Duane Hitchings Interview
He’s a home-town boy who has made good.
Duane Hitchings is a legend in Syracuse, N.Y. and outside of Syracuse,
When he was just a teenager he was already doing the Dick Clark Tours
with the likes of Del Shannon, Bobby Vinton, and Ricky Nelson.
He recorded with Jimi Hendrix, Miles Davis, Janis Joplin and Jeff Beck.
He was the founding member of Cactus which included Carmine Appice and
He played keyboards and guitar with Alice Cooper and keyboards for Rod
He’s toured the world with Eric Carmen, Rick Derringer, Davy Johnston
(Elton John) and Tom Peterson (Cheap Trick).
He discovered and pre-produced rock band “Telsa”
He co-wrote and played on four hits with Rod Stewart: “Do You Think
I’m Sexy”, “Young Turks”, “Inflation”,
and “Crazy ‘Bout Her”.
He’s written and played on hits and hit albums with Heart, Eddie
Money, Kim Carnes, Pat Benatar, Steve Perry and Alice Cooper.
He received a Grammy for “Flashdance”, a balled co-written
with Kim Carnes and Craig Krampf.
He wrote movie themes for such films as ‘Rocky IV’ and ‘ Iron
He’s visited England, China and Russia as Ambassador of the Arts
in three separate trips representing the United States.
These days he calls Nashville his home and writes songs for people like
Tim McGraw and Faith Hill.
It’s an honor to present an interview with a Rock ‘n’ Roll
legend, make that a Syracuse, N.Y. rock ‘n’ roll legend-----Mr.
Q – It’s always nice to talk to someone from Syracuse who
went on to do bigger and better things. I don’t believe most people
in Syracuse know about all the talent that has come from their city.
A – Well, thank-you.
Q – You are from the Valley section of Syracuse?
A – No. I’m from South Onondaga. I lived a mile south of South
Onondaga, on a dairy farm. Great Grandpa Hitchings had Hitchings Apple Orchards.
He used to have advertisements on the Arthur Godfrey Show. He was quite
a guy. But each one of us in each generation went off in our own direction.
My grandfather was Assistant Secretary of Agriculture. My dad had a construction
co. and did wonderful. I had wonderful parents. They’re still alive.
They’ve been married for 67 years. Well, like everybody who knows ‘em
says-----they’re not good shots. (Laughs). No, they’re the sweetest
people. I’m very, very fortunate. The Lord really blessed me with
wonderful parents, and a sister. I went to Onondaga Central High School
and Manlius Military Academy. My dad decided that when I was living my life
as a musician; and he was President of the School Board; that I was gonna
be another George Jones song, a country sad song, a guy with a pick-up truck
getting his girlfriend pregnant in high school. So, he sent my butt to Manlius.
I tell you, every young man should go through military training for two
years even if it’s only in high school or college. It really focuses.
It’s better than the draft because the draft is a little forceful.
That’s what they do in Israel. That’s why their army is so awesome
over there. I went to Manlius my junior and senior year. I was gonna go
to West Point but I still loved my music and my music teacher helped me
get a music scholarship to San Francisco Conservatory of Music.
Q – That was expensive to go to Manlius Military Academy wasn’t
A – Yeah, well I got a part music scholarship and my dad and mom
worked their butts off to send me there. We don’t come from a rich
family. Great Grandpa Hitch was rich, but by the time that comes down through
the family-----Forget About It! (Laughs).
Q – What year did you graduate from Manlius?
A – 1962. Headquarters Company. I still talk to them. I talked to ‘em
just a little while ago. I couldn’t make my reunion. The people that
would’ve been my senior year in Onondaga Central just had a reunion,
but because I was on the road, I couldn’t make it. It was their 45
th Anniversary, at Onondaga Central. I love those people a lot. That’s
why I love Tennessee so much. It’s so country down here. It’s
just country people. That’s the way it is in Central New York. So,
I missed that one too, but eventually I’ll get to it.
Q – What bands did you play in, in Syracuse
and where did you play?
A – Oh, yeah. The first gig I ever played was in high school at
Onondaga Central. I was a junior in high school. Bob Sanders played trumpet.
Scottie, I forgot his last name; it was 4 of us, drums, guitar, trumpet
and piano. My mother got a picture of the thing. I can’t believe it.
The first time I ever went onstage my mothers got a picture of it. That
means a lot. We played for the school and we played for a couple of dances.
And then some guy named Jeff Chappelle from Elmwood High School had a band
called Jeff And the Notes. Now, these guys were 19, 20 and 21 years old.
