Tony Green (born Antonio DiVerdis-Mazzone), the Canadian Disco producer behind France Joli and Freddie James speaks to DiscoMusic.com member Kelly Hughes about his music productions. He also reveals the name of the mystery singer behind the group U.N.
Tony Green's Disco Machine
1979 was a good year for Tony Green. Writing and producing Get Up And Boogie for Freddie James put him on the top of the disco charts. But that turned out to be just a warm-up for the breakout success of France Joli and his classic compositions for her debut album. When I talked to Tony Green recently, he shared some behind-the-scenes stories of the making of Come To Me, and its debut at both Fire Island and Studio 54 (plus details on last year's controversial remake), and filled in the gaps of a recording career that began in 1969, and continues to this day.
(Photo on the right: Tony Green, France Joli and Gene Leone at Alpha Studios in Philly, 1979.)
You're a bit of an enigma. Even with the Internet, you don't make it that easy for people to find information about you.
Tony Green: I am very private when it comes to things like that. I rarely give interviews. But, this... you said you wanted to talk about France, and experiences in the studio, so yeah, that I don't mind.
Tony Green is your stage name.
Tony Green: My full Italian name is Antonio DiVerdis-Mazzone.
How come all of the good disco producers were Italian?
Tony Green: [laughs] I have no idea. We just have a good melody within us, we know how to write a good melody, maybe, I don't know. I really don't know why.
Especially Italians in Montreal. I don't get that. Is there an Italian settlement up there?
Tony Green: Yes. There's a big Italian community up here, just about every major city in the world has a big Italian community. You're in Seattle, too, so there must be a lot of Italians there.
We're very Scandinavian out here. But Italians make the best disco. Especially the ones in Montreal. Do you know Gino Soccio?
Tony Green: Gino, I know him. I haven't seen him in awhile, but I know him.
Because in 1979, the two of you, you didn't just rule Canadian Disco, but International Disco.
Tony Green: We were hot. It's amazing how much stuff came out of Montreal.
Do you stay in touch with Carolyne Bernier?
Tony Green: Oh my god no, I haven't seen her. My god, where'd you get that name?
People still remember her, what was it... Out of the Shadow? That album.
Tony Green: Yeah! That was a good album. The song Hold Me Touch Me was a big song.
That song reminds me of Madleen Kane's Touch My Heart.
Tony Green: Well, maybe, yeah, I guess.
I thought of her as your Madleen Kane. Didn't she also write a column for DiscoMag?
Tony Green: She was special, that's for sure. I haven't seen her in forever. I usually don't keep in contact with my clients unless they keep in contact with me.
It sounds like once the session's over, it's over.
Tony Green: Everyone's got their own lives. They're either working, or their personal lives. There's no reason for me to really contact them. If I see them on the streets, or I see them at an event or function we speak.
But it just seems, with someone like France, you're linked, because of Come To Me, for the rest of your careers, and I think that everyone imagines you're pals, and you send Christmas cards to each other.
Tony Green: Unfortunately not. I hear from her through other people. People ask me since we worked together, "Have you seen this? You should see this now." After that last album, the song Touch and all that, we parted ways, and she's doing her thing.
After Touch, you lost touch?
Tony Green: [laughing] There you go.
One musician, I always see his name on your stuff, is Robby Goldfarb.
Tony Green: Ah Robby, yes. He was the keyboard player. He had fast fingers. But I had complete creative control over what I wanted recorded. Rob was a good keyboard player and he was good at giving me exactly what I wanted him to play.
You worked with him with Kebekelektrik.
Tony Green: Oh my god. Where are you picking all these things? [laughs]
You produced a version of Space's Magic Fly. Do you remember why it was also released as Journey Into Love?
Tony Green: My god, you know what, I remember the titles, but I don't remember how I did them and why I did them.
Gino Soccio is always associated with Kebekelektrik, but I don't think he worked on it until War Dance.
Tony Green: Yeah. That's right. He worked with it later. I was... Kebekelektrik started with me.
How did it get handed over to Gino?
Tony Green: I was hired to do that project. And the people behind it... I don't remember if they ever approached me again after that time.
They owned a name and had a hit, and kept it going with Gino?
Tony Green: Yes.
So, Magic Fly...that, and then Giorgio Morder's Chase. Those were the disco instrumentals I remember from that time.
Tony Green: You know that France worked with Giorgio Moroder?
The Attitude album from 1983, everyone calls that her Giorgio Moroder album. He was only the executive producer. He was not in the studio. And France and I could not figure out why Giorgio did not want to directly work with her in the studio.
Tony Green: He must have been doing other projects.
He was doing Flashdance that year.
Tony Green: Yeah, actually, that's what anyone else would have done.
Prelude Records and Marvin Schlachter
Well, I'm just shocked he didn't work directly with her. But on France's first album, what was happening with Marvin Schlachter during all this?
Tony Green: Goodness gracious, good old Marvin. Marvin was a great guy running Prelude Records, and before that, Scepter.
Well, you shopped this around. Other labels wanted to carry France's first album. Why did you go with Prelude?
Tony Green: I met Marvin in Cannes, France when I went to MIDEM. He heard the Freddie James album and loved it. He wanted it for Prelude. Though the album went to Warner Brothers, Marvin and I became good friends. I promised him that I would make it up to him with my next project. When I finished the France Joli Come To Me album, I played it for him and a few other labels including Ray Caviano at RFC/Warner. Everyone loved it and wanted it, but I decided to give it to Prelude cause Marvin promised me that he'd do more than everybody else. The Prelude team definitely worked hard to make that album happen.
Well, it sounds like he made France Joli a top priority at the label.
Tony Green: Yes, yes she was. In fact, I think the Come To Me project, those first two albums, were still his biggest sellers and biggest projects. Bigger than Musique's (Push, Push) In The Bush, you know?
Come To Me got the most Top 40 play of anything on Prelude.
Tony Green: That's right.
Once you had this relationship with Marvin, I'm surprised he didn't ask you to produce more of his established artists.
Tony Green: He might have but I was so busy working on my own projects that producing other Prelude artists never materialized. Maybe also because I shied away from producing artists I didn't have the creative control over.
Tell me about the Prelude Records office.
Tony Green: I was there all the time.
What was the mood like there?
Tony Green: Fantastic. It was an exciting independent label. Marvin Schlacter, and his partner Stan Hoffman. Marvin's wife Trudy who did the album photography. François Kevorkian. Do you remember him?
Tony Green: Yeah. He was the promotion guy there.
And he became a remixer.
Tony Green: Yeah, he became a remixer.
Wasn't he the DJ at Fire Island that helped get...
Tony Green: He's the guy that brought France Joli to Fire Island, where it exploded.
What was Marvin Schlacter like?
Tony Green: He was a good businessman. Stan, François...everybody else that worked there, they were real down to earth. It wasn't like a multinational with a million people. There it was a closely knit team.
Were there other artists coming in and out when you were there?
Tony Green: Sometimes. I met a couple. We'd lock ourselves in Marvin's office and just discuss business. But it was nothing but great memories with Prelude.
What was Marvin's initial comment when you played him France's first album?
Tony Green: They just flipped. When they listened to the whole thing they just flipped, and they knew they had a winner on their hands.
France was so young. When Marvin finally met her was he surprised at how young she was?
Tony Green: Yeah. They were excited about it. It was different. Everyone else was a little bit older than that. When you're 16, 17, different story. And good looking. Perfectly bilingual. She spoke English and French. Good onstage. Good stage presence.
Another great Prelude artist was Peter Jacques Band, and producer Jacques Petrus. Did you ever meet him?
Tony Green: Yes, I did. In Europe a couple of times.
He was as prolific as you.
Tony Green: He was quite prolific yes. Did very well.
When he was doing Peter Jacques Band, he also, like you, went over to Warner, and did the Change album, also moving into a more R&B sound.
Tony Green: Yeah, they went to RFC.
Did you meet Patrick Adams?
Tony Green: Maybe I did. In Marvin's office.
What's your memory of him?
Tony Green: Just in passing, hello, good-bye. Small talk.
France was still with Prelude on her third album. How come you didn't produce it?
Tony Green: Just at that point we parted ways. It's just as well because Prelude had her go into more of an R&B direction. I'm sure I wouldn't have gone that way, though one song that came out of it was quite good.
Gonna Get Over You?
