OK, kids. Settle down. I’m speaking up against DONALD TRUMP using my song as his campaign song. Hope I’m not his next target. Please bear in mind only the publisher can prevent him from using “You’re The Best”. Ain’t no use telling me about Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen and Heart. They were all both artist, songwriter and publisher and therefore had the legal right to prevent usage. I’s jes the lowly songwriter and have no power here. Other than my mouth!
In case you haven’t read it, the title of this post is in reference to the if-I-do-say-so-myself-despite-a-few-tiny-inaccuracies-great-and-rather-large-piece-on-me in last Sunday’s Washington Post.
In current news, I will be taking to the stage in LA again for the first time in over a year, actually the first two times, as there are two impending opportunities for me to regale you with my most humiliating show business stories and watch the audience remember my lyrics better than I do as we sing-along to some of my greatest hits!
First, I will be performing my infamous poolside with Sammy Davis Jr., Elizabeth Taylor slab o’ ribs story as well as a retelling of the single most ego-numbing, dignity-deprivation moment of my career, the Phoebe Snow/Paul Simon “I’m so f%#king hungry and yes, you’re Still Crazy after all these hours” story at Beth Lapides’ I’m With The Band (sorry, Pamela DesBarres who HAS been with the band!) evening at the Skirball Center, Friday night, June 5. It’s rock & roll comedy told by very funny people like John Riggie (30 Rock, The Comeback), Greg Behrendt He’s Just Not That Into You), the lovely Moon Zappa (Curb Your Enthusiasm, America the Beautiful) and, of course, ME, featuring stories about some of music’s biggest legends and presented lounge-style with cocktails and snacks available for purchase. Tickets here.
Then on Sunday night, July 12, it’s big ol’ party time when the illustrious Andrae and I + band hit the stage for a wild, so-affordable-it’s-crazy fundraiser for my Detroit-inspired record, video and feature length film about human spirit, “The D”/ Allee Willis Loves Detroit”!! Featuring a sneak peek world premiere of the record and video with more people in history than have ever been the original artist on a record, joined by some of the biggest stars to ever emerge from the Motor City. Also sing-alongs to some of some of my fattys like “September,” “Boogie Wonderland,” “Neutron Dance,” and the Friends theme, as well as auctions from the legendary Allee Willis Museum Of Kitsch collection! Many more surprises at this outrageous multimedia live feast for the eyes, ears and soul!! Tickets, thankfully going fast, are here.
And last but far from least, we are making fairly stunning progress on “The D” record and video, both of which are in the area of 85/90% finished. We are constantly diverted from the filmmaking mission having to prepare things like a marketing deck and a movie trailer so we can all stop eating up to the green edges of our food and raise some real money to get this car on the road. But I must admit, despite the financial deprivation – PLEASE COME TO THE BENEFIT ON JULY 12 – we are all having the time of our lives working on something this creative and worthwhile. All we do is laugh, and all we do is feel better and better about what we’re doing every time we look at the joy pouring out of Detroiters eyes, mouths and hearts as we pull everything together.
Exciting news on “The D” song front is that Detroit’s own Maejor, an artist with hundreds of millions of YouTube views and the smoothest voice this Motor City side of Marvin Gaye, is the latest superstar to add his voice to the record.
Plus recent interviews for Allee Willis Loves Detroit, the film, include the multi-seriesed Michael Patrick King, the shy and retiring Jenifer Lewis, the demure Sandra Bernhard, and Earth, Wind & Fire’s stupendous Philip Bailey, among illustrious others.
I know, I know… It’s been pathetically long since my last update. That might be because of the 20-hour-days-minimum-six-days-a-week schedule those of us working on the Detroit record, video, and filmhave been adhering to, handstitching everything together as if we were Betsy Ross making that flag. There have been great, jubilant days…
…as well as days that make you want to roll onto the freeway and pray an 18 wheeler puts you out of your misery….
But that’s the life of an independent 99%-self funded artist and I wouldn’t change anything for the world. Well, I WOULD love someone to dunk me into a big ol’ vat of Lincolns…
Old photo I know… If you can’t tell by the lack of wrinkles on my face you can certainly tell by it being the last time I ever wore a dress. But aside from that I leave each day totally uplifted by the spirit pouring out of the footage and sounds leaping off the record. Wish I could leak a teeeeeny tiny sample but let’s just say that no other city has had a song that sounded so insanely jubilant and looked quite so unique.
