Stephen Michael Schwartz, Off the Clef #s 1 Thru 5, The Complete & Expanded Late '70s Songwriting Collabs! EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW + "Wendy When" SONG DEMO
Stephen's late-1970s creative pivot from recording to network sitcom-acting included writing songs with some rock legends & hitmakers. THIS IS THE COMPLETE COLLECTION, with access to ALL 6 SONG DEMOS!
ABOVE: “Wendy When,” sung by Stephen Michael Schwartz (words and music by Stephen Michael Schwartz, ©Busy Body Music/BMI)
“It’s 1977. Please enter my headspace. Where to go next? What to do next? Am I a ‘one-trick-pony’? Did I get my one shot at ‘the big time’ with RCA Records only to be slapped down to reality…proving I didn’t have the goods?
“It’s so easy to accept the negative thoughts of rejection, and then let that ruin you. Suddenly everything I did I began to question. Am I just too sensitive? Being ‘thick-skinned’ was never my strong suit…ironic that I should choose a profession where ‘No’ was heard more often than ‘Yes.’
“Am I not as good as I thought I was? Maybe my songwriting is shallow and sophomoric, or maybe my singing is bland and forgettable. I began to view myself as if through the lens of a smudged microscope.
“It didn’t help matters that, after one of my shows, my friend and manager, Henry Marx, came back to my dressing room and said, ‘Have you thought about working on fixing your lisp?’ I have a lisp? That was a flaw I never saw before. Suddenly, all I heard was my lisp. And yet I was compelled by God-knows-what to continue moving forward.
“In between odd jobs to pay rent, I was writing songs, playing clubs, and meeting people along the way. Today they call it ‘networking.’ I met and collaborated with some wonderful singer/songwriters, some who became lifelong friends and major success stories along the road, with each of them working through their own individual trials and triumphs.
“Collaborating, I found, was also consoling: It brought peace to the process. Unlike that famous Groucho Marx line, ‘I would never join a club that would have me as a member,’ I found a club that honored me as a respected member. Here are some of my friends/collaborators and their accomplishments: I’ve got to start with….
“Chris and I were brought together by the respected publisher, Ronny Vance, who thought we’d make a good writing team. We did, and although the songs we wrote together failed to generate any cover records, our friendship struck gold.
“We were asked to write ‘on spec’ (meaning no money up front, and no promise that whatever we wrote would be used) a song for the movie, The Rose, starring Bette Midler, a movie loosely based on the life of Janis Joplin.
“We had a good shot at this given that Ronny Vance, who gave us the task, was working for the company making the film, 20th Century Fox. It seemed like a worthy time investment. The song was called, ‘More Of a Rose (Than a Thorn).’ It was one of my favorite songs Chris and I wrote together. There is a demo floating around somewhere, but the song never made it into the movie.
“In 1980, Chris went on to record his own album for 20th Century Fox Records, Any Minute Now, which received critical acclaim.” (Click here for the album’s first track, “Is This the Way of Love,” featuring Warner Bros. Records artist, Lauren Wood.)
“Years later his real impact on the music industry came as he moved up the ranks of the Walt Disney Company to become the President of Walt Disney Music.”
“Under Chris’s guidance, soundtrack albums from ten of the studio’s theatrical releases, Cocktail, Beaches, The Little Mermaid, Pretty Woman, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Pocahontas, Tarzan, Frozen, and The Lion King have been certified multi-platinum with The Lion King selling over 10 million units.
“I always knew Chris was destined for greatness. Along with his intelligence, he had a certain aura of calm confidence surrounding him. He still does. Here is a rare demo of one of our songs, ‘Walk Right Out On These Tears,’ sung by Chris.”
To hear the song, click on the article link box below for the original article which includes the SONG DEMO:
“In the demo, we used the new Roland TR808 drum machine; it had just come out, and in 1982, the world heard it on Marvin Gaye’s hit, ‘Sexual Healing.’
“I had just purchased the machine, and Chris and I, after finishing ‘Walk Right Out On These Tears’ began playing around with finding the right percussive feel for the song.
