GOLDMINE: Jim, thank you for your quick response to this interview which we were planning for 2022, celebrating the 50th anniversary of “Nice to Be with You,” "I Believe in Music,” and "Big City Miss Ruth Ann," but now want to move it up due to Mac Davis’ passing. Our In Memoriam articles are unfortunately growing with the passing of so many musical heroes. In the new November 2020 issue of Goldmine, the In Memoriam section spans pages 28 through 33, including one of your early influences, Trini Lopez. I mentioned his 1960s hits “If I Had a Hammer” and “Lemon Tree” in the article.
JIM GOLD: I was part of a trio years ago, when I was playing clubs in Detroit, and I patterned my music and performance after Trini Lopez, because he would just put that little beat into each song and make them sing-along songs and it was a lot of fun to do. I took a bunch of people from the club we were working at, drove across the U.S./Canada border, and went to a huge supper club in Windsor, Ontario. Trini was appearing there, and we stayed for both shows and got a chance to talk with him in the dressing room afterward. I had just started to cut some of the Gallery songs, and he wished me the best of luck. When he passed away, I felt really bad and then Mac Davis and Helen Reddy on the same day, with both being the same age.
GM: Yes, 78 years old. My wife Donna saw Mac Davis and Helen Reddy together at the Ohio State Fair in the 1970s, when they were both around thirty. She bought his I Believe in Music album at that time, which I was playing again this week. Thank goodness you had a hit with that family favorite song which he tried doing the prior year and it peaked at No. 117.
JG: When we were doing the first Gallery album we were short a couple of songs. When I mentioned “I Believe in Music” to my producers Mike Theodore and Dennis Coffey, they said, “Oh, I don’t know. It has been done before and there is no way that it was going to be a hit.” I said that I had been doing the song in the club and I thought that if we would do it, we would give it a different sound to make it our own. Little did I know that it was going to be the follow up single for “Nice to Be with You.” Then I really got nervous. They warned me that we would become a one-hit wonder after having such a big hit with “Nice to Be with You.” Then they put out our recording of “I Believe in Music” and it became a hit version of Mac’s song. I am proud of that and grateful to Mac. After the song became a hit, I was visited by Mac’s managers and I asked them if Mac was mad at me. There was a line in the song that I changed, not because I wanted to, but because I couldn’t understand the words on the recording that I was working off of. Now I can hear it but at the time I kept listening over and over and couldn’t figure it out, and I said, “I’ll write down something that will fit.” Then Mac Davis was on The Tonight Show and was asked, “People know that you have written songs that were hits by Elvis Presley and Bobby Goldsboro, but who else have had hits with your songs who we don’t know as well?” and I am watching that night, too. Mac replied, “Well, there’s this group out of Detroit called Gallery and they recorded a version of my ‘I Believe in Music’ and yes, they did have a hit with it, and the only hit with it, but they changed my favorite line in the whole song.” Then I sunk and said to myself, “Oh, my god.” When I asked Mac’s managers about that they said that they told him, “Mac, just wait for the mailman to bring you the checks and be quiet about it.” I did tell them to please tell Mac that I didn’t change that line for any reason on purpose, because I am a songwriter and I know how you feel about your lyrics and what you are trying to say, so I would never do that. Then later on, I was in the car and I heard The Lettermen sing a version of it on the radio and they must have learned it from my version, because they sang my line, and I went, “Oh no, this is just going to get worse through the years.” Mac’s lines were, “Lift your voices to the sky. God loves you when you sing.” My lines were, “Lift your voices to the sky. Tell me what you see.” It is nowhere similar, but as close as what I thought I heard.
GM: Maybe the producers for The Lettermen were using your version from the K-Tel compilation album, Believe in Music, which included The Raspberries from Donna’s and my hometown of Cleveland. Gallery had the finale of the 22 songs included.
JG: You never know. You’re from Cleveland? I have a Cleveland story to share with you in a little while, too.
GM: When you flip your “I Believe in Music” single over, “Someone,” which you wrote, reminds me of what B.J. Thomas was delivering at the time, softer, with a focus on the lyrics.
