The first song I ever had recorded was a song I’d written called TROPICAL NIGHTS. I had originally written it as a little show biz shuffle- and it was by far the best song I had written up to that point. Well some of the other candidates were KING KONG and something called LOVE STAINS (hell, I was young!). So there wasn’t a lot of competition.
I was working as a waiter at this crazy restaurant in Beverly Hills, and Steve March Torme would always be coming in – he was Mel Torme’s son and a very talented singer-songwriter in his own right. He knew that I sang and wrote songs too, so one day he informed me that he was producing an album for Liza Minnelli and asked if I had any songs she might like. You see, Steve and Liza had grown up in Hollywood together as offsprings of famous parents. Well, I thought “Tropical Nights” sort of being an old fashioned shuffle was just the ticket for Liza. I remember making him a cassette (remember those?) and then not hearing anything back from him. Nothing unusual about that, In those days, with my three or four songs I never heard anything back from anyone.
Until one starry night this musician friend of mine called me up at midnight and said Liza Minnelli was doing my song TROPICAL NIGHTS right that minute with a 30 piece orchestra in Hollywood – and it was fabulous! So fabulous that it was going to be the title of her new album. Well, let me put this in context, Liza had just finished NEW YORK, NEW YORK and was one of the biggest stars on the planet and I’m living in a single apartment somewhere above the Capitol Records Bldg – my apartment was so small, every night when I went to sleep my head was just inches from the front door. So I was pretty excited!
Later, from my friend I learned that they’d turned my little 3 minute shuffle into a 6 and a half minute disco extravaganza with a rainstorm, a conga line and the melody of BALI HAI opening it all up. The label read (Winkler/Rodgers/Hammerstein)– But in the tradition of Hollywood I didn’t hear anything back from Liza or Steve March Torme for two months. In the meantime, I had been working with this wonderful publisher who was starting up a new publishing company and was desperate for some credibility. So when I told him Liza had just recorded my tune, he plopped $500 on the desk in front of me and said that I could have the money if I gave him half the publishing. Well, remember at the time I was living on tuna casseroles and diet cokes, so faster than you can say Bob Fosse I took him up on the offer. Good thing I did, because the record label tried to get my publishing saying they were “thinking” of putting my song on the album. We knew they’d already spent $65,000 hiring ace photographer Reid Miles to create the whole world of Tropical Nights for the album cover, so we were not dissuaded. But it was nice to have some Hollywood muscle backing me up.
Well, the album came out. It didn’t set the world on fire, but it was a smash at Studio 54, and because it was Liza, for years afterwords it was sung by every drag queen from Studio City to Tokyo! And it was featured in an infamous Oscar Nite special with Cheryl Ladd and Ben Vereen that is like some crazy out take from a Village People meets Bob Fosse video. Throiugh the years there was a revue that played in Australia that featured it, and it was even done as a ballet by a prestigious NY dance company! Wow!