Saturday, August 31, 2013

Brian d'Arcy James Performs for Field of Hope:Celebrating 25 Years


Brian d’Arcy James

Spontaneity and Discipline

 The Spaces In-between


Brian James was born into a family with a golden touch and the tenacity of good genes. James is one of the good guys who still believe in the ethics of hard work. He developed his craft and was mindful of how one’s strength can become an Achilles heel. He is able to sit still and relish a quiet moment despite his urge to climb the next mountain, especially if it is incredibly steep. There is this hunger that pushes him forward to the next gig, the next big chance. James tends to grab the hardest to that which is there then not there and shrugs it off as the life of a working actor. He attended Northwestern University, the alma mater of Charleton Heston. James even sang a song for him during his induction at the 1997 Kennedy Center Honors Awards Show presided by President Clinton.  The song, More I Cannot Wish You was Heston’s wedding song, and as the camera scanned the audience it rested briefly on his face, tears streaming down his cheeks. A magic moment filled with love and humanity for this aging star. James now resides in New York, close to the action though he still pilgrimages home to mecca…to Saginaw, a violent, misunderstood receptacle for all the misdeeds of its forefathers. It seems fitting that a wild and woolly outpost for humanity like Saginaw could nurture the talents of great musicians, actors, singers and poets such as Brian D’Arcy James. I can hear his eyes rolling now…



When did you first realize you enjoyed music and dance and acting?


My grandmother was always interested in music and dance. She was a tap dancer growing up. She would always encourage me to  look at things she saw things on television, if they were watching Singin’ In the Rain or Lawrence Welk. She’d always say, “Hey, look at that guy dancing” or “Look at them singing.” I think she noticed something in me because I was a bit of a ham growing up, so I think that was the first seeds of it. My uncle Brian Kelly went on to be an actor in Hollywood. He was in the television show “Flipper.” 


 I heard about that.


Yeah, he played the dad. So I had an uncle who was a legitimate television star and that was another familial connection to acting and the arts in general. So I guess then the most immediate influence was my older sister who started getting involved in theater in high school. I was a couple of years behind her but I would watch her do her thing…she became so passionate about it. She just fell in love with being in shows at school. I did, too. My parents were always exposing us to the theater. They’d take us down to the Fisher Theater in Detroit and we would see traveling shows, national tours of Broadway shows. My first memory is seeing “Annie” down at the Fisher Theater. It probably opened a couple of years before. I knew that score very well because we listened to it in the car all the time because my parents would always play one of their eight-track cassettes, so I was always surrounded by it through my family, whether they were stories of my grandmother or watching television with my uncle, or I was watching my sister doing theater. It was there to be explored, if one had an inkling to explore it, and I certainly did. I studied acting at Northwestern University and hat’s when I really fell in love with the idea of being an artist, being an actor, and pursuing it as a career.


I have read about you performing at Pit and Balcony when you were still a teenager. First of all, how did you pass the audition, second how did the audience receive you, and what did you do? Did you dance in the show, too?


It was a local production of Annie with Jim Gaertner as the director, and he cast me in it. I was young, 16. Yeah, I had to sing and dance, and you know to be totally honest, I didn’t think too much about it. I knew that I wanted to give it a shot, and I knew that I felt comfortable doing it. I didn’t really think about getting it, and so when I did get it, it was like, “oh, okay… careful what you wish for - now you gotta do this thing.” It really was a tremendous experience because, you know, not only was I doing a show, but I was doing a show with people from the community, as opposed to students from my school. So I met a lot of different people from a lot of different backgrounds, you know, professional people who loved the theater who are also doing community theater. All of a sudden I was afforded this chance to kind of have a whole new community of people to kind of be with who were sharing the same goal. As for how people reacted, I have no idea. The show didn’t close on my account, so I think I must have been doing something right. 


You did, this was pretty early on too. Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat at the Midland Theater.


I was a junior in high school. This is another great, defining experience. I owe this to my father. I remember seeing an article that had been lying on my bed one night when I got home, and it was a Saginaw News article about this production of Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat that was going to be in Midland, and it was going to be directed by this guy named Dean Badolato who was a Broadway dancer and had a connection to the Midland Center for the Arts. My father tore it out and put it on my bed and said, “You should check this out. You should audition for it.” That’s the kind of great parents I had. They were aware of my interests, and they had their eyes open for me, as well as encouraging me, so I’m very grateful for that. The second thing that was also remarkable and potent for the experience was the director, after having done the show, he did a follow-up article in the Saginaw News. I remember reading this quote which really had a severe impact on me. The question was posed, “What do you think about this guy who’s playing Joseph? Does he show any promise? Does he have any talent?” He said, “Yeah, this kid, Brian James, does show talent. If he wanted to, he could have a career in this business.” It was the first time that anybody who was a dyed-in-the wool professional made a comment like that on record. It was a very strong moment for me to have this guy’s stamp of approval.  It gave me confidence to consider continuing to move down the road, so that was another great experience.



You mentioned Brian Kelly from Flipper. Did he ever show you the ropes or teach you a little about Hollywood and movies?


We were always in contact. I would see my uncle practically every summer. We had a cottage up in Gaylord and the family would always get together there, and my uncles and aunts would come together and we would spend the summer there. As for showing me the ropes, it wasn’t necessarily first-hand knowledge, but I do remember getting some very sage advice from him about, you know, pursuing this business. His wisdom was, “Don’t do it” (Laughter). He communicated that to me clearly pretty early on. Now mind you, he was working with a fish at the time, so I think that had something to do with it. What’s the old quote? “Never work with children or animals.” And I think he was doing both at the same time. Anyway after that, his experience was as a producer, he produced “Blade Runner,” and “Cities of the Wild.” I always wanted to hear the stories of how things were going and what was happening. Even after I started my professional career I’d end up in Los Angeles and I’d always see him there. It was always great to see him on his own turf, you know, in his own backyard where he lived. It was his world there and the life that he was living in California. It takes the mystique away, and that’s another great thing about having somebody who’s in the business is that it’s not a mystery. You can see that it’s just plain old-fashioned hard work and just getting up every day and doing your job. That’s important to realize, to see…nobody’s going to hand it to you. You’ve got to work.