Tony Green: Yeah, that's it. That song came out real good. I really liked it... though I don't believe it did as well as Come To Me or The Heart To Break The Heart.
Well, looking back, since your sound was a much harder sell by 1981-82... What would you have done differently?
Tony Green: Yeah. I would've gone more Pop.
Like what styles at the time? R&B Pop?
Tony Green: To me, a good example of something that worked all the time was Donna Summer, who had that kind of a dance feel in the background. But, I feel she...it became Pop. That's where I wanted to go. Good melodies and really good hooks.
You mean like Donna's album with Quincy Jones?
Tony Green: Yeah, I think so. I don't remember what the songs were at that time. But I wanted to kind of...you know...I knew "Dance" was starting to become a bad word. So, I wanted to go...I said "Guys, we made the Pop charts, so let's go Pop." It just didn't materialize. They wanted to go a little bit differently.
Epic eventually did that with her, when they tried to embrace the pop sounds of Flashdance.
Tony Green: Yeah, I remember.
And, even with George Duke, who I thought would've been a good fit.
Tony Green: If you listen to the songs, they were weak songs. That was the problem. Not the production. The production was good. France's voice was amazing. Just, the songs didn't have the hook that blended with those times, you know what I'm saying?
Well, the one song I liked with George Duke was Witch Of Love. France and I were talking about how it was a throwback to her work with you, starting with a ballad, going into the beat, but without the orchestra and the classic arrangements. And we talked about the nature of her voice, and I think we both agreed that she was a romantic singer at heart.
Tony Green: Yes, she is. She's a marvelous, marvelous singer who has a really good control of her voice. And her voice...she's got a big timbre, and it's very commercial, a very commercial voice, and she could reach notes that few singers can.
And in 1982-83, do you think her voice was really what Pop music was about when it was so mechanical?
Tony Green: Oh absolutely! Absolutely, she just didn't have the right songs. She had a Pop voice and she still does.
On the Tonight album you included some ballads.
Tony Green: Yes, but everything revolved around a great song. And every time I'd meet up with Clive Davis, and we'd have dinner together, what always came back was the song, the song, the song. We always talked about it, and anyone could tell you that no matter what an amazing artist you are, if you don't have the right song, it won't mean anything.
Did Clive Davis want to take on France as his protege?
Tony Green: At one point he did, yes.
Why on earth did she not jump at the chance?
Tony Green: That I wouldn't know. But one thing for sure, just like me, Clive would have wanted to do hit pop songs with her, and not straight dance or R&B.
It was just a little bit after that he embraced Whitney Houston, around '83 or '84, and guided her career.
Tony Green: That was just a few years later, yeah.
Couldn't France have been his project? Couldn't he have groomed her to be...
Tony Green: I think so, yes, yes. I remember him coming up to me and saying "You've got to include me in the next stuff you do with her." Which unfortunately, that never materialized since I didn't do anymore stuff with her.
How did you first get to know Clive Davis?
Tony Green: When France came out and was a big hit, Clive approached me at a function in Miami, I think. Cher was there, and all sorts of people, and Clive came up to me, and basically said how much he loved my product, and that he would like to work with me.
Was that mostly based on the France Joli work?
Tony Green: That, and the Freddie James work.
He primarily likes the divas.
Tony Green: Yes, he likes that.
So he wanted to groom France, he saw something there?
Tony Green: Yeah, he wouldn't have minded.
Clive had Dionne Warwick on his label, Arista, then. They must have released Dionne's I Know I'll Never Love This Way Again that year, with Barry Manilow producing. Did Clive want you to work with Dionne at that point?
Tony Green: For Dionne, there were a couple of songs I had written to use for her. But see what had happened, it was during that time when they paired her with Barry Gibb and that eventual album.
Tony Green: Yeah. So Gibb did the album. And the songs I wrote for her never materialized.
When you were there at that party with Clive, you said that Cher was there. Was there ever talk of working with her?
Tony Green: No. Just chatting.
Take Me Home had already hit. So she was knee deep in disco at that time.
Tony Green: Cher was a sweet lady. And you know who was really nice was Barry Manilow. He was a real good guy. The great thing about Barry was like, I went with Clive to meet him at Madison Square Garden. And backstage, Clive introduced him. And the most humble thing, Barry had had a lot of hits, he was on top, and I was just about to say how much I loved his music. And he started just complimenting me about Come To Me, saying he was a big fan, and he was giving me a million compliments, and I wanted to compliment him, but he beat me to the punch.
France said that Diane Warren sent her songs.
Tony Green: Probably.
Were songwriters sending you songs for France to record for the Tonight album?
Tony Green: No, not at all. I never asked for songs. I just instinctively wrote. Songs I wrote for France were tailor-made for France. It's not songs people just sent me. The only song on the second album that was a song Prelude came up with, what was the title again?
Tony Green: Yeah, and that didn't go in the direction...I don't know what happened on that second album, there were a couple of singles from it, and the only one that worked was Heart To Break The Heart.
And you sang a duet again on that with her.
Tony Green: Yes, I did, yes.
Was that expected?
Tony Green: You know that's funny because each time I sang the duet, basically what I had done was put a demo down because I wanted somebody else to sing, but we never found the right voice to sing, so we decided to keep my voice.
Well, if it's not broken, don't fix it.
Tony Green: That's right, that's what everybody said.
Did Prelude insist you do a song like Come To Me on the second album?
Tony Green: Yes, yes, they wanted a song like that. They absolutely wanted a song like that. I said in the beginning "Well, isn't that a little bit stretching it?" I guess they were right. It did work.
And you released Feel Like Dancing, another hit, but one that moved her into R&B for the first time.
Tony Green: A little bit, yeah. Pop R&B.
But then you had a song like Stoned In Love. Where did that come from?
Tony Green: Oh good god. You know, I'd be lying to you if I told you I remember what I thought.
It was like a garage band all of a sudden.
Tony Green: There was a little bit...there was a little bit of, I don't know, maybe I tried a few styles and...I don't know. I don't remember much right now, but I know we tried a couple things, and we had done more songs than that. I think we had done maybe four or five more songs that never made the album.
So, these songs, you still have the master tapes for these?
Tony Green: Somewhere I'm sure I do.
And do you think there were any that could have been hits?
Tony Green: Yeah! There's one song, it was called...something Moon. I don't remember what it was called... Dark Moon... or... yeah, it had a real Pop melody. I always kind of wanted to go more Pop, but somehow it didn't. Prelude wanted more Dance, to stick to dancing because I guess that's what they knew how to do best.
Well, have you ever thought of releasing these songs?
Tony Green: You know, I've never had the chance to. When France and I got back together again in 1990-something...
Tony Green: To do...
Tony Green: Touch, yeah. I thought I'd maybe put them on the album. Just too many songs on the album, though. I co-wrote one with France. France came up with that song, and I helped her put it together and modify it, so on and so forth. And that's the title of the album, If You Love Me.
Do you think there's a chance for a Prelude box set from her three albums, and you could add these as bonus tracks?
Tony Green: Prelude is owned by people here in Montreal, you know that, right?
Well, that would make it even easier for you.
Tony Green: Yeah, well, not really. [laughs] I kind of left the past behind me. I would rather move on to new things than try to go back there and try to negotiate with people. I don't want to do that.
How did you come to make the If You Love Me album? What caused you two to go back into the studio together?
Tony Green: Well, we met up and we talked. We talked about old times and how great it was. I remember throughout the years when we weren't together, a lot of people would come to me and ask "When are you France going to do another song together?" So, when France and her mom approached me again, I said "Ok. Let's see what we can do. Let me see if I can write something for you and if it still fits." When France and her mom heard Touch, they both flipped over it. Popular Records had the same reaction, and so they put the record out. It started to do really well on radio and in the clubs. When we were about to release the second single, Breakaway, the record company that was associated with Popular Records and was acting as its distributor went bankrupt. The promotion of the single Breakaway was stopped, and the release of the album never materialized in the U.S. Later, I kind of put out the album up here in Canada on the TGO label distributed by Koch, but that did more harm than good, and I got out of that distribution deal as fast as I could leaving the If You Love Me album in limbo. On the upside, I just released the album digitally on CDBaby.com and iTunes.
I thought the album did a good job of going back to France's golden days. But it still updated her with what was happening with some Techno touches.
