Memories of Dan Hartman

 

Charlie Midnight

Charlie Midnight

From the age of sixteen, Charlie was a professional vocalist and musician. In 1982, he released his first record on the Columbia label. In 1983, Dan Hartman invited him to collaborate on writing some songs for his album. The collaboration proved extremely successful. It continued until Dan's death in 1994.

Charlie is trustee of the Dan Hartman Foundation, which was set up to help underprivileged children with economic need to develop their talents in music and the arts.

When did you first meet Dan Hartman and how did your collaboration come about?

I was introduced to Dan in 1983. A mutual friend of ours, Debbie DiCesare, had sent him my album (Charlie Midnight/Innocent Bystander, Columbia Records, 1982) to listen to because Dan was looking for a collaborator. Dan apparently liked the album, particularly my lyrics, and called me to set up a meeting. Our conversation on the phone established an easy connection between us and we met at a coffee shop in New York City on 57th St. and 7th Avenue. We exchanged some ideas, I took some notes and our partnership began. Soon thereafter Dan asked if I was interested in establishing a writing partnership with him. That was the beginning of the most creatively satisfying period of my career as well as a deep friendship.

Could you tell us about some of your experiences in working with him?

Dan had the best "ears" of anyone who I have encountered. He heard glitches and sour pitches that in the studio, at times, nobody else could hear. In the days before digital pitch correction this meant having to record things until they were "right." With Dan's ears being the arbiter of "right" and "wrong" this often meant intense, arduous sessions. He never settled for anything less than what he believed was "right."

He was very specific about how he wanted his mixes to sound. We were mixing a song at Unique Studios with Chris Lord-Alge. I arrived before Dan. Chris played the mix then turned to me and said, "it sucks." I was taken aback and before I could reply Chris continued (and I am paraphrasing). "Why should I bust my chops," he said, "Hartman's going to change everything anyway."

Chris said this with total respect. He admired Dan's talent and "ears" and was correct in not going too far with the mix before Dan arrived. Dan also respected and admired Chris' talents and together they made a great team. Dan understood all the technical aspects of shaping sound and would often describe what he wanted in specific technical terms that left little room for interpretation.

In the early stages of our partnership Dan was contacted by the music supervisor for a film called "Breakin'". He wanted Dan to write a song for the main dance sequence. Break dancing and the music that accompanied it were about to become popular and this film was the first to try and take advantage of its burgeoning popularity. Dan was wary of doing it because it was a fairly low budget film and he questioned its chances for success. I, however, was anxious to do it for the synchronization fee. It was almost noon and Dan said, "if you have a lyric by 5 today, I'll write the music." I completed a lyric before 5 for "We Are The Young," and the music supervisor loved it. The dance sequence was cut to the song with Dan as the artist and everyone was happy. Then Jimmy Iovine, who was producing Dan's solo album, heard the song and wanted it for Dan's album as the first single. Dan withdrew the song amidst much furor. The dance number had already been cut to the song and withdrawing it was a big problem. As a result, we wrote another song called "Heart Of The Beat." Dan did not want to be the artist on this song and so we created a faux group called '3V' which was, in fact, Dan and me. The film was a success and the album was even more successful, selling over 3 million copies. '3V" was asked to perform at a Spring Break concert on the beach in Florida. It was a blast. In the end, "Heart Of the Beat," was not used as the main song but instead a song sung by Ollie and Jerry called "There's No Stoppin' Us" replaced "We Are The Young," and, powered by the momentum of the film, hit the top of the charts. "We Are The Young" peaked at Number 25.

I loved to watch Dan in the studio. He was a virtuoso multi-instrumentalist as well as being an ace engineer. Often, at his home studio in Westport, Connecticut, he would engineer his own guitar overdubs, standing in front of his MCI console with a guitar in his hand. He would roll the tape, wait for the appropriate moment and then hit the 'record' button. A split second after slamming the button he would attack his guitar with precision and intensity. When finished with the part, he would, with a lightning fast finger, hit the button once again. I was always amazed and entertained.

