Audio Books

*Originally published in my column "Sundown On Sunset"


David Hentschel and Dennis MacKay

By Sean Patrick, Hollywood, California

David Hentschel is a product of the early days of rock and roll.  Starting as

a tea boy at the legendary Trident Studio in London, through his Grammy

for Best Fusion Jazz Performance in 1988 and beyond, he was trained not

only in music performance, and the early creation of recording technology,

but also in how much teamwork there is in making a song. From the seed

of a melody and lyric, through the instruments and consoles, Trident

Studios, among others, was a veritable mill of the most classic rock and

roll albums the world has ever heard.  David Hentschel was a part of it all.

A 1975 promotional photo of David Hentschel. I can only say it was sheer

serendipity to sit on a sofa in legendary composer and Emmy winner

Jerry Fielding’s home talking to David with our mutual friend and fellow

Grammy winner Dennis MacKay for an interview.

 SP:  When did you two (Dennis MacKay and David Hentschel) meet? David

Hentschel:  I think it was July, 1969.  I’d moved up to engineer, and Dennis

had just gotten hired as Tea Boy, which was where we all started. Dennis

MacKay:  David, I loved that policy where the Engineer on a project

could fire the Tape Operator, and the Tape Operator could fire the Tea

Boy… it created such a great work ethic. SP:  Was that policy more to instill

loyalty from the bottom up, rather than politics from the top down? David

Hentschel:  Yes, I think so.  It was just to keep everyone on their toes. 

You had to pay attention to what you were doing, but it didn’t come up

every day.  At Trident, where we were, it was very much a family sort of

atmosphere.  Everyone used to hang around and socialize together.  If

someone got married, everyone went to the wedding.  If someone went to

the pub everyone went to the pub (laughs).  Pretty much, five times a day

we all got drunk!  (Turns to Dennis)  Do you remember my twenty-first

birthday? Dennis MacKay:  Oh David, do I remember that! David

Hentschel:  I was drinking glasses this size (points to his water glass) of

neat Southern Comfort!  This was by six o’clock in the evening, so you can

imagine how messy it got later! Dennis MacKay:  I was only 17 when I

started then, but I remember you playing the ARP 2500 on “Funeral For a

Friend” (by Elton John). David Hentschel:  “Rocket Man” was the first one I

played it on.  The ARP 2500 was a synthesizer, about five feet wide and

three feet tall monster, but it was a wonderful instrument.  The studio

bought one, and because I was the only musically trained member on staff

at the time, I was chosen to be the one to operate it.  It was obviously a

very new sound, and it was viewed with suspicion! Dennis MacKay (r) with

David Hentshel in 2012. All the session musicians, all the studio guys there

thought this thing was going take their jobs away; they thought once their

sound was copied, they wouldn’t work anymore.  It was hard to build up a

reputation for that instrument, and I did it by trying to use it to make

sounds that nothing else could make. In fact, the very first film score I did,

“Operation Daybreak”, I used the ARP 2500 and a full orchestra; we

proved that you could use electronic instruments with a full orchestra, and

make it work.  That score did get a lot of acclaim for being the first use of

synthesizer and orchestra together. SP:  It makes me think of how

everything back then must have been pure experimentation.  Look at all

the sounds the Beatles got out of a four-track. David Hentschel:  Yes!

Certainly it was unlike today where you have plug-ins to do any and every

sound you want.  Even going back only ten or twenty years, studios had

just messes of outboard gear.  You had boxes that could make all

sorts of sounds, all sorts of reverbs; compressors, and funny noise makers.

When I started, and Dennis as well, there was nothing; absolutely

nothing.  We had a couple of compressors and an outboard equalizer. 

Basically, to come up with something new, you had to abuse the

equipment!  Or think of using it in a very different way; I mean think of it:

we’d have pencils literally six feet from the tape machine, and all around

the room, with the tape looping around them to create delays. You couldn’t

sample it; you’d have to record it in real time.  We’d make tape

machines run at irregular speeds to get effects, winding sticky tape round

the spindles to slow it down. Dennis MacKay:  I remember the time we

used ashtrays! Dennis MacKay with Sean Driscoll David Hentschel:  Yes,

(laughs) and we’d put the singers in weird positions!  We’d put them on

their backs on the floor under the piano, with someone else’s foot on the

sustain pedal, and have them sing up into the piano wires where we had

the microphones on the other side, just to get the resonance of the voice

through the piano! Or we’d put the guy in the bathroom; there was no

other way of getting these kinds of effects, and we wanted new

sounds all the time and come up with new ideas, so we improvised every

day.  Of course it wasn’t all us.  We were working with people like David

Bowie, who’s mind was buzzing with all kinds of ideas, and who always

was willing to try new stuff to make a different mark on things. SP:  That

sounds amazing by today’s standards. David Hentschel:  Oh, it was.  I

mean if a singer asked us how he might sound like, for instance, an alien,

we’d get a plastic cup, cut a hole in it, and get him to speak

through it, all the while with the tape looping around corners!  It was all

very creative and really fun. SP:  With that in mind, it still must be hard to

find different things to do with all the stuff that’s already been done.  The

whole ‘pitch correction’ fad comes to mind, and the unlimited tracks you

have now with ProTools. Mr. MacKay in a video about a producer’s tasks.

