by Jose Ruiz
Interview with
Harvey Shield

The most recent interview introduced us to Harvey Shield, a composer, singer and songwriter since the early 1960’s, when he was a drummer and singer in the British band Episode Six, forerunner of rock icons Deep Purple.  The band performed in “beat” clubs all over  England and in   Germany  and on TV shows such as the legendary “Ready, Steady, Go.” In the 1970’s,  Harvey immigrated to the  United States, eventually settling in  Los Angeles, where he became a solo recording artist on Atlantic Records. His ballad “The Way I Feel Tonight” became an international hit for The Bay City Rollers. His recording and performing career continues as a member of The Mighty Echoes, an award-winning a capella quartet, which specializes in the doo-wop sound of the ‘50s and ‘60s and now    Harvey  will be involved in the upcoming Thousand Oaks Festival of Musicals. The Festival invites writers and composers from all over the continent to submit works that are then rated by a panel of judges. Out of these, a few are chosen to debut in the Festival through staged readings by local actors. The festival brings the writers and composers to hear their work before a live audience and receive feedback as they tailor their work toward a full production. 

RP – We understand that you will be participating in the festival and are a major part of it.  

HS – Well, I’m the composer of the songs for the show MACCABEAT –

 RP -  And you are collaborating with Richard Jarboe – did I pronounce it right?

 HS – Yes

 RP – And there’s another person there –

 HS - Chayim Ben Za – the mysterious Chayim Ben Za

 RP – Right – I was hesitant to tackle his name.  He wrote the book and the lyrics

 HS – He wrote the book and adapted the lyrics.

 RP – I see – and so we’re looking at a comedy, or what type of performance will this be?

HS    - Well, it is a musical comedy.  It’s a Jewish themed show – it’s the story of Hanukah – sort of.  It’s like a romp through the Holy Land before the Romans.

 RP – Before the Romans?  That takes you way back, doesn’t it?

 HS -  Yes it does.  It’s, let’s say, between Alexander the Great and the Romans. -  But I’m not sure of that exact date.

 RP – And you wrote the music for that?

 HS – Yes.

 RP – So how does one approach writing music between Alexander the Great and the Romans?

 HS – Well, first of all I should say that this whole Maccabeat story is quite unique.  The songs that Richard and I wrote were originally in another show – that show was called Hamelin.

 RP – That was the show you did in Silverlake years ago.

 HS – Yes!  And you could easily ask your question about that show, because that was set in the 13th century. 

 RP - I see

 HS – But for that show, although the action is set long ago, the language of the characters and the humor is such as if it were happening in the present day.

 RP – Right

 HS – So it’s not as though the music reflects the times. If one were doing a complete serious show set long ago, then one might try to recapture the sounds – not that we know exactly what those sounds might have been like.

RP –Exactly

 HS – But really, we’re doing a comedy that has modern music set in ancient times.

 RP – Sounds like fun!

 HS – It is

 RP – I’ve been reading a little about you and learned that you have a doowop group.

 HS – Yes I do.  We’re called the Mighty Echoes and we’ve been doing it for twenty years.  We do television – we do movies – we do recordings.

RP – You’re quite busy.

 HS – I’m getting a lot of attention lately from my daughter’s friends because we were just on a TV show called “The Suite Life of Zack and Cody” .  That’s a popular Disney Channel show and I have all these twelve and thirteen year old girls recognizing me.

 RP – That’s wonderful!

 HS –Yeah it is- it’s fun!

 RP – Have you had a chance to meet Jim Geoghan?

 HS – Yes - I know Jim!

 RP – I interviewed him about six months ago.  If you look at the website interview you’ll find our conversation with him.

 HS – Oh great!  I know Jim quite well.  Actually, the Mighty Echoes first worked with him on a show called “Family Matters” and our daughters go to the same school!

 RP – You also worked on some episodes of the TV show Murphy Brown?

 HS – Yes – that was also with the Mighty Echoes.  We appeared on several episodes with Candice Bergen and the rest of the group – and that was quite fun.

 RP – You remember the actor who played Frank Fontana – Joe Regalbuto –

 HS – A very nice man.

 RP – I’m happy to say that you will also find an interview with him in our website. I spoke with him early in the year when he was directing Romeo and Juliet.

 HS – He’s a really good guy –

 RP – By the way, Ray Bradbury is also there –

 HS – Then I’m truly honored (laughing)

 RS – It sounds like this is going to be a terrific presentation, but you’re only there a couple of days.

 HS – The show in Thousand Oaks is just staged readings and I believe it’s going to be only with a piano conductor.  It’s just two shows on Sunday.  This is a prelude to the end of September where we will have a full production at the New York Theatre Festival.

 RP -  That sounds very exciting

 HS – It is. That’s going to happen at the Acorn Theatre in New York City and that will be taking place between September 24 and October 6 of this year.

