INTERVIEW - 9TH SEPTEMBER 1995
Last Updated 31st March 1998
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Last Updated 31st March 1998
The Questions And Answers
Last Updated 31st March 1998
Last Updated 31st March 1998
Paul Williams has been lauded and awarded over the years by audiences and his peers, not only as one of the most gifted and prolific lyricists and composers, but also as a singer and as an actor.
Songs written by Paul Williams appear in current recordings by Luther Vandross, Kenny Loggins, Cracker, Grant Lee Buffalo, Matthew Sweet, and Barbra Streisand. He has also signed to compose the original sound score for the theatrical production of "Cinderella."
His awards in the music arena range from ASCAP and BMI recognition for most performed songs, to Golden Globes, Grammys, and Academy Awards.
Which aspect of entertainment does Paul prefer? "All of it" says Williams, "it's almost sinful to go to work and have such a good time."
Paul continues to perform in concert, in casinos and with symphonies throughout the United States and worldwide, and to star on the big and small screens. In 1994, Paul guest starred in the feature film "A million to Juan," and in television movies and episodic television. Most recently, he has been noted for his performance in
"Picket Fences" and "Babylon 5." He stars as a wheelchair-bound hostage in the hard hitting feature film "Headless Body in a Topless Bar" due for 1995 release.
His songs have sold hundreds of millions of records worldwide. They include such standards as "We've Only Just Begun" (click here for the lyrics of this song), "Just An Old Fashioned Love Song" (click here for the lyrics of this song), "Rainy Days And Mondays" (click here for the lyrics of this song), "I Won't Last A Day Without You" (click here for the lyrics of this song), "You and Me Against The World" (click here for the lyrics of this song), "Evergreen" (click here for the lyrics of this song) and Three Dog Night's recordings of "Family of Man" (click here for the lyrics of this song) and "Out in the Country" (click here for the lyrics of this song) as well as Bobby Sherman's "Cried Like a Baby" were all Top Ten hits in the 70's.
Paul's reputation as a motion picture composer took hold in 1973 with his first venture in that arena, 'Dream Away'(click here for the lyrics of this song) (co-written with John Williams) from "Cinderella Liberty," which brought him an Academy Award nomination.
Paul is excited about a television series, currently in development, he created and in which he will star, entitled "Independence Hall." The situation comedy series is largely based on Paul's experiences as part of America's large recovering community. Please welcome Paul Williams to Center Stage!
THE QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
Last Updated 31st March 1998
Question: How long did it take you and Barbra Streisand to write
Paul Williams: Well, actually we didn't write it together. When I went to work on A Star Is Born, Barbra had already written the music that became "Evergreen". Before I wrote the songs that Barbra sang, Kenny Ascher and I wrote all the songs for Kris Kristopherson's character. The last song that I wrote some eight weeks later, was "Evergreen".
Question: Hey man what's up? I love your stuff and think yer the greatest, so what's next in the long life of Paul Williams?
Paul Williams: I have a new movie coming out, actually a couple of films. One is a very dark comedy called "Headless Body in Topless Bar" directed by a young man named James Bruce and starring among others, Taylor Nichols from Barcelona. It's a hostage comedy drama based on an actual New York Post Headline. I play an old alcoholic whose entire life is going to a topless bar. He's wheelchair bound and taken hostage at a robbery there.
There's also another film coming called "Marcus IV" a science fiction film with John Savage and stars Bentley Mitchum. I also have various television guest appearances in the can, including a two part "Dream On" and "A Walker Texas Ranger.."
Question: With all the songs you've written...do you have a favorite? And is it because it has sentimental value to you?
Paul Williams: Yeah, my favorite songs aren't necessarily the ones that became hits. Sometimes a song that was never a hit might be a favorite because of who recorded it. For example, there's a song called "A Perfect Love" (click here for the lyrics of this song) that Ray Charles recorded. Another called "Where Do I Go From Here," which Elvis recorded.
I don't think anyone remembers those songs but me, but they were real high points in my career to have singers that I idolized record something of mine. Also a song called "Dream Away"(click here for the lyrics of this song) that I wrote with John Williams that Frank Sinatra recorded.
Of the songs that are well known, I think my favorites are "I Won't Last A Day Without You" by the Carpenters, and probably my all-time favorite, "The Rainbow Connection" (click here for the lyrics of this song) by Kermit The Frog.
Question: Paul, What high school did you go to?
Paul Williams: I graduated from Woodrow Wilson in Long Beach, CA in, yikes, 1958!