I don’t wanna let too much cat outta the bag until we premiere the record and video in Detroit this SEPTEMBER. Now that the year-long jotting down of logs has ended the video’s about 60% finished. In the meantime we’ve also begun interviewing some of my esteemed friends and colleagues for Allee Willis Loves Detroit, the film. The bounty includes this young Detroiter:
…and this young man who gave me my big break by having me write for his group, Earth, Wind & Fire:
The celeb list in the film is long because people have a lot to say about Detroit (and apparently me). This includes many Color Purple people and a stunning array of Grammy, Emmy, Tony, Academy Award, and Pulitzer Prize winners, a smattering of whom we’ve filmed so far including RuPaul, Ricki Lake, Bruce Vilanch, Lesley Ann Warren, Marsha Norman, and Luenell with a whole slew yet to come.
Not to say that the finish line of the feature film is in sight but we are crawling towards it with skinned knees, blisters on our fingers and faith in our hearts!
As for “The D”, the record is about 95% done. Just in need of us moving out of my home studio – not to berate my little studio which back in the day James Brown called one of the best and funkiest sounding in LA – but so we have a shot at mixing in more opportune acoustic conditions so the 40 basses, 35 guitars and over 5000 singers don’t make everything too wobbly sounding as they bounce off the heads of Sammy Davis Jr., Groove On Brother, and other soulful onlookers here at Willis Wonderland.
We’ve also been putting together a marketing deck so we can raise real money to get “The D”/ Allee Willis Loves Detroit finally on the road. As all of us normally peer through artists’ eyes we had no idea what we were doing here and this took some months of concentration not to mention putting any further record, video or documentary editing on hold.
If you know of any deep pocket persons or company/institutions that should see our lovely and provocative marketing deck please let me know. And to drop a few coins of your own in the tank you can always go here.
In the meantime, go on wit yo bad self, Detroit!
All around it was a very good SEPTEMBER week here at Willis Wonderland LA as well as Willis W in Detroit.
Yes I know there is a Willis Street in almost every major city in the country. But this particular one is not only the exact spot my parents first met when they lived kitty corner from each in Detroit oh so may years ago, but it’s also the street that was taken over to make way for this intersection below, in a housing complex started by retired Motown singers and where we sang one of the sing-alongs for “The D” record and videos.
As the reliably magic day – the 21st of September – approached, NPR did a great story on the timelessness of my very first hit, “September”, co-written with Al McKay and Maurice White. Professors of Musicology even broke it down for analysis as to why it is so eternally happy and a song that will literally never end.
0It’s been decades now that every weekend I receive at least 5 videos of the song played at someone’s wedding or drunken karaoke spree or there’s a bar mitzvah boy spinning around his blond dream girl, anywhere and everywhere happiness is the intention. And indeed THAT makes me very happy!
Then I had literally one if the greatest days of my life in Detroit on THE BaDeYa 21st of September when I performed my very sold out “BaDeYa, Detroit!” show, featuring a 15 piece band put together from musicians and singers we discovered at the sing-alongs and while filming the feature-length-exceedingly-hybrid-documentary, Allee Willis Loves Detroit.
The show/party also included dancers from Mosaic Youth Theatre Of Detroit, one of “The D”/ Allee Willis Loves Detroit’s beneficiaries, spinning car tires over their heads, choreographed videographers leaping over drums on cymbal crashes and organ sweeps, as well as the obligatory obsessive amount of junk food I subsist on.
And then how much better does it get when you get Tavis Smily in an Afro (attempting to) shake his booty to ’September”’s sister, “Boogie Wonderland”, on Dancing With The Stars, all in the same week?! Though he sported one of those chopped down naturals when a good footlong Billy Preston was called for.
I have been blessed with a wonderful (albeit challenging) life and am living my creative (albeit money challenged) dream right now and I thank all of you who made it possible! Remember to throw some gas money in the tank please.