These were grown men. (Laughs). I was only 15 or 16. I played classicals
since I was 5. I could play with my knuckles. I played Jerry Lee Lewis and
Little Richard and all that stuff. The first gig we ever had was playing
for the Auburn Elks Club. The piano was stuck on the floor ‘cause
we couldn’t get the piano up on the stage. It was too heavy. So I
had to play on the floor. It was a stand-up piano. Jeff was perpendicular
to the stage. Well, Jeff would do a Chuck Berry Duck Walk on the top of
the piano out in the audience. Nicky Russo played guitar. His name keeps
coming up in the Syracuse music business. And Brian Sanders on Rhythm Guitar
and Jeff Chappelle lead singer. The defining moment was this cute girl with
short black hair, really pretty. The rage was engineer boots back then with
black leather jackets. This beautiful girl came up to me and says, ‘How’d
you like to sit on this?’ and put out both her hands like I was supposed
to sit on her hands. She said, ‘You are just darling. You are just
the cutest thing.’ What went through my mind was, one – I’m
having a ball. Number 2 – this girl is gorgeous and wants to party,
let’s make it polite. Number 3 – I’m getting paid for
this crap? (Laughs). Number 4 – I found my career. (Laughs). And that’s
it, man. That was it.
Q – What happened to that girl?
A – I have no idea because she got into a knife fight with some
other girl in the girls’ bathroom. (Laughs). The police had to come
in. I’ll tell you, it’s a good thing I didn’t sit on her
hands because this would not have been good. (Laughs).
Q – No telling where that knife would’ve
A – I know. I was trying to be chaste. And if you believe that…..I’ve
got some land in Florida…..This was a very important night, probably
one of the most important nights of my school life. Jeff took a girl home
in Auburn. He dropped me off at the Auburn Diner. Before he left, he promised
my mom and dad, and I was only 15 years old, that I’d be home at 11
o’clock. Well, heck we didn’t stop the gig until 11, or 10:30,
something like that. He dropped me off at the Auburn Diner. I’m sitting
there alone. He said, ‘I’m gonna take this girl home. I’ll
be right back’. He goes behind the barn to go parking with her and
gets stuck in all the cow shit. The girl had 3 brothers who were at least
Q – Oh, boy.
A – And I mean farm boys. That wasn’t the problem. The problem
was the 6’ 5” father who came out with a double-barrel shot
gun. (Laughs). It was in the middle of the winter and the mud and everything
else. Jeff somehow begged for his life-----and got it, ‘cause they’d
just pulled around the barn and seen it. So he picks me up at 4 in the morning.
I don’t know what they’d done in between. I never asked. He
got me home and dropped me off in front of my dad’s and mom’s
house. He would not come into the house ‘cause he’s be in trouble
once again. The car was all muddy. Jeff still remembers. The last time I
talked to Jeff we had a laugh about it. I went inside any my parents were
just about to call Mr. Coatie. He was the head State Trooper of Central
New York. He was our neighbor. He was gonna call an All Points Bulletin
on me. (Laughs). But, this was the defining moment. That one and this is
the second one. I walked into my mothers and fathers and as sweet as they
are, I stood up and you know when someone is sincere and they’re really
talking to you and you’re speaking from the heart? It’s not
because of the girl either. Because I got up onstage and made people happy
and they had a great time and I had something to do with that through music.
I told my mother and father, ‘I found what I want to do for the rest
of my life’. I played piano since I was 5 and loved it. Sports – I
couldn’t catch a ball if you put a gun to my head. You got a football
in my hand you couldn’t take me down. I may run in the wrong direction
but I was real good at holding onto it. But, that’s about it. And
you know my mom and dad just looked at me and said, ‘o.k. son’ and
went back to bed. And, that was the beginning. My mom got up the next morning
and said, ‘the only thing we ask since we’re Presbyterian is
you don’t dance on Sunday’. That Sunday I played North of Syracuse.
It’s where everybody gathered. We played some club and got another
gig Sunday. I got $15, man. That was a lot of money in 1956, 1957. We played
that gig. Not only were they dancing, but somebody had picked on a soldier
and really was pretty rotten to the guy. In fact, terrible to him. I think
he was a soldier. He knew how to defend himself. He gave him a shot to the
neck and the guy died later. So, that was my second gig. Within 2 days I
was accosted sexually and the second day somebody died on the gig. So, that’s
pretty much the beginning of my career. (Laughs).