Question: Did you start out singing or acting?
Paul Williams: I was an actor first. My first film in 1963 was a very strange comedy called "The Loved One". It was a film about the funeral business, which starred among others, Sir John Guilgud, my old friend Jonathan Winters, and Robert Morse. I played a boy genius.
Question: How did you first get hooked-up with Jim Henson? Your songs were just perfect for his characters!
Paul Williams: Thank you. I went to England in the mid '70s to do The Muppet Show. I was a huge fan of the muppets and subsequently fell in love with Jim Henson, Frank Oz, and the other muppeteers. Jim asked me if I'd be interested in writing the songs for a one hour cable show called "Emmett Otter's Jugband Christmas." That was about three years before we joined forces again to make
Although I had written the words and music to the songs in Emmett Otter's Jugband Christmas, I knew I wanted to collaborate with Kenny Ascher on something as important as the Muppet's first feature. Kenny and I had written a song called "You and Me Against The World" together, and Jim thought he would make a great addition to our team.
It's amazing to think that just 12 years later I wound up making their Muppet feature with Jim's son Brian, as classy a man as his father was.
Question: Paul, I am a songwriter and find it difficult at times to compose if I don't have lyrics to "compose by". How do you write? Lyrics first, music first, or both?
Paul Williams: Usually when I collaborate with someone, they write a melody and give it to me to write lyrics to. When I write words and music myself I seem to get the beginning of the idea, words and music all together, but inevitably finish the music first. Writing lyrics is the harder task for me, even if it's perhaps, what I'm best known for.
Writing in Nashville seems to be the exception to that rule. In Nashville writers tend to get in a room together, lock the door, and not come out until they've got a song.
Question: What was it like working with Karen Carpenter? Was her voice as incredible in the studio as on the records?
Paul Williams: Yes. Karen was a great gift to all of us, and a terrible loss. I usually stay out of the studio when someone is recording my songs. My feeling is that they're not looking over my shoulder when I'm writing, so I shouldn't be looking over their shoulder when they're recording.
So most of Karen's recording was done with just her brother in the booth. But what a treat to hear her sing my songs! I remember when Roger Nichols and I heard "Rainy Days And Mondays" for the first time by Karen. We were so happy we cried.
Question: How did your upbringing relate to your success in the field of music?
Paul Williams: I was raised a construction brat, constantly moving from town to town. I think I always lived a large part of my life in my imagination, and in my own internal fantasy world. As I grew older, I think the songs I wrote in many cases were anthems for fantasy relationships. Of course, the older I get, I suppose the more real the songs become.
Question: Do you find today's songwriters, music, more violent and less romantic?
Paul Williams: There are so many different kinds of music being made, from the urban poetry of Rap and Hip Hop to the kind of hard core love songs that groups like Boyz II Men continue to sing. It's interesting that a simple twist of the dial can take you from such hard core gangster rap to a song like I Swear that is pure fantasy romance, and very beautiful I think.
Question: Did you write Watch Closely Now? That song is great.
Paul Williams: Yes. That was one of the first songs that Kenny Ascher and I wrote for A Star Is Born. The next to last song we wrote for A Star Is Born was called "With One More Look At You." I love the way those two songs work together in the finale of A Star Is Born. I'm very proud of that.
Question: Thanks for many years of wonderful music. I also look forward to your new work. I'd like to know the best way to get a composition or song heard by someone who might want to record it, produce it or bring it to an artist's attention? Thank you!
Paul Williams: I still think the best way to get a song to an artist is through a major publishing company. If you approach a publishing company with your songs, I might suggest a couple of things: 1) Send a tape of your songs to yourself registered mail before you play your material for anyone else. It's a cheap way to copyright your material. 2) Send a tape and lyric sheet of no more than three songs to any one publisher. Don't send them everything you've written, no matter how good you think it is.
There is an organization called The National Academy of Songwriters that publishes tip sheets of who's recording. You might investigate joining that organization.
Question: I really liked Phantom of the Paradise do you ever think of doing a sequel?
Paul Williams: At one time Brian DePalma and I were talking about taking "Phantom of the Paradise" to Broadway. It's something I did in the early '80s with a film called "Bugsy Malone" (it ran in London for a little over a year). Alas, Phantom of the Paradise hasn't had the same good fortune. Perhaps some day.
Question: Have you written any music for the current country stars, like Garth Brooks, I understand he has recorded some Billy Joel tunes?
Paul Williams: No, and I'm not happy about it.
