Part 2 of 2:
Melanie Safka (Melanie) was once hailed as the female Bob Dylan. Her awe-inspiring lyrical connotations were accompanied by her majestic voice and an acoustic guitar. She was a lone entity onstage but radiated a powerful force that became the voice and spirit to one of the most important generations the world will ever know.
Ray Shasho: Melanie, what happened to your mom, was she in the audience at Woodstock?
Melanie: “(Laughing) This is so sad, I don’t remember getting back from Woodstock. I guess we rendezvoused and she picked me up somewhere. I never got to ask her how I did.
Ray Shasho: I heard that you’re also a pioneer for concert etiquette … holding up a candle or cigarette lighter over your head at rock concerts began at a Melanie show?
Melanie: “Most people don’t know that it was me.” Now you’ve got an application on your Smartphone that displays a candle (Laughing). The first time people ever lit candles was at a Melanie concert. Because those people would show me that they were there. This was even before the song “Candles in the Rain” and before it was on a record. So people would come with lighters, matches, and candles, and that was the signal that we were there at Woodstock. The place lit-up like fireflies. Then I would usually sing one of the songs I did in that set. When the record came out it became concert behavioral and what you do at a concert. Fire Marshalls actually tried to prevent me from singing “Candles in the Rain.” I tried to tell people not to light candles but it never worked. After Woodstock, I became a festival queen. I did everything … Isle of Wight, Glastonbury etc. In the state of New Jersey, the night before I was supposed to appear at an outdoor venue, usually owned by a bank, the Governor closed me down because they said I constituted a festival and festivals were illegal in New Jersey. So I wasn’t allowed to perform there.”
Ray Shasho: So “Candles in the Rain” was definitely written about your Woodstock experience?
Melanie: “Yes, I left the field with that “Candles in the Rain” anthem part in my head. I was a phenomenon; I didn’t last as long as The Rolling Stone, and again I didn’t play the music industry game, but I did have three records in the top ten at the same time. At one point, there wasn’t a person who didn’t know who I was. But I never wanted to take it to the next level. I may have also been on the list. I was not the angry protestor type, I wasn’t right or left, I had a humanist point of view that neither side would be real happy with. It was not pinning one side against another type of philosophy. Pro peace as oppose to anti-war and I don’t think that was a very popular posture and I got away with obscurity.”
Ray Shasho: I have always been a firm believer that musicians and actors should not come out and rant and rave for political parties. I think it ruins their demeanor as an artist and becomes hypocritical to what their writing and singing about.
Melanie: ‘I’m in total agreement. My job is to not tell people about what I think. I’m not running for office so you don’t need to know what I think, you just need to hear my music.”
Ray Shasho: Your music career took off after Woodstock?
Melanie: Woodstock was a catalyst for my career. From that moment on I was delivered to panel talk shows on the significance of Woodstock and I wasn’t well equipped to speak. I was very shy and wasn’t savvy in interviews and how to get out of a hairy situation. No experience just being thrown on these shows. Dick Cavett hated me. He must have gone to the hate Melanie school. He was just so ungracious. I was never loved by intellectuals, I’m entirely too cute.”
Ray Shasho: Melanie, I’m in the process of writing my second book entitled ‘When Heroes Become Voices’ which will feature ‘101 candid interviews with the greatest music legends of our time’ and you’ll be in it by the way. But the introduction will be talking about the state of the music industry and how it has especially affected the music legends. It’s like one day, somebody decided to pull the plug on our heroes in the mainstream …and I’m not talking about playing oldies.
Melanie: “This is what I remember happening when the 80’s occurred and clubs were opening based on a particular drug. The radio wall came down and it was unbelievable. I said in an interview that it was like a decisive battle and we lost. But nobody knows where and when it happened. But it did. A wall came down. That saying don’t trust anybody over thirty became a fact. Then it was don’t sign anybody over thirty and it became a doctrine between all the major record labels. It had nothing to do with the value of a young mind; it had more to do with an old person and philosophical attitudes and swaying people. They didn’t want anybody up there that could sway anybody’s opinion. Youth culture had done politically what they wanted to do and the manipulation began. Music is so powerful and so healing and that is what it was meant for.”
