INTERVIEW: More Than Judy Garland, My Conversation with Stevie Phillips

It is not a secret to many of my friends and family, especially my mom, that I am slightly fascinated with musicians and performers. Some may even say that “slightly” is an understatement or some may just flatly tell you how annoying I am when I start spewing facts about random artists.

Now I can tell you some really odd things about random musicians. Did you know that Kiss was the first band ever signed to the Casablanca record label?? Did you know Adele wrote “Turning Tables” with Ryan Tedder who is from Oklahoma and I’m from Oklahoma?? Did you know that Madonna has to have her dressing room fumigated after each concert to make sure nobody sells her tissues?

I think I just annoyed myself.

One of my favorite artists to study is Judy Garland. I have literally been a fan for nearly my whole life. I saw “The Judy Garland Christmas Special” on Nick at Night when I was 4 and the rest is history.

41olfurhcl-_sx326_bo1204203200_-2So naturally as I went to pick out a book to read after my recent move to New York state, I decided to pick out another book about Garland. My choice was Judy & Liza & Freddie & David & Sue & Me by Stevie Phillips. Phillips is a very successful former agent of many of music and films biggest stars. She got her start with Garland and she had loads of success with Liza Minnelli. Not to mention she also worked with David Bowie, Robert Redford, Al Pacino, and Hollywood’s “super agent” Sue Mengers. Basically this book couldn’t be more up my alley.

This book left my mind loaded with new knowledge. I was taken aback by Phillips candor over her workings with Garland and Minnelli. Her career fascinated me to no end. So to make a long story short or to prevent a short story from being long, I got in contact with Phillips and asked her if I could interview her. To my delight, she obliged.

I hope that my interview with Phillips will serve as a teaser to her book.  I fully encourage you to read this book. It will leave you with so much more than what Garland’s favorite wine was. I have included all links to purchase this book at the end of this article.

To start off the interview, I wanted to basically ask Phillips, how she survived the fickle world of show business. Once you read this book, you will see that her path was one less traveled.

Well. There are two things I have to respond to in answer to your question. One is my upbringing, my loneliness as a child. My parents were both in retail as you read in the book. They were gone from before I woke up in the morning until after I went to bed at night…

Movies were my best babysitter…If I had to name my favorite picture I would have to say at the time it was Meet Me In St. Louis…I wanted to be Ester Smith. I wanted her family. I wanted to have a crush on the boy next door. I wanted that life. A paradox in my life was that of Esther Smith, the role that Judy played in the picture turned out to be nothing like the real Judy. That was what it was…

Now, the second answer to that question is, Judy became the prism of which I viewed my life. I wrote that also. She taught me, not because she was a mentor, she was anything else but. I had to survive and help her to survive. I learned how not to fold.

This is one of the major themes of the book, how not to fold. Phillips first began her career has Garland’s “shadow.” She followed Garland everywhere she went as she embarked on a tour in hope to revive her career. Garland had signed with Phillips’ bosses, Freddie Fields and David Begelman. She became to know all of Garland’s idiosyncracies and erratic habits. She often cites this as one of her biggest challenges, but proves that nothing can stop ambition and drive.

I entered my life in show business with the ambition born out of my loneliness and was not going to let Judy or any other name stop me. 

It was a humongous amount of drive, but finally Judy Garland was Judy Garland up there on the screen, but in the living room Judy Garland was just another human being and not a very nice one by any means.

Now I have a huge amount of respect for musical icons and Garland is at the top. I imagine that if I met Garland today, I would stop dead in my tracks. I was immediately taken aback by Phillips’ candor. She was very honest in her book, but that wasn’t just in writing. She began to lay everything out just the way she saw it.

As I did research for this book, I found many positive and negative reviews. There was harsh criticism coming from Garland’s die-hard fan base that Phillips was tainting her legacy. Although I would consider myself somewhat in this base, I took a different approach. This memoir actually made me a bigger fan of Garland’s. Phillips humanized Garland and her troubled life. Garland isn’t a myth.

