Having been heavily involved in the entertainment business for almost thirty years, it’s not surprising that many of the interesting people I’ve spent time with were entertainers. This column deals with three of them.
In one of my Random Anecdotes articles I described my first encounter with Johnny Cash, which was when I was taking the radio and television arts course at Ryerson in the mid 50s and had the pleasure of doing a fifteen-minute interview with him. Between the early 70s and the mid 90s I was in Cash’s company a number of times at country music functions in Nashville and had a few conversations with him. Well over six feet tall, and with the broadest shoulders I’ve ever seen, Johnny Cash was the most imposing person I ever met. When he walked into a room he immediately became the centre of attention, and what I found most interesting about this is that he was a genuinely humble man. He spoke softly, always tried to turn the conversation away from himself by, as Dale Carnegie put it, talking in terms of the other person’s interests. I don’t know how many times I heard him say, when someone called him Mr. Cash, “I’m John; Mr. Cash is my father.” He somehow combined his humility with a quiet, compelling confidence, a combination that made him amazingly charismatic. Of all the entertainers I’ve seen, none connected with an audience the way “the man in black” did. If someone listed the number of artists who said that Johnny Cash was a major influence on their careers, that list would look like a small town phone book.
I had dinner with Steve Martin twice. The first was in the early 70s at the famous Comedy Club in Los Angeles. Fred Lawrence, Anne Murray’s U.S. agent, was hoping to sign Andy Kaufman to his agency. Kaufman was playing at the Comedy Club and Fred had asked Steve, who was already a client of Fred’s, to accompany him while he checked out Kaufman’s act. Before going to dinner at the club, Fred and Steve stopped off for a drink at the Continental Hotel, which was next door to the Comedy Club on Sunset Blvd. I happened to be staying at the hotel, and when I ran into them in the lobby Fred invited me to join them for the evening. The second time was when Steve and his then lady, Bernadette Peters, were playing in Toronto. Anne (my wife, not Murray) and I joined them for dinner at the Royal York hotel. As ridiculous as this may sound, for the life of me I can’t remember how that came about. Steve Martin is an interesting man on many levels. At the time I met him with Fred Lawrence he was a writer and part-time banjo player on the Johnny Cash television show. Of course, he went on to become a very successful comedian and actor. But, what I found most interesting about him was that he loved Bluegrass music and was an incredibly talented banjo player. These days you’re more apt to find him performing with his Bluegrass band than as a stand-up comedian. And he writes most of the tunes he performs.
As Glen Campbell and Anne Murray were great friends (Glen gave Anne her first major U.S. TV exposure by having her as a regular guest on his TV show, and they recorded duets together) it’s not surprising that I was often in his company. One memorable occasion was in the fall of 1974 when Anne was playing at the Sahara (now the Sierra) in Lake Tahoe and Glen was playing at Harrah’s, which was literally across the street. Anne, her personal manager, Leonard Rambeau, his wife Caron, Anne’s husband Bill Langstroth, my wife Anne, and I were all staying in a beautiful lakeside residence that the Sahara provided for its headliners. This residence was mansion-like with maids and a chef; but back to Glen Campbell. One night, after Anne and Glen had finished their shows, we were all invited to Glen’s suite at Harrah’s for a nightcap. Glen produced a guitar and proceeded to sing every song on his new unreleased album, Reunion, all of which were written by his favourite writer, Jimmy Webb. Talk about a sneak preview! In my opinion Glen was the most multi-talented country music artist of all time. Not only was he a great singer and guitar player, he could actually play any instrument that had strings, and some that that didn’t, like the piano and bagpipes. Yes, bagpipes. I reluctantly use the past tense referring to Glen, not because he’s passed on, but because he is being ravished by Alzheimer’s disease and, unfortunately, his performing days are, over.