David Hentschel:  Oh yes.  When you look at it, there was creativity just in

the decision making back then; we only had a very limited amount of

tracks.  For instance, if you had three backing singers, where nowadays

you just record each one on their own track, back then we’d have

to do it all on one track, if you were lucky, and sometimes we had to mix it

in with other things. So you made creative decisions in terms of the

recording, and the limited space you had then.  Nowadays, with those

endless tracks you have in ProTools, there’s a great temptation to use all

of them, and so you’re actually deferring making a decision all the time

throughout the process.  The consequence of that is that sometimes you

get to a mix, and you’re lost as to what direction you’re going. The old

days, you’d get the basic guitar parts down, and the basic rhythm tracks

down, making decisions along the way, so that now the singer has

something to work with; a general feel and direction that the song is going

to take.  That way the artist actually hears something of the final way it’s

going to be, and can react to it.  Now you can end up with hundreds of

tracks, and no basic definition of the song; that can take even more work

to whittle it down.  People get tied in all sorts of knots by working that

way. Dennis MacKay:  Sure… we got spoiled a bit when we got a sixteen

track; I mean now you could have two microphones on the drums!  Trident

was the first sixteen track console in Europe; but you’re right David, now

with all those overdubs on all those hundreds of tracks it can be hard to

figure out how to move forward on the mix. Mr. Hentschel went on

to do five Genesis records. David Hentschel:  It’s not all bad, a few more

tracks allows you to keep mistakes.  I remember when I was working with

Mike Oldfield.  He taught me the importance of keeping everything.  I mean

you can have a great solo, and there may be a split note, or a crunch note,

or even a wrong note in the middle of it, or two or three, but it can be a

really great solo. Of course now the temptation is to go in and fix it, but

with a few flaws, it gave character to the performance.  People don’t hear

those little mistakes, and that temptation to clean up every detail makes it

a little sanitized. Dennis MacKay:  Yes, it can take some of the magic out of

it. David Hentschel:  Well here’s the thing, in the project I’m just

finishing, there isn’t as much of that going on because I’ve spent time

getting performances out of them.  That’s what music’s about.  I’ve

punched in a little bit, here and there of course.  That’s the first rule of

production: record the first run-through. I mean you listen to the first time

a guy sings his own song in the studio.  He’s been thinking about it for

months, and weeks.  The performance he gives the first time when he’s

relaxed is usually one of the best for the recording, especially if he doesn’t

think he’s being recorded.  If he doesn’t think that red light is on, it just

flows out of him.  As soon as the red light goes up, so does that sense

of panic. SP:  That’s such an interesting point!  I can tell you as a singer,

the live performance is, to me, much more creative and easy.  It’s the

difference between the stage, and being a “recording” artist.  You’re right. 

I start second guessing every little thing I do, and it takes away from the

overall performance. Dennis MacKay:  It makes me think of working with

Ken Scott when he was recording David Bowie.  Ken would never tell David

that he was going to get levels.  He’d just tell him to “sing to me”, and

pretend he wasn’t really recording yet. David Bowie, the pair recalled,

would get the track down in one take. Of course, he’d be flailing

around in the control room setting up compressors and doing all the

technical stuff, but he wouldn’t let on to David.  David would just approach

the microphone and start singing.  But of course, David Bowie is

incredible.  You look at “Hunky Dory”, “Ziggy Stardust”, “Alladin Sane” and

“Pinups”; they were all one take vocals. David Hentschel:  Well, Elton John

is the same.  He just sang the songs through.  He wrote them in the

morning, and recorded them after lunch, and we were mixing by evening!

For “Yellow Brick Road” of course, a lot of the songs were written before

we got to the studio, but it was during production that they decided to

make it a double album, so Bernie Taupin and Elton set about writing the

new material.  They’d tried to record it all in Jamaica, but it had all gone

wrong, because the studio was rubbish, and there were riots going on then

with the political problems. One song in particular, “Candle In The Wind”

was written that way.  I was sitting to breakfast with the band and the

producer.  Bernie came down with a set of lyrics he’d written that night,

and Elton sat at the piano, literally across the room, and wrote the music

right then. After breakfast we went over to the studio and recorded it; just

straight off.  That was probably three takes.  Just ridiculous!  Magic

actually.  Then of course he’d go off shopping in Paris, and buy thirty pairs

of the same pants, but all different colors (we all laugh).  He’d get bored in

the studio because he was just a genius at writing, and it would be done

before we hit the pillow. Elton John’s first album, entitled “Elton John.”

