The Lost Randy Vanwarmer Interview, Annotated

By Steven S. Drachman

In the history of groundbreaking concept albums, the most overlooked of all time might be Randy Vanwarmer’s 1980 Terraform record. Side Two contains a nearly twenty-minute rumination on the destruction of the Earth and humanity’s escape to the stars — in some cases, the worst dregs of humanity, doomed to make the same mistakes all over again in a new cosmic venue. Side One demonstrates everything that led humanity to its destruction in the first place. It’s all set to a spare, catchy, folk-meets-New-Wave beat. A truly magnificent massive hit that never happened.

I first came across Terraform when I worked in the record department at Woolworth’s, in 1981. Terraform was in the cutout bin already. It was only 99 cents, and it had a cool, funny sci-fi cover. There’s this great kind of alienation vibe on Randy’s face, which I related to when I was sixteen. So I bought it, and I was amazed.

I had never heard of Randy before. I’d heard “Just When I Needed You Most” on the radio, his massive hit, but not his name, and so I didn’t connect that MOR love song with Terraform‘s angry, grim, tuneful experimentation. There was no internet, I just didn’t really look into it. It wasn’t so easy to find things out, back then. I had an LP that I loved, that’s all I knew. I played it for everyone I knew. I recorded it to a cassette tape, and I played it for friends on my tape deck when we drove around in my 1972 Pontiac Catalina.

A little while later, Randy’s Beat of Love album turned up in another cutout bin somewhere, in New York City, I think, after I’d gone off to college, and it was also a really good record, more pop-New-Wave, but a respectable, tuneful thing for me to listen to, which contains many great songs. Especially one called “Suzi Found a Weapon,” which Randy wrote to impress a real-life Suzi, a publicist at his record company, whom he later married.

Still, I’ve been drawn back to Terraform over and over again through the years, this terrible emotional depiction of Earth on Side One: what does it feel like to be murdered, what will your thoughts be as the life drains out of your body? How does it feel to sink into a paranoid delusion so overwhelming that you never go out to see the sun? And whom do you blame? Then a bit of bouncy optimism as Earth is completely destroyed, and some of us get away, except that humans are still stuck with ourselves, and each other.

I was surprised to discover that Randy’s early and only hit as a vocalist had been “Just When I Needed You Most”, from his debut album, Warmer, but I came to appreciate it more. It’s a simple song about a guy who’s just watched his girlfriend leave, in the rain. Without closing the door. The yearning is real, the lyrics are instantly memorizable, and the melody is irresistible.

Randy recorded four records for Bearsville Records in Woodstock to diminishing returns, then he moved with his wife to Nashville to pursue songwriting. In 1990, I had the chance to interview Randy for Release, a little California magazine that my brother was running at the time. My brother mercilessly cut the story, and I wasn’t really that happy with the way it all turned out. Still, it was a great thrill to talk to Randy. Some years later, in 1992 or 1993, a friend and I were on a road trip and decided to stop in Nashville. Randy took us to lunch. He was teaching one of those grunge band musicians how to write a song at the behest of the record company, someone you might have heard of. The grunge guy came along to lunch.

Randy’s songwriting paid the bills in the years that followed. Songs for other artists were country music hits: “I’m in a Hurry” and “I Guess It Never Hurts to Hurt Sometimes,” to name two big ones. Still, Randy continued recording. He was mostly a songwriter when I interviewed him in 1990, but he was frenetically working on numerous projects to get back into performing, and he kept at it for the rest of his life. His last project, Songwriter, released just after his death in 2004 was an especially odd, updated, modern tribute to Stephen Foster, which I like a lot, but which has generated some controversy from purists.

It’s been twenty years since we lost him, and it feels like yesterday. I got so used to checking for Randy’s latest obscure and hard-to-find album, it took a lot of retraining to shake that habit.

In his memory on this twentieth anniversary, I figured it would make sense to print the original Randy Vanwarmer interview. A lot of Randy’s voice comes through in a way that it couldn’t in the truncated article that appeared so long ago, and since there are very few interviews with Randy on the web, I thought that his fans and people who loved him would like to see this interview published in only a very slightly abbreviated form. We’ve annotated the article, the way those popular New York Times Magazine “Talk” pieces do, to give some context, and because all that clicking on footnotes is fun to do, it keeps the brain awake.

