Gary DeCarlo, Part III: The Road To Music and What’s Up Next

     The final installment of my interview with Gary DeCarlo covers some interesting topics, from how he got his start in music, how DeCarlo broke ties with the co-writer of “Na Na,” and finally what projects DeCarlo has on tap, including a new album.

Part I of the interview can be found here: https://mccartneyfans.wordpress.com/2014/02/06/gary-decarlo-na-na-hey-hey-kiss-him-goodbye-at-the-town-hall-in-nyc-saturday-february-8th/

Part II of the interview can be found here: https://mccartneyfans.wordpress.com/2014/03/07/gary-decarlo-part-ii-the-birth-of-na-na-hey-hey-kiss-him-goodbye/

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(Photo by Jennifer Dodge)

Me: And you certainly see that nowadays with the prevalence of…well, if you have a computer and a recording device, you can be a musician in your own house, and you see that a lot.

 

DeCarlo: Oh, yeah!

 

Me: Some folks who are talented are not getting listened to, and some folks who aren’t are going on TV talent shows. (laughing)

 

DeCarlo: There’s about 5 different shows now, too (laughing).  America’s Got…You Name It, and you go on there and you play the washboard or whatever (laughing). Just go up there and do anything…gargle…(laughing)

 

Me: (laughing) It seems like it sometimes.

 

DeCarlo: I don’t even watch American Idol anymore because I don’t like a lot of the comments they make to the singers.  It’s tough enough being up there. [The judges] don’t really understand the fact that when you’re up there, all of your nerves are exposed, and there’s some nights that you’re on, and there’s some nights that you’re off because you have different things that you’re fighting, like allergies, a cold, anything. Sinus problems, acid reflux which can really cause a lot of problems with your throat…They make these comments to these singers and they’re so green that they don’t really understand what the judges are saying to them by saying, “Look, you have to do it this way,” and when you’re at the beginning of learning how to sing, you don’t really understand comments like that. It takes a long time for that to happen.

 

Me: I would imagine so. In talking to my teacher colleagues, we talk about the idea that when you teach, you’re exposing how your mind works to your students. But when you’re singing or playing music, you’re really exposing everything. It’s your entire being, your emotions, your thoughts, your hopes, your dreams…everything.

 

DeCarlo: Yeah, absolutely. That’s why when you get a great response from the audience, it pumps you up. Basically what you’re doing is you’re ping-ponging feelings back and forth [with the crowd], and you get that energy and it’s great.  I get really positive energy back from them.  The “Na Na” thing is incredible. People sing it. I do things with the audience and they really like it. They like to participate in it, so it’s great.

 

Me: It’s very much a song that you can’t sit and listen to. You really can’t (laughing). You’ve got to be moving somehow, you really have to be.

 

DeCarlo: Oh, you’ve got to hear the new one. [“Kiss Him Goodbye” by Gary DeCarlo] The new one has a lot of energy.

 

Me: Obviously you got into music and you had this monster hit on your hands, but how did you get into music to begin with?

 

DeCarlo: I’ve always loved music as a young kid. I remember somebody told me back in the day, back when I was a little kid, that there was a new show on. It was Alan Freed. I didn’t know who he was at the time, and they said, “You’ve got to listen to it.” I would sit on the floor near the radio and the radio was blank at that time. There was no signal, then all of a sudden you’d hear this music start to play. It was called “Moon Dog” and I started to hear these songs, and I was like, “Wow! Oh my gosh, I love this!” It was so different from what was being played on the radio at that time. They were doing the traditional music like Tony Bennett and all of the big show tunes, that type of thing. So when I heard this stuff [Freed’s show], I said, “Wow man, I love it!”

     I got so in love with it that I started playing drums in a band. I always wanted to put a Doo-wop group together so I tried it with my friends, but it didn’t work because they didn’t have the dedication. They tried it a couple of times and it didn’t work, so they just kicked it to the curb. Eventually, when I was 16 or 17, I became part of a group that was already put together, and it was called The Glenwoods. We had three names, The Glenwoods, The Citations, and The Chateaus. We had a couple of records out which, from what I understand now, are collector’s items. It was fun. I stayed with them for quite a while until the group broke up because one of the guys, Dale [Frasheur, later a member of Steam with DeCarlo] as a matter of fact, went to New York City and was writing with Paul Leka [also eventually a member of Steam]. That kind of broke the group up.

     I took a few of the guys and started doing clubs with them, and then from that I got into some bands. I put together a couple of horn bands, and the best band that I felt I was in was The Orchids. We played all over Connecticut and New York, at colleges, Dartmouth, Princeton, Yale…I tell you, it was a great group. Look up one guy in particular, Lionel Chamberland. We used to call him Linc. What a guitar player…He was phenomenal. Unfortunately he passed away. He got bone cancer. 