When we were in the studio recording James Brown's vocal for "Living In America," Dan wanted him to end the song with a hearty "I feel good." Dan and I had a discussion about whether or not it was appropriate to try and direct a James Brown performance. With some trepidation Dan made the request and with complete class and understanding, Mr. Brown obliged. One take and we had a classic James Brown moment.

What sort of things did you have in common with Dan?

Dan and I both came from no-frills, working class backgrounds. We shared a love for: Woody Allen films, Motown, soulful singers, accomplished musicians, song writing and great Pop hooks.

You and Dan did a good deal of collaborating on many songs. Could you tell us about how that process actually worked?

Dan always liked to have a lyric before he wrote a melody and created a track. He reasoned that he needed to know the essence of the song in order to inspire his creative process. As a result, we would discuss an idea and I would then write lyrics. Often, I would throw out some lines or titles before proceeding to ensure that Dan agreed on the direction. If he concurred then I would go on to complete a lyric. Dan was very tough and uncensored in his assessments but our dynamics allowed for this. Being satisfied with the final work was all that mattered. However, because of his unvarnished critiques, I developed a system wherein I would write many alternative lyrics so that Dan could have choices.

Is it true that Dan threatened to pull a song from Rocky because you weren't invited to the premiere?

Because Dan was the producer of "Living In America" and the better-known partner of our writing team, he was invited to the premiere of Rocky IV while I was not. Before I was even able to express any dissatisfaction, Dan became enraged and threatened to pull the song from the film. This was not an atypical action for Dan. He was fearless in following his convictions and sense of right and wrong. He also valued our relationship and friendship more than he feared ruffling some feathers. I went to the premiere.

Could you tell us about the making of the "I Can Dream About You" CD?

Working with Dan on the "I Can Dream About You" album was a privilege and a great learning experience. Having previously been a recording artist who wrote songs only for my own use and from my own experience, the process of writing for Dan was a crash course in collaboration. He wanted to create a work that had depth as well as accessibility. We wrote many more songs than finally appeared on the album. Dan took some risks on quite a few of those songs that, because of the edginess of the music and lyrics, were ultimately rejected by the record company. He involved me in all phases of the production and because of that experience I was able to make the transition into record production. In essence, I went to school during making of the "I Can Dream About You" album.

Did you work with Dan at "Multi-Level" and if so, could you tell us about that?

Dan's studio, Multi-Level was where we did most of our work. It was very idyllic in its setting and atmosphere. The studio was on the top level of his home in Westport, Connecticut and a river ran behind the house. When the weather allowed, Dan recorded with the windows and doors open, allowing the fresh country air and the scents of the local flora into the session. He was always a gracious host. For me, who grew up in Brooklyn and was at the time living in a small apartment in Manhattan, it was like having a rustic retreat, albeit one in the ritzy locale of Westport, Connecticut.

The "White Boy" album - could you tell us about the making of it and also could you share with us why it was never released?

The "White Boy" album was a result of Dan's continuing desire to create an edgier recording that would signify an evolution in his career as an artist. There were points that he wanted to express both musically and lyrically that were considered, by the record company, to be outside the box for an artist like Dan. Although the nabobs at the label conceded that the songs were good, they did not feel that the material suited Dan and his "image." As a result, the album, with wonderful songs like "Age of Simulation" and "The War Is Over" was not released.

Were there any other projects which Dan and yourself worked on which weren't released?

As far as I can remember, "White Boy" was the only project that Dan and I worked on that was not released.

What is your favourite Dan Hartman track and why?

Although it is an obvious choice and not one of our collaborations, my favorite Dan Hartman song is "I Can Dream About You." It is a perfect and timeless Pop song with an infectious opening bass line that still hooks me every time I hear it. Before one word is sung, the song captures me. When you say "Dan Hartman" to someone the response is inevitably, I Can Dream About You'...I love that song."

Can you tell us when you last saw Dan - how he was doing at the time - and any projects he was planning on working on in the future?

I last saw Dan in the hospital in New York City. He was very optimistic and expected to go back into the studio to record more songs for a new album that eventually became, Keep the Fire Burning." Because I had moved to Los Angeles, we subsequently kept in touch by telephone.

Did you know Dan's family at all - any thoughts/memories you would like to share?

