Jackie Deshannon Wrote the Tune but Randy Edelman Put a Little Love in Her Heart
Singer-songwriter Jackie DeShannon has hit the charts again this year with I Don’t Need You Anymore—a philosophy that once pretty well summarized her attitude toward men. Her husband, Randy Edelman, changed all that, not without the kind of turmoil that makes wonderful pop songs but isn’t a lot of fun to live through.
In 1971 DeShannon, then 27, had already recorded the hugely successful What the World Needs Now Is Love, toured with the Beatles, retired and returned with her own gospel-rock hit, Put a Little Love in Your Heart. One night in January she went to the Persian Room of the Plaza Hotel in New York to see Laugh-In starlet Judy Carne perform.
Enter Edelman in a white suit, directing Carne’s orchestra and performing his own songs during the costume change. “I was turned on,” concedes Jackie. “I was sure he was at least 30. He had class. I’m figuring, ‘He’s had four years of this training, three years of that, two years of classical bassoon.’ I thought he had his act together.”
Edelman, in fact, was scarcely 22, just out of Cincinnati’s Conservatory of Music and still living part-time in Teaneck, N.J. with his parents (an accountant and a first-grade teacher). When Jackie’s agent called to arrange a meeting, Randy declined.
“Those days I was still going home to New Jersey every two weeks because my mom would do my laundry,” Randy says. “So this one time my parents are watching TV. I saw Jackie and said, ‘Hey, that girl asked me to conduct for her and I said no.’ My father stared at me. ‘You said what?’ My mother said, ‘She looks like a nice girl.’ The next day I called the manager back.”
When he met Jackie for breakfast, Randy wore a ragged leather jacket, torn jeans, boots and T-shirt. “I had an image of the conductor in the white suit and this slob shows up,” De-Shannon recalls. Thus began an erratic four-year courtship. “I never wanted to live with anybody again,” she says. An unpleasant marriage to a record executive had been annulled after a year in 1967. “It was so nice to be able to see someone when you wanted and be away when you wanted.”
Even after they moved in together, “a lot of problems and doubts remained,” DeShannon says. One day in 1976 she walked out. Randy started going to parties alone while Jackie retreated into her work. Still, she remembers, “I really broke up singing the one song we wrote together [Let the Sailors Dance].”
Finally Randy called her at the farm she had bought in Kentucky and she said, “You have to come down here and we’ll talk—just talk.” Six months later they married in Los Angeles, with a rabbi for Randy, a priest for Jackie.
There are no regrets. Professionally both are flourishing. Randy, now 31, has just released his fifth album (You’re the One). He earns steady credits scoring TV movies and hefty royalties for his songs. Jackie, 35, is collecting material for another album and can be heard on the sound track of Together?, a new Jacqueline Bisset film scored by Burt Bacharach and Paul Anka. The movie recording is her first since their son, Noah, was born 17 months ago. “People are reporting that Jackie De-Shannon is making a comeback, but I never went anywhere,” she complains. “True, I wasn’t on the road last year. I was changing diapers and going to a mother-toddler class.”
Jackie (then Sharon Myers) grew up singing in Hazel, Ky., a Bible Belt hamlet. Her father, a barber, and her housewife mother were amateur musicians, a grandmother played English folk tunes on guitar, and her aunt taught at the Chicago Conservatory of Music. At age 6 Jackie sang hymns over the local radio station. Her family later moved to Aurora, Ill., and as a high school student singing in clubs at night, she perfected the crisp delivery and subtle vibrato that became her trademarks. When a homemade demo tape caught an ear at Liberty Records, she moved to California, borrowing her stage name Jackie from a third-grade chum. She made up DeShannon.
Still a teenager, she composed four Top 10 hits for Brenda Lee and recorded with such backup talent as Ry Cooder, Leon Russell and Glen Campbell. She was the first to “cover” Bob Dylan’s Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right.
Then in 1964 she recorded What the World Needs Now, the unashamedly sentimental Bacharach-Hal David song that, she says, “everyone else had turned down.” It sold two million copies and earned Jackie an opening-act slot on the Beatles’ first U.S. tour in 1964. “It was very difficult to entertain 80,000 people who were waiting to see the Beatles,” she recalls. When that six-week journey was over, she abruptly retired to become an architect. “Lots of money was lost, and oh my God, did people get upset,” she acknowledges. “But I wanted to go to art school.”
A year later, however, she was back in the recording studio. The Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles had “drastically changed me,” insists Jackie, “in the way I appreciated the world.” But “maybe I was a little spoiled from all the attention with the music.” (She also admits, “I couldn’t draw real well.”)
She was deeply into what she calls “my nightclub stage” when she met Randy. He had just begun his own cabaret career. After working through college arranging and producing for James Brown’s King Records in Cincinnati, he graduated to a $50-a-week songwriting job with a New York music publisher. He had been recommended by its manager, Tony Orlando. While playing piano in a Broadway pit orchestra, Randy was hired by Came, then starring in The Boyfriend and planning a solo tour. Barely out of school, “I found myself at Caesars Palace conducting an orchestra of 100,” Randy marvels.
On the road, he wrote songs in his spare time. That led to two critically admired, if noncommercial, albums and a tour with the Carpenters. He was still not the consummate performer. Opening for Frank Zappa at a theater-in-the-round in Arizona in 1975, he kept his head over the piano so intently he did not notice the stage revolving. He played his last chord and exited with a flair—into the middle of the audience.
His breakthrough came in England, where three songs—Concrete and Clay, Weekend in New England and Uptown, Uptempo Woman—made the Top 10 in 1975. After Barry Manilow’s version of Weekend hit in the U.S., Edelman songs were scooped up by Olivia Newton-John, Patti Labelle and even Bing Crosby. (Jackie’s songs, meanwhile, have appeared on recent albums by Rita Coolidge, Anne Murray and Karla Bonoff.)
The addition of Noah has caused a space shortage in their Hollywood Hills home, and they’re looking for a new place. He has inevitably rearranged their lives, too. “Time together used to mean romantic times,” she says. “Now it means family times.” When not tending le bébé, as Jackie calls him, she and Randy attend the L.A. Philharmonic, watch TV sports and often play gin rummy all evening.
Although openly affectionate, they rarely work together. “I think we’d water down what we each do best,” says Randy. Adds Jackie: “Two writers in a house is tough. You can get claustrophobia with one writer—yourself.”
Still, marriage “has made everything easier for us,” Edelman says. “We feel we can depend on each other.” Then, pop composer that he is, Randy adds a line that sounds like a fugitive lyric: “It’s kind of like a real happy song.”