No one seems sure how to spell his name, whether to capitalize the W, and whether or not to add a space. On the Terraform and Beat of Love albums, he spells his name Vanwarmer, so that’s how we did it in Release and that’s how we do it here. The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

So your big hit, “Just When I Needed You Most,” that was in 1979. Right.

You still hear that on the radio all the time. Every once in a while, and it’s funny too because most people just off the top of their head think it was like ’76. 

You recorded it in 1976, right? Right. And the song was probably a couple years old by then, too. 

Everybody knows that song, and if you mention it to people, they not only sort of remember it, but they can sing it. Yeah, that’s true. That’s really nice, that’s really nice. I love that. But if somebody says to me, “What are you doing?” I say what I’m doing. When they say, “Well, what have you done, what have you written?” — if I mention that song, they’ll say, “Ohh yeah, I know that song, who did that? Wasn’t that a Black guy who did that?” It’s either that or “Wasn’t that a Bread song? I’m sure that was a Bread song.” Nobody ever really put the put a name to the song. It’s nice just that they know it. 

They know the lyrics of the verses, too, not just the chorus. They know that she left in the rain without closing the door. Yeah, that’s interesting isn’t it?

Because if you ask them about “My Sharona”, which was around the same period, they’ll be able to sing the chorus, but they won’t be able to sing the verses. Everybody has absorbed the words of your song. Who did “My Sharona” by the way?

It was The Knack. The Knack. Yeah, that’s right. 

How did “Just When I Needed You Most” come about? Well, I was living in Cornwall, in England, when I wrote it. My mom lives there, and we moved from Denver to England in 1970 for no particularly good reason, just my mom had been reading Daphne du Maurier books and thought it would be nice to live in England. And Cornwall was kind of depressing, it’s the most depressed county in England economically. It depends mostly on tourism, and the winters are long and very dark and rainy. And I had a girlfriend from the States who came over and spent the summer with me and then went back to the States. So the song is about her1, but the setting of Cornwall in the winter really sort of provided the setting for the song. It’s not hard to write a really sad song in the winter in Cornwall. And I’d been writing songs for a while and playing local folk clubs around Cornwall and South England, and I’d been taking tapes up to London around to various publishing companies. In those days, you could really just walk off the street even without an appointment, and somebody would listen to what you were doing. I met a guy called Ian Kimmet who was working at Island Publishing at the time, and he kind of just coached me on my writing for a couple of years. Then he was hired by Albert Grossman2 to run Bearsville Records in London. They signed me to a publishing deal in ‘75 and then to a record deal in ‘76.

How old were you in 1975? Twenty. I got Del Newman to produce that first album3. I got him interested in producing it by making him think that Albert Grossman was interested in making a record. So I got Albert Grossman interested in making the record by making him think that Del Newman was interested in producing, and the two of them had a meeting in London at a little donut shop, and it was just the most uncomfortable meeting I’ve ever been in. They both just sat there and really neither of them said anything for about half an hour, but in the end somehow the record got made. We actually came to Nashville to make the record. Del thought there was something just a little bit country about what I was doing, and he thought it would be good to. Albert just gave him a free reign to cut it any place he wanted to. So we cut the album in Nashville.  “Just When I Needed You Most” was one of the ten songs. And we flew back to London, did the strings, finished the record, sent it to Warner Brothers which was the parent company.  Then they shelved the record, and Bearsville Records pulled their offices out of London. All in one stroke. It felt like my record was the catalyst for all this. So I was kind of just left there without a real contact, although Ian and I kept in touch, and he encouraged me to come to New York, and so I got a Laker Airlines ticket. I came to New York and just went up and saw Albert and said is there any chance we could do something with the album, and he said maybe we’ll mix a couple songs and put out a single. I picked “Just When I Needed You Most.”4 I was just thinking this might be the only thing I get out, so at least I’ll have it out. When we finally got the songs finished Warner Bros. liked “Just When I Needed You Most” better and put it out.