Tony Green: Yes, yes, that's what we tried to do. We were starting to. We already had a second and third single chosen. We had a map of what we were going to do. Big plans of how we were going to break her again. She looked really great and sounded great. This first single started happening everywhere. I remember going to a convention in Chicago and the reaction was just out of this world. Radio started reacting favorably to it. Then, this company just went bankrupt and everything stopped.
One track I really liked, and it seemed like it could have been a hit, was Promised Land.
Tony Green: Yes. Yes.
That really embraced the sound of the '90s. A little Snap!, a little Real McCoy.
Tony Green: I agree with you. That was a single and could've been big.
It was what was happening in the clubs at the time.
Tony Green: Yeah! Absolutely! But, unfortunately, those little things that happened...
Were there any other songs from that session that didn't make the album?
Tony Green: Yes, there's another two or three songs. I had about six or so songs that never made any of France's albums. Somewhere, they can come back. There was another song entitled I'll Be There For You which is a lot like Come To Me and Touch and Heart To Break The Heart, where everything starts slow.
Have you thought of releasing these digitally?
Tony Green: Yeah, at one point I thought maybe I would. I talked to France about it. And it never... I don't know, maybe. The master's there. Maybe you'll have to leave it. I don't know.
Tell me about the lost Come To Me video.
Tony Green: The lost Come To Me video?
I asked France "Have you ever made any music videos?" And she said "Yes, I made one for Come To Me that was only released in Europe."
Tony Green: Oh my god! She's right.
Weren't you involved in that? Have you ever seen it?
Tony Green: We went to Paris for a promotion, and the people that were running the label there said "Do you want to do a video with her?" Yeah! They did a video.
She said she's stepping out of a limo in it.
Tony Green: Yeah, you know what, the end result was not very good.
So it's kind of cheesy?
Tony Green: Cheap with somebody they used...I mean, I didn't shoot it, they used somebody to shoot it from over there, so I was just looking on to see what they were doing.
Almost anything you can think of is now posted on Youtube. The most obscure things. But not that. Are there any copies anywhere?
Tony Green: You know what's so funny? I don't have a copy of it.
Neither does France.
Tony Green: I think at one point I did, but the office that I was in burned down, and I lost a lot of tapes, a lot of things. I think that went with the fire.
What else got destroyed?
Tony Green: Oh, all kinds of gold and platinum records that I had, tapes, nothing major major.
Oh my god.
Tony Green: Well, these things happen, you know.
Ever since people learned about this lost video in the France interview, it has stirred up quite a bit of interest. And I promised to hound you until it turns up.
Tony Green: You know what I'm going to do Kell, I am going to find it. I know that somewhere in a box I must have a copy. I am on a mission to find it.
Another thing France and I talked about is your vocals. I was surprised that that was you on Don't Let Go.
Tony Green: Don't let go?
[singing] Let go let go, you've got to let go.
Tony Green: Yeah, I sang that part! I had forgotten about that. Yeah, there was a male voice in that, right?
France said that was you.
Tony Green: Yeah, it is. That was me.
I always thought it was a deep-voiced R&B singer.
Tony Green: No, it's me! [laughing]
Like it was Isaac Hayes or something.
Tony Green: Everybody always thought it was a black man. It was me.
Your voice can sound very different. It can go pretty low.
Tony Green: I have a low voice, and I can go pretty high, but not that high. I'm not a tenor or anything.
Were you the lead singer on the U.N. album?
Tony Green: No, it was not me.
Was it the guy on the album cover?
Tony Green: No, the cover of the album was just a bunch of models.
So you have to clear this up once and for all, Tony. Who sang lead vocals for U.N.?
Tony Green: Goldie Alexander.
You never put his name in the credits on the album.
Tony Green: We didn't?
No. In fact, on the back cover you listed all the personnel. Even the female background singers have their names on the album, but no mention of Goldie. I think that's why a lot of people assumed you were singing on that.
Tony Green: I am shocked. I am shocked that you told me that. Because I have not looked at that, but remember there was a problem with his name. I thought it had been corrected.
You did go on and produce some solo stuff for Goldie Alexander, didn't you?
Tony Green: Yeah. There were a couple of songs I did with him. We did very well in Europe.
Like around 1983, early '80s?
Tony Green: Yeah, it was in the early '80s, and the song was [singing] Don't you go knocking down love. That was a big song for him in Europe and Canada. I don't believe we released it in the states.
You had sort of an R&B Kashif sound at a certain point with him.
Tony Green: Yeah. Especially on the first song that broke big, Show You My Love.
Yeah, that's the one people seem to remember most.
Tony Green: We released that song in the U.S. first. I'll tell you a funny story about the release of this record. I had first approached Clive Davis and Jerry Griffith, his A&R guy at Arista Records. I offered them the song for just a royalty and no advance to show them how much I believed in the track, but they passed on it. So I called my good friend Roy B. and told him I had a hit song in my hands by an artist named Goldie Alexander. He listened to it and agreed with me. Within a couple of weeks Roy put out the song on ChazRo, a small independent label in New York. Within two or three weeks of its release the song started going crazy climbing up the dance chart, and quickly made it into the R&B chart. Soon after I get a call from Clive and Jerry asking me if that song that was getting all that action was the same song I'd played for them a few weeks ago. I said yes. Clive then asked if there was a way to still make a deal. Since Clive had become a good friend and a record man I hugely respected, I said yes, but the deal is different now. And that's how Show You My Love ended up on Arista Records.
You did a lot for Goldie's career. But let's get back to the U.N. album. It has a very similar sound to the France and Freddie albums. Did you use the same line up?
Tony Green: Musician-wise, yes.
Did Denis Lepage (Le Page) arrange that also?
Tony Green: Yeah, same musicians. Same everything.
That album, plus Freddie's, and the first two France albums. That's kind of like your big foursome of '79. That all-star line up.
Tony Green: That was the big one, yes it was. Three of them were with Prelude, and one, Freddie, was with Warner.
When France recorded that first album she was still fifteen years old. I asked her if, at such a young age, she was able to appreciate all the talent you had amassed just for her.
Tony Green: Did she say yes? Did she realize what kind of talent she had behind her?
She was so complimentary. I think she's discovered...it sounds like she was fairly savvy back then, but I just don't think at that age, how could you really know?
Tony Green: At fifteen she was just grateful to be where she was at. Just grateful to be in front of a microphone, and to get back into the control room and listen to herself with this music. And it sounded like dynamite. And you could see tears in her eyes almost. Gleaming eyes like she just couldn't believe her luck. And it's funny, when we did finish Come To Me, everybody knew it was a hit. There was magic about that song. It was just, anyone who heard it went "Oh my god!"
What do you remember when France debuted the song on Fire Island? Were you there?
Tony Green: Yes. I remember her the minute she went onstage. She had this white, beautiful dress. The moon was out. It was just the most incredible summer night. There were all these people watching. As soon as she walked out onto the stage it was completely silent. You could hear the ocean because it was so silent. And all you heard was "Awwwww" because she looked so amazing. A kid, blonde hair, white dress... it was just so amazing. When the song started, people just started going bananas. And then after that it spread like wildfire. We were all over radio. We were all over everywhere.
Had the song already been released before that concert?
Tony Green: I don't remember. If it was, that was the very early stage of the release. A week into the release maybe?
Then how did the organizers know to program her? She was an unknown.
Tony Green: François Kevorkian. He was spinning in Fire Island while he was working for Prelude. He was playing in one of the clubs on Fire Island, and he decided to bring the song there. The reaction was so amazing that everybody was asking for the song. The song was released, and, of course they see a picture of France. That's how it works. That's how it went.
The word is that she was a last minute replacement for Donna Summer.
Tony Green: On Fire Island you mean?
Yes. Is that true?
Tony Green: I don't remember. I never, no, no... I don't think so, I think she was hired. I think Donna was supposed to be there, too, but France was also hired to be there.
Like France was going to be the opening act?
Tony Green: Yeah, I don't remember... this is the first time that I hear that.
Or Donna thought "Oh, if she does Come To Me, I can't do Last Dance."
Tony Green: Who knows? [laughing] I'll tell you something. Donna Summer is Donna Summer. But, that night, France would have stolen the show. That I can guarantee you.
It was a star is born moment.
Tony Green: That's exactly what happened that night. A star was born.
How many times in your life and career do you have moments like that?
Tony Green: Very rare. I was lucky that I got France, Freddie James. And these things, the reactions were instantaneous.
You effortlessly knocked out hit after hit in '79. Did you just think that would happen forever?