For the past few few years now on the “BaDeYa, say do you remember 21st night of September”, my blessed and magic day because it’s the first line in the first hit record I ever had, I’ve made a tradition of performing live, something that took me over three decades to get together. Other than last year when I was in Detroit conducting one of the 50 sing-alongs for ”The D”, the unofficial official theme song I cowrote for Detroit, in a laundromat with people essentially spinning around in dryers while singing.
As luck would have it, THIS year was a particularly special September 21st as just a couple days earlier NPR did a story on why “September”, co-written with Maurice White and Al McKay, remains such a timeless song, symbolizing warmth, love, and soul.
This year September 21 was even more special because I decided to perform live for the very first time EVER in Detroit, my beloved hometown for whom I’ve (unofficially) been slaving away on a project, “The D”, a record and multiple music videos, and Allee Willis Loves Detroit, a feature length film, for the last 2 1/2 years. As such, my co-writer and partner on the music portion of the project, Andrae Alexander, and I put together a 15 piece band made up of the very best musicians and singers we found during the 50 D sing-alongs we led last year to perform live with us in the show, BaDeYa, Detroit!.
We also wanted to give everyone a preview of the song which finally has a preliminary mix after over a solid year of trying to deal with 5000 vocal and instrument tracks, each one with up to hundreds of voices on them. There’s just so much room in the sound spectrum and every inch of it we have taken up truly sounds like something you have never heard before. We also gave the audience a sneak peak at the beginnings of the first of many music videos to follow. (Sorry – no preview here; only a few shots so you can see it ain’t no normal thang and to insure that you get the full punch once the first video’s actually delivered.)
For an artist such as myself who dotes on every detail of a stage production from designing the invitations to handmaking the set, picking theme food, designing the merchandise, casting people who help us like I’m casting characters in a musical, shipping 20 crates of everything to Detroit, directing, co-producing, and doing just about everything else involved in a production – albeit all with fantastic collaborators – this was no easy feat. And performing out of town for essentially the first time in my adult life makes that even harder. But don’t even ask me how worth it it was!!! Easily one of the best days/nights of my life was this “21st (almost) night of September”!
We performed at United Sound, a still-in-existence historic recording studio in Detroit where everyone from Charlie Parker to The Rolling Stones and some of my all-time favorite records like Isaac Hayes’ “Shaft”, The Dramatics’ “Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get”, and Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Goin’ On” were recorded.
But to turn a brilliant recording studio into a brilliant performance space is another issue entirely, especially when it involves things like sets, choreographed videographers who leap over drums on crash cymbal cues and organ sweeps, and all the other madness that goes into an Allee Willis production..
Of this now 2 1/2 year Detroit gargantuan mofo project, “The D” and Allee Willis Willis Loves Detroit, the feature-length film about human spirit as seen through the people of Detroit and how my life, a constant conscious battle to keep my own spirit going, parallels that struggle, 99% of it has been funded by me. (Put some gas money here please.) So this meant getting people involved in BaDeYa, Detroit! working for gratis. Which they thankfully, gratefully, and miraculously did. From the band to just about everyone else who worked in any capacity on the show. They are saints. They are insanely talented. They are blissfully soulful, and primary examples of why I feel so compelled to make a film about the people of Detroit and how it is THEY who will rebuild the city because of their resilient spirit.
I want to give a special shout out to Malcolm Haris and Donnevan Tolbert, two young gentleman I saw play Mister and Harpo when their high school, Cass Tech, became the first in the country to license the musical I cowrote, The Color Purple, a couple years ago, and who did a brilliant spoken word intro to my show.
And I want to thank the five brilliant dancers from The Mosaic Youth Theater of Detroit, one of the two beneficiaries of all profits from my Detroit efforts, who donned mechanics uniforms and spun car tires over their heads during the sneak peak world premiere of the first mix of “The D” and boogied their butts off during my second hit, “Boogie Wonderland”.
I want to also thank the stupendous audience not only for showing up, as songwriters remain the buried treasure of the music industry, but also for participating so wildly so that the show came off just as I had prayed it would. Like a party in my living room. And if you don’t know my reputation for throwing parties you better go here now.
As a result of having so much fun not to mention hitting a new plateau in my budding performing career, I love Detroit even more than I have kvelled about it before, as if that was even possible. And I will eternally love the 21st of September for doing everything from giving me a second birthday because every year since I wrote it I hear from thousands of people that day telling me how happy the song makes them feel. This year it made me the happiest of all.