Did you ever see the woman again? The one you wrote the song about? I did see her again a couple of years later, and she had a baby.

Did she know you wrote at the song about her? I think she knows, just because you know when the song was out I did some interviews, and the AP did one that I’m sure the Denver Post published. And so I’m pretty sure she must know but I don’t know, I don’t know for sure. I never told her, never talked about it. I’m sure one of these days I will. It’s one of those things, you go through life, and then 20 years later, you can really have fun talking about something like that.

Or it might drive her crazy. I heard Rosanna Arquette — who, you know the song “Rosanna” is about — she hates it. She can’t stand hearing it on the radio.5 She does? Why is that, do you think? Wouldn’t you think most people would be kind of flattered to have a song written about them?

I would think so. I mean, not just a song, but an incredibly successful one like “Rosanna.” 

Or “Just When I Needed You Most”. That was as successful as “Rosanna” I would think. [sounding dubious] Ohh, well…. It actually only made it to #4 on the Billboard charts. It was released in January, and it was just such a slow kind of sleeper kind of record that it didn’t actually peak for like maybe four, four and a half months. I’m not sure exactly what month it was that it peaked. It was in the spring, but you know it had already gone to the top on some charts, it was already going down by the time it peaked on other charts. You know, a lot of times to have a number one record you have to have a fairly coordinated effort. And everything else at the time was disco. I think the number one record was “Ring my Bell.” I’m just sort of wracking my brain to remember who did it, “Ring My Bell.”

After you put that out, and that was a huge hit, you put out Terraform, which was pretty much a departure because it was a very gloomy record. Yeah, I was gonna say, I really could have taken the words out of your mouth there. It was a serious departure. 

How did that come about? Because that was such a gloomy record. A very good record, catchy but gloomy. I think, in a lot of ways, as a career move it was just a disastrous mistake. But at the time I just sort of felt like I didn’t want to get pigeonholed into that, into that kind of dreamy ballady kind of thing. Which is actually what I do the best. You know, if I’d been as smart then as I am now, or as experienced as I am now, I probably would have stuck with that kind of thing for a while just to get myself established a little bit. 

Do you like Terraform? Ohh, I really like it a lot. I mean I’m really happy I did it, but I think as a career move it was a disaster. But just as a creative thing, I mean it was the most natural thing for me to do at the time. But I think a lot of times, when somebody has a song that is as successful as “Just When I Needed You Most,” they’ll be advised by somebody who’s more experienced to stick with it for a while, get your toe in the door. 

Who was your manager at the time? Albert Grossman was. I wasn’t actually signed to him for management, but he was doing everything that a manager would do. He didn’t really care for the artists on his label to have managers, and he didn’t encourage me to have a manager. He just kind of made those decisions that a manager would make.

What did he what did he say you should do? Well, one of the things was that he really didn’t think I should do at that point television, which we had some offers to do, or even tour in the States. 

Why not? I don’t really know for sure. I mean, I really can only speculate, because he wasn’t the most communicative person, and I think it was partly possibly this thing he always had about, it’s better to keep something a mystery than to make a mistake by exposing it6…. Anyway I think he just didn’t really want me to be out there. But he did let me go to Europe and do a lot of television and perform over there, and we went to Japan and did shows.

Did Terraform take off in Europe or Japan? It did pretty well in Japan, and it did pretty well in Australia.

What was the single? “Whatever You Decide”7 was the first one, and I think the second one might have been “All We Have is Tonight.” What do you think it should have been?

“I’m Gonna Prove It.8 It’s been a long time since I listened to that record.

Too bad you couldn’t release the whole twenty-minute “Terraform” song as a single. I know, that would have been nice. I’m really just as proud of that as anything I’ve ever done, of that piece. That “Terraform” piece. 

