Here’s a few shots from the last rehearsal yesterday before I make another go of it live. Both shows tonight and tomorrow night are thankfully sold out, though there may be a few places to stand by the bar. See you there!
Here’s a few shots from the last rehearsal yesterday before I make another go of it live. Both shows tonight and tomorrow night are thankfully sold out, though there may be a few places to stand by the bar. See you there!
All the hits you can stand to hear!!! And the last time in an architectural treasure.
Yes, though one might find it hard to believe after my last foray into reclaiming the stage, I’m hitting it again in my new, improved and sans-the-idiot-tech-guy show, Allee Willis’ Super Ball Bounce Back Review! Two nights only, Tuesday and Wednesday, May 8 & 9 at King King in Hollywood. Lots of music, visual treats, stories, dance, games, all the hi-art-meets-kitsch mayhem you know me for PLUS MORE!! And many things I’ve never attempted before. And did I mention prizes? So I hope I see you at Allee Willis’ Super Ball Bounce Back Review May 8 or 9 at King King!
Tickets also available at kingkinghollywood.com.
I’m sure any kitsch lover has a similar dream – having dinner with the kitschy-kitschy-cuchi Charo and bonding like you have been best friends for 30 years. Such was my evening at composer Pietor Angell’s pad with the aforementioned singer, actress, Flamenco guitar virtuoso, CHARO!
Maria Rosario Pilar Martinez Molina Baeza a.k.a. Charo was very nice when we met, no star attitude detected at all, but I knew she had no idea who I was. I made my move when she walked into the living room alone to get a sweater. I told her I loved her spirit and undying devotion to being herself. I also told her I knew of what I spoke and started spitting out a list of songs I had written. Usually people go full-tilt bonkers when I get to “September”,“Boogie Wonderland”, or the Friends theme, but it was “Neutron Dance” that did it this time. Charo went firecrackers, indecipherable words spilling out at 120 mph as she told me she’d done the song in her act. Throughout the evening she proceeded to sing little pieces of it to me. I had no idea what lyric she was actually singing as the accent makes most words undetectable but it was Charo, so who cares?? It was fantastic!!
Seeing as I never knew that this iconoclastic kitsch Goddess did my “Neutron Dance” I almost had a heart attack when she broke into dance as soon as dessert was over.
If you were expecting the entire choreographed number we all can safely assume that that will be coming as the friendship progresses.
I actually prefer intimate moments to full blown peformances. It’s like being privy to Roddy McDowall‘s private footage of Natalie Wood, Paul Newman, Jane Fonda and the hundreds of other stars he filmed casually whenever he went anywhere, including here at Willis Wonderland. I don’t have the footage handy but on evenings such as this one that included the likes of Roddy, David Arquette, Lipsynka, Paul Reubens a.k.a.Pee Wee Herman, Lynne Stewart a.k.a. Miss Yvonne, Debi Mazar, me, Snappy P and Pamela DesBarres, you get a much better idea of who the star really is than watching some interview or performance with them on tv:
I hope you have a happy Monday that includes your own personalized version of Neutron Dance as I offer a toast to Charo with the champagne that was served at our dinner with actual flecks of 22k gold floating in it:
I’m toasting that more adventures with Charo be coming in the very near future!
To say that my first performance in 37 years since jumping off the stage in the middle of my own show in 1974, Allee Willis’ Soup To Nuts Party Mix at the El Portal Theater in beautiful North Hollywood on October 18, was anything like what I expected is the Katrina of understatements. Anything that could go wrong did. But as I’m an artist who plans to the extreme so that when the inevitably unexpected happens it can be swiftly and humorously dealt with, it was a supreme triumph of soul, kourage and kitsch. At past parties of mine, the precursors to my performance now, these malfunctions have been limited to those you could count on one hand. Now, the 6,437,932 technical black holes that befell Soup To Nuts only made for more laughs and make me want to preform more! Not that the mayhem is so easily detectable in these photos, but the fun, style and funk that filled the evening and the days preceding it certainly are. For an overview, start here. For specifics, press one of these lovely buttons now.