JG: I always wanted to release one of the ballads that I had written, like that one, and we never really got a chance to do that. We did have flip sides with that sound.
Flip side: Someone
A side: I Believe in Music
Top 100 debut August 12, 1972
Peak position: 22
GM: You can hear that ballad style on the second Gallery album, too, with your compositions including “John McGuinn.” There is also an up-tempo song that you wrote, which I think should have been an AM single, “Mystery Woman.”
JG: That is my favorite Gallery album but unfortunately, that came out at a time when the record company was going through turmoil, so it never got its just promotion. There are songs on there that I am really proud of. “John McGuinn” is my favorite song on it, because I love story songs, and this one is like a mini-movie to me, with characters and a beginning and an end.
GM: After that album, Gallery Featuring Jim Gold, which included your solid version of Buddy Holly's "Maybe Baby," your first solo album, I Can’t Face Another Day Without You, was released. The finale, “I Think I’ve Fallen in Love,” I think could be a beach music classic, and I like your composition “Midnight Lady (Hiding in the Shadows)” which is given such a nice arrangement with the guitar and flute.
JG: Cory Wells covered that song on his solo album, right after Three Dog Night broke up. My mom called me and said, “Jim, I just heard your song ‘Midnight Lady (Hiding in the Shadows)’ on the radio, but its not you. I had no idea. I ended up calling the radio station and asked, “Are you playing ‘Midnight Lady (Hiding in the Shadows)’ on your station?” They said they were, and I asked, “Who is it by?” They said, “Cory Wells.” I said, “Cory Wells? Are you kidding me?” My wife and I ran out, looking for the album and bought it. I must have played his version of the song thirty times that night because I was knocked out that he would do one of my songs. My version was more like a George Benson jazz track and Cory’s version was more of a dance tune and David Foster played on it.
GM: I remember that 1978 Cory Wells Touch Me album, from when I was working at Peaches Records & Tapes in suburban Cleveland. Speaking of that, what it your Cleveland story?
JG: I was friends with Sonny Geraci of The Outsiders and Climax. There was a fundraising tribute concert for him in Cleveland, when he was ill. It was a lot of fun to do. There were two days of concerts for eight hours each day and I did both days. It was amazing for the audience at $30 to see 20 to 25 acts, all day long, hit after hit, like sitting through your childhood. Sonny was there, still alive, in a wheelchair. My wife cried, feeling bad for him. At the end of each day, everyone came on stage and we sang “Time Won’t Let Me,” with Sonny in his wheelchair. Then everyone began thinking about their own longevity. Sonny was a great performer until his brain aneurysm. The weird thing is my wife had two brain aneurysms and she lived through them. I took off a long time to take care of her. She got back about 97 percent, which is a miracle, after six months of rehab. She fought back and Sonny lost his fight. After being hospitalized, Sonny was on the phone booking gigs and his wife would catch him and ask, “What are you doing? You are in the hospital.” He thought he was going to get back on stage singing. With the tribute, sadly, there was $23,000 embezzled and I was angry. This was supposed to help Sonny and his family. It was in the news and the concert promoter pleaded guilty. How you can look at a musical hero to many, sitting in a wheelchair, and do that is beyond me. That was the last time that I played a concert and since then I have just been concentrating on songwriting, because that is where my heart is. I have demos of over thirty new songs. I am working with my producer, who added more instruments to a couple of the songs, and maybe we’ll release a ten song album digitally, including a song called “Time to Live Again,” about a post-pandemic world. I also wrote a song called “Gone Too Soon.” My wife and I saw a roadside memorial and I researched the story about it. There was a seventeen year old girl, driving home to find out what big surprise awaited from her family. She never made it, as she was killed by a drunk driver. Her family had purchased a new car for her, which she never saw. After I recorded “Gone Too Soon” about her, my wife suggested that I make a copy on a CD, and bag it up so that it wouldn’t get wet in the rain, and put it with that memorial. If people found it, good, and if not, then I would feel good because I helped to contribute to the memorial for one of our community’s lost youth. I did that and about a week and a half went by and my wife and I were walking at a track we walk at every day. Someone came up to us and said that there was a woman who asked about me and gave me the name and telephone number of the woman. I called, and it is this girl’s mother. I told her who I was. She was quiet for a minute and then she said, “I just want to tell you that my husband and I found your CD. I wasn’t going to take it at first, but my husband said that someone wanted us to find this. So we took it home and played it. We thank you so much. This means the world to us. I know you didn’t know our daughter or anything about us, so can I meet you?” I said, “Yes.” So she met my wife and I and we talked for three hours. She told me her whole life story on how they were immigrants. They won a lottery and were able to come to the United States, her, her husband and their daughter and son. It was hard to sit through when she showed us a photo of her daughter’s prom dress hanging on her door. When we left, I thought if that is all that song is supposed to do, was to introduce us to this woman, and let me hear her family’s story, then that is fine with me. I am really proud of these new songs.
