More with George "Shadow" Morton

"Shadow" Morton: "Remember (Walking in The Sand)" had a sort of "rap" quality.

Goldmine: There is a story about "Remember (Walking In The Sand)" being Billy Joel's first studio session. However, Billy remembers working on the demo of "Leader Of The Pack."

"Shadow" Morton: I don't think it was "Leader..." Maybe, I could be wrong but the way I was told, I'm thinking it was "Remember (Walking In The Sand)."

Goldmine: How did this come about?

"Shadow" Morton: Gee...I'd better start from the beginning. Let's see now...I found myself in Philadelphia. I was hitching to New York and nobody was picking me up so I made a phone call to an old pal, Jerry Love, in New York. I had seventy cents to my name. Jerry said, "That'll get you six cups of coffee. Wait there." Jerry drove down and picked me up at some diner on the edge of Philadelphia. On the drive back, he asks me, "Do you remember the accordian player...the organ player...that girl from the high school, she sang, too--Ellie Greenwich?" I said, "Yeah, what about her?" And he says, "Well, she's got hit songs out." I said, "No. I didn't know" I was trying to be cool...I must have missed that one. And he rattles off "Be My Baby", this one, that one...and I was really stunned. I couldn't believe it. So the next day, I went to The Farmer's Market across from Grumman and went through the record pile. Sure enough, there's her name and Jeff Barry, who I don't know. Just for the hell of it, I called up Ellie. And I think, just as a courtesy, she took the call. After some small talk and b.s., she invited me up to her office at 1619 Broadway, The Brill Building, if I was ever in the area. To this I responded, "It just so happens, I'm going to be in that neighborhood tomorrow."

I hitched into New York City the next day and went to her office. I met her and Jeff Barry. It was very cordial and very nice between me and Ellie, but there was a certain amount of tension. I guess that maybe Ellie had moved into a different world. However, I didn't take it that way...I figured it was that there was a stranger in the room--not that I was the stranger but that Barry, her husband, was the stranger! He had probably seen a half a dozen guys a week come through that door with songs and I'm just another guy. But I didn't like his attitude. I mean, I'm originally from Brooklyn and you don't take that attitude with me very long. But he was just being himself. When he turned to me, because he kept his back to me while he was tinkling on the piano and I didn't like that...he turned to me, and I guess to jam me, said, "And what do you do for a living?" To jam him back, I said, "Same thing you do--I write songs." And he said, "What kind of songs?" And I said, "Hit songs!" And he said, "Bring 'em to me." I exited the room, I remember waiting about ten seconds, and then I knocked on the door. When he leaned over to open the door, I guess he figured I was going to apologize or come up with some excuse because he put a smile on his face and said, "Yeah...go ahead." And I said, "We forgot to discuss something. Do you want a fast hit or a slow hit?" He laughed and said, "Kid, bring me a slow hit."

Just for the hell of it, just for the sheer craziness of it, I called my friend, George, and said--and I did this in such a New York way--I said, "Listen, I got this record company in New York and they want to hear my material." He said, "What material?" I said, "Songs. My songs." He said, "What songs?" I said, "Songs. I got lots of songs!" "You do?" This guy hung out with me every day. I said, "Now, you know guys who know music. Get me four pieces: bass, drums, piano and guitar." Then I called this studio, where my high school group, The Marquees, had hung out and done all this singing. It was in Bethpage, off Bloomingdale Road down from Ray's Diner...and this guy, Joe Mondria, had set up a small studio in his basement because of us singing down there--he still had my old tape machine there. I said, "Joe, listen. George is getting me four musicians...I got a band, I got a record label in New York that wants to hear my material..." He says, "You got a record company in New York?" I says, "Yeah. I need a studio. How 'bout Sunday?" "Okay," he says.

Then, I went to see The Shangri-La's.

They were playing at some club in Queens. They did the first set--so-so. Before the second set, I got them in the dressing room and said, "Look, you've gotta do this with the skirts (makes as though to hike up the hemline)...you're not gonna make it with just the singing, not with this crowd...you've gotta pull those garters off and throw them into the audience..." And when they did it, and people are standing and clapping like crazy. Their brother, who was, I guess, like their manager, wants to kill me. It was a quick exit that night. But I went back to see them and I told them, "I got a studio, I got a band, I got a record company--let's make a record!" They agreed and I gave them directions to Bethpage.

And everything is going so smoothly, everybody is saying yes...it wasn't until Sunday, on the way to the studio, that I realize I haven't got a song! So I pulled the car over to the side of South Oyster Bay Road, just past the railroad tracks, and I'm sitting there like I don't know what and I wrote "Remember..." I walked down the steps to the basement where the studio was...George turned to me and said, "You're late! Where the hell have you been?" That's when I turned to the piano player, who I believe turned out to be Billy Joel, or so I've since been told, and said, "Here, play this: bom-bom-bommmm." And that was it.

On Monday, I brought the tape to Ellie and Jeff and my career began. Jeff said, "Can I play this for somebody?" and ran out of the room. I asked Ellie, "What's going on?" She says, "You've got something there." I said, "Are you kidding?" "No," she said. "You've got something for real!" The door opens up and a guy with one blue eye and one brown eye sticks his head in--Jerry Leiber--and asks me, "Did you write this?" I said, "Yeah." "Did you produce this?" I said, "What does that mean?" "Did you tell everybody what to play and how to play it? Did you tell them how to sing?" I said, "Yeah." He must have opened the door and asked me if I wrote it and produced it about three times. I took it to mean that he didn't believe me. He opens the door again and says, "Well, how would you like to work here?" I said, "What to I have to do?" "Do exactly what you did here! Make songs! Make some records!" So I did...and the money was good.

Goldmine: Amazing. That is some story. And that recording is a classic. Recently, a friend told me that when she hears that song today, she can "smell the summer."

"Shadow" Morton: Hmmm. That's wonderful--what a lovely compliment.


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The interview originally appeared in Goldmine Magazine, July, 12, 1991,
Volume 17, Number14, Issue 286

© Richard Arfin 1987 Revised 2004 All Rights Reserved