Q - What kind of places were you playing in those
days? That’s some
A – We played bars.
Q – Do you remember names?
A – Most of it was in North Syracuse. I’m Italian by osmosis.
A lot of my friends were Italian. But, I was a musician because Rome, Utica,
Rochester – The Mangione Bros. In the Italian community in Syracuse-----fantastic
musicians. At that same time Dick Lawrence was a d.j. And that’s another
thing we did, Dick Lawrence stopped by the front of the high school with
a Dick Clark comic book and asked me right in front of a girl I had a crush
on, ‘Can we go make a record? We’re gonna make a record with
Jan And the Radiants’. We went to Rochester. We took about 49 cuts ‘cause
there was one microphone. That was it. One track. We didn’t know it ‘til
I went to college that the thing went to Number One. Called ‘Heart
And Soul’. There was another ‘Heart And Soul’ out that
was a lot straighter. Ours went to Number One. I made $15 and the girl asked
me to go steady with her. I’d mention her name but I don’t want
to embarrass her. I lasted 2 weeks (Laughs). Some other guy came along and
stole her away from me. But man, I was hot there for 2 weeks!! There were
2 girls that were extremely pretty and she was one of the prettiest ones
in school. So, that was the beginning of my recording career. It all happened
in like 3 months. So, that’s it and after that I went to college.
I constantly played.
Q – You don’t remember the names of
A – Man!! Nicky Russo could tell you. We played with Bobby Comstock
And The Counts out of Binghamton. I did a Dick Clark Tour with Bobby Comstock
And The Counts. Bobby and Jeff Chappelle were cousins. That’s how
I got a Dick Clark Tour. I just had a ball, man. I had an old piece of crap
piano that I’d play and I’d bang the crap out of it. And, oh,
my God somebody in Syracuse finally got a Fender bass, because when I played
my first gig there wasn’t even Fender bass guitars then.
Q – Do you have any idea who that might have been? I know because
I interviewed him. Sam Amato (Sam And The Twisters).
A – Oh, my heavens, yeah! Oh, man I haven’t heard that name
forever. Oh yeah, they kicked ass!!
Q – “Sam And The Twisters” were one of the biggest groups
in Syracuse in the early 1960’s.
A – Oh, yeah. They were. Holy Catfish. I haven’t heard that
name in a long time.
Q – You were in a group with Mike Pinera called “Thee Image”.
A – Yeah. Pinera and I got together after ‘Cactus’.
Way after my career started. We drove ‘Cactus’ right into the
ground. That band was awful. It was an embarrassment. Carmine Appice and
Tim Bogert; I was invited to join ‘Cactus’ and we wanted Michael
Pinera desperately. Michael was from the ‘Blues Image’. He wrote ‘Ride
Captain Ride’ and he was in ‘Iron Butterfly’. Michael
and I ended up being dear friends. We were the second ‘Cactus’.
Carmine and Timmy went with Jeff Beck which was ‘BBA’. And before
that it was ‘Cactus’. Before there was ‘Cactus’ we
were trying to get Mike Pinera. He was in a band called ‘Ramatam’ which
was pretty bad with Mitch Mitchell. They weren’t very good, but, we
wanted Michael, ‘cause he was such a phenomenal player and a great
guitar player and wrote hit records which Cactus needed badly. We moved
to Miami and all we did is party. We went on tour to rest. That’s
how much partyin’ was going on. (Laughs).
Q – You went to Syracuse University for how
A – Just for a year. I went to San Francisco Conservatory ‘cause
my mom and dad were gonna move to San Francisco. Well, they never did. So,
I got a scholarship out there. I wrote a bunch of children’s songs,
for piano. Classical. Then I went to Syracuse University. I had a piano
trio called the Duane Hitchings Trio. We used to play at the Hackney House,
downtown ( Syracuse). I forget now where it was. It was just off Salina
Street. That was the guys from Jeff And The Notes. Nicky Russo played drums.
He played jazz drums. Brian Sanders who had played guitar with Jeff And
The Notes got himself a Fender Bass and we had a jazz trio. We played the
Club Dewitt, which has since been torn down and the Hackney House. That
year I was going to Syracuse University. Then I was accepted to Philadelphia
Conservatory Of Music. As a composer I wanted to study down there.
Q – What kind of a place was the Hackney House?
A – It was a steak house. It was a very nice place. We played there
for about 6 months. Every now and then let’s just say some very, very,
very heavy famous people would come in of Italian background. Their bodyguards
would come in first and then they would come in. Nicky Russo of course knew
exactly who they were. Let me give you a hint, my grandfather was a really
good friend of Vito Genovese, because my father was with the government.