The only member of Dan's family that I knew well was his sister Kathy. She lived with him for a while in Westport and was going to school. I remember her as vivacious and fun loving. Dan loved her very much and wanted to assist her in getting an education.

Have you kept in touch with other artists and colleagues who worked with Dan?

I have not kept in close contact other friends and colleagues who worked with Dan. For a while after his death I communicated with some close friends of his but Dan was the link between us and without his presence the raison d'etre for keeping in touch dissolved.

Can you share a few personal memories of Dan?

My wife Susanna was pregnant with our daughter, Shantie, and we were having a baby shower at The House Of Music in New Jersey where I was producing a band. Dan showed up a little late which was his wont to do and so I thought nothing of it. He seemed out of sorts and I inquired as to how he was feeling. "It hasn't been a great day but I am happy to be here," was his reply. And, as always, he was the life of the party. Years later, when I visited him at the hospital, he told me that just hours before his arrival at the baby shower he had learned that he was infected with AIDS.

Dan and I had been writing together for a short while when he came to my apartment on 7th Street. We had not as yet committed to each other as writing partners but we were instantly and obviously simpatico. He entered my tiny one- bedroom flat on the third floor of a walk-up building, looking very serious. He sat down on the couch and without much ado asked if I was interested in being writing partners with him. I answered, with less ado, in the affirmative. Then he said, "but I want to let you know that I'm gay." I laughed and said, "my record just bombed and I'm working the graveyard shift as a legal proofreader."

What about Dan do you miss most?

The loss of Dan's friendship left a gaping hole in my life that cannot be filled. He was a mentor and a role model. I miss his courage, his humor, his generosity and his music. However, I am fortunate in that he left behind a way, besides our music, that we could be forever connected.

In his will Dan created the Dan Hartman Arts and Music Foundation and appointed me as the sole Trustee. Today our foundation, in the name of Dan Hartman, supports the education of talented young people in the arts. We support the music education programs of such institutes as The Mancini Foundation, The Music Center of Los Angeles, Interlochen Arts Academy and the Geffen Theatre in Los Angeles as well as aid the music education of various individuals.

May 2006

Many thanks to Charlie Midnight for his kind co-operation with this article.
© Copyright 2006 - Charlie Midnight/DanHartman.com

Charlie Midnight - Music production and Songwriting:

James Brown
In 1986, Charlie wrote the entire Gravity album and was its associate producer. This album included the Grammy nominated "Living in America". In the process of producing this record, Charlie had the opportunity to work with Stevie Ray Vaughn.

Billy Joel
In 1988, Charlie wrote the Golden Globe nominated "Why Should I Worry?" for the Disney animated feature Oliver & Company, which was performed by Billy Joel. This song was one of the few songs that Billy Joel has recorded that was written by a writer other than himself.

Joni Mitchell
In 1995, Charlie wrote "How Do You Stop?" - the single from the Grammy Award winning Turbulent Indigo album. Joni is fiercely artistic and one of the most respected and influential songwriters and performers of our time.

Joe Cocker
Charlie produced two albums for him - "Unchain my Heart" and "One Night of Sin" - with both albums going multi-platinum. The "One Night in Sin" album included the Brian Adams-penned "When the Night Comes", which was a top ten single. Charlie also wrote numerous songs on both albums.

The Doobie Brothers
The Doobie Brothers had already sold 40 million records at the time they approached Charlie to produce and write for the Cycles Album. Included amongst the songs he wrote for that album was the top 5 single, "The Doctor". Cycles went multi- platinum. Because of his success, they then asked Charlie to produce the live album "Take Me to The Highway".

Chaka Khan
Charlie wrote "Can't Stop the Street", which was #1 on the dance charts for the film "Krush Groove." The soundtrack of which went gold.

Paul Young
Charlie wrote "I'm Only Fooling Myself" for the Time to Time album. This was one of the two new songs on his compilation album.

Dan Hartman
Dan was the respected singer/songwriter of the Edgar Winter group's "Free Ride"; the dance hits "Instant Replay" and "Re-light my Fire"; as well as the classic "I Can Dream About You".

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