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Record producer Nick Venet

Record producer Nick Venet produced more than 300 albums in his career and collected numerous Grammy nominations and awards. He was co-producer of a Bobby Darin box set (Rhino). He was also Darin's producer and friend. Nick Venet died in 1998. This interview first aired March 19, 1996.

28:04

Other segments from the episode on August 29, 2002

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, August 29, 2002: Interview with Nancy Sinatra; Interview with Lenny Kaye; Interview with Nick Venet.

Transcript

DATE August 29, 2002 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Singer Nancy Sinatra discusses how she became a hit and
her duet with her late father, singer Frank Sinatra
TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

It's '60s music week on FRESH AIR. We start today's edition with Nancy
Sinatra, Frank's daughter. Their duet record, "Something Stupid," was a
number-one Billboard hit for four weeks in 1967. That was three weeks longer
than Frank's other number-one hit of the '60s, "Strangers in the Night." Nancy
had her first hit in early 1966 with "These Boots Are Made For Walkin'," which
put across a pretty tough image. But her earlier records were bubble-gum
productions overseen by Annette Funicello's music director. They did OK
overseas, but they bombed in the States. In fact, Nancy Sinatra's label,
Reprise, was getting ready to dump her, even though the label was founded by
her father. Reprise was willing to give her one more chance in 1965, and with
some help, she changed her image and her luck.

In 1996, she told me how she did it.

Ms. NANCY SINATRA (Musician): Jimmy Bowen, who was head of A&R at Reprise,
put me with a guy named Lee Hazelwood. Lee had approached Jimmy, unbeknownst
to me. He said, `I can get her a chart record in this country, and if I don't
get her a chart record in this country, you can tell me to leave.' And he
said, `I promise a chart record the first time out.' And he delivered. It
was called "So Long, Babe," and it barely made the charts, but it made the
charts.

During that session, he said to me, `You can't sing like Nancy "Nice Lady"
anymore. You have to sing for the truckers. At about this time, I was
getting a divorce, my husband decided he didn't want to have children and I
did, and he knew it. So we split. And Lee said to me, `You've been married
and now you're divorced, and people know that. So let's lose this virgin
image. Let's get rid of it.' And we did that. And we lowered the key, we
dropped my voice down where it belonged, again, where I was more comfortable
early on in the more R&B-type things.

(Soundbite of "These Boots Are Made For Walkin'")

Ms. SINATRA: (Singing) You keep sayin' you've got somethin' for me,
somethin' you call love, but confess: You've been a-messin' where you
shouldn't have been a-messin'. And now someone else is gettin' all your best.
These boots are made for walkin', and that's just what they'll do. One of
these days these boots are gonna walk all over you.

Oh, yeah.

You keep lyin' when you oughta be truthin'. And you keep losin' when you
oughta not bet. You keep samin' when you oughta be a-changin'. Now what's
right is right, but you ain't been right yet. These boots are made for
walkin', and that's just what they'll do. One of these days, these boots are
gonna walk all over you.

GROSS: Did your whole image change after this record came out, the way you
dressed, what...

Ms. SINATRA: Well...

GROSS: ...your whole public persona?

Ms. SINATRA: You know, again, timing is everything in life. I had been on
tour in Europe. I brought home from Carnaby Street the miniskirt. And I
wasn't crazy about the way my legs looked in the miniskirt, so I put on a pair
of boots. I wore that around; it became my favorite thing to wear. I wore it
to the dance clubs that I went to.

GROSS: I must stop you right here: Were they white boots?

Ms. SINATRA: No. No, they weren't actually. They were kind of a camel-y
brown color.

GROSS: Uh-huh. Now a little later on, you recorded a duet with your father,
"Something Stupid." One of the things that always interested me about this
record is that it's a song sung from the perspective of two lovers, but you
were singing it as father and daughter. Was that a slightly awkward thing to
do?

Ms. SINATRA: No, it was a very natural thing to do, but the disc jockeys
dubbed it `the incest song'...

GROSS: Oh, really?

Ms. SINATRA: ...at the time, which I think probably added to it in a way, you
know. It gave them something fun to kid about. But, no, recording it--there
are different ways to love people, I think, you know?

GROSS: Was it daunting to record a duet with your father, or were you relaxed
about it?

Ms. SINATRA: I was very relaxed about it. I had had a certain number of
hits of my own, and the scary part, though, was coming in at the end of the
session that they were doing that night with Jobim.

GROSS: Oh, that's the day that you recorded with Antonio Carlos Jobim.

