Happy Trails

Page 5 of 6

Shortly after "Gypsies" charted, Garrett found another story song that he thought would work perfectly for Cher: "The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia." He was sure that the tune was a smash hit, but ran into a roadblock with Cher's then-husband and former producer, Sonny Bono.

"He hated it," Garrett says. "He threw the demo back at me and said, 'That's a piece of junk.' I said, 'Sonny, that's a hit.' He said, 'Look, I'm a producer, too, and I know when something's a hit, and that's not a hit.'"

Shortly afterward, Garrett recorded the song with The Carol Burnett Show star Vicki Lawrence, and it reached No. 1 on the charts in April 1973. In the Billboard Book of Number One Hits, Lawrence credits Garrett for improving the song. "Snuff changed the melody and made it sound eerier."

When asked if Bono ever apologized about his mistake, Garrett says, "He didn't have to say anything. I told him: 'Bad call.'"

Garrett recalls that he loved working with Cher, but found Sonny a pain.
"He wasn't allowed on the block when I recorded, 'cause Sonny and I didn't get along that well," he says. "We had a lot of good times, too, personally, but I didn't want to work with Sonny. And he didn't want to work with me, either. I did it my way, and finally I just said, 'Hey, I don't wanna hear about it. I'm gonna cut the records, and Cher will come in and put her mouth on them,' and that's what happened."

After the debacle with "The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia," Garrett patched things up with Bono and agreed to again produce Cher. He produced two more melodramatic chart toppers for her, "Half Breed," and "Dark Lady." Combined with "Gypsies, Tramps & Thieves," these songs constituted what critic Robert Christgau wryly called "the swarthy trilogy."

With "Dark Lady," Garrett again flexed his remarkable musical instincts. He tracked down songwriter John Durrill in Japan, insisting that the song's third verse be rewritten so that the man caught with the soothsayer is killed by his girlfriend.

"I always looked for good songs, and I knew what I liked, and what I wanted for what I was doing," Garrett says. "You've gotta have a script, so that was my script. I like a story, unrequited love, I'm a freak for that kind of thing."

In 1974, after taking Cher to the summit of the charts for a third time, Garrett says he was "burned out," and sensed that the time was right to pull out of pop music. Clearly, the record industry, which had changed drastically since the emergence of The Beatles, was moving increasingly from a producer's medium to an artist's medium. There were fewer and fewer pop artists around like Cher, who relied on a producer to pick the songs and establish a musical sensibility. Only in the ascendant disco movement was the producer still the ruler of the roost.

Garrett had always sensed the shifting winds in the pop marketplace, so he knew that the time was right to move back to his first love: country music.

He produced several country hits, worked on soundtracks for Burt Reynolds and Clint Eastwood, and even started a label--Viva Records--with Eastwood. Yet even in the more sedate world of country music, he continued to drive himself mercilessly.

"I can remember I used to really get upset when something was wrong in business. I'd go ballistic, you know? And people all my life would say, 'Gee, Snuff, you're gonna have a stroke.' And I'd say, 'I don't have strokes, I give strokes.'"

One day in 1983, those words came back to haunt Garrett.

"I was reading People magazine one morning and just fell over," Garrett says. When he awoke, he found himself in a hospital bed, where he remained in intensive care for a solid week. His left side was paralyzed.

With more than a year of rehabilitation, Garrett fully regained his movement, but he'd dodged a bullet, and he knew it.

"I said, 'That's about enough,'" he recalls. "I surrendered. So I sold my music publishing companies. After I was out of rehab, I decided that if I stay here [in L.A.], I'll be back at work, and I didn't want to. I was scared."

Garrett sold his Beverly Hills home to Dean Martin, and moved to Paradise Valley. He slowed down his pace drastically, generally limiting himself to occasional TV and film projects for old friends. But after working with only three engineers during his entire L.A. tenure, he had trouble finding similarly compatible engineers in the Valley, until he hooked up with Rigsby in 1988 for the Burt Reynolds TV movie B.L. Stryker.

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Gilbert Garcia
Contact: Gilbert Garcia