They just knew each other. But, this wasn’t Mr. Genovese. This was
Q – Give me a hint.
A – I can’t remember his name-----and it’s just as well
I don’t. But the two bodyguards would come in, and one would go into
the Men’s Room and the other one would go into the Lady’s Room.
He loved ‘Sincerely’. So, the minute he walked into that door
one of the bodyguards would come over with three $50 bills and that was
a lot of money. And they were crisp too. Or maybe they were just printed
out. I don’t know. (Laughs). We played ‘Sincerely’ for
20 minutes. We’d do Peter Nero things and stuff like that. Then I
went to Philadelphia Conservatory Of Music. I played with a group down there
and that’s where I met the Buddy Miles Express.
Q – “Sincerely” was a hit for
The McGuire Sisters. Phyllis McGuire used to go out with Sam Giancana.
Sam Giancana used to come into the Hackney House then?
A – Oh, my God!! You just tripped my memory. I played with some
jazz musicians. I was way over my head, reading charts, ‘cause I just
played by ear. I could read Chopin by charts. I played Three Rivers Inn
for about 2 months. And she came in with him. Quite a few times. In fact
we were backing up the McGuire Sisters. 16 piece band. I remember that specifically.
Nicky took me up to introduce me to him. I could tell he was the Real Deal.
We all had a crush on her (Phyllis McGuire). But, to attempt to even get
near her would mean immediate death. (Laughs). I didn’t want to end
up floating in the Erie Canal.
Q – So, you remember Three Rivers Inn and
owner Dom Bruno?
A – Yes. I haven’t heard that name in a long time. Before
I had the gig I went out there. I wanted to see Ray Charles because one
of the first rock things I did when I was about 14 was ‘What’d
I Say’, in the Wurlitzer piano I had. I went out to see Ray Charles
but it wasn’t Ray Charles that really knocked me in the ass. He knocked
me in ass. He kicked my butt good. But, this young kid by the name of Billy
Preston came out and that Ray had found, and got up and played B-3. This
is before I went to military school. That is when I decided to play the
Hammond B-3. He came out and killed me. He just killed everybody. Billy
was bad to the bone, man. I know he just passed away. I got to see Billy
Preston on one of his first tours with Ray Charles. It gives me goose bumps
just to think about it now. Billy would do things like put his hands up
on the B-3 and elevate himself and dance on the bass pedals-----and play ‘em!
(Laughs). I said I gotta play the B-3. Man, you brought back some memories
Q – Did you ever play the Holiday Bowl on
A – Man!! Listen to this one!!! That’s the first place I saw
Jeff And The Notes. I had never heard guitars so loud in my life. They were
big old 12” speakers with 15 watts. I went up to Jeff and said, ‘I
play piano. I want to play with your band’. I was scared. I was a
little kid. I want to play, so they gave me an audition at his mother’s
house. His mother was a piano teacher, in the Valley. At the Holiday Bowl
was Cliff Richard, and the guys that did the song ‘ Red River Valley
and Jeff And The Notes’. The bass player knocked me out. He kicked
my ass. They were the first English musicians I ever met. Oh, man you’re
bringing back some great memories.
Q – You’re telling me Cliff Richard
was at the Holiday Bowl?
A – No, maybe not. It was a skating rink in North Syracuse. They
used it as a rock venue. I know because people started skating afterwards
and were skating before. I went out there and my mouth dropped open. I remember
Jeff And The Notes. They held their own against these big, so called recording
star groups. They were good. They had the Chuck Berry thing down. Oh, there
was one other thing when I was in high school. I did the Dick Clark Tour.
I went with Bobby Comstock And The Counts ‘cause Jeff called me and
they needed a piano player. We were the band and I was the piano player
for Bobby Vinton, The Crystals; Dee Dee would come with her big fat butt
and put it on my Wurlitzer, sit on it and shake it back and forth. We played
nothing but skating rinks all across Canada, all the way to Vancouver. (Also
on the tour): The Rivingtons and Del Shannon who was one of the sweetest
cats I ever met. He got a brand new fire engine red Cadillac. He just got
married and went on some ice and totally ruined the thing. I couldn’t
understand why there were no hotels on the itinerary except two. We’re
out for seven days. I said ‘Bobby’, and Bobby was into hypnotism.
