Terry Melcher Remembered HEAR
It was in the early 1960s when I found myself sitting at a baby grand piano in a beautiful but unfamiliar home in Beverly Hills going over some new songs I'd written. I recall being nervous as I played because I couldn't help but realize somewhere nearby was Doris Day, one of the most popular entertainers in the country at the time. Just like a million other guys, I had a crush on the lady and was fearful that at any moment she might choose to speak to me.
Actually, the reason I was there was not because of Doris Day, but because of her young son, Terry Melcher, whom I'd met a few days before. I had recently been discharged from serving a two year stint in the Army and was trying to get back in the music business when a mutual friend introduced us. Terry seemed impressed by the fact that, during the late 1950's, I had been lucky enough to have some success as a songwriter, having my songs recorded by popular stars of the time such as Russell Arms, Jimmy Darren, Ritchie Valens, Yvonne De Carlo, and Gail Robbins, among others.
Because of my past success and our mutual interest in the music business, Terry and I hit it off almost immediately. He was good looking, rather tall with light skin and looked like a typical Southern California surfer. He also struck me as being very mature for his 18 years and, although I was about seven years older, we seemed to enjoy a compatible sense of humor as well as our passion for music. After we chatted for a while about the popular songs of the day, he asked me if I'd come over to his house so we could practice singing some of my songs and hang out together. I was happy to accept his invitation.
A few days later we were in Terry's den, sitting at his piano and going over some of my material. It didn't take me long to recognize he had a very good ear for music. He would easily harmonize to my singing and seemed to have near perfect pitch. Up to that time we were just fooling around but then I asked him if he ever thought about recording as a vocalist. He seemed to be excited at the suggestion and, after a moments pause, he said he liked the idea of performing on a record. He immediately added he'd be glad to finance it and, since he knew I had already done some independent record producing, asked if I would handle the production.
The next day I hired my friend Jack Nitzsche as my arranger and asked him to call my favorite studio musicians to play the background, including Hal Blain, Leon Russell, Carol Kaye, and Glen Campbell. I then booked a three hour session with Stan Ross at Gold Star recording studios where I produced almost all my records. It was just that easy. Terry and I had selected a song of mine to record entitled "That's All I Want". It was an upbeat rock tune that had a powerful built-in arrangement for a back-up vocal group. Jack also liked the song and did a great horn arrangement that added immensely to the final result. The basic sound track started out with a strong combination of horns and voices and then settled into a driving drumbeat. As I recall, Jack's wife Gracia was one of the female background singers as well as Darlene Love and a couple of other friends. There just seemed to be so much talent around in those days.
Once we finished recording the background music and after the musicians left, I began rehearsing Terry on getting the vocal just right while Stan managed the engineering. Terry would sing and the background voices would answer and, in a wonderful way, it all seemed to come together. However, Stan and I were not satisfied with the way Terry's voice was recording. We kept trying different equalizing, reverb and echo combinations but nothing worked. Then, by some stroke of good fortune, Lee Hazlewood happened to come into the booth. Lee was a very talented producer who I had known since the very beginning of my career. He suggested we switch the microphone to what was called a 44 Mike and that did the trick. It gave Terry's voice a mellower and more intimate sound.
Terry sounded great after that, reminding me of Ricky Nelson a little, but more powerful. It was both soulful yet had a Top 40 Pop feeling at the same time. It didn't take but a couple of tries to get the final vocal added and wrap up the session. We were all excited about the results and I could tell Terry couldn't wait to get home and play the vinyl acetate copy I gave him over the phone for some of his friends. The next day I waited anxiously to hear from him, knowing he would play it for his folks as well. It was Terry's father who finally called me.
Terry's dad's name was Marty Melcher and he was a well known business man who managed his wife's career and produced some of her movies. We set a time to get together and the following day he drove over to my house and said he wanted to go to the record companies and sell Terry's new record. I told him we needed to make an appointment to do that. "Just get in the car," was his reply, and off we went. Twenty minutes later, we were inside Capitol Records and, before I knew it we were on the top floor and Mr. Melcher was talking to the head of the company. I waited nervously in the outer office. It wasn't long before he came out not saying a word and looking a little flustered, so I quietly just followed him into the elevator. Apparently, he was turned down at Capitol but decided on another way to sell the record. The next time I heard from Terry he informed me that he had been signed to Columbia Records as an artist. I had a feeling it was not coincidental that his mother was probably their most successful performer at the time.
A few weeks later Columbia scheduled a session at United Recorders for me to produce Terry on another of my songs entitled "I Waited." The session took place at night and, besides the engineer and me, a couple of executives from Columbia records sat in the booth apparently to oversee everything. A few days before the session, Jack Nitzche told me he had a few new ideas he wanted to try out. I trusted his talent so implicitly that I simply replied "Go for it". Now I was looking forward to hearing the results of my confidence in him. His arrangement featured an unusual drumbeat at the beginning combining the snare with the tympani. He then added sustained voices where Terry was scheduled to begin singing. The horns began to come in at the start of the second verse and then just kept building up to an exciting climax at the end.
Terry was dressed casually that night as usual, wearing a pull over sweater with a pair of denim jeans and some loafer shoes as he paced nervously just outside the recording studio in the hallway. While I was working on the background track, I knew he could overhear everything that was going on from there and I guess he just felt more comfortable being by himself. When I finally went out to get him, he was munching on part of a pizza he had ordered so I told him to put it away until after his vocal was over. Once the musicians left and he started singing, he settled down and once again displayed his versatility as he added his vocal touches to the melody. Afterward, I helped Terry finish the pizza outside in my car. He seemed to feel confident about how the session went and I couldn't have been more pleased about the entire session. I don't remember hearing much about the recording after it was finished and released by Columbia. I'm pretty sure it sold a bit but I think being released on a major label was not the appropriate vehicle at that time. I'm sure it would have had a better chance of succeeding on a label like Rendezvous or Challenge or Smash or some other smaller label which was better equipped for promoting Top 40 material. I never spent much time being concerned about a record once it was finished. I was always writing and thinking what I could do to try to promote my next production. After all, this was my part of the business - producing the product. I made the product and then turned it over to the people in charge of marketing it.
That might have been the end of the story except that Columbia ended up hiring Terry as a record producer. For months we hung out together at his new office, practicing songs and thinking up ideas for future projects. I remember noticing when Terry would receive his pay checks from the front office, he would simply store them in his desk drawer. Since I looked forward to any check that came my way at the time, I was fascinated by the fact he didn't need the money and would just let it pile up before banking it. Those were fun days and sometimes we would go for lunch at this little BBQ place a few blocks from the studio. I passed by the other day and took this photo. I was surprised to see it was still there.
Eventually Terry and I went our separate ways and he went on to become one of the most successful producers, songwriters and vocalists of the decade. Although we lost touch through the years, I continued to keep track of his career and was very sad and shocked to hear about his premature death in November of 2006. However, his passing recalled those days of Terry's first steps into popular music history and the time we shared together making his first record over forty years ago.