Sunday, April 20, 2014

Khea Emmanuel CD Review

Cover Painting by Luca Morici

Canadian Singer Khea Emmanuel recently self released her latest recording, simply titled ‘Khea’ expertly produced by her father Leroy Emmanuel and Robert Beacon. This album, on the whole, is quite admirable and Khea shows great promise as a life long performer and musical artist.

The seven cut CD is sheer bliss from the opening drum beat of  Cole Porter’s 1932 song ‘Night And Day’ to the closing notes of the popular 1930 song ‘Body And Soul.’ Book ending the album with these two cuts seems like the perfect way to begin and end the musical journey.  The CD is music for night and day and for body and soul.  This is a real ambient music record, full of lush, slowly shifting sounds.   By definition an ambient record is meant to be able to function as aural wallpaper and be fascinating to listen to at the same time.  ‘Khea’ never lapses into background music.  The arrangements and Khea’s stunning vocals allows the listener to really hear every nuance.  

Khea delivers a tender and vulnerable treatment of the Sade classic, ‘Is It A Crime.’  It really takes a lot of courage to sing a song so closely associated with another contemporary artist, but Khea pulls it off like the song was written for her.  This is the most modern song on the album and it fits right in.

She provides a warm and gentle take of the 1937 Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart standard ‘My Funny Valentine.’  Considering how many artists have covered this jazz standard, appearing on over 1300 albums performed by over 600 artists, it’s a wonder when anyone can make it sound fresh and vital, but Khea does just that.  

Fast forward to 1979 with the Michael Jackson penned ‘I Can’t Help It’ from his ‘Off The Wall’ album.  Perhaps this is a tribute to the late Superstar and if so then Mr. Jackson is smiling down from Heaven very happy with Khea’s rendition.  

What collection of jazz standards would be complete without a Duke Ellington selection?  Khea and her team have picked a real winner in the 1932 composition, ‘Sophistocated Lady’ with a gorgeous flute solo opening the number.  1955’s ‘Whatever Lola Wants’ from ‘Damn Yankees’ is next and it displays the singer's playful vocals.  Khea has done the unimaginable with these two cuts by making me forget these recordings by two of my favorite legendary performers, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughn.  

When Khea sings, ‘I’d gladly surrender myself to you, body and soul,’ you know she has, with this dynamic recording.  Khea is still very young but sings like someone twice her age.  She's capable of deep spiritual and musical depth.  Her voice is powerful, vulnerable and yearning, a combination that very few people can manage, and she has great control.  The CD has the power to haunt and stun at the same time.  This collection of  jazz, show tunes and pop oldies never sounded better.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

The Journeys of Thaao Penghlis

All Photos:  Alan Mercer

Thaao Penghlis was born and raised in Sydney, Australia to Greek parents. After high school, he moved to New York City.  While studying art history and fashion he was encouraged to pursue a career in drama by acting coach and theater director, Milton Katselas. Thaao made his stage debut in the critically-acclaimed play, ‘Jockeys.’  He has appeared in several movies, television shows, and travels all over the world, including such places as Egypt, Israel, Jordan, and back home to Australia.

Thaao Penghlis first appeared to daytime audiences in 1981 on ‘General Hospital’ during the Ice Princess saga when he played the role of Victor Cassadine.  After his character was written out of the show, by being taken to prison, he was cast as the villainous Count Tony DiMera in the NBC daytime drama ‘Days of Our Lives.’ Thaao returned to daytime in his one-time role of Victor Cassadine of ‘General Hospital’ from January 30th 2014 to March 4, 2014.  He has also been a regular on ‘Santa Barbara.’

Thaao starred in the 1980's revival of ‘Mission: Impossible,’ which was filmed in his native Australia. Thaao Penghlis' role as actor, makeup artist, and voice impersonator Nicholas Black in the revival was a counterpart to Martin Landau's "Rollin Hand" and Leonard Nimoy's "The Great Paris."

In 2003, Thaao was nominated for the ‘Soap Opera Digest Award’ for ‘Favorite Return’ for his return to the cast of ‘Days of our Lives.’ He left the show in the fall of 2005. He returned to Days in May, 2007 to reprise the role of the dastardly Andre DiMera. He also began reprising the role of nice guy Tony DiMera in July, 2007. Thaao was nominated for "Outstanding Leading Actor" at the ‘Daytime Emmy Awards’ in 2008. In 2009, Thaaos' character was once again written out by having him die. In 2010 he returned to stage acting, performing in New Jersey's Cape May Stage Theatre.

Thaao enjoyed tea for two with Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, carried the mythical Gloria Swanson into a Hollywood acting class and fitted Robert Redford for a suit.  The former career diplomat pursued the curious and complex path of an actor's life to fund his unyielding desire for spiritual & exotic travel. His newest book, ‘Places: The Journey of My Days, My Lives’ will be published this Jule 2014.  With the fervor of an archeologist and the passion of a seeker, Thaao takes readers with him on spectacluar adventures as he crosses Egypt's Sinai Desert, ascends Mt. Moses, is cleansed in a remarkable and shocking ritual in Havana, crashes in a balloon ride over the Valley of the Kings in Luxor and navigates the behind the scenes drama of daytime television, often more sudsy and tumultuous than what appeared on screen. This compelling and candid memoir weaves his deep Greek and Australian heritage with Hollywood escapades and captivating spiritual journeys to places few travel. Thaao is currently back filming on ‘General Hospital’ right now.  A self-described citizen of the world, Thaao makes his permanent home in the hills of Los Angeles, California.

