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Bobby Darin

Interview With Joel Dorn, Bobby Darin Musical Legacy Producer
By Bill Miller – Edited by Edie R. Lambert

A lifelong music junkie and a legend in the music industry, multi-Grammy Award-winning Joel Dorn has scored 12 Gold albums, five Platinum albums and seven Gold singles. Among his hits as a producer - Roberta Flack’s Killing Me Softly. During his 46-year career producing jazz, pop, soul, rock, gospel and R&B music, he’s worked with the likes of Hubert Laws, Cannonball Adderley, Les McCann, Lou Rawls and the Allman Brothers Band.

Dorn started with Atlantic Records (1967-1974) and later produced under his own labels – Night Records, 32 Records and now Hyena Records. As the music industry evolved, Dorn has persisted as an “old school producer,” finding the artists, making the records, selecting the pictures, overseeing the cover and writing the liners. Under his Hyena label, Dorn has released reissues of some of the best recordings by such artists as Louis Armstrong, Judy Garland, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald and Woody Shaw. In 2004, he produced Aces Back to Back, a Bobby Darin compilation cd-dvd, mining the best of Darin’s performances from scores of video recordings. The package set includes interviews with Darin.

In November, Hyena released a collaborative production, Seeing is Believing. Working with Darin archivist, Jimmy Scalia from a treasury of Darin estate holdings, Dorn produced a tribute to Darin. The DVD features the versatile entertainer performing his greatest hits.

Singer-songwriter-actor-musician-entertainer Bobby Darrin eclipsed genres in both music and acting. He belted out folk, country, pop and jazz tunes as smoothly persuasive as he did rock ‘n’ roll numbers. And on the silver screen, his roles included romantic comedy as well as drama. An Oscar nominee, his cinematic credits include the Golden Globe and the French Film Critics Award for best actor. He’s a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Songwriters Hall of Fame inductee and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame – all awarded posthumously. Darin’s brilliant career was cut short at age 37 when heart disease claimed his life.

Upon the release of the Darin tribute, Seeing is Believing, award-winning radio host Bill Miller interviewed Dorn. Here, provided courtesy of Bill Miller, are excerpts.
Bill: We talked to you when Aces Back to Back came out.
Joel: Right, and I thought that was it on Bobby Darin. But then about a year ago, I was asking around, wishing there were more stuff on him. And they showed me another 30 or 40 hours in the archives. I love Aces Back to Back. I think it’s a beautiful portrait of a singular, one-of-a-kind American artist, but when I got to the other stuff, it was like, “Wow! This is the rest of the story.” We wanted to prove that Bobby Darin could sing any kind of song he wanted to sing, whether it was a big band swinger, a folk rock protest song, old-time 50s rock ‘n’ roll, country or R&B. Seeing is Believing proves that.

Bill: You talk about cutting a wide swathe; you certainly have over the years. I just finished playing a Bette Midler song from her only Christmas album, and I thought about you.
Joel: Yea, I did her first record, The Divine Miss M

Bill: Was she fun to work with?
Joel: No. She and I got some great music, but we did not work well together. But 30 years later, she was kind enough to resolve some differences we had. She made the first move, and so I look back at that as having had an opportunity to work with a stunningly brilliant artist, one of a kind. Bette Midler, Bobby Darin – those kinds of people come along only once in a while, the people who can do everything.

Bill: Your note with the DVD mentioned the first time you heard Splish Splash.
Joel: Right, I was in high school, and it sounded to me like a terrific novelty record. When Darin followed it up with Queen of the Hop and Irresistible You, I thought he was a terrific bubble gummy, radio-friendly recording artist. Then when he got to Dream Lover, I thought, “Whoa, this isn’t radio junk. This is a real song on a real record.” And by the time I got to Mack the Knife and Beyond the Sea, I thought, “This guy is unbelievable. He can do anything he wants.” It’s like whatever he wanted to do he became. I don’t know anybody else who could do that. 

Bill: No, and you listen to Frank Sinatra singing Mama Will Bark or something in the country western genre, then you realize that Frank couldn’t do it all.
Joel: Well, yea. That’s the thing that sets Bobby Darin apart and the thing we tried to get on Seeing is Believing. Look, this guy could do any kind of song right. When he did a Bob Dylan song, it wasn’t Robert Goulet doing a Dylan song. Bobby could get inside of that genre, and do it the way you’re supposed to do it.

Bill: Did Bobby have a chip on his shoulder?
Joel: The short answer is yea. He was a very difficult person. I had two encounters with him. One was really unpleasant in my radio days in Philly. The next one started out unpleasantly, and I just went back at him and kind of disarmed him with a little bit of humor. And he laughed and said, “C’mere. Sit down.” And we had one of the most delightful conversations I’ve ever had with another human being.

The other side of the story is that Darin had the most bizarre childhood you could imagine. He was also sick. He had a rheumatic heart. So he’s got all this talent, and the clock’s ticking. They told him he wouldn’t make it till he was 20. Well he made it to 37, which gives you a sense of the kind of will that he had. He knew that time was a gift. So he chased it five times as hard as anybody else.
I’ll give you an example of his drive. There’s a version of Jackie Wilson’s Higher and Higher on the new DVD. Darin sings, he dances, he throws the mike. It’s unbelievable. It’s the most high-energy performance on the DVD. But the second the camera was off him, and he was offstage, they had to give him oxygen and rush him to the hospital. But when you see him, he’s as good as Sammy Davis Jr. on his best night.


