interviewed by arjan deelen
If the name Paul Evans rings a bell, then it’s probably because the guy as a pop singer had several hits in the late 50s and early 60s with songs like ‘Seven Little Girls (Sitting in the Back Seat)’, ‘Midnight Special’ and ‘Happy-Go-Lucky Me’. He also charted in the U.K. in ’78 with ‘Hello This Is Jeannie’.
As a songwriter, he’s had his songs recorded by the likes of Elvis Presley, Jackie Wilson, Pat Boone, Jim Reeves, Cliff Richard and LaVern Baker. His most successful songs were ‘Roses are Red (My Love’, which was a number one hit for Bobby Vinton in the U.S. Billboard “Hot 100”, and ‘When’, a number one hit in the UK singles chart and #5 in the U.S. for The Kalin Twins.
He has also sung backup for Robert Gordon, both in concert and on record (on the ‘RockBilly Boogie’ and ‘Bad Boy’ LPs) and has also written some songs together with Robert. Paul was kind enough to take some time from his busy schedule for an interview about his association with Robert.
Four of your songs were recorded by Elvis, the first one being ‘I Gotta Know’ from 1960. Were these songs written specifically for him?
Yes. The word would spread around town that he was up for a session and we’d all (Brill Building writers) get busy.
Were you asked to write in a certain style? It’s been said that Elvis preferred songs that were written in the 1st person.
No one asked, Arjan. We just wrote whatever we thought he might like.
Did he make any changes to the lyrics or the melody?
No. As a matter of fact, the final generally followed the demo.
I could sound a bit like Elvis, and when he was “coming up”, I would not only submit my own songs, but I’d sing the demos for some other writers – the ones who couldn’t sing. There were a few of us that did most of the Elvis demos.
Was ‘Happy-Go-Lucky Me’ offered to Elvis?
No. It certainly wasn’t his style and I think they would have laughed me out of the room because of the built-in laugh in the song (It was the fourth song on my four-song session and was cut with about ten minutes remaining on the clock.)
Moving on to Robert Gordon, you first sang background on his recordings during the sessions for ‘Rockabilly Boogie’ in ’78. Were the backing vocalists overdubbed?
Yes. The business had passed the sing-with-the-band era. (Alas.)
Was Robert present at these overdub sessions?
Robert was meticulous and was ALWAYS at his sessions.
What were your impressions of him at the time?
Robert was always involved with his music. I admired that.
Was he specific on how he wanted the backing vocals to sound?
Was Robert aware of who you were?
I’m sure he was. But whenever I sang background for other recording artists, I was just a background singer and I never would have wanted to be treated any differently. That way, the soloist would go home happy with the results and so would I. I believe that Jimmy Wisner arranged the sessions for Robert that I sang on. Jimmy and I have worked together a LOT since I first worked with him and, as a matter of fact, he has produced a ton of my records, including “Hello, This Is Joannie”, which hit the Billboard Country charts here in the States and the Top Ten in the UK in 1979. Jimmy continues to produce most of my records.
One of the songs that was recorded at the sessions for ‘Bad Boy’ in ’79 was ‘A Picture Of You’, which was recorded by you in ’62. Was this song suggested by you?
No. (By the way – good sleuthing!)
Did you try to pitch any of your songs to him?
Strange, now that I think of it, I never did.
What were your impressions of producer Richard Gottehrer?
All I knew about Richard is that Robert’s records turned out terrific.
Years later, you sang backup for Robert at a special concert at the Bottom Line in N.Y.C. Can you tell us a bit more about that show?
A few years ago, after not seeing Robert for quite a while, he called and asked me to get a group of singers together to back him at New York’s “Bottom Line” club, and we sort of rediscovered each other. For Robert, it was sort of a back-to-New-York kinda thing so he wanted to knock the audience out with his band and add the touch of a live vocal backup.
So he called me and I booked a tenor and a bass singer to sing with me – a baritone. When we (the singers) walked onto the stage, we got an appreciative hand from the audience, but really the hand was for Robert – for going all-out for them.
A couple of years ago, you wrote four songs together with Robert. For what project was that?
It was for a movie project for John Waters. Mr. Waters wanted something in the Rockabilly area so his agents naturally called Robert. I had the theme for Mr. Waters prior film, “Pecker”, and Robert brought me into the project.
(Can you imagine how difficult it was for me to explain the title of that movie when I did radio interviews?)
What was it like to write songs together with him? How many songs did you write?
We wrote four. We had a close deadline and so we wrote fast. But we’re both pros and nothing was sacrificed for speed. He’s a give-and-take guy, sticking up for the lines he’s sure of and able to forget that he came up with a line when I came up with a better one. THAT’S PRO!
I assume that it was Robert that sang on the demos?
No. He sang some and I sang some. Again, it was a low-budget session and ran all night, but we were both proud of the results*.
Did anything come out of the project?
Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. This time we lost. I haven’t seen anything about the project since and don’t know if it’s still on the books.
Paul, you have had a very interesting career in the music industry, and you have worked with some of the biggest names in the industry. How would you rate Robert as a singer and a performer?
He IS a performer, not just a singer – and his fans L-O-V-E him. He knows what he does the best and he gives his all to his audience. Like I said, he’s a PRO. God bless the pros!
*SESSION DETAILS FOR JOHN WATERS DEMOS
Track#1 – French Kissin’
Track#2 – Important
Track#3 – Why I Cry
Recorded Sunday, January 11th, 2004 in Freehold, NJ.
Robert Gordon – vocals
Paul Evans – vocals, acoustic guitar, piano
Barry Ryan – lead guitar
John Willoughby – bass
Jeff Dilena – drums
Engineered by Mark Addeo
Note: the pics on this page were taken during this recording sessions. Paul Evans is the one wearing a green sweater in these shots.