 I read about an experience you had at Northwestern University. You starred in a production of Hair

Yes I did a production of “Hair” at Northwestern and this was my sophomore year at college. The director of that show, Dominic Missimi, was a wonderful director and a great man and on the faculty of the Theater School of Northwestern. He was asked to take the production that we were in in college and remount it as a special production for the 20th anniversary of the production of “Hair.” Essentially that show that I did in college, the commercial producer who owned the rights to “Hair,” a guy by the name of Michael Butler, who lived in Oak Brook and still does, Oak Brook, Illinois, he heard about this Northwestern production. He saw it, and he loved it. He said, “This is what I want to do for the 20th anniversary production in

Chicago, so those were the blueprints for the professional production. Now that didn’t necessarily mean that I was a shoe-in to do it. I had to audition just like everybody else. Thankfully it was a big break for me and I was cast in the professional production of that show my junior year of college. That was a great connection of my education at Northwestern giving me the opportunity to pursue something professionally.


Does it annoy you when you’re not working?


Yeah, I get annoyed. It depends on how long the stretch is. It’s a nice thing to be able to kind of cleanse the pallet and not do something for a while. You know, I will say that I’m a little more selective in what I do now. I have a little bit of a, at least I feel that I’ve earned the right. Maybe I’m right, maybe I’m wrong about that, but I’m taking a little bit more of a judicious approach to the things that I do. Sure, there are stretches of time when I’m not doing something consistently. It does become a little bit annoying, but what you should try to do in those moments is a) enjoy it because, you know, hopefully it’s not going to last too long, and I’ll be pining for the next time I have a few minutes. Then b) I try to be productive in that time as well to do other things. Like, you know I’m working on a couple of screen plays, and I’m pursuing the rights to produce a piece as a Broadway musical, so I’m trying to stretch to different areas that don’t necessarily rely on my acting skills exclusively. That’s kind of how I try to bide my time when I’m not working.


It must have been difficult to do Shrek


It was challenging for sure because, in a physical way, in a way that I’ve never been challenged before because of the makeup and the costume. I had to be ready for it, so I like a challenge like that. I enjoy that aspect of it. That’s right, after a year you think, “Okay, let me be practical about this.” I would have loved doing it as long as the run lasted but it really did take it out of me, and I just thought if I had another opportunity to do a really fantastic play the timing was just right enough for me to say, “this might be my time to bow out.”


Did your athleticism help you with the Shrek dance and all that other stuff?


Yeah, you do have to be ready to do anything, and you do have to stay in shape. Your body is your instrument, so you kind of have to think that way. There are times when I’m more aware of that than at other times, just in terms of my ability to stay in shape, you know, like everybody else and just try to do the right thing. Of course, I’m getting older, so like, “All right. It’s not a bad idea to try to stay in shape.” You know most actors are pretty aware of the fact that they have to be in tune with themselves.


 You had a lot of Broadway experience; “Blood Brothers,” “Sweet Smell of Success,” “Giant,” “Titanic.” Each of them were big, big ticket items. Was there a particular show that you liked more than the others?


Every show is different, has a different character. I have a sense of it in my memory in terms of how I felt about each one. You mentioned “Blood Brothers.” That was a big one because it was my first Broadway show. I remember the first night. The show was already up and running, so I was coming into the show as a replacement in the cast of one of the guys who left to go do another show… which is very common. So I was inserted into this machine of a Broadway show. I remember getting ready to make my first entrance for the opening number and wondering to myself, “What is this going to be like?” I was nervous and my adrenalin was pumping. I was ready to do it. I was excited to do it, but the thing that immediately struck me when I stepped out and started doing what I had to do for the first number, is that it was no different than any other kind of theatrical experience that I had before in terms of all the training that I had had, all of the experiences I had had stepping on a stage from Pit and Balcony to Midland to Northwestern to Chicago to regional theater, it’s all the same equation. Now obviously it’s different because it’s Broadway, and there’s a different expectation and there are probably different ticket prices, but the job was exactly the same. I found great comfort in knowing that, “Wow, I’ve been doing this for 15 years already.” It was a great sense of comfort. It made me feel like, “Wow, I’m where I should be. This is where I belong.” In your mind, you think, “Wow, Broadway, there’s something different about it.” Don’t get me wrong. There is something about in that it represents a kind of pinnacle of what you can expect from a theatrical experience. But on the other hand, it requires the same thing, putting on a costume, stepping out on the stage, and knowing your lines and knowing where to stand.



Speaking about what you’ve learned through the years, and I know you’ve learned a lot for sure, are there maybe some principles that you hold dear, that you really learned from, such as “Less Is More?”


Um-hm. Yeah, that’s true. You know, it’s a constant lesson that I’m learning. It’s one thing to hear it and think that you understand it, and then occasionally you’ll have moments when you can employ it and feel like, “Oh, I understand now what that means and the doing of it,” but that’s the experience of things. If you get those experiences, when you can actually experiment with ideas like that, that’s what I think makes you a better actor. I think “Less is More” is a great thing, especially when you, like me, are making the transition from stage work, which was predominantly my career and then moving into television and film work. You have to learn how to kind of really pull back and use yourself in a different way. Overall I think on a larger scale, what I’m constantly learning is you have to be true to who you are in each particular day that you’re living because this week you’re different than last week, and this month is different from last month, and this year is different from last year. I guess what I mean by that is your ideas change, your life changes, your perspective changes, and maybe even your interests change,

how you spend your time and how you feel about how you spend your time changes. I think it’s important to check in on that and be honest with what you’re getting out of what you do. I’m speaking obviously about what I do for a living, but I think it’s probably true for everybody. You know, you can do something for a long time and then you can wake up and say, “Why am I doing this?” I think those moments are good because it’s kind of like a tune-up for a car. You have to kind of get everything back in line and say, “Okay, what am I connecting to now? What makes me passionate? What do I care about? What do I want to say as an artist?” I’m in a place like that right now. I’m trying to be honest with who I am and what I’m doing and why I’m doing it, and I’m trying to keep myself in line with how I’m going to best communicate those things as an artist.