You’d just had a big hit, and Terraform, which comes out right after, is a very angry record. There is one song where you talk about hiding in a room with nails through the doors9. And “I Discovered Love”, where you meet this girl, and now your life is much worse than it was when you were single. I just wondered … I mean, were you very angry about anything at that moment? I suppose it’s just kind of useful anger, I guess. But it’s funny, because at the time it didn’t really occur to me that it was that it was such an angry, doomy, dark record. I think “Terraform” [the song] had a lot of optimism in it, that piece.

It did in a way, except it was about the Earth dying. What I was trying to say, particularly in the first part, was that you know if you can give up your worldview in some way, you might survive the changes that will take place. If you can adapt.

The guy who sings, “I’m so 21st century.” That’s not an optimistic character. No, that’s not. That isn’t. But it goes through phases, that piece. And then the one about space travel, “I’ve Got a Ticket.” Really, it’s just kind of one of my hopes, I guess, for humanity, is that we will get out there.10

That came out, you toured all over the world except for the United States. And it did OK? Everyone in America sort of thought you vanished. Yeah, yeah. The people who ever knew I existed.

Well, everybody sort of knows you existed. Ohh good. That’s encouraging. Well, I can tell you what happened after I did the four Bearsville albums. I moved to LA, and I was still signed to Bearsville records. I made the last album in LA11 and sort of decided to stay out there with Suzi, my wife –-

Oh, so you married Suzi! Yeah, yeah. [laughs]  “Suzi Found a Weapon.”

Were you married to her at the time “Suzi Found a Weapon12” came out?  No, no, I wasn’t. We just about met at that point.13 But Albert died, you know, and so I was signed to the label, but I couldn’t really record anything, and because my publishing and recording contracts were coterminous, they wouldn’t let me have a release on my recording contract. So I was really stuck for about four years in a kind of career limbo where I couldn’t really do anything.

What did you do? Well, I wrote songs.

I guess the money that you made before was well invested? Well, some of it was, and thanks to that song, really, I was able to hang on for those four years. Also, in the middle of those years, I got another cut by the Oak Ridge Boys called “I Guess It Never Hurts to Hurt Sometimes”, which was off of The Beat of Love album. I have to tell most people that, but I guess you know.

I know it was off that album! That was like the catalyst that really spurred us to move to Nashville. My wife sent that to Nashville to a friend of hers and told me the next day that she sent that. I said, “It’s fine, you know, whatever.” To me, you might as well throw something out the window, send a tape to Nashville. Well, she sent it to a friend of hers, Jim Foglesong, who was heading up MCA Records at the time, and he gave it to Ron Chancey, who was producing the Oak Ridge Boys. Ron Chancey played it on his boat, and his wife heard it and fell in love with the song and asked if, when the Oaks were in the studio, Ron would cut that just for her. So that’s how it got cut. He just cut that as a custom deal for his wife to listen to on the boat. And then they liked it a lot and put it on their record, and then it went to #1, and it’s just like to me — it was just a miracle.

It went to #1 on the Country charts. Right, yeah, right. It was my first number one record. It’s not a pop record but still. So we decided to move to Nashville, which we did. I’d been coming down here pitching songs for a while before we moved here and had met Jerry Bradley who had headed up RCA Records for years. Are you familiar with any of the Nashville people? 

Not really, no. You probably know Owen Bradley, he produced all the Patsy Cline records.

OK, right.14  He was just very encouraging, one of the few people really initially who was really encouraging here in Nashville. And so when my publishing deal was free, I signed to him for publishing, and then he started heading up a new country label, 16th Ave. Records, and he just came to me and said, how would you like to record on this new label I’m about to start? So for me it was just kind of like a second chance to be recording artist. I’d kind of locked myself into songwriting.

I have a list here. So you wrote for Charlie Pride.  Yeah yeah. He’s on the same label, too.

And Laura Brannigan. Yeah, “Down Like a Rock” was on her first album, the one that has “Gloria” on it.15

I didn’t hear that album. I heard “Gloria” of course. Probably, I might not have heard it, but my song was on there. Michael Johnson did the song, last year, “I Will Whisper Your Name.” And the Oak Bridge Boys have cut a couple more since that one too. so the songwriting thing, it’s been sort of lucrative enough to kind of justify my working away at it. The opportunity to record is really … it’s just been great to have that opportunity again. 