Ms. SINATRA: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: Oh.

Ms. SINATRA: It was one of the sessions for that album, the first of their
albums, and so, you know, coming in with my little--I called us the B-team,
coming in with the B-team and watching the A-team in action was just
enthralling. And I don't like this word, but `awesome,' you know? And then,
of course, the A-team moved over and the little B-team took over--Lee
Hazelwood, Jimmy Bowen, Billy Strange and our rhythm section, and we cut a
number-one song.

GROSS: Yeah, you delivered.

Ms. SINATRA: Yeah.

(Soundbite of "Something Stupid")

Ms. SINATRA and Mr. FRANK SINATRA: (Singing) I know I stand in line until
you think you have the time to spend an evening with me. And if we go
someplace to dance, I know that there's a chance you won't be leaving with me.
And afterwards, we drop into a quiet little place and have a drink or two.
And then I go and spoil it all by saying something stupid like, `I love you.'

I can see it in your eyes that you despise the same old lines...

GROSS: Nancy and Frank Sinatra, recorded in 1996--well, that is, my interview
with Nancy Sinatra was recorded in 1996.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Lenny Kaye discusses his anthology, "Nuggets," which
features garage bands of the '60s
TERRY GROSS, host:

In the mid-'60s, in between the start of the British Invasion and the
domination of progressive rock, teen-agers around America were starting bands,
rehearsing in their parents' garage, imitating The Beatles, The Rolling
Stones, the Kinks, Bob Dylan and other hit makers of the day. Some of those
bands went into the studio and made one great record. In 1972, Lenny Kaye
collected some of those one-hit wonders and some of the great, but obscure
singles of the period. It included this record by The Standells, which made
it to number 11 in 1966, the same year Nancy Sinatra had her first hit.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man #1: (Singing) I'm going to tell you a story. I want to tell
you about my town. I'm going to tell you a big, fat story, baby, I've got
about my town. Yeah, down by the river. Down by the neck of the River
Charles. Oh, that's where it's happening, baby. That's where you'll find me,
yeah, along with lovers, fuggers and thieves. Aw, but they're cool people.
Well, I love that dirty water. Oh, Boston, you're my home.

GROSS: Lenny Kaye's anthology, "Nuggets," is now considered one of the most
important and influential documents of '60s garage rock. Lenny Kaye went on
to become Patti Smith's guitarist. He co-produced an expanded version of
"Nuggets" for Rhino Records in 1998. I talked with him about "Nuggets" when
the expanded version was released.

Lenny Kaye, welcome to FRESH AIR.

Mr. LENNY KAYE (Musician, "Nuggets"): Oh, a pleasure to be here.

GROSS: I want to start by asking you to choose a record from the original
"Nuggets" that pretty well defines what the project is all about, a record you
still love.

Mr. KAYE: Well, when Joey Ramone had a birthday party at Coney Island High a
couple of months ago, I strapped on "Pushing Too Hard" by The Seeds and I
realized it was the first time I'd played it ever. And it is quite a rockin'
song and seems to me to be the very definition of what a garage band should
be.

GROSS: The first time you played it? You mean the first time you performed
it?

Mr. KAYE: That's the first time I ever sang it from start to finish. And
it's not as easy as it seems, I must say.

GROSS: Oh, why not?

Mr. KAYE: The guitar break has a certain elemental simplicity, but it kind
of moves around in a nice way. And we also amped it up a little bit, so it
had a kind of '90s velocity to it. But it's a really great song. It's got
two whole chords. And it's really--it's got the kind of a spit-out lyrics
that, you know, to me, really define what was happening in rock 'n' roll in
the mid-'60s here in America.

GROSS: OK. This is "Pushing Too Hard," The Seeds from "Nuggets."

(Soundbite of "Pushing Too Hard")

Unidentified Man #2: (Singing) You're pushing too hard, you're pushing on me.
You're pushing too hard at what you want me to be. You're pushing too hard
about the things you say. You're pushing too hard every night and day.
You're pushing too hard, pushing too hard on me.

Group of Singers: Too hard.

Unidentified Man #2: (Singing) Well, all I want is to just be free, to live
my life the way I want to be. All I want is to just have fun and live my life
like it's just begun. But you're pushing too hard, pushing too hard on me.

Group of Singers: Too hard.

(Soundbite of solo)

GROSS: That's "Pushing Too Hard" from 1966, one of the recordings included on
the original anthology, "Nuggets," produced by my guest, Lenny Kaye.