You’ve worked with a lot of actors. You must feel the same way sometimes when the director’s a bully or a creep in some way, or the production is bad, and then you can join together and talk about it. Does it ever so happen that in times of trouble on the set, on the stage, you help each other out


Yeah, I think it’s more in just conversing with other actors and you know, you’ve mentioned some really tremendous people. I’ve had the real luxury of working with really quite great actors who I look up to who have had these incredible careers and a wealth of experience. What I’m always struck by is that actors are actors. No matter how successful they are, if they’re going to go out and do a job, they have to act. It’s not like they do anything differently.

They just have been doing it for a longer period of time and might be more celebrated. It doesn’t take away from the fact that you have to collaborate with people. Inevitably even the greats, you know, have bad experiences where they just can’t believe how poorly they are being treated or how uninteresting a production can be. What I do say is that I do take comfort in knowing that everybody just wants to do a good job. When things get thwarted in that pursuit, I think it’s just as shocking and as jarring and as disappointing to anybody who cares about what they do. So yeah, I take great comfort in knowing that the greats that I’ve known have expressed, everybody’s got their hard-knocks stories.


 How do you handle that hurry up and wait kind of problem


Well, that’s definitely part and parcel of television and film. It doesn’t happen too much in the theater. The theater is kind of a constant flow. It’s a low, intense burn that just continues which is really a wonderful thing. You start working on something and you have a continuum that pushes you forward. Television and film are much different in that you have little spurts of activity and then, as you say, a lot of down-time where you just hurry up to wait. A great lesson that I learned just doing “Smash” and watching Debra Messing work is that there is a lot of pressure, especially when you’re starting something off, particularly with a pilot, because everybody wants to get it right, everybody wants to control the amount of money that’s being spent, which means they have to control the amount of time that they’re spending on a particular shoot, and so there’s a lot of people working furiously and feverishly to kind of, what’s called the set-up of the shot. It takes a lot of people. It’s an incredible amount of work from the crew to set up every single shot, angles, lights, wires, set pieces, set decorations, costumes, all those things. In between each take, you’ve got a lot of people working really, really hard. My point is that once it becomes time for the actor to do his job, it’s easy to carry all of that chaos, all of that frenetic energy and have it infest you at the time when everything stops. Everything stops and it’s your job to pretend like nothing has been happening yet you’re in this vacuum where you continue your scene or you continue to do your job as an actor. What I saw Debra doing, which I loved witnessing, was just her ability to separate herself and create this moat between all of that noise and hubbub and give herself a few minutes to breath a bit, and then create this whole new space, this vacuum in which she could do her job easily and not carry all of that stuff with 150 people mulling around. I don’t know if that makes sense to you. I’m trying to describe what it is. That was a great lesson, especially in the high-speed world of network television. There was this seasoned professional just taking control of her job and doing it in a really graceful way. It’s separating from the din and letting yourself be productive within a space that is peaceful.



You’ve done all kinds of things  from drama, TV, film, and theater. What’s your preference, you prefer what medium to the other?


Well, I think my favorite will always be the thing that I spent the most time doing, which is the theater. It’s what I studied; it’s what got me interested in acting. It’s what I know best. It’s what I know best in terms of how to employ my skills. However I’ve been doing it for quite a while, and it’s been great these last couple of years to start the ball rolling down to television and film because it’s a different way of working. I think it’s great to be in a business where you can all of a sudden, after 20 years of doing something, to get a chance to kind of find a different flavor at the ice cream store and try that for a while. You’re doing the same thing. You’re just using different muscles. I’m really interested in exploring what it takes to be a good film actor, to be a good television actor. It’s a combination. Then again the third part is that I would love to be able to see something come to fruition that I’ve created, not relying on the words that someone’s written for me, but kind of creating the thing that I want to say. I’ve done a few things like that that no one has ever seen. It’s always a great, an enormous pleasure and pride in kind of creating my own things.


I understand we are both fans of Todd Rundgren.


Yeah, he’s pretty great. He wrote a Broadway show that was performed at the Public Theater, you know, the Public Theater in New York. It doesn’t surprise me because he has such a wide array of talents and interests musically. I’m sure you probably know this as well. He’s quite an accomplished producer.

So he’s able to talk, communicate, interpret and help create. He’s just kind of wildly talented, and I’ve always loved his music.


Let’s talk about the concert at Field Neurosciences Institute in Saginaw. What set list did you use or what songs did you use for your debut?  


Well, I did a lot of songs that I love, pop songs from the ‘70s and the ‘80s, Steve Winwood, Squeeze, Billy Joel, other artists like Harry Connick, Jr, Rufus Wainwright and things like that, so when I was talking to the folks at FNI about this upcoming concert, they had a really great idea which is…follow up with this FNI show using the same premise for my concert in New York - to just sing songs that I like. They thought it would be a good idea, and I totally agree with just pushing the parameters out a little bit and use “Under The Influence” as the title of the concert. It would be songs that everybody loves, that everybody grew up listening to that are in the pop medium. I’m exploring all kinds of options in terms of what the set list will be for the FNI concert. I think that I’ll use some of the songs that I did for my 54 Below Concert in New York Concert and then I’ll add other songs from the ‘60s and even the ‘50s. So it will open up the door to pop sounds from the late ‘70s and ‘80s. I think it was wise for them to think of changing that same idea and just kind of opening up the door a little bit to a wider array of possibilities.



