Monday, July 11, 2016

Ronnie McDowell Has An Elvis Connection

All Photos:  Alan Mercer

Ronnie McDowell has an amazing string of hit songs that he has amassed over the years, but it is his riveting stage presence and genuine warmth that fills the seats again and again. Like all great entertainers, Ronnie McDowell has a personality that remains luminous long after the lights go dim. These qualities have inspired a nationwide network of fan-clubs with thousands of members, each one a devoted promoter of everything McDowell does.

Following the death of Elvis Presley in 1977, Ronnie McDowell came out of nowhere to dazzle the world with his heartfelt and self-penned tribute song “The King Is Gone” on the independent Scorpion label. The record took off immediately, gaining airplay on country and pop stations across the country and around the world. To date, “The King Is Gone” has sold more than 5 Million copies.

All of a sudden, the young Vietnam Veteran from Portland, Tennessee was a star, and he quickly proved that he wasn’t just a one-trick pony. McDowell scored a second hit for the Scorpion label titled “I Love You, I Love You, I Love You” before being wooed and signed by CBS Records – Epic label in 1979.

Ronnie McDowell charted a string of hit singles and albums for Epic between 1979 and 1986. Every single release with the exception of just one became a Top 10 Hit including the chart toppers “Older Women” and “You’re Gonna Ruin My Bad Reputation.” Other hits during his Epic years included “Watchin’ Girls Go By,” “Personally,” “You Made A Wanted Man Of Me,” “All Tied Up,” and “In A New York Minute.”

Ronnie toured constantly to support each album release and consequently built an astounding fan base throughout the country. He sought the advice of artists such as Conway Twitty who became, in essence, not only his mentor but his friend as well. Twitty helped the young singer with advice about touring, recording and most of all entertaining the fans.

Moving to Curb Records in 1986, his current label to date, Ronnie McDowell scored a Top 10 hit with “It’s Only Make Believe,” a duet with Conway Twitty on what was Twitty’s breakthrough hit from 1958. Two years later Ronnie teamed up with Jerry Lee Lewis for a rocking duet that McDowell wrote titled, “You’re Never Too Old To Rock N’ Roll.” He also recorded yet another Top 10 hit with his version of the pop standard “Unchained Melody,” which also became a #1 country music video. To date, Ronnie has scored over 30 top ten records. His entertaining abilities soared and he began to draw larger crowds. He started appearing in larger venues and touring with artists such as Conway Twitty, Tammy Wynette and Loretta Lynn before headlining his own shows.

Two of Ronnie’s most recent projects on Curb Records include an album of beach music with Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Bill Pinkney’s Original Drifters, entitled, “Ronnie McDowell with Bill Pinkney’s Original Drifters”. The second project is a new country album titled “Ronnie McDowell Country”, a collection of six new McDowell penned songs, and a few country standards by such Legendary writers as Buck Owens, Harlan Howard and Dallas Frazier.

Ronnie McDowell is still constantly in demand on the road and he tours relentlessly with his band. Additionally, he often tours with Elvis Presley’s original sideman D.J. Fontana along with Ray Walker a longtime member of The Jordanaires staging a tribute to Elvis Presley’s music. Ronnie McDowell sang 36 songs on the soundtrack “Elvis,” the Dick Clark-produced television movie that featured Kurt Russell as the performer. He also was the singing voice for the television movie “Elvis And Me”, the ABC television series about the early years of Elvis’ career titled simply “Elvis” as well as, the 1997 Showtime special “Elvis Meets Nixon.”

While Elvis Presley has played a big part in Ronnie McDowell’s musical career over the years, Ronnie continues to entertain audiences with his own blend of romantic intimacy and country excitement! He looks great, he sounds great, and judging from the longtime adoration of his fans, he seems to grow better with each passing year!

AM:  Ronnie, you exploded onto the music scene when you started.  What was that like?

RM:  I’ll be totally honest with you. It was like literally turning your life upside down over night. I watched ‘The Buddy Holly Story’ the other night and it reminded me of when I walked into a little AM radio station with an acetate disk.

AM:  I haven’t heard of an acetate for a long time.