“In our sessions, Chris and I were comfortable writing both lyrics and music together, but Chris had a much better understanding of chordal progressions and where a melody might want to go.
“Like that classic photo (above) shows, Chris was always at his piano, and I had our lyric pad in hand, throwing out ideas, scribbling down interesting lines, and making up ‘phony’ lyrics to be fixed up later in rewrites. Like a musical puzzle, we fit the pieces together to hopefully end up with a good song.
“One of the things I always admired about Chris was his desire to delve into the inner workings of things such as musical composition. I remember him reading about classical composers, and recall books with musical manuscripts laying around his music room.
“He would comb through those books to help him understand how Mozart or Bach would structure their pieces. It also helped him become a better musician and piano player. He also wanted to understand how the voice worked and how he could improve his vocal range.
“He read various books and did daily vocal exercises to become a better singer. I admired him greatly for never settling. He always wanted to learn and better himself in everything he did.”
Bobby Caldwell and Toni Stern
“I connected with these next two writers through Henry Marx. Henry, who was like an unofficial manager to me, always saw my talent, and tried to put me together with people who could elevate my status and success as a songwriter. For that I am deeply appreciative.
“Bobby Caldwell is a multi-platinum recording artist best known for his 1978 mega-hit, ‘What You Won’t Do For Love’ on TK Records. I met with Bobby at his apartment in Hollywood, him at his Fender Rhodes keyboard, and me with my guitar. I had brought in an idea Bobby liked and we started working.
“I don’t know what Bobby was going through at the time, but every ten minutes or so,, he got up from the piano and left the room. This happened so many times during our session that the last time he got up, I packed up my guitar and left. I went home and wrote the song myself. I didn’t credit him, but the song we were ‘working on’ is called ‘Love, Color Blue.’
“Toni Stern, who co-wrote many of the hits with Carole King on Tapestry, was a real poet and a sweet soul. We met for our session on Wonderland Drive in the idyllic and creative hot spot, Laurel Canyon, famous as home to many of L.A.’s rock musicians such as Cass Elliot of The Mamas & the Papas, Joni Mitchell, Graham Nash, Frank Zappa, Jim Morrison of The Doors, Carole King, The Byrds, and Buffalo Springfield.
“This was the Mecca of the southern California music scene [in the ‘70s]. I recall our writing sessions being very fluid and positive, and Toni was a very uplifting, creative spirit. Our song, however, ‘I’ve Just About Given Up Hope,’ was reflecting my state of mind at the time, not hers.
“‘…Hope’ was never demoed. The only recording I have is a ‘live’ version poorly captured on cassette when I sang it at The Ice House in Pasadena. Performing with me, on oboe and vocals, is Janice Hubbard, who would become an important part of my life as a member of my future trio, Parachute Express.”
Click below for the original article which will allow you to hear the “I’ve Just About Given Up Hope” SONG DEMO:
“Jeff Barry and I were introduced to each other by my dear friend and multi-faceted illustrator/artist, Robert Florczak. Jeff is a songwriting legend who along with his partners, wife Ellie Greenwich and record producer Phil Spector, wrote some of the biggest hits in pop music including, ‘Da Doo Ron Ron,’ ‘Then He Kissed Me,’ ‘Be My Baby,’ ‘Baby, I Love You,’ ‘Chapel of Love,’ ‘Remember (Walking in the Sand),’ ‘Leader of the Pack,’ as well as the holiday perennial, ‘Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).’
“Barry and Ellie were both inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1991. In 2004, Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 greatest rock songs included six Greenwich-Barry compositions, more than any other non-performing songwriting team!
“Jeff heard some of my new songs and liked them enough to want to go into the studio and produce a few tracks with me with the idea of getting me a record deal with himself as the producer. He also suggested we write a song together as one of the tracks we record.
“To say that I was a bit intimidated to write with such a seasoned veteran is an understatement, but Jeff put all that to rest with his mellow personality and his organic approach to songwriting.
