David Cassidy On Hanging With John Lennon, The Partridge Family, and a Gun-Toting Phil Spector
"You know, I'm no different from everybody else, I start each day and end each night..."
So spoke David Cassidy during a break in the Partridge Family's second hit single "Doesn't Somebody Want to be Wanted." But he is different. Different from you, who's never appeared working alongside Gary Busey on Celebrity Apprentice. Different than other teen idols of his day who can be neatly divided between pretty boys who couldn't sing, pretty boys who couldn't act or sing, and pretty boys whose voice was in varying stages of fluctuation.
Cassidy had the perfect pop voice, clear and emotive. Witness his vocal on "How Can I Be Sure" which simultaneously achieves the same emotional intensity as The Rascals' original and the sultriness of Dusty Springfield's stellar cover version.
"It's been an albatross," he says of the first impressions the words "teen idol" imply. For this reason, he tends to steer the conversation away from any sentence containing the words "teen" and "idol" toward another gander at his resume. And if those four years of red hot hysteria represent what would be the apogee of most people's careers, he stands by the work he did during that time and won't short shrift anyone heading out to a casino looking to hear "I Woke Up in Love This Morning."
He's recently mounted a retrospective tour that covers all his career hits both Partridge Fam and solo, a smattering of those UK hits like "The Last Kiss" (with George Michael), music that has influenced him and no doubt selections from stage shows he's been in from Blood Brothers to FX-- this from a man who has called show his business for over 40 years.
Cassidy in the '70s
Up on the Sun: How's the tour going so far?
David Cassidy: Fantastic! Amazing, The weather's been incredible, we've been playing a lot of outdoor places.
Are you getting a lot of storms? Here in Phoenix it's our monsoon season.
I noticed that when I was in Vegas. On the East Coast there was one night where we had to cancel.
Is this show a kind of autobiographical David Cassidy career retrospective?
I would say it is a combination of my hits and the music that inspired my career, which took a different direction from what I was originally intending when I was starting out. My career path took a very different turn from what it was originally going to be. I wanted to be an actor but the same I saw The Beatles on Ed Sullivan, that first appearance, and wanted to play guitar. I used to play in garage bands and I went to see Hendrix and Cream. I saw Hendrix with the Experience and with Band of Gypsys at the Forum [4-25-70]. And I saw him open for the Mamas and the Papas at the Hollywood Bowl [8-18-67].
That was after he opened for the Monkees and quit the tour?
I think it was after The Monkees, I'm not quite sure. [It was: Hendrix opened for the Monkees in July, 1967]. I only remember teenagers crying for Davy. The Mamas and Papas people were not interested in him at all as a performer. And that was right after The Monterey Pop Festival [where they both performed]. I saw Cream at one of their last two performances at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. I moved from New York right outside Jersey and saw my dad at the theater which is when I knew I wanted to be an actor. But I was still playing in these garage bands. Nine months after graduating I had my first professional acting job. Someone from CBS Films saw me coming, had me do a screen test. And from the screen test I got cast on Ironside, Adam 12, The Mod Squad, Bonanza, Marcus Welby, Medical Center, all those shows...
The network [execs] all knew I could play and sing but they didn't ask me to audition. But they did ask me to do a filmed screen test. I played a little bit of "Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)" at the beginning of the scene in the garage. They didn't really care. The network just wanted actors.
-- David Cassidy
Did you always play the juvenile delinquent in those shows?
A lot of times I was the troubled kid or the bully who wasn't really a bully, on that episode of Bonanza that I did with Dan Blocker. Then I got cast in The Partridge Family for the pilot. The network [execs] all knew I could play and sing but they didn't ask me to audition. But they did ask me to do a filmed screen test. I played a little bit of "Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)" at the beginning of the scene in the garage. They didn't really care. The network just wanted actors. The Partridge Family came two years after The Monkees went off the air and was made by the same company. Did the fact that the Monkees caused so much trouble for music supervisor Don Kirshner, who also oversaw the Partridge Family music, did you have a harder time trying to assert some involvement on the records? Was the fact that they listed the musicians on the back sleeve of the records a way to get around the controversy over who played what on the records? Yeah, they listed everybody. The musicians, even the background singers. I sang lead on all but two of the twelve songs on the first album and they left them with the background singers [the vocal group The Love Generation], I think they were trying to spin them off into something else. So were you at any of the tracking sessions for those albums? Yes. Every night. Hal Blaine, Louie Shelton, Mike Melvoin, Larry Knechtel, Joe Osborne, Tommy Tedesco, all the guys, my band for years, were The Wrecking Crew. I'd work all day on the set and then drive over the hill just to watch them work. We'd do three songs a night. When did Shirley Jones put down her vocal tracks?
