6 months ago


Your work in pop music

Your work in pop music is extensive, but one track invariably comes up on a regular basis —“It’s Raining Men,” the delirious disco classic featuring Martha Wash and Izora Armstead, performing as The Weather Girls. So give me the rundown on the background of this megahit. It’s sort of a long story, but in the ’70s, when I was just getting started in the music business in New York, having arrived from Canada in 1974, and simultaneous to doing SNL, I was becoming a studio musician and arranger. A producer named Ron Dante, who had produced Barry Manilow’s first albums, hired me to arrange a track—they were still calling it disco back then I guess—for a new dance artist named Paul Jabara. This guy had been in the cast of Hair on Broadway, and he had written his own musical, which had opened and closed. He was now trying to be a pop recording artist, and I arranged a song for him called “One Man Ain’t Enough.” We made the record (though it wasn’t widely heard), and it was very cute and danceable—it already had a bit of that sense of humor which he applied to “It’s Raining Men.” This record had strings and horns and was, I guess you’d say, an early disco experiment. Now Paul—his career hadn’t taken off as a recording artist—so he moved to Los Angeles, and he wrote “Last Dance” for Donna Summer and won an Oscar. I was so proud to know him and to have worked with him earlier. He came back to New York around 1981 and called me up. He told me I did such a great job arranging “One Man Ain’t Enough,” and [he had] an idea for a song for Donna Summer that he wanted me to compose with him. He thought this would bring her around—after a long string of hit records, I think her career had cooled a little bit. He asked me what I thought of the title “It’s Raining Men.” I said, “I’ll be right over!” It’s true—I went right over to his apartment on the upper east side and we wrote the song in one afternoon. He was all ready to go with many of the lyric ideas—lines about ripping off the roof and staying in bed. He had that ready to go, including the reference to Mother Nature being a single woman. He was loaded and ready. All I had to do was put these things to music. But really, he had the content all in his head already. Unfortunately, when he played it for Donna Summer, she hated it. I believe she had become a born again Christian by this time, and she thought it was blasphemous, and she refused to do the song. Paul was the kind of guy who had established friendships with all the great divas of that era— and he played it for all of them. Diana, Barbra, Patti Labelle— none of them wanted to do it. He was undaunted—he knew this song would be a hit. Then he remembered the girls who used to back Sylvester, who were working under the name Two Tons O’ Fun. Martha Wash and Izora Armstead. 4 FLOD SPOTLIGHT | 2018 SPRING ISSUE | FIRSTLADIESOFDISCOSHOW.COM

He contacted them; they put their voices on the track. They probably thought it was an isolated recording session. He called them The Weather Girls, the song took off, and the ladies were only too happy to become The Weather Girls and perform as such. I remember that they did the early Letterman show when the song was number one on the dance chart, ’82 or ’83, and that was when I first met Martha and Izora. Their voices were angelic and soulful at the same time, and they played it straight. That just made the record work! COVER STORY | PAUL SHAFFER sounds even better now, and she gets people on their feet within the first couple of notes. Her voice is so serious, but a song like “It’s Raining Men” is a fun song—that combination is pure magic. It’s a very different music industry today. What’s your overall impression of it? When I was a side-man in the studio, a studio musician, I didn’t have to deal with record companies. Just the producer of whatever particular recording I was hired for. Even then, I could never figure out the business. That’s why I felt so lucky to have gotten a job in television and to have had it for so long. The record business, I couldn’t figure it out—now, even less so. The computer changed everything, including the sound of music on the radio. Live musicians are almost [fiction]—even in live performances. Everyone uses prerecorded tracks, even the rock acts. Well, as a musician, I don’t like any of it. Honestly, I don’t know what I would do if I were trying to come up today. I just don’t know. You really helped usher in a new age, a new style and experience in late night talk when you teamed with David Letterman for over a decade. Do you view yourself as an innovator in that regard? First of all, I happened to be one of the first on a show like Have you kept ties with heritage stars like Martha? I am going to see Martha Wash at the First Ladies of Disco Show tomorrow night, appearing with two other great disco artists of the era. One is Linda Clifford, for whom I played as a studio musician for a full album [I’ll Keep On Loving You (1982/Capitol)]. Linda and I hit it off, and it will be great to see her again. I notice all these heritage artists are starting to tour together again—and that’s great. I think there’s something good about numbers—artists coming together from the same era, with the same thematic relationship. I’m thrilled to see Martha Wash still performing. I think she that to do the house band thing with rock ’n’ roll music. It was just time. Doc Severinsen had that big band sound with Johnny Carson, but this was the rock ’n’ roll era, and I had the privilege of bringing it into the late night talk show world. I played all my favorite songs, sometimes with the actual artists. I will never forget some of those experiences, like playing with James Brown and Carole King and Sly from The Family Stone. Those were some of the early artists I played with, and still I always mention them—I’ll never get over the thrill. Then I got to play for and be the side-kick of the man who I consider to be the fastest and smartest of all the guys who do that job—David Letterman. Our show was—you FLOD SPOTLIGHT | 2018 SPRING ISSUE | FIRSTLADIESOFDISCOSHOW.COM 5