I was a kid and again these guys were 19, 20 years old. So, I got on the
tour and all these big people I see on t.v. Far out, man. All these skating
rinks would be covered with wood, so people would freeze to death standing
on the ice. On the first night out I was tired, and said ‘Aren’t
we gonna sleep’? We were all in a stretch Plymouth station wagon.
The drums everything. Of course we didn’t bring many clothes. We smelled
like mules when we got back. But, they brought out this big bag of little
white pills. I said, ‘What the hell is that? Do people get headaches
here’? Bobby Comstock said no, man. ‘You just take one of these.
It’s kind of a waker-upper’. Well, they were white crosses.
And then he had another bag of black widows they called them. I took two
of these things and I was awake for two days. Then when I finally fell asleep
because Bobby Comstock; I laugh about it now ‘cause I haven’t
had any drugs, cigarettes or drinks for 18 years. Unless most people I didn’t
go to Rehab. I was a part-time partier. So, I remember going to sleep finally
and Bobby Comstock hypnotized me while I was sleeping. He did that for a
lot of people, especially horn players. The last gig, the sucker me, Bobby
said when he (Bobby Vinton) gets in the middle of just breaking down the
piano and he’s talking to the audience and I’m just doing the
chords to ‘Blue Velvet’ and I’m playing the little piano
part, Bobby Comstock says to me in hypnotism, when I say chicken I want
you to take your fists and start pounding your piano as loud as you can.
Bobby (Vinton) had a girlfriend waiting for him. Maybe it was his wife.
I don’t know who it was. She was very, very beautiful, with at least
a $20,000 mink in those days, and diamonds all over the place. Of course
she was only 18, 19, 21 years old. Who knows? He was bending down giving
her a flower and Bobby (Comstock) comes over and says chicken. Gary, I swear
I don’t know what got into me. I just started pounding the crap out
of the keyboards. Now, this was the last song. The drummer fell off the
drums he was laughing so hard. The rest of the musicians were dying. They
were on the floor. Vinton turns around in just horror. And then he got madder
than hell and said, ‘You’re fired! Bobby Comstock yelled out
to him, this is the last number’. (Laughs) So, that was my experience
with Mr. Vinton and Mr. Comstock.
Q – Did you know The Beatles? The Stones?
And The Who?
A – I knew Ronnie Wood real well because of Rod (Stewart), not really
well. I just knew Ronnie. I have never met the rest of The Stones. The Beatles
I met twice. When I was in the Buddy Miles Express I was playing with Michael
Pinera in Thee Image, slash Cactus. We were just becoming Thee Image. Two
gentlemen were looking for a keyboard player that played keyboard bass and
keyboards. Kind of a gentle thing, not a Rock band. I could, ‘cause
I played B-3 organ. I played left-hand bass. I had Bob Mook who’s
from Binghamton, New York, the creator of the synthesizer. Bob used to come
to my college and I knew him before that. My mom and dad would drive me
down to Binghamton and he made me a keyboard bass that to this day I keep
and treasure. He’s definitely one of my heroes. So, I played keyboard
bass with these huge Sunn amplifiers. I mean, it was loud. Then, I’d
play right-hand organ and a piano with my right hand. So, we were three
piece. I was sick and tired of going through bass players. One guy would
either be on heroin, somebody’s’ having trouble with his wife,
another guy would be an alcoholic. I mean I just got sick and tired of it.
So, we hired my left hand, and I played pretty darn good bass with my left-hand,
plus I played right-hand Fender bass anyway. I look over to my side and
unfortunately it was one of the very, very, very few nights that I drank
or would in any way be inebriated while on the stage. Party afterwards?
Yeah, to some degree. You can’t help it. It’s just party city,
especially during those times. But, I’d had a little too much and
I was playing. We were playing with Bachman Turner Overdrive. We were on
tour with them. Two people came to see me to consider me. I wasn’t
playing all that good and was making mistakes and blew one of the biggest
opportunities I ever had. I looked to my left as we’re coming offstage
and they were clapping thankfully so maybe I didn’t play as bad as
I thought it was, but it was Bob Dylan and George Harrison. They came to
see me ‘cause they were thinking of hiring me ‘cause they’d
heard of me. I just went, oh, no. I knew I didn’t play as good as
I could. Had I played as good as I could, I could’ve been playing
with who knows? So, that was a shock. And the other time when I was with
Timmy and Carmine at Electric Ladyland in New York recording the Cactus
album ‘Hot and Sweaty’. Jimmy McCarty who’s my best friend
with Buddy Miles Express when I played there 2 years prior, were working
on a ballad which is on that album. I was playing this grand piano and I
was around Hendrix a whole lot. He produced the Buddy Miles Express when
I was in it. I would jam with Jimi (Hendrix) and knew Jimi. He was the kindest,
sweetest gentleman I’ve ever met. I’m sitting there at the piano
at Electric Ladyland. Jim McCarty bends over to me and says, ‘Don’t
look and don’t try to be too obvious, but, I want you to look behind
me’. And so I looked behind me and there’s Yoko Ono sitting
on the floor and – John Lennon. They had been sitting there for 10
minutes. And I stopped playing and they said that’s a beautiful song.