So five years from now, you’d rather be known as a recording artist again? Yeah, I think so. I mean I think there’s something really nice about being known as a songwriter. If somebody gave me the choice between the two, I might choose to be a songwriter, because, unless you were Elvis Presley or somebody like that who had that kind of impact, otherwise the songwriter leaves more of a legacy in some ways.

Would you want another huge hit? Do you want to be a household name? Yeah, I would like that. Who wouldn’t like that? I know some people wouldn’t.

I think a lot of people wouldn’t like to be a household name. I think a lot of people think they would. But really, the reality of it they probably wouldn’t like. But you know, I’m not speaking from experience. I think I’d like that.

During the time that you weren’t recording, you never had to go out and get a real job, which I’m pleased to hear. I know, it’s just always kind of amazed me that I’ve gotten through this life without having to, except when, early on, I worked in a fish and chip shop for several years before my first deal.

You never did a radio commercial for the “Good Old Good Olds Guys,” did you? I’m not sure what that is. 

It’s a car dealership in the tri-state area — New York New Jersey and Connecticut. No, I never did.

I thought I recognized your voice in the radio ad. But I guess it’s not your voice. Really? You mean, you’ve heard that?

Yeah, I’ve heard it and it sounds just like you. And what’s he singing?

An ad for the tri-state area Olds dealer. He sings the whole thing and at the very end it sounds like you. The whole thing sounds like you, but at the end, he hits a Randy Vanwarmer note. And they say it is?

No. They don’t say it’s you. It sounds like you. Well that’s pretty wild.

And I thought, maybe that’s what he’s doing now. [laughing] I’d like to hear it. 

Your last album was called I Am. That was basically a country record, right? Right, it’s kind of actually what I was doing around “Just When I Needed You Most” time. It’s probably more like the “Warmer” album [his first album, which included “Just When I Needed You Most”], in some ways. 

What do you think of the Warmer album?16 I really like it. I like it a lot. I think the songwriting is pretty naive in a lot of ways, but then I think I really was pretty naive back then, too. You know, I sort of feel like I definitely like the later stuff better. 

What’s your favorite? I think my favorite album that I did was The Beat of Love,17 from the Bearsville period. I kind of find it difficult to compare those albums to the ones I’m doing now, because the situation is so different. In those days, it was kind of a unique opportunity in a way. I think that that I kind of lucked out, in that Albert Grossman just kind of — As I was saying earlier, a lot of labels would have advised me to keep making records like “Just When I Needed You Most”, or almost insisted on it. Albert did give me the freedom to just do what I wanted. I mean, he never asked to have any control over the songs we cut or any kind of creative interference at all. I think to have the opportunity to make four albums of just whatever kind of comes off the top of your head — you can just write anything — it’s kind of a rare opportunity for somebody, especially someone who has one hit record.

So how come you left? Albert died, and the company really more or less became an inactive company. So it really wasn’t something I really exactly chose to do at the time, it was just something I had to do. Albert was one of those rare sorts of people who  — you’re familiar with Jesse Winchester? Are you? 

No. He was a Bearsville artist and this is kind of a testament to Albert, he made something like twelve or thirteen albums for Bearsville records18 and never had a hit single. I mean, that’s fairly unheard of in the music business, don’t you think? So I feel like this opportunity to make those records was just an extremely rare and kind of fantastic opportunity I’m really still grateful for.

Are you going to tour the US now? Well, I’ll tell you what’s happening. I’ve been working with a couple of songwriters here in Nashville, Jeff Pearson and Steve Dean and they’ve both written songs for other people. Between us, we have quite a lot of cover songs to our credits, and we’ve been singing in a trio for the last couple of years. We did a record company showcase a few weeks ago. Jerry Bradley saw the trio and said, can I sign you guys as an act to do a trio album. So I’m actually in the studio right now.19 That’s what we’re working on right now. So that’s the next thing. We haven’t got a name for the band yet. If you’ve got any ideas, we’ve been wracking our brains for six weeks.