How can your strength also be an Achilles’ heel?


That’s a good question. Um, I think it goes back to what I was talking about a little bit before in terms of, oh I don’t know, maybe just being too narrow-minded about things and our focus is of the utmost importance, and focus is necessary.  I do think, however, that, and I’m lucky because I have a family, and it’s great to be able to look away. I mean, to quote my grandmother, “a watched pot never boils.” It’s good to be able to kind of have other things to do. I think when you’re so dedicated to something and you really spend a lot of time trying to achieve your goals, sometimes it can be at the risk of, you know, putting other things aside that would perhaps be just as helpful to you, you know, like living a life or having a hobby or, you know, taking a walk in the woods. It’s kind of a general answer, but I think maybe that’s what pops up in my head when you ask how your strengths can be perhaps a weakness.



You’ve performed for Field Neurosciences for years and you have chosen it as a charity of yours, Fields of Hope. Is Alzheimer’s disease a particular focus for your charitable work, or is it just neurosciences generally?


Well, it’s not so much Alzheimer’s per se. I think what they’re doing in just terms of general education and their exploration of neurosciences in general and head injury and recovery. It’s more of a general sense of what we can do with the brain and how we deal with the brain. I think it’s a fascinating thing, and the fact that it’s happening in Saginaw with Dr. Malcolm Field and him being such a renowned leader in that field is such a feather in the cap of our community.  So I’m really happy to associate myself with that aspect of it, but you know I have a family tie to it again. My grandfather, my grandfather, Dr. John W. James, my dad’s dad, he was on the board of St. Mary’s. He was an OB/GYN there, and he knew Dr. Field, so there’s a family history that goes, that is connected to, I know it’s different from St. Mary’s, but at least in the medical field there are a lot of people who work at FNI who had relationships with my grandfather, professional relationships, so that is another source of pride for me. I feel like I’ve been adopted by them. I can’t say that this is something that I have sought and found a home. I feel like they’ve been kind to really adopt me and by virtue of me doing these concerts for FNI, I’ve learned a lot. So I feel as long as they will invite me, I will come because I get a great feel of satisfaction coming home and acknowledging that this is where I came from and this is where my home is and where my heart is and also being able to do something that is positive for the community hopefully and being a part of that. It’s a no-brainer.

To be totally honest, I feel like I don’t want to wear out my welcome. (Laughter) If they ask, I’ll keep coming back. If they feel like, “Do you still want to come?”  Then I’ll be there.



Field of Hope: Celebrating 25 Years. Proceeds will help provide fellowships for student who will work with the Field Neurosciences Institute research staff. The event is scheduled for September 13, 2013 at The Temple Theatre featuring Brian d’Arcy James. For more information call 989-497-3117 or call the Temple Theatre 989-754-7469.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Laurie Beebe Lewis Returns to Saginaw for a Rare Performance


Laurie Beebe Lewis

A Search for Love and Harmony

Perfect Pitch and Discordance



There’s a hunger that stirs Laurie Lewis creative juices. She loves to be close yet chooses be free. She can harness logic for behavior that may seem irrational on the surface but contains a perfect understanding of paradox. What seems to be the problem could actually be the solution like an addiction that soothes an earlier wound. Laurie can talk about why it’s so hard to talk about it. She is clearly aware of herself and has a deep abiding interest in moral choices. She has a heart that reaches out to love and beauty. She can love many different people in many different ways.  As a singer for a great local band Pitche Blende Laurie achieved almost instant notoriety. She was a heartthrob to many of the boys that gaped slack-jawed at her sensual energy and natural beauty. She had an untrained yet powerful voice that could reach the stratosphere. As a young adult she moved to Chicago, joined the Buckinghams and never looked back. She achieved massive success as a full member of the Mamas & Papas and toured with them for several years. Through her experiences in show-biz she gained an understanding of complex relationships within a wider social framework. She’s on a first name basis with several famous icons from the era and has been able to maintain these relationships to the present day. Laurie is able to see the divine in art, poetry, music…and love. This is her spiritual longing. She is a true original



Laurie, when did you first join Pitche Blende?


Oh, wow. I’m going to say 1969. Before that I had been in other bands (Laughter) Oh boy. We had a little all-girl band called the Lemon Kind. Later on I think another band came around and called themselves the Loving Kind or something like that. It was some funny name. It was an all-girl group. It was pretty lame. It was actually really lame. We were just kids and just playing with it. We were like not even musicians, just kind of wanna-bees. We tried to write own songs and play. I think my sister Jinny was playing with us also. It really didn’t last too long. Jinny went on to join a group called the Purple Gang and they were rather successful. In the meantime I joined different bands around town, garage bands. Tom Morris was our lead singer. We were called Ugly Pudding. We did Traffic and Bob Dylan’s music, and I’d sing and all that kind of stuff. So, yeah, we had a band. It was kind of a drug-based band because we were always smoking pot and drinking cough syrup and alcohol. You know, we were just kids, and I was like 13 or 14 years old.


Who recruited you for Pitche Blende?


My mother recruited me... and Tom but we really got into a lot of drugs. Drinking cough syrup, popping LSD, smoking, you know, a lot of pot. Something happened where I like drank way too much alcohol and my parents said I could not see Tom any more. In the meantime, we were madly in love, you know, (Laughter) at that age. We snuck out to see each other anyway, but my mom kind of knew. At that time Jinny had already played with the Purple Gang. Things were happening and people were going their different ways. It was one of those things. Their band was kind of on their way out anyway. In the meantime my mom saw an opportunity, she heard me and Tom singing together, and she realized that there was some real talent there. If you were to talk my sister, she would tell you that mom would say, “Look, your sister’s got some problems and if we don’t get her in this band and keep her busy doing something, then they’re both just going to be in a bad place.” My mom got me and Tom Morris in the band so she could keep a closer eye on us. She was trying to keep me my energies running into a more positive place. She was our manager, bus driver, you name it.