Tony Green: No, no. I just think that I know the reality of things. You keep going, and then there's a point where we parted ways with France, and then with Freddie, then we stopped. I just wanted to stop for awhile. I did that. I stopped for a few years, and I just wanted to get some focal point in my life and see where I wanted to go musically and whatever because my first love was always film, so I really wanted to do film. I reconciled to music because that's what I wanted to do also.
In retrospect, to realize how hard it really is to come up with a hit, to think that you came up with this so effortlessly. That you wrote Come To Me that quickly. Why do you think that happens like that?
Tony Green: I'm a professional songwriter, so I could sit down, and, if you ask me to write a song for a specific artist by tomorrow, I'll have a song, or two or three for tomorrow. That's what I do. I know the science or the art of it. You mix that with the inspiration and the emotion that I feel as a songwriter and a human being, and that's how I do it. Melody is the most important thing to me. Coming up with a good lyric and a hook that people will remember, that's what's important. It's what I do. And you have to understand that France has been living on those songs some twenty-five to thirty odd years. She just came back from Miami when you spoke with her?
Tony Green: She goes onstage and does twenty minutes of my songs.
Heart To Break The Heart is still a big crowd pleaser.
Tony Green: You know what's so funny? The last time I saw her in Miami a few years back, the reaction is still fantastic. From the minute that song comes on, people just go crazy.
It's a big sing-a-long. Everyone knows the words.
Tony Green: It's an amazing thing, and I'm going, "Wow," and I've got calls from people all over the world. This guy called me two weeks ago from Tokyo, "Hey listen to this!" And he's playing Come To Me and Get Up And Boogie. My songs are being played everywhere still. Montreal too. People call me and say, "Turn it onto this channel! They're playing your song!"
You have to clear something up for me now.
Tony Green: Yes.
Last Dance. That whole style at the time. How influenced were you by that? Were you afraid people would compare Come To Me to Last Dance?
Tony Green: I'm a commercial songwriter. Commercial songwriters get influenced by what's out there. Then we add and come up with our own little things. I'm sure I was influenced by what was out there already. These are the kind of songs...even in the '30s and '40s, they had songs that started slow and then went into a beat. That style of song existed all of the time. Songs in Italy... I remember songs starting very ballady, then they'd go into a certain swing beat, whatever it was. So, that genre of song existed all of the time.
I Will Survive had a brief ballad intro.
Tony Green: That's right! [singing] At first I was afraid, I was petrified... Started slow, and then went into a beat. There you go.
And then Donna revisited a Last Dance style intro on Enough Is Enough with Barbra Streisand. But I think people connected to France because they wanted to hear even more of her vocals as a ballad.
Tony Green: That's right, that's right. She has an amazing voice. Every time I'd work with her, I would push her and push her. Sometimes she would look at me crooked and I'd say "France, you can do it. You can do it." And then she would come into the control room and go "Oh my god. I can't believe that I did that."
She said that, in the studio, even at fifteen, she was not a pushover.
Tony Green: Not at all. But she did take direction. She trusted me a lot in the studio to guide her and I did. So she listened. Whenever I do a session, even though I give a lot of leeway to the artists that I work with, at the end of the day, I'm the boss. I make sure that they understand that there can only be one vision.
In those productions you had a lot of musicians under your belt.
Tony Green: Yes, I did. Today, it's not the same thing anymore. Today it's like everything is synthetic. Even strings and everything else. I get in front of my computer and I compose symphonies. You know what I mean? It's not like we actually use real musicians. Once in a while I'll do a bass, or I'll do a guitar, or I'll bring in a string quartet. The basic tracks, we usually do them on the computer now.
Do you miss the old days in the studio?
Tony Green: Oh absolutely. They were magical.
You were working with...
Tony Green: ...a team of people. And each one of them adds their own little flavor because of their musicianship, and just the way they feel that night, and the way they interpret the songs their own way. Even though I tell them "This is the line," it was just the way that they played it...there was a certain style, a certain life to it. Absolutely I miss that.
One aspect of the classic Disco in the late '70s is how much it was rooted in the old big bands and the full orchestras.
Tony Green: You're right. We had, when you think about it...oh my god it was amazing. We had the big band, it's true.
Because if you listen to some of that compared to today's music, it's almost like listening to classical music at times.
Tony Green: Yeah, you're right about that. It was the producer's medium. Today, it's a DJ's medium. Those days, DJs were there to play your music, but it evolved to a DJ music, and a lot of DJs are great DJs, but not necessarily great musicians. They don't understand what songwriting's basically all about. They use some synthetic hook. It's just not the same thing anymore.
Do you think that Dance Music being produced today will be as remembered thirty years from now as music from thirty years ago?
Tony Green: There must be some, but I'm not so sure. At this very moment I can't think of songs that I've heard in the last few months that have stuck to me. Maybe that song Moves Like Jagger. It's got a good lyrical and melodic hook. Will it withstand the test of time and be remembered thirty years from now? I don't know.
How about David Guetta, When Love Takes Over with Kelly Rowland?
Tony Green: That's OK. Even the new song he's got with Usher, that's a good song. But I personally don't think that they'll be remembered ten to twenty years from now.
When Disco became popular there were a lot of similar things being said about how disposable and discarded it would be.
Tony Green: They were wrong! [laughs] There were a lot of Disco songs that were not memorable. But then there were some Disco songs like I Will Survive, which is, you know, it's a Pop song. It's a song with an incredible melody and a beautiful lyric. Come To Me. Last Dance. All of these songs were songs we knew would withstand the test of time. A lot of other songs, you knew they were fads of the time, whether Disco, or whatever it was. You know what I'm saying? And that's what I'm saying about it today. Dance Music of today is not that memorable because, you see, the days that we were doing Dance Music, melody was everything. The hook was everything. Today it's the sound. And folks don't remember sound. People remember melodies. Unless it's a great melody that sticks with you all your life, you can forget about it. Today, most DJs, what they do is they come up with these sounds, and basically they just bet everything on sound. Rarely you'll hear an incredible melody. Rarely. And you know the song, after three months of playing, getting played to hell on the radio, next year, nobody will remember it.
Besides the songs you created, what were your favorite songs from the Disco Era?
Tony Green: Oh my god, most of the Donna Summer songs for sure. Songs like I Love The Nightlife by... I forget her name now.
Tony Green: Yeah that's right. Alicia Bridges.
And she became a DJ.
Tony Green: There were a lot of good songs. But, asking for titles, I won't be able to tell you. I can't even remember my own titles.
Did you favor the heavily orchestrated songs?
Tony Green: Not necessarily. I do like that stuff. Today, I'd be very happy with a piano and a voice.
You could take Come To Me, with just France and a piano, and have a beautiful song.
Tony Green: Well, when we did it initially, it was my guitar and her voice. It sounded amazing.
I would love to hear some of the songs she did with you as ballads.
Tony Green: Yeah, that would be a lot of fun. Yes.
The Heart To Break The Heart could be done as a straightforward ballad, don't you think?
Tony Green: That's a beautiful, beautiful, beautiful song. [singing] How could you have the heart, to break the hear...ar...ar...art. That loved you so... I don't know... oh oh oh oh... I think when I wrote it, I wrote that in Philadelphia when we were working in the studio, mixing the first album, believe it or not. And I said, "I got this other idea." I played it for them, and they were both, mother and daughter, just happy.
It's a clever lyric. I remember the first time I saw the title, it took a moment to sink in. Do you write your lyrics first? The music first? How does it work?
Tony Green: Sometimes they come together. Usually they don't. For the most part the music comes first, and then the lyrics. Most of the time, I hear the song in my head even before I get to a piano or a guitar. I'll be walking, driving or flying in a plane, and a melody will come to me. I don't like to record my ideas. If the melody sticks with me and I remember it a few hours or days later, then the song is worth developing. That's when I sit at the piano and finish it off.
Do you write a song specifically for the artist most of the time?
Tony Green: Yes.
So when you write a song for Freddie James, it's specifically for him?
Tony Green: That's right. That's how I like to do it. I like to do tailor-made songs. They have different sounds, and that's how I did it. The artists that I did it for, like Carolyne Bernier, and all these artists that I produced, I only wrote what I then imagined they would be best at.
Well, even with the same musicians, I could never imagine Freddie James singing a song that you specifically wrote for France. The intention's so different.
Tony Green: It wouldn't be his range. It wouldn't be his style. And vice versa, you know?
