An interview with Ken Mansfield
Ken Mansfield produced Claudine Longet's Let's Spend the Night Together album, and was an executive at MGM Records (the distributor of Andy Williams' Barnaby label) from 1971 to 1973. His other production credits include hits by Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter. Otherwise, he's most famous for being the former general manager of Apple Records' U.S. division. His autobiography, The Beatles, The Bible, and Bodega Bay, was published in 2000. Find out more about Mansfield at his website.
He graciously agreed to a phone interview, and the following dialogue occurred on April 18, 2002.
EB: Do you know anything about the Longet albums which surrounded Let's Spend the Night Together, or just that one?
KM: Just that one. That's the only one I was involved with.
EB: But didn't I read that you worked for MGM for a few years?
KM: Right...but we didn't do any albums with her on MGM. What we did was we moved Barnaby's distribution over to MGM. So, her album ended up being distributed through MGM, and not CBS.
EB: Right. We've Only Just Begun is on CBS, and Let's Spend the Night Together is through MGM.
EB: Well, I guess you don't know, but the album I'm really curious about is Sugar Me, a collection of old outtakes which didn't come out until the '90s. Do you know anything about that one?
KM: I've never even heard of it!
EB: Huh. It's supposedly an album that was recorded after Let's Spend the Night Together, and was scrapped. And then it came out during the '90s on some Japanese label.
KM: What label had it been on, in the first place?
EB: Well, it was never released in the first place. Allegedly, it was supposed to be on Barnaby, and then it was discarded and not released at all until the '90s, when someone uncovered it.
KM: I've never even heard about that one. I'm surprised that they went ahead and even did another one, because Barnaby was kind of phasing out at that time, I thought. After I left, I don't think the record label did much.
EB: No? I got the impression that it was going pretty well through, oh, 1977 or so.
KM: Well, when did I leave? When was I there? I can't remember. We had that one big record, "Everything Is Beautiful," and we were having hits with Doyle Holly as a country artist. Hmm...I can't remember the years. Well, let's see. Oh, I know what it was. I left there in May of '73.
EB: Yes, from what I was reading, I got the impression that Ray Stevens was kinda carrying the label.
KM: Yeah, absolutely. And Ray was managed by Andy Williams' brother Don.
EB: And I know there were two Jimmy Buffett albums, but were those weak sellers originally?
KM: Well, I ran the label from '71 to '73. For two years. And Buffett wasn't on the label, then. I don't know if we had any catalog on him then, either.
EB: I read that there was one album in 1970, and another one which was recorded the next year. But it wasn't released until about five years later, because the label supposedly misplaced the tapes?
KM: Well, see, I was there then, and I never even heard about that. [laugh] That's pretty interesting. I don't know anything about that.
EB: Weird stuff that I found on the Web....
KM: Ahh, yeah!
EB: Well, what do you remember about making the Let's Spend the Night Together album?
KM: Well, the whole concept of the album was to do something really different with her, because she had this reputation for just doing these romantic little songs. We really wanted to make her more contemporary, so the concept of the album was to take well-known songwriters and match her up with them. So, if you notice, basically every song on there was by a hot songwriter, whether it was Leonard Cohen, the Rolling Stones or whoever. It was just taking unusual material, and putting her voice with it. And then putting highly produced, synthesized, more contemporary sounds around her.
EB: But aren't all her albums collections of contemporary hits? She always did songs which someone else had already made famous....
KM: Yeah, but she would do songs which weren't out of the rock genre as much. She would do songs more in the Andy Williams/Al Martino/Frank Sinatra style...she would draw more on that kind of thing. At least, that's what I remember. So we were trying to do, you know, Leonard Cohen, the Rolling Stones...umm, gosh, do you have the titles there before you?
EB: Yeah. There's Brian Wilson, Paul McCartney, Leonard Cohen, Kris Kristofferson, Mickey Newbury, Graham Nash....
KM: Yeah. See, that was the whole concept. You're reading off a list of really contemporary songwriters, people really known for being songwriters.
EB: Was there supposed to be a "sleep" motif?
KM: How's that?
EB: Well, it has this prologue and epilogue which you co-wrote called "While You're Sleeping," and then there's "Wake Up to Me Gentle," and "Sleep Song," and "Let's Spend the Night Together"...was there supposed to be some kind of sleep theme?