I was stunned. I mean The Beatles to me-----you might as well have Chopin
walk through the door, ‘cause I was classical too. I said, ‘Well,
thank-you’. Jimmy said, ‘Thanks very much, man’. I said, ‘Man,
we didn’t mean to interrupt. We’re gonna go’. I always
try to keep things on the light side. I said, ‘Now, listen. If you
want to help us finish this, song or do a vocal, feel free’. And I
winked at them because everybody wanted ‘em to do stuff. They said
no. He said but we will hear your album. We hear ‘Cactus’ is
a great group. Yoko waved. They said, ‘God Bless and they left’.
We couldn’t play anymore. I mean, we just couldn’t play anymore.
We just sat there and went ‘I can’t believe who we just met’.
So, that’s my deal with The Bealtes and The Stones.
Q – Do you recall listening to the Syracuse
radio stations of the day WNDR, WOLF?
A – WNDR. Oh, my lord, yes. When I was 13, 14, it would take me
4 hours to do the dishes. We lived on a farm house. There was a little cupola
and there was a radio there. A little cheap Motorola radio. I would turn
on Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis. I’d just sit there and listen
and listen and listen and listen. I grew some tomatoes and bought myself
a Silvertone guitar with a sparkle on it and an amp for $99 from Sears.
I’d sit there and practice with a razor blade ‘cause I couldn’t
afford a pick or get down to Sears off Salina Street, to get a pick. So,
for about 2 weeks there I had to use a razor blade. (Laughs).
Q – Did you ever meet or know Jim Morrison
and Janis Joplin?
A – I never met Morrison. I was going to be the keyboard player
for Janis Joplin. I did two rehearsals with her at a topless bar in San
Francisco. It was arranged by Michael Bloomfield and a young rock guitar
player by the name of Carlos Santana. Harvey Brooks was playing bass. We
all auditioned at a topless bar during the day two days straight. She chickened
out and went back to the band again. Janis had gone through a lot of stuff
at that time. And unfortunately she died 6 months later. But, she was an
open heart. She was a wonderful woman. She was just really confused. But
man, when that woman sang…..I mean, Aretha Franklin…..you
gotta hear those people ‘live’. There are some artists you gotta
hear ‘live’. I played for Etta James for two months in an all
Black club. I was the only white guy there. She made my B-3 organ; her voice
made the wood vibrate. You can’t get that on a record brother. You
can’t even get that on a CD.
Q – Alice Cooper…..
A – One night Jimmy McCarty and I came in to the Scene ( New York
nightclub owned by Steve Paul), and it was before we went to the Haymarket
which was an English bar and pub. We went over to the Haymarket for dinner
and to the Scene early ‘cause we heard there was this guy who almost
got beat up in Texas because he got up with lipstick and a tutu and called
all the cowboys down in Dallas/Ft. Worth a bunch of faggots. Well, that
didn’t go over so well and his manager had him intentionally do that
so he would get in the news. He got in the New York Times. His name was
Alice Cooper. So, he was going to audition that night. Then, the Columbia
Glee Club was going to audition that night. We said Columbia Glee Club?!!
What the hell are they doing down here? In those days it was esoteric. Everybody
listened to everything. If it was good-----it was good. If it was bad-----they
didn’t play again, that’s all. It was that simple. (Laughs).
Jimmy and I are sitting there and behind my back, I remember this very vividly
was Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin. They were sitting in front of a candle
having some Baileys and having some dinner. This guy walked in, a huge guy.
He had his t-shirt rolled up with a tattoo and everything else. There was
a bunch of punks, a bunch of wanna be Mafia guys that would hang there all
the time. Jimmy McCarty sat there and said-----This is it. They’re
gonna come in and start shootin’ the place, ‘cause they had
violin cases. We thought they were violent. We were trippin’ the day
before. I don’t know what we were doing. But, we made up this whole
thing. They took instruments out. They were pre-med and pre-law students
from Columbia University. They were the Columbia Popular Music Glee Club.