Bill: Didn’t you get on the nerves of the people at Atlantic Records until they finally hired you?
Joel: Well I started writing to Nesuhi Ertegun, who ran the jazz department there when I was 14, and I drove him nuts for years. When I became a DJ in Philly, I played a lot of Atlantic Records. And finally Ertegun became my mentor and let me apprentice to him. By the time I was 19, still a disc jockey, I was also going to Atlantic recording sessions. It was really terrific. I began to learn my craft. And after all the years, I’m still making records, but Atlantic Records was, well, there was never a label like it. You can’t imagine what it was like working there. There wasn’t a kind of music that they didn’t have the best of. And it was cool. But like everything else, like the Dodgers moved from Brooklyn, Atlantic morphed into a major American record company. But in its cottage industry days, it was a breathtakingly, unbelievably exciting place to work.  

Bill: One of the early Atlantic stars just passed away.
Joel: Yes, Ruth Brown died November 17. All her hits – Lucky Lips, Be Anything and (Mama) He Treats Your Daughter Mean were on Atlantic.

Bill: I’ll bet you can close your eyes when you play a certain record, and see that old 45 with the station markings on it …
Joel: Let me tell you something. There are certain records, especially from the 50s, when I hear them, I feel the same way the thousandth time I hear that record as I did the first time.

Bill: Yep. I wonder how many times Bobby Darin performed Mack the Knife.
Joel: In the version on Seeing is Believing, the shot opens up with the camera on Darin’s fingers, and he’s snapping, and about six or seven snaps into it, he says, “Take a guess.”

Bill: How did Frank Sinatra feel about “the young Sinatra,” one of the labels Darin wore for awhile?
 They had a thing, I think because Bobby was always saying he was going to be bigger than Sinatra. He was a rabble-rouser. He’d do anything to get attention. This is the way I hear it from people who say they were around. At the beginning, Sinatra was saying, “who is this kid?” Now, I’m telling you something that nobody knows. Somewhere along the way, Darin requested a meeting with Sinatra, and his manager, Steve Blauner set that meeting. That’s all I can tell you. I don’t know anything beyond that. Isn’t that interesting?

Bill: Maybe we’ll find out someday. You seem to have a way.
Joel: I’ve been lucky. My basic premise in life is to wander aimlessly the right way. There’s a proper way to wander aimlessly. I’ve been really lucky with what I’ve stumbled across.

Bill: I interviewed Dodd Darin (the only child of Bobby Darin and Sandra Dee). Is he active in the estate?
 His mother died in February 2005. She was very sick for a long time, couldn’t work, couldn’t do anything. Dodd was a really good son. Boy, he took care of his mother. Blauner told me he’s a part-time racecar driver, and he wrote books about chess. I think he had a small book company, very bright, very clever kid. He does things. And of course, the estate is active. I mean, how many times do you turn the TV on…I was watching CSI the other night, and in the opening scene in the background, they had Johnny Mercer and Bobby Darin’s Two of a Kind

Bill: He and Bobby must have hit it off very well.
Joel: Well, Blauner told me that it was like a love-in. As competitive and aggressive and abrasive as Darin could be, in the presence of the legends, -- he worked with Durante and many of the show biz giants of the previous era whom he idolized, as well as James Brown, Ray Charles, Jackie Wilson and Bob Dylan -- I can’t imagine him having anything but the best time of his life recording with Johnny Mercer. And Mercer must have flipped because he was a genius, and he recognized genius in others. Just figure, of all the people Bobby Darin could have done a duet with, he picks a songwriter who sings for fun and one that a whole generation of Darin fans doesn’t know. He was such an original. 

Bill: Talking to people like you and Chuck Southcott with the great pipes humbles me.
Joel: The deep voice thing? Isn’t that wild how a deep voice affects people?

Bill: Remember Thurl Ravenscroft?
Joel: Just the name. I like Westbrook Van Voorhees and people like that who used to narrate the newsreels. I still do voiceovers on satellite radio, and I do it in an old time radio voice.

Bill: I met André Baruch once …
Joel: When I went out to California to do Aces Back to Back, I went out with Blauner one night, and there was a woman with him. It was Bea Wain, Baruch’s widow. 

Bill: How’s she doing?
Joel:  Great! Man, she’s like 90 years old, and she was wailing. 

Bill: She’s a sweetheart. They were in Wichita maybe 15 years ago, and she did a little show with someone at the piano. Deep Purple was her signature song. And André – what a great voice.
Joel:  I remember him from Your Hit Parade when I was a little kid. At the end, he always said, “Your announcer has been André Baruch.” What a voice! I’ve done the lamest impersonation of André Baruch in the history of really bad impressions.

Bill: Thurl Ravenscroft did, among other things, the deep voice in Rosemary Clooney’s This Old House, and he was the voice of Tony the Tiger.
Back to Bobby Darin, what do you think of the Dream Lover selection on Seeing is Believing?
Joel: It’s from the Ed Sullivan Show, and it’s just Darin, cocky, young rock ‘n’ roller. But you’re asking the wrong person because I just love this stuff.
*1959 hit written and recorded by Bobby Darin and performed later by nearly 30 other artists

The Bill Miller Show is a weekly syndicated radio program heard in over 100 U.S. markets and is Webcast on featuring American classics, adult standards and celebrity interviews.