Well, I know some good band names. They’re fictitious bands that I’ve had in books, but they’re all punk bands20. Punk bands are the ones that have the funniest names. What kind of books do you write?

I have a book going around now which is sort of satirical contemporary novel. supposed to be my big breakthrough if it gets published. My agent has been sending it around to various publishers. It’s called Dirty Money21. OK good I’ll look out for that. 

You grew up in Nashville, right? No, I grew up in a little town called Indian Hills, just west of Denver. 

I was sort of expecting you to have a British accent when you called. Yeah, I did when I lived [in England], but you know you’d lose it very quickly especially if you are an American. I kind of reached the stage over there where I was just kind of happy every time I met somebody and they didn’t say, “Oh, you’re from America.” After eight years that sort of gets tiring.

Or if they say, “You’re a yank.” Yeah, that’s more like it.

How did your last record do? The I Am album? Well, it got some play, but we didn’t really have a hit off of it. I think it kind of opened some doors, and you know, I had this question asked of me so many times, because there’s a whole thing in Nashville about pop artists coming over to country music. You know: why did you? There’s a little bit of a resistance to it. The question is always: Why did you, what made you decide to move over to country music? My answer has always been, well, you know, if “Just When I Needed You Most” came out today, I think it would be a country record. I don’t think that would be a pop record today, the way pop music has changed over the years. And so really, I’m kind of just doing what I always did, but the format has really changed, I think, more than I have. I have kind of come back to what I started doing earlier on, it’s not like a whole completely new thing for me. It’s not like I just said, “ohh let me become a country artist” kind of thing.22

Yeah, and I guess it’s probably easier for you to switch over to country music than it would be for say Christopher Cross. People, you know, compare you Christopher Cross. [sounding weary] I know, I know.

That doesn’t make you happy? I guess not particularly. It’s not that I don’t like Christopher Cross. I really do like him. I guess anytime anybody gets compared to somebody … but for a long time it did.

You’re in the studio now, right? Yeah, we’re just kind of getting geared up to do some vocals. What we’re doing on this record, being a trio, we’re kind of doing a Crosby Stills Nash thing. Nobody’s really doing this kind of thing in country music right now. Everybody always puts the vocals a little bit behind the lead vocal, that’s a normal thing to do. We’re gonna make it so you can pick your own melody out of the harmonies. Whichever one you like the best. It’s all going to be equal, so that will be kind of interesting.23

There’s a record called Every Now and Then. Right. That’s the that’s the brand new one.

When’s that coming out? We haven’t got a set release date, but it should be up within the next couple of months. The single just came out this week, it’s actually the second single. It’s a song 24called “Ain’t Nothing Coming Down But the Rain”. Allen Reynolds produced this album. The album’s out in England already.

How’s it doing? It just came out, but hopefully it’ll do something. It’s the first album I’ve had out in England since the Bearsville records. So I’m kind of excited about that. We went over there, did the Wembley country music festival. That was the first time my mom really got to see me perform in front of a crowd, so that was nice.

Hope you come to New York. Well, thanks. I will look you up if I get up there. I do come up to New York every once in a while. I have a brother who lives up in Woodstock still. He’s married to a girl named Hester Mundis25, who writes for the Joan Rivers Show. So I always come into the city when I’m there too. I [lived in Manhattan] for about 6 months. I had a girlfriend who lived on York and 71st, 72nd, right around in there. I liked it a lot, really, until I broke up with her. I didn’t know if I could really live there on a permanent basis. You know, I grew up in the Rocky Mountains then lived in Cornwall, which is also very rural. But I’ll tell you if I were going to live at any city, that would be the one, just because to me if you’re gonna live in a city, you might as well live in the city.

I hope you do get up here. I look like you, I’ve been told. On the cover of The Beat of Love.26 Is that right? Well, that’s my best picture, I think, so that’s good.

Randy Vanwarmer interview

Randy: Is that right? Well, that’s my best picture, I think, so that’s good.

^^^

Interview originally conducted for Release. Uncredited drawing, from the original article. If it is yours, please let us know.

