Photo above: Ellie discovery, Neil Diamond, Jeff, Ellie, and Bang Records president Bert Berns.
How did you end up choosing the accordion as your first instrument?
This couple my parents knew sent us an 80 base, which is a smaller accordion. I didn't know what it was, but I kept looking it at it and would pick it up even though I didn't understand the bellows and whatnot. And my mother asks, "Would you like lessons dear?" And I said, "But of course!" And that's how I started playing. Anything musical I got into. And if I may say so myself—I was really good. I was so technically terrific. I mean I practiced and I would do "Lady Of Spain" [an accordion standard from the 1920s] and all these really technical songs. I couldn't believe it! And then I started to write my own songs because I had a crush on this guy. I was a freshman in high school and he was a senior.
You started writing songs on the accordion about your crush?
Yup I did.
That's so dreamy.
As a matter of fact, the song was called "The Moment I Saw You." All my very first songs were written on the accordion. I wrote "Cha-Cha-Charming" on the accordion actually.
I know you have influenced a lot of songwriters, but I'm wondering if any particular artists influenced your own writing?
I must say that Shirley [Alston] from the Shirelles was one of my biggest influences as far as their sound. And all the early rock 'n' roll stuff like The Penguins' "Earth Angel." I thought I had died and gone to heaven when I heard that.
In comparing the Billboard Top Ten today with the Top Ten in 1963, many of us would agree that the quality of popular music has declined significantly.
Yeah, it's very hard to walk away in these times singing something. You know what I'm saying? I think with Destiny's Child—their first hit "Say my name, say my name" (Singing). I mean, wow! You remembered that. But there was nothing else memorable in that song.
Yeah, there's not enough to hook you in.
No, not at all. I think there's a lot of talent out there, but for whatever reason I think music has to change. It's just the nature of the beast. I think it will go back to the song eventually.
Ugh.... I'm waiting.
Yeah, I know a lot of people are waiting. When I was in the business, I used to put it this way—I was in the music business. Now it's the music business. You create the artists, you create the look, you create the video, and the video sells the record. I have a niece who's 22 and a nephew who's 27 and over the years I've watched them with the MTV and the VH-1. And I sat there one day watching them watch these videos. And I'm not trying to put them down, but I said, "Do you know what this song is? Or are you just watching the video because you like the outfit or the bump and grind?" I mean there are still people out there who are hitting the top two with "the song." Like Celine Dion who had her run with "the song." But for whatever the reasons are, the music has been very secondary these past number of years. It's been the package that sells, not the songs.
Are there any current artists that you're listening to?
Lemme think....One of the artists that I fell totally in love with when she first came out was Shania Twain. But then again, she does songs. "You're still the one I love...." (Singing). If I was gonna record today that is exactly what I would record. I love the sound of her voice—it's street. It's wonderful. I think in the past couple of years she's been among my favorites. But isn't it terrible that I can't think of anybody else that has really blown me away?
Hey, I completely feel the same way.
I mean, I think Britney's made good records. I think they're fine. I don't love all her stuff, but I think Christina Aguilera is a great singer.
She's definitely got a voice on her.
Unbelievable, that "Beautiful" song.