I meant to start posting my thoughts about my Soup To Nuts Party Mix show, my first live performance in 37 years at the El Portal Theater last Tuesday night, the day after the show but I could barely pick up a stylus to write let alone move my mouth in any detectible syllabic pattern because I was so tired and overwhelmed. I’m racing to get photos up, a fun yet gruesome task as there are literally thousands of them to go through. Hopefully by tomorrow I’ll have them organized enough to post. In the meantime, let me tell you about this cruise on the Love Boat that mutated into the Titanic yet somehow still ended up at Fantasy Island…
Stormy seas and all, Soup To Nuts Party Mix was about the most incredible experience that I’ve ever had. Not because it went so well, but because literally 95% of the technology it was dependent on failed. It was apparent from the second I walked on stage that I was going to have to throw out the script and effects I had worked on so furiously for four months and literally ad lib my way through the evening. All I can tell you is that despite riding a sinking technological ship, I kept people in stitches, and I mean tears rolling down their faces, screaming laughter stitches, including standing ovations in the middle of the show for things I was forced to come up with on the spot.
So despite being an utter failure as far as the show I planned, it was an unbelievably cathartic moment as a performer. Like five years worth of working the act out within the space of two hours, some time of which I spent sitting down watching brilliant and charitable friends of mine takeover and help me out.
One of them was the stupendous comedienne Luenell, who has stepped it up at other parties of mine as well and Tuesday night helped a sista out during one of the 6,437,293 technical glitches that befell the stage.
But just as Luenell got to her punchline, something FINALLY popped up on the screen and I had to cut her off.
One of the best moments of the show, although perhaps not for Luenell, was when she then took a seat and the chair started rolling out from under her…
…until she plopped down flat as a log on the floor. When I asked if she needed a first aid kit she yelled “NO, what I need is a lawyer!”
I need the same lawyer for the guy at the controls. But from the jump four months ago I approached this whole thing as a party thrower, not a playwright, and a good party thrower is ready to field anything that goes wrong, even if of a catastrophic nature such as the tech sinkhole happening on stage left. I’m sure a phrase that will stick with my shows forever was born: “Get the foamcore!” as I sent my assistant, Dina Duarte, and set-collaborator, Mark Tomorsky, both on stage with me for the whole show, racing for a ratty piece of paper covered foam to hold over the main monitor every time the wrong photo, lyric for a sing-along or even worse, the tech guy’s desktop, appeared. Here they are hoisting it over what was supposed to be the lyrics to “Boogie Wonderland”, while my collaborator on that song, Jon Lind, kills time with his story about Maurice White, chocolate danishes and other things that happened the day we wrote it.
I doubt that Larry Dunn, founding member of Earth Wind & Fire who played keyboards on the records of “September” and “Boogie Wonderland” and accompanied me on those songs in the show, ever got cut off early before. But I had to yank him short as without lyrics sing-alongs can only be so effective.
Danny Sembello also came onstage for two songs he co-wrote with me, “Neutron Dance” and “Stir it Up”, neither of which were consistently accompanied by correct lyrics.
Chris Price played “I’ll Be There for You”, the theme from Friends and “What Have I Done To Deserve This?”, both of which I was forced to race through without their accompanying stories as by the time we reached them it was already the time I had planned to end the show, 10:15, and we were barely at the halfway point because of the malfunctions. Dina and Mark had the foamcore ready but thankfully the Friends theme is so short and has been hammered into the heads of every audience member a hundred times a day since 1994 so my tech guy could only wreak so much havoc.
And then we were supposed to play Bingo. How do you mess up Bingo??! But if you’re spelling K-I-T-S-C-H and not B-I-N-G-O and there are no visuals to go along with “K- Dust Mop Slippers” or “T-Flowbee”, “S- Farrah Fawcett Shampoo & Conditioner” or “H – Beatles Pantyhose”, who’s going to know what you’re talking about without visual accompaniment? As soon as it was apparent that that too tanked I just turned to the audience and yelled “Fuck Bingo! The first 20 people up on stage get all the prizes!”. You would’ve thought the Gold Rush hit California again from the way this audience stampeded the stage.
Jelly room deodorizers, soccer balls that turn into magic towels when they get wet, vintage Afro picks, matzo ball kitchen timers donated by Davida (who also contributed the packs of Kosher Kurls in the gift bags), Handerpants – underpants with finger holes so graciously displayed by Daniel Franzese in a shot below and donated, as much of the gifts were, by Archie McPhee… this was one of my favorite moments of the show. To me it’s all about interaction between performer and audience and there they all were on stage like bit players and incredible friends. It truly felt like a party in my yard, which is what I had built the set to look like anyway.
Then I threw in a montage from my musical, The Color Purple, though we skipped the sing-along.