Steven S. Drachman is the author of a science fiction trilogy, The Strange and Astounding Memoirs of Watt O’Hugh the Third, which is available in paperback from your local bookstoreAmazon and Barnes & Noble; it is also available as a Kindle e-book.

Footnotes:

  1. Other sources claim Randy wrote the song about the time his car broke down on the way to work in Denver, a significantly less romantic backstory. Some sources also list a co-writer. ↩︎
  2. Albert Grossman, who died in 1986, was legendary. He managed Bob DylanJanis Joplinthe BandOdetta,Gordon Lightfoot and Ian & Sylvia. He actually created Peter, Paul and Mary as a musical trio.  ↩︎
  3. Warmer was Randy’s first album. Del Newman, who died in 2020, was a producer who worked with Elton John (on Goodbye Yellow Brick Road), Carly Simon and Rod Stewart, and who directed the orchestral score for the Paul McCartney and Wings‘ theme song for the 1973 James Bond film Live and Let Die. ↩︎
  4. Some sources claim that “Just When I Needed You Most” was the B side of “Gotta Get Out of Here”, and that some DJ somewhere played it on a whim and made it a hit. ↩︎
  5. I remember Rosanna going on Letterman and being annoyed when he asked her about it. She said something like, ‘how would you like to be asked all the time about someone you used to go out with?” I cannot find the clip, though, but this is what I would have been referring to. Toto has since claimed that they took her name for the song after meeting her, but that the song isn’t about her, and that she rode their coattails. ↩︎
  6. In the Release article, I wrote, “Grossman apparently had a theory that if he kept Randy a mystery, rather than expose him to a full-fledged media campaign and media tour, the public would become intrigued, and the excitement would build. It would later work wonders for Michael Jackson. For Randy Vanwarmer (a considerably less enigmatic personality), it was not terribly successful.” ↩︎
  7. “Whatever You Decide” rose no higher than number 77 in the United States. ↩︎
  8. A song about a guy insisting that a woman will see how much he loves her if she’ll just please let him have sex with her. I think Randy meant it ironically. You can see how politely he changes the subject when I bring it up. ↩︎
  9. “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore”. ↩︎
  10. In 2007, CBS News reported, “Randy wrote and sang songs about outer space, but he never got there — until now,” when his widow sprinkled his ashes into space, from a rocket ship orbiting earth. “He’s finally up there, he finally got his trip,” his widow said. “I wish he had known.” ↩︎
  11. Things That You Dream, which contained another outer space song, “Gonna Build Me a Rocket.” ↩︎
  12. “Suzi” was the first single from his third album, The Beat of Love. The song, according to Randy, went to #1 in Alaska (it hit #55 on the U.S. charts). James A. Gardner, wrote in All Music, “‘Just When I Needed You Most’ evoked the feel of sensitive singer/songwriters like Dan Hill and Dan Fogelberg so accurately, it almost sounded like a parody. This album’s single couldn’t be much more of a departure from that; ‘Suzi Found a Weapon’ is a thudding new wave rocker with percolating keyboards and a wonderfully sinister tremolo guitar hook. Vanwarmer’s bright, high-register voice even carries a hint of menace. It’s a terrific opening track and one of those forgotten singles of the ’80s that deserves to be better-known.” ↩︎
  13. To show you what a tone-deaf interviewer I was decades ago, this is the most interesting thing in the whole conversation, and I skipped over it. Suzi — her name is spelled with a “Z” in the song, and in an official Randy Vanwarmer FB post, but CBS News spelled it “Susie” — was a PR rep at Bearsville Records, who was probably assigned to work with Randy on publicity for his third album, The Beat of Love. And he wrote a song about her that included the line, “If she catches your eye/God help you/ You’ll have to run and die/ Not to love her.” They weren’t even dating yet, they’d just met, and she’s publicizing the first single, which is about how much he loves her. That’s an amazing rom-com story. And also incredible cringe comedy. Did they talk about it? I want to know more. I didn’t even ask him. I still want to know about it, but Suzi, who has since remarried to a man named Steven Kimmons, isn’t replying to my messages. ↩︎
