Interviews

Bruce Johnston

A Beach Boy who's worked on Dorris Day's first top ten album, GT has a lovely chat with the man behind her music.


How’s the My Heart London promotion been going?

I’ve had some pretty good interviews. It’s been really fun.

When did you get here?

I flew over here yesterday. Even if My Heart doesn’t sell any more CDs, I‘m another guy that nobody’s talked to about Doris. My message is: ‘Yes, she’s a positive, incredible, talented person.’ The Beach Boys have an album coming out called Smile, but the real ‘smile’ is Doris.

My Heart is compiled from material recorded by Doris, written by yourself and Terry Melcher. How did it come about?

I honestly can’t tell you how this album came about because I had no idea until somebody phone me and told me it was going to come out. It came off of the studio storage shelves.

You weren’t involved passed the songs you wrote back in the 80s?

I wasn’t in charge and I didn’t need to be. I’m just really happy for her.

Is that why you’re in London promoting?

I knew she wouldn’t come here. Why should she? I thought, you know what, how many people in the music business that are still doing 140 to 170 music concerts a year still have a great connection with her and can come over and promote? I thought: ‘I can do this.’ It’s the least I can do for all the encouragement.

How do you feel about her breaking the record for oldest singer to achieve a UK top ten album? Did you expect this amount of success?

I figured everything she did was a top ten. I looked it up, she had seven albums between 1979 and now. The highest chart position before this was 12, this one is 9.

Is Doris being supported her core fan base or finding new fans?

I would say that it’s her core fan base.

Have you witnessed much of the attention lavished on her by gay fans?

Not in the Beach Boy world.

Who would you say is in the same league as Doris?

One of my most favourite albums in the whole world is Judy Garland: Live at Carnegie Hall, 1961. There’s someone else who is ridiculously sophisticated.

The music is very sophisticated and mellow. Did you write with an artist such as Doris or Judy in mind?

I came from a time when you wrote a song that would fit anybody that could really sing. You didn’t always tailor make it. All those great songs Doris sings have been great songs on their own. A lot of people have recorded a lot of songs in her catalogue besides her. The greatness works for somebody great.

When did Doris first record your song?

It was the late 50s. I was a young guy, I knew nothing and she recorded one of my songs, probably in 1959/61, called Falling. I was 17/18 years old and I had a Doris Day recording my song! It’s a really beautiful song; song writing’s always been ahead of singing for me because that’s where my true talent is.

How did she spur you on to keep writing?

In 1973 I never knew if I could be hanging around with Brian Wilson and Mike Love, and the greatness they had together. Brian’s melodies alone were intimidating to me. Doris said: “You can do it!” and I wrote I Write the Songs after that.

What do you think Doris saw in you?

Using her experience, she recognised some potential and recognised which part of the music talent had the best chance of coming to the surface and being successful. I owe a lot to Terry and to Doris for that.

When did you meet them originally?

She had a record label. Doris Day was so famous, even two years before she became the Number 1 box office female in the world. She had lots of investments: the record label, energy investors and all those things.

Did you approach her?

They were beginning to have hits on their record label and my High School mind went “Gosh, maybe if I go down to the office of the record label owned by Doris Day I’ll be famous and I could get a car!” I became friends with Terry and got to know Doris over the years. I’m not saying: “I’m Doris Day’s best friend!” She’s the mother of my best friend. Terry’s an amazing poet and I’m a lyric guy, and a melody guy.

What was your relationship with her like outside of Terry?

We had a chance to talk about music, and I could get her opinion on music. People get the 15 minutes of fame and all of a sudden they’re Madonna’s best friend, which is false. I was lucky to pick up platinum nuggets of knowledge from Doris. Being from a different musical generation to her doesn’t mean her advice is not taken. She’s singing in a style that Frank Sinatra, Andy Williams, Tony Bennet and all these people sang in and that’s her forte.

But not yours?

I kind of came up a little more through rock ‘n’ roll. My writing is a little more sophisticated than what I was growing up with.

Doris was unbelievably famous, how did cope in the midst of it all?

They ask you: ‘what was she like? Was she like she was in movies?’ That’s all real stuff from her. She can’t not do that. She was always really pleasant and fun. So ‘up’ on her life and career.

Has she ever shared her story of success with you?

She told me once that she was sitting at home, out of a job, in Cincinnati and probably too young to know any better. She said: ‘Mum! I’m going to get a job, I’m going to the radio station and I’m going to sing on the radio station’. This is back on the day when they had [live music] on the radio. She said she got on the Trolley Car and went to over to whatever station it was in Cincinnati and they hired her.

Just like that?

Just like that! She’s one of those survivors.

Have you got any fun stories about Doris?

I remember going to this incredible party with Doris and her son Terry at Rod McKuen’s house back in 1973. He was having this huge party in Beverly Hills and Terry [Melcher, Day’s son] was like “I’m gonna take my mom!” It was really fantastic and everyone was dressed to the twelves. It was very nice.

Any more?

You’ll like this story. I was on the Grammy’s. I won for I Write the Songs. [Terry] called me and said: “We were so excited to see you on television and winning, we started throwing popcorn at the screen.” Isn’t that great?

She’s clearly had an incredibly positive impact on your life...

Doris is the most wonderful person to be able to talk about at this part of my life. I was lucky enough, with hard work, to have a great body of music in my career. Instead of saying: ‘Thank-you so much’, I get to say: ‘I’m here because Doris and Terry got me here.’ No Doris and Terry: No Grammy. I owe them everything.

Did you mention the Beach Boys had an album coming out?

We have a big Smile package coming out, from the depths of Brian Wilson’s creative soul. He never finished it, he got overwhelmed by it.

Is it complete?

I don’t think it’s complete. I don’t know if there’s a sum of the parts, all I know is that all the parts are totally brilliant.

It’s not quite cohesive?

It might be for the fans. They know so much history they just do it. But it’s coming out and it will be fascinating to see what happens.


Buy the Doris Day record here

Words: Stephan Nicolaou