RM:  You know an acetate was a big record that you could get made for about eight bucks. You couldn’t play them too many times but it was an inexpensive way to have your song on a record. I had eight of them made the morning after I had recorded my song, ‘The King Is Gone’ unbeknownst to me at Scotty Moore’s studio.

AM:  That was Elvis’s guitar player!

RM: Yes and I didn’t know that at the time. So the next morning I flew down to Nashville.  I didn’t sleep at all and I held that tape in my arms all night.

AM: I bet!

RM:  So I went to Monument and was sitting on the steps and here’s another irony, it was Scotty Moore’s girlfriend Gail Pollock, they’ve both passed now. They were together forty something years.

AM: That is amazing.

RM:   I didn’t know that was Scotty Moore’s girlfriend! I would have freaked out if I’d known. So anyway I told her I wanted some acetates made because I thought I had a hit song. She asked me what I had and I told her it was a song about Elvis. So we made the acetates and I went to a little AM station called WENO in Madison, Tennessee.

AM:  Why did you choose that station?

RM:  I don’t really know, except I thought I’d have a better shot at getting the song played. So I walked in to the station and asked the secretary if they would play the record and she told they didn’t do that for someone walking in off the street. I told her it was a song about Elvis so she said, “Well hold on a minute.” She went and talked to a DJ behind some glass. I could tell he was listening to a little of it and then he pointed his finger at me and told me to come back so I went back there.

AM: You got further than most already.

RM:   He told me to stand right there and he would play the record. He warned me we may not get any reaction so don’t get my hopes up. This is the God’s truth; he put that needle down on the turntable and before the song was half over, all of his phone lines were lit up.

AM: Wow!  How exciting.

RM:  He said something was wrong with the phones, but he would pick up each line and I’d hear him say, “OK, OK, OK.” Then he told me these people want me to play the song again right after it finishes playing the first time.

AM:  Awesome!

RM:  The phone lines stayed lit through the whole song. By the way, that was only two blocks from Colonel Tom Parker’s house. Anyway, my original point was about Buddy Holly and how the same thing happened with his song, ’That’ll Be The Day’ at a radio station in New York. Some guy walked into the radio station and started playing that song and they had to break the door down to get him to stop. Buddy Holly and the Crickets were on tour and Buddy got a phone call telling him he had a hit record in New York.

AM:  I didn’t know that.

RM:  My point to all of that is that now a young boy can’t walk into a radio station and ask them to play a song. It’s not going to happen.

AM:  No it’s not.

RM:  It’s a different world and a different time but I’m sure glad I grew up when I did in the business. I got to work with Marty Robbins, George Jones, Hank Snow, Roy Acuff and Conway Twitty. I grew up at the perfect time in the music business.

AM:  It’s so unlikely that you are this fully realized, independent artist and still have such a strong Elvis connection.

RM: There’s always a reason and a rhyme for everything.  There’s even more connection. The first place I ever sang in my life was in Vietnam on an old World War II aircraft carrier. They made the stage out of the elevator that took the planes up to the flight deck. Just before I sang for the first time in my life in front of anybody I sang, ‘When My Blue Moon Turns to Gold Again,’ an old Elvis song, but just before I walked up there, this old guy grabbed my arm and said to me, “Son I was here in 1956 when we were docked in San Diego and Elvis Presley stood right there where you are standing now. Elvis was on the Milton Berle show.

AM:  This is unbelievable!

RM:  That was the first time I ever sang in front of anybody and I sang an Elvis song. Now listen to this, my daughter called me not too long ago and asked me if I knew who Elvis Presley’s grandfather was and I said, “Yes I do.” There is nothing about Elvis that I don’t know. I know more about Elvis then he knew about himself. She told me to google Elvis’s grandfather and you know what his name was? Jessie D. McDowell Presley!

AM:  This is remarkable. I hope your career goes another 30 years Ronnie.

RM:  Oh yeah, I’m still having fun. I still enjoy performing and I’m still writing songs for everybody. I got into the business as a songwriter. I’ve got a song out right now by a Pop music group called Tusk.

AM:  You stay busy.