They changed their name 3 weeks prior to that to Sha Na Na. That was their
debut. And so we saw the New York debut of Alice Cooper and Sha Na Na, in
one night. So that was the kind of place it was. I went on to play with
Alice Cooper for 2 years. He came in and all he had was a door that didn’t
have any glass in it and a rubber chicken. I swear to you. They got all
their instruments trashed down in Ft. Worth two days before. The manager
intentionally did that. He timed in so that it came out in the new Rolling
Stone that some guy named Alice Cooper had got up there with lipstick and
a tutu. Well, that’s it. Warner (Bros. Records) signed ‘em, ‘cause
they got themselves a million dollars worth of publicity. That man is Shep
Gordon. He went on to manage Blondie and Luther Vandross. At the time when
I met Shep he smelled like a donkey. He was the roadie and soundman. He
went up to the President of Warner Bros. Mo Ostin, and said, ‘I can
manage this group’. He had bare feet and for some reason Mo let him
do it. He’s now Chairman of the Board of Beverly Hills Bank. A brilliant
businessman. He’s worth about, well, I won’t quote any numbers.
He’s been Chairman of the Beverly Hills Bank for 25 years. He’s
one of the kindest business people I’ve ever met. He’s a real
Q – Why’d you leave Alice Cooper?
A – I kind of left the band because my writing career was really
starting to take over. Coop to this day still bitches about it-----‘You’re
the only guy who ever quit me’. And of course he was extremely supportive.
By that time I’d had ‘Do You Think I’m Sexy’ and ‘Young
Turks’ out with Rod Stewart, and had something out with Heart and
Pat Benatar. It kind of looked like my life was going to writing, and I
wanted to spend time doing it.
Q – You wrote this song for Rod Stewart “Do You Think I’m
A – Co-wrote it.
Q – Your name doesn’t appear on the
record but appears on the sheet music?
A – (Laughs). Yeah.
Q – Why doesn’t it appear of the record?
A – Carmine Appice called me one afternoon. I was 3 months late
in my rent. $20 in my wallet. I had auditioned for Rod Stewart and didn’t
get it. I played double-fisted handed Jerry Lee Lewis which is Southern
Boogie-woogie piano. He wasn’t necessarily looking for that. He was
really looking for a piano player. David Foster was his piano player. Carmine
calls me up. This was after ‘Cactus’. He says, ‘Hey, Duane.
You gotta help me write something.’ The English guys can’t write
a disco (song). This is when ‘Saturday Night Fever’ and John
Travolta freakin’ ruled. All of the rock ‘n’ roll guys,
The Stones, Foreigner, AC/DC are all sitting there going ‘We’re
screwed. It’s over with’. (Laughs). This is disco. Rod being
as brilliant as he is had it in his head, and I didn’t figure out ‘til
later to make fun of disco, but still have a great sounding track. None
of the English guys had a clue. But, Carmine being from Brooklyn and the
drummer…..I was the only other American. Carmine comes over and says
I’m 20 minutes late to Rod’s house. We’ve got to write
a disco song for him. I said, ‘Carmine, thanks a lot for giving me
lots of time’. He said, ‘we gotta do it. I know we can do it’.
So, we wrote ‘Sexy’ in 20 minutes. The music and some of the
lead lines. I turned some of Carmine’s music around. We wrote it with
a drum box and a Fender piano. I had a little lead line in there. He took
it up to Rod’s and walked in and for the first two months, he quotes
Rod as saying ‘I’m going to let the lads write the songs before
I start getting in all these high-priced, high falutin writers. He didn’t
pay them that well, but, he allowed them to co-write. The band at the time
co-wrote ‘Hot Legs’. They’ll be making money for the rest
of their lives on that song. So, that was his bonus. So, nobody is supposed
to bring anything in. Carmine walks in the living room and says, ‘Hey,
man Hitchings and I put together this synthesized (song) and it’s
freakin’ great’! The English guys said, ‘That’s
not the deal here. Nobody’s supposed to write outside. Hitchings an
outside writer’. Carmine backed up real quick and saved the song.
I know Rod and he wouldn’t have done the song. Rod would just have
looked for something else. Carmine changed the story immediately and said, ‘Well,
I mean he played piano’. So, Carmine didn’t lie. O.k.-----you
sure? Yeah. I come in and they wanted to hear me play piano again. They
were still undecided. Rod came up to me with a piece of paper and split
it in half and said, ‘I want you. I’ve heard this in my head
after hearing your song a couple days ago. I want you to write this down.
