NB/Disclosure: I was kindly provided a press copy of the book. Thank you McNidder & Grace!
Paul Evans is a rock and roll singer-songwriter who was most prominent in the late 50s and early 60s, when rock and roll was still in its infancy and thought by all the music industry business people to be just a fad, a flash in the pan. He is best known for his versions of “Seven Little Girls Sitting In The Back Seat”, “Midnight Special”, and his original “Happy Go Lucky Me” – the song the book is named after.
Besides performing, he was part of the Brill Building’s songwriting community and one of the youngest songwriters there, being just a couple years older than The Beatles. Famous musicians such as Elvis (“Something Blue”, “Blue River”, and “The Next Step is Love”), Cliff Richard (“I Gotta Know”), Pat Boone, Bobby Vinton (“Roses are Red (My Love)”), Jackie Wilson, Frankie Lymon, Fabian, and The Coasters have performed his songs. Movies like Goodfellas and Pecker have featured his songs in the soundtrack and his songs can be heard in TV shows like Scrubs and various adverts.
Now at 83 years old and with over 60 years in show business, he’s released his autobiography, Happy Go Lucky Me, a lighthearted short read about his life and with so many stories about being a Tin Pan Alley songwriter.
Like a lot of talented musicians, he came from a musical family who encouraged him to take piano lessons. Like many others of his generation, rock and roll changed his life and his family weren’t exactly thrilled with it because rock and roll was loud compared to what came before it. I guess loud is relative, right? Rock and roll became his world and later his career.
After graduating from secondary school, he studied engineering at Columbia, where he made his foray in performing professionally. One of his biggest influences was Roy Orbison’s “Ooby Dooby” and it was when he heard that he realised he could do that too and so he decided to take a chance and leave Columbia for the Brill Building to write songs and once again his parents were questioning him about that decision. Rock and roll is full of chances, right? But there’s a lot of rejection too and the arts require a lot of resilience and dedication. The first few attempts for Paul weren’t a success, but with some determination and nerve, he got his first break with the Fred Fisher Company, where he went from being Paul Rapport to Paul Evans and he tells a funny story about his name.
After a bumpy start, he got a hit writing “When” for The Kalin Twins, which reached the top 10 in the US (and #1 in the UK) and finally he felt like he could say he was a Brill Building songwriter. In fact, it was a happy accident – Paul’s demo for “When” was put into the reject pile, which was accidentally given to the twins, who loved the song.
Decca Records believed The Kalin Twins had potential to be the next Everly Brothers, but their career declined because of a little thing called The British Invasion, and they were forced to go back to their day jobs. Still, they have the honour of being the first twins to reach #1 in the UK.
Besides talking about his life, he talks about Tin Pan Alley, one of the most important places in pop music history, about the history of the place itself and the people who made it what you know it as now, and not just the recent history, but popular music’s beginnings in the late 19th century and early 20th century with ragtime and later swing and jazz. So many hits came out of there and as you see them listed in the book, you’ll be able to hear them in your head and recognise them. It’s a big part of our culture. If you look at the labels you’ll know the songwriting duos: Leiber/Stoller, Pomus/Shuman, Greenwich/Barry, Weill/Mann, King/Goffin, Sedaka/Greenfield. All incredible minds and geniuses!
Back in the early days, music publishers ruled songwriting and they’re a big reason why 50s and 60s rock stars got a pretty bad deal. Whenever anyone wants to use a song in an advert or in a soundtrack, they have to get permission and pay the publisher. Rock and roll wasn’t all jet setting and playing amazing shows, a lot of rock stars found themselves in court trying to fight for the money they deserve from their music. Record label owners weren’t much better and in the book he talks about the notorious Morris Levy and Nat Tarnopol and how people like them make big promises to young hopeful stars who don’t understand the legalese in contracts.
The British Invasion was a real shakeup to the music scene in America and Tin Pan Alley was no longer dominant. What was a Brill Building songwriter to do? Go into advertising jingles! Music isn’t just for the charts. Advertising relied on music because jingles can be earworms and people singing jingles stuck in their heads is how the advertisement echoes and word of mouth is free advertising. Paul Evans had a pretty successful career writing jingles and even singing for some advertisements for big companies. However, just like in the music world, the legal and financial stuff is just as complicated. In the late 70s he had a comeback with the country pop hit “Hello, This is Joanie”. It was a success overseas and he travelled a good bit to promote it. Then in the 90s, he went to Nashville. As always, there’s an interest in music from the past and a revival that comes with it and it’s a lucrative opportunity for oldies artists. A good song has no expiry date and musicians from the oldies era love it when young people appreciate their music. The internet has been huge for more obscure acts from the past because you can find so much information all in one place and people who even lived through that time are learning new things about the music they grew up with. Paul Evans early on saw the potential of the internet and started his own website in the mid 90s and it was a great way to connect with fans and fellow music industry people.
Another thing I like about the book is that he has a true appreciation for all the jobs in music and how they’re all important in making art and he always treated people well and always wanted the best for everyone. As well, he talks a bit about the social and political issues going on at the time such as the Vietnam War and the sad realities about why poor, desperate people joined the army and some even getting injured on purpose to get out quicker.
After you read this book, you’ll come out knowing a lot more about the music industry and music history as a whole and you can tell that Paul did his research and presented the information in a really easy to understand way with lots of real world examples. I say this a lot, but I have to reiterate: the music world is a small world and a very tight knit one – so many big names worked with each other and rubbed shoulders with one another so it’s always fun to see all the names dropped! No one is really that many degrees of separation apart in the rock and roll world.
His approach to writing is one that is conversational, like he’s talking to you over coffee or tea. I can easily picture it as a podcast episode. Happy Go Lucky Me is a great read for anyone who loves pop music history and has an interest in the behind the scenes stuff that goes on in music. Songwriting truly is an art and a talent and songwriters should be honoured and appreciated because we wouldn’t have songs without them.
Shoutout to Patrick and Jeffrey from Maryland for supporting the blog!
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