RM: I do. I also paint, because to me it’s all the right side of the brain and being creative. I’ve been blessed with a lot of creativity and I use it. My doctor told me, “Ronnie you either use it or you lose it and by the way, that goes for everything!” (Big Laughter)

To learn more about Ronnie McDowell visit his web site

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Baker's Ribs Is Texas BBQ

All Photos:  Alan Mercer

Barbecue is a traditional style of preparing beef unique to the cuisine of Texas and other Southern states. It is one of the many different varieties of barbecue found around the world.

Texas barbecue traditions can be divided into four general styles: East Texas, Central Texas, South Texas, and West Texas. The Central and East Texas varieties are generally the most well-known. Central Texas style is when the meat is rubbed with spices and cooked over indirect heat from hickory wood. This is the type of BBQ you will find at Baker’s Ribs in Weatherford, Texas.

At a typical Central Texas pit barbecue restaurant, like Baker’s Ribs, the customer takes a tray cafeteria style and is served by a butcher who carves the meat by weight; side dishes and desserts are then picked up along the line with sliced white bread, pickles, sliced onion, and jalapeno. Barbecue meats are commonly sold by the pound. The emphasis of Central Texas pit barbecue is on the meat, sauce is usually considered a side dip for wetting purposes.

Pulled Pork & Sausage

Central Texas pit-style barbecue was established in the 19th century along the Chisum Trail in the towns of Lockhart, Luling, and Taylor. The German and other European immigrants owned meat packing plants opened retail meat markets serving cooked meats wrapped in red butcher's paper-- this tradition continues to this day in many central Texas towns. Also, this barbecue style's popularity has spread considerably around the world, especially to Southern California, New York City, and in Britain and Australia.

The term BBQ is used as a verb for the act of cooking food in this manner. Barbecuing is usually done out-of-doors by smoking the meat over the wood. Restaurant barbecue may be cooked in large brick or metal ovens, typically called a pit, designed for that purpose.

Pulled Pork Sandwich

No one is really sure where the term barbecue originated. The conventional wisdom is that the Spanish, upon landing in the Caribbean, used the word barbacoa to refer to the natives’ method of slow-cooking meat over a wooden platform. By the 19th century, the culinary technique was well established in the American South, and because pigs were prevalent in the region, pork became the primary meat at barbecues. Barbecue allowed an abundance of food to be cooked at once and quickly became the go-to menu item for large gatherings like church festivals and neighborhood picnics.

The generally accepted differences between barbecuing and grilling are cooking durations and the types of heat used. Grilling is generally done quickly over moderate-to-high direct heat that produces little smoke, while barbecuing is done slowly over low, indirect heat and the food is flavored by the smoking process.

Pork Ribs

Pitmaster Brian Krier has been serving award winning BBQ for over 20 years now.  He has racked up the People Choice Award for Pork Sliders and Potato Salad from the East Parker County Chamber of Commerce, the 2002 Business of the Year from the Weatherford Chamber of Commerce, and his restaurant Baker’s Ribs has been voted Best BBQ by Ft. Worth Weekly and for many years, including 2016, voted Best BBQ by Ft. Worth Star Telegram. 

AM:  Brian, how did you get into the BBQ business?

BK: I graduated from college and I couldn’t find a job. My dad told me he would help me get a restaurant of my own after I learned about it.  My uncle, Joe Duncan owned a BBQ restaurant, so I told him I would work for him and learn the business. I thought I was going to work for him for 6 months and I ended up doing it for several years in Dallas before I got my own location in Weatherford.

AM:  So you always wanted to work with food?

BK:  Absolutely, I always knew I wanted to have a restaurant I just didn’t know it was going to be a BBQ place. I thought it would be a steak house.

Smoked Brisket

AM:  What do you think you bring to the business to make it thrive?

BK:  I think it’s my love of food and my commitment to always using the highest quality of food I can find.

AM:  What kind of wood do you smoke your meat with?

BK:   We smoke our meat with hickory wood.

AM:  What sets your meat apart from all the other BBQ restaurants in the area?

BK: First, I pray over the meat every night before smoking it and I believe God blesses it. Next we use only the highest quality meats and we smoke them for eighteen hours.

Grilled Chicken

AM:  What do you say to the people who think that BBQ is an unhealthy food?

BK:  It’s actually one of the more healthy ways to cook meat.  You don’t cook it in oil or butter, all you need is heat and smoke. It’s straight ahead meat and a little seasoning, nothing else.

AM:  Has BBQ become more popular over time?

BK:  Yes, BBQ has been on a growth spurt for the last several years. It’s a national phenomenon. I think as long as your food is good it’s always going to trend.

AM:  What is your relationship like with your customers?

BK:  We see a lot of new customers because we are located on a major highway and we get a lot of repeat customers as well. I love our loyal customers. I enjoy visiting with them and learning about their lives and families.

Follow Baker's Ribs in Weatherford on twitter

Monday, June 27, 2016

Stella Parton Is A Musical Treasure

All Photos:  Alan Mercer

Coming from one of America’s most creative families, Stella Parton has blazed her own unique pathway to success. From the foothills of the Great Smokey Mountains, she emerged from extreme poverty and disenfranchisement to see her dreams of performing on the Grand Ole Opry come true and to become an international award-winning singer, songwriter, actress, author and producer.

Stella recently relived those humble beginnings while filming NBC’s made-for-tv movie, 'Coat of Many Colors.' At the request of her sister, Stella served as a consultant on the film, and landed the role of “Corla Bass.” The film is based on her sister, Dolly Parton’s well-known song, 'Coat of Many Colors.' Stella's first foray into acting was on the hit TV series, 'The Dukes of Hazzard.' She was the first country artist to guest star on the show in a character role and since that time she has shared the screen with numerous notables including Louis Gossett, Jr. and Gena Rowlands.

Musically, Stella most recently released, ‘Mountain Songbird,’ a tribute album to her sister, Dolly. She covers eleven of her favorite Dolly Parton songs in addition to the title track she wrote with Tom T. Hall and his wife Dixie and a duet with Dolly they co-wrote called, ‘More Power To Ya.’ The album is on Raptor Records.

Also an author, Stella released her self-published inspirational memoir, 'Tell It Sister, Tell It.' She opens her soul with her trademark straight to the heart candor and writes about everything from miracles and childhood stories to spine-chilling and terrifying real-life nightmares. As an acclaimed motivational speaker, Stella utilizes this book/audiobook to not only share hope and inspiration but to also help raise awareness in the fight against domestic violence.

Domestic Violence has long been a cause close to Stella’s heart, having suffered from it herself. She established the Red Tent Women's Conference, a 3-day women’s conference and concert. The launch was a huge success and the organization is currently exploring options and sponsors to host the event in different cities across the United States, Europe and Australia.

Stella’s entertainment career is filled with awards and accolades including being named the Christian Country Music Association’s Female Vocalist and Mainstream Country Artist of the Year, the Alabama Country Music Hall of Fame’s Entertainer of the Year, Most Promising International Act by the CMA/GB, Honorary Ambassador of Country Music in Kentucky, Louisiana, Pennsylvania and New Zealand, not to mention being inducted into the American Country Music Hall of Fame.

Stella was one of the very first “Indie” artists, before the phrase was coined. At the tender age of 24, she wrote, produced, recorded and secured the promotion/distribution for her very first album, 'I Want To Hold You (In My Dreams Tonight).' Releasing it on her own label, the album and title single became huge hits on the country charts - at a time when the industry was controlled by the major labels and very much a good ole boy system. Stella took Nashville by storm - topping the charts and inciting fear in many that a young single mother from East Tennessee could so quickly become a threat, in spite of the fact that her older sister Dolly was already a nationally known singer/songwriter. And with that maverick spirit she continued to move forward.

After her first hit record, Stella signed with Elektra records and had a string of top 20 Billboard singles and albums in conjunction with extensive international touring of the U.S., Canada, UK, South America & Australia. She garnered international awards and acclaim for the pop crossovers such as 'Danger of a Stranger,' 'Steady as the Rain,' 'Undercover Lovers' and 'Four Little Letters.' 

After her days with Elektra, she submerged herself into the thriving theater scene of New York City, starring in several major Broadway touring productions, including 'The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas,' 'Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,' 'Gentleman Prefer Blondes' and 'Pump Boys & Dinettes.' The productions were an incredible success, with Stella receiving phenomenal reviews.

Stella’s career is like a kaleidoscope of creative talent – beautiful, inspiring, heart-warming and full of color – encompassing everything from music and writing to acting. Thankfully, she has never been one to be held back by the proverbial “glass ceiling,” or any other creative boundaries, Stella’s pure and characteristic blend of country, bluegrass, gospel, jazz and blues mixed with her sincere and faithful heart makes her one of America’s richest musical treasures!

AM:  Stella, Mountain Songbird, your tribute to Dolly is such an enjoyable album.  How did you narrow down the songs you wanted to record?

SP: It took me years to figure this out. I started working on this album ten years ago. The more I delved into Dolly’s catalog, which is so vast, with over 3000 songs, I did get discombobulated for a little bit. Finally I just decided I would work on it from a place that resonated inside me. I realized that a lot of her story songs from the Seventies were my favorites.

AM:  Those are some of my favorites too.

SP:  I consider that one of her most fertile songwriting times. I also realized her songs were so advanced compared to songs other people were recording at that time. Those story songs are amazing. ‘Down From Dover’ is amazing.  These are like two and a half minute movies. She’s so gifted with wrapping a story up in two and a half minutes.

AM:  Those songs really are ahead of their time.

SP: Way ahead of their time. They are epic novels told in a couple minutes. So I decided to cover the story songs. I knew I would have to record ‘I Will Always Love You’ too.

AM: Of course!

SP:  A lot of people told me they couldn’t believe I had the courage to record that! I said, “Excuse me! I’m not trying to suit somebody else.” I didn’t make this album to cater to radio or even to fans. My only motive was to do a tribute to Dolly. Of course I’m going to include two or three of her most popular songs.

AM: You absolutely made the right choices.

SP:  Besides ‘I Will Always Love You’ that would include ‘Coat of Many Colors’ and ‘Jolene.’ I put them on the album, but from my perspective.

AM:  The album is really well produced.

SP:   I tried not to over produce it. I worked with several different producers but ultimately I pulled away from all of that. I decided to just do it myself other than the three cuts I did with Jerry Salley , which have more of a bluegrass feel. As far as the rest, I was just singing my sister’s songs. The songs stand on their own.

AM:  You are your own songwriter as well.  I love how you wrote ‘Mountain Songbird’ with Tom T. Hall and his wife Dixie.

SP: Yes I wrote it with Miss Dixie and Tom T., actually it was Miss Dixie who was the one who helped me formulate the concept and the end result.  I worked on that song for ten years trying to figure out what to do. Everybody I worked with wanted to make it a statement about themselves. I didn’t want it to be anyone’s statement. It’s a tribute to my sister, not to me. Miss Dixie understood the dilemma I was facing and she told me, “Come on out to the home studio and work on your song with us.” We came up with the right concept and that song gave me the platform to do the album from my perspective.

AM:  I really like it and think you are your own gifted songwriter.

SP:  I appreciate that.

AM:  Even though I’m a longtime fan, I was unaware of what a savvy business woman you are. You started your own independent label long before it became the norm. What possessed you to do that?

SP:  Necessity and rejection. Everyone in Nashville said no to me, but I’m not one to be pushed around. There’s more than one way to skin a cat, so I thought I’d do it myself. Every record label in town rejected ‘I Want To Hold You In My Dreams.’ Not one producer wanted anything to do with me because I was Dolly’s little sister. I thought, “To hell with all of you. I’ll do this myself.” Before they caught me, I had a Billboard hit.

AM:  Have you always been an independent thinker?

SP:  I guess so but it’s because I have been pushed around by the good ole boys in this industry. I could have gone back under the porch like a whipped dog but I decided that I had a right to have a life.  I had a right to have a career. Everybody else has a right so why shouldn’t I? I did it because it was what I had to do.

AM: I find that to be one of your most outstanding qualities.

SP:  It is my nature. I am stubborn. I use that aspect of my personality to say, “Listen God gave me this life and this gift and I don’t need other people to give me permission to have a dream.” I certainly don’t need to put my dreams away in a box. I’m not doing that! Who has the right to tell me that?

AM:  You really are a good role model for women or anyone for that matter.

SP:  I had a kid to raise. I was a single mother by the time he was four years old. I had dreams and hopes for him and I grew up singing myself. I didn’t get into the business because of my sister. We all grew up doing the same thing. The general public doesn’t know that. That’s what we are as a family. I saw opportunities and I still see opportunities and I try to seize opportunities when they present themselves.

AM:  I know you have been an actress for several years and you’re about to film the next ‘Coat of Many Colors’ movie. Are you looking forward to that?

SP:  I’m excited about this time in my life. I think it’s a productive, creative time. I’ve always acted. I’m just happy and pleased I get to be a part of these movies. Even though it is Dolly’s movie, it’s about me too. (Laughter) It’s all my loved ones too so I’m happy to be a part of it.

AM:  Is acting as much of a passion for you as singing?

SP: I really have the bug for acting. I was one of the first Country Music artists to appear on ‘Dukes of Hazzard’ playing a character role. I realized then I could act. The director, Bill Asher told me I was talented and had natural timing.

AM:  Well there you go!

SP:   I enjoyed it and it was fun so I started taking acting lessons. I was able to star in four Broadway touring musicals.

AM:  That takes real talent and hard work.

SP: I try to incorporate all that I have done into my current shows. It’s all creative. I don’t think there’s one thing I should do or not do. If it comes to mind and I get inspired by it, I just do it.

AM:  I have been enjoying your singing for many years now and I think you can sing anything you want.  Your voice is soulful.

SP:  Thank you, I just finished a project that we are mixing this week. It’s called ‘Nashville Nights’ and it’s a bunch of cover tunes like ‘Me and Bobby McGee’ and ‘Bad Moon Rising.’ I like to sing a lot of different types of music and I don’t worry about how slick it is or how perfect it is. I just concern myself with how honest it is.

AM:  Is there anything left for you to do that you haven’t done?

SP: Yes, I would love to star in a production on the London stage and I would love to have one of my screenplays made into a movie. I’d also love to star on Broadway. That’s my bucket list. I’ll have to live to be 115 in order to do all the projects I have lined up right now.

To learn more about Stella Parton visit her web site

Monday, June 20, 2016

Mike Anaya: Working Behind The Scenes In Hollywood

All Photos:  Alan Mercer

Mike Anaya just returned from three weeks in Hawaii working on a kids show for Nickelodeon and that’s after working on Season Five of ‘The New Girl.’ That’s just the tip of the iceberg. On the ‘Real Men’ campaign for Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore, he worked with Justin Timberlake shaving with a chainsaw. He had to keep Bradley Cooper’s cereal box looking fresh, as he was eating it out of the box with a serving spoon, and watched Jamie Foxx use a remote control as a bottle opener. He was there when Sean Penn used an iron to make grilled cheese sandwiches and no less than Halle Berry asked him if he was a professional voice over actor.

I met Mike Anaya in December of 2003. Originally from Reno, Nevada, he had been working in the ever declining music business and was looking for something else to earn a living.  I needed someone to assist me on photo shoots and since he was available and capable I hired him whenever I could.  We worked on dozens of photo sessions all while he pursued other ways of earning an income in Hollywood.  Over time he found a lot of work in event productions and eventually television, music videos and commercials.

It’s no surprise to me he has become successful working in Hollywood (no easy feat) because he gives his all to anything he is doing. He is reliable, dependable and always early for his call time.

Mike has also worked with entertainers such as Coldplay (three different times), Madonna, Adele, Katy Perry, U2, Terrence Howard, Eminem, The cast of New Girl which has included Megan Fox, Forrest Whitaker and Sofia Vergara, just to name a few.

Besides finding professional success Mike also found personal happiness this past year when he got married in Hawaii to a girl he has known since childhood.  

AM:  Mike when I first met you, you were working in the music business. Right around that time the music business took a dramatic turn downward.  What was that like for you?

MA:  That was a hard time because I didn’t know my direction or what else to do.  That’s when I met you and that got me into photography.

AM:  But you always had an interest in photography, right?

MA:  Yes, I always did want to take photos.

AM:  So you started working with me at photo shoots but you were also led into other careers.  What did you do then?

MA:  I started working on large scale events like big concerts.

AM:  What exactly did you do at first?

