re: DON KIRSHNER:
Many of us first learned of Don Kirshner through his connection with The Monkees. Several others discovered him in the '70's thanks to his very successful "Rock Concert" television series. Some knew that his career dated back to the early '50's when he and his best pal Bobby Darin used to go door-to-door trying to sell their radio jingles to the big publishing houses in New York City.
Kirshner certainly had a long and successful career. (Funnily enough the only time he ever got fired very well may have been at the hands of The Pre-Fab Four ... the story of Michael Nesmith putting his fist through a wall and tell Kirshner, "This could have been your head" is legendary!!!)
Don Kirshner passed away on Tuesday, January 18th, leaving behind a publishing empire and a long legacy of musical accomplishments. As a publishing mogul, his stable of songwriters included Carole King and Gerry Goffin, Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil and later, Neil Diamond. Long successful in the industry to those in the know, Kirshner became a household name through his connection with The Monkees and his ABC Television Series "Don Kirshner's Rock Concert." After "parting ways" with The Monkees, Kirshner spearheaded The Archies, a musical / cartoon series than spawned the #1 Hit "Sugar Sugar". (It was a pretty safe bet that Donnie wouldn't experience "creative differences" with a cartoon character!) Incredibly, after the success of "Rock Concert", Kirshner signed the rock band Kansas to the record label that now bore his name.
Here are just a couple of emails that we received before press time. (kk)
Rock impresario Don Kirshner, who gave the music world the Monkees, the Archies and "Don Kirshner's Rock Concert" TV program, died Monday (January 17) of heart failure at his home in Boca Raton, Florida. He was 76. Don-- known as "the man with the golden ear"-- first hooked up with Bobby Darin, writing commercial jingles in the mid-1950s, then formed his Aldon Music publishing firm with Al Nevins near New York's Brill Building. He employed such songwriters as Carole King, Neil Sedaka and Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil and even managed to release a hit record on his own label (the Ran-Dells' "Martian Hop" on Chairman Records in 1963). By the mid-60's, Don became involved with Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider, the producers of "The Monkees" TV show, handling music chores for the show. Utilizing writing talent like Tommy Boyce & Bobby Hart ("Last Train To Clarksville") and Neil Diamond ("I'm A Believer"), the show became a huge success, both on television and in the record stores. A disagreement with Michael Nesmith over the unauthorized release of a single without a Nesmith composition in 1967 led to Don's dismissal. But he quickly jumped on the bubblegum bandwagon, utilizing artists like Ron Dante, Andy Kim and Toni Wine as the "real" group behind the Saturday morning "Archies" cartoon show. Releasing the fictitious group's recordings on his own Calendar label (and later Kirshner Records, which was also known for the group Kansas), he scored a #1 record with "Sugar, Sugar" in 1969. In 1972, Don became executive producer and creative consultant to ABC-TV on their "In Concert" program, but left shortly afterwards to create his own "Don Kirshner's Rock Concert" show with himself as host. He also co-produced the short-lived musical sitcom, "A Year At The Top," in 1977. Don was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2007.
-- Ron Smith
Songwriter and rock producer Don Kirshner died of heart failure on Monday at the age of 77 in Boca Raton, Fla. Kirshner wrote You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling and managed songwriting talent including Neil Sedaka, Carole King, Howard Greenfield and many others, providing songs for The Monkees’ TV program in the 1960’s, including I’m a Believer.
Don will be missed!
If you'd like to share any stories about Don, please do!
God rest his soul!
Don Kirshner dead at age 76. Who has exploited pop music more, Don Kirshner or Dick Clark?
FH has a couple of artists on the list who dealt with him. Can't wait to hear their thoughts.
I remember Donnie as one of the "suits" that originally came out to the West Coast from New York and would appear at some of the studio sessions. At first, I really didn't know what he did.
It wasn't until years later that I realized what a profound influence he had had on the the choice of material that The Monkees produced.
And for that, I am eternally grateful.