I told France Joli, though, if she could get the backing tapes, I would love to hear her sing Freddie's Hollywood.
Tony Green: Oh my god.
Now with Freddie James, you had already worked with his mother the year before.
Tony Green: Yes I did, absolutely. Geraldine Hunt.
Hang On To Love. That was a rockin' little record. So, did Geraldine present Freddie to you, or did you discover him?
Tony Green: Well, you know, he was fifteen or sixteen years old. She brought him to the studio. And she said to him, "Sing." I heard him sing, and the next day I wrote a song for him. And the rest is history: Get Up And Boogie.
The same way you wrote Come To Me for France?
Tony Green: That's right. I heard her voice, and I said OK. And then I wrote Come To Me. The funny thing about Come To Me, you know, the male part when I sing in the middle there? When the bass line comes in, Doo doo doo doo doo...and then I sing, I'm a lonely man...
Tony Green: That wasn't originally in the song.
Tony Green: I finished the song, and sat back, and said, "There's something missing to the song." So I excused myself and told the musicians, "Give me half an hour." And I went-we were recording at RCA Studios here in Montreal-and I went into Studio B, because we were in Studio A. And I sat there. And in half an hour, maybe even fifteen minutes later, I came out. I went back into the studio, the musicians were there, and I said, "We're going to record a second piece to the song, and then we're going to splice it in." So my engineer Claude said, "What?!" And we recorded that second half, and my part where I sang. And we spliced it in there. And on the 24 tracks, on the two-inch tapes, you'll see the surgery.
The song couldn't exist without it.
Tony Green: The part I sing in Come To Me is an integral part of the song. Some people think it makes the song, but as far as I'm concerned, France makes it what it is.
So was France in the studio when you recorded your part?
Tony Green: Yeah. We were all there.
France said that she was hanging out in the studio for everything, even when she wasn't singing.
Tony Green: That's right.
Tony Green: She loved being in the studio. She and her mom were always around.
Tony Green: She was a very hard worker. She believed in France, and she really worked hard for her.
Sounds like she sacrificed a lot.
Tony Green: Both of them were very, very into it.
Those first two albums, and the Freddie James album...were they done closely together?
Tony Green: Actually, the Freddie James album came before the France album.
Tony Green: Yes, yes. I finished Freddie James three or four months before I started the France Joli album.
Do you think that polished everyone, so by the time you produced France, they were even more cohesive?
Tony Green: You have to remember that first we were writing these strings, we would put down on the music sheet. Denis Lepage. You know who that is? From Lime? He was my arranger for both the France Joli album and the Freddie James album.
And your backup vocalists: Barbara Ingram, Carla Benson, Yvette Benton. I thought they were an important element on those albums.
Tony Green: Yeah. We had the...what'd they call them?
The Alpha Angels? (a.k.a. The Sweethearts of Sigma)
Tony Green: The Alpha Angels! That's right, the Alpha Angels. They were fantastic. They were just marvelous. I just tell them what to do, and they just caught on immediately! They were a pleasure to work with. Those three albums were amazing, amazing times and they were magic. The musicians, the singers and the background singers. Everything to be engineered, to be recorded...it was magical.
You had worked with some of these people before, but what do you think brought them all together in 1979? Was it luck? How did you assemble this team?
Tony Green: I knew these people, and I kind of recruited them and put them together and brought them to the studio. And then when I went to Alpha Studios in Philadelphia, to do the mix, to do some of these background vocals, I met some really amazing people over there. And Gene Leone was the engineer. I don't know if you know who he is. He's an amazing, amazing sound engineer. We had an amazing team.
And Miguel Fuentes?
Tony Green: Wow, what a percussionist. Pure excellence.
But your biggest musical accomplishment was getting such a mature performance out of fifteen year old France Joli.
Tony Green: Well, she was very mature in her thinking when it came to music. Basically, I explained to her the lyric, and I asked for what I wanted to hear. It was like this or like that. Basically, it was put in front of her. She took it and made it her own. She just sang it. And the more I challenged her to hit the notes, to pull the higher air, try to bend this note there, the more she would go to my challenge, and...yeah! She did the best that she could and it was fantastic.
Did you tell her to act it out? Did you tell her to have something, an intention in her mind while she was singing?
Tony Green: I don't remember what I did tell her. All I know is that it did work. I was a good director. That's what I'm good at. I'm good at guiding in a studio or a film set. When I direct I take charge. I ask for the emotion that I'm looking for, and it works because I explain myself to the actor or to the singer. I talked to France the same way I approach film. I make sure the actor understands the vision and gives me what the vision requires. I envision the song a certain way, and Come To Me, when I wrote it, I envisioned it in France's voice. I knew that she could hit those notes. There's a few times that I did have to push her just to know that she had it in her. I knew that she did, and she performed amazingly. A talent that's second to none. Second to none!
In '79 were you aware of remixes? Was that a set thing by then.
Tony Green: In '79 I don't think there were too many remixes. I think they were just kind of starting. When I did France's albums, I decided to do long mixes of the songs. We cut those mixes for radio if we needed to.
Prelude did this with France's album, and I think with the first Peter Jacques Band album, and with U.N. They did a two-disc set where there is one cut on each side. Were you involved in that?
Tony Green: Yes. In fact I think I came up with that idea.
Those are collector's items now.
Tony Green: If I find a copy I'll send you one.
I remember it had a gatefold cover.
Tony Green: I know that I have a few copies in a box. If I find one, I'll send it to you.
Work on finding France's Come To Me video first. [laughs] On Tonight, France's second album, you gave France some spoken moments on the song Feel Like Dancing. You've done that in a couple songs, where there's a spoken line. You know that part, it goes into that great sax line, and then the back-up singers...
Tony Green: I love that sax in that song.
Right. Then the "Party! Party! Party! I wanna party tonight!" And then France says "Come on babe, don't just sit there. Come and dance with me...." How did that all come about?
Tony Green: I kind of envisioned that whole part. There's one thing I make sure of when I'm in the studio. I don't let anyone else come up with anything. I have total control.
You don't let people improvise.
Tony Green: It's not because I'm a control freak. I map the song a certain way. I do give them some freedom. I will tell the bass players what I want [sings out a bass line]. I'll tell them the line. But then, if they add a couple of notes here and there, as long as they fit in, I don't have a problem. So they have freedom to be the great bass player, the greatest musician, the greatest vocalist that they can be. But I give them specifics. So that when it comes to talking and stuff like that, everything is written.
How did you direct France on that?
Tony Green: I don't remember anymore. Working with France was never a problem. She's very fast.
Another great hook you wrote was "Slam bam wham bam, Get on up and boogie!"
Tony Green: I was in Philadelphia with Carla, Barbara and Yvette. I sat there in the studio, and I needed something that made sense. And I came up with it.
What were the looks on their faces?
Tony Green: They were like, "What the hell!?" Then they started doing it, and then they started putting on those harmonies, and it worked out well.
They're so energetic during it.
Tony Green: And that sound in the background, like something is being pulled. That's a guitar. That's my pick going over a guitar string from top to bottom. I said, "Let me try this." [laughing]
It was such a strong hook.
Tony Green: It was fun.
On the song Playboy, you got France Joli to reach some impressive notes. I told her that was one of my favorite songs on that first album. She said it was her least favorite. She said she liked it, but that she liked the others so much better. That was the one she connected with the least, I think. But I love the intro because it had a more sultry mood than some of the other songs.
Tony Green: In a way it did. Let Go is also another very good song.
I told you I got France to sing your low "Let go, let go" part over the phone.
Tony Green: Oh really?
She did a good job. She does a good Tony Green impersonation.
Tony Green: After singing on Come To Me, France suggested that I record myself as a solo artist, which of course I didn't do. The closest I got to recording myself after that was being part of the group Satin & Green on the song titled Spectacular. However, prior to all of that, I was a recording artist signed to RCA Canada and to the United Artists label in the U.S. I toured in both the U.S. and Canada, performing and promoting my record.
Who could forget I Am A Fool?
Tony Green: Oh my god! [laughs] You know everything here don't you? That's a song on RCA, and that's a song I released, and it did very well for me.
And Jacques Lafleche? Didn't he work on I Am A Fool with you?
Tony Green: Yes, Jacque was an arranger. I don't remember everything that I used him for, but he was an arranger.
How about a project called Colorblind?
Tony Green: Oh my goodness gracious. You probably know more about it than I do. I forget.