SP:  When was the first time you met Elton John? David Hentschel:  It was

when he did that black album that was just called “Elton John”.  Trident

wasn’t very old then.  I think they opened in ’66 or ’67. SP:  So everyone

must have been around the same age then. David Hentschel:Yes, the

owners and such were a little older of course.  We’re certainly dating

ourselves here. Dennis MacKay:  Yes, David, what was it like working with

Thomas Edison (rolling laughter)? SP:  How did you move on from

Trident?  You’ve got an amazing body of work, and there must have been

some point where you decided to move on. David Hentschel:  Yes.  Trident

had begin to grow and grow.  At first when there were about twelve people

it was great, but soon it became a staff of over two hundred, so I was

getting bored with it and looking to move out on my own as an engineer,

and even get into production. As luck would have it, I met a guy who

turned out to be my manager for twenty years, and through him, I was

able to meet Ringo Starr.  I was known for being able to play that

synthesizer, and, and Ringo’s people had put it to him that I might be able

to use it on Ringo’s latest record.  He had just started up his own label, and

he thought it would be a fun idea.  So that’s what happened. Ringo bought

me my own 2500, and I ended up working with him for the next four

months or so, with the run of the place at his studio.  It was actually the

house he’d bought from John Lennon, and on the record, “Imagine” where

John is playing the white piano in the white room, that’s where Ringo’s

new studio was. One night, Ringo Starr said, “Let’s write a song?” One

night, Ringo said to me, “C’mon, let’s write a song.”  So we sat down at the

piano.  He was playing the left side and I was on the right, and between us

was a bottle of Jack Daniels.  Most of the way through that bottle, he was

pounding away and so was I and suddenly, he slapped my hand, fairly

hard.  I looked at him, and said, “What did you do that for?”.  He said,

“Stop playing the black notes!” Of course the business has changed a lot,

but some things are the same.  If you keep at it, sometimes something

happens unexpectedly that propels you onto the next thing.  I was very

lucky to run into that situation, and from there I’ve spent my life doing

what I love. SP:  What a great story, and thank you both for sitting down

with me! David Hentschel:  Sean, it’s been my pleasure!  Thank you!



Tracy Newman



Spencer Livingston

Sundown on Sunset:  Spencer Livingston and The Alternates  

Walking up to the House of Blues on a summer Thursday, July 23, the Strip is alive,

at 8pm, with tourists, and diners checking out the varied restaurants and clubs. 

You’d be fooled if you thought by looking at the Strip entrance that nothing was

going on.  As I walked down to toward the box office, there was already a line from

the door to the street.  It was a young crowd, but not unsophisticated.  It was

already apparent that The Alternates had a sizeable following.    Inside, as the

crowd came slowly in through the bottleneck of the door staff, they all went straight

for the main floor and waited for the show.  HOB has a unique way of getting from

band to band: there’s a huge white screen onto which is projected various music

video footage and crowd scenes.  The stage is actually huge compared to many

clubs, and bands have their setup time in relative anonymity behind that screen. 

You can see the activity, but you really don’t get a sense of anything until it rises.   

Most of the time at a live show, if you’ve never seen the band, you won’t get a

sense of which microphone will channel the lead singers voice until someone starts

to sing.  That night at the House Of Blues, I was able to pick out Spencer

Livingston, because he’s the one who was standing at the only mic. on stage. 

There were two full drum kits, two guitarists, and a bass player, and the grooving

riff, that became an extended lead-in, was better than that screen going up to get

you looking at the stage, and the chords were for all of us; the players settled into

it with us.    Spencer takes command, but it’s a subtle, and very lyrical blend;

nothing too in-your-face at first.  You’re not really sure if he’s singing about himself,

or someone else.  “You’re upside down…you’re beyond repair”.  Should Have tries to

shred the past, and figure out a way to take a step forward.  “…always looking

back, even if you still don’t understand, you better start while you still can”.    If it

was coincidental, I liked it as an opening sentiment, and when the song picked up

some steam, you could see why these guys were one of the winners in a BB King’s

Battle of the Bands.    The crowd and the band weren’t old, but the music had some

wisdom to it.  The Alternates had good draw for a weeknight, early show, because a

lot of them were real fans.  They were paying attention to the stage.  On drums,

Erwin Solis, and Matt Walker were in sync but had individual flair.  Tristan Esmundo

on guitar is someone I’m going to like watching as The Alternates gain momentum. 