Lenny Kaye, what's the story behind how "Nuggets" was first produced?

Mr. KAYE: Well, I was introduced to Jac Holzman, who was the president of
Elektra Records around the end of 1970. I had been chosen, for reasons that
escape me, to be one of the Heavy 100 of Rock 'n' Roll in Esquire magazine. I
was their token rock critic. I think it was because I'd written a favorable
review of The Stooges' first album. And Jac Holzman called me up. He was a
very literate record company president, and liked the input of the press and
also did groups that had a certain intellectual edge, like The Doors and Love,
the MC5 and The Stooges. And he asked me to be a kind of A&R freelance scout
at the time.

In the end, none of the groups that I brought him, he really was interested
in, and vice versa. But one of the projects he had--and I think it was
because he just had gotten one of the first cassette machines--was he wanted
to do an album called "Nuggets," which consisted of those tracks from albums
that only had one good track. I think his idea was to clean out his record
collection. And he passed it over to me, and I kind of spun it toward the
kind of teen bands that I grew up listening to as a wild animal in New Jersey
with my own teen band.

GROSS: So what qualified a record for inclusion on the original "Nuggets"?

Mr. KAYE: In the original "Nuggets," it was mostly if I liked it. And my
thing for inclusion was that it had to be a really great song that was not
quite a major hit, nor a complete collector obscurity. I was very conscious
of making a listening album. My models were, on the one hand, the more
academic hand, the "Azure Blues Collections," "Blues of Southwest Georgia:
1928 to '32," you know, very scholarly, you know. And on the other hand, when
I was a kid, I used to get these Mr. Maestro oldies compilations, you know,
20 original hits, you know, a guy with a motorcycle and some wild babe riding
next to him. And, you know, kind of just a bunch of great songs. And so my
thought was that, you know, to make a record that was really fun to listen to
of these records that were not that easy to get ahold of, or that you had to
dig them off records that, you know, the group had vanished in the haze. It
was only as the restrosp--you know, as the hindsight grew that I began to see
just how much of a genre I was mining. I think as the years passed, the sense
of what a garage band is, you know, that sense of punk rock as it's kind of
aborning, you know, became clearer, not only to me, but to the people who
heard "Nuggets" and kind of made it a touchstone for a type of music.

GROSS: My guest is Lenny Kaye, producer of the garage band anthology
"Nuggets." More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: Let's get back to our 1998 interview with Lenny Kaye about "Nuggets,"
his now-classic anthology of garage bands and one-hit wonders of the '60s.

Let's listen to another track from the original volume of "Nuggets." And this
is from the group Count Five. It's called "Psychotic Reaction." And this got
some radio play. I think people who were listening to radio at the time will
know this. Tell me what you think this song represents within the collection.

Mr. KAYE: I think one of the major influences on these bands was the British
Invasion, possibly because before then, most bands with guitars were kind of
either surf bands, very instrumental-oriented, or a little bit more like, say,
Johnny And The Hurricanes, again, very instrumental. And seeing a group like
The Beatles or The Rolling Stones on "Ed Sullivan" inspired all these bands to
kind of want to be like them. Of all the English bands, I think the most
influential on the garage bands were The Yardbirds because they seemed to push
the envelope with sound, sonically, so much further. They had incredible
guitar players--Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton early on--and that fuzz-toney sound
that The Yardbirds had in a song like "Over Under Sideways Down" or "I'm A
Man" really turned musicians on in America. You know, again, you're sort of
seeing a whole new pallet of sound. The Count Five were from San Jose in
California, and they really got that Yardbird sound and had a fairly large hit
on it. It certainly might not have been in the top 10, but it grazed there.
And, you know, that's about all you need to become a rock 'n' roll star for
your moment in time.

GROSS: OK. Here's the Count Five, "Psychotic Reaction."

(Soundbite of "Psychotic Reaction")

Unidentified Man #3: (Singing) I feel depressed. I feel so bad. 'Cause
you're the best girl that I ever had. I can't get your love, I can't get a
fraction. Uh-oh, little girl, psychotic reaction. And it feels like this.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: "Psychotic Reaction," the Count Five, from the original volume of
"Nuggets," produced by my guest, Lenny Kaye. There's three new volumes that
have been added to that in the new Rhino "Nuggets" box set.

Listening back to the "Nuggets" recordings, what would you say were the most
influential records on the bands included in "Nuggets"?

Mr. KAYE: I would say, you know, things like the Shadows of Knight, The Blues
Project.