You write music, right Duane? Your classically trained’? Yes. He said, ‘I
want you to write this down’, and I still didn’t have my name
on it and he started to hum, ‘Da, da, da, ,da, da, dada dada dada
da’. Now, let me see you write it. So I wrote it down. He said, ‘Now
play it for me’. Rod’s very business. He can be very abrupt,
like Donald Trump. That’s why he’s a good businessman. A little
rough, but a businessman. He wrote it down. Then he said, o.k. write it
down again. I said o.k.-----on another piece of paper. O.k. you’re
gonna give me this piece and you’re gonna take this piece. It was
one piece of paper. I’m sorry. He split it in two. He said,’ I’m
gonna lose this thing ‘cause I’ll probably go out and get drunk
tonite. Do not lose this (my piece of paper)’. We’re gonna practice
Monday and we’re gonna go over this song. We put ‘Sexy’ together.
At that time Carmine had already said I had nothing to do with it. Carmine
called the next day and said, ‘Rod it’s gonna be a big hit’.
I’m going back 3 days now. The bad news is you’re not gonna
get credit for it. I said, ‘What are you talking about? This guy will
probably make millions’. He said it’s o.k. we’ll share
it. So, I said I’m gonna call my attorney. So, I had Carmine in my
attorney’s office Monday, the next morning at 9 o’clock. So,
we’re dear friends. You already know what I’m going to say.
In order to keep business and friends together, you go to an attorney. You
do business correctly, because money screws up families, friendships and
everything else. So, we split it. Now, a year later I write ‘Young
Turks , by myself this time, with Rod. I gave half my royalties to Carmine
as a thank-you. That’s a lot of money. A lot of records. When we finished,
Rod and I were left at the bar. We’d always go next to The Record
Plant which was in L.A. Rod said to me, ‘I know your music and I want
you to tell me the truth. Did you write Sexy’? I said, ‘Rod’,
and my first check was $79,000. This man has made me a lot of money. This
guy started my career. There’s no way I can lie to him. I said ‘I’ll
tell you the truth. Yes, I did write Sexy’. He never asked me. I said, ‘I
said, ‘I’m going against the promise I had with Carmine’.
He said, ‘What agreement with Carmine’? I said, ‘Well,
anybody outside The lads can’t write for the first month or two’.
He said, ‘yeah, the lads. You’re part of the lads. You’re
writing for me’. He said, ‘I never said any such thing. I’m
English. You know what the English think of Hitler’? I said, ‘Well,
you have to hate him pretty much’. He said, ‘Damn right, but
I’d take a hit from him. (Laughs). I almost fell off the bar stool.
So, I don’t know who is right about this. Maybe it’s just misunderstanding ‘cause
I know Carm has never lied to me. Rod has never lied to me. I think it was
just a big misunderstanding. I did not have my name on ‘Sexy’ for
10 years until I sold my publishing and believe me with the check they gave
me, half of it was for ‘Sexy’. And, ‘Don’t Look
Any Further. They were my two biggest hits, and ‘Young Turks’, ‘Infatuation’’.
So, sometimes you’ll see my name on it. Sometimes you won’t.
That was a long answer, but it was the only way I could answer it because
it’s quite involved.
Q – When was the last time you were in Syracuse?
A – Too long and my mom and dad remind me of that. I’m going
to come up in the next month or two.
Q – Why are you living in Nashville instead
of Los Angeles?
A – Los Angeles is bankrupt. The music is no good. It sucks. It’s
terrible. It’s a joke. It’s quabi. When Marilyn Manson is the
best musical statement…..I was with the original Marilyn Manson-----it
was Alice Cooper. It’s a joke. It’s over with. Good-bye. Popular
music is folk music. It’s music for folks. I might be a half ass big
shot in L.A. bit I ain’t shit here, but that’s o.k. I can still
do a Peter Frampton album and write for him. It’s because it’s
gentile here. It’s friendly. People don’t try to kill themselves
on the freeway. The traffic is nice. They have beautiful farms. It doesn’t
rain all the time, like it does in Seattle. Nancy (from ‘Heart’)
and her husband have a beautiful horse farm. This has really become the
Music Center of the world-----even over London. It’s the Renaissance
town of music. I love Syracuse, and I love the Central New York attitude.
Country and that’s exactly what it is down here. So, I came home so
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