Studio 54 and Going Solo
I have to say, your vocals on “Sour and Sweet / Lemon in the Honey” just glisten. I’ve always loved the way you finessed that “alright alright” ad lib.
It was a very difficult song to sing. It sounds simple, sweet, lighthearted, and airy but it’s not a very easy vocal to deliver. I said let me try the “Cherchez”-style vocal and it was a good marriage. There’s a brief guitar solo breaking into the “Lemon in the Honey” portion of the song, and that’s when I filled in the spaces with “Alright alright. Hey now.” Gichy Dan was famous for that when he was in the band.
A sidebar: after we got back from LA, promoting the album, we ran into Gichy Dan. He said, “Hey, I’m hearing you on the radio.” Then he said “what a waste” before he walked away. Years later, I asked him, “Were you talking about me?” What he meant was that he wasted his opportunity. He was kicking himself in the ass, but how could he know that Savannah Band was going to be that successful? He did come back as “Gichy Dan’s Beechwood #9”, which was great.
Just as Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band topped the disco chart in October 1976, the group started a run of appearances on television programs. Audiences in middle America had probably never seen anything quite like Savannah Band before. What are your lasting impressions about performing on Dinah Shore’s talk show, Tony Orlando & Dawn, and Paul Anka’s special?
We were already in LA. This was just before we found out about the GRAMMY nomination. Dinah Shore was one of my idols. I was star struck when I met her. She had a live audience and it was a whole different dynamic than recording in the studio. I knew Sean Connery was going to be there but I never saw him until he came over with Savannah Band’s album under his arm. He was so tall and gorgeous that the album looked like a 45.
Tony Orlando brought out a real buzzard. They’re like vultures! That’s when I borrowed Susandra’s grandmother’s robe from the ’40s. That robe’s older than me! It was antique blue with flowers. I wore it with men’s pajamas and Frederick’s of Hollywood shoes with socks.
Paul Anka did it up for us. The whole gelled lens and the feel of the ’40s, and Paul Anka sitting at a table in the audience like he was a spectator, was just beautifully done. All of that was for us. At the time, they had daytime shows like Mike Douglas and Dinah Shore, but to be on somebody’s special in prime time was really big.
Savannah Band’s music became synonymous with the club scene in New York, especially Studio 54. When did you first hear about 54?
We were in LA cutting our second album when we got the news from Tommy that we were nominated for a GRAMMY as “Best New Artist” so we delayed our trip back to New York. I was watching TV, getting ready to do something or other, and the opening night of Studio 54 was on the news. You never saw footage on the news about a club opening. You never read about it in the newspapers. This was big and we were big. Honey, I couldn’t wait to get out of LA! I just wanted to go and wiggle in that club.
We finally get back to New York. We hire a limo. We all get in the limo and get to Studio 54. We jumped out of the limo. Marc Benecke was at the door in his Norma Kamali sleeping bag coat. The ropes opened. The doors opened and boom — Shangri-La! l was there every night for a month.
What distinguished Studio 54 from other clubs at that time?
All the other clubs were about the music, Studio 54 was about the aesthetics. If you were in costume, you were in. At that time they had the shirts with Qiana fabric. If you wore that? Honey, you didn’t get in. Steve Rubell would say, “You need to go home and change. You might as well leave because you’ll never get in.”
It was sad that people who weren’t wearing designer or creative clothing couldn’t get in. At the same time, they wanted the image to be V.I.P. because they had the V.I.P. area for all the celebrities but it was more than that to me. I sat with the celebrities maybe once or twice. I didn’t find that as exciting as being in the club. I would go up to the mezzanine and watch the mechanical light pillars go up and down, metallic confetti falling from the ceiling, and the spoon in the moon. When a certain song came on, the people would just rush to the dance floor. There was no contact dancing. The hustle was pretty much on its way out, but the enthusiasm and the energy was like a New Year’s Eve party every night.
I was so fascinated and enamored by it. It was just an amazing experience to see all the cultures together. It was a fusion of cultures, which described my life and my band, and my music, so I was right at home there. I used to go there alone and was never alone. I talked to everybody. I was hanging around with Richard Bernstein. He introduced me to Prince Egon von Fürstenberg, who was Diane von Fürstenberg’s husband. He was actually a prince. He was the most delightful person. I met the Dupont twins. You get to meet these people by not sitting in the VIP section.
There was another club that mimicked the Studio feel. It was called Xenon. We called it “Xerox” because the people who couldn’t get into Studio 54 went there. They were dressed up and they had good music. Xenon did develop their own identity and a lot of people preferred Xenon because it wasn’t pretentious.
Paradise Garage was the hot spot. Those people wore T-shirts and jeans and the walls were sweating. The music was pumping. Back then you just walked into a club and there were no sensors for guns and all that crap. There was nothing like that. That was unheard of. No one even thought Oh my Gosh, all these people! My life is at stake. It never crossed your mind. It was a whole different dynamic. It was all about the music, dance and fashion.
Are there certain songs or artists that you associate with Studio 54?
You mean besides me? [laughs] There were, but when you’re in the business, you really don’t know who sang what because you’re doing your own albums, one after the other. “If My Friends Could See Me Now” is one of my all-time favorites because that defined what I went through from poverty into success. I just thought about my old high school buddies if they could see me now. That song from Sweet Charity was one of my favorites to begin with and then when Linda Clifford did it, I could be in the ladies room and hear it coming on — “I’m outta here! I gotta go!” — and just hit the dance floor.
You mentioned hearing your own songs at Studio 54. How did you get your solo deal for Cory and Me?
I left Savannah Band for personal reasons. It was a sad breakup but I had to do it for self-preservation. That’s kind of the downfall of being personally involved with a member of the band. It’s unfortunate but it does happen. I went back to Tommy Mottola as Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band had already divorced from Tommy Mottola’s management company and RCA. I asked Tommy would he be interested in working together again and being my manager. Coincidentally, he was formulating his own label [New York International]. He said, “As long as you’re not going back to Savannah Band, okay let’s move forward.” I said, “There’s no way I’m going back. If they hire me to do vocals for things, I may do them or I may not, but as far as being a part of the band, that’s not happening.” He paired me with Sandy again and the rest is history … or herstory.
To me, “Single Again” is the jewel of the album. What kind of musical vision did you have for Cory and Me?
“Single Again” was my mantra. It was the first song that I did in the studio for that album so it set the tone for the rest of the songs. Sandy said, “You know what Cory? You’re here on your own for the first time. Why don’t you try this song that was on Odyssey’s album?” I was resistant to doing a song that was just released by another artist that was under the Mottola umbrella, but when I heard the lyrics and I heard the melody and we added that Savannah-type of touch to it, then I said, “I can do this. This is my mantra. I am single again. I’m out of a relationship and I’m out of a band, so I am on my own.”
It was a total release for me to do that song. I did it in two takes. At the end, it was myself and Mia Martinez singing “Living it up, living it up …” I could not stop singing that song like that because that’s what I was doing — living it up!
That album was a lot of fun. Picking the songs was a little difficult because the lyrics were not as intricate and the melodies were different from what I was used to. Acclimating myself to that was a challenge but I had free rein. I said, “Sandy I need boys, I need girls. I need this. I need that.” He gave me full control of all the vocal arrangements, lead as well as backgrounds.