KM: [laugh] No, that just happened! That's very funny. I never even thought about that.
EB: Huh! That's interesting.
KM: Yeah, that's ironic. We did get a letter from a lady who said that when she bought the album, she put it in her plant shop. She had a shop that sold plants and flowers, and they grew incredibly much better if she left that album on all the time. [laugh]
EB: I notice Larry Carlton and Tom Scott in the musician credits. Were they mostly unknown, then?
KM: Basically, at that point, they were unknown outside of the recording scene. They were just the best session players around. Do you have a list of the players on there?
KM: OK. Because there was Larry Carlton...and who else was on there?
EB: Well, Joe Osborn is on it...and, oh, Paul Parrish, Dick Rosmini, Dann Lottermoser...I don't know most of these names. Larry Brown, John Guerin, Steve La Fever....
KM: Mm-hmm. Johnny Guerin was [George] Shearing's drummer. All these people were the hot young session players in those days.
EB: Most of her albums don't list musicians, so this is kind of a rarity.
KM: Yeah. It was really trying to put her into a songwriter, contemporary-musician style. More concept...really having a specific concept, to be kind of a love album with contemporary material.
EB: The artwork is by Dean Torrence...is that right? Of Jan & Dean?
KM: Yeah. Of Jan & Dean. At that time, he was the hot graphics company in town. So, that was another thing: bringing in someone really contemporary to do that. Dean Torrence was doing all the really hip covers in those days.
EB: So he wasn't really a personal friend of hers.
KM: Not at all. In fact, I brought him in. I had him do projects for me before.
EB: Huh. I never knew his career had that phase. Can you name any famous albums which he did?
KM: No, I can't think of them. All I know is that he was really one of the sought-after artists. The hot companies in those days were Camouflage and Dean Torrence, and there was a guy named Barry somebody. These were the ones that were doing a lot of the hot album covers.
EB: How would you describe her attitude toward making that album? Was she just "Whatever you say," or did she have her own ideas...?
KM: Once the concept was explained, she came into the studio and basically said, "I'm here to work." She had no ego or no qualms. She would work 12 hours, if needed. If something wasn't right and I didn't like it, she wouldn't defend it and say "Yes, it was." She really trusted the musicians, the arranger and the producer, and she was there to work. She was really a great artist to work with, in terms of her studio attitude and general demeanor as well as her own personal excitement about it. She was very much into it, and she was very much into being the singer, and letting everybody else do what they do. And she was there to do what she had to do.
EB: Did she require a lot of takes?
KM: Yeah. A lot. [laugh] The thing about it was, she knew it was going to be like that. So she didn't get defensive about it. She said, "This may take some time, but I'm here to do it if you're willing to hang in there with me." So, that made it easier. Sometimes you have an artist who really needs a lot of takes, but they get funny about it like they're being insulted. And she had a hard voice to record, because it doesn't register very high on the meter. It was a really hard voice to have stand out above the tracks.
EB: Yeah, that's something I wondered about...the problem of having a densely arranged album with such a soft singer on top.
KM: Yeah, it was a real problem.
EB: I know you've produced some Waylon Jennings. What were some other major records which you produced?
KM: Well, I did the Are You Ready for the Country? album for Waylon, which in 1977, Record World named as the #1 country album of the year. I think it went to #1 three different times that year. I did "We Had It All" off the Honky-Tonk Heroes album, which was the single off that album. I produced "Amanda" for Waylon, which was a #1 record. I produced Jessi Colter's hits "I'm Not Lisa" and "What's Happened to Blue Eyes." And I produced the Outlaws, Tompall and stuff from the Waylon & Willie album....
EB: Did you say "Tom Paul"?
KM: Tompall Glaser. He was one of the four Outlaws. Waylon, Willie, Tompall and Jessi were the Outlaws.
EB: OK. And you produced Nick Gilder, later?
KM: Nick Gilder, right. He had a #1 record with "Hot Child in the City."
EB: Was that yours or someone else's?
KM: No, that was from the album before me. And then I produced David Cassidy, and Don Ho....
EB: Don Ho! Wow.