Kevin Solis on bass kept the low end blending with Spencer’s voice.    Every song

was a twist in style from the last, with Spencer’s voice emotional, yet defined on

one song, and gravely and moody on another.  He brings a bit of the Summer of

Love to the songs of moment.  I tasted, maybe, reminders of REM meets Vedder on

the recording of Changing Course, but that doesn’t really nail it.  The stage version

was just that much different for being alive.  Their sound is a unique one.  I get the

picture that whatever someone thinks these guys don’t have yet, they’re not

looking long enough, because it’s all there; keep watching, it will grow.  Spencer’s

writing speaks to moments of a breakup, and casts off the hurt of that by

remembering how bad off the world can be.  Not a lot of solace, but it gets you out

of the moment for a bit.  Things change.    During the set, there were some subtle

and deft vocal harmonies, and it was funny because I’d been sure there was only

one mic.  Nick Nye appeared stage right, mic. in hand, and flavored Spencer’s

voice, and it was a nice touch.  Not appearing was the newest member Jake

Craven, who will be adding, among other things, mandolin, trumpet and cello to

Spencer’s guitar, harmonica and ukelele.  As I said, things change.  You won’t get

bored with their arrangements.   The last song, It Seems So Useless, tied in all the

elements of the band, and took you back to the first moment in the set, where

everyone in the room was alone again for a second.  “And I have got 1000 miles

to…’find my sense of time’”.  The tune has a woven, yet non-formulaic structure,

and it works.   “What you do will come around and meet you in the end”.    The

main stage at HOB has a clock on it with a large, red display.  The Alternates have a

sizeable song catalogue, and though it seemed everyone wanted to hear another

one, that LED deity had spoken, and the screen came down like a wall.  No more

time.  “…I don’t know what to say now and it seems so useless.  I’m trying now.”  

Based in North Hollywood, The Alternates are doing their legwork.  Playing the

House Of Blues, and having write-ups in Music Connection gets their foot in the

door of the local scene, but nothing happens overnight.  At nineteen years old,

they’ve been playing together four years.  That’s enough time for a lot of bands to

have gone back home.  You’re nowhere without that determination. 


Lexi Godfrey




Sundown on Sunset: Dilana Thursday, May 30, 2009  

Whatever problems the music industry is having, however the “new model” is

manifesting in the lives of musicians, it’s still all about the music.  It’s a blast,

really, going to shows.  New music comes up every day, and even good music

seems to be easier to come by.  I’d almost give it up for meeting people, and

having a laugh over a good dark beer though, but I don’t think I’ll ever have to; live

music and good times come hand in hand for me.   I had occasion to run into an old

friend of mine last week.  I hadn’t really chosen the next band to see, and was on

the lookout for a tip.  “You’ve gotta come with us to see Dilana,” he said.  “You’ll

love it”.  Sold.   It was a Thursday night at the Roxy.  I like to be punctual, even

early, when I go out to see a show or opening.  I think you’re supporting an artist

just by being there, but by actually showing up on time, then putting down your

drink for a minute to give a listen, you’re fanning the flame of the singer especially. 

You just might end up watching a phenomenal show because of it.  They band

wants to give it to you hard, when you’re really listening; the chemistry works

every time.    I have to laugh about that, because in the world of rock and roll, you

never really can tell when your band is actually going to hit the stage; there are so

many variables.  People end up milling around sometimes, waiting for the main act,

and usually they get to, or have to, listen to an act or two on the way.    Dilana was

first on the bill out of two acts for the night.  I hesitate to say she was ‘opening’,

because she rocked that room.  Inside the doors the milling around became a

subtle, but abrupt, attention to the stage when Dilana was a few bars into the first

verse.  It was palpable.   When she walked onto the stage and, almost shyly,

stepped up to the microphone, Dilana wasn’t in costume, but you could tell that life

had costumed her, and she was real.  Sure she picked a hot outfit, but I got the

picture that it was never the look that was the point.  Whatever happened it was

going to be live.    The listener got a taste of the passion with the fist note.   “I

can’t live with out you…I really hate you but I wish you were here”.  I loved that the

songs weren’t only hard, and still commercial, but there is a desperate, wall

punching tension in the way she delivers her powerful voice, even in the quietest

moments.  At the end of Dilana’s first song, the house was hers.      The band hails

from South Africa, Holland, Texas, and California, according to their MySpace, which

fits the way she looks:  Dilana has rainbow dreads flowing behind her, colorful tats

and she wore a pair of very sexy stiletto heels that could pierce your body if her

songs couldn’t.   “Solid Gold” hit home for me.  I love it when a song talks to me

alone.  If as a kid you’ve ever listened to a record over and over because it was

your life, you forever look for that in a song.  “My Drug” takes you into the depths

of being crazy for someone, but still has the strength to pull back.  You’re my drug,

not my savior.  Nicely written.   Dilana’s records have the drive, and the passion I

saw on stage, but what you can’t get off any record is a true catharsis of a

performance, right now.  Dilana, standing there, pouring what you can tell is

everything into it, made me think that you’d get all of it, every time you see her,

and you should.  If you don’t see passion like that in a band, it’s time to go.     Did I

mention there were only three of them?  There were three people, three guitars,

bass, a keyboard, drums, and a tambourine.  Erik Eldenius sat, and kicked a

percussive beat at the same time he played guitar in more than a few of the tunes,

playing piano on the others, and he did it with bare feet (toenails painted black).  I

only saw his dogs from the side as I was taking snaps, and I can see how when

your brain is working overtime, you can use the sensitivity of your skin to feel your

way through things.  Between that and the heels you could watch the show from

the floor.    Michael Martinsson played bass and guitar, and the mix and match of

instruments, harmonies, and Dilana’s voice was smooth, and creative.  I could pick

out and hum lyrics, getting them down until the next batch came by and took their

place.   It was an energetic, artistic, and very fun show. 





