*Originally published in my column "Sundown On Sunset"
David Hentschel and Dennis MacKay
Patrick, Hollywood, California
Hentschel is a product of the early days of rock and roll. Starting as
tea boy at the legendary Trident Studio in London, through his Grammy
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.
of a melody and lyric, through the instruments and consoles, Trident
Studios, among others, was a veritable mill of the most classic rock and
albums the world has ever heard. David Hentschel was a part of it all.
promotional photo of David Hentschel.
only say it was sheer
serendipity to sit on a sofa in legendary composer and
Jerry Fielding’s home talking to David with our mutual friend and
Grammy winner Dennis MacKay for an interview.
When did you two (Dennis MacKay and David Hentschel) meet?
Hentschel: I think it was July, 1969. I’d moved up to engineer, and
had just gotten hired as Tea Boy, which was where we all started.
MacKay: David, I loved that policy where the Engineer on a project
fire the Tape Operator, and the Tape Operator could fire the Tea
created such a great work ethic.
Was that policy more to instill
loyalty from the bottom up, rather than
politics from the top down?
Hentschel: Yes, I think so. It was just to keep everyone on their
You had to pay attention to what you were doing, but it didn’t come
every day. At Trident, where we were, it was very much a family sort
atmosphere. Everyone used to hang around and socialize together.
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
MacKay: Oh David, do I remember that!
Hentschel: I was drinking glasses this size (points to his water glass)
neat Southern Comfort! This was by six o’clock in the evening, so you
imagine how messy it got later!
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).
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
MacKay (r) with
David Hentshel in 2012.
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.
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.
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
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
sorts of sounds, all sorts of reverbs; compressors, and funny noise
started, and Dennis as well, there was nothing; absolutely
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.
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
spindles to slow it down.
MacKay: I remember the time we
MacKay with Sean Driscoll
(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!
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
sounds amazing by today’s standards.
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.
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.
MacKay in a video about a producer’s tasks.
Hentschel: Oh yes. When you look at it, there was creativity just
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
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
days, you’d get the basic guitar parts down, and the basic rhythm tracks
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
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.
Hentschel went on
to do five Genesis records.
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.
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.
MacKay: Yes, it can take some of the magic out of
Hentschel: Well here’s the thing, in the project I’m just
there isn’t as much of that going on because I’ve spent time
performances out of them. That’s what music’s about. I’ve
in a little bit, here and there of course. That’s the first rule of
production: record the first run-through.
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
That’s such an interesting point! I can tell you as a singer,
performance is, to me, much more creative and easy. It’s the
between the stage, and being a “recording” artist. You’re right.
start second guessing every little thing I do, and it takes away from the
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
Bowie, the pair recalled,
would get the track down in one take.
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.
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!
“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
They’d tried to record it all in Jamaica, but it had all gone
the studio was rubbish, and there were riots going on then
with the political
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
breakfast we went over to the studio and recorded it; just
That was probably three takes. Just ridiculous! Magic
actually. Then of course he’d go off shopping in Paris, and buy thirty
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
before we hit the pillow.
John’s first album, entitled “Elton John.”
When was the first time you met Elton John?
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.
must have been around the same age then.
owners and such were a little older of course. We’re
MacKay: Yes, David, what was it like working with
Thomas Edison (rolling
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.
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.
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
me my own 2500, and I ended up working with him for the next four
or so, with the run of the place at his studio. It was actually the
he’d bought from John Lennon, and on the record, “Imagine” where
playing the white piano in the white room, that’s where Ringo’s
new studio was.
night, Ringo Starr said, “Let’s write a song?”
night, Ringo said to me, “C’mon, let’s write a song.” So we sat down at
piano. He was playing the left side and I was on the right, and
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,
hard. I looked at him, and said, “What did you do that
for?”. He said,
“Stop playing the black notes!”
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.
What a great story, and thank you both for sitting down
Hentschel: Sean, it’s been my pleasure! Thank you!
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
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
for the main floor and waited for the show. HOB has a unique way of getting from
band: there’s a huge white screen onto which is projected various music
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
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
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.
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.
back, even if you still don’t understand, you better
start while you still can”. If it
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.
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.
