Interviewed by Calvin Gilbert
in the Nashville Banner
Friday, April 14th, 1995.
(one week before the 'Tin Pan South' festival 1995)
Last Updated 3rd April 1998
(When you click on the red/green below you will be taken to a page with more detailed information. If you click on the song titles mentioned, you will be taken to a list of Paul Williams' albums/singles/TV shows where that song appears.)
An acting career was his first calling, but music for a bank commercial established Paul Williams as one of the most successful songwriters of the l97Os.
The commercial is easy to visualize. "They wanted to show a young couple getting married, riding off into the sunset after the reception," Williams said in a phone interview, as he prepared to come to Nashville for next week's Tin Pan South festivities.
"Instead of a pitch, it was just going to be a song and then at the end it was going to say 'You've got a long way to go. We'd like to help you get there.'"
Williams and composer Roger Nichols didn't care for the hook, so Williams came up with "We've Only Just Begun".
"The lyrics 'white lace and promises' was to cover the bit when you saw them getting married," Williams said. "And then they kiss - 'a kiss for luck and we're on our way.'"
After the commercial aired, the duo wrote a bridge and a third verse. It was the Carpenters' second major hit.
Williams' acting credits include films (Smokey and the Bandit, Phantom of Paradise ), television (Picket Fences) and voice-overs for animated children's programs (Batman, Phantom 2040).
"I've just started writing again," Williams said. "Acting has taken up more of my time lately. I was an actor for years before I was a songwriter. I guess I wrote for about three years before I had my first hit."
Those hits were recorded by Barbra Streisand, Three Dog Night and two others by the Carpenters - "Rainy Days and Mondays" and "I Won't Last a Day Without You". Williams' songwriting credits in film include Rocky IV, Ishtar and The Muppet Christmas Carol.
"The Muppet Christmas Carol was the first song score I ever wrote sober," he said.
Williams isn't shy in talking about the demons that until 1989 ruled his life. He's now a licensed drug rehabilitation counselor who works one day a week with an after-care group.
"Part of my reason for coming to Nashville is to make people aware of the Musician's Assistance Programme" he said. "What we're doing is trying to see that people at any level of the music industry who are having problems with drugs and alcohol know that help can be made available to them, no matter what their financial situation may be."
Williams' songs also have been recorded by Grant Lee Buffalo, Kenny Loggins, Matthew Sweet and others.
"The tunes have a life, thank God, and people seem to keep cutting them," he said. "I ran into Luther Vandross the other day and thanked him for including Evergreen on his latest album. Of course, I took advantage of the moment to send him a new tune."
Streisand wrote Evergreen's melody.
"She's an amazingly talented, brilliant and demanding woman," he said. "I signed on as music supervisor for A Star Is Born and had nine weeks to write all the songs."
Before presenting the lyrics to Streisand, Williams would underline the lyrics he felt he could improve.
"Without showing her the lyric, I'd sing it to her," he said. "She'd say, 'There are two lines that can be better.' They'd be the same lines I'd underlined."
Rainy Days and Mondays is the only song he and Nichols wrote specifically for the Carpenters.
"My mother used to talk to herself," he said. "She'd walk through the room mumbling. I'd say 'What's the matter, mom?' She'd say, 'I'm just feeling old.'
So that wound up as the opening line of that song - 'Talking to myself and feeling old.'"
On a roll with the Carpenters, he recalls offering them "An Old Fashioned Love Song", later accepted by Three Dog Night, a group that also did Williams' "Out in the Country".
"I don't think they even listened to it all the way through," he said of the Carpenters' rejection.
One of his personal favorites is "Rainbow Connection", first sung by Kermit the Frog in "The Muppet Movie". Williams had previously worked with the late Jim Henson on a television special Emmett Otter's Jug Band Christmas.
"When they said it was going to be a road picture, I wanted to bring Kenny Ascher in because he's such a classy composer," Williams said. "Jim didn't even want to hear the songs before we went into the studio. That's how trusting he was."
Williams enjoyed the younger rock musicians' work on the tribute album If I Were a Carpenter.
"I thought Cracker's version of Rainy Days and Mondays was adventurous and humorous," he said. "I really loved that. It's wonderful to see these people coming out of the closet and saying that Karen and Richard had such a big influence on them."
Rock bands aside, who recorded the best version of another Williams song - the theme to the television series The Love Boat?
"You can't knock Jack Jones," Williams laughed.
"When I get up in the morning and ask myself, 'What do I want from this day?' I say, 'I want another Love Boat and I want Jack to sing it.'"
(Thanks to Paul Williams agent, Kelly Newby, for providing me with a copy of this newspaper interview)
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