GROSS: ?Question Mark and the Mysterians--don't you think that "96 Tears" and
its organ line is one of the most influential things?

Mr. KAYE: Yes. But, you know, it's not on the current "Nuggets" because
that song is just impossible to license.

GROSS: Don't you think "96 Tears," though, influenced a lot of the bands on
"Nuggets"?

Mr. KAYE: I think "96 Tears" influenced them. I think, in a sense, they
influenced each other. It's hard to pick out one track because it was like a
cauldron at the time, and it was spread out across America. I mean, you know,
you had, like, in every small town in America bands that were getting together
and learning how to play their instruments, and suddenly, you know, seizing
the tail of the tiger. I think that all of them partook of a certain sound,
and that their time was almost, in a way, limited because the music was
changing so quickly. It would, by the end of the '60s, have a whole different
feel. Amplifier technology was moving so quickly that in a sense, the
"Nuggets" bands would sound--their textures would sound differently. People
would move from a Farfisa organ, this little toy organ almost, to the big
sound of the Hammond. It was kind of--they were caught. I always think of it
as, you know--and around 1964, all these bands left one side of the river, and
then they're kind of in the middle of the river and they're being tossed by
the currents and everything. When they get to the other side, rock 'n' roll
has changed. But I like that middle time when people are kind of a little bit
not sure of where they're going and what they're doing with it, and they're
just experimenting. It's very unpredictable music within its kind of genre.

GROSS: Lenny Kaye, recorded in 1998 after the expanded version of his
anthology, "Nuggets," was released.

I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man #4: (Singing) No, no. No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. No,
no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. No, no, no, no, no. No, no, no, no. No,
nobody can do the shing-a-ling like I do. Nobody can do the skate like I do.
Nobody can do the boogaloo like I do. Nobody can do spinning like I do.
Well, don't you know I'm gonna skate. I'm doin', ain't nobody doin' nobody
but me. Nobody, but me. Yeah, I'm gonna spin, I'm doin', ain't nobody doin'
but me, babe. Nobody, but me. Well, let me tell you, nobody, but nobody but
me, babe. Let me tell you, nobody....

(Announcements)

GROSS: Coming up, the music of Bobby Darin. We listen back to a conversation
with the late Nick Venet. He was Darin's close friend and producer.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man #5: (Singing) I'm not the guy who cared about love, and I'm
not the guy who cared about fortunes and such. I never cared much, but look
at me now. And I never knew technique of kissing. I never knew the thrill I
could get from your touch, never knew much, oh, look at me now.

And I'm a new man, better than Casanova at his best, with a new heart,
brand-new style. I'm so proud, I'm busting my vest. So I'm the guy who
turned out a lover, so I'm the guy who laughed at those blue diamond rings.
One of those things, oh, look at me now.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Nick Venet discusses working with Bobby Darin and the
Bobby Darin box set he co-produced
TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

It's '60s music week on FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of water gurgling)

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. BOBBY DARIN: (Singing) Splish splash, I was taking a bath, long about a
Saturday night. Yeah! Rub-dub, just relaxing in the tub, thinking everything
was all right. Well, I stepped out the tub, put my feet on the floor...

GROSS: Bobby Darin's first hit was the novelty record "Splish Splash," but he
went on to become one of the most sophisticated and jazz-inspired pop stars of
the '60s. You can hear the strong Sinatra influence in his later singing, and
in the arrangements behind him. Darin's hits of the '60s included "Dream
Lover," "Mack The Knife," "Beyond The Sea" and "If I Were A Carpenter." Darin
died in 1973 at the age of 37 of a heart condition.

Nick Venet was one of Darin's closest friends and musical collaborators. They
met as teen-agers when they were first trying to make it in the music
business. Venet produced many of Darin's records. The list of other
performers Venet discovered and/or produced includes The Beach Boys, Linda
Ronstadt, Ricky Nelson, Gene Vincent, Glen Campbell and Sam Cooke.

Nick Venet died in 1998. Two years earlier, I spoke with him about Darin
after Venet had produced a Bobby Darin boxed set, and included the demo of
Darin's hit "Dream Lover." Before we play it, let's hear the story behind the
demo.

Mr. NICK VENET (Record Producer): Well, he felt that if the song didn't make
it with people, if they really didn't get the message with just him and a
guitar--by the way, the guitarist was Fred Newell. In that period of time
everything was cute and pretty, and he wanted to do something that was not
cute, not pretty, but worked on another level. And he tried it with just the
guitar to see how it would affect people and it affected everyone and he knew
he had a song that would possibly transcend a certain amount of time. And he
made the demo at the session with just Fred playing the guitar. Then later on
everybody asked him to add more, add more and he did, and he went on, and, of
course, it was a hit. Either version will make it for me, too, but that
version's real special because it's just Bobby and the guitar and he sings it
as well as he sang anything else.