You became an almost instant celebrity. I think you took over the limelight once you got in there. What do you think?


Well, you know my sister was the quiet bass player. She didn’t really like a lot of attention. One of the things that really bothered her was the fact that I was so outgoing and at times did very outrageous things in front of people, sometimes almost inappropriate. We played at some concert one day and it was raining, and me in my little mini-skirt, I ran out in the middle of the pouring rain and started doing a rain dance all by myself in front of about 20 bands that were all sitting underneath the eaves trying to stay dry, and I’m doing this rain dance. Okay… maybe I was high. I might have been acting high. A lot of times I really wasn’t high. I just pretended to be high because I felt like it was peer group pressure.


Where did you get those incredible chops, that great voice?


I never took a vocal lesson, never in my life until I was in my 20s.
It was just a natural thing for me. Trevor Davis, who was just recently one of the contestants on The Voice, is a guy that’s coaching me right now and we were talking about this. You know, people that have this natural talent and we never had a singing lesson and then when we finally get singing lessons, we go, “Oh wow. Okay, this is getting even better.” It was about taking chances. I imitated what I heard and people who are usually very good vocalists imitate what they hear. So I imitated some of the biggest around. Grace Slick was one I aspired to. One of the people I really imitated more than anybody believe it or not was Dick Wagner. Dick had such a pure voice, and the guys in the Frost, you know they all sang great. Donny Hartman had no clue of what an influence vocally he had in my life. I saw him sing and doing the blues, and I said, “I want to sing the way Donny Hartman sings, and I want to bring the house down the way Donny Hartman brings the house down. We were inspired by Dick Wager and the Frost. They did a lot of their own music. That was what we aspired to do. We learned to have our own music, get out there and play.


Where did you record you 45 My World Has Stopped and Stop?


We recorded it in a studio in Detroit, Michigan, and I couldn’t tell you the name of it, but I remember going down there. Everybody from Pitche Blende was on the record Dennis, Jinny on the bass, Dan Quinnan on guitar and background vocals. Tom Morris sang the lead. If you notice the way the song was set up on both “My World Has Stopped” and “Stop,” I’m not really singing background. It’s like we’re doing a duet song. Typically there would be the male lead singer and the female back-up singers but we were very different because we had a guy and a girl singer. I ran harmonies with him and he ran harmonies with me. We were definitely a vocal duo, both of us were powerful singers, and so when you listen to the song, you notice that both of us are featured as vocalists.


Why did the band break up?


Things were really kind of rough for everybody. I got to a place where I really didn’t want to be dating Tom any more. I was getting kind of sick of the whole scene and my sister was dating Dan Quinnan - dating someone in the band is kind of like a kiss of death (Laughter). So if you ask my personal opinion, I would say that the break-up of Tom and Laurie and Jinny and Dan all happened around the same time, and the band just started to fall apart. At the same time Dennis and Mike, they had started going to a Bible study and they had found a spiritual path.

And so there was that going on. If you want to hear the break-up story, just say, “Yoko Ono broke us up.” Yeah. (Laughter) Whenever a band breaks up, we always blame it on Yoko. (Laughter).That was 1970.  


Was music was an outlet for you?


 By the time I reached high school, I learned how to control myself a little more and of course drugs helped. Taking drugs was sort of my way of self-medicating. I just popped the pills and… mellow.  I had joined several bands, but it always seemed like there would come a time where there would be a personality clash. It was always me, and it was really hard. I always thought something was wrong with me. By the time I turned 18 I was already playing with older musicians, lounge music where I was making $50 a week singing downtown at the Fordney Hotel. I played with this guy, R.G. Frederick, who was an ex-con. He was a piano player and he wanted a girl to come and sing so that’s where I learned the ropes of singing outside of the box, a lot of rock and doing more things like “Call Me,” “Misty” and other standards. I discovered that there was real money in it. So when I finally hooked up with R. G. Frederick we were doing paying gigs. I didn’t have to do much more than show up and sing and of course he was always keeping me in line, telling me, “You need to settle down, girl.” He was actually a mentor.


When did you leave Saginaw?


Well, first I met up with Pastor Gary Miller the youth pastor at the First Congregational Church. He had a Dixieland Band Celebration Roadshow with Nick Opperman, Jim Beebe and Uncle Lesley. I don’t know what his real name was. I was offered a job to play piano, which I hadn’t really played too much. I had some piano lessons as a kid and I knew all the chords. So I kind of whipped into that, and when I was told that I was going to get paid $300 a week (that was a lot of money back then) so I took that job and found that we were playing in Churches, in schools, in nightclubs, and it was really, really quite a different kind of music. I was going from rock and roll and singing “White Rabbit” to singing “Won’t You Come Home, Bill Bailey.” I was with them for five years. In 1974 the band decided to move to Chicago. Gary moved to Chicago first so we all shifted there. It was more centrally located. I got involved with Jim Beebe who was 25 years my senior. I married him for a short period of time and he became my best friend later. I stayed in Chicago after the Celebration Roadshow broke up - after 500,000 miles of traveling. Gary was tired of the road… everybody was getting tired of the road. We were touring constantly 48 states and Canada. We’d play a nightclub and then have to drive 300 miles to play at some Church in Iowa the next morning. It was really grueling for the guys. It wasn’t so much for me because I was young, you know, I was in my 20s and they were all older.


That must have been a great experience.


