Interview by Danny Coleman
“I’ve worked hard at it and it’s not easy. You’re constantly having to raise the bar to stay relevant, it’s a lot of hard work,” said legendary performer/composer/songwriter Neil Sedaka as he discussed his long and illustrious career prior to his appearances; August 11 at The State Theater in New Brunswick and August 12 at The Great Auditorium in Ocean Grove, NJ.
Considered a “Prodigy” at the tender age of nine, Neil began playing piano at the urging of a school teacher who sent a note home to his parents. “I was considered a child prodigy,” he stated with an air of confident recollection. “I was sent to a college prep school and while I was there, I began to pick out tunes by ear on the piano. My third grade teacher sent a note home urging my parents to buy me a piano. My dad was a cab driver, so my mother took a job at a department store so that they could purchase a used upright piano for me.”
A classically trained artist, Sedaka first desired to be a concert pianist but was detoured along the way when he discovered rock ‘n’ roll in high school. “I always wanted to be a concert pianist and it’s still what drives me but things don’t always go as planned and the few twists and turns have worked out for me so I’m happy about that.”
Howie Greenfield was one of those twists and was introduced to Neil by his mother when Neil was only 13 years old. Little did a young Sedaka know that this would lead to one of the most prolific song writing teams of all time as well as help to produce the famous, “Brill Building Sound.” “Howie and I were the first to be published from the group of writers that were in the Brill Building. What a great job, well on most days (Laughs), no, really, it was a job where we’d show up at 10 a.m. and write music and songs and jingles all day until 5 p.m. five days a week. We were there at the right time, it was the late 1950’s and people were still making records. I brought them Carole King; did you know that? Did you know that Carole and I dated in high school? Not many know that but I brought her there, she’s so talented.”
Success followed Sedaka around every turn as he and Greenfield continued writing hit after hit for multiple artists such as Connie Francis whose versions of, “Stupid Cupid” and “Where the Boys Are” would propel Sedaka to new heights in his and their careers. This however was the early 60’s and a funny thing happened on the way towards further success and that was called,“The British Invasion.” Sedaka’s career experienced a downward twist as American pop stars and music styles were rapidly replaced by their UK counterparts. Led by The Beatles, this revolution of sorts saw teen idols and heartthrobs pushed aside for mop tops, electric guitars and a more edgy sound.
Despite all of his success, Neil found himself without a record label as RCA Victor, who he had been with from the start, refused to renew his contract. Faced with waning popularity at home in the States, Sedaka’s saving grace was a thriving fan base in Australia as well as in the UK. Tours of both countries and modest commercial successes with recordings led him to uproot his family and move to Great Britain where unknown to him at the time, his comeback would begin. “Elton John, I’m a huge fan. He resurrected my career and signed me to his record label “Rocket Records.” “I’m so glad that he was a fan of my work and when he asked me to sign and we put out, “Laughter In the Rain,” that started my comeback. I consider that my crowning achievement really. The early ’70’s were a bit rough but that was 1975 and I’ve been very fortunate ever since.”
With a return to prominence came more writing, more tours, more sold out performances and guest spots on shows such as, “American Idol.” Sedaka was back and that’s exactly how he liked it. The year 2016 saw the release of, “I Do It For The Applause,” and the current tour in support of the disc. “I’ve written more than 600 songs over the last 65 years,” he said with a chuckle. “This album is 14 new songs and I’m very proud of it, I really am. You know, it’s not easy (Laughs) but I’ve been very lucky that others have wanted to cover my material and I’ve written so much for others; it’s very flattering. This is all me so I am very proud of it. I wish they’d bring back record shops because this is one where I’d run down and buy two copies, one for me and I’d mail one to a friend (Laughs)!”
Counting, Frank Sinatra, Patti Page, various disc jockeys and certain radio programs among his influences, he has still never lost sight of his desire to play classical piano. “Joie DeVivre” has evolved from his years of experience and means, “Exuberant enjoyment of life,” something Sedaka can relate to. “As I mentioned earlier, I always wanted to be a concert pianist and I love classical music. I’ve performed all over the world and I’ve performed with the London Symphony; so the title says it all for me.”
When asked what or who he enjoys listening to today and who he feels has the ability to enjoy longevity in music, his answers were somewhat surprising. “I think there are some good ones out there today,” he said as he started to hesitantly elaborate. “Bruno Mars is very talented, I like Ed Sheeran, I like melody and I’m not a big fan of rap. I was raised on Gershwin and Rogers, melodies and lyrics are very important to me. I love the singing shows on TV especially when they make these young singers go back to the standards and older songs but to answer your question; Taylor Swift. I think she’s great and will last a long time because she’s been able to adapt. That young lady has gone from country to pop music and has the ability to re-invent herself no matter what style. She’s not afraid to cross or blur the lines.”
So what can those attending the upcoming shows expect? “All of my hits! I never get tired of performing them; as long as people enjoy them so will I. I’ll do a couple of my new ones and it’ll be fun. Performing is still an adrenaline rush for me. I love the stage and singing and playing and I feel blessed to be able to continue doing so.”
To purchase tickets or read more about Neil Sedaka and his legendary career, please go to www.neilsedaka.com.
Danny Coleman (Danny Coleman is a veteran musician and writer from central New Jersey. He hosts a weekly radio program entitled “Rock On Radio” airing Sunday evenings at 10 p.m. EST on multiple internet radio outlets where he features indie/original bands and solo artists.)