GROSS: Well, let's hear the previously unreleased demo version of "Dream
Lover," written and sung by Bobby Darin and featured on the new Bobby Darin
boxed set.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. DARIN: (Singing) Every night I hope and pray a dream lover will come my
way, a girl to hold in my arms, and know the magic of her charms. 'Cause I
need a girl to call my own. I want a dream lover so I don't have to dream
alone. Dream lover, where are you? With a love, oh, so true, and the hand
that I can hold and feel you near as I grow old. 'Cause I need a girl to call
my own. I want a dream lover so I don't have to dream alone.

GROSS: That's Bobby Darin's 1959 demo of the song "Dream Lover." My guest,
Nick Venet, co-produced the new Bobby Darin boxed set and was Bobby Darin's
longtime friend and sometime producer.

How did you meet Bobby Darin?

Mr. VENET: We were both in our teens, I guess, and we were working at the
Brill Building in New York. The Brill Building was the music mecca of pop
music, I guess, at that time. And it was centrally located and we met a lot
of people--like Burt Bacharach had an office there, Willie Brinstola had an
office there, and Darin and I rented a broom closet and converted it into an
office. And we just wanted a place to put our names on the door. And he
wrote songs and I tried to put records together. The word producer had--was
not being used at that time. And we actually met in the elevator at the Brill
Building and--several times--we ate in the same restaurant around the corner,
and we just became friends, and--a group of us, really. And we started
hanging out and using the broom closet as a place to meet and we kept a piano
in there and a place to write and play demos.

GROSS: What were his aspirations then and what were yours?

Mr. VENET: Mine was--except the word producer wasn't--was too direct records
and create records, and Darin always wanted to be nothing other than a
songwriter and sometimes performer. And songwriting was his main goal at that
time. I think that's because being a star or a hit artist probably was too
much of a fantasy. Sometimes you have a dream that's too heavy to carry, but
being a songwriter was more realistic and he wanted to be a songwriter, and
that was very important to him.

GROSS: How much faith did he have in his singing?

Mr. VENET: He had more faith in his songwriting than his singing but as--the
first couple of records he made, of course, you know, did not sell very well.
They were bombs. But as he progressed, he felt stronger about his singing and
at some point he decided that he's going to have to do it with his songs,
because he just felt that he had the interpretation he couldn't give to other
people when he just wrote them.

GROSS: Although he started off with rock 'n' roll hits, he seemed to know
early on that he wanted to sing standards and probably end up in Vegas. Now a
lot of rock 'n' rollers in the late '50s and early '60s were groomed to play
Vegas but often against their will. But the feeling was rock 'n' roll was a
fad, and unless you learned how to play Vegas, you'll be out of a career by
the time you're in your 20s.

Mr. VENET: Well, you're correct.

GROSS: Was he--yeah. Go ahead.

Mr. VENET: That particular time period, you know, we were still coming out
of the late '40s. The influence in the '50s was from the adults in the late
'40s. And singing was legitimate, legit singing, and you had to play in a
club, and you had to play Vegas and those venues, or you weren't a success.
And if you didn't learn to play those places, you would end up doing
one-nighters, with 20 other acts that had one hit, on various disc jockey
shows in small towns. And a lot of the rock 'n' rollers could not do the pop
situation, and a lot of them could, and the transition was tough for some.
There was Paul Anka who made the transition. And there was very few of them,
really, and Darin made the great transition.

GROSS: We're listening to a 1996 interview with the late Nick Venet who was
Bobby Darin's close friend and producer. We'll continue the interview after a
break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. DARIN: (Singing) I can only give you love that lasts forever, and the
promise to be near each time you call. And the only heart I own, for you and
you alone, that's all, that's all. I can only give you country walks in
springtime and a hand to hold...

GROSS: Let's get back to our interview about Bobby Darin with his close
friend and producer Nick Venet. The interview was recorded in 1996, two years
before Venet's death. When we spoke, Venet had just co-produced a Bobby Darin
boxed set.

For a lot of people in rock 'n' roll, listeners and performers, Vegas
symbolized everything that was square and unsavory about show business. Why
did Bobby Darin want that?