I hope you can see the spirit that was jumping off of the stage and ricocheting back to us in all the above photos as well as all of these. That room was an automatic power generator and from what I’ve heard everyone, certainly including me, is still buzzing. So BaDeYa Detroit!
CALLING ALL DETROITERS! I will be APPEARING LIVE for the first time EVER in the Motor City 3 PM, Sunday, “the 21st (almost) night of September”! Andrae and I plus a 10 piece band – singers, dancers, tires, fire eaters, live tigers – well, a couple of those may not be true but I guarantee you it will be a spectacle among spectacles!
BaDeYa DETROIT features sing-alongs to my some of my greatest greatest hits like ’September”, “Boogie Wonderland”, “Neutron Dance”, the Friends theme, not to mention a not-ready-to-be-released-yet-but-needle-drop preview of “The D”! and is all happening at Detroit’s most historic recording studio – the immortal United Sound, 5840 2nd Ave., Detroit, MI 48202, Sunday, September 21, 2014 at 3 PM. Here’s the ticket link. Click NOW for maximum enjoyment as seating is very limited!
A couple of Allee Willis Live enticing quotes:
“Invitations to Allee Willis’s ultra-exclusive … parties are the campiest hot tickets in LA.” – People Magazine
The unpretentious and effortlessly hilarious Willis stood before her mic cracking jokes and spinning alternately hilarious and touching anecdotes… Billed as a “songwriter, live performer, visual artist, and iconic party thrower”,…the indefatigable and gifted Willis lives up to all of the hype, and more. Who else can one think of who created a marathon catalog of beloved chart-topping songs beginning in the late 1970s, wrote background score and songs for a 1980s movie blockbuster (“Beverly Hills Cop”) and “I’ll Be There For You,” the theme for the iconic long- running sitcom (“Friends”), and ultimately added to her incredibly eclectic repertoire in late career by co-writing a wondrous Broadway musical in 2005 (“The Color Purple”)?…Willis simultaneously projects counter-culture hipster and dearly beloved auntie. There’s plenty of warmth and refreshing humility mixed in with her thumb-your-nose attitude. – The Edge Media Network.
So please BUY YOUR TICKETS NOW for a magic carpet ride to Happy Land on the 21st day of September!!
I know. It’s been pathetically long since my last update. This is not due to inactivity! We’ve been having 12 hour days here at Willis Wonderland since January and STILL haven’t quite gotten through all the footage and recording tracks, close to 3000 hours and 5000 tracks respectively, for “The D” record and multiple music videos, and Allee Willis Loves Detroit our feature-length hybrid documentary. Not that this has been driving us crazy or to drink.
I know it might seem like we do a lot of lying around but this rarely occurs unless eyeballs start rolling in the back of our heads after working 16 straight hours looking at 743 takes of various groups singing the same line. Two of these folks in the above photo are gone already. We hate to lose them, well one of them at least, but when one is paying such a high salary, as close to zero dollars as humanly possible due to our expansive budget known as my pocket, these things are inevitable.
Challenges have abounded. Like having to replace my hundred terabyte server in the middle of editing and mixing so that master files are scattered around on a trillion different drives and computers as opposed to one central location while the switchover happens. So this includes helpful things like servers constantly going down or computers not being able to talk to each other, watching files getting eaten up before your eyes, overwriting files, and all the other joys that come with working in a part-time dysfunctional digital environment.
And then there was the hideous discovery that due to brain slippage of a certain IT person (no longer) working here nothing had been backed up since February and we lost at least a month’s worth of footage of us figuring out how to jam thousands of voices and instruments into one record so everyone’s heard. Not to mention the fits of hysteria incurred after looking at blurry key footage and figuring out how to work around it. This had me in a such a comatose state I had to shoot Vernor’s, Detroit’s beverage of choice, into my veins to keep me from slipping into a coma.
But the trauma has always been tamed by the joy of working on such a unique project. Sometimes we have even have FRIENDS drop in to bring us matzoh ball soup, cupcakes, and other modes of sustenance to remind us we have a life on the outside.
And now traveling for “The D” crew kicks up again. I will be spending one week out of each of the next four months in the Motor City, this month to attend my 107th high school reunion!