“First, we start with a groove on the guitar, play some chords, hum a rough melody over those chords, then sing jibberish words over that melody. Start refining all. No problem!!! I fell into the ease of our collaboration like we were old pros…well, he was, for sure!
“The result was “Light Years Away,” words and music by Jeff Barry and Stephen Michael Schwartz. I don’t know (although I suspect) that after the sessions were through and, when Jeff pitched our tracks with less than positive reactions from record companies, he moved on to greener pastures.
“I was not offended. On the contrary: I appreciated that he thought enough of my talent to take the time to give this a shot!”
Click on the article below to hear the SONG DEMO for “Light Years Away,” produced by Jeff Barry!:
“One of the other songs we recorded in that session was one of my favorites and one I had written alone, ‘Wendy When.’ I thought it was a hit song!! I think Jeff did, too.”
CLICK ON THE “PLAY” BUTTON AT THE TOP OF THE PAGE TO HEAR “WENDY WHEN,” THE DEBUT OF STEPHEN’S EXCLUSIVE DEMO FOR THIS SONG, PRODUCED BY JEFF BARRY!
“David Pomeranz was a recording artist on Clive Davis’s Arista Records in 1975 with the album, It’s in Every One of Us (released a year after my RCA debut).
“David had two Top Ten hit songs recorded by Barry Manilow, ‘Tryin’ To Get The Feeling Again,’ and ‘The Old Songs.’
“Along with these, David’s songs have been recorded by a host of recording artists such as Bette Midler, Freddie Mercury, Missy Elliott, John Denver, The Carpenters, and others. David is one of my favorite collaborators, and our sessions were both fruitful and playful at the same time. We laughed as much as we wrote.
“He and I have so much in common. I will elaborate on just how entwined our lives became in another segment. But here’s one story: We were contacted by a TV producer named Marshall Herskovitz to write a theme song for his new tv pilot called Thirtysomething.
“They initially edited the opening credits using The Beatles’ Blackbird, but couldn’t afford to secure the rights to use it. They asked David and me to look at the show and specifically the intro and write something that reflected the show’s sensitive, introspective ‘yuppies coming of age’ feel.
“We wrote a wonderful forty-five second song called, ‘Right Foot, Left Foot.’ It fit perfectly to the opening credits, as planned. We went in and demoed the song with David singing. A few days later we got the call from Marshall that the song was exactly what they were looking for.
“They played our demo against the credits and they loved it. The Beatles were out, we were in!! We were ecstatic!!! But this is show biz; nothing is solid except a cashed check.”
Click here to go to the original article which features the “Right Foot, Left Foot” SONG DEMO:
“A few weeks later we got a call from Marshall saying that composer, Snuffy Walden, who was in negotiations to write all the music for the series, insisted that he write the title theme, which would be an instrumental. We’re out, Snuffy is in!!
“Thirtysomething went on to become a huge success and ran for four seasons. That fateful rejection call cost David and me potentially millions of dollars in royalties. The consolation prize was a year or so later when David and I got one of our songs, “Right Time For Love” in the movie and soundtrack of the cult classic, Revenge Of The Nerds.”
“Jay Asher and I first met at the Troubadour at one of those ‘Hoot Nights,’ where songwriters often gathered to listen to and meet with other like-minded creative types.
“Jay’s talents led him to write hits for Donna Summer and Julio Iglesias. One of the many songs Jay and I wrote together was ‘Only Everyday,’ which we thought was pretty good.
“After pitching it to Barry Mann (Songwriting Hall Of Fame Inductee) for his publishing company (Dyad Music/Wixen Music Publishing), Barry said, ‘You guys have written a really good song, here. It might even be a great song.’ This from the writer of ‘You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling,’ ‘On Broadway,’ ‘Here You Come Again,’ ‘Somewhere Out There,’ ‘Just Once,’ and so many other hits.
“Sometimes just a compliment from a legend can keep you in the game. But alas…to this day, ‘Only Everyday’ has never been recorded except for Jay’s recent Honesty album, and this lovely demo sung by Clint Holmes”: