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Cover Story February 15th, 2007

  Untitled Document

cover

by lyle e davis

Paul Williams is the picture of “laid back.”

As we spoke to him he glanced out of his window and watched sailboats moving along the mighty blue Pacific Ocean from his home in Sunset Beach, just a couple miles off the Pacific Coast Highway.

Blue ocean, soft white sands, beautiful home, beautiful family . . . and shelves of Grammys, Golden Globes and Oscars . . . and concert promoters world wide welcoming him onto the stage.

Paul Williams will be appearing here in Escondido this coming Saturday night and we’ll be there, front row center, listening to his greatest hits . . . the classics . . .”An Old Fashioned Love Song,” “We’ve Only Just Begun,” “Rainy Days and Monday,” the Oscar winning “Evergreen,” as well as some of his future classics.

Paul Williams was born in Omaha; I grew up there. We didn’t meet until much later in life, though we are about the same age, mainly because Paul left Omaha when he was five years old.

He lived in a very small suburb of Omaha, Bennington. At that time Bennington was an old, old town filled with mostly old, old houses in which old, old people lived. Since then Bennington has become the new suburbia with beautiful homes, playgrounds and schools. Paul never saw that part of Bennington . . . he was on his way toward finding his place in life. It was a tortuous road.

“My dad built Boys Town,” he says. “He was a contractor and also helped to build the Coca Cola bottling plant in Omaha. He worked for Peter Kiewit & Sons.” (A major midwstern general contractor based out of Omaha.)

“We lived in an apartment over on Mortuary Street till I was five. When we left Omaha I would attend nine schools by the time I entered the 9th grade. I had just turned 13 when we finally arrived on the west coast. Dad had been killed in a one car accident and I was moved out to Long Beach to live with an aunt and uncle. I would attend Woodrow Wilson High School in Long Beach.”

I had dabbled in high school plays. which is where my interest in acting began to develop. I actually had an agent for awhile while in high school but never got a job. I auditioned for the Mouseketeers but wasn't chosen, thank God. After high school I returned to Denver to help with my brother. From Denver I moved on to Albuquerque where I worked for a title insurance company. I started sky diving with the Albuquerque Parachute Club .. (I made 33 jumps there then picked it up again in the late seventies and finally quit at 100 jumps).

I had sung for my dad occasionally before he was killed, but nothing in the way of an epiphany had yet appeared.

I enjoyed acting . . . and even though I was only 4' 6" I was determined to give it a go. I used to joke that I was so short I could run under coffee tables.” I did Little Theatre in Albuquerque . . some summer stock; then it was off to Hollywood for me. I was determined to give it a shot.
I had a fair amount of chutzpah and thanks to an old agent friend, managed to get me parts in two films and one commercial.

Paul managed to do a couple of movies . . .one, “The Loved Ones” he laughs, was a movie to offend everyone. The cast included Robert Morse and Jonathon.Winters. In 'The Chase" he had the chance to work with Marlon Brando, Robert Redford, Jane Fonda . . . “some kid on the set had a guitar, I borrowed it, taught myself some chords. I was gonna be a big star . . . I had three lines in the movie. I had worked four months on it.

Anyone who loves music, whether a fan or fellow professionals, readily acknowledge that Paul Williams is a musical genius. A prolific writer who can turn out lyrics that tug at the heartstrings and the emotions . . . a musician who can marry the words and music to perfection . . . and a vocalist whose very own personalized style has entertained millions of listeners over the years . . .Paul Williams is grateful for his gift.

“I started writing songs for my own amusement, kind of a mental health thing. The movie offers stopped; so did the commercials . . . so I started writing songs. It became a hobby that blossomed. It turned out to be the key to my life . . . it's a gift . . . . . and, it’s funny, my whole career as a songwriter evolved out of my inability to become an actor. I wrote the songs, didn't know what to do with them. I went over to A&M records, they liked my work, I played my music, and suddenly I had a home.

I knew the minute I started writing songs . . .I just knew I could write. It came out of me naturally. Early on I met Roger Nichols, the composer at A&M. He gave me a melody . . . the lyric was "No Return" . . . I had written it in about a half hour and he was amazed at how quickly I could write . . . he took it over to Herb Alpert, and the rest, I guess, is history.”

“When I hear music I hear words in it. If I'm listening to any piece of music, if I put my head into that place, I can hear lyrics in it. The emotion is in the music.”

“The difference between writers of today and those of my generation . . . well, let me give you an example: my first two songs were for Claudine Longet and Tiny Tim (it was the flip side of ‘Tiptoe through the Tulips.’) But I also had folks like Crosby, Elvis Presley, Ella Fitzgerald . . . classic artists sing my stuff.

Today, I’m writing with the Scissors Sisters . . . and the music is number one everywhere except US.”

Williams was exposed to Rogers Hart, Cole Porter, Jerome Kern, amazing musical craftsmen. “Somehow,” he says, “they became part of my environment, I caught the craft. I had been listening to music that was the great American song book. That was my school as a writer. Dad played Perry Como, Bing Crosby. I actually discovered rock and roll late in my life, post Beatles. . . . I’ve had no formal music training. When I write I intentionally let myself sound vulnerable . . in my writing and my singing.

Movies were a natural thing to slide into . . . I loved acting, loved film . . . I had gotten some attention as a songwriter - certainly that helped me gain entre’ to the film industry. I had roles in ‘Nice to Be Around,’ . . ‘Cinderella Liberty,’ and, of course, . . .the Muppet Movie.

Everything was going great for Paul Williams. He had written and sung his song hits and rode the gravy train to super stardom.

And then he disappeared.

“You know you’re an alcoholic,” he says, “when you’ve misplaced 10 years of your life.”

Life in the fast lane had caught up to Paul Williams.

There was money. Lots of it. Alcohol. Lots of it. Cocaine. Lots of it. And pretty soon life became a blur.

“I came from a lifestyle where alcohol was a reward for a hard day’s work. It didn’t help matters much that I later lived in Montecito between Johnathon Winters and Robert Mitchum. It was pretty hard to try and keep up with Robert Mitchum. (Jonathon Winters, now 80, has been sober since the 1960’s; Paul Williams has been sober for 17 years).

“I was the classic case. I had gone from Use to Abuse to Addiction. Soon, you find yourself medicating fear and emotions that you can’t deal with. You develop a hard core dependency on your drugs. In my case, I started canceling meetings. ABC would want to talk about writing a scene and I’d send someone to take a meeting for me. You just can’t do that. And I had become paranoid. At the time, I had five acres in Santa Barbara. I’d watch my kids playing in the pool . . . watch them growing up. But I wasn’t with them. I was in my own little room . . up in the house, looking out a window . . .but not participating in their lives. And I can’t go back and recapture that. That’s one of the biggest things I regret about my addiction.”

Paul finally found himself, shook his addictions and not only has he now been sober for 17 years but he enrolled at UCLA and earned his certificate as a Drug and Alcoholic Counselor.

He is constantly on the road, speaking on recovery, probably the most active celebrity at Recovery Events.

photo
Paul Williams, speaking at a recent Substance Abuse Recovery Seminar.
He often contributes his time and resources to helping others beat their addictions.

“When someone comes into treatment, we assess the situation, get all the alcohol and drugs out of their system . . . then we can begin to treat them. We’re a highly overmedicated society and one of the primary ‘self-medications’ is either alcohol or drugs . . . often both. And, instead of living life . . .you're hiding from it.

I have to laugh. With the success we’ve had as a songwriter, as a singer, as an actor . . . I have a hunch what I’m going to be remembered for. For example, I’ll meet some patients and say, “Hi, I’m Paul and I’m your counselor.’ They’ll hoo-haw and say, ‘No you’re not! You’re little Enos . . from Smoky the Bandit.”

He laughs, ‘All my honors . . .all my accomplishments . . . and I’ll be remembered as ‘little Enos!’

Williams will have completed four engagements in The Phillipines just prior to appearing in Escondido. Doesn’t he get enormous jet lag from traveling so far between engagements?

“I don’t get jet lag,” he says. “Don’t know why. I sleep well on the plane. And when I walk on the stage with those guys (the Paul Williams Band) the adrenaline kicks in and it’s show time! I love it.
Just recently we returned from Hawaii where we appeared in concert. I’m kinda in the stage of the musical stage of my life right now.”

He’s still working on the fine tuning of the “Happy Days” musical that he wrote with Gary Marshall, set to go on the road this fall. Additionally, he wrote both the book and score for an upcoming Saturday Night Live approach to Chicken Soup for the Soul.

So what will we expect this Saturday, February 17th, from Paul Williams?

It’ll most certainly be a retrospective of his many hits. “I’ll bring the song . . . you bring the memories,” he says. “We’ve been fortunate in receiving a number of awards for our work; but nothing beats the acknowledgment you get from people who loved your music and come up to you after a concert and say . . . ‘we listened to your music while we were courting,’ or, ‘we played your music at our wedding.’

He looks forwad to coming out after the show and signing DVD’s for patrons of the concert.

Whether you’re enjoying the Paul Williams music from the 60’s and 70’s . . . or enjoying the commercials on television of today . . . you’re still surrounded by Paul Williams and his craft. He calls it ‘new music from an old connection.’ Most recently, the music on the Coca Cola commerical was that of Paul Williams’ genius.

“You just never know when the phone is gonna ring,” he says. “People still seem to like my music.”

Does he still have another “We’ve Only Just Begun,” in him? “It’s up to The Big Amigo whether I have other monster hits or not. I can only listen to the music, let my mind find the lyrics, and put them down.”

I love writing . . . I actually love it more than singing. They're really connected . . . I don't necessarily prefer one over the other. As to whether I sing my music or have others sing it, I believe I prefer others to sing it. I’m not really pursuing doing any recording work right now. I’m too busy writing.”

Now and then he manages to get off and relax a bit. Recently, he and his wife completed a 19 day cruise from New Zealand, to Bora Bora, Fiji, Tahiti, and then back to the states. “Ernest Borgnine was on board,” he says. “Can you believe it? Borgnine is 90! 90 years old and I had to run to keep up with him. The man is amazing!”

Something tells me most of us would be hard pressed to keep up with Paul Williams, what with his hectic schedule of writing, recording, performing, traveling . . . but it’s all good, in the end.

“I just did a new a new DVD. I love opening up a DVD with my songs -it’s just as big a rush as it ever was.”

photo
Paul Williams and Friends . . . aka The Muppets

Paul Williams Credits:

Inducted into the prestigious Songwriters Hall of Fame on June 14, 2001, at their 32nd annual awards ceremony in New York in recognition of his musical contributions.
Nominated 15 times for his contribution to the motion picture industry.
Recognized regularly by ASCAP and BMI for his contribution as a songwriter.
Lauded and awarded over the years by audiences and peers alike, not only as one of the most gifted and prolific lyricists and composers, but also as a singer, an actor and a humanitarian.

Nine nominations from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.
Six nominations each from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.
Winner of many Grammys, Golden Globes and an Oscar. The Oscar was for his writing of the song, “Evergreen” as performed by Barbra Streisand.

Acting Credits:

'The Muppet Movie,"
'The Doors,"
"Battle For The Planet Of The Apes,"
"Phantom of the Paradise" and his running portrayal of Little Enos in the three "Smokey And The Bandit" films.

Television Acting Credits:

"Star Trek"
"Walker, Texas Ranger"
"Picket Fences"
"Boston Common"
"Babylon 5"
"Hart To Hart"
"The Bold And The Beautiful."

He is also heard as the voice of the Penguin on the animated "Batman" series.

As a performer he has toured extensively, not only in the United States, but also in Europe, Asia and South America.

Paul Williams will appear at the California Center for the Arts, Escondido, on Saturday, February 17th, at 8pm. Appearing with Mr. Williams is Diane Schuur, multi-Grammy Award-winning jazz singer; Diane Schuur, the new first lady of jazz.

Tickets:
$25 - $40 General Adult
$22 - $37 Senior Discount

Call ticket reservations:
800-988-4253

 

 

 

 

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