James (Gypsy) Haake

James “Gypsy” Haake Makes a comeback.   May 29, 2014

By Sean Patrick, West Hollywood, California

At the sprightly age of 82, one of show business’ and Hollywood’s best known

darlings of the stage has stopped retiring. James “Gypsy” Haake, at the sprightly

age of 82, one of show business’ and Hollywood’s best known darlings of the stage

has stopped retiring. As the original emcee and long-time performer at the iconic La

Cage Aux Folles nightclub in Beverly Hills during the 80’s and 90’s, James Haake

turned his character Gypsy and his extraordinary talent a naturally well-oiled

entertainment and comedy machine. What he didn’t realize was that without even

trying, his flair and timing has also become a history of hard work, GLBTQ rights,

AIDS awareness, and longtime friendships, just by being honest as well.  He and his

manager Dan Gore understand that the fashion and glamour of nightlife don’t mean

much without a real night out, dressed and sociable. Gypsy and James helped teach

Dan the difference between the hype and the hip.  Gypsy is still a success in show

after show, and it’s a mission of Dan’s to again give Gypsy his own stage, and give

a new home to where it all started. They’re betting the timing is right, and if there’s

one thing about show business that Gypsy will tell you, it’s all in the timing. We all

sat down for an early coffee at another one of the now West Hollywood’s

longstanding eateries, The French Marketplace on Santa Monica Boulevard. SP:  It

wasn’t hard to read up all the great projects you’ve worked on, since the news of

your comeback is spreading very fast.  You’ve got a resume as long as anyone’s

arm, but more than that it’s obvious you’re very well loved around here. Where did

you call home as a kid? G:  I grew up in Morristown, New Jersey, and I graduated in

1950.  Near my town was a place called Millburn, and they had an Equity playhouse

there called the Paper Mill, which is still around.  During those summers in school, I

took dance.  I was the only boy in dance class. Right out of high school, they had

an open call, just like on Broadway.  They had the Equity calls, and then they had

open call.  I tried out for a musical called Wish You Were Here with Jack Cassidy.  I

had a friend that got to sing, and I was a chorus boy.  So, I went from musical to

musical until my 30’s. Dressed in day clothes. SP:  People now associate you with

drag, which you don’t do, but even so that’s not how you started. G:  Well to this

day what I do isn’t drag, never has been.  What happened was that I stopped

dancing, and I opened a cabaret in New York on 58th and 1st, by the 59th Street

Bridge.  I had a house pianist and everyone would come in.  By that time I knew

everybody because I’d been working so much on Broadway.  I did my little shtick,

but I never did drag. What I would do is wear a nice tuxedo, and just a pair of

high-heels.  My bartenders all had microphones, and they all sang Broadway things,

and we were lucky because it became very famous.  Gypsy’s, The Grand Finale, and

Walter’s Apartment, those were all the big cabarets in the 60’s. Around ’78, the

after that the discos and the Studio 54’s and the drugs started to take the night life

a different direction, so at the age of 50 I got out of it.  I actually came to Los

Angeles to retire.  I’d done Guys and Dolls with Vivian Blaine, and she was out here

doing a pilot with Norman Lear. Anyway, she took me to the opening night of La

Cage aux Folles and here’s the thing.  The guy that was supposed to emcee was

Benny Luke, who played Gloria, the maid, in the film, but it didn’t work out for him

to be there that night.  The film had gotten so much attention and it was perfect

timing for the opening of the club. It was all celebrities, and it was just mobbed. 

The show was there but it was just not quite together yet.  One thing led to

another, and everyone had heard of Gypsy’s, so I got tagged to do it, and history

was made.  I’d still never done drag, so as we went along, I said I’d wear beautiful

gowns, and I’ll do everything, but I won’t wear boobs and I won’t wear wigs.  So I

wore hats. SP:  How much of Gypsy is in James, and how much James is in Gypsy?

G:  Well, “Gypsy” to me meant something very different to me all these years than

it did to audiences.  “Gypsy” to me was a dancer.  In Dan’s shows, which I’ve been

doing for fourteen years, they’ve always choreographed me do some dancing in the

opening numbers, so Gypsy was the dancing. With James, there was never any of

that, because James was where I grew up, and my family.  And it was unpleasant.