Mr. VENET: Well, Darin thought that he could actually bridge the gap and
bring his audience and I--the word `teen-agers' is the word they used, people
under the age of 25. He could actually bring them up to where they, too,
would appreciate Sinatra. They'd appreciate Tony Bennett. They'd appreciate
pop music. And he tried to cross it. He tried to keep the rhythm and the
tempo for dancing situations and for the excitement, and later on when you get
into "Mack The Knife," you'll see he did it.

GROSS: Well, we should hear "Mack The Knife." And he recorded this when he
was 23.

Mr. VENET: Twenty-three.

GROSS: And I know when I heard it when I was young, I--you know, it was
catchy, I don't know. And then in college I was introduced to the "Three
Penny Opera" and I thought `Boy, that Bobby Darin, he really ruined "Mack The
Knife." He made it into a show biz anthem. How horrible of him.' And when I
listen to it now, I think `What a great recording. What an incredible rhythm
he has in this.' I mean, he transforms the song, but...

Mr. VENET: Yes.

GROSS: ...he does something really interesting with it.

Mr. VENET: And I must tell you that's his concept, it was his idea, and
everyone thought he had lost it. But he's...

GROSS: That he was crazy?

Mr. VENET: He was crazy. They thought--they just couldn't believe that he
was going to do that, and he did.

GROSS: Well, what--why did he choose this song? What did he hear in it?

Mr. VENET: He...

GROSS: What did he hear in it to swing it? I mean, it's not a song that you
think of swinging.

Mr. VENET: Well, we're dealing with a guy that could go back to the '20s.
He knew Frank Tashmatter and Johnny Dodds and the early Dixieland musicians.
He was steeped in the music business history and various forms of music. And
he loved personally Dixieland. Had he had his druthers, born 20 years
earlier, he would have been a Dixieland--he would have had a Dixieland band.
And what he did is he loved these tunes, the Kurt Weill tunes, he just loved
them because they were German oompah tunes, you know? They were kind of done
in that old style, for the show, of course. And he just loved the whole
period, the way the song was written, the mysterious lyrics, you know, their
various levels, and he thought he could get away with it, and he did. He was
just brilliant.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. DARIN: (Singing) Oh, the shark, babe, has such teeth, dear. And he shows
them, pearly white. Just a jackknife has old Macheath, babe. And he keeps it
out of sight. You know, when that shark bites with his teeth, babe, scarlet
billows start to spread. Fancy gloves, though, wears old Macheath, babe, so
there's never, never a trace of red. Now on the sidewalk, ooh, sunny morning,
uh-huh, lies a body just oozing life. Eek! And someone's sneaking round the
corner. Could that someone be Mack The Knife? There's a tugboat
coming--ha-ha-ha--down by the river, don't you know, where a cement bag is
just drooping on down. Oh, that cement is just--it's there for the weight,
dear. Five'll get you 10, old Mack, he's back in town. Now did you hear
about Louie Miller? He disappeared, babe, after drawing out all his
hard-earned cash.

GROSS: What does the success of "Mack The Knife" prove and how did it change
his career?

Mr. VENET: Surprisingly it didn't change his personality, but what it did
change is his thinking. He realized that he had that thing that artists get
when they get into the center. They know that their creative ideas are right
if they just don't let outside people talk them out of it and they used their
gut feelings. And then he started using his own feelings for picking types of
songs and making albums, and it worked. He just avoided talking to too many
people because they all had ideas of what was wrong with it. He just wanted
to know what was right with it. And so that really gave him that feeling that
he's right, and he's an artist, and he can come up with great ideas if he
keeps them intact.

GROSS: Now he was supposed to record "Danke Schoen" after "Mack The Knife."

Mr. VENET: Yes, he was.

GROSS: But instead he gave the song to Wayne Newton, and, of course, the rest
is history.

Mr. VENET: Darin was producing Wayne. Darin had signed Wayne Newton. Wayne
was brought to Bobby by Dick Clark, believe it or not, in New York, and we
went down to see him playing in a lounge and he was just terrific. And Bobby
signed him as his first act on his Capital production deal. Bobby was banking
for the future. He wanted to produce and he wanted to publish and he wanted
to run a record company and, slowly over the years, taper off from performing,
which at that time was becoming more difficult for him physically. And he
just didn't want to make it public so he started getting more involved in
production. As you know, Darin didn't have a lot of years.

GROSS: Well, I'm going to skip playing Wayne Newton's "Danke Schoen" because
I want to save as much time as we can to playing Bobby Darin's music.

