Billy Childs: “Map to the Treasure”

maptothetreasurePeople in this society sometimes have the mistaken notion that everyone is talented and if they only worked hard could write a great song or orchestrate a great symphony or sing like an accomplished singer– if they only had a chance (quite a few TV shows have been quite successful with this premise)—but my long time on this planet has shown me this not to be the case—Excellence is scarce, in all art forms—so when it appears–—as in Billy Child’s new re-imagining of Laura Nyro’s songs “Map to the Treasure” it should be celebrated.

I’ve known Billy Childs for over 20 years (more as an appreciative listener and associate than as a friend), but I’ve long known of his “excellence” as a pianist and arranger and as an original—from almost the beginning. My relationship with Laura Nyro goes much farther back—over 40 years—and even though I never met her, I feel like she’s family to me. I’m in that club, as Billy calls it, of people who love Laura and recognize her for a genius – there I’ve said it.  My definition of genius is someone who has all the tools of their craft—melody, original lyric writing and heartbreaking vocals and then goes “warp speed” beyond that into their own world. Laura has that in abundance- that’s why I love her so much. Last year I had my own tribute CD to Laura—because I recognized her “excellence.”

So it’s amazing to hear a CD of these two “excellent talents” meeting, and in that meeting creating something beautiful and dark, mystical and smart—occupying a whole noir world of it’s own. Billy’s appreciation for Laura’s music, picked up from his slightly older sisters always respects Laura while deconstructing her songs and amplifying their beauty. Laura would have loved this, because she loved to re imagine her songs too—for example she has at least three different versions of AND WHEN I DIE—in her performance history. So I urge you to purchase ‘Map to the Treasure” turn the lights out, lay back and lose yourself in brilliance and Great Music.

Just yesterday, U2 released their latest CD on iTunes and it was free—enraging me with the further devaluation of “music” in our society. But, maybe this CD –in It’s own sweet brilliance– will surely convince people music has worth and significance. I’d pay a hundred dollars to download Billy Child’s take on Laura Nyro—and I think after listening to it, you would too.

Billy Child:  The making of “Map to the Treasure”

Mark Winkler:  “And When I Die” from “The Laura Nyro Project”

Laura Nyro Live

I saw Laura Nyro about 7 times at the Troubadour Night Club in Los Angeles. In those days, the Troubadour was the club to play. My best friend Allison was the cashier and a lot of the times I got in free! But not for Laura — she sold out every show! This was in 1968, 1969, and in those days you literally could change the world with your music. And Laura definitely changed mine. I was a fledgling singer songwriter working on my first demos with Jimmie Haskell (who arranged Bridge Over Troubled Water and Ode To Billie Joe) and her level of commitment and “authenticity” completely bowled me over. Of course I tried to write just like her– even though my voice had as much in common with her as David Ruffin’s voice had to Eddie Kendrick’s in the Temptations! Okay, no more obscure pop references.


Seeing Laura Nyro was sort of like seeing an apparition. She would walk out on the Troubadour stage in some Taffeta prom dress gone awry and literally soak in the adulation and then whisper her comments in a voice so low you could hardly hear her. But then when she would sing- she’d sound like a banshee– with more dynamics than anyone I’d every seen. A bomb could have dropped on that stage and she wouldn’t have noticed! And neither would her fans — who worshipped her.

Many times I saw Joni Mitchell sitting at the end of the row (it wasn’t a very big club) and she’d be mesmerized by Laura, or writing furiously in a little notebook she had. I often think that her piano stuff was influenced by Laura. Especially River or the stuff on For the Roses or Blue.

The other thing I dug about seeing Laura was she would pepper other people’s songs in with her songs- like Bacharach’s Walk on By or The Kingston Trio’s Tom Dooley– and she would sing songs she was working on. I heard Christmas In My Soul– first as just a lyric spoken, then half way finished, then done. She would work it out on stage. It was just her and the piano in those days. I later saw her at the Santa Monica Civic with LaBelle– but I believe she just had a conga player added to the three fantastic singers singing those great oldies with her.

Here’s Laura reciting “Christmas In My Soul”

And here’s Laura performing the same song …