MA:  I would set up the VIP area, site crew for EDC and Hard Summer and Hard Summer and Hard Halloween and I’ve stage managed for Live Nation a few times.  These are all different large scale events I worked on.  These jobs would often be several days long.

AM:  What does setting up a VIP area involve?

MA:  Setting up tables and chairs. Decorating the area and making it look extravagant for the clients.

AM:  Did you want to be doing this sort of job?

MA:  I just fell into it. Not a bad thing. I just never thought about doing something like that.

AM:  So how did you move forward into other avenues?

MA:  I discovered the guy I was working for was an art director in films. He ended up hiring me for my first commercial. When I discovered how much money those people made working on commercials, I decided I wanted to work in that area of production. So from there I ended up working in television.

AM:  How many days is an average commercial shoot?

MA:  Anywhere from one to ten days.

AM:  After you started working in commercials did you still work on live events?

MA:  Yes, I kept doing live events until about three years ago. Now I focus on television and commercials only.

AM:  I know you have worked on some big name music videos.  Tell me about that.

MA:  I’ve only done a few.  I worked with Coldplay on a couple videos. I worked on one of Adele’s first videos, ‘Chasing Pavements’ and on ‘Ghost Town’ with Madonna.

AM:  What experiences stand out in your memory as something really cool or special?

MA:  Late last year I worked on an NFL spot for NBC’s Sunday Night Football. I was happy for the job as I had an opportunity to play catch with Dez Bryant of the Dallas Cowboys. They are my second favorite team. Also I did an Eminem video last year and John Malkovich had a cameo. I was resetting his sodas for the screen. He shook my hand afterwards.

AM:  What’s it like working with all these big names?

MA:  I’m normally fine but I was super nervous around Halle Berry.

AM:  Does anyone stand out as being super nice?

MA:  Chris Martin of Coldplay made me feel comfortable. When I told him I saw his first show in LA he told me I must be old. Then on the third job I did with him, he came up and shook my hand first thing when he saw me.

AM: Well if you’re only going to work on a few, those are the ones!  How do you like those long hours?

MA:  I actually like it a lot. It’s pretty fun but it does get monotonous after a while hearing the same song over and over for ten to twelve hours.

AM: I never thought about that. 

MA:  No matter what is going on, they are playing the same song very loud all day long.

AM:  What television shows have you worked on?

MA:  I just finished working on three different shows back to back.  One is called ‘Cooper Barrett’ for Fox.  It has been on television already.  Not sure if it got picked up or not. That led me into working on ‘The New Girl.’ I just finished this past season and then I went to Hawaii for three weeks working on a kids show for Nickelodeon called Paradise Run 2.

AM:  Have you found a new home in television work then?

MA: No, I am still searching. (Laughter) I think I like commercials the best.

AM:  What would your ultimate job be?

MA:  Voice over work!  I have always been told I had the perfect voice for it.

AM:  I agree you have a great voice and would be a really good at that.  Do you think you may go full circle and return to music in some way?

MA: Actually I have been getting interest and I do believe I’m going back into the music business.

AM:  In what capacity?

MA:  Doing event production again.

AM:  That’s your first love anyway.

MA: Yes, that’s why I moved to Los Angeles in the first place.

AM:  Do you think working in Hollywood is different from working in other cities?

MA:  Yes out here it’s very cut throat.  It’s really about who you know.  You have to build good solid relationships to get ahead.

AM:  I’m so proud of you Mike.  You have become very successful working in Hollywood. A person doesn’t always get to do what they love the most at first.  What is your advice to anyone looking to come to Los Angeles to work behind the scenes?

MA:  Lots of people have asked me that question all the time.  I always say to follow your heart and keep chasing your dreams. That’s the bottom line.  Whatever you feel inside, you have to keep pursuing it.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Mamie Van Doren: A Sex Symbol of a Certain Age

All Photos:  Alan Mercer

Mamie Van Doren has been a close friend for over a decade now.  She was the very first interview I did on my blog in February 2009.  I featured her again in September 2010 with a more in-depth interview and lots of photos.  In March of 2015 we did our 10 year anniversary photo session. If you haven’t seen any of these blogs you should check them out in addition to this one.  The links are right below.  You will be able to learn more about her past in these blogs. Now we focus on the future of this Sex Symbol of a Certain Age.