     That was some group. If that group had stayed together, I think that we could have moved what we did and gone coast to coast with it, and pretty much did what Billy Vera did. He left here, went to California, and did the same exact sets that he did here, and he was a giant hit in California.

 

Me: The studio musician piece is interesting because from what I’ve read, it seems like “Na Na” was a studio musician project. You went from groups to being a gun for hire. Is that correct?

 

DeCarlo: I left The Orchids in 1967. The reason that I left them was because they were all married guys. They had families, bills, mortgages, and all of that, and they didn’t really want to travel. My idea at that time was not to just play the local clubs and be a weekend warrior. I wanted to get out there and audition for cruise ships or the Playboy Clubs, or something where you could be performing in front of a decent audience and get a decent pay while enjoying yourselves.  Even Wildwood. We auditioned for Wildwood, got the job, and the guys said no. They said, “We can’t do it because we have jobs.” We were hired for the whole summer and they backed out of it.

     When I left them, that’s when I took a little time off to get myself together and think about things. Then I invested some money, I did a recording, and I then I went back into New York City and I started door knocking. I started shopping it around. That’s how I bumped back into Paul [Leka]. We started getting together, and I asked if he wanted to do something together, and he said yes. That’s how the relationship started back up again. I’ve known Paul since we were about 14 or 15 years old. Here’s a guy who had my management, my publishing.  He knew me all of those years and I thought he had my back, but he didn’t.

 

Me: It’s weird how success can show you who your real friends are, from what I’ve read.

 

DeCarlo: Think about this. If I had gone into New York City and just went to a record company and took a chance on somebody that I just met…you get burnt, you come back home, and you ask yourself if you want to continue this or should you just call it a day and say, “That’s it, no more music.” Now that’s with someone you don’t know. With someone you’ve known all your life, you figure they’ve got your back and so you don’t need to worry.

 

Me: Absolutely.

 

DeCarlo: That didn’t happen.

 

Me: That’s the part that’s unfortunate. I’ve never had any kind of success like that, but I know that it stings when someone you trust and rely on isn’t there for you. It’s frustrating, at the very least.

 

Me: Something I’m always interested in when talking to someone in the music industry is who you emulated, who your influences are.

 

DeCarlo: I used to listen to a Black radio station called WDLS in New York City, and I heard stuff that I loved. I would listen to it and say, “Oh my God, that’s really cool!” and I’d bring it back to the band and say, “Let’s do this!” I did “Mustang Sally” before anybody was doing it, and after I was doing it, the people used to come up to the club where we used to play in Merrimack, and come to find out, The Rascals turned around and recorded it, and had a hit with it. We could have done the same thing and had the hit. We had the horns and everything! We sounded pretty much the way the record sounded, except it was my vocal.

     At the time I was listening to James Brown, Bobby Blue Bland, I was always into rhythm and blues, and blues. That’s the kind of stuff that I grew up with and loved. To this day I still listen to it. I have an iPod and that’s all I listen to in the car.

 

Me: Talk about really good, gritty music. You can’t get much better than that right there.

 

DeCarlo: The people that I listen to today is Michael McDonald because he projects the same kind of music that I listen to. He’s very soulful and he writes well, and when he goes onstage he sounds just like the record. He’s a pro and he does what he has to do. There are so many people who are good, so it’s hard to really pin them down. Obviously Ray Charles, he was another influence.  We used to do three or four of his songs. That’s basically the type of music that I grew up with.

 

Me: And what a great set of music to grow up with!  This is going to be a hard question in a lot of ways, but why do you think “Na Na” is still going strong 45 years later?

 

DeCarlo: Every time I do the song or a show, I always have people who come up to me, even in interviews, that will relate a really happy situation that they were going through at the time it was out. It’s always a good story, and it’s always fun. I had one guy who told me that he had broken up with his girlfriend, but he said he still loved the song and it was still happy to him. Basically, when you think about it, it’s a sad song because I’m telling the girl to get rid of him and come back to me, but it still projects a happy feeling.

 

Me: That’s why it’s so interesting: you have these lyrics that are totally clashing with the happy music in the background.

 

DeCarlo: Absolutely.

 

Me: I always laugh a little bit when I’m singing it and dancing around and bopping, and I’m singing these lyrics, and I’m thinking, “What the hell?” (laughing) But it works!

 

DeCarlo: (laughing) Yeah, exactly. Again, the chant had a lot to do with it, because it was easy to sing, and it just worked for a lot of people. Especially for sporting events.