Then I return two weeks later in August to give a speech on Creativity And Detroit at the Crooked Tree Arts Center in Petoskey, four hours from the city and where my parents bought their very first first house. Then I’m elated to report that on September 21 (yes, the “BaDeYa, say do you remember” 21st of September!) I will be performing LIVE in Detroit at the historic United Sound, the recording studio where the very first Motown records were made and still a vital part of Detroit music history. And then again at the end of October when the musical I co-wrote, The Color Purple, comes back to the D for the fourth time, this time starring Dreamgirl Jennifer Holliday, who I wrote for many a year ago and haven’t seen since, making for a Dream D reunion! All these extravaganzas will be filmed and recorded for “The D” and Allee Willis Loves Detroit.
So as we cut and paste, chop, mix, curse, cry, hug and exhibit all the various kinds of behavior that come with undertaking a task of this girth I thank all of you who have donated or contributed your services thus far. It’s not too late to donate!! We will do you proud!
Yours in The D,
Allee The D/ Allee Willis Loves Detroit home: http://www.WeSingTheD.com Sneak Peak: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4rkbTpZdxy8 WDIV/ NBC Allee Willis Does Detroit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v8HdLEfw1zg Fox 2 News: http://www.myfoxdetroit.com/video?autoStart=true&topVideoCatNo=default&clipId=9361767
Sorry, sorry, sorry for no new entries in an eternity. I’m working around several clocks and all the energy that used to be poured into this blog has to now go into slogging through the close to 5000 vocal tracks and 3000 hours of footage so that I can complete “The D”/ Allee Willis Loves Detroit before my 100th birthday. Although joyous work for a completely worthy cause – DETROIT! – it all makes me very tired, especially when the 100 Terrabye server goes down and makes my collaborator, Andrae Alexander, and I experience death by technology.
So I am putting a convenient little button to transport you to Facebook where I now say in relatively few characters what I used to put into my often novel-like blog. That way you can experience at least some of my day, though I am far from the type whose fingers are constantly tapping the keys to tell everyone what I’m up to.
I’ve been online since 1991. I came up with the concept of a social network in 1992. I’m not someone who blogs because you have to blog or tweets because you have to tweet or puts incessant photos of my food and footwear on Instagram. I have always lived by the rule that my creative flow was a little garden that I had to nurture. So please enjoy the flowers at the above link and I shall be back to blog when time, the gods and my overstuffed brain allow it.
Finally!! Get out the ol’ YouTube and enjoy this sneak peek at “The D”! (This is NOT the music video or film; just a sneak peek at what you can expect!) You can play this now or read a little more as I will kindly provide you with the link 30,000 times before the end of this update.
As we speak, I’m in my studio rolling my chair from one workstation to another as we simultaneously mix the 4000 vocal and instrument tracks for the record, and edit the 2000+ hours of footage into a music video, assorted trailers and a hybrid–documentary–but–not–really feature film. Normal life has ceased and no matter what other needs may need attending, work never stops!
In the nearly 2 years since I began working on “The D” there were times I was just inches away from pulling the plug because the financial and practical odds of getting thousands of Detroiters to sing a song and be in a film about human spirit on no budget just seemed too enormous. But make it to Detroit we did, in September – a magic month for me for obvious musical reasons – and again at Thanksgiving when I was such an exemplary float personality greeting the crowds as a block of ice being hauled down Woodward Ave., Detroit’s main drag and first paved road in history, in the Thanksgiving Day Parade:
As usual, massive thanks and eternal gratitude to those of you who have already donated or participated in the making of “The D”. Now that everyone else can finally get a hint of what we’re doing I hope many of you reading this will follow suit and help us finish by adding some gas in the tank.
For complete info on “The D” go here: http://www.wesingthed.com
And If you know some nice rich person or place with excellent taste and a whole lotta soul who might make this next part of our journey a little easier in the way of coin, please email me immediately!
I can guarantee you “The D” is a view of Detroit you’ve never seen before. I can guarantee you it’s an accurate one. And I can promise you it will make you smile. When it comes to soul – SERIOUSLY – there ain’t no place like the Motor City!
My “D” best,
And, by the way, have you seen this excellent sneak peek of “The D”?