That was also in 1977. Thirty-five years ago.
Tony Green: Oh my goodness gracious. I was a baby!
I liked Colorblind's... what was it called... Kalei-Disco? It was an instrumental. And you worked on a few instrumental projects back then, besides Magic Fly.
Tony Green: Yes, I did do a couple of those.
Let's see, you worked on one by Strange Passion.
Tony Green: Oh, Strange Passion! I totally forgot about that one. What were the titles of the songs on that one?
Tony Green: Desire, that's right! Oh my god! That was an instrumental, too, wasn't it?
Yeah. It sounded like, you know all of the exploitation soundtracks of the time?
Tony Green: Right right right.
It was kind of like Starsky and Hutch music. That was great, I actually liked that. And then you did Black Star? Both the name of the song and the group? Back to the sci-fi synthesizer sound.
Tony Green: Oh yeah, I liked Black Star. I remember that one.
Here's one I've heard of but I can't find a copy to listen to. I bet you don't even have a copy of this one. Your version of Jesus Christ Superstar by Thunder and Lightning.
Tony Green: Oh my goodness gracious! Oh my god! I don't remember that at all! I remember the time, but I don't remember what I did.
So at the time, were you just in the studio, and creating different studio group names?
Tony Green: Yeah, that's what I was doing. I was trying to keep as busy as I possibly could. I loved what I was doing, so I just wanted to work. What I loved to do was write.
And you did some songs with Cindy Valentine. In Your Midnight Hour. Try Your Luck.
Tony Green: That was in the late '80s I think. In Your Midnight Hour was the biggest hit. She did a video for it.
So at what point did you produce your first artist other than yourself?
Tony Green: I think that was Freddie James.
You mean other than the studio groups you created?
Tony Green: Yeah.
How about Metal Weeds?
Tony Green: Oh my god.
Was that a group that you created, or one you just produced?
Tony Green: That's one that I produced. I don't know who I produced it for.
The song was Sunshine Love.
Tony Green: Sunshine Love, oh my god. Now that you mention it, I kind of remember it. But if my life depended on it...
I'll give you an easier one. How about Sharon?
Tony Green: Oh my god. That was another project for this label called Gamma Records up here in Canada. They wanted me to produce her. They chose the song. And I put it together.
If You Love Me?
Tony Green: Yes. Mid or late '70s I think
That got confusing when France did her song called If You Love Me. But it's not the same song.
Tony Green: No, it was an Edith Piaf song.
So this was English lyrics to...
Tony Green: to an Edith Piaf song. That's what they wanted me to do. They chose the song.
Do think that was inspired by the success of Grace Jones doing her version of Piaf's La Vie En Rose?
Tony Green: I think they were trying to do something like that. Sharon was really a beautiful girl.
OK, how about Luba?
Tony Green: Luba was an artist that I found, produced, did an album with them. This didn't work out between us, so we parted ways.
You had success with Norma Lewis.
Tony Green: Yes, I produced Norma Lewis. I did a couple of songs.
Maybe This Time. That was the breakout. Around '83?
Tony Green: Wasn't it later than that? That's right. Yes. A friend of mine, a record company guy out of England approached me. I was in Europe, at MIDEM, I'm sure you know what that is, a convention for music every January. And he basically was a fan of mine, and he wanted me to produce Norma Lewis. We did it in Philadelphia, actually.
That got some big club action.
Tony Green: Yes, it did well.
Were you planning on doing an entire album with Norma?
Tony Green: I didn't have the time because I was doing a few other projects.
Okay, one more. Michelle Sweeney.
Tony Green: That was on Big Beat Records, in the '90s. That was a big song for awhile, and had a remix by Mohamed Moretta. That song did quite well for Big Beat.
So you've pretty much been an independent producer all along. You started your company, the Tony Green Organization when you were relatively young.
Tony Green: Yeah, I kind of started my production company young. It was exciting times. The sky was the limit. There was nothing I couldn't do.
Well, without a major label behind you, how do you produce a project like France Joli on spec and shop it around?
Tony Green: I believed in the product. I believed in the songs I had written, and I actually borrowed money to do that. We'd take it day to day, give the musicians a night off or two. I asked the musicians if they would work on spec, share in the profits later. They said no, they wanted to get paid. I said, "This is going to be big. Wouldn't you rather..." They said, "No, we want to get paid now." Boy are they kicking themselves in the ass! They made a little bit of money. Thing is, they could have made 100 times more. Tough breaks, you know?
I talked to France about what other producers she almost worked with, and what other opportunities she almost got. Who are the people you almost worked with, or wanted to work with?
Tony Green: Well...do you remember Jerry Wexler?
Of course. Atlantic Records.
Tony Green: Yeah. And one day I'm in Philadelphia producing a record, and he calls me up and goes, "I need you to come up with some songs with me. I need you to look over something." And it was with, oh, what's her name... Respect. Who did the song Respect?
Tony Green: That's right. He wanted me to produce Aretha Franklin with him.
And you didn't?
Tony Green: No. It was one of those things where I had to finish other projects.
So did Jerry Wexler approach you just on the strength of being hot with France at the time?
Tony Green: And don't forget Ray Caviano brought Freddie to Jerry. Jerry signed us.
So he was impressed with both France and Freddie James.
Tony Green: Yes, because Freddie was also doing really really good.
But couldn't you have dropped something to work with her? This was Aretha Franklin!
Tony Green: I had to deliver an album and I couldn't. But I came close. But my thing has always been to find new artists and kind of mold them. I remember I never really went out looking to produce big names or whatever. I was approached a couple of times, but, unfortunately, the schedule didn't work out. I just kind of kept with trying to find my own artists.
In retrospect, would you have done anything differently back then? Would you have taken on Aretha? Would you have tried to move on to more mainstream people?
Tony Green: Probably. I would have enjoyed producing Aretha, but not only to work with Aretha, but to work with Jerry Wexler who was a legend also. I spent some time with Jerry. Jerry was a sweetheart. A great guy. A very talented person. And don't forget, Jerry, along with some other people, started Atlantic Records.
Do you think you were too independent?
Tony Green: I had taken on too many projects. I had studios booked, paid for. People were waiting on the albums. I said "Can you wait another month?" But I had to finish these albums, or people would have sued me.
France shared with me that she was at a telethon in Canada, and she met the young Celine Dion there, before Celine became big. Did you see Celine and Rene Angélil around during that time?
Tony Green: I knew Rene because his manager became my manager. Rene was an artist way back when.
Was he a singer?
Tony Green: He was in a group. They did all Beatles songs in French.
Did he ever want you to produce him?
Tony Green: I don't think so. But I remember meeting Celine when she was still doing French Pop in Quebec. Real nice people.
Do you think that you would ever work with her?
Tony Green: We talked about it a long time ago. It just never materialized.
Are you itching to do a French album?
Tony Green: With?
With Celine, with France, with Danyka?
Tony Green: Danyka did a version of Come To Me, believe it or not, in French.
So there's no urge for to you to do French language songs?
Tony Green: Well, you know, when I was a recording artist, I recorded French also. I did a project all in French.
What was it called?
Tony Green: Fusion. I did a whole album under that name. It did well in Quebec. Got played on the radio.
Was that released in the '70s?
Tony Green: Yeah, mid-seventies, I think.
So why did you record under so many names? It's like you go through a new incarnation every year.
Tony Green: I keep reinventing myself.
After her albums with Prelude, France tried to reinvent herself by signing up with a powerhouse management team, Freddy DeMann and Ron Weisner, who represented Michael Jackson and Madonna at the time. That's huge. I still can't comprehend that they didn't really do anything for her career.
Tony Green: See, sometimes you're better off signing on with a manager who will concentrate just on you.
Because if you're handling Michael Jackson, that's the main thing you're working on.
Tony Green: Right.
France told me right after she signed with them, they split up the partnership. And Freddie got Madonna. And France stayed with Ron, who had great success with Michal Jackson during that time. But France got lost in the shuffle.
Tony Green: Right.
Were you ever approached by Freddy to work with Madonna?
Tony Green: Not really.
Did your paths ever cross with Madonna in the early '80s?
Tony Green: Yeah, we used to have the same attorney. I'd run into her at the lawyer's office.
Tell me about Stagg & Green.
Tony Green: It's a group I was in. We had a number one song up here in Canada, and it was released in the states, and even worldwide.
What was it called?
