From the age of nine I knew I wanted to be a singer and at thirteen I wrote my first song about the sinking of the Titanic. In junior high school I began singing in choral groups and continued to play the lead in my high school musicals. At sixteen I performed a solo with George Shearing at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. In 1967 I began studying classical voice with Dr. Feodor Gonzoff in Hollywood. When he wanted me to audition for the opera chorus I told him I didn’t want to sing opera. I wanted to sing my own songs.
At eighteen I was working as a receptionist at Beechwood Music Publishing in the Capitol Records building in Hollywood, California. There I met Jeffrey Comanor, a singer/songwriter under contract to Bones Howe’s publishing company, Hello There! Music. Jeffrey and I began writing and performing together and I, too, was signed with Hello There! Music. We performed in San Francisco clubs and coffee houses, polishing our act of original material which was likened to a modern day Louis Prima and Keely Smith.
Bones introduced Jeffrey and I to a young man recently relocated from the New York offices of the William Morris Agency. His name was David Geffen and he was interested in being our agent. Unfortunately, very soon after that meeting Jeffrey and I ended our professional relationship.
I continued to write independently for Hello There! and occasionally collaborated with other company writers such as Warren Zevon, whom I knew as Sandy Zevon back then. He gave me a twelve-string guitar and I began to compose on it.
The most successful of the collaborations at that time was LOOKING BACK, a lyric I wrote to Jimmy Rowles’ beautiful melody. LOOKING BACK has become a jazz classic and Johnny Mercer called it a beautiful marriage of music and lyrics. Jimmy and I continued to keep in touch up until the time of his death.
I spent time in the studio when Bones was recording certain artists. I remember Tom Waits struggling with studio musicians playing his music, saying it sounded like ‘no doze’. Listening to the Fifth Dimension record in the studio was always a pleasure while The Association often suffered with pitch problems.
One of my favorite studio memories was going with my friend Jules Colombie to hear Bill Evans and Eddie Gomez record at Fantasy Records. Bill was playing HI LILI HI LO. He must have done five takes and each was completely different from the last. What a great musical experience.
In the late sixties, early seventies many successful musicians lived in Laurel Canyon and the Hollywood hills. I was able to spend time sharing art and music with Joni Mitchell who likened my songs to forties movie themes. I thought this was a criticism until she told me that she loved forties movie themes.
I met Laura Nyro at the Hello There! Offices. Bones was recording a few of her songs with the Fifth Dimension. Laura and I shared a lunch of hamburgers and fries before she had to go back to New York. She and I were shy, brooding girls, unimpressed with success and I felt we could have been friends had we lived on the same coast.
I saw many young musicians go from poverty to riches practically overnight. With no financial guidance or internal compass to navigate the heady adulation of fame, some squandered fortunes and indulged in every excess. Same old Rock and Roll story. Looking in from the periphery, I saw what too much, too soon can do to someone’s life and in my young mind I connected fame with dissipation.
In the late sixties I composed a song entitled
THE INTERIM. Diana Ross had left the Supremes and Bones was producing four songs on her first solo album ‘Diana Ross’, the one with her as a waif on the cover. She recorded THE INTERIM on the album but the Bones Howe songs were deleted before release. As I heard it, the company felt that the material was too‘jazzy’ for her fans. Ironically, soon after, she starred in Lady Sings The Blues. Many years later, Motown released a Diana Ross compilation cd with THE INTERIM on it. They had mis-attributed my song to Jimmy Webb who had written a song entitled simply INTERIM. To add insult to injury, later still NAS and Kanye West sampled my song on STILL DREAMIN’, a featured cut on the Grammy award winning album. We are in an ongoing effort to correct the mistake.
I moved to San Francisco in 1971 and began playing my original music as a solo act in clubs around town. I was a busker in Ghirardelli Square playing for change and worked as a rhythm guitarist/vocalist in cover bands with other San Francisco musicians. All the while I continued as a staff songwriter for Hello There! and took every opportunity to play my original songs in a number of bands.
In 1973 Bones and I recorded my first album of original material entitled ALWAYS BEGINNING for Bell Records. Some wonderful musicians played on the album including Art Lande, Dennis Budimir and Ray Brown. It was nominated for Grammy’s in three categories; best new artist, best album and best female vocalist. As well as my originals the album included songs by Jeffrey Comanor and Michael Milner. My version of Jeffrey’s song LOVE MOAN has been sampled dozens of times in many parts of the world. That same year my personal life took a major leap forward. I married my husband, Paul, and we began raising our family. Forty years later we’re still together.
In the eighties I wrote primarily as a lyricist with excellent jazz musicians in the Bay Area. These collaborations allowed me to expand my musical vocabulary in ways I never could as an unschooled instrumentalist.
I recorded my second album of original material HOLD ON TO YOUR DREAMS co-written with John Rosenberg and Brian Atkinson.
Other artists have recorded my songs over the years. Kelly Garret recorded IN A QUIET WAY and Diana Krall recently recorded LOOKING BACK as a featured cut on Anthony Wilson’s album. Jimmy Rowles and his daughter Stacy did a lovely version of the song as have Jerry Brown, Carol Sloane and others. Jim and Morning Nichols have recorded several of my songs on their albums. I wrote the title lyric for Phil Klein’s album IN THE HOUR OF SHADOWS AND WHISPERS.
In the early nineties Jimmy Rowles introduced me to jazz saxophonist, Benny Wallace. Benny was working with Bones Howe on an MGM project making an updated Betty Boop
animated feature and I was called in as the lyricist. After months of work on the project it was scrapped due to studio head changes and licensing rights disagreements with the Fleischer representatives. Benny Wallace continues to perform our ballad WHERE ARE YOU?
In the new millennium I continue to collaborate with Brian Atkinson on new music. John Rosenberg and I are working on a musical based on the theft of the Mona Lisa in 1911. I have written three novels of fiction and a number of short stories and travel journals. I paint, my husband and I travel frequently and life is good.
Duo with Jeffrey Comanor, rhythm guitar. Vocals on original material in clubs and coffee houses in San Francisco.
Rhythm guitar and vocals in trio with Jay Kellum, bass and Rick Elswit, lead guitar. Cover material in clubs all over the Bay Area.
Vocals and rhythm guitar on original material in Union Street clubs. John Yu on bass.
Vocals and rhythm guitar with Otis Fuller, lead guitar. Originals and jazz standards in clubs around San Francisco and Sausalito.
Decimeister with Art Lande, keyboards. Vocals on original fusion/jazz in San Francisco and East Bay clubs.
Dis’band. Some covers and some originals in Union Street clubs. Vocals and rhythm guitar with Larry Walker, drums, Michael Milner, lead guitar and Mike Olivola, bass.
Cheryl Wells Band. Some originals and some covers. Vocals and rhythm guitar with Larry Walker, drums, Mark Wise, lead guitar and Michael Olivola, bass. Clubs in the Bay Area.
Vocals in various casuals groups.
Shake City. Dance band of all originals. Vocals with Judy Maynard, Mark Wise and Frank Cefalu. Dave Buehler, keyboards and musical director, Curt Moore, drums. Clubs around San Francisco.
Novita. Vocals. John Rosenberg, keyboards, Mark Van Wageningen,bass, Curt Moore, drums and Spencer Chin, synthesizers. Contemporary Brazilian and some originals.
From 1991 to the present I have been working as a lyricist for hire.