AM:  I’d love to hear about your upcoming book Thaao, like where did you get the idea from?

TP:  I thought to myself, where did the idea of my journeys come from?  I think it came from the director of a play called ‘Class’ I did on the east coast.  The director heard about my journeys so he suggested I do ‘an evening’ where we invite people and it will be a support for the theater, so I said, “OK.”  Suddenly it dawned on me, “What was I going to talk about?”

AM:  Are you able to remember all your journeys?

TP: It’s easy to recall my journeys but when you are on the spot how do you tell stories?  How do you make it interesting? So I made a list of all the things I wanted to talk about.  We filled the house with what we thought was an hour and fifteen minute show, but it was now two and a half hours.

AM:  Where do you even start?

TP:  I remembered Cavafy, the poet who had the story of Ithica.  This is the poem Jacqueline Kennedy wanted recited at her funeral.  It’s about one’s journey in life.  This is about my journey and the beginnings and where I’ve reached so far.  So I began talking about it.  I knew the poem by heart and started like that, going into my journey to Israel.

AM:  I bet you have some amazing stories from there.

TP:  That’s where I was surrounded by Mossad agents who thought I was a terrorist.  I embarrassed them by cutting to the chase when they realized I was a celebrity there because of NBC.

AM:  I bet they were feeling foolish.

TP:  I stopped wearing black when I went into airports after that.  So the idea of the book came from going on these journeys. 

AM:  Had you written before?

TP:  I had written eight short stories because I was going to do a series with Discovery.  Cut to two years later and I have written twenty-five chapters.  My publisher heard about my stories of meeting people like John Gielgud, Lillian Gish and Robert Redford and when she heard about my journey from Australia she told me I had to write it down.

AM:  So did you write a short version of what became the book?

TP:  I ended up writing a twenty-eight page story. It was amazing to recall.

AM:  Who will be able to relate to your book?

TP:  We all want to journey somewhere.  Some people are couch travelers, but there are others who really want to get into it.  I call them the great lovers of life.  They are the ones who really want to go into the unknown.  That’s what the book is about.  It’s about all the spiritual journeys I have had.

AM:  What is the title?

TP:  The title of the book is ‘Places’ and I love that because it’s not a word you ever use on it’s own.  It took me a year to get a meeting with the publisher because she was so busy.

AM:  Did you have the book already outlined in your mind?

TP:  I didn’t really know what the concept of the book would be until I wrote my journey to America, then everything else fell into place.     

AM:  Did you write about your time on 'Days Of Our Lives?’

TP:  I had a bad taste in my mouth from ‘Days’ because of the way they always killed me off so violently, but my publisher told me I had to write about it, so I said, “OK.”  How do you tell a story that didn’t feel complete?  

AM:  So how did you start this part of the story?

TP:  My voice mail had a message from the show’s producer and I knew that was never good news, so instead of listening to it, I went to Cuba and went with a Babalawo priest of the Santaria religion, which originated in Egypt in ancient times.

AM:  Yes I have heard of them before.

TP:  He told me I had a knife in my back and he had to cleanse me.  I didn’t understand what he meant so he stripped me naked and got a chicken to absorb all the negative energy.

AM:  That must have been a unique experience.

TP:    It was an amazing experience.  The chicken died in his hands absorbing the negative energy that was put on me.  

AM:  Did you feel uplifted after this?

TP:  Oh, felt so light afterwards.   Then he told me I had much to look forward to and I had much to confront.  So I called back the producer and he told me the usual...that I would be dying again.   So I thought this would be an interesting way to get into the story of ‘Days.’  Most of the book deals with my journeys to the Middle East and those dangerous situations.  

AM:  Weren’t you ever scared in your travels?

TP:  I could have been killed so many times but I never thought about death.  

To learn more about Thaao Penghlis visit his web site


Sunday, March 23, 2014

Jaye P. Morgan: Retired and Loving Life!

All Photos:  Alan Mercer    Lighting:  Eric V.

Jaye P. Morgan made a recording of ‘Life Is Just a Bowl of Cherries’ which made it to the Top 10 in the U.S. Billboard record chart a few months after graduating from high school. Soon after, she received an RCA Victor recording contract where she had five hits in one year, including ‘That's All I Want from You,’ her biggest hit, which reached #3 on the charts. Other notable hits include ‘The Longest Walk’ and ‘Pepper Hot Baby.’ 

From 1954 to 1955, Jaye P. was a vocalist on the television show ‘Stop the Music.’ In November 1955, the British music magazine, NME, reported that Jaye P. Morgan was the top female vocalist in the U.S. Cash Box poll. In 1956, she had her own television program, named for her, and made guest appearances on a number of other variety shows. She was a charter member of the Robert Q. Lewis "gang" on Lewis's weekday program on CBS, and was featured on a special episode of  ‘The Jackie Gleason Show’ in which Lewis's entire company substituted for the vacationing Gleason. In 1958, Jaye P. appeared on ABC's  ‘The Pat Boone Chevy Showroom.’ On October 6, 1960, she guest starred on NBC's ‘The Ford Show,’ Starring Tennessee Ernie Ford.

In the 1970’s, Morgan was a panelist on the game/variety shows ‘The Gong Show’ and ‘Rhyme and Reason’ and ‘Match Game’ and in the 1980 "behind-the-scenes" movie version of ‘The Gong Show.’ 