It was an amazing experience. I was in Chicago and then I got hooked up with Barb, my friend, Barb Unger, and she and I had a duo for seven years called Les Amies (friends). We played the clubs. She’d play the piano and I’d sing. In the meantime I sang also with Jim Beebe with his jazz group at times. She eventually married Paul Wertico, the drummer for the Pat Metheny group. He’s really a well-known drummer.Barb and I remained friends, that’s when the Buckinghams took note of Barb and I as a duo and hired both of us for the band

She was with the Buckinghams for a short period of time because they decided they didn’t want two girls but they wanted more vocal power so that was when I had to make a decision about staying with them and leaving my partnership with Barb. It was one of the most difficult decisions but I knew it was probably best if I went with the Buckinghams. I was with them from 1982 to the end of 1985 into 1986. We did a couple of gigs into early 1986. I ended up moving to San Diego in January 1986.


You recorded with them too. What’s your memory of the sessions?


 I really loved it. We already had these songs written and we were in the process of getting them really tight. I think the fun part of recording was it was in a really nice studio in the Chicago area and it was a privately owned studio by someone who had a lot of money. I’m trying to remember - Red Label Records or something like that. He had a beautiful studio in this giant mansion. Nick, Bill, Carl and I wrote a lot of the songs but each one of us as musicians contributed our gifts to the songs. So it really made it special. I think it’s a great album and I wish more would have happened with it.  I think it would have if we’d have had better marketing. I think if the album cover should have been better - it was cheesy. I loved “Made to Love You” which was something that Tom and I did as a duet. Then of course “Veronica” was our hit song. It would’ve been a great come-back song. We did it in our show on the Happy Together tour. Our album came out the same time we were on the tour.


What was the “Happy Together” tour was like for you?


I had a good experience on the “Happy Together” tour in most situations except for the tour manager, Larry Soty. For some reason he didn’t like me, and he made it pretty clear. When we’d get on the tour bus, he always made it very clear that he did not like me. He called me a putz. At one point Jim Dobson, the manager for the whole tour rode with us. When we finished the ride Dobson went up to our band and said, “I am absolutely astounded that you would allow Larry Soty to treat that sweet girl, Laurie, so horribly.” I think at that point they did say something to Larry about it and Larry lightened up a little bit, but I finally just said, “You know what? I really just don’t want to deal with this anymore. It’s really not fun.” That’s when Gary Lewis said, “You know what, Laurie? Why don’t you come and ride with me in my van? You’ll have more fun.” It was meant to be because Chuck Lewis was riding with Gary. Chuck wasn’t my boyfriend then, he was just a friend but we got to be close, and we got married, so it all worked out great.


 How did you become a member of the Mamas and the Papas?


Well, we did 265 dates during the 1985 Happy Together Tour. The lineup included the Buckinghams, Gary Lewis and the Playboys, the Turtles and the Grass Roots. Sometimes we would go to a venue and Tommy James and the Shondells or Herman’s Hermits would be on the bill. There’d be a guest group that would join us, so instead of four bands, there’d be six or whatever. On a couple of particular dates we had the Mamas & the Papas with us and it was neat because Chuck had already known Spanky McFarlane on the 1984 Happy Together Tour. So Chuck was like, “Oh, you’re going to meet Spanky, and I said, “Oh, I’d like to meet Spanky.” I knew about Mackenzie Phillips and I knew her as an actress so I was quite taken with the fact that I was going to meet these people.  So backstage they just seemed to have a whole different vibe about them than any of the other bands on the tour. They didn’t have that “I’m trying to make a come-back” vibe. They definitely had a presence about them, very friendly and nice.

That was when Chuck asked me to marry him and we’re living in San Diego and summer comes and we all got together to watch the 1986 Happy Together Tour. This time it’s the Turtles, Gary Puckett and the Monkees.  So we went to see the show in San Diego and went “Oh, this is fine, this is great.” Afterwards we all met at this hotel lounge and there was Spanky. She remembered me from the Buckinghams and we sat in the corner and just talked, and me being me I said, “When are you going to get rid of Mackenzie and get a real singer?” (Laughter) - just being funny. Spanky looked at me, and said, “Sooner than you think.” Later on Chuck called Spanky and said, “Did you really mean that because my wife really needs to be doing something and if there really is a sooner than you think, then let me know because my wife is your girl.” I had no idea Chuck had made that phone call.


Then what happened


It wasn’t much after that that I got this phone call from Spanky. She said, “I just wanted to call you and tell you that John Phillips was going to call you, and he’s going to ask you to be in the Mamas & the Papas, and I want you to say yes.”  I said, “Okay,” and I was thinking, “Who’s John Phillips?” (Laughter)… it just wasn’t registering in my mind. It wasn’t five minutes later that my phone rang, and “Hi, this is John Phillips.”  Right away as soon as he said “John Phillips,” I knew who it was. He was so kind and gentle.

 We rehearsed for three weeks and then after that we left on a tour of England for a month. I remember it was November 6th because that’s my birthday. John told me to just learn all the parts.” (Laughter).  So I went out and bought all the Mamas and Papas albums (Laughter). So, I’m like, “Okay.” Being ADHD actually is a gift because I love pressure. I love stimulation. I love the challenge. So I listened to all the parts and learned all the parts. I wrote all the words down manually by hand.

I was told the first week it was going to be two or three shows a night. The first show would be Mackenzie and Spanky, and the second show would bring me up. There would actually be three Mommas then for the late-night show it would be me without Mackenzie. So the first night I just sat and observed and was brought out for the third set, the late-night show, which I guess usually isn’t so busy. I think they were really astounded that I had this learned so quickly. By the end of the first week, I was pretty much doing the show on my own. So that went on for three weeks. Mackenzie left and I went on the European tour. It was pretty amazing. I just remember we got off the plane and we got into some hotel near Piccadilly Circus. I’d never been to Europe and I’m riding in business class with the Mamas & the Papas.