I am grateful that you said that. You are not the first to say that and I appreciate that criticism. I have looked on Amazon and at some of the criticism I have gotten. Some of it is really, really hard to take. I looked at it and thought to myself, ‘Whoa, I’m sorry I made that person so unhappy.’ Mostly, the worst of the criticism came from people who found it very presumptuous of me to criticize her [Judy Garland] at all. That her legacy should be left intact. Her legacy is a great one and perhaps all those critics are correct. I’m not going to imagine that I know more than they. They are entitled to their opinions and it is what it is. Judy was a real person and it was the realness of her life that informed mine. So why would I pretend that she was anything else

Phillips’ book chronicles many of Garland’s mishaps that Phillips ultimately had to manage. This included putting out many fires and she means this both literally and figuratively. Some may think that Phillips has a grim view on Garland, but that simply isn’t so. Garland had become a victim of addiction through her surroundings and her own making. Although Phillips had many times with Garland that were completely scary, like Garland chasing her with a knife, this isn’t what she holds on to, nor does she blame Garland.

Sometimes what remains in my mind about her is absolutely terrific. I still think, without a doubt, she is certainly one of the finest performers that this country has ever produced. She was amazing. She woud get out there on the stage and I would not care how much havoc she had brought in my life. She would perform and it would all go away. It was just extraordinary to watch her. At the same time there is the other part that is mean and nasty and I don’t blame her. How do you blame somebody for having a disease? Addiction is a disease and it’s a terrible disease and she was terribly afflicted and there were times when I swear if I could have put her through a brick wall I would have done it, but I never wanted less then to save her. I got angry, but in the end I wish I could have changed the addiction. I wish I could have changed the things that made me angry. It made me angry that she suffered. It made me angry that she did the things she did that she could not control.

Her addiction defined her. It cut her off from understanding that she had other options. She never recognized that the poor choices were hers…

I wanted her to be able to perform. Not just so that my bosses would make the money, not just so I would earn my salary, but because she was magnificent on the stage. I wanted to see her career go on.

Even though Phillips may have had these awful experiences with
Garland, the end resulted in who she became as an agent and, more importantly, a person. Would Phillips give Garland any thanks?

I am absolutely grateful to her. No question about it. She taught me how not to fold…I went through some seriously scary, seriously challenging events with her and discovered in the process how strong I was, that I could be confident of my intelligence. I owe her. I am grateful for all of that.

phillips_stevie__c_daryl_edelstein_2After Phillips finished being Garland’s shadow, she had proved to her bosses that she had what it took to hold the real power in show business. This eventually led to her representing Liza Minnelli in her career’s most formative years.

The fact that I survived was an indication to my two bosses that I was dependable, that I could be counted upon. Of course it was the gateway to representing Liza. My success with Liza opened doors for me in other areas..Certainly the most important thing that I learned besides surviving was what I learned from my real mentor, Freddie Fields, which was like in all businesses, not just show business, the business belongs in the hands that sign the clients. And I became a client signer.

Now Phillips was signing the clients and Minnelli became one of the biggest stars she represented. Although their history is far from just an agent and a client, they were connected by Garland.

I felt a connection to Judy, but mostly I felt sorry for Liza. Judy abandoned Liza. I’m not saying Judy didn’t care for Liza. Judy had genuine affection for her children, but that didn’t make her a great mother. There is no doubt in my mind she loved them, but her life was affected by the addictions and the pressures put on her that she couldn’t handle and it was hard under those circumstances to be the mother of all mothers.

When Garland left to record her TV show in California, Liza did not move with her. Phillips quickly became the most stable figure in Minnelli’s life and guided the foundation of her career. She was Minnelli’s agent when Minnelli won an Academy Award for Cabaret followed by her legendary concert for television Liza With a “Z”. In addition to guiding Minnelli’s career, Phillips lent her home to Minnelli through many of these formative years. She even hosted Minnelli’s wedding in her apartment. Sadly, Minnelli and Phillips severed ways due to a personnel decision made by Minnelli and they don’t have a relationship today.

By this time in our conversation and while reading the book, the legends that Phillips wrote and spoke about became second. I began to resonate with Phillips’ story in a different way. Her book no longer belonged in the “Music” section at Barnes and Noble, it now belonged in the inspirational section.

I quickly realized that Phillips is everything I want to see in myself. The tenacity she portrays during her trials with Garland, Minnelli, and in her personal life is nothing short of an education. Phillips taught me to never fold and to always keep moving, no matter the setbacks that life throws at you. If you keep moving and keep your eyes on your ambition, then success is inevitable.

As I briefly told Phillips of some of my ambitions, she even starting giving me advice.

A lot of people have opportunities; they just don’t see them. Opportunity comes knocking on the door and people don’t recognize it. When you see a chance to do something, however little sense it may make, if you feel that it’s going to lead you down a road that is exciting, take the chance! There is nothing as exciting as change and a lot of people are scared of it.  A lot of people don’t see opportunity when it comes and slams them in the face.

So in the end, this book wasn’t just about Judy Garland, Liza Minnelli, or Robert Redford. Although, I did learn a lot of new facts to annoy my friends with. When I asked her why she wrote the book, this just backed up my reasoning.

I think it’s because I thought I had wonderful stories to tell. I think it’s because I felt that people could benefit, could learn something from the stories I had to tell. They were such wonderful stories that were worth telling….

These stories were definitely worth telling for they are not just historical, they are impactful. Phillips’ life needed to be secured in the books and she cemented it in. Even today she is still working on projects and talks about producing more musicals on Broadway, something we weren’t even able to touch on in our interview.

It’s been a hell of a ride, Gabe. I have had a wonderful career and the fact that I am still trying to create it amuses me.

Not only did I learn about some of my favorite musicians through Phillips, but I also learned valuable life lessons from real world experience. This is not a book I can only read once. Phillips has given me more than history; she has shared the wisdom she gained from these experiences. I only hope to emulate half of what she was able to portray and I hope this is not our last encounter.

Lastly, I wanted to leave you with what Phillips would say to Garland today if she was still alive. These are profound words that many of us need to live by today. She speaks of this not because she is a puritan; she assured me she is far from it. So what would  Stevie Phillips say to Judy Garland today?

Stop drinking. 

I just hope Phillips doesn’t mean coffee. I would sure love to have another conversation with her over a pumpkin spice latte this fall and learn some new facts to annoy my mom with. Ohh, the dreams of a music aficionado.

Purchase the book on Amazon here.

Purchase the book on Barnes and Noble here.

ALBUM REVIEW: Ike and Tina Turner, The Ike and Tina Turner Show Vol. 2

This last weekend was my first venture into New York City to go on a vinyl hunt since moving to Westchester County.

My first find,was The Ike and Tina Turner Show Vol. 2. The record is in near mint condition and still has the shrink-wrap on it. Any vinyl collector can tell you how hard it is to find these older Ike and Tina Turner albums.

Tina Turner MusicWe all know the story of Ike and Tina Turner and personally I have no respect for Ike Turner. He may have been a good musician, but anyone who beats women immediately gets a “0” in my book. I love the fact that she went on to have a huge solo career without Ike and has been able to discover a happy life for herself.

“What’s Love Got To Do With It” was virtually a big “screw you” to Ike.

Although, what I discovered with this album, even though it presents Ike Turner, Tina Turner, and The Ikettes, was that Tina was a solo singer long before their divorce in 1978. Ike could not have made it without Tina and he knew she was a hot commodity. With this live album, released in 1965, Tina was already showing the foundation, at least vocally and musically, for a solo career.

This is obvious from the very beginning of the album. If the announcer acknowledged it by saying, “Introducing the main attraction of the evening, meet the star of the show, give her a nice friendly welcome, the fabulous Tina Turner!”

The album then immediately goes into Ike and Tina’s hit “Shake Your Tail Feather.” This track had a little too much Ikettes for me, but It also showed me how talented these ladies were Ike employed to back Tina. This is the same feeling I had for “You’re No Good” on side two.

Tina Turner MusicWhere Tina really shines is when she takes the mic alone. She first undertakes “Ooh Poo Pah Doo.” Her artistry comes out like a fire-ball wrapped in a lace blanket.

She quickly defines herself as a solor artist with “All I Can Do is Cry.” I have heard this song by Tina before, but never with quite this same passion. She told the story of being at “her man’s” wedding. In this emotional tune she was the preacher, choir, and usher.

Tina’s independence again becomes obvious on “It’s All Over” and “A Fool For You.””It’s All Over” is sang with some of Tina’s deepest emotion. I don’t think the song content was far from reality. She mixed this emotion with gospel styling and a rock sound that hadn’t been invented yet. She ends the show with the classic ballad “A Fool For You.” For some reason I feel like this may have been Tina’s true feelings when it came to fame.

It really didn’t matter who was backing Tina Turner in these early days of her career. After Ike and Tina Turner’s initial launch into stardom she instantly became the brightest star of the bunch.  Ike always resented this fact.

I really don’t feel the need to say “Ike” in front of Tina’s name. I respect that he influenced and arranged much of the music that made Tina famous, but there were others gladly waiting in line (Phil Spector anyone?).

This album shows that Tina was a solo artist from the start. Ike was simply a dealer and Tina was the commodity. The only problem was, the commodity became larger than the dealer could manage.

Ike was always a better user anyway.

ALBUM REVIEW: Happy Birthday Amy Winehouse, Reliving Frank

Today Amy Winehouse would have been 33 years old, had numerous more critically acclaimed albums under her belt, and multiple Grammys to go with them.

Winehouse was before her time, yet she was also a beacon of the past. Her vocals proclaimed a renaissance in modern music while being distinctly reminiscent of legendary vocalists past. I cannot find a word that penetrates to the core of Winehouse’s artistry. She was simply unexplainable and for me, completely intriguing.

fullsizerender-9Although Winehouse is mostly remembered for her album Back to Black, in which she won five Grammy awards, her previous record Frank is just as memorable. This album is one of the best compositions of the 21st century and is a must for every lover of music. It doesn’t belong to any one genre.

This album has a completely different vibe then Back to Black. It again defies all genres, but in a different way. Throughout this album Winehouse’s vocals remind me of a pure jazz singer, but not every song is necessarily jazz or has jazz elements.

The essence of jazz music is that each time you sing a jazz song it can be sung a different way through different stylization and emotion. It’s truly an artist’s genre and is completely freeing to the vocalist. This is where Winehouse’s vocals lie in Frank, completely free.

Frank begins with the song “Stronger Then Me.” Like most of the tunes on this album, this song is co-written by Winehouse. This song mixes R&B, soul, and jazz. Winehouse sing’s over these lyrics with her distinct brass and sarcasm. This song sets the tone for the entire album.

Although Winehouse is distinctively wanting someone stronger than her current boy, she immediately goes from the woman in charge straight into the one down position with “You Sent Me Flying.” This sentiment is quickly forgotten as she sings about her new friend, “Cherry,” who has now taken the place of her boy. I’ve never heard someone explain a guitar so affectionately.

Moving on down side A, we have the song this album is most known for, “F*ck Me Pumps.” The lyrical content of this song is about those women that seem to make clubbing a living while seeming to live shallow lives, when they actually just want to settle down. We all know the ones. This is a hard one not to get caught in your head with its addicting rhythm and piano riff.

Another standout on side A is “Moody’s Mood For Love,” a classic jazz  song that has been covered by many artists. This song really shows how savvy Winehouse is in pure jazz. I can just imagine her singing this in an underground jazz club in NYC. This sound parlays into side B.

fullsizerender-10Side B opens with “Take The Box.” This is one of the prize possessions of this album. “Box” takes a ballad turn, while keeping a consistent R&B beat. The metaphorical lyrics are nearly brilliance and I find them to be some of Winehouse’s finest. This song is easily coupled with “What is It About Men?,” which follows the same vibe, yet with a sensual touch.

As I walk away from this album, I am just as intrigued with Winehouse as I was the first time I heard her voice. What I find truly exquisite is how this record reads like a story-book filled with poetry. You can find a different meaning in each song depending on your emotional and physical surroundings, but each has a distinct setting. The same goes for Winehouse’s vocals. They are a never-ending book. There is always something new and profound to find in her stylings.

So today we celebrate her life and music that will last decades. Her legacy is much like that of Buddy Holly’s, although her career short, her influence in music is permanent. This album was named Frank due to her “frank” telling of the truth and also in tribute to Frank Sinatra, one of her biggest influences. This album and everything that proceeded was bound to be legendary.

Now only time will measure the legacy and footprint that Amy Winehouse has left on music. Happy Birthday to this beautiful songstress. May you rest in peace while taking another seat too soon in that heavenly choir.