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.
was a twist in style from the last, with Spencer’s voice emotional, yet
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
picture that whatever someone thinks these guys don’t have yet, they’re
looking long enough, because it’s all there; keep watching, it will
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.
the set, there were some subtle
and deft vocal harmonies, and it was funny
because I’d been sure there was only
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.
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
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”.
main stage at HOB has a clock on it with a large, red display. The Alternates have a
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
“…I don’t know what to say now and it seems so useless. I’m trying now.”
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
gone back home. You’re nowhere without
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
I have to laugh about that, because in the world of rock and
never really can tell when your band is actually going to hit the
stage; there are so
People end up milling around sometimes, waiting for the main act,
usually they get to, or have to, listen to an act or two on the way.
first on the bill out of two acts for the
night. I hesitate to say she was
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,
to the microphone, Dilana wasn’t in costume, but you could tell that life
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
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
At the end of Dilana’s first song, the house was hers.
The band hails
Africa, Holland, Texas, and California, according to their MySpace, which
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
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
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.
mention there were only three of them? There were three people, three guitars,
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
Michael Martinsson played bass and guitar, and the mix and
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
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
As the original emcee and long-time performer at the iconic La
Folles nightclub in Beverly Hills during the 80’s and 90’s, James Haake
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
Dan Gore understand that the fashion and glamour of nightlife don’t mean
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
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.
sat down for an early coffee at another one of the now West
longstanding eateries, The French Marketplace on Santa Monica
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
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 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
I’d been working so much on Broadway. I did my little shtick,
but I never
What I would do is wear a nice tuxedo, and just a pair of
My bartenders all had microphones, and they all sang Broadway things,
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
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
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
everyone had heard of Gypsy’s, so I got tagged to do it, and history
made. I’d still never done drag, so as we went along, I said I’d wear
gowns, and I’ll do everything, but I won’t wear boobs and I won’t wear
wigs. So I
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
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
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
SP: All the way through to where Ellen is on TV and all the way we’ve
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
wasn’t until I was working in Broadway. Then of course I fell in love
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
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
ballet, jazz, taking classes. We all did that. We didn’t have the
We weren’t afraid, we were just busy.
G: Oh look here! (smiles broadly at the
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
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
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
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
on your audiences? Did they come to support, or did they run away?
gagging it up with Lucille Ball.
G: It was never mentioned. I’ll tell you what most
know. When La Cage opened in 1981, it was the very next year that
really started to blossom. This “AIDS” thing. We know that
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
The reverend Falwell actually ‘made’ La Cage in many ways!
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?
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
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
had to do it for ourselves in the beginning. It seemed no one was
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.
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
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
SP: Was that a reflection of the Gay culture itself, or was it a
do you think? Maybe people just saying, fuck it, let’s just live
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.
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
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.
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
(a restaurant guest walks by the table and recognizes
James, but can’t place
G: Oh, was I somebody at some time? (laughs). I
poster boy for Forrest Lawn, but it got boring out there and I dug my way
(back to the table) But it’s, as you say, performance. We just did a
big show in
SP: How was that?
G: Oh, I can handle rednecks, honey. It’s easy. As soon
I saw their chain of gas stations called “Kum and Go” I had my opening
“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.”
was the end of the show. They went nuts, and we had a great time.
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
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
see the stage. It was a restaurant, and it was just a busy place all the
So one night after a dance number, I came out on stage to do my
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
had boxer shorts on that went down to his kneecaps (winks) and there was
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
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!
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
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
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
into one group. Gay men, Lesbians, Transgendered people all have their
own inner struggles and they’re not necessarily the same. The only thing
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
there’s safety in numbers.
G: Yes, you see now you’re getting into a different
Like we’ve talked about, I was never into drag. You will find that in
drag shows in bars. You’ll find it in younger guys who make it a
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
not just redo.
DG: Oh yea, you have to think about it. When I went in
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
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
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.
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
G: That’s what, I think he’s trying to do (nods to
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
this is an evening out, and everybody goes and sees it but
they’re also seeing each
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
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
hated each other. How they got them both there I’ll never
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
I had several that were made for Cher, but if she didn’t like
them I’d get them.
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 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!
SP: If nothing else maybe it will give a whole new generation the
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
it to ourselves to keep it alive.