 We got off the plane and John said, “You’ve got half an hour to get dressed and be down in the lobby. There’s going to be a press conference.” At this point I’m realizing that we’ve got Lou Christie, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas and Scott McKenzie. This is a month long tour. I get down to the lobby and there’s probably a good hundred or more photographers in this press room. There were interviews going on over in this corner and there are TV cameras going on in that corner and people being interviewed. I’m standing in the midst of all of this going, “Oh, what do I do?” (Laughter).  Spanky’s being interviewed over here and John’s over there getting interviewed and I walk in and suddenly millions of cameras just start popping off at me and they’re going, “Ms. Beebe, this way please… Ms. Beebe, Ms. Beebe, over here.” It was just like, crazy. Am I supposed to act like a model? I started like, you know, fixing my hair. (Laughter) I had no idea what to expect. The next thing I know there are microphones being put in front of me and questions are asked. I’ve done plenty of interviews but suddenly I’m blown into this situation where it’s very different because as the Buckinghams we were a band. As the Mamas & the Papas, it’s more legendary, you know?

So after that whole affair, I went upstairs exhausted and laid down. At 9 o’clock the phone rang and it was John Phillips, and he said, “You were really good today, kid.” I said, “Thank you.” “By the way, happy birthday.” I thought, “Wow.” I had forgotten it was my birthday. So I really felt a little bit out of my element, and I really didn’t know how to claim my Mama.


How did you come to terms with your new status?


 As it went on people would come to me with Mamas and Papas albums with Michelle Phillips, Mama Cass and ask for autographs. In Europe people really don’t know the names of all the Mamas & the Papas and they don’t care. Just sign the album. That’s fine...okay, so I did. So afterward we got on the bus and I found myself a little corner. Denny walked up to me and said, “Laurie, what are you doing back here…you sit up here with us.”I get up, and he’s like, “You need to claim your position in this band. If you don’t, you are going to get stomped on. You are one of the principal members of this band. You’re not a band member.” So he made it very clear to me what my position was, and he made sure that I was included on everything that happened with the band. I was therefore inducted into the Mamas & the Papas.


I saw the Mamas & the Papas after their initial fame. John did some songs he recorded with some of the Rolling Stones. He also did Mississippi a cool Cajun song. Did you do some of those songs?


We did Mississippi. We did Sugar and we even did a couple of the African songs. All of a sudden John just called out a song but I never heard it. It was in the middle of concert. There were 10,000 people and all of a sudden John calls Zulu Warrior. I’m like, “What the heck?” Spanky said, “Just get over here and follow me. It’s easy. Do Little Warrior.” (Laughter) I’m like, “Okay.” I caught on right away. I just danced when I felt like I didn’t know what to do. I put the mike up close to my mouth and suddenly I was singing, and I didn’t know what I was doing but I made myself look like I was part of the show and that was all that mattered. After that, I said, “Okay, give me the songs. I need to learn them.” I got them all down and learned them, and that was it.  Next time I wasn’t going to get caught with my pants down on stage again.


I have read Mackenzie Phillips’ book High on Arrival and it revealed the incest between Mackenzie and her father.
You knew them and you really liked them. What did the discovery about John Phillips’ behavior do to your relationship with him and with Mackenzie?


Wow, that’s really a question.
I really do want to answer this because it’s a really good question. Let’s just back up. Let me finish up my first tour with the Mamas & the Papas that started in October of 1986.It ended in April of 1987, actually early May. I was playing my last gig with them, knowing that Mackenzie was coming back, and I knew they had some shows coming up, and I was feeling very despondent about leaving because it was solid ground, and it was really great. I was really hoping Mackenzie would stay away longer but obviously she’s coming back. I got a phone call from John Phillips’ girlfriend at the time, Marcie, and she said, “John wants to have a talk with you downstairs, blah, blah, blah.” I thought, “Well, this is kind of weird. Finally I found his room and the door was jarred open. It looked not so much like a room as it did a conference room or something. I walked in, and there was everybody and they had a cake and they had a party for me, thanking me and saying good-bye to me. It was just the sweetest thing.


 I went back to my life in San Diego wondering where do you go when you’ve done this, after you’ve played for the multitudes and the masses and being treated like this and come back San Diego to play in a bar. So I did go back to some music things with some friends. Suddenly not much more than just a couple of hours later I was called to go back out on a tour with them for two weeks. “What’s going on?” “Oh, Mackenzie, her back is hurting.” So okay I did that then two months later they’re going to Germany and “Oh, Mackenzie can’t go – it’s her back.” I still didn’t realize that Mackenzie could not leave the country because her history of drug use would set off this big red flag,  it was just impossible for her to get through the border. I think at one point she wasn’t welcome in a couple of countries. I was filling in for her. I was the stand-in, and so between 1986, ’87, ’88, ’89, for those next four years, I stepped in quite a bit with the band.

 At one point I became friends with Mackenzie. She would call me. “How are things goin’ on the road? How are you doing?” So we got to know each other. So, one of her friends told me about an affair someone had with John Phillips. So like okay, whatever. Everybody probably does. She then said, “The reason I’m calling is that I’m really worried because Mackenzie is pregnant, and it’s probably John’s.I’m trying to figure all this out, and it’s really not making any sense to me. So this friend of hers who is sleeping with John is telling me that there’s something going on. I’m like, okay, I’m not going to believe this because this just sounds like a bunch of BS from someone who is just too high or too weird. It didn’t make any sense.
 So I called Mackenzie and I said, “Your friend is telling me some weird stuff.” I didn’t even tell her what it was. She started revealing what was going on in a very matter-of-fact way. She just shared this whole thing with me. This was in 1990 before I became a full-fledged member of the band. I was like, “Wow, that’s really intense.” She pretty much laid it all out for me. I believed every word of it. I don’t think that she would mince words and I don’t think she would lie about it. There would be no reason to lie about it. I never told a living soul except for my husband Chuck and a pastor friend of mine. In the 1990s, I was called again to go on the road with the Mamas & the Papas. At this point I had knowledge of what’s going on. I was still just recently clean and sober myself. January 24, 1990 is my sobriety date.
When Mackenzie finally went into rehab and said she was leaving the band permanently, I stepped in with the Mamas & the Papas for the last time. John was with us. He was a mess. He was getting a liver transplant. He had done a couple of shows with us and it wasn’t good. He was not well. He left the band to go get his liver transplant and Scott McKenzie took John’s place.


