I loved it. I think for most of us you really have to love the music. I guess I have the ability to put notes together that are hummable and singable. And that's always been my strength, even in the jingle business. When I would write, I would try to write melodically where the notes just string together. When you can write a jingle in 15 or 30 seconds and when the people can sing it right back to you, I don't know if that's a talent or a knack. Maybe it's a knack. I don't know.

Q - There are ads that say "Take our course and learn to write a hit song". I maintain you can't do that.

A - No. I can't believe that. My family has always been talented. My mother was a piano teacher. My father played the flute. One of my sisters taught me how to play the guitar. My other sister still plays the piano in the clubs of New Jersey. I think in me, it's a genetic love of music.

Q - What do you hope will happen with this CD of yours?

A - What I hope happens is that the CD gets enough play to get me some 'live' work. I don't care if it's in the oldies field because I think oldies fans will appreciate it if one of their stars manages to come up and get some play on something new. I think they will like that. I think if I would walk out having a new record played on the radio and would appear for them, I think they would appreciate it. But, if I can get some new work because of it, I will do it. I want to work. I want to travel. It's a wonderful way to travel. I've traveled all my life when I had my hits and then I married a flight attendant. I've been to Africa twice, the Galapagos Islands, the Philippines, Japan, Europe. So, I am hoping to get enough play. The record company hasn't decided which side to go with. They're leaning toward the song "Build An Arc". It's kind of a Gospel song and I think it kind of fits the time with the line, I want to build an arc and take my friends and the people I love away with me to an island away from this world.

© Gary James. All rights reserved.

Paul Evans