During her post Gong Show days, Jaye P. Morgan returned to live performances focusing on her new club act and the theatrical stage. She starred in the 1981-1982 national tour of ‘Sugar Babies’ and starred in the role of Miss Mona in ‘The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas’ from Atlantic City with co-star George Maharis and for Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera. Jaye P. has also starred in productions of ‘Nunsense,’ ‘Miss Margarida’s Way,’ and ‘The Fabulous Palm Springs Follies.’

Her film credits include ‘The All-American Boy’ with Jon Voight, ‘Loose Shoes,’ ‘The Gong Show Movie,’ ‘Night Patrol,’ and the 2002 Miramax release of ‘Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind,’ directed by George Clooney.

AM:  You started off your life as a singer didn’t you?

JPM:  I was a child of three when I started singing.

AM:  Your whole family was into show business weren’t they?

JPM:  Yes I had five brothers but I worked with four of them.  My Dad put me on stage when I was three and told me to sing.  He’d teach me certain songs and I’d sing them.  It was that simple.

AM:  Where was this taking place?

JPM:  In Colorado where I was born in a log cabin.  This was during the depression.

AM:  So it was very normal for you.

JPM:  Yes that was my childhood.  I thought everybody sang.  Everybody in my family sang.  I was always surrounded by music.  It was a nice family to grow up in.  It was easy to go on the road with the boys.

AM:  Did it feel natural when you started singing on your own?

JPM:  Yes, I was thirteen after the war ended and I started singing with groups.  I knew I was going to be a singer because it’s all I knew how to do.

AM:  Did you dream of being a singer as an artist or did you want to be a star?

JPM:  I thought about being a singer.  I never thought about being a famous star.  By the time I got busy enough to be “somebody” I never had time to think.  I moved to New York when I was 23 and started doing television shows.  I was always working.

AM:  Did you enjoy working with Perry Como?

JPM:  I thought it was wonderful because my Mother was in love with him.  I brought her to the show and she was all over him.  She was taken with him and thought a lot of me because I worked with him.

AM:  What did you think of Perry Como?

JPM:  I loved him.  He was a nice man.

AM:  Your music from that time was considered pop but I hear a boogie woogie quality in it.

JPM:  I always liked African American performers.  Those are the people I listened too.  Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday were my trainers.

AM:  I can believe that.  Did people ever tell you that you sounded African American?

JPM:  Yes, they told me that all the time.  I was so surprised.  I couldn’t believe it.

AM:  I have to say your 1976 album produced by David Foster may be the best album he ever produced!  Was that the beginning of his career?

JPM:  Yes that was the first album he ever produced.

AM:  Did you think of him as an exceptionally gifted producer?

JPM:  Absolutely, I knew he was going all the way to the top.

AM:  It really is a stunning record.

JPM:  I’m surprised you even know about it.

AM:  I know it very well.  Your voice is unbelievable.

JPM:  Thank you, I was really in shape vocally, when I recorded that one.  I thought I could do anything I wanted to. Also I had a lot of confidence in him as a producer.

AM: It’s such a soulful album.

JPM:  I tried to make it that way and I loved David’s work.  We got along very well.  We used the best musicians in the world.  It’s all A list musicians.  David worked with all those guys.

AM:  By this time you were deep into a television career.  I LOVE you on ‘The Muppet Show!’  Did you enjoy that?

JPM:  It was really fun!  Jim Hensen was a wonderful, nice man.  I liked him a lot.  I loved the Muppets.  They were so sharp and witty.

AM:  That is really a pop culture milestone.  The other milestone people know you from is ‘The Gong Show.’  Everyone still knows ‘The Gong Show’ like it was on TV yesterday.

JPM:  I can’t imagine how they know it.  It’s not running anyplace is it?

AM:  I don’t think so, but it’s also on Youtube.  That show was notorious in some ways.

JPM:  Yes it was notorious.

AM:  What was your experience of that?

JPM:  I had a ball because I could do anything I wanted to.  Of course I got fired for it.

AM:  I remember that, but why did you get fired?

JPM:  Because I opened my blouse and I don’t wear a bra so there I was.  Chuck asked me not to do that anymore because the standards and practice guy went crazy so I said I wouldn’t but I forgot!  In the heat of the battle I did it again!

AM:  The show didn’t last without you.

JPM:  No it didn’t.  It went off the air six weeks later.

AM:  There are clips of you on ‘My Three Sons’ and ‘The Odd Couple.’  Do you remember filming those shows?

JPM:  Yes I do.  I remember Tony Randall being full of drama.

AM:  I’ve heard many stories about him being difficult.

JPM:  Oh he was a pain in the ass...but not with me.  I would have slammed him anyway. I didn’t care.

AM:  I saw you on ‘The Dating Game’ too!

JPM:  I hardly remember that show.

AM:  Do you remember if you went on the date?

JPM:  No I didn’t go.  I told them I would only do the show if I didn’t have to go on a date.

AM:  You really got a lot of experience working on ‘Stop The Music’ I bet.

JPM:  I did that as I was doing ‘The Robert Q. Lewis Show.’  On ‘Stop The Music’ they would have you sing and then stop the song a few bars in.  My agent was mortified that they would do that.  He went to the producers and arranged they would never stop me in the middle of a song.  It was embarrassing.

AM:  How long have you been retired?

JPM:  I retired about four years ago.

AM:  Have you been enjoying your life since retirement?

JPM:  Very much.

AM:  You look happy, healthy and radiant!

JPM:  Well, I feel great.

AM:  What’s a typical day like for you now?

JPM:  I have to go to the market and do things like that.