And finally, a veritable tour de force, Pigmy Will doing “The Hustle” played us out.
Just like I never learned to read, notate or write music yet have sold 50,000,000 records, or that I didn’t know you mix paint to get different colors until ten years into my art career, I’m probably the only person in theater history who ever booked the theater before they wrote the show and then performed the show before they had a rehearsal. I am, if nothing else, consistent! It’s the spontaneous event and what happens between performer, audience, and stage, whether it’s in a theater or on my porch, that’s the art form to me. Yes, a stage manager and lighting and sound director would have been nice, as would have been a theater whose usual fare wasn’t Christmas specials and geriatric musicals. But thankfully much of the audience was peppered with people who understand the pitfalls the stage can hold. For example:
My sentiments exactly! All I kept thinking as the world collapsed around me was a) what the f&#k is going on and what the hell am I going to do next??, while simultaneously being conscious that b) this will be my most legendary performance ever because I don’t know anyone else who wouldn’t have walked off stage after 20 minutes. Through it all I just kept going and got funnier and funnier and funnier. So the tech mishaps in their own bizarre way worked in my favor. In the end, I got far more out of it than I had intended. My soul soared, and although I was nearly suicidal by the end of the show it was probably the most artistically satisfying thing I’ve ever done. At once everything was shattering around me in the worst conceivable way that anything can happen on stage, yet it was a totally triumphant evening.
Six cameras were shooting. I realize that a brilliant Waiting For Guffman times 1063 could be made out of it. That’s music to the ears of a kitsch lover such as myself, especially one who’s obsessed with learning how to make lemonade out of extremely rotten lemons. So it’s a kind of Self-Help Waiting for Guffman, or in this case, The Tech Guy. I also realize it gives me an incredible starting point for the next version of the show, which should happen by the end of January.
I will never again be afraid of adversity. I will only look at it as an annoying friend that I have to make the best of, and in the making of that a beautiful flower can bloom.
Tons of photos here!
Well, it’s the last place I ever expected to be the day before confronting the biggest professional fear in in my career, but here I am at 7:30 am. at the knee surgeons. Yesterday afternoon I tripped on a super huge keyboard cable that shouldn’t have been lying where it was while rehearsing with Chris Price, my keyboard player, and neutroned myself flat on the floor like a slab of steel, knees, face and hands crushed with the full force of my body which thankfully had gone on a diet a couple of weeks ago so at least the blow was softened by a few less pounds. When my “Neutron Dance” collaborator, Danny Sembello, came over to rehearse that song and “Stir It Up”, all had to huddle around me as doctor’s orders over the phone was to stay off my legs as much as possible. Which should make for a very interesting show tomorrow night…
Thankfully, hand therapist Martha Paterson was on her way over to my house to give me a little boost before the show, so that took some of the sting out of my aching neck, lower back, knees and hands.
Always the trooper, we continued the rehearsal while all my nerve endings were being stimulated.
Then, at 7 AM. this morning the ever faithful Prudence Fenton, a.k.a. Snappy P., picked me up and schlepped me to the knee doctor.
With everything on my plate to do today, having Dr. Lee probe my meniscus and all the other lumps you can see here wasn’t one of them.
Thanks also to Dawn Smith, who came over late last night to massage the woe out of my about-to-go-on-stage-for-the-first-time-in 37-years body. I forgot to take photos of that. Today should be a very interesting day…
Well, it only took close the four decades for me not to be stage fright and have absolutely one of the best nights of my life when I sang and told stories about the songs I’d written live on stage Monday night at The Songs Of Our Lives concert to benefit the Fulfillment Fund. After being hung up about performing ever since I walked off stage after only six songs in 1974, to say I’m ready to come back is an understatement!! Well, in relatively small doses but I’m willing to try. Thank you SO MUCH, Charlie Fox, for insisting I perform. I feel like a massive weight has lifted and I’m very excited to see the shift that’s going to occur in my never-ending rollout of what I’m going to do next.
As if that massive psychological breakthrough of being terrified and forgetting very word in my head wasn’t enough, I got to experience three incredible hours of sound check and four incredible hours of performances by some of the most legendary songwriters on the planet. I’ve long cherished songwriters’ versions of their own songs over the records made of them. If you’ve never had a chance to hear a songwriter sing one of your favorite songs you’re missing out on a truly soulful experience. Regardless of whether their voices are as powerful as the artists who made the records, the deliveries are so authentic and heartfelt you could die. Not only do you get the power of the song but the intention with which it was written. All I did was swoon for seven hours, and having my own performance thrown in there with the bonus of having an absolutely insanely wonderful time on stage – how can I even be saying those words??!? – this experience was seriously was one of the best gifts I’ve ever been given.