 RP – So that’s already here – like next month already?

 HS – It is.  It gives me an opportunity to see how the music is jelling with the new lyrics – and see if there’s any little music cues that don’t sound quite right and still gives a little time to make adjustments and alterations before the full production.

 RP – I imagine that working on a staged reading is quite different than the full blown version.

 HS – It is different.  In the reading it’s very minimal props – minimal costumes.  You try to get an impression of what the show is going to be, but you really can’t do that much.  I know the actors work very hard – I’m not sure if they had a week or two weeks to learn it, but they have a very short period to learn the music and learn their lines, and at the staged reading they may not have learned it completely, which is why they have their scripts with them in case they need them.

 RP - Right

 HS - Of course the other big difference is that they’re only working with a piano conductor rather than a full band.  But I think that if the show works, you still understand it – you still get it.

 RP – Are you the type of person who does hundreds of re-writes before the final draft?

 HS – Not really.  I’m very instinctive – instinctual composer.  I get ideas – I work with my ideas and once I have something I like, certainly I try to hone it to make it as good as it can be.  Once I’m satisfied with it, I don’t see the necessity to keep tweaking and tweaking.  However, if I hear something that doesn’t right that’s a different matter.

 RP – Of course, definitely. – I was reading that at one time you were part of the “beat generation”

 HS – Yeah – (chuckling) I was.  I have to tell you, it seems like only yesterday.

 RP – Does it really?

 HS – Yeah – absolutely. In fact just the other day I got a call from my friend, Roger Glover from Deep Purple.  They were playing here in Los Angeles last weekend, and we started talking about the old times and how wonderful they were.  I was fifteen years old when he came up to me in the corridor at school and invited me to start a band.  Actually in those days they called it “groups”

 RP – So you started a “group”.  Was that Episode Six?

 HS - That was Episode Six.

 RP - Then you went on to Deep Purple?

 HS – Well, actually I didn’t go on to Deep Purple.  Roger Glover and Ian Gillen who were bass player and singer respectively joined Deep Purple in 1969. By that time I had already left on my own musical odyssey, which really took me around the world until I arrived in the United States in 1975.

 RP –  One thing that I always like to ask of artists is this – when did you first discover that music was going to be your life?

 HS – Well – I think I was destined to do it.  I obviously was.  I’ve always loved it.  I think I was tapping with my knife and fork as long as I can remember.

 RP – Really

 HS -  Absolutely – absolutely.  When I was about 15 I was already playing the drums.  I was originally a drummer.  Then I started hearing artists like Ray Charles, like Sam Cooke and I loved it so much I just wanted to emulate them. Obviously I wasn’t alone in that – every other musician in Great Britain   wanted the same thing and  I was among them. (laughing)

 And of course, I played music through high school and when I left high school in 1965 – at that time in England being a musician was a very viable profession – because it was all happening.

 RP – Definitely.  So you are a trained musician as opposed to self taught>

 HS – I have studied – but I am mainly self taught.  Most of my training has been pretty much “on the job” training, even with my composition and arranging.  You know that they have that expression - “necessity is the mother of invention”?

 RP – Oh yes – I know that well.

 HS – Whenever I’ve come up with a project that I’m not familiar with, I’ve tried to learn the techniques and list to a lot of good people who do it well and I’ve tried to learn from them and develop my own technique.

RP – So after the drums, what instrument came next?

 HS – After that I learned to play guitar.  I did study that and I play pretty good guitar but I’m a terrible pianist.

 RP – Oh really?

 HS – I play it very much like a drummer.  I don’t mean terrible in a self deprecating way.  I mean that I have a very good understanding of harmony and chords and I can accompany myself on the piano with chords and harmony but I don’t have good finger dexterity.

 RP – Guess that kind of comes in handy when you play the piano, doesn’t it?

 HS – Oh, absolutely!  I couldn’t imagine composing without it, and even though I can’t necessarily play all the notes as fast as I would like to,  I can write them down, and of course, in this era of music software programs, there’s a lot of aids out there to help somebody like me, who isn’t as proficient a pianist as he’d like to be.

 RP – Do you do most of your composing at the piano – or some other instrument?

 HS – I think it’s fifty/fifty between the guitar and the piano.

 RP – I’ve heard your group, the Mighty Echoes and you guys have some wonderful arrangements.  Who does them?

 

 HS – Some of the arrangements we do ourselves.  We also have an arranger in Sacramento .  His name is Tommy Dunbar and very often he’ll come up with a basic four part arrangement for us and we start rehearsing it we’ll embellish it and give it finesse and make it special.  

RP – You know, I grew up around the same time you did, so some of the songs your group does are my contemporaries.

 HS – Some of those songs are part of the national consciousness.