Mr. VENET: I don't blame you. Cut that part out, I don't blame you.

GROSS: So how did Bobby Darin actually make it to Vegas?

Mr. VENET: Well, Steve Blauner, his manager, introduced him to George Burns,
and George Burns just--you've got to understand, Darin, when he walked in a
room, he had that presence, that great spirit. Very few people have it, but
when they have it, you know it. They walk in a room and everybody stops.
They may not be facing the door, but they stop. And George Burns met Darin,
and he just felt that thing that Darin had, that this kid is going to be a
star. And Darin had already had a couple of records on the charts, and
Blauner told Burns that if you take him to Vegas you won't be disappointed,
and he did. And Darin just lit up Vegas. You know, he was one of the
highest-paid performers ever, in his 20s, in Las Vegas.

GROSS: Oh, really? I didn't know that.

Mr. VENET: Yeah. He packed it in. Darin was truly a phenomenon in Las
Vegas. It was unbelievable.

GROSS: Were you in Vegas, too, at that time?

Mr. VENET: We used to go up there all the time. Remember, we're two kids,
two poor kids from the city. I'm from Baltimore and he's from New York. And
this was dog heaven for us. We were raised that you're successful, you drive
Cadillacs, you wear a gold-link bracelet on your left hand to tell you who you
are, and you wear one on your right hand to tell you who you were. And we did
it all. We were foolish like that. But it was worth it. And Vegas, to us,
was just the cat's meow. I can't tell you. We didn't even think it was
gaudy. We thought it was neat. We were in our 20s. You know? And it was
very exciting because we came from very good people but very simple
neighborhoods.

GROSS: Did Vegas change Bobby Darin's personality and did success change him?

Mr. VENET: Success never changed Darin. Vegas never changed Darin. Politics
changed Darin. That's what changed Bobby Darin. His political awareness and
growth and his involvement in politics--he went from being a kid raised in the
center to a kid that practically became a bomb-throwing leftist, politically.
And meeting the Kennedys also altered his life. And it altered his ability to
play Vegas under certain conditions. Number one, he wanted Vegas to integrate
more. He wanted to see more black Americans working at the tables, working in
the orchestras, working at the various other jobs, other than the jobs where
you didn't see anyone, those faceless jobs in the back. And he became a civil
rights worker, quietly.

GROSS: Did this political awakening lead to the folk part of his career?

Mr. VENET: Yes. He wanted to stay with the audience that started with him,
and he wanted to make the transition with them. For instance, it was OK for
you and I to--I don't know how old you are, so I don't know if you were
there--he wanted--if I could take and start wearing Levi's and let my hair
grow long, and started campaigning for Kennedy, he thought he could do that,
too, and he didn't understand why people would say he's trying to become a
folkie. They didn't say Dylan's trying to become a folkie. They didn't say I
was becoming a folk producer.

GROSS: But they thought it was phony that somebody with a Vegas pedigree at
this point was growing their hair long and...

Mr. VENET: Yes. Yes.

GROSS: ...singing folk songs?

Mr. VENET: And it's an interesting thing. He was willing to lose half his
audience for his political conviction, but there was a point there when he
lost almost all his audience because one group didn't like him going that far
to the left. And the other group on the left didn't want him coming over
because they didn't trust him. He was between a rock and a hard place.

GROSS: Let me actually play one of his folk songs, one of the songs that he
wrote, and that he used to close his show with, and it's called "Simple Song
of Freedom." Now we're going to hear a demo version of it, I believe
previously unreleased. It's featured on this box set. And you were there
when he recorded the demo. In fact, I think the tape machine was on your
lap.

Mr. VENET: Yes.

GROSS: Tell us about this.

Mr. VENET: Darin had been working on a song and what he wanted to write was a
"This Land Is Your Land." He wanted to write a song that people could take
with them and they could sing with them, and he worked very hard to simplify
this. And it's a statement of the time. I get very emotional when I think of
it. But he finished it that morning and he put it on the tape recorder. I
held the tape recorder on my lap, and held the mike up. And that was the
final version. In fact, there's a mistake in it, but he kept going. And he
said, `That's my anthem.' And he closed his shows forever with that song.

GROSS: Why don't we pause here and listen to Bobby Darin's demo of his song,
"Simple Song of Freedom."

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. DARIN: (Singing) Come and sing a simple song of freedom. Sing it like
you've never sung before. Let it fill the air, tell the people everywhere
that we the people here don't want a war. Hey, there, Mr. Black Man, can you
hear me? I won't take your diamonds or hunt your game. I just want to be
someone known to you as me and I will bet my life you want the same. So come
and sing a simple song of freedom.

