I left Hollywood Sound Recorders to go out on my own as a record producer in 1967. Owner and friend, Jesse Hodges told me it was a mistake to make the move without a track record, viable artist, or affiliation with a major label or production company. He was right. Naturally, I ignored him and did it anyway. The first thing I learned is that it is nearly impossible to make a living as a record producer without producing hit records!
Jesse did give me some advice when I first met him as an aspiring singer/songwriter. He told me I should at least look like a successful artist and go get my hair cut by “Little Joe”. I took that advice. That meant going to Sebring Hair Salon. Jay Sebring was a pioneer in men’s hairstyling and the stars who went to his shop read like a who’s who of Hollywood (tragically Sebring was a victim in the Charles Manson-led murders at Sharon Tate’s house). “Little Joe” Torrenueva was his up-and-coming superstar. When I walked in the first time and walked past Henry Fonda, I knew I was in the right place. Joe and I became good friends and he cut my hair for the next 25 years.
We talked a lot about music every time I came in. Joe was a little modest about it but I found out he could really sing. In late ‘69 we cut some “demos” and I took them to Mike Curb at MGM. Mike and I had a lot in common…not the part where he had a ton of hits (he was one year away from being record producer of the year)…but the part where Joe cut his hair.
We cut the first sessions with a big orchestra and two strikes against us. MGM insisted we cut the sides in their studio. It was big enough but it was hard to get that “tight” rhythm sound. When we played the sides for the record promotion staff, I got the distinct impression that they felt the sessions were a favor to Mike’s barber and never really got on board. They didn’t really have to. The label was all over the charts with “major” artists.
Mike stayed with Joe for two singles from the initial session and then gave us the OK to do another session at Hollywood Sound. We all felt better about the “feel” we got there. MGM released two more singles from those sessions. The last one was “Words and Music” written by Dick and Don Adrissi (whose “Never My Love” is one of the most played songs in history). In that last session I threw in a song that I felt had a chorus that just stayed in your head and had a hit feel. “Shelly Made Me Smile” was written by Don Great and I had acquired the publishing rights. It ended up on the “B” side of “Words and Music”. When we didn’t have that elusive hit record, our deal was over but Joe and I gave it our best shot and our friendship endures to this day.
Ironically, a group from Canada, Lisle, heard “Shelly” and recorded it. It went to #1 on the Canadian charts and I had my first hit record as a publisher. It would have been nice with Joe but I must admit it was a great feeling to see the song climb up the charts week after week until it hit #1. I wouldn’t have that feeling for another 6 years.
“Shelly” will always be magic for me because it showed me that if a song “has it” someone will discover it, even buried on the “B” side… and it gave me that feeling that maybe I was doing something right and that success was within reach.