It was the first time ever outside of a friend or two’s living room that I sang “September”, “Boogie Wonderland”, “Neutron Dance”, and “I’ll Be There for You (theme from Friends)” in public. I nipped one previous mental saboteur in the butt by carrying out a fistful of lyrics so I didn’t have to panic about forgetting the words.
A huge epiphany: The difference of singing songs that everyone in the audience knows from singing the first ten songs you ever wrote that no one in the audience has even heard of, which was the case in 1974, is massive. It gave me confidence that I never knew as a singer before. Added to it was that this was an audience who truly appreciated songwriters, and hearing the stories behind the songs was what they were there for. And if there’s one thing this blog has finally hammered into my brain, I’m a good storyteller.
Of course, now I’m kicking myself that I didn’t tell everyone I know to come. I knew that would make me more nervous and I really accepted the gig to try and get over this hideous weight of stage fright. So I only told those absolutely closest to me, and was very relieved when most of them had conflicts for the evening as Michele Obama was in town and they were going to a dinner for her. But the party faithful were here. L-R- me, Nancye Ferguson, Prudence Fenton, and Laura Grover.
Mark Blackwell trailed me on video, a routine we have worked out to a science by now, as Bob Garrett arrived.
I shared a dressing room with legendary jazz singer, Dianne Reeves. How I blanked on taking a photo with my fellow Detroiter I don’t know, but at least I got the shot of our dressing room door.
There were also a ton of legendary producers and players in the audience, not the least of whom was Michael Boddicker, probably the most lauded synth player who’s ever lived. Like he played on every Michael Jackson record and a trillion other classics.
Michael always tells the story of one time we worked together and I was trying to describe a particular sound I wanted him to make on a duet between Herb Alpert and Lani Hall, who I wrote for and produced in 1981. Now I make no secret that I know absolutely nothing about music other than how to write a great song. I couldn’t tell you the definition of a specific music term like measure, adagio or anything. But for a player who’s excessively visual – and trust me, in those days there weren’t a whole lot of them – describing the sound I wanted as “a ping-pong ball being crushed underneath a seagull’s wing” was perfectly clear to Boddicker.
Right before I went on I did some major bonding with the evening’s emcee, Tony Danza.
I’d never met him before but he knew I was nervous and not only was a very encouraging daddy backstage but gave me a great set up line when I walked out so I could talk about the lunchroom debacle and why I had shunned doing anything on stage ever since. It got an immediate laugh, which was like a Valium rolling down my throat, and I was on my way.
But it was the songwriters themselves who made the evening shine most. Jeff Barry went on right after me.
Here are just a few of Jeff’s gems: “Da Doo Run Run”, “Doo Wah Diddy Diddy”, “Then He Kissed Me”, “Be My Baby”, “Baby I Love You”, “Tell Laura I Love Her”, “Chapel of Love”, “Iko Iko”, “Remember (Walkin’ In The Sand)”, “Leader of the Pack”, “River Deep, Mountain High”, “I Can Hear Music”, “Montego Bay”, “I Honestly Love You”,and “Sugar Sugar”. Not to mention the theme from The Jeffersons, “Movin’ On Up”, my favorite TV theme song (next to, of course, Friends). And literally, those are just a few of them.
Someone I had never met before but whose songs I always loved and who is sure to become a great friend now was David Pack.
He had/has one of those killer voices that made the songs he wrote for his group, Ambrosia, have that classic ring. Last night he sang “You’re the Biggest Part of Me”, “You’re the Only Woman”, “Holdin’ On To Yesterday”, and “How Much I Feel”.
But the guy who put me over the top even more than those pillars of masterful songwriting was Felix Cavaliere, writer and lead singer for The Rascals.
How do you write a song as classic as “Groovin”?! And “It’s a Beautiful Morning” and “People Got to Be Free”?! Felix was the first writer to do a sound check when I arrived in the afternoon. They didn’t have most of the mics set up yet so I got to hear that most incredible “Groovin'” bass line, probably one of the most used and imitated in the history of music, over and over again. I literally was sitting there with tears dripping down my face it was so exciting for me as a songwriter to be in the presence of such greatness. That we became fast and thick friends backstage only added to my joy.