AM:  Do you cook?

JPM:  A bit.  I walk in the morning.  I keep myself busy.

AM:  Do you miss not singing?

JPM:  No, I am fulfilled.  I started at three.  It’s over for me.

AM:  Now you just get to be “you for you” instead of “on” for everybody.

JPM:  Exactly.  It’s very comforting to not have to get my hair and make-up done and all dressed up to go perform.  Just keeping your body up for that kind of schedule is trying.  Now I don’t ever sing or even hum.

AM:  Do you listen to music?

JPM:  I do listen to music.  Jacob Collier is a talented young man on Youtube.  He’s only 19 years old but he is exceptional.  He is astounding and brilliant.  I like him.  He’s from England.  He’s magnificent.  He’s really a genius.

To learn more about Jaye P. Morgan visit her web site 

Sunday, March 9, 2014

The Heartfelt Karma of Sally Kirkland

All Photos:  Alan Mercer

Feisty, hard-working, famously liberal, with the trademark blonde hair, actress Sally Kirkland has certainly made an indelible mark on Hollywood history. Born in New York City, her mother was the fashion editor at Vogue magazine. Sally began her career on the off-Broadway circuit and trained under Lee Strasberg in the 1960's. It was not long before she made her transition into Hollywood movies, gaining more recognizable roles as the decade progressed. Sally's first role in a high profile film came in ‘The Sting,’ playing the role of "Crystal". Throughout the 1970's, Sally remained very busy in a variety of roles in movies such as the made-for-television ‘The Kansas City Massacre,’ ‘Breakheart Pass,’ 'The Way We Were,' and ‘Private Benjamin.’

Her work in the 1980's was mainly seen in movies including 'Paint It Black' and 'High Stakes' opposite Kathy Bates. Sally appeared in the martial arts drama 'Best of the Best' opposite Eric Roberts and James Earl Jones. There were also roles in TV soap opera, 'General Hospital' in 1982, and 'Falcon Crest' in 1983. Amidst all of this, Sally managed to garner critical & commercial acclaim and an Oscar nomination for her role as a struggling Czech has-been actress in 'Anna.' The New York-set drama proved an exceptional vehicle for Sally's talent. Sally won the Golden Globe and the Independent Spirit awards for her lead role.  Although she did not win the Academy Award, the role is often remembered as Sally's best and most challenging role to date.

In the 1990's, Sally appeared in many films. She spent more time on television in TV movies or guest appearances, and appeared in many feature films, as well. 'The Haunted' is worth mentioning for featuring Sally in a central role based on actual events.  She also surprised many with her role in the erotic thriller 'In the Heat of Passion,' playing a wealthy housewife who strips down for some passionate scenes with Jsu Garcia. In the same vein, Sally teamed up with erotic thriller connoisseur Andrew Stevens for 'Double Threat,' playing a washed-up actress involved with a double-crossing younger husband. Sally also appeared in a small role in the major feature 'JFK.'  Her television guest appearances include 'Murder, She Wrote' in 1995, 'The Nanny' in 1996 and 'Felicity' in 1999.  She played Barbara Healy on 'Roseanne.' 

From 2000 onward, Sally's roles in film changed noticeably. She became involved in many independent movies on the film festival circuit. Notable films include the short movie 'Audit,' 'The Rose Technique,' 'Mango Kiss' and 'Coffee Date.' Many of her appearances highlight her liberal attitude towards contemporary social issues. 

Also an artist, she has her own gallery in Los Angeles displaying her unique work. She resides in Los Angeles. Looking great, Sally still sports her trademark blonde hair and, after over 150 film appearances, shows no sign of letting up.

AM:  Sally, you have been making short films lately.  What do you think about them?

SK:  I believe in short films.  I believe in a short amount of time you can really open the heart.  I’ve won three Best Actress and three Lifetime Achievement awards for the film, ‘Posey.’  It’s been a real good luck charm for me.

AM:  What is the story about?

SK:  The character Posey has Alzheimers and her granddaughter is trying to get her into assisted living and she really doesn’t want to go.  She has a break down scene with her granddaughter and she doesn’t like anyone there so Posey disappears and goes to the beach and falls asleep.  There she has a dream that she is the star of a Bollywood film.  Everyone in the assisted living home is in the dream and Posey falls in love with all of them in the dream.  After that experience she opens her heart to everyone around her instead of being closed off and fearful.

AM:  That sounds like an emotional and ultimately feel good film.  You’ve had your own transformations in life too haven’t you?

SK:  Yes, when I was a kid I did too much LSD.  To cut to the chase, I was pronounced dead from a suicide attempt.  I was sitting on the ledge of the thirteenth floor of a building and trying to jump.  I’d taken a hundred pills.  I ended up on the pavement of Fifth Avenue right outside Jackie Kennedy’s building.  My heart and lungs stopped.  They said last rites.  When I came out of that I immediately got into yoga at the Intrigual Yoga Institute and eight years later was ordained as a minister of light in the Church of The Movement of Spiritual Inner Awareness. There was a transformation that happened ironically like Posey.  She has all this rage in her and then has this experience of unconditional love.

AM:  What was it like growing up in such an affluent atmosphere?

SK:  It was incredible!  My father was Main Line Philadelphia, he wanted me to be a debutante so I was a debutante at the Waldorf Astoria Cotillion. I went to an all girls prep school. My mother was the fashion editor of Vogue in the Forties and then became the fashion editor and senior editor of LIFE under Henry Luce for twenty years.  She was the first person, along with photographer Irving Penn to put multiple models on one page at Vogue.  Up until then you saw one model on a page like a stick figure.  My mother said let’s get some step ladders and put all the models around. She was the first person to  show the no bra look, the mini skirt, Italian fashions, hippie chic, etc.