  14. This is me being full of it, right here. “Ok, right,” I say, as though I knew who the producer was on Patsy Cline’s records. I didn’t. I feel bad that I lied to Randy. ↩︎
  15. Laura Brannigan’s debut album, Brannigan, was a gold record and a phenomenon. Randy’s song, “Down Like a Rock,” from Terraform, is about a man drowning in a swimming pool; in his last moments, he wonders if someone pushed him, and he wonders if his wife is laughing while he drowns. It’s a very strange, eery and grimly funny song, and many many people have listened to it on Laura Brannigan’s record. ↩︎
  16. I really didn’t like that first album. I like the aching sincerity of ‘Just When I Needed You Most,’ but the rest of it I thought was kind of difficult for me to listen to. It was amazing to me to see someone go from that first popular record to an unappreciated masterpiece, “Terraform.” ↩︎
  17. Gardner writes, of the album as a whole, “The rest of the album is the kind of upbeat, catchy pop Vanwarmer seems to be able to write at will, although tracks like ‘Always Night’ and ‘Babel/Don’t Hide’ have considerable gravity to their lyrics. Even at his poppiest, as on the bubbly ‘Amen,’ Vanwarmer injects biting cynicism: ‘Give us your money/We will pray for you/Everybody say “Amen”.’ Allusions to spirituality on several tracks suggest that it’s as important to Vanwarmer as romance, and that he’s skeptical of either working out. Some of his best songs here have lyrics that suggest a disposition at odds with the music’s sunniness. Along with his own songwriting, Vanwarmer shows good taste in outside material. His version of McGuinness Flint‘s infectious ‘When I’m Dead and Gone’ is, like much of the album, an upbeat number with bleak lyrics. While this isn’t the music Randy VanWarmer’s known for, The Beat of Love may be his best work.” ↩︎
  18. Winchester made numerous records over many decades before his death in 2014, and, like Randy, had hits mostly as a songwriter. He was greatly respected in the industry, and before his death a tribute album featured performances by James TaylorLyle LovettLucinda WilliamsRosanne Cash and Jimmy Buffett. ↩︎
  19. I talked to a guy from the record company around the time of this interview, who really seemed excited about the trio. Then I spoke to Suzi for some reason a while later, as I recall, who told me that the trio wasn’t moving forward. I’ve always regretted that. Both Pearson and Dean are alive and well, and I’ve reached out to them for their recollections, but no word yet. ↩︎
  20. The only thing I can think of here is a band called Dick York is Not Dead, which was in a long-ago unpublished novel I wrote, and then threw away because it was terrible. For some reason, I’m inflating that in the interview into a bunch of great names that I’ve got for bands. ↩︎
  21. The book was rejected by every publisher that year, but always filled with praise. My agent, Jonathan Matson, died. Finally, in the 2010s, I signed a contract to publish it under a different title and a pen-name. After years of not publishing it, the publisher recently returned the rights to me. So it’s on the market again. Very amusing that my life seems not to have changed in the 34 years since Randy and I spoke. Like back then, I’m still looking for a publisher for Dirty Money. ↩︎
  22. Seems Randy is not really being entirely ingenuous here. Serendipity gave him some massive hits as a songwriter on the country charts, and the biggest, “I’m in a Hurry,” was yet to come. He was following the money. There’s nothing really wrong with that, because he was an amazingly talented songwriter and performer. Why not go where he was most appreciated at the time? ↩︎
  23. This really sounds interesting, and given Randy’s talent and skill, and Pearson and Dean’s experience, we hope that the tapes of this recording session exist somewhere. ↩︎
  24. In 1990, I wrote, “Well, the song hardly covers new ground: he sings of standing outside his house in the rain, waiting hopelessly for his girl to come back. But he’s an extremely talented songwriter, and he has a flexible, expressive voice.” ↩︎
  25. His brother Ron is still married to Hester, and they still live in Woodstock. ↩︎
  26. I was walking through Penn Station in 1984 or 1985, and for some reason I was carrying that record under my arm. A guy came up and asked me if that was me. ↩︎

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