When John left for good, did it make a big difference in the band, or did the band get better then?


Well, you know, without John there it was different. It was just different. We only had one original member left in the band and Denny was definitely more stable. Denny was truly the strong lead singer of the Mamas & the Papas. At this point I know what’s going on and I’m wondering what they know. I kept that in my heart for all of those years until 20 years later Mackenzie came out with her book. She’s getting slammed by all these people who are saying it didn’t happen so I came forward in San Diego and I supported her and I still support her.


You dated Andy Kaufman at one time in Chicago.

 I did. I was singing at a club in Chicago and one night I sat at the bar to get a drink or something, and there sitting at the bar was Andy Kaufman. I went, “Oh. Andy Kaufman,” and he said, “Where?” (Laughter) and I said, “Right there.” I pointed to him, and he laughed. He said, “Was that you up there singing?” I said, “Yeah.” He was staying at the hotel we were playing.  We were at the hotel five nights a week, my friend, Barb, and I, and so he came over to the bar every night and would come and hear us sing.

 So one night he asked, “Hey, can I come out and take you out for breakfast after?” After we finished playing we’d sometimes go to Denny’s down the street and have some food. We’d hang out and talk and exchange phone numbers. He’d say he’s here for only a couple of weeks doing this or that and that he has a sister that lives here. It turned out that his sister just lived a few blocks from my house. Andy would call me when he got in town. Sometimes he’d just call me out of the blue and I wasn’t really sure what to think about it because I really wasn’t physically attracted to him but I really liked him a lot. It wasn’t unusual for me as a woman to have a lot of guy friends. I’d go out with plenty of guys where I’d just say, “Look, I like you a lot. We can be friends but nothing’s going to happen between us. Get over it” (Laughter). He asked me out for dinner downtown, we hung out. He was a goofball. He did a lot of funny, funny things in public with me. He’d have me do arm-wrestling in front of people. He was a ham. I could tell you a million Andy Kaufmann stories because we had so much fun. He was very much into transcendental meditation, so we’d turn off all the lights, me and Jinny and Andy. He said, “Okay, I want you to wait and just see what’s going to happen.”  “Okay.” We were giggling and he’s like, “Shhh, shhh, just wait.” He’d be breathing and I was thinking he was going to levitate off the floor. You hear a lot of these things when people are meditating. We didn’t know. We were just waiting and waiting. He’d be like real quiet. He’d keep shushing us and finally we’d calm down, and we were waiting for something to happen. Then he just goes, “Baccchhh.” (Laughter) He was just a funny guy. He would tell me a story about something that happened to him and how he went to this diner with this friend and that this friend told him, “When you go to the diner, whatever you do, when you talk to the chef, make sure to let him know you really like the food just say, “Tootamakahari.’” So he went into this restaurant, you know, this Parisian restaurant and at the end he said, “I want to see the chef.” He went back to the kitchen and he said to the chef, “Tootamakahari.” The chef said, ““Tootamakahari, Tootamakahari!!!  All the men were chasing him from the restaurant. All the cooks and the chef were yelling at him, “Rarrr, rarrr, rarr.”  He jumped on this train and got away. He found out later that Tootamakahari was something like a god in Asia. He’d tell us this story and we were like, “Wow.” Then he’d go, “Did you believe that story?” (Laughter) We’d go, “Yeah.” He said, “Well, it didn’t happen.”

 This is how Andy Kaufmann goes to the movies. We’d get a ticket to see the movie, we’d watch it for 15 minutes, and then he’d say, “Hey, such-and-such is playing next door. Let’s see that one.” So we’d leave that theater and go to the theater in the next room, and we’d watch part of that movie (Laughter). So we’d watch four partial movies. We’d have to go back the next day so he could catch up. He just had it all timed. It was really funny. After all this running around and flirting around, he never really kissed me. We held hands and we hugged, you know, but nothing really intimate.

Once he came to me and said, “I’m living alone. Do you want to come and see my room?” I said, “Well, um, you know I’ve kind of got stuff going on and I don’t really have time to come out tonight. I don’t know Andy, what is it you’re actually asking me?” He said, “Well, don’t get all upset or anything about it. I’ve got a girlfriend. I’m not asking you to be my girlfriend. I’ve got somebody I love very much. I was just asking you to come out and see my room but that’s okay, you don’t have to. He got really defensive. I said, “Oh, no, no, don’t take it that way. I was just asking. I do have a girl and you’ve got your stuff to do. I’ll talk to you soon.” Well, that was the end of that conversation. I saw Andy about a month or so afterward. I said, “You know I read this article in the Enquirer. It says that you have lung cancer and that you’re dying. Is any of that true? I just want to check and make sure you’re okay.” He said, “Don’t worry. All that stuff is just bullshit. Don’t believe any of it.”

He died two weeks later


 Laurie Beebe Lewis is making a rare Saginaw appearance on Saturday August 31st @ White’s Bar. Ryan Fitzgerald is bringing in the Barbarossa Brothers to back-up Laurie as she presents a career retrospective through songs, music and stories. Doors open @ 7pm. $5 admission