“But I really do believe that we are poised for the next great event. If it doesn’t happen we’re headed for supreme dark ages. But I can sense that something big and wonderful is going to happen and I want to be there.”
Ray Shasho: Melanie, are your children musicians?
Melanie: “My son is a musician and he’s amazing. There’s a track on Ever Since You Never Heard of Me which is the instrumental we wrote and did that one when he was 16. We put that on the album because it was so pretty and it kind of blended with the other songs. But he’s been writing with me and he plays his guitar. My two daughters also sing. One sings out in Phoenix, Arizona and she may be moving to Hawaii. The other one is a songwriter in Nashville.”
Ray Shasho: What was the origin behind “What Have They Done To My Song Ma”?
Melanie: “It was quite literal. I walked into the recording studio and my husband was consumed by the hits. We were so different, like day and night. It was probably why we were married for forty years. He’d hear a song and wanted to go make it a hit. I walked into the studio and was overwhelmed. I don’t read music and didn’t know how to talk in music terms to musicians, to communicate what I wanted. Peter could communicate with them and go at it his way. I don’t know what song it was but I knew it was being taken in a direction that I wasn’t thrilled about, and it was look what they’ve done to my song. It was literal, and again it could be an analogy to anything.”
“The New Seekers did it very much like my version, so I wasn’t thrilled about that. It wasn’t as exciting as when Ray Charles did it. He remade it as his own song. I thought, hey, I’m a writer! I never really thought of myself as a writer, just a singer. They didn’t have that term singer/songwriter .They used to call me the female Bob Dylan because he wrote songs and sang them. Most people didn’t know that I wrote the songs that I sang.”
Ray Shasho: You sang the French verse on the song perfectly. I always wondered if you spoke French fluently.
Melanie: “I had spent time in France. It sounded to me when I wrote the song that it had to have a French word, it sounded chanteuse. I speak menu French but that’s about it. I did take French in high school. We worked with these translators and tried to get a meaning that was at least similar.”
Ray Shasho: Melanie, what was your experience with Rolling Stone magazine?
Melanie: “Rolling Stone waged war against Buddah Records and unfortunately I was on Buddah Records. They absolutely massacred me! They said on the review of “Candles in the Rain,” the chorus was really good but when my voice came in it was kind of like a pencil scratch. But they always waged war with me. They never mentioned that I wrote the song or sung it with an all black gospel choir with one white girl, which was a pretty phenomenal thing for that particular moment in time.”
Ray Shasho: I don’t give bad reviews. If I receive a CD in the mail that I don’t like, I simply won’t talk about it. Why should I humiliate someone’s craft publically? So all my music reviews have been very favorable.
Melanie: “Well you would be fired from Rolling Stone because there was a girl that wrote for Rolling Stone that made too many good reviews and she got fired.”
Ray Shasho: Do you own all the rights to your music?
Melanie: “I don’t own my songs and the rights to my songs; I don’t own my performances, I don’t own my performance royalties and have been sold down the river. I receive not one penny from any song. I didn’t know my writers share was sold. Peter did everything. He was a wild and crazy eastern European gambling type person. I think he gambled my writers royalties, writers share and apparently at the moment stuck a piece of paper under my nose and I never read the piece of paper and I signed it. That was the end of that. I didn’t know I was signing away my writers share.”
Ray Shasho: Unfortunately I’ve heard a lot of similar horror stories.
Melanie: “This was a very odd story because we were married. I called ASCAP seeking their help and advice and they were very uncooperative. But I keep writing songs and it will be a matter of moments when somebody puts one in a movie or a commercial and then I’ll be able to survive.”
Ray Shasho: Melanie, thank you so much for being on the call today, you are such a delight to chat with. And thank you for all the beautiful music that you’ve given us and continue to bring. We’ll see you on November 22nd at the Carrollwood Cultural Center in Tampa, Florida.
Melanie: “Thank you Ray we’ll see you in November!”
Melanie Safka official website at www.melaniesafka.com
Melanie Safka on Facebook
Melanie Safka on Twitter
Melanie Safka on Myspace
Very special thanks to Beau Schekeryk and Kim Reilly of SeaSide Music Management
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