-- Micky Dolenz
(curently touring in Europe with HAIRSPRAY)
Several years ago I had the opportunity to interview Ron Dante, lead singer of The Archies, the band that Don Kirshner launched after his deal with The Monkees fell apart. (The running gag at the time was that Kirshner could now officially call ALL of the shots ... since a cartoon couldn't really fight back!!!) But the truth is, Ron Dante was a VERY real person ... however, at the time the deal stipulated that he remain a nameless, faceless voice on The Archies' records. I couldn't help asking him about this arrangement:
FORGOTTEN HITS: OK ... at SOME point, SOME of these thoughts just HAD to be going through your head!!! You stress the fact that you and DON KIRSHNER had been friends for a long, long time ... and, obviously, your work with THE ARCHIES made TONS of money for DON KIRSHNER and his record label and publishing company. Yet again, you remained (for the most part, at the time) anonymous. Even though this was always "the deal" ... and you all knew up-front that this was the deal ... did it ever bother you that you were the one doing all the work and HE was the one receiving all the credit for being a musical genius?!?!? Did anybody EVER have ANY idea, in their WILDEST imaginations, that THE ARCHIES could explode the way that they did? Six straight Top 40 Hits ... and The Record Of The Year in 1969 for SUGAR, SUGAR!!! And what about credibility issues ... I mean your records were being printed on the back of cereal boxes for God's sake!!! Come on ... dish ... didn't any of that start to drive you crazy at the time?!?!?
RON DANTE: Yes to ALL of what you've said. Don make a ton of money while the studio singers and players did not. I certainly wanted the credit for singing the record of the year but it was not to be. Both Don Kirshner and Jeff Barry were hit makers so it did not come as a surprise to me when The Archies became a phenom.
More "hard-hitting" questions from that interview:
When I first get an opportunity to interview somebody, I never really quite know what to prepare ... how many questions are they going to be willing to answer? What should that very first question be? I want to sound intelligent and at least somewhat informed but also want to leave them plenty of room to fill in some of the blanks so that even the most casual fan will still be entertained. With RON DANTE, it was easy ... once I explained who I was, what I did and what I was hoping to do ... and he agreed to doing the interview ... the first question was a natural:
FORGOTTEN HITS: Hi Ron! I guess the very first, most OBVIOUS question that I should ask you is: WHO'S THAT BANGIN' ON THE PIANO??? (Inquiring minds want to know!!!)
RON DANTE: Hello Kent. An interview sounds fine with me. Send me your questions or telephone number and we can talk sometime. All the best, Ron. P.S. Lee Pockriss banged the piano.
(I know, I know ... it's hard-hitting journalism like that that keeps you folks coming back to Forgotten Hits! lol) kk
RON DANTE had been working for DON KIRSHNER's ALDON MUSIC, cutting demo recordings of songs written by KIRSHNER's vast empire of songwriting geniuses like GERRY GOFFIN and CAROLE KING and NEIL SEDAKA and HOWARD GREENFIELD. In fact, LEADER OF THE PACK was written by noted songwriters JEFF BARRY and ELLIE GREENWICH. (The parody LEADER OF THE LAUNDROMAT, which became RON DANTE's first chart recorded when he recorded it as part of THE DETERGENTS, was composed by PAUL VANCE and LEE POCKRISS, who had already written a few hit songs of their own together, placing earlier efforts with material and artists as diverse as CATCH A FALLING STAR by PERRY COMO and ITSY BITSY TEENIE WEENIE YELLOW POLKA-DOT BIKINI by BRIAN HYLAND! Ironically, 45 years later, the version of ITSY BITSY TEENIE WEENIE YELLOW POLKA-DOT BIKINI that you currently hear all the time on TV advertising YOPLAIT YOGURT is sung by none other than RON DANTE!!!) They had heard DANTE's voice on some of KIRSHNER's demos and enlisted him to sing the lead on LEADER OF THE LAUNDROMAT. VANCE's nephew DANNY JORDAN and vocalist TOMMY WYNN were also recruited to round-out the trio. THE DETERGENTS' parody went all the way to #11 on The Cash Box Chart. In fact, they even toured as part of DICK CLARK's CARAVAN OF STARS!