KM: Yeah. And of course the Hager Twins, who were on Hee Haw at the time. I had quite a few hits with Doyle Holly, who was from Buck Owens' band. I had quite a few country hits with him, including the first hit on Queen of the Silver Dollar. And then I got a Grammy for a gospel album I did with the Gaither Vocal Band.
EB: Wow. Did Claudine Longet ever tour, or did she just perform on TV?
KM: Just TV. I don't think she ever did any live shows. I never got the impression she was really interested in that, either.
EB: So, as far as you know, she never did a full concert in her whole career?
KM: That, I don't know. I know that in the two years that I was president of her label, I don't remember her doing one show.
EB: How would you describe the sales of Let's Spend the Night Together?
KM: [chuckle] Well...I guess "weak."
EB: Did it make the top 200?
EB: Barnaby had those Ray Stevens hits, but was the album handicapped by not being a powerful label? If it had been on a larger label, would it have had a better chance to be a hit?
KM: Well, not really. Because Barnaby was distributed by CBS in the beginning, and Andy Williams was a major CBS artist and he owned Barnaby. But CBS never really gave the label much credibility. I think they more or less just kept Andy happy, but I don't think anybody ever really got behind the label or got real enthusiastic about it. But when "Everything Is Beautiful" took off, then of course they got in there and got with it.
EB: I don't really know that name, Dann Lottermoser. What else did he do?
KM: He was a young arranger that I was trying to mentor, and I brought him in to do this. He had been in a group called the Deep Six, which had a hit on Liberty Records many years ago. But he was unknown. This was a big opportunity for him, to be associated with so many big names. It was his first project as a formal arranger.
EB: Isn't it kind of strange that Longet signed with Andy Williams' label, after their marriage was essentially over?
KM: Well, they had a great relationship. Even though the marriage was over, they had a friendship. They were very involved with each other, and with the kids. And I happened to be really good friends with both of them. They just got along well. They were very much in communication. She was around a lot. He was around a lot. They had a very good relationship, even though they were divorced.
EB: Well, actually, they were just separated at that time.
KM: Separated, I mean. Yeah.
EB: Did she choose to leave A&M, or was she dropped?
KM: That, I don't know, because that was before me. I don't even have a clue on that. You could even say "Or because Andy had his label and her contract was up, did he steal her away from the label?" That's one of the possibilities, too. I don't have a lot of information, because while I was there, my time was basically involved with running the label and producing her album.
EB: What do you remember about the recording sessions? Was there any vivid incident you remember?
KM: Only the fact that she was always "up." She made it fun. She was a really nice person. She was really good to work with, because we always had a good time. The musicians were always knocked out that they were in the studio with Claudine, because she was, you know, this really sexy, pretty girl. So, everything was always happy. She made it that way. She was very kind to everybody, and she would go out of her way for the go-fers and the guys who would set up the mikes and stuff. She would always make sure she would say something to them to make them blush. She would just be very attentive to everybody. She genuinely liked people, and just was one of these people that was really fun to be around.
Oh, and about "While You're Sleeping," if you want some more information on that...we had a very expensive session set up one night for Claudine's album, and something happened such that I was sitting there with the musicians for three hours, with nothing to record. It was Larry Carlton and those guys. And Danny and I turned to each other and said, "Well, we gotta pay these guys for three hours," so we just wrote "While You're Sleeping" on the spot. That whole thing was done in one session, with all these musicians, and we wrote the song from scratch. We just started humming a melody to each other, and Danny and I wrote that thing together and did it, because we would have to pay the musicians anyway. And it really is a pretty song. I mean, a pretty melody and a nice recording. So we decided to use it as the epilogue and prologue on the album.
EB: Are the prologue and epilogue identical?
KM: Oh yeah, uh-huh. It just seemed like a nice way to come in and out of the album.
EB: And why couldn't you record anything else that night? She wasn't there?
KM: I forget what happened. We didn't get the charts there, or whatever that session was based on. It could have been a solo musician we were going to do something special with, or maybe we got it all done and had three more hours and had to pay for it anyway. But anyway, we had three hours that we had to pay for, and didn't have anything to cut.
EB: And all this was done in Hollywood, right?