Tony Green: To Love Means To Be Free.
Oh my goodness. You made hippie music?
Tony Green: Yeah. In fact, if you look on iTunes under Green & Stagg you will see the album for sale.
What year did that originally come out?
Tony Green: Oh my god. Around 1969, 1970?
So this came out during the whole singer/songwriter era coming out of the 60's.
Tony Green: Yeah. We toured the country as a duo.
You were the Simon & Garfunkel of Montreal?
Tony Green: [laughs] Sort of.
Do you keep in touch with [Barry] Stagg?
Tony Green: No. I haven't seen him in forever.
I looked up Green & Stagg on YouTube and found a song called Fantasy With You.
Tony Green: Oh my god. You found that song?
Yes. Someone actually pasted it on YouTube
Tony Green: Wow. Did you like it?
I did. But I want to know who sang lead on it.
Tony Green: I did.
So that was you? Your voice must have matured throughout the seventies.
Tony Green: I guess.
It got deeper.
Tony Green: Fantasy With You. Oh my god.
Yes. Those were very idealistic lyrics. Although you still mention being a fool. You're still a lonely man in this song.
Tony Green: I think so. I was a lonely fool.
You must write a song called Lonely Fool.
Tony Green: A Lonely Fool.
Whoever posted this song put the album cover, plus the back cover, in a little photo montage, so I saw some of the song titles. There are a couple of women's names. Were you writing about your girlfriends at the time?
Tony Green: Ah well [laughing].
How old were you when that album came out?
Tony Green: I was a kid.
Were you even twenty by that point?
Tony Green: No, not yet.
How did you get a record deal so young?
Tony Green: Well, my songs. I had a manager who went up to the record label and said, "Listen to the songs." And basically...
How do you get a manager as a teenager?
Tony Green: As a songwriter I was writing songs already. I mean, I was writing songs since I was fourteen year old.
How did your parents feel about it?
Tony Green: They thought it was a hobby. They thought it was a pastime. They never thought I would make it my life.
On the Green & Stagg album cover, the first thing I thought when I saw it was that you looked like a young Dario Argento. And when I saw Danyka's Come To Me video, I thought maybe he also inspired your filmmaking.
Tony Green: Maybe. I never thought of that, but, you know...
And after seeing the dwarf in the tuxedo I thought maybe Fellini?
Tony Green: Yeah. Fellini's my favorite.
Danyka Remakes "Come To Me"
What inspired you to remake Come To Me?
Tony Green: I wasn't really thrilled about the idea. The manager of Danyka approached me, a good friend. She came up with the idea. I said no at first. Then the second and third time. And she said, "You've got to listen to her voice." I said, "How can anyone else sing that song. It's a signature song for France." I couldn't envision somebody else singing the song. You know, the magic, the power. And she asked me to listen to Danyka, and said if I still felt the same way, to forget it. So Danyka came over and sang a ballad for me. And I said, "Whoa, my god, what a voice." So with a bit more coaxing I said, fine. Let's see what happens. And her manager said they also want to do a video, and they wanted me to direct it, so that inspired me, because I love filmmaking. And that's how it happened.
Had anyone else remade Come To Me before that?
Tony Green: I've received more than half a dozen versions of Come To Me by different producers, arrangers, and singers who want to try it. But I nixed all of them.
So these are just demos.
Tony Green: Yeah. Slower versions, more uptempo versions, jazzy versions, hip-hop versions. You name it, I've heard it all.
Has it ever been sampled on a record?
Tony Green: You know, I don't know. I don't think so.
Is one of the reasons you were hesitant to let Danyka remake it is because it was specifically written for France?
Tony Green: Yeah, it was tailor-made for France.
Do you know if France has heard Danyka's version.
Tony Green: From what I understand, she has. Someone told me that she had.
I wonder, when that remake came out, if that was one of the things that prompted France to recently go back into the studio and make a new record.
Tony Green: Maybe.
Didn't the remake come out this last spring.
Tony Green: Yes.
Has it been released in the US?
Tony Green: No. I was hired to produce it, but I don't control it.
Danyka reminds me of Christina Aguilera.
Tony Green: Yes, people say she's Quebec's Christina Aguilera.
Now Danyka, she's a native French speaker?
Tony Green: Yes.
And that guy that sang your part in the remake. He sounds like he's singing phonetically. Is he French?
Tony Green: He's British. Did you like him in the video?
This could open a floodgate, Tony. Do you want me to be frank.
Tony Green: Absolutely.
So this will not tarnish our relationship.
Tony Green: Absolutely not.
He's a good looking guy. But I thought his performance was a bit flat. Over processed, maybe? It's hard to know what his actual voice sounds like. Surprisingly, I was okay with Danyka singing France's part. But I had a harder time dealing with someone else singing your part. It turns out you're the irreplaceable one in the song.
Tony Green: You know what, Kell? I've heard that from other people.
But my biggest issues are with the visuals in the video--the burlesque vampire bordello theme, and the modern arrangement of the song itself. Do you think you may have relaxed your standards to compete with today's sound?
Tony Green: You know, that's amazing that you ask that question because that's something that I've been asking myself. What do I do? Do I sacrifice melody to go for today's sound? Do I give it those gimmicky sounds and the direction everyone's going? Everybody's putting LA LA LA, OOH OOH OOH. They're all putting in all these things. And the whistles. Whistle is the biggest thing now. Every song has whistle in it.
Right. Whistles, vocoders, Auto-Tune...
Tony Green: Whistles, vocoders. It's all gimmicky with simulated stops and rewinds... very little melody. Seems to me we're pulling away from the beauty of songwriting and great memorable melodies that empower a song. And that's unfortunate.
Can I read a quote of yours, Tony?
Tony Green: Okay.
I read this online. You were interviewed on a website. I think it had something to do with vampires [to promote the vampire-themed Come To Me remake video.] And you're commenting on vampire lore. But I think this also applies to Art in general. You said, "Modernizing an idea can sometimes infringe on the purity, simplicity, and believability of that idea."
Tony Green: Well said.
So could that apply to how you modernized Come To Me?
Tony Green: Yeah. My god. You're good. [laughing] You hit the nail on the head.
Perhaps a vampire prostitute power-grinding her groin infringes on the purity of Come To Me?
Tony Green: Did you like that?
I'm not sure if I like it in the context of Come To Me. But on its own, it's an arresting image.
Tony Green: I've had so many comments. I'll tell you what happened. A theatre chain here in Montreal that shows all the big movies. They're called Guzzo. They have about 120 theatres. The video, I did it with the latest video camera that makes it look like film, so we were able to get it into the theatres. And the reaction's been phenomenal, how much people loved it, or hated it. Not hated it, but were shocked by it.
Was that truly Danyka's style? Is that how she is in real life? Is she a provocative performer?
Tony Green: Not at all. That was something that her people wanted. They wanted a burlesque feel. They found the location, an old hotel. They wanted burlesque, dancers...I wrote around this.
Burlesque meets True Blood.
Tony Green: Yeah. And I just kind of gave it an edge, to modernize it. Because just having a nice song, people dancing...too sweet. Too sugary.
So you wanted people to remember this.
Tony Green: I decided to at least show those edges. And make sure that the costumes are more provocative. And that electric grinder. That model came with it to the audition.
She came with her own grinder? She already had that schtick in her repertoire?
Tony Green: Yeah. She's a circus performer. She's equipped. Didn't you notice how she did it with such ease? And she was beautiful. The camera loved her.
Nowadays she would be the one you would pluck out to groom into a star.
Tony Green: But she can't sing.
But does that stop most singers today?
Tony Green: Well no, but I do not want to work that way.
Were societies for dwarves and short people outraged at the Mini Me guy?
Tony Green: Yes. Did you like the Mini Me guy?
It took me a couple of views to realize he was a customer. At first I thought he was just some Victorian pimp.
Tony Green: Yeah, he was a customer.
His fetish was having welding sparks hit him in the face? Is there a name for that?
Tony Green: And the other people were drinking each other's blood. And getting whatever. It's the dark side. And Danyka was the innocent side. The young innocent girl that for some reason ends up in a brothel, and then her life changed, and basically she didn't belong there, but she was there.
So the blond man [who sings the duet] proposes to her, but see chooses the dark haired guy?
Tony Green: Yeah, the dark haired guy is a customer. Her john.
So she chooses the life of a prostitute over a life with a flat blond singer?