FORGOTTEN HITS: RON DANTE is probably MOST famous as the voice of THE ARCHIES. However, your career dates back further than this. How did you FIRST get involved in the record business? Who were some of YOUR early influences and inspirations and how did you first get your foot in the door in order to follow in their footsteps?
RON DANTE: My first real job in the music business was signing a songwriting deal with the legendary music man Don Kirshner's publishing firm Aldon Music. A few of his staff songwriters heard me audition and brought me in to meet "Donnie," as he was called. Don signed me that day and became a friend for life. I also was the staff demo singer doing demos for all his writers like Neil Sedaka, Carole King, Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil and tons of others. My early influences were Elvis, The Everly Brothers, The New York doo wop groups and Chuck Berry and, of course, Little Richard and Fats Domino.
FH: The first time most of us heard RON DANTE on the radio was in the novelty hit, LEADER OF THE LAUNDROMAT by THE DETERGENTS. Was that pretty much a studio band created solely for the purposes of making that record or had you guys worked together before?
RD: The other Detergents were Danny Jordan and Tommy Wynn. They were staff writers at Don Kirshner's Aldon Music and we wrote many songs together. Danny's Uncle was a hit song writer by the name of Paul Vance. He asked the us to come in one night and put our voices on Leader of the Laundromat. The next thing we knew it was out as a single and a hit. We did an album in a week to catch up with the single while is was on the charts.
FH: Your biggest break, of course, came by way of THE ARCHIES. This, of course, put you working pretty much hand-in-hand with the legendary DON KIRSHNER. Now you had known and worked with KIRSHNER prior to this experience ... what was his actual involvement with THE ARCHIES? Selecting Material? Marketing? Strategy? What were the original goals set for developing this "band" ... do you feel that you achieved these goals? And how did those goals change as time went on (especially after SUGAR, SUGAR was SO big out of the box)?
RD: I knew Don Kirshner from my early days at his publishing company, Aldon Music and from Screen Gems where he was President of the Music Division. Don picked the producer, Jeff Barry, to write and produce The Archies' material. I had worked with Jeff before, also doing background singing for him around that time. Don helped pick the songs but left the arrangements to Jeff totally. The original goal of The Archies was to keep it a cartoon and the keep the voices behind it a mystery. That game plan never changed all through the four years the show was on the air.
FH: Over the years, we've heard about the friction between DON KIRSHNER and TONI WINE, who handled the majority of the female lead voices on THE ARCHIES' records. What can you tell us about the fall-out between TONI WINE and DON KIRSHNER (now that the statutes of limitations has passed LOL!!!) And was RAY STEVENS really involved in these recordings???RD: Ray Stevens played tambourine on Sugar, Sugar and did hand claps with Jeff Barry, Toni Wine and myself. Toni stopped recording with The Archies (rightfully so) when no attempt was made to compensate her for all her for all her talented singing. Today she is good friends with Don Kirshner and he's made amends.
(She also performs with Ron in concert from time to time these days! - kk)
FH: KIRSHNER had been around the music business for QUITE some time by 1969. (He used to write jingles with his old Brooklyn buddy BOBBY DARIN in the mid-'50's prior to assembling his ULTRA successful stable of songwriters.) This had to be a VERY frustrating time for DONNIE, coming off having just being fired from THE MONKEES ... especially after making them the BIGGEST group on the planet at the time! (Also, it's been reported for decades now that THE MONKEES turned down SUGAR, SUGAR as being "too bubblegum" for the image they were trying to portray at the time ... but I've since heard that this is absolutely not true ... they were never even offered the song. Can you confirm or deny???)
RD: All I know is that Sugar, Sugar was written directly for The Archies. Andy Kim told me of a conversation with Jeff Barry where he asked Andy to write some songs for our group. Kirshner may have played the song for the Monkees, but I doubt it.