GM: Wow! Let’s conclude with the song that gave Gallery your Top 40 debut, the Top 10 gold single, “It’s Nice to Be with You.” The first time you heard it on the radio, was it on CKLW in your Detroit/Windsor area?
JG: Yes it was. I didn’t know that it was going to be played. I didn’t even know it was released. I heard it for the first time on my 25th birthday. I was driving to work at this crap job at a steel company where I was working during the day, after playing music at nighttime. I was half asleep. I turned on CKLW and I started singing the song and humming it and I didn’t even realize it at first that it was me. When I did, I pulled off to the side of the road and said, “Oh my god!” By the time I had arrived at work that day, everybody had heard it and they were all jumping up and down. It was amazing. The people at the company were so supportive of my music. I called my wife on the phone and said, “You’ve got to wake the kids up. You are not going to believe this. CKLW is playing ‘Nice to Be with You.’” She said, “What? I didn’t know it was released.” I said, “I didn’t know either.” What a perfect birthday gift that was. The song lasted in the Top 100 for 22 weeks, and getting back to Helen Reddy, who we discussed earlier, it tied her 22 week run that year with “I Am Woman.” Between getting that song on the radio and playing it on American Bandstand and meeting Dick Clark, these were big moments for me in 1972. It could have ended right there for me and I would have been happy forever. Thank you very much for reaching out. I was a fan of Mac’s too, like everybody else, and I even recorded his song “Whoever Finds This, I Love You” on one of my solo albums, so I really got a chance to do two Mac Davis songs, which is great. Thanks again for including me to pay tribute to Mac’s music and share these stories.
In Memoriam – Mac Davis
In the late 1960s, Mac Davis reached the Top 100 five times as a songwriter for Elvis Presley, writing the platinum selling singles “In the Ghetto” and “Don’t Cry Daddy” and co-writing “A Little Less Conversation,” “Memories” and “Clean Up Your Own Back Yard.” In the early 1970s, Mac’s compositions reaching the Top 40 included “Something’s Burning” by Kenny Rogers & The First Edition, “Watching Scotty Grow” for Bobby Goldboro, and Gallery’s version of Mac’s anthem “I Believe in Music.”
In early 1972, Mac’s I Believe in Music album was released, which included a newly recorded version of the title song, his versions of the three early 1970s Top 40 hits plus “A Little Less Conversation.” Later that year, his Baby Don’t Get Hooked on Me album featured the title song, which became his Top 40 pop debut, spending three weeks at No. 1. That gold single was followed in the Top 40 by “One Hell of a Woman,” “Stop and Smell the Roses” and “Rock N’ Roll (I Gave You the Best Years of My Life),” all on the Columbia label.
In 1980, Mac switched to the Casablanca label for several country hit singles beginning with the humorous “It’s Hard to Be Humble” and his highest charting country hit, “Hooked on Music.”
Mac Davis continued to write songs in recent years, including being part of the team who composed Bruno Mars’ 2012 single “Young Girls.” On September 29, Mac passed away at the age of 78.