AM:  Did you ever model for your Mother?

SK:  She always put me in front of the cameras and I was very shy.  Irving Penn took a photo of me that was in Vogue.  I was a celebrity kid model and a runway model.  I never made any money from it but I was always in front of the camera which led to the acting.  

AM:  Your Mother must have known everyone.

SK:  Yes, she would hang out with Jackie Onassis, Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, Picasso and Dior. Andy Warhol had a crush on her.  It was a hard act to follow.

AM:  Did she ever ask your opinion of pop culture?

SK:  She’d call me up and say, “Come to the office dear.  Who are these Mopheads?”  I said, “Are you kidding?  Those are the BEATLES!  Just put them on the cover of LIFE and be done with it.” So I was the one who talked them into featuring the Beatles, Elvis Presley and Bob Dylan, etc. They counted on me to represent my generation.  So that’s what it was like growing up with her.

Some of Sallys' paintings in her home

AM:  So you’ve influenced the masses with your opinions.

SK:  I'm not sure about influencing the masses, but the editors of LIFE definitely listened to me.

AM:  How do you stay grounded?

SK:  Well, I watch baseball and I meditate.  My biggest nemesis in life is I can’t stand being bored.

More of Sallys' paintings in her bedroom

AM:  Perhaps that’s why you overindulged in drugs at times.

SK:  I only did cocaine once in 1976 with Bob Dylan and that was enough to teach me, but when I was a kid, no one knew about LSD.  I was an experiment with the doctors.  Once I started having those experiences I started doing bad acid off the street.  Then I got in trouble.

AM:  What changed in you and saved you?

SK:  At the point where I had a nervous breakdown I needed to know that Christ existed.  I had been brought up believing in Christ and then I didn’t believe anymore because my father fired my black nurse and broke her heart.  I thought, what is all this religion stuff if people don’t have a fair shot because of the color of their skin?  So, before I went to the thirteenth story to jump I went to a church to have a conversation with Jesus Christ.  I needed a miracle or I wanted out.  I was told that by the time I made it to the Metropolitan Hospital in Harlem I was brain dead so it was a miracle.  That was a huge turning point for me.

AM:  That’s understandable.

SK:   In the Church of The Movement of Spiritual Awareness in which I am Reverend Sally Kirkland, we believe "out of God comes all creation" and "no soul is lost".  I’ve been on that path since 1973.  It’s very much my priority in life.  Initially acting was my priority now Spirit is my priority.

AM:  That was a good shift.

SK:  A lot of people who know me well tell me, "had I not picked such an intense spiritual path I may have been a much more famous actress because that would have been my whole focus".  I had such a life changing experience that life became, for me, about wanting to give back.  I grew up in the Sixties and a third of my friends didn’t make it out of the Sixties.  During the Sixties, there was a Sexual Revolution in the Arts. In 1968 I became the first nude actress in American Theater in Terrence McNally’s play ‘Sweet Eros.’  That was before ‘Hair’ and ‘Oh Calcutta.’  The New York Times called me and asked, "Why?" I said, "I'm opposed to the Vietnam War and you can't carry a gun on a naked body." They had cops lined up at the back of the theater every night.

AM:  That is just remarkable Sally.  Since you mentioned spirituality being your priority, I’m curious what your concept of God is?

SK:  God is love. He's in you, me and everyone. God is all creation.  I believe in the cessation of againstness.  There is radical forgiveness like when Jesus forgave the murderer on his right and left while on the cross.  I was brought up in a traditional Episcopalian religion, my path now is inclusive of all paths.  Christ still sits at the head of the church, but there is Buddha, Alla and Krishna, all the different beings who held the light.

AM:  How long have you been on this path?

SK:  I’ve been on this path since 1973 and it took me until 1988 to get all the initiations of going through my emotional karma, my mental karma, my imagination karma and finally the soul.  There are 27 levels above soul that I’m still working my way through.  I believe in looking for ways to serve humanity.  I belong to an organization called ‘Heartfelt Foundation’ and we go to the home bound, the at risk and the dying.   I’ve been trained as a care-taker for patients with AIDS, heart disease and cancer.

To learn more about Sally Kirkland visit her web site

Monday, March 3, 2014

Singer/Piano Player Tony DeSare

All Photos:   Alan Mercer

Named a “Rising Star” Male Vocalist in Downbeat magazine’s 2009 Critics Poll, Tony DeSare has lived up to the distinction by winning critical and popular acclaim for his concert performances throughout the United States, as well as in Australia, Japan and Hong Kong. From jazz clubs to Carnegie Hall to Las Vegas headlining with Don Rickles, Tony has brought his fresh take on old school class around the globe. Tony has three top ten Billboard jazz albums under his belt and has been featured on the CBS Early Show, NPR, the Today Show and his music was even recently posted by social media celebrity juggernaut, George Takei.

The critics agree. “He is two parts Sinatra to one part Billy Joel, meshed seamlessly…. A Sinatra acolyte in his early 30‘s who sings Prince as well as Johnny Mercer,” raved the New York Times. The Wall Street Journal adds its own flattering comparisons, stating, “He is one third Bobby Darin, one third Bobby Short and one third Bobby Kennedy.” Rounding out the accolades is USA Today, proclaiming “DeSare belongs to a group of neo-traditional upstarts stretching from Harry Connick, Jr., to Michael BublĂ© and Jamie Cullum. DeSare covers old and newer pop and jazz standards without smothering or over-thinking the material.”