 RP – Oh yes

 HS – When we perform, people just sort of sing along with the words -  they don’t even know they know the words.  And the other amazing thing we find about our group is that we absolutely appeal to all ages – from people that are four years old to eighty four years old.  Kids especially!  There just seems to be something about performing without musical instruments - - - they really dig it!

RP – I’ve heard several tracks of your albums on the web site but I did not have a chance to hear your take on “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”.  I met The Tokens a few years back and as you know “The Lion - - - “ was their song.

 

HS – Well, in a manner of speaking that was their song. It was their hit song.

 RP – Right, it was their hit song, but they didn’t write it.

 HS – I don’t know if you follow the news of last year when the actual writer of the song who wrote the song in the 1930’s and never made a penny –

 RP – I heard something about it.  

 

HS – His name was Solomon Linda and finally when the movie The Lion King played in South Africa his descendants got a lawyer and now they’re actually making a little bit of money, and I think that’s a most wonderful thing.

 RP – It’s about time!

 HS – It about time -

RP – The Tokens became famous with it – I’m wondering how your group did it – did you follow the same style?

 HS – We actually know the original version and we also knew The Weavers version, which preceded The Tokens.  But The Tokens have the most recognizable version – and really we do a pretty close version to The Tokens.  We haven’t tried to do too much new with that song.

 RP – I wonder how much new could be done with it.

 HS – Well, that’s it.  What would be the point?  Every loves it as it is.  

 

RP – Since you’ll be in New York next month, are you guys still working as a group? How do you handle that?

 HS – Oh yes!  One of the wonderful things about the Mighty Echoes and one of the reasons we’ve stayed together for twenty years is because we allow ourselves to work on our projects.  We’re not a group that’s constantly touring – we’re not that kind of group.  I’m only going to be in New York about a week.  So we just won’t work that week.

RP – That’s great.  Wouldn’t it be neat if you just worked one week and then took the rest of the year off to do music?

 HS – Yes,  

RP – So, after Maccabeat, do you have any new projects in the works?

 HS – Yes – without going into detail I’m working on a new musical. The title is Havana – and it’s given me an opportunity to write more Latin style music.

 RP –Really –

 HS – I’ve been working with a conga player from Puerto Rico and I have a co-writer with whom I’m developing that show.  Hopefully we’ll be putting it up some time next year.  It’s a musical set in a night club in Havana , at the end of the Castro era.  Let’s just say that!

 RP – Oh my goodness – that sounds fascinating.  When is that going to be?

 HS – I would say we’re about halfway through that.  That’s something I’ve developed through the Silverlake Theatre Children’s Group.  They have an  incredibly visionary director named Broderick Miller, and Mr. Miller and I have been working on that show.  We actually did a version of that show early this year with the kids in the group, and we were so pleased with the results that we decided to continue and adapt it for the adult legit stage.

 RP – Something to look forward to.  Let me ask this before we wrap.  Is there anything that I may not have covered that you feel is important?

 HS -  The only thing is that this is a unique project and we wrote most of these songs about twenty years ago for Hamlin and when Hamlin closed nothing much happened to the songs.  But then a producer from Kansas City , Mark Edelman called.  I don’t know how; somebody must have sent him the music (it might have been me).  He loved the music – and he had the vision of doing this musical about Hanukah with these songs.  He chased my partner Richard and myself for years trying to persuade us to do this – and we always said “no”.

 We said know at every turn, but finally about two years ago he introduced us to the writer, Chayim Ben Za and he gave us the ideas for the new lyrics and what the story would be – so we thought about it and finally said, “OK Let’s go for it!”  And I have to say, I’m very pleased about it. I really think it’s a unique situation.  I can’t recall any show that has done that before.  Obviously, it wouldn’t happen with a hit show, because obviously that would have been living on its own merit.  But nobody is really that familiar with the songs from Hamlin and I can’t really say I know of a time when the songs from one show were adapted for a new show.

 RP – That’s definitely very unique.

 HS – And I feel fully qualified to write a song about Hanukah because I’ve just completed twelve years as president of our Synagogue.  I’m qualified in that regard.

 RP – I guess so!  I want to thank you for your time – It was great speaking with you and I wish you the best of success with your project.

 We chatted a bit more about music – about giving of your time for the sheer joy of it -  about the Silverlake Conservatory of Music and, as has happened so many times when interviewing someone, it becomes evident by their words and their enthusiasm  that some people are gifted – even blessed with the muse that inspires them to pursue artistic fulfillment.  More and more we learn that this pursuit is motivated by the need to find a means of self-expression and a way to share with others more than to seek monetary rewards.  Harvey Shields is obviously a man who has been given this gift and has spent much of his life sharing it with others.   The Thousand Oaks Festival of Musicals is one of the many stops along the journey for a man who clearly has found his reward in the journey itself.  Now we have been invited to share the journey by visiting the Festival.

 

 

 

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