Thank you, Chris Price, for accompanying me. You were PERFECT!
So, all in all it was a pretty classic day and night for me. I can’t believe I wasted all these years being nauseous at the thought of doing anything like this. But I’m back and that’s all that’s important.
Mere days after my first and only album, Childstar, was released on Epic Records in 1974, I walked on stage in front of 10,000 people to open in Boston for folksinger David Bromberg.
The only other time I had been on stage before was when I played a little fur tree in a school play when I was 8. Now here I was singing soul music, the first 10 songs I ever wrote, plus a Mary Wells medley and Brenton Woods’s “Oogum Boogum”. My band, the singers of whom would go on to become Chic, were dressed as sequined vegetables and I was in a satin suit that I’d autographed from head to toe. This is a really crappy photo of part of the costumes on mannequins but it’s all I’ve got;
Me and The Angle Babies aren’t in costume here but you can get a pretty good idea that between us and our costumes we weren’t what the folksinging crowd came to see.
I didn’t have a very good time on stage. I never could remember my lyrics and I always spent more time designing the sets and costumes than I did rehearsing or getting comfortable being on stage. After five performances on the East Coast we were booked into a lunchroom at Ohio State, the only way the college could also get Joni Mitchell to play in the main auditorium because we had the same agent. Our only audience were three people at a bridge table eating hot dogs and a psychology class being conducted in the back of the room, with the professor telling us to lower our volume after every song. I walked offstage after six songs and made the decision to just be a songwriter, where at least if I was being tortured it was in the comfort of my own room.
Through the years I’ve gotten much more comfortable performing – in my own unique way of doing so which doesn’t include singing live – mostly because I’m a big party thrower and walk around on mic the whole time.
Almost every conversation I have comes through the speakers and I’m literally directing and producing the party as I go. Throw in the thrift shop auctions and stupid party games that I lead the guests through and I’ve gotten very relaxed holding that cold metal thing in my hands.
But I still never have gotten it together to sing anywhere other than in the studio.
So the fact that in mere hours I will be up on the stage for the first time in almost four decades and I’m not sitting here throwing up is a MASSIVE ACHIEVEMENT! Me and five other well oiled songwriters will be singing our greatest hits and talking about how they were written. It’s just with a keyboard – Chris Price, who I’ve been writing and recording a song with and shooting a video all on iPhones, is accompanying me – but I’m singing and remembering lyrics and lines nonetheless.
And if I can get through the evening not thinking about soul singers dressed as vegetables, psychology professors and hot dogs I will have made a big breakthrough.
I’ll be performing “September“, “Boogie Wonderland”, “Neutron Dance”, and “I’ll Be There for You (theme from Friends)“. At least radio has regaled me with these songs thousands of times over the years so I’m hoping that for once I can remember my own lyrics and be happy I’m up on stage.
Wish me luck!
As I’ve been blabbing about for weeks now, I had the extreme pleasure of conducting my high school marching band playing a medley of some of my greatest hits in the lobby of the theater I grew up in in Detroit with the cast of the musical I co-wrote, The Color Purple, singing along. I meant to post video of our performance as soon as I got home but to my horror, one of the three cameramen only shot the students from the back and the other both forgot to turn his camera on for parts of songs and babbled over the footage like he was the subject of a documentary. So it took quite a lot of editing to get something where you could even begin to see the warm, wonderful and uplifting-higher-than-the-sky feeling that permeated the theater that day.
The performance was a benfit to buy new marching band uniforms for the Mumford band. The last time they got new uniforms was in 1984 when Jerry Bruckheimer, also a Mumford grad, bought them so they could play at the premiere of Beverly Hills Cop in Detroit. I got a Grammy for Beverly Hills Cop so this entire extravaganza was tied up in one fantastically organic bow!
Also organic was my shoes and socks combo in the Mumford school colors.
I had an excellent time wearing my hat, color coordinated to The Color Purple, the matinee of which started immediately after the closing notes of the marching band. Though my hat ecstacy only lasted a couple of bars. Too wobbly on my head.
If the music was wobbly at all it’s only the charm of a high school band and a songwriter who’s never learned how to read, notate or play music despite her songs selling more than 50 million records.
That’s the innocence of youth. I hope you enjoy our youth as much as me and the kids did. It was a VERY special experience indeed.