Not withstanding his critically acclaimed turns as a singer/pianist, Tony is also an accomplished award-winning composer.  He not only won first place in this year’s USA Songwriting Contest, but Tony has also written the theme song for the motion picture ‘My Date With Drew,’ along with several broadcast commercials. His compositions include a wide-range of romantic, funny and soulful tunes that can be found on his top-selling recordings as well as on his YouTube page, which is frequently updated with recordings not available on his current releases.

His latest achievement includes putting together a brand new live show, ‘My Generation: The Contemporary American Songbook,’ which pays tribute to the traditional genius of Gershwin, Berlin, Porter and Kern, while introducing the many great songwriters who created iconic music over the past half century. These new inductees include Ray Charles, Billy Joel, Bob Dylan and Michael McDonald, as well as ‘adopted’ American songwriters like Paul McCartney, Elton John, and Barry Gibb.

Aside from a busy touring schedule throughout the 2013-14 season, Tony’s other major project last year was the October 1st release of his CD titled, ‘PiANO,’ an ambitious album recorded entirely by multi-tracking an acoustic piano into fully orchestrated arrangements.

Tony performs with infectious joy, wry playfulness, and robust musicality. His sound is romantic, swinging and sensual, but what sets Tony apart is his ability to write original material that sounds fresh and contemporary, yet pays homage to the Great American Songbook. As a result, Tony DeSare can deftly glide from a Gershwin standard, to a Dylan or Paul McCartney classic, to one of his inventive original songs.

Tony and his wife Daisy have a son Christopher Anthony, who was born on September 2, 2013.  

AM:  Tony how did you even come up with the concept for your magnificent new album ‘PiANO’?

TD:  It came about because I have a home studio and my manager gave me an assignment to come up with an arrangement of a  Bon Jovi song that John might like.  I decided to try ‘You Give Love A Bad Name.’  I had just purchased an acoustic piano so I was experimenting and the synth drums and bass sounded cheesy like a cruise ship review, but the piano sounded cool.  Then in one instant I thought the piano sounded so great I wish I could just do the whole song like that.  So I thought rather than drums why don’t I just hit the side of the piano and rather than a muted guitar why don’t I just mute the strings.  Then I went into a mad scientist mode and emerged three days later with the initial demo.  

AM:  Has anyone else ever done this before?

TD:  There has been experimenting with getting different sounds out of the piano but I think mine is the only one that is a combination of the raw piano sounds with a fair amount of sound design with it and making a pop music album out of it.  

AM:  You made every last sound on the album, right?

TD:  Yes, everything you hear except my voice comes out of an acoustic piano.  There are no synthesizers, no drums, it’s 100% piano.   

AM:  The recording really opens up when the listener knows this.  It becomes fascinating to listen to.

TD:  Thanks, I just thought since I’m associated with a genre that is so traditional, I would try something different and make some new sounds.  I’m sure I’ll still make jazz trio recordings as well.   

AM:  You are at the forefront of your artistry by bridging the past with the future in a unique way.

TD:  Nobody is recording Cole Porter with modern recording techniques either.  Some of the songs have 80 tracks.  

AM:  I love what you did with ‘Autumn Leaves.’  You really woke it up!

TD:  What I like about that song is when I introduce it people are kind of “Oh Autumn Leaves...yawn.”  (Laughter)  I love the element of surprise that is unexpected to the ear.  It was one of the first songs I learned how to play on piano.  It’s a fun song to perform live and I think it works even better live.  

AM:  Tony as good as your albums are you are an even better live performer.

TD:  Thanks, that’s what I’ve done most of my career.  I’ve been performing night after night.  I’ve learned slowly but surely.  My whole purpose every time I perform is to get just a little bit better.   

AM:  The record you did before was a concept album as well.  Do you like the idea of concept albums?

TD:  I hadn’t really thought about it.  What happens is I get an idea that I’m passionate about, so with my last record, ‘Radio Show’ I had been listening to the old Frank Sinatra World War 2 era recordings when he had a weekly radio show.  It was all live and he would sing songs that were hits at the time.  He would do songs that he didn’t record.  I realized nobody thinks of music that way anymore since television came along.  So I got lit up by this idea.  

AM:  I’m glad you cover songs that are less likely for you to record.

TD:  I just like to do songs that I like.

AM: Is that how you choose what songs to cover?

TD:  Yes I have loved the Journey song ‘Faithfully’ since I was eight years old.

AM:  You really do that one good but I have to mention how wonderful your original compositions are.  You have quite a knack for melody.

TD:  Thanks, it’s fun to be able to share these songs.  In the context of what I’m doing now, I mix them with these other songs that are classics.

AM:  They fit in perfectly.

TD:  I hope they do.  At first I wondered if I should do a Cole Porter song and then something I just wrote.  I let my audience be my teacher so I try it and let them tell me if it works or not.  So the audience really encouraged me to keep it up. 

AM:  Are you liking being an independent artist?

TD:  Yes I am liking it a lot.  First of all I like owning my own recordings and what I do sell I can make money from.  Record deals are constructed where it’s hard to make any money.  I feel lucky to have the run that I’ve had.   

AM:  You’ve got the kind of career that you can be 70 and still going strong.