FH: Speaking of THE MONKEES ... in 1970 (when the band was down to just a duo of MICKY DOLENZ and DAVY JONES), both ANDY KIM and JEFF BARRY got together to write and produce their (at the time) final album. This had to be right in the thick of all THE ARCHIES stuff that they were involved with. Do you have any memories regarding this period? Were you in any way involved in THE MONKEES' CHANGES album?
RD: I auditioned for the Monkees but was beat out by Davy Jones getting the part. I had produced a few singles on Davy with my Detergent friends Danny Jordan and Tommy Wynn for Colgems Records and knew and liked him. After they became the biggest group in the world, I didn't have any contact with them for many years. I'm friends with Davy and Micky today and perform some Monkees songs as part of my stage act.
FH: Tell us a little bit more about your audition for THE MONKEES ... what was that whole experience like? And then, watching them explode around the world as the biggest thing happening musically on the planet! What early DAVY JONES tracks were you involved with? Were any of your compositions submitted to THE MONKEES for consideration?
RD: I auditioned with hundreds of others in New York. It was a cattle call and I even backed some friends up playing guitar. We all knew this was going to be a hit show since Don Kirshner was doing the music supervision.
FH: When did it first become public knowledge that you were the lead singer for THE ARCHIES?
RD: Two years after the Archies came out, I did a solo album and Kirshner took out tons of ads announcing I was the voice of The Archies.
For three consecutive weeks in October / November of 1969, RON DANTE had TWO songs in Billboard's Top Ten ... yet virtually NOBODY knew who he was!!! That's because (despite the fact that he was the lead singer of both THE ARCHIES ... who's latest single, SUGAR, SUGAR had just topped the charts for four straight weeks ... and THE CUFF LINKS ... who's debut single TRACY was quickly rising into The National Top Ten), RON DANTE filled those roles in an anonymous position ... NOBODY was supposed to know that he was heading up these two fictitious bands!!! The gamble paid off ... THE ARCHIES would have a total of six Top 40 Pop Hits between 1968 and 1970 ... and THE CUFF LINKS hit The Top 40 twice ... first with the aforementioned Top Ten Hit TRACY ... and then again with their follow-up release, WHEN JULIE COMES AROUND.
FH: In 1969 you had TWO songs in the Top Ten at the same time ... yet NOBODY really knew ... or was supposed to know ... who RON DANTE was!!! Meanwhile, TRACY (by THE CUFF LINKS) and SUGAR, SUGAR (by THE ARCHIES) fought each other for chart position back in 1969!!! What was that like ... having TWO Top Ten Records ... and receiving virtually NO recognition for it?!?!?
RD: Having both Sugar, Sugar and Tracy as hits at the same time was a dream come true. I always wanted to be on the radio and this was twice the airplay all over the world. Tracy was also a hit in the UK, too. The fact that my name was not on those records did not bother me too much. I knew the word would get out as to who was the lead singer and good things would follow. They did. I ended up being one of the top jingle singers in the business during those years and had my own solo album coming out. Those were wonderful days.
FH: To a degree, the success of your whole career has been almost as an anonymous, faceless presence ... we all know the voice, but (at the time anyway) the name of RON DANTE never really came into play. Was this a conscious move on your part? Was there a specific reason for staying behind the scenes ... something as simple as stagefright perhaps ... or were you simply a victim of circumstances? (Obviously, behind the scenes you could be on as many different recordings as you wanted ... but did you ever miss the spotlight? The touring and reaction from the fans? The simple acknowledgment of your talent?) Now that you're making live appearances, what is it like performing for a live audience? For the most part, are the people who come out to see these shows already familiar with your work ... or are they somewhat surprised by some of the material you've been involved with? And, what does a RON DANTE concert generally cover?
RD: Not using my name was not my idea and it just happened that way. As a singer by trade, I just sang as much as possible and in almost any circumstances. My concerts usually consist of my Archie hits: Sugar, Sugar, Jingle Jangle and Bang Shang A Lang, along with a couple of my Cuff Link hits, Tracy and When Julie Comes Around. I also include songs by The Monkees, The Ohio Express, The Turtles and The Dave Clark Five. I have to do at least one song from my Manilow days and a bunch of commercials.