SP:  Gay people have it hard, especially as we stood up for ourselves, but what is

fascinating to me is that someone like you has been through the very early days,

before sexuality was even talked about much less homosexuality. G:  Especially

here. SP:  All the way through to where Ellen is on TV and all the way we’ve come. 

Assuming you’re gay (laughs), I don’t like to assume. G:  Why not?  It’s a

homosexual trait!SP:  We all have our first story of coming out, or going out as it

were.  What was it like for you? G:  Well in my case, I didn’t really come out until

later.  It wasn’t until I was working in Broadway.  Then of course I fell in love with

another dancer.  But you know those were the days of the really bad stuff in New

York, when they were raiding bars, and Stonewall down in the Village.  People were

being beaten. SP:  Did you find it was a safer haven for you on Broadway than it

would have been in the Village? G:  Oh God yes, because you were so disciplined!  I

mean we were doing eight shows a week, with two matinees.  During the day

you’re doing ballet, jazz, taking classes.  We all did that.  We didn’t have the time. 

We weren’t afraid, we were just busy. G:  Oh look here!  (smiles broadly at the

waiter) Hello honey!  I just couldn’t keep away from you!  (to me) I’ve known

Freddy since he was a tiny baby here.  When La Cage was going, during all the Gay

Pride parades we always had huge floats outside here.  It always started on this

end, near Crescent Heights and we were in and out of this place!  (laughs) SP: 

That was really the height of the start of our ‘new’ culture in West Hollywood.  Your

career has some very poignant parallels.  Sexual freedom, not just gay sexual

freedom, had just really taken hold.  Recreational drug use took off.  Add discos to

the mix, as it were, and you get fewer numbers of live shows in clubs.  That drew

you out of New York. In 1983 you met Mel Brooks, and through another wonderful

chain of events you began a film and television career.  Do you think AIDS had an

effect on your audiences?  Did they come to support, or did they run away? Gypsy

gagging it up with Lucille Ball. G:  It was never mentioned.  I’ll tell you what most

people don’t know.  When La Cage opened in 1981, it was the very next year that

this really started to blossom.  This “AIDS” thing.  We know that now.  But a lot of

restaurants had these people, these big society people and they’d do big things and

come into places like that, they wanted all the waiters to wear white gloves.  They

did it in Laguna.  But the owner of La Cage here wouldn’t allow it.  And we just

went on.  In certain places we had fans touching me, but we weren’t touching

them.  It was surreal. The reverend Falwell actually ‘made’ La Cage in many ways! 

They were picketing out front.  Well, they picketed some of the wrong stars, like

Rock Hudson.  He knocked the shit out of two of them, and then walked in.  Yea, he

beat the shit out of those two little ‘born agains’. SP:  Wow.  (laughs)  Was there

secret support, or was gay culture forced back into the closet a bit? G:  Well

support was secret because we were 90% straight.  Another thing going on right

then, this was all on the cusp of West Hollywood becoming a city!  And as AIDS

progressed, or we regressed in a lot of ways, because of the medical issues, they

started becoming political.  They wanted a gay mayor, they wanted a gay council. 

Gay people were making decisions about the city, down to the medians, the trees,

the bricks that went in.  And of course, it became one of the world’s biggest Gay

Prides.  If you’d have told me in ’82 that someday Gay people would be running this

city, well.   And we weren’t just pervs or twinks, or even bad drag queens in bars or

guys picking each other up off the streets.  We, of course, were bankers and

lawyers, all walks of life. SP:  AIDS was kind of the last straw of being pushed

around.  We had to do it for ourselves in the beginning.  It seemed no one was

helping us. G:  For me, people might think of a flamboyant lifestyle, but I was so

busy working in films and TV during all of it, while it was swirling around and

happening, and I just kept on living. DG:  You have to remember the impact.  They

had an amazing cast when La Cage opened.  Just so talented, and the whole camp

thing was no longer a part of that show.  It never was part of Gypsy or James’

work.  But these guys were dropping like flies.  The producers, everybody, were all

trying to figure out what was wrong with these guys. G: Our cast was fantastic but

it wasn’t huge.  We lost 4 in that first year.  Nobody seemed to know.  Marks would

show up on somebody.  And there were no drugs.  Yet.  This was all guess work.

SP:  When I got here, things had already changed.  I started here when they’d just

figured out how to start treating HIV. G:  Well, there was also a lot of drug use, all

around, not just gays by a long shot.  A lot of drug use.  Especially in those cast

members. SP:  Was that a reflection of the Gay culture itself, or was it a response

do you think?  Maybe people just saying, fuck it, let’s just live our lives? G:  Oh you

know how they are that way.  It was going on all over.  The straight people who

were using drugs, and all up in Malibu and the industry, they all had their

conclaves.  And here was West Hollywood, so yes, but naturally that’s the way it

would be in the neighborhood.  I didn’t have the time to party, and I didn’t see

myself as standing up for rights, I was just working. SP:  When you started

performing in gowns, I was going to ask if you had a ‘drag mother’ but it’s really

not the same thing at all. G:  Yea, that would have been anathema to me.  I never

thought of myself as a drag queen.  And I had that perfect out, not wearing wigs or

boobs.  So what am I? SP:  You’re a performer, and that takes a really good actor.