TD:  Yes, I feel like it’s a slow burn.  I love doing my music so much I hope I can continue to do it for a long time.

AM:  Tony, you are here to stay.

TD:  Well, I’m determined to stay.

AM:  You’re a family man now so that must make life different.

TD:  It sure does.  I’ve been on the road a week and a half and I don’t think I’ve ever missed being home more.  That’s a different feeling.  In the last ten years I’ve been on the road and wherever I was, that was home.  Now my wife tells me all the things my son did this past week, so to miss that is not easy, but on the other hand I have to pay the bills and it’s what I do. 

To learn more about Tony DeSare visit his web site

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Statuesque Francine York

All Photos:  Alan Mercer

Tall, statuesque, beautiful, sexy and buxom,  Francine York carved out a nice career for herself in cult movies, feature films and television sitcoms in the 1960‘s and 1970‘s. She worked as a model in her late teens and early 20's before one of her modeling supervisors decided she would be good in Hollywood. She guested on some of the most popular TV shows of the era, including Bewitched , Batman and My Favorite Martian , and got small parts in big films like ‘The Nutty Professor’  and big parts in smaller films like ‘Space Probe Taurus’ and ‘Secret File: Hollywood.’

Francine lived in a small mining town in Aurora, Minnesota with parents Frank and Sophie Yerich and appeared in her school plays as a teen.  She wrote, produced, directed, and starred in a three-act play called Keen Teens or Campus Quarantine, charging five cents admission to the show that the whole town turned out for. While studying journalism and drama at Aurora High School, she worked as the feature editor of her school newspaper, and she won all of the school's declamation contests with her dramatic readings. She was a baton-twirling majorette for the school band and active in the 4-H club, where she won several blue ribbons for cooking in both county and state fairs.

At age 17, she won the local Miss Eveleth beauty contest and became a runner-up in the Miss Minnesota contest. Moving to Minneapolis, she got a job modeling sweaters for New York-based Jane Richards Sportswear, and began traveling throughout the U. S. She then moved to San Francisco and took a modeling course at the House of Charm agency, which helped her begin a successful modeling career for all of the major department stores, including Macy's. Her modeling got the attention of the producers of the Miss San Francisco beauty pageant,. She entered the contest and was voted runner-up, but ended up taking over the title after the winner became too ill to participate. Francine soon got a job as a showgirl at San Francisco’s Bimbo’s nightclub. Bimbo’s headliner, Mary Meade French, brought Francine to Hollywood and helped get her signed with an agent.

Francine's first big break came when Jerry Lewis cast her in his film, ‘It's Only Money,’ in which she played a tantalizing sexpot, a role which brought her much publicity. This led to Lewis hiring her for five more of his films, including ‘The Nutty Professor,’ ‘The Patsy,’ ‘The Disorderly Orderly,’ ‘The Family Jewels,’ and ‘Cracking Up,’ in which she portrayed a fifteenth-century marquise.

Other notable film appearances include ‘Bedtime Story’ with Marlon Brando and David Niven, ‘Tickle Me’ with Elvis Presley, ‘Cannon For Cordoba’ with George Peppard, and science fiction cult films ‘Curse of the Swamp Creature,’ ‘Mutiny From Outer Space,’ and ‘Space Probe Taurus.’ Her most popular film was ‘The Doll Squad’ in 1973, in which she played Sabrina Kincaid, leader of an elite team of gorgeous female assassins who attempt to stop a diabolical madman from destroying the world with a deadly plague virus. She portrayed Marilyn Monroe in ‘Marilyn: Alive and Behind Bars,’ and in 2000 she played Nicolas Cage's mother-in-law in ‘The Family Man.’

Francine has appeared in countless TV Shows including ‘Perry Mason,’ ‘Route 66,’ ‘Hawaiian Eye,’ ‘77 Sunset Strip,’ ‘My Favorite Martian,’ ‘Batman,’ ‘Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.,’ ‘Lost In Space,’ ‘It Takes A Thief,’ ‘Green Acres,’ ‘The Wild Wild West,’ ‘Ironside,’ ‘I Dream Of Jeannie,’ ‘Love American Style,’ ‘Mannix,’ ‘Bewitched,’ ‘Adam-12,’ ‘Mission: Impossible,’ ‘Kojak,’ ‘Columbo,’ ‘Matlock,’ ‘The King Of Queens,’ and ‘Las Vegas’ just to name a few.

Francine continues to act in films and on television, with two recent TV appearances including ‘Hot In Cleveland’ and ‘Bucket and Skinner's Epic Adventures.’  She has also done work as a fitness/nutrition expert and a gourmet cook, making many appearances on television demonstrating her culinary skills. Many of her recipes and exercise programs have been published in national health magazines.

AM:  Francine did you always want to be a movie star?

FY:  When I was in the 8th and 9th grade I would read movie magazines and dream of being in Hollywood so in high school I starred in all the class plays.  My classmates all knew I would get the lead part because the teacher favored me.  She knew I was the one who could handle it. 

AM:  You were a beauty contestant weren’t you?

FY:  I was in the Miss Minnesota contest in 1954.  Miss America 1948, Bebe Shopp was the host and she told me she thought I was going to go far.  I just remember thinking how?  How will I ever get out of Minnesota?  Ultimately the how took care of itself.

AM:  Did your parents support your dreams?

FY:  I was born in Aurora, Minnesota to the right parents.  They liked to sing and dance.  My father taught me how to polka and waltz when I was three years old. 

AM:  So your parents were happy people.