AM:  Mamie, recently Alan Eichler put some videos on Youtube of you performing your nightclub act from the early 80’s. My jaw dropped open when I saw them.  You are amazing.  Did you know how good you were?

MVD:  No, I never even thought about it. I was blessed with the ability to entertain people and I don’t have a problem with it. I know I don’t have the strongest voice.  I’m not Barbra Streisand, but I have always felt the music.

AM:  You do a great job singing.

MVD: It comes from within. It’s a portrayal and when I sing a song it all comes out. People can actually feel it.  I like intimate rooms because it makes the performance more personable and you can reach people more so than in a huge auditorium where you can get kind of lost. 

AM:  Did you perform to large crowds in Vietnam?

MVD: No when I was entertaining in Vietnam in fire stations, it wasn’t that large.

AM:  I know you worked hard out there.

MVD: They were very much in need of entertainment. They were starving for it. I would often work on a tank. I’d be on stage for an hour and have them come up on stage with me so I could hug, kiss and sing to them. 

AM:  I know they were thrilled to see you in person.

MVD:  They really adored me and I was so thankful I could do something for them. No one back in the States realized the torment they were going through. They were risking their lives and many didn’t come back. They didn’t want to be there anymore than we wanted them to be there.  That was so sad. It was a terrible war.

AM:  I can’t believe you had the courage and stamina to go there.

MVD:  I’ve always had the feeling of wanting to do things like that.  I was born this way. I feel like I was meant to go out and do that.

AM:  So your entertaining is tied in with healing others.  You went to Vietnam and you also worked the first AIDS benefits before anyone else.

MVD:  I did a lot of AIDS benefits. I was one of the first along with Vivian Blaine. I went to all the gay clubs and performed. That’s how it all started.  I raised $40,000 which was a big deal in those days.

AM: It’s still a big deal.

MVD: People today don’t know what really happened in those days.  It wasn’t until Rock Hudson died two years later that people started talking and then of course Elizabeth Taylor took over. She was able to make a lot more money. Unfortunately Elizabeth wouldn’t let me come to any of the functions anymore. That was unkind of her.  All the people who had helped for the first two years never got the credit they deserved.

AM:  That information is starting to get now. Alan Eichler has really helped in getting that word out.

MVD:  Many people did a lot of good things that nobody knows about today.  I was one of the only ones who got up and sang.  At least I was doing something. I believe very deeply in karma. People go through bad karma and it’s a natural thing, but it disappears and then the good karma comes.  You just have to get through the bad karma first.

AM:  You have to make the right choices right?

MVD:  Yes, when I am experiencing good karma I like to take advantage of it because I know I’m going to get some bad karma again. I believe this has to do with a past life. (Laughter)

AM:  Mamie you used to wear a lot of Chanel, but now you are through with it?

MVD:  Oh yes! It’s too matronly looking and passé for me. (Laughter)

AM:  So now you are reinventing yourself as a teenager.

MVD: Oh yeah, I’m getting my clothes from Dolls Kill and wearing a nose ring.

AM:  You’re doing all the things the kids are doing now, right?

MVD:  Yes, but I’m ahead of them.  I’ve got plans for the next decade. I’ve been through my old stage and I don’t need it anymore.

AM:  You’re not tired of social media yet are you?  Some people get tired of it.

MVD:  No, I like attention even though I’m very private. That’s one of the reasons I moved to Newport Beach. In Hollywood it’s like living in an open book. I’m not into gossip. I’ve been living here since 1966.

AM:  You have always been ahead of your time and you still are.

MVD:  Well, bless your heart. I am so elated and grateful that we met and became friends.

AM:  It was meant to be.

MVD:  You are part of my karma. You are part of me.

AM:  I agree and you are a part of me and you always have been.

MVD:  Yes, when I don’t see you for a year and then you’re here it’s like you never left. It’s like it’s the next day.  I think of you all the time.  You’re always on my mind. I even feel like I am a part of your family.

AM: That’s because you are.

MVD:  You’re a big part of my life and I love you.

AM:  I love you too sweetheart.

For more on Mamie Van Doren visit her web site