GROSS: You know, this song that we heard the demo of, "Simple Song of
Freedom," his actual studio version of that wasn't released until after his
death.

Mr. VENET: Yes, yes.

GROSS: And there's--yeah, go ahead.

Mr. VENET: No, it just--there are a lot of things on tape that weren't
released during his lifetime. He just felt sometimes there was--he wasn't
ready to release it. And he had so much he wanted to do, he was afraid to
release a lot of things that might hurt his schedule. And he was a man racing
against time, I promise you.

GROSS: We're listening to a 1996 interview with the late Nick Venet, who was
Bobby Darin's close friend and producer. We'll continue the interview after
our break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. DARIN: (Singing) Living for you is easy living. It's easy to live when
you're in love, and I'm so in love. There's nothing, life with you. I never
regret the years I'm giving; they're easy to give when you're in love, and...

GROSS: It's '60s music week on FRESH AIR. Let's get back to our interview
about Bobby Darin with his close friend and producer Nick Venet. The
interview was recorded in 1996, two years before Venet's death. When we
spoke, Venet had just co-produced a Bobby Darin boxed set.

He died of a heart condition. How long was he aware that he had a heart
condition? Did he always know that?

Mr. VENET: Yes, he did. He knew that from--when he was a small kid, when he
was in his--when he was eight or nine years old, he understood that. He also
understood he wasn't going to make it to 21. And then he--then the new
diagnosis said 30. We're the exact age and he passed away at 36, 37. He
outlived the sentences they gave him of how long he was going to live, but he
also knew that he had pressed his luck. We did a lot of gambling. We loved
Las Vegas. And he used to say, `I'm playing it like it lays.' Towards the
end there he used to say, `Boy, I'm pressing my luck, but I'm going to double
up.' And that was his phrase all the time. He said, `We'll go in the studio;
I'm going to double up and see if I can do an album while I still have the
energy.' He was wearing down towards the end.

GROSS: You co-produced the new box set of Bobby Darin's work, which is
divided into his rock work, his pop work and his folk and country. What was
it like for you to sit down and listen back to all of this?

Mr. VENET: It was tough. It was tough. The mistakes were bigger. The best
parts were better. And it's always tough going back. Darin--we shared a lot
of philosophy. I know that Darin never grew old. Not because he died young.
If he was alive today, he still would not be old. Darin was not an old
person. He never--he would have--he was young. He would have been young now.
And going back over these things, you see the amount of time in years and the
places--it's very difficult to do a box set. I've worked with other box sets
from people I've worked with, but this one was the toughest because we had put
so much time and space between all the songs. We were everywhere--New York,
Nashville, Chicago, LA, Las Vegas, Miami. It was one of those times when this
country was on the move. TV was not the king that it is today, nor the glass
breast it is today. And there was more entertainment out there.

GROSS: I'd like to close with a song--and I'm going to let you pick this one.
I'd like you to pick and to introduce a song that you particularly love or
that has special significance for you.

Mr. VENET: I'd like to play "Beyond The Sea."

GROSS: And why do you want to choose this?

Mr. VENET: Darin would go up to Pfeiffer Beach all the time and Big Sur. And
that's where he did his best thinking towards the end. And he would whistle
"Beyond The Sea" on the beach and I'd walk, oh, a quarter of a mile behind him
because he wanted me to see how the sounds sounded when the wind brought it
back. He was still planning on recording a new version of "Beyond The Sea" at
Pfeiffer Beach. It just means a lot.

GROSS: Nick Venet, thank you so much for talking with us.

Mr. VENET: Thank you.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. DARIN: (Singing) Somewhere beyond the sea, somewhere, waiting for me, my
lover stands on golden sands and watches the ships that go sailing. Somewhere
beyond the sea, she's there, watching for me. If I could fly like birds on
high, then straight to her arms I'd go sailing. It's far beyond the stars,
dear, beyond the moon. I know beyond a doubt my heart will lead me there
soon. We'll meet beyond the shore. We'll kiss just as before. Happy we'll
be beyond the sea. And never again I'll go sailing.

GROSS: Our interview with Nick Venet was recorded in 1996 after the release
of a Bobby Darin box set. Venet died of cancer in 1998 at the age of 61. Our
'60s music series continues tomorrow.

(Credits)

GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. DARIN: (Singing) I know...
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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