Gary James' Interview With
Steve Lawrence

In the early 1960s, Steve Lawrence enjoyed a Top Ten hit with the song "Go Away Little Girl". Steve Lawrence, along with his wife Eydie Gorme are one of the most popular singing duos in show business, and do they ever have the honours to prove it! They won a Grammy for Best Performance by a Vocal Duo or Group for "We Got Us". Steve and Eydie won the Las Vegas Entertainment Award as Musical Variety Act Of The Year four times, three years consecutively. Steve and Eydie Celebrate Irving Berlin won seven Emmys. They received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Songwriters Hall Of Fame in New York, honouring the duo's ongoing tribute to American songwriters. In 1995, they were the recipients of the Society of Singers prestigious Ella Lifetime Achievement Award at a gala event in Beverly Hills. The Society of Singers is a non-profit organization that exists to help professional singers that are in need of coinciding and financial assistance. Past recipients are Ella Fitzgerald (for whom the award is named), Frank Sinatra, Tony Martin and Peggy Lee. By now you're probably thinking 'this guy and his wife must be pretty good!'...and they are.

We're proud to present an interview with Steve Lawrence.

Q - Mr. Lawrence, how did you get into show business? When did you decide that you'd like to be a singer?

A - Well, I think I kind of knew that pretty much all my life. When I was a very young boy, I was a choir boy and then just graduated I think, the first time I heard my first Frank Sinatra record. I must've been fifteen years old when I heard him. I think I knew what I wanted to do with the rest of my musical life. I think his influence not only on me, but everyone who came after him, was so indelible, so powerful. He opened a brand new window for all of us who came after him. Prior to that, I think singers used to sing four beats to the bar, but he kind of made it a story. He set the music like a little mime screen play. When I heard what he was doing in popular music, I knew that was what I wanted to do. I always wanted to sing. I have always been fortunate enough to follow that dream and pursue it and work hard at it and it's been very good to me.

Q - You were on quite a few record labels from 1952 to 1964.

A - Yeah.

Q - Would you say Columbia was the best label since you had "Go Away Little Girl" on that label? Did they do the best job in promoting your records?

A - It's hard to say the best job. Columbia was probably the best company because they were the biggest. They had the best distribution. So, in that sense, they were the most effective company. But, I think some of the other companies like United Artists, ABC / Paramount and Coral Records were as promotion conscience as everybody else. But, because of the fact that Columbia was the huge monster company with this international distribution, it probably wound up doing the best job. When they concentrated on a record and if they had the hots for it, they really put their whole company behind it and yes in fact, they were the best.

Q - Was Mitch Miller the A&R (artist and repertoire) guy at Columbia at that time?

A - I think Mitch was, if not gone, was in like a consultant type of basis. He was not the active head of A&R.

Q - How may takes did it take you to nail "Go Away Little Girl"?

A - I think we came pretty close to the first take. You know, in those days of recording, all of us that were recording in that time period and prior to that, we didn't have the technology advances that they have today. These kids today go in and do one instrument at a time and put it together over a period of months or in some cases years to make an album. We had to go in and in a three hour period, deliver four sides. So, at that time, "Go Away Little Girl" was on that date. It was one of four sides. I think we probably didn't do more than four or five takes. We probably ended up with the second or third take. The first one, you're always kind of approaching it and everybody is getting used to the sounds, the production values and where the strength of the orchestration lies, where you have to lay back and be supported, however those things turn out.

Q - So, you're in the studio and what kind of input did you have into the production of "Go Away Little Girl"?

A - Well, Marion Evans was the arranger. Al Kasher I think was involved in that. So, I think between Al Kasher and myself and Marion Evens, we kind of all got it together and agreed on what it was we were looking at; what we wanted to achieve as far as sound and interpretation on that song. So, it was a combination of everybody's input.

Q - In the fifties and sixties, where did you perform? Did you perform here in Syracuse at a place called Three Rivers Inn?

A - I sure did. I worked up there alone and with Eydie as well, and then subsequently worked there years later. Three Rivers Inn was a good springboard and a good working place. It was really terrific.

Q - Was it more difficult to break into the recording business when you were starting out our as opposed to today?

A - Well, it was always difficult breaking into the recording industry. It's more difficult today because of the sheer numbers. There are more people applying for the same job. There's more people in the world. Let's just say years ago, you had maybe 100 people looking at the same job, now maybe you have 1,000 or 10,000. So, by sheer numbers, it's become more difficult because there are a lot of talented young people who are looking to express themselves on record, and there are just so many records they can put out. Of all the songs that are recorded, the amount that get recognition, especially today, there's such a limited format except for a handful of stations that play the kind of music that me and Eydie record, It's become a more narrow channel.

Q - Do you ever watch the show American Idol?

A - I passed it while I was clicking, but I'm not a watcher.

Q - Each week they have contestants sing a different style of music. One week it's Elton John music, the next it's Barry Manilow music and the next week it's disco music. It seems a little goofy to me. Is it realistic to expect a singer to be able to sing all styles of music?

A - Not be good in all of 'em, no. If you have a certain intelligence and have the vocal where with all, by that I mean if you have the range that can handle that, I guess you could sing a lot of different styles. But, it depends on if you want to be true to what you're doing and how you interpret it. You can't possibly be a great country artist and a great opera singer. You can't possibly be a great rock 'n roller and be a great exponent of the music of the great American songbook. I don't think so. I think you can scratch maybe one or two of those surfaces, but you can't click 'em all. How does a judge, judge rock 'n roll music and then country music and then classical music? Who has that kind of ability? How do you have that intelligence, that intellect? That musical know-how to be an expert? And probably judge and critique somebody, a performer or a writer or an instrumentalist. How do you know all these areas? It's impossible. You can't speak with any intelligence and any depth on all those different avenues.

Q - You were born in the same year as Elvis. Why didn't you go into rock 'n roll?

A - It didn't attract me as much. I grew up in a time period when music was written by Irving Berlin and Cole Porter and George and Ira Gershwin and Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein and Richard Rodgers and Lorenzt Hart and Sammy Cahn and Julie Stein. Those people, I related to what they were writing because it was much more melodic. It as an intelligent lyric that was written. By and large these people were bright, educated or extremely gifted. You know, you have people who are college graduates, then you have people who just had raw instinct. To be specific, Cole Porter was a highly educated guy and Irving Berlin was a street kid. But yet, both of them in their own way, made great contributions.

Q - Have you ever thought of writing your autobiography?

A - No. I'm too busy living it.

Q - You know what that means don't you? Someone else will write the Steve Lawrence story.

A - Had I known then, what I know now, I would've kept what I guess you'd consider a diary. It's so difficult to look back over decades and remember things specifically as they happened without embellishing or changing them. Unless you kept a diary of what was going on in your life at the time, and who, when you're a kid, thinks about that? You have recall. Some of it's better than others. But, over a period of time I guess if someone were to hypnotize me and transgress me, put me back into a time, I would probably go through time and may be able to come up with a great deal that is not in the front of my memory. There are things that stick out over a lifetime. It's hard to do every bit of a biography and remember it properly.

© Gary James. All rights reserved.

* Between 1957 and 1962, Steve Lawrence placed five songs in the Billboard Top 10
"Party Doll" (#5), "Pretty Blue Eyes" (#9), "Footsteps" (#7), "Portrait Of My Love" (#9), "Go Away Little Girl" (#1)