Tony Green: That's right.
So if he'd been a better singer she would have chosen him over the vampire john?
Tony Green: Yeah, probably. [laughs] You're funny, man.
This has been an exercise in diplomacy, Tony. Maybe someday we'll go out for a drink and I'll tell you what I really think of this remake. [laughs] But I do think I understand more about what a great opportunity this was with the movie chain, and how you got the video onto the big screen.
Tony Green: I sat in there to see it once. It looked spectacular. It looked amazing when you see it on a big big screen. And the one thing that happened, people reacted. Positively, or just like shock.
Did it help radio play that week after theatres showed it?
Tony Green: Yes. That's why the theatre owners kept it there. They ended up showing it for three or four months.
So this was like Danyka's equivalent of a Fire Island debut.
Tony Green: Yes, in a way it was.
What did Danyka think when she first saw herself on the big screen?
Tony Green: She flipped out. It's one thing to see yourself on MTV, but it's another thing to see yourself on a humongous screen.
As the director of this, and the exposure it's received, has it brought in more offers to direct music videos?
Tony Green: Yes, but I don't have time for that.
You told me your true passion is film. Why did you wait so long to start directing?
Tony Green: Because film is so expensive. And you need so many people to work on it. In music, all you need is yourself, and a couple musicians, and an artist.
Well, you make it sound so easy. When you look at the credits on some of your albums-you had big productions with strings and horn sections.
Tony Green: Yes, but when you work on a feature film like South Of The Moon, I had sixty people working under me. And the hair people coming up saying, "What do you think of this." And writing the script, and making the changes while you're filming, and a millionaire other details. This was five years in the making.
But deep down, you always wanted to go back to filmmaking.
Tony Green: Before I got into music, I was doing short films. That was my passion. Film is my passion. Music is just the thing that I love to do, to express myself that way. Film is really, really, really my passion.
So you wrote and directed this feature film called South Of the Moon.
Tony Green: I've had grown men Come To Me, crying from this film. It's a coming of age film. Very emotional.
It won the Golden Reel Award for Best Score at the Tiburon International Film Festival
Tony Green: The soundtrack is amazing because it really speaks. It tells the story musically, too. I'm really proud of it. And I've written a couple more scripts. And I'm getting ready to produce one of them. This coming April or May. And I've been working with some people who approached me. They were aware of things I've done, and loved my music. They want to see me do it again. I'm looking at a couple of recording artists right now. Talented like you wouldn't believe. So, we're going to try to put a big package together. We'll have funding for marketing and promotion, music videos, correlated to film and so on and so forth.
You were almost involved in a big Hollywood project with France back in 1980. A movie musical called Beverly Hills. France was going to star in it. And you were going to write the music.
Tony Green: And for some reason it never materialized.
Did you create any music for it?
Tony Green: No, we never got to that. We never got to that stage.
Did it ever get to the point where somebody had made an outline of a story?
Tony Green: You know, I don't remember.
I always wondered if they wanted to incorporate Come To Me into it.
Tony Green: I think they did. They wanted to use some of the songs that were big with France. That was part of it I think. Though they did want me to write other songs.
Like in Can't Stop the Music, where they did original songs, plus used the Village People's YMCA?
Tony Green: That's right.
Do you think when Can't Stop The Music flopped that it convinced the producers to not go through with Beverly Hills?
Tony Green: Probably. That's what probably happened. They didn't tell me why they didn't go ahead with it.
What did you think of the movie 54? Did it capture the essence of Studio 54?
Tony Green: It tried to do its best. You can never really capture it because you really had to be there.
Tell me about the night when they first played Come To Me at Studio 54.
Tony Green: Oh my god, that was amazing. I don't know what was playing before that. But everyone was on the dance floor. And all of a sudden the DJ fades the music away, and in comes the slow part of Come To Me, and people are going, "Who is this? Who is this? Wow! This is amazing. What is this?" And then the beat came on, and people just went crazy. I'd never seen anything like it. People who weren't dancing got on the dance floor and started dancing. And France was there, and she freaked out completely.
So you knew the DJ was going to play the song?
Tony Green: Yes. We walked in, but we didn't know when he was going to play it. So it was a surprise. And there it is, and you're looking at the reaction. I'll never never forget it. It was one of the favorite songs at Studio 54. In fact, as you know, it was in the movie 54.
Tony Green: Had you ever been to Studio 54 in those days?
No. I'm the same age as France. Although it sounds like the night she was there they were pretty lax on checking IDs. Maybe I could have taken off my shirt like Ryan Phillippe in the movie and been ushered in by Steve Rubell? What was your memory of him that night?
Tony Green: Steve Rubell? Just "Hi" and "Good-bye" that night. But everyone was all smiles.
Did he already know this was an emerging hit?
Tony Green: They'd already played it at Fire Island. It was starting to spread like wildfire.
So he was anxious to start playing it at his club?
Tony Green: Of course. Everybody was. By the time Studio 54 played it, they had started playing it on the radio that week. I remember being in L.A. in a limousine with France and a few other people, and they were switching radio channels, and out of six stations, four were playing Come To Me. It was out of this world. And France was so stunned. You never think it's going to happen that big.
Do you remember who the DJ was that first played it at 54?
Tony Green: I don't. I met him, but don't remember.
You were with France, so you probably had to be on good behavior since you were chaperoning a teenage girl.
Tony Green: Right. Her mother was there all the time.
So was it like in the movie, with the Man in the Moon and the cocaine spoon coming down from the ceiling?
Tony Green: None of that. None of that for us.
Because the movie made it seem pretty wild in the basement.
Tony Green: There were a lot of wild things happening there. Much wilder than the movie showed.
Were you conscious of shielding France from all that when she was there.
Tony Green: Yeah. It wasn't really my job because her mom was there, but everyone was really protective, the record company people, DJs, the promotion people. They were protective. They knew she was sixteen.
Back in the day, how often did you go to 54?
Tony Green: Every time I'd be in New York I'd go, say hi to the DJs.
Did you have to play the door game, or would they just whisk you right in?
Tony Green: No, we'd go straight in. No door game for us, or else I wouldn't go.
They wouldn't let Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards in that one time.
Tony Green: Wow, that must have been a mistake.
You must know the legend. It was after Dance, Dance, Dance was already a hit. I think they were invited to see Grace Jones that night. They wouldn't let them in, and they were really pissed off.
Tony Green: Must have been a mistake. Person at the door must not have known. Sometimes they'd put some idiot there.
So you never had any trouble getting in?
Tony Green: No. But every time we went we'd let someone know ahead of time. I would never just show up and say, let me in. There's one thing, I would never stand in line for anything. Either a club, or to go watch a movie. If I see a line up, I just walk away.
Did you see any concerts during the heyday there?
Tony Green: I saw Grace Jones.
What celebrities did you meet there? Did you meet Bianca Jagger?
Tony Green: I never met her.
Tony Green: I met different people, but that's one thing that never meant anything to me. I've never been star struck by anybody.
Not even Margaret Trudeau?
Tony Green: [laughing] Why would I be star struck by her?
She's Canadian royalty. And she used to hang out at 54.
Tony Green: I met her. You know, "Hi." There she is.
You met Margaret Trudeau?
Tony Green: Yeah.
I love her autobiography. She talks about her wild days in the late '70s.
Tony Green: She was a special person. Still is, I guess.
So you didn't have any celebrity pals at the time?
Tony Green: No. I kind of kept to myself. I was a real loner. I still am.
So your lyric from Come To Me is true. You really are [singing] a lonely man...
Tony Green: Yeah. [laughing] The lyric is true.
And because you're so associated with France and Freddie, and pegged as a Disco Artist, do you have any regrets about that?
Tony Green: Not really. It's great music. I've been able to write classics. Those songs are still played all over the world today. I know because I get the royalty checks.
What is your overall thought on the Disco Era of the late '70s? How would you sum it up from your perspective?
Tony Green: It was a fantastic era. I thought it was very magical. Unfortunately, some people snubbed it. Like everything else that came along that was new, they said it's a fad, it'll die. And it didn't, did it? Dance Music is what's really happening today. It's the Pop music of today.
What do you think is your specific Disco legacy? What did you leave behind that still endures today?
Tony Green: Well, to me, it's the songs. Come To Me. Get Up And Boogie. The Heart To Break The Heart. These are songs with beautiful melodies that will always be there. Always.
- The End.
© 2012 Kelly Hughes