The '80s were weird...
John [Lennon] and I became good friends when he was recordingRock and Roll so I was able to come down to the studio a couple of times and if you could imagine Phil Spector walking around with a fucking gun...It was nuts.
Same crew, same studios, but the songs were just a little more mature and a little more rocky, which is what I wanted to do. They sort of fought me on that. But I was in no position to tell them anything.When I've interviewed the individual Monkees, they all complained the contract they signed gave Screen Gems the rights to use their real names and likenesses for merchandising. You had the advantage of playing a character that wasn't named David Cassidy.
They got screwed, I did not. There wasn't a real Partridge Family. I guess you could say the same about the Monkees until they began touring. The Monkees show was on for only two years. It was not a big hit show and the only reason they kept it on was they were making so much money on the recordings and being on the road. My late great friend Davy, who I became friends with in the last five years, he was the only person I ever shared as stage with. He would open for me. I dedicate a part of the show to him and perform some of his hits. I was a fan of his growing up. I loved those songs. What Monkees songs do you do?
[Feigns outrage] I can't tell you that it will ruin the surprise. I never discuss what songs I do because I change it every night. I do all my hits, all theirs, and it's a musical journey people can follow all the way through. Great great songwriters and musicians I got to work with like John Lennon, Roy Orbison... You were at Lennon's Rock and Roll sessions in LA, right?
Yeah, and he came to my house on New Year's eve and we got drunk and played Beatles songs and I got to sing Paul's parts. When you play in casinos, they don't like you to tell stories so much, most times they say [brusquely] "Just play your songs." So instead I just say "I was lucky enough to play Beatles songs with John Lennon till five in the morning and here was one we played." Keep it short. John and I became good friends when he was recording Rock and Roll so I was able to come down to the studio a couple of times and if you could imagine Phil Spector walking around with a fucking gun...It was nuts.
While you were an actor and garage musician, did you ever work outside of showbiz? Before I got my first Broadway show I worked in a mail-room textile company. Worked from 9 until 1, went on auditions and on my first week [and] I cleared $38.80 cents a week! And I couldn't wait to spend that check. But how was doing a menial job on TV, getting chewed out by your project manager and then by Donald Trump on the Celebrity Apprentice?
I'd been asked before and turned it down and Donald called me and said "You know you can raise between 750,000 to a million dollars for The Alzheimer's Foundation. But it's hard work, you're on with a lot of fucking people who want to stab you in the back from the beginning. And it's not the way I work. Anything I do, in concert as a musician or a show, you work to make everybody better. Now I find myself in an environment that's the complete opposite of how I work. That's the only reality show I was even on or will ever be on. Is your relationship with your fans stronger than someone who's just a famous actor or singer because you were the first love of so many teenage girls? That you occupy that rarefied place where no one else can claim? A lot of people respect the fact that you can only survive if the work is good. If you do good work everything else comes. You try to tell this to young people now who just want to be famous. They don't car about what they're famous for. It's the opposite of how my dad was with me. He was all about the work ethics. Everybody in my family, my brothers, including Shirley, in everything they did working together were drilled until they reached perfection.
Every show I do, I don't prepare patter so I'm constantly interacting with the audience. And I do the songs people expect to hear whether they've seen me a hundred times or one time they won't be disappointed. Of course I do the hits. Why do I got to see anybody? Because you're familiar with their work. So if you cheat an audience you're cheating yourself. Plus, it's incredibly self indulgent. I saw Elton John at Wembley Stadium in 1976 and he performed the whole Captain Fantastic album, he did two songs people knew. Following The Beach Boys the Eagles and Joe Walsh. He told me I'll never do that again. But he 's doing it again. I'm waiting to hear the hits because he has hundreds of them and then he starts doing all this new stuff I've never heard. Maybe some of his big fans have heard it but you're not selling ten million albums, you're selling 10,000.
David Cassidy is scheduled to perform Friday, August 24, at Talking Stick Resort in Scottsdale.
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