FY: My parents were full of joy all the time.  My sister and I would sing in the car.  Everyone knew the only thing I wanted was to be a star.  

AM:  Did that make going to school easier or harder?

FY:  It made it hard at times.  Some of the girls and the teachers weren’t so nice to me.  I wore make-up before most of them.

AM:  Were they just jealous of your beauty?

FY:  I didn’t understand why they were mean.  It didn’t occur to me that I was pretty. 

AM:  What about the boys?

FY:  The boys never asked me out.  I had to go out with boys who were from out of town.  Later I found out they were afraid of me.  Now I look back and say thank goodness I didn’t marry any of those guys there.

AM:  You would have been miserable.

FY:  I didn’t want to marry someone who I would have to fix lunch for and then he’d go off to the iron mines.   It just wasn’t for me.     

AM:  I bet your creative energy was always strong.

FY:  I did write plays when I was in high school.  I started writing a book.  I was always doing something creative.  I wrote short stories for our newspaper.

AM:  So how did you get out of Minnesota?

FY:  I’ve always believed in destiny.  If you state what you want, some how it takes care of itself.  I went to an airline school because I thought if I was an airline stewardess I could get out of Minnesota.

AM:  A school in Minnesota?

FY:  Yes, I went to Minneapolis and lived with a family.  Then I saw an ad in the paper for sweater models.  Now today you would never want to answer an ad like that, but back then I met these two New York ladies who were so different than anyone I had ever seen before.  They wore eyeliner. 

AM: (Laughing)  Oh my!  

FY: I had worn lipstick but never eyeliner!  They were great gals who started training me to model and they sent me to Omaha.  I had never been on an airplane yet.  After that I started traveling all over the country.  That’s how I got out of Minnesota.  

AM:  You were known for your stunning figure weren’t you?

FY:  Well yes, I always had that problem!  (laughter)

AM:  Where did you go after Minnesota?

FY:  I ended up being Miss San Francisco, which was nice.  All the TV people there told me I had to go to Hollywood.  I was in a gold bathing suit and modeling and in the papers all the time.  Then I saw an ad for show girls and decided to try for that at a place called Bimbo’s.

AM:  I’ve heard of that place.

FY:  It was a very famous place in San Francisco.  I was still underage at this time.  I wasn’t 21 yet.  This was quite an experience!  While I was there I met a singer, Mary Meade French.  Every Christmas my mother sent me all these Yugoslavian coffee cakes, so I knocked on her door and said, “Miss French, would you like to share some of this?”  She had coffee in her room and before you know it we became great friends.  It was her manager who brought me down to Hollywood.  

AM:  What was life in San Francisco like?

FY:  I paid $55.00 a month for rent and I had a bed that came down out of the wall.  My kitchen overlooked the brick wall of a garage.  I had no furniture.  I had a turned over orange crate that had a TV set on it, but I sold it for a tape recorder.

AM:  Did you get to act while living in San Francisco?

FY:  I did a lot of plays while I lived there.  I had five or six dresses and wore my shoes out since I walked up and down hills all the time.  It was kind of rough.

AM:  I bet you were glad to get to Hollywood.

FY:  Yes, I got my one little suitcase and went to live with a girlfriend in Hollywood.  She took me over to a commercial agent and they put me in a show at the Moulin Rouge where, as a show girl, I made $85.00 a week and my rent was $77.00.  I lived above a garage next to Columbia Studios.  I did three shows a night so we had to go out after hours.  

AM:  Who were some of the names who performed there?

FY:  People like Jerry Lewis, The Mills Brothers, Sammy Davis Jr., Johnny Ray and Jack Jones.  We had a who’s who of entertainers.  I would peek out of the upstairs balcony and watch everybody.  When I watched Jerry Lewis little did I know that in less than three years I would be doing my first Jerry Lewis film.  

AM:  How did you get out of the Moulin Rouge and into movies?

FY:  I am a real stickler for being on time and I am always on time, but one day the line captain said the next girl that walks in one minute late is fired and I happen to be two minutes late that day so I was fired!

AM:  Oh my!  How horrible!

FY:  Out of the darkness comes the dawn.  It turned out to be great.  I was in acting school and I was discovered by this German man who thought I was great and put me in my first movie which was the now infamous ‘Secret File: Hollywood.’  

AM:  That film’s a type of classic now!

FY: I had never been in front of a camera before, but nobody knew it because I had such an extensive stage background.  Right after that, I got an agent. I was sent in to meet Jerry and I made 'It’s Only Money.’   That opened the door for me working with many great Hollywood stars.

AM:  I bet you were very excited to work with so many Hollywood legends.

FY:   I couldn’t believe I was working with actors like David Niven, Marlon Brando and Bob Hope.  I watched all them as I was growing up. 

AM:  You seemed to play a large variety of roles.

FY: I did a variety of parts where I played Italian, French, German and Southern.  I had done all these things in school.  It’s a lot of work.

AM:  Not everyone realizes how much effort goes into being a good actress.

FY:  The loneliest part is sitting at home alone and learning your lines and then they change them at the last minute.

AM:  I don’t know how you all do that.

FY:   Somehow the brain kicks in and you learn them.  You have to know and study your craft to keep it going. 

AM:  What are you doing now?

FY: Right now I’m in the process of writing my book about the trials and tribulations...and the rejection of Hollywood.

AM:  How do you handle rejection?

FY:  Rejection is rarely about you.  They just have somebody else in mind, but they have to look at everyone! 

Francine as Marilyn

To learn more about Francine York visit her web site