G:  ‘Cause I wasn’t pretty.  I’ve never been pretty. SP:  Well, that’s subjective. G: 

Yeah?  OK.  Well.  You must live a lonely life.  (we all laugh) But, I would always

interact with the audience.  And then I would take them from the reality into the

fantasy of meeting stars, but it was also real.  People would come in all the time

like Helen Reddy and Eydie Gorme.  And we’d have someone in the cast come out

and sing their big number. (a restaurant guest walks by the table and recognizes

James, but can’t place him) G:  Oh, was I somebody at some time?  (laughs).  I

was a poster boy for Forrest Lawn, but it got boring out there and I dug my way

out! (back to the table) But it’s, as you say, performance.  We just did a big show in

Tulsa. SP:  How was that? G:  Oh, I can handle rednecks, honey.  It’s easy.  As soon

as I saw their chain of gas stations called “Kum and Go” I had my opening line. 

“Sorry we are a little late, but I got stuck at Kum and Go.  There we were in Tulsa

at one of the big casinos.  Right across the street was Arkansas!  So I said it was

nice to be in Tulsa.  A man yelled “ What about us in Arkansas?   Without missing a

beat, I said, “Let’s get something straight.  I did not have sex with that woman.” 

That was the end of the show.  They went nuts, and we had a great time. DG:  But

as far as breaking barriers, we were so successful there that it became our own

demise.  They didn’t want a show like that to be a success.  They wanted to see us

fail.  And they never brought us back. But that backfired on them in a way.  We got

so many supportive letters, because people could go and see a real show right

there, and not have to go to Las Vegas, and they didn’t have to go to a gay bar and

see a mediocre drag show.  They said Gypsy did more for Gay rights in Oklahoma in

one night than they’ve done in centuries. G:  Well, I make all the women, no matter

what they look like, feel like stars.  I don’t use curse words.  But I destroyed the

men.   Oh, it was too much fun.  I get them laughing, they’re seeing a great show,

and once in a while with the right heckler I get to twist the knife a little.  I say,

“You’d better watch what I’m doing, because I used to be you.” SP:  What was your

most monumental disaster on stage as Gypsy? G:  Well, if I talk to some people,

they wouldn’t see it as a disaster.  La Cage had a huge bar.  It had a lounge, and

there was a psychic reader.  There were these tubes that you could sit at the bar

and see the stage.  It was a restaurant, and it was just a busy place all the time. 

So one night after a dance number, I came out on stage to do my bit. Immediately

the entire audience stood up and was applauding, and screaming with delight.  I

hadn’t opened my mouth yet.  I’m thinking, my my, I must have done something

really good tonight.  I was looking around before I realized that Milton Berle and

Joey Bishop were standing behind me.  They had dropped their pants.  Of course

Milton had boxer shorts on that went down to his kneecaps (winks) and there was

Joey in his little shorts.  The only thing you could do to beat Milton Berle was to say

nothing.  Because no matter what you say, he had the art to do you in. So they’re

standing there in their underpants, while I was doing my little facial things.  When I

looked around, I just said ‘thank you’. SP:  (laughing) Well, one of my other

questions was about the funniest thing that happened on stage, so that must have

been one in the same! G:  Yes, it was one in the same, but there was the time that

Boy George was there in the kitchen.  I didn’t know he was there.  I went running

through the kitchen to get on stage, and I had this little skirt that I had to put on

right before, and there he was.  He said, “ I have to kiss you”   I told him “If I’d

have know that I wouldn’t have put anything on!” SP:  Of all the iconic meetings! 

It’s very interesting because the term ‘drag queen’ is tossed around as if it is one

thing.  Neither of you had anything really to do with drag.  You can’t really lump

them all into one group.  Gay men, Lesbians, Transgendered people all have their

own inner struggles and they’re not necessarily the same.  The only thing that’s the

same is the struggle to live.  Each one of those groups doesn’t really know much

about the other, but we all banded together, even straight supporters, because

there’s safety in numbers. G:  Yes, you see now you’re getting into a different

culture.  Like we’ve talked about, I was never into drag.  You will find that in bars,

drag shows in bars.  You’ll find it in younger guys who make it a lifestyle, and

maybe you have some transgendered people, and you have any of those who also

sell their bodies, but they’re all completely different.  I don’t live a ‘lifestyle’, I have

an act.  People familiar know what I’m talking about, but the first time someone

describes it and they use the wrong term, they may lump all things in to the same

category and completely miss it. See with this, you have an evening out, where you

have very good food.  La Cage had fabulous food.  I mean a great dinner, and

evening and a show.  A real show.  That’s another era.  We created that for

ourselves in the 80’s and 90’s, and there were no others.  That’s what we want to

continue, not just redo. DG:  Oh yea, you have to think about it.  When I went in

when I was 19, I saw a younger guy doing Gypsy.  It was at one of the regular

clubs in West Hollywood.  I thought it was hysterical.  But then, I went in again,

and I watched Gypsy doing the younger guys act doing Gypsy.  Then I knew what

the difference was.  I’ve always been very selective with the performers I hire

because I learned so much from Gypsy.  People will come in with Drag Race on their

resume, and that’s great, but that’s drag.  What we’re trying to get going again

goes way beyond that. G:  It’s funny because doing my show at La Gage, I didn’t

really think of myself as talented, per se.  I just did it, and it went over very well,

and people tried so hard to copy it.  But I was just doing it.  I did a lot of film and

TV during that time, and some of it was campy and most of it wasn’t.  That’s where

I thought my real work was happening.  That’s where I thought I was really building

something. SP:  But the show was close to people, and any acting coach will tell

you, you can’t play the joke, you just have to let it go. G:  Well the thing that you

can’t really get if you don’t have it is the timing.  That’s for anyone in this line of

work but I do it well.  You can try to read the script but I have a knack for it. SP:  I

think it’s a great time for it to come back on many levels.  It’s pure live show

business. I think we go through our phases as a culture and I’ve always said you

don’t really do it if you can’t do it live.  It’s not really a gay show, it’s not a drag

show, it’s just real entertainment. G:  That’s what, I think he’s trying to do (nods to

Dan).  It’s something that you don’t see.  Oh, you’ll go to a show, like a ‘Vegas’

night show.  You’ve always been able in the gay culture to go to a drag show.  But

this is an evening out, and everybody goes and sees it but they’re also seeing each

other. SP:  Your whole life has been around it all – the 50’s and the movies,

Broadway, the sexual revolution and Gay rights, the Vietnam war and all the way

through 911, AIDS, the heyday of TV, but you were just you, and never really

completely immersed in any one of them. G:  I was right there with everyone, but I

was just working so much.  No matter what it is that’s what it takes. (Gets out an

album and starts to page through it. There are photos of Gypsy with a whole

lifetime of show business stars.) G:  This is Boy George, that’s Carol Lawrence,

here’s Milton Berle on his 80th birthday.  And that’s not Bette Midler, that’s French

Allen.  (Flips a few more pages).  Oh, it was great.  Designers would send me

gowns.  I had gowns and gowns and gowns, and all kinds of stuff.  By the way,

million dollar legs.  There were three of us then, in Hollywood.  Fred Astaire, Gene

Kelly and me.  Lloyd’s of London (pats his leg).  There’s Martha Raye.  (There is a

photo of Gypsy sitting at a table between twin sisters Dear Abbey and Ann

Landers).  I’ve never seen another photo of the two of these women together, they

hated each other.  How they got them both there I’ll never know. (Points to the

album) This is a Bob Mackie (original gown) I’m wearing.  Olivia Newton John and

Michael Landon’s ex-wife owned a boutique called Koala Blue.  It became a huge

chain.  They came in to La Cage all the time and I went there.  So when Livie got

married, her sister and mother asked me to appear at the shower.  So I had to call

up Bob Mackie!  He hated me anyway because he could never find out where I’d get

all his gowns from!   (I crack up).  Oh I got them from Carol Burnett, Joan Collins. 

I had several that were made for Cher, but if she didn’t like them I’d get them. SP: 

What’s cool here is that this kind of entertainment is actually new in a sense.  I

always laugh because some younger people will hear a great song on the radio, and

love it long before they discover that it’s a remake!  So in that sense alone it’s great

timing for people to open up and see and art form that I think they’ll really get into.

G:  And that’s why Dan is working so hard to make sure it’s relevant and updated

and we make sure it fits.  The impersonators can’t come out doing Eydie Gorme. 

Of course not, but who we draw from and how it comes together is the talent of this

man (another nod to Dan).  He knows what he’s doing.  I mean he’s been doing it

ever since with other shows and he’s a great success.  He thinks we can pull this

off.  He’d better hurry, I’d say he only has about five more years with me, baby! 

(We all laugh). SP: If nothing else maybe it will give a whole new generation the

incentive to keep it alive, and constantly growing.  I think people need to go out

again.  We’re spending too much time on our screens. DG:  We’ve got a place in

Palm Springs, which is a great place.  We’ve got a lot of support, and were also

crowd funding for the next phase. SP:  I hope it’s a great success, and I really think

that it’s also a huge piece of Gay culture and the best of show business.  I think we

owe it to ourselves to keep it alive. https://www.youtube.com

/watch?v=0YjangD-nHU http://www.gofundme.com/jamesgypsyhaake


Semi-Precious Weapon