 

Me: I think “Hit The Road Jack” and “Na Na” are the two songs you hear most at a lot of games. To be associated with Ray Charles, I’m sure, is kind of a thrill for you, having these two popular songs…

 

DeCarlo: Oh, absolutely. We had these two covers, one called “We Ready” [by Archie Eversole featuring Bubba Sparxxx] and then “Death Of Autotune” by Jay-Z. A lot of stadiums and teams that have a lot of Black players, they use “We Ready” and “Death Of Autotune,” but they still incorporate the song and the same hook, they use the melody and just different lyrics. It’s still our song.

 

Me: That’s got to be thrilling to still be so relevant because of the popularity and the pervasiveness of this song, not to suggest that you’re not relevant. I imagine it’s got to be a thrill.

 

DeCarlo: Oh, absolutely. I still get a kick out of hearing it. There’s so many stories. For example, I got an e-mail from a woman who said to me she was standing in line at Macy’s and she was waiting to check out, and over the speakers they started playing “Na Na.” She said she was standing there and she was starting to sing the song, and she was waiting to pay. She said a woman was standing behind her and kept staring at her, and after the song was over, she said to the woman who e-mailed me, “I didn’t know that song had lyrics!” (laughing)

 

Me: (laughing) That is funny!

 

DeCarlo: All the young people that used to hear it in the stadiums, they just heard the chant. They didn’t sing the verses, so a lot of people didn’t realize that it was a whole song!  Even in the movies they just play the chant. (laughing)

 

Me: (laughing) I never even thought of that before. I just assumed everybody knew!

 

DeCarlo: Believe it or not, that’s another reason why I wanted to put it back out because the last time that it was out, it was used by Kristinia DeBarge. She had a version out called “Goodbye.” I think Ellen DeGeneres uses that version on her show. She does some type of a game show, and they play that song before they throw a contestant out of the chair. It’s been used a lot of different ways. I’m very happy that it is. That’s why I wanted to get it back out there because I feel that there’s a lot of people that didn’t realize [it had lyrics], and also I wanted to have the dancers like it. It’s not as fast as some of the techno music that they’re playing now, but it’s right with that disco beat. It’s right in that same pocket. It has a lot of energy. I re-tooled it. I re-did everything. I changed the key, the melody on the verse, and also I changed the hook a little bit, but it still has the same flow and the same happiness to it. Give it a listen! (laughing)

 

Me: I can’t wait to hear it!  As a really embarrassing anecdote, you mention the way the song has been used, I do remember at least one time at school when a kid got suspended for doing something stupid, I know that I’ve walked into the office and sung that song to my colleagues, and we’ve danced around to it. “How long is he out for? Three days for fighting? Kiss him goodbye!” (laughing)

 

DeCarlo: (laughing) You know something though, I don’t know if you’ve seen it at all, but when President Bush left office, all of the people were standing in front of the WashingtonMonument, and there were a 1,000 or 2,000 people there who sang it as the helicopter left. It was on the news and on Youtube. It was great!  It’s been used in the government quite a few times.

 

Me: (laughing) We’ve talked so much about “Na Na.” Aside from the new video and the book being written, are there any other upcoming projects that you’re working on that you want people to be aware of?

 

DeCarlo: Yes. As a matter of fact, I’m finishing up a CD that’s going to be a nine-song CD. The “Kiss Him Goodbye” dance version will be on that, and there will be all original songs of mine. I’m hoping that this will open up people to my music and the kind of stuff I like. I have some shows coming up. I’m also doing The Monkees Convention again. I’m doing The Brady Bunch Convention in August. They’re both at The Meadowlands [New Jersey]. I’m doing Hershey Park in September, and I was just contacted about doing something in Long Island. I was booked for a cruise in September, a 5-day cruise to Bermuda, an oldies cruise. 

[Information on the Pop Legends Cruise can be found at: http://www.excellenceintravel.com/default.asp?pid=64705]

Me: Finally, do you have a message to send to your fans?

 

DeCarlo: I have a motto that I write on everything, and that’s “Love, Laugh, and Dance.” To me, if you can do that, you can really have a good life and enjoy yourself. But as far as people go, if you have a dream, keep going. No matter how old you are. Don’t listen to people. Believe in yourself. Keep going. I love having people dance and really get into what I’m doing. That is why I do what I do, and when I get that response from people, it really makes me feel great, especially when I get e-mails or I get “likes” from different things that are posted [online]. That’s what it’s all about. That’s why I do this. So far it’s been a great past couple of years. I finally feel that I have people behind me that believe in me, and it just makes me want to keep going. As long as I can stay healthy, I’ll continue to do it. 

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~ by Jennifer Dodge on March 8, 2014.

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