Question: Paul, I am a huge fan of "Smokey and the Bandit", what I would like to ask is what it was like working on that movie and working with Burt Reynolds!
Paul Williams: There were three Smokey and the Bandits, and all great fun to work
on. I, too, love Burt Reynolds. It was Burt's idea to cast Pat McCormick and I as father and son. Pat and I have continued to be great friends through the years, and his humor is as unique as he is. The first night we met, Pat, towering over me, looked down and said, you look like an aerial photograph of a human being. I love that man!
Question: Did you get a chance to see the MTV Music awards tonight? and if so what did you think?
Paul Williams: Sorry, they haven't aired yet here. Did Sheryl Crowe win anything? I love Sheryl Crowe.
Question: Walker Texas Ranger, my favorite! When?
Paul Williams: In October, sometime in October. I play Tumbleweed Tom, a country DJ whose mouth almost gets him killed.....guess it was type casting!
Question: Paul, in the beginning, didn't you record something or other under the name of C.W. McCall? If so, how did you choose that name?
Question: What is the first song that you wrote?
Paul Williams: The very first song that I wrote was called "The Hunter". It's about somebody who goes hunting to be one of the boys and then regrets killing a deer. If he could, he would "give the beast his wind and will and have him run again...God that he could live again." I think I was working through some of my own guilt for having gone deer hunting as teenager.
The first songs that were ever recorded were by very different acts. One was a song which Tiny Tim recorded, and later David Bowie, called "Fill Your Heart". The other song called "It's Hard To Say Goodbye" was recorded by Claudine Longet.
Question: I love you as a frog, is there more of that series to come?
Paul Williams: Obviously you've seen Frog I and II. I don't know, you'll have to ask Shelly Duvall, who produced the films. I loved doing then. Ribbit!
Question: Any stage work, Paul?
Paul Williams: No, not right now. I've just recently begun writing songs again, and I'm devoting more and more time to that. Also, I'm getting more and more opportunities to act, and I've always loved to be in front of the camera. I'm also very active in recovery, which takes up a great deal of time.
Question: I was wondering how long it takes to compose a song.
Question: Paul, did you go to a music school?
Paul Williams: No. In a way, the incredible composers I've worked with, especially Roger Nichols and Kenny Ascher have been my music school.
Question: Do you have any current song on the charts?
Paul Williams: No. There are three albums just coming off the charts that have Paul Williams' songs in them: Luther Vandross, Kenny Loggins, and Barbra's album, the concert album.
Question: Paul, what are some of your passions when you're NOT writing, acting or singing? Hard to believe you have time for anything else!
Paul Williams: In 1990 I attended UCLA and graduated from their certified drug and alcohol counseling courses. I have about 2500 hours as a counselor, and I'm very active in recovery. One of my passions, is the musicians' assistants program, which provides funding and counseling to musicians fighting substance abuse battles.
Question: I am a budding musician. I want to be a music producer. Do you have any suggestions concerning what kind of college I should attend? Do you know of any with a good technical music program?
Paul Williams: No, I'm sorry. That's not my area of expertise. But I'd be willing to bet that there are other people on the 'Net right now who can help you.
Question: Do you still keep in touch with actors such as Burt Reynolds? Or any one else you worked with?
Paul Williams: One of the bad things about this business is that while we all have the best intentions of staying in touch, our work usually sends us to different parts of the world...and people just drift away. But there are a few, like Jonathan Winters, who I can pick up a conversation in the middle even if we haven't seen each other for months and months.
Question: Do you have any personal appearances scheduled?
Paul Williams: Not singing appearances. I'm speaking on recovery next week for the American Bar Association in Vancouver. But unless you're an "impaired attorney". I don't think you'd find the talk interesting.
Paul Williams: "We've Only Just Begun" had all the romantic beginnings of being a bank commercial. The Crocker Bank of California was going to run a commercial showing a young couple getting married and then riding off into the sunset. They wanted to try something new. Just a song over the wedding, and finally the words, "You've got a long way to go. We've like to help you get there. The Crocker Bank."
Roger Nichols and I wrote the first two verses of "We've Only Just Begun" to be that song. We added a bridge and a third verse in case anybody ever wanted to record it, and happily, many people have.
Compere: Well, we're just about out of time...any closing comments for us tonight?
Paul Williams:I'm very complimented that everybody showed up to chat, and I hope we can do it again sometime. Keep it simple. Love and light, Paul Williams.
The above is an edited extract from an interview where members of the public asked Paul Williams questions 'on line'.
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