KM: Right. It was done at Hollywood Sound Recorders, on Selma Avenue.
EB: Is that still around?
KM: Nah. [Actually, it still exists - EB]
EB: Oh, I know what I wanted to ask...did she do any alternate-language songs, while you were with her?
KM: No, unh-uh.
EB: I recently discovered she had done a Spanish single for the previous album, which I had never heard of before. It was really odd to find.
KM: Huh. Because she could do the French ones, obviously. But that sounds like something which came out of the A&M experience, because they....
EB: No, that was for the Barnaby/CBS album.
KM: Huh. Well, I don't know.
EB: But you never recorded a foreign-language track?
KM: No, unh-uh. Nope.
EB: Do you remember the centerfold of this album?
EB: What were we supposed to take from that? [laugh]
KM: Was that the one with a blanket on it, or a sheet or something?
EB: She's picking up kelp on the beach, and putting on this sort of exaggerated "mopey-face."
KM: Oh gosh, I don't remember now!
EB: It's the weirdest picture. She's on the beach with a little black dog, and she has kelp in both hands like she's cleaning up or something. And then she's looking into the distance with sort of this exaggerated pout/mope on her face. It's the weirdest picture!
KM: [laugh] I'd like to see that again. I had forgot about that.
EB: And then she has all these gold necklaces on, which don't really fit the beach ambience....
KM: [laugh] That's Dean Torrence, probably. That's what he came up with. That was actually very cutting-edge in those days.
EB: Do you still talk to those people?
KM: No, it has been years. I've been out of the music business for 10 years, and I haven't been to Nashville for nine years, so I really fell out of contact with everybody there.
EB: And yet you're a little more high-profile now, because that Beatles book came out.
KM: Yeah, I know. It did bring a lot of people back into my life, and it put me out on the road again, actually.
EB: So, that sold pretty well?
KM: Yeah. It has done real well. In fact, it has been out maybe two and a half years, and just this week, it went into the top 10...I think it was #6 on Amazon.com, out of the 500 and something Beatle books that are out. So, it's still one of the top-selling Beatle books. It actually went to #1 here a couple of months ago, out of all the Beatle books. For the first time, I was selling more than the anthology. Like when the anthology was first out, I got up to #2 behind it, so I was the next best-selling Beatle book.
EB: I felt stupid, because the Beatles were practically the first band I ever liked, and yet I didn't know your name until just the last few weeks. I didn't realize you had been connected to Apple.
KM: Well, a lot of us kept ourselves really hidden as much as we could. There was a sense of wanting to, I don't know, really respect our positions and not yell "Hey, I'm with the Beatles!" So, there was a lot of us who did that.
EB: You must get pestered by Beatle freaks all the time.
KM: I do. I really do. [laugh]
EB: Oh, how did you feel when "Jealous Guy/Don't Let Me Down" showed up on the Golden Throats album? Did you hear that one?
KM: [laugh] No. On the what?
EB: You've never heard of Rhino's Golden Throats albums?
KM: No, unh-uh.
EB: Wow! Well, you know Rhino Records, right?
KM: Sure, of course.
EB: Well, they have a series of four albums they did called Golden Throats. And they were all about sort of silly, non-singing celebrities doing cover songs. You know, like the famous one which everyone loves is William Shatner doing "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds."
KM: Right. [laugh]
EB: And the albums all had a concept, and the fourth of the series was all Beatles covers. And they put "Jealous Guy/Don't Let Me Down" on there!
KM: [laugh] Oh, great.
EB: I'm surprised you didn't know that.
KM: Nah, I didn't know. That's very funny. I wonder if I got a producer credit on there?
EB: Yes, you do. And it also credits Dann Lottermoser as the arranger.
KM: OK, great.
EB: And there are also a few paragraphs written about the song...which are predictably derisive. [laugh]
KM: Yeah, right. OK...cool.
EB: Was it your idea to make that a medley?
KM: Yes, absolutely.
EB: What inspired that?
KM: I love to do medleys! I had done one with Don Ho which was real interesting, too. He wanted to do a country album, so I did a country album with him. And we did a medley of three standard country songs. I don't know, it's just fun.
EB: All right...well, I guess that's about all I wanted to ask you.
KM: OK...I hope it helps!