ALBUM REVIEW: Tammy Wynette, D-I-V-O-R-C-E

Artist: Tammy Wynette  Album: D-I-V-O-R-V-E

As any music aficionado, I live by the adage, “So much music, so little time.” That is exactly where I am coming to you with this post.

I am a big fan of classic country music. I love the likes of George Jones, Loretta Lynn, JohnnyTammy Wynette Divorce Cash, and Patsy Cline. These artists have made some of my favorite albums, but I have neglected one founding country queen, Tammy Wynette.

The loss has been completely mine. When I listen to Tammy, I hear the sweetness of Parton, the brashness of Lynn, and the stylings of Cline, yet I think that is an understatement to her career for these leading ladies are not her predecessors, they are her contemporaries.

Saturday evening I decided to finally spin her album from 1968, D-I-V-O-R-C-E. I picked this album up years ago, but I can’t recall where. The title immediately caught my attention, but I wasn’t 100% into classic country at the time. We all make mistakes in our early age.

Starting off D-I-V-O-R-C-E is the Glen Campbell classic “Gentle on My Mind.” Hearing a woman’s heartache over these lyrics opens up a new aspect to this true country tune. Then comes “Honey (I Miss You).” This song completely broke my heart. As I was listening I thought they just couldn’t be together for unforseen circumstances, not for the reason this song revealed.

Later on side A, we come to a cover of the Patsy Cline favorite, “Sweet Dreams.” Wynette brings her own timing and reason to this song. I had the feeling that she may have sweet dreams of you now, but you better act quick, this country girl don’t wait. Closing out side A, we have a cover of the Beatles “Yesterday.” A classic country twist of a Beatles classic done by one of its leading ladies? Yes please.

Side B continues with Wynette’s number one hit “D-I-V-O-R-C-E.” This song immediately breaks my heart. I know the content too well. Wynette sings this song with a whole heart for she had lived and would continue to live its lyrics. Later on side B, we come to “Kiss Away,” a Billy Sherrill penned tune originally recorded by Ronnie Dove. The album then closes with a cover of Kitty Wells’ “Lonely Street.” This song is a perfect coupling with the title track.

After listening to this early, yet classic Wynette album, I can’t help but think, “Where have I been?” I know exactly where I have been. I’ve been flipping through Dolly and Loretta vinyl. Now I am going to have to add Wynette to my ever-growing list. I sure hope New York, my new resting place, has as many classic country bins as Oklahoma.

ALBUM REVIEW: Judy Garland, Judy In Hollywood

Artist: Judy Garland  Album: Judy in Hollywood Original Soundtrack- Judy Garland T.V. Show

I swear my whole series going through my selves of vinyl is not going to be over Judy Garland. It is just where I started! Tonight I listened to some of my favorite recordings from my favorite era in Garland’s career, the 1960’s.

Some may crack jokes or discredit this time in career due to her many troubles and what some inhollywoodperceived as “wear on her voice.” I take the exact opposite approach. I think these are some of her best vocals that show the rawest emotion. These were her “I have survived and have nothing to prove” performances. She was already a living legend.

All these recordings are from The Judy Garland T.V. Show. This was a short-lived series, but these recordings and performances are some of her best. The album was released by a label named Radiant, which seemed to only release Garland’s T.V. show performances and a variety of country albums. There is not a date on this album, but this was made after Garland’s untimely death in 1969.

This album focus’ on songs that Garland sang specifically from movies. Some of these tunes are from her own films like “A Couple of Swells” from Easter Parade and “The Boy Next Door”  from Meet Me in St. Louis as well as covers of songs from popular movies and shows.

The real take aways from this album are her covers. Garland is nearly flawless in her rendition of “As Long As He Needs Me.” This song compounds many of Garland’s true emotions she had through her many relationships, but it also touches on one of her biggest assets and crutches, her undying loyalty. Other great take aways from this album are “How About Me,” “Puttin’ On The Ritz,” and her tribute to her son, “Dirty Hands, Dirty Face.”

Key Tracks: “A Couple of Swells,” Medley of “You Made Me Love You,” “For Me and My Gal,” and “The Trolley Song,” “That’s Entertainment”

Deep Cuts: “As Long As He Needs Me.” “How About Me,” “Puttin’ On The Ritz”