Barry Manilow has given up his old life of one-nighters. And it has nothing to do with his much publicized marriage of three years ago.
Manilow, 74, gave up doing long concert tours of one city after another primarily because he wanted to spend more time at his expansive, sublime Palm Springs home.
He released an album devoted to his native metropolis earlier this year, titled, “This Is My Town: The Songs of New York.” But Palm Springs is the town he looks forward to returning home to after being in New York.
“My life is high energy,” he said between meetings with his writers and music directors for his upcoming "Gift of Love" benefit concerts. “And when I come home, I want what’s here. Everybody will tell you the same thing. It’s peace. That’s what it offers all of us, especially those of us who are on the road. I’m a very fortunate guy. I come home to this beauty and this magnificence.”
“I actually put together a real bona fide Christmas show,” he said, “and it’s a real production, much bigger than the production I go on the road with. When that red curtain opens, I think that it’ll be a gas because it’s a beautiful, beautiful Christmas set. It will be a lot of the pop hits and a handful of the Christmas stuff. I’ve got three Christmas albums (not counting a 2012 holiday compilation LP) and those songs are great live, so, a mixture of both. We have little children and high school kids and then the choir at the end of the show.”
Barry Manilow on stage at a 2012 Gift of Love concert at the McCallum Theatre. (Photo: Desert Sun file photo)
"Garry (Kief, his husband and manager) and I work on it real hard. It starts off with a lot of names, and it’s hard to not use every one of them. I have a team of people who do the hard work. Then they give me a list. But they’re familiar to me by now. There’s a whole bunch of animal charities that really speak to me. But I can’t do too many of the same kind of organizations, so I pick the ones that I think need us – little charities here and there that are struggling. Those are the ones I like to pick."
You just did concerts in Chicago and New York and you have a show at The Forum in Los Angeles on Dec. 20.
"Yeah. That’s the first time I’m doing a Christmas show outside of here, and they’re big. If it works, if somebody comes to see it and they enjoy it, then I’ll probably do more next year around the country."
“It looks better and better. Garry’s up to dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s. It’s that close. I didn’t want to stop performing because I really enjoy when I do it. But I had to get away from going from city-to-city and hotel-to-hotel and being away from home for weeks at a time. I was done with that. I’m doing one-nighters now and again, but I can’t keep my band if I’m just going to do that. So, when this offer came in, it sounded like a way to keep my band together and I have great memories of working at the Hilton, or what they’re calling it now, the Westgate. I would do it because it’s only two weekends a month and that would keep the band working. For me, two weekends a month is a dream.”
Would you commute to work from Palm Springs, as you tried to do the last time you were at the Hilton?
“For a while, I took a private plane home every night. Then I saw the bills. So, we would leave on a Thursday and do the show Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and come home on Saturday night. That’s what I’ll do again. It’s really easy. It’s a 20-minute flight and I’m on the stage having a ball with my road family. The audiences there are great night after night and they give us a great big Las Vegas suite. Sometimes I bring the dogs. I have nothing but good memories of my experiences there.”
Would you be in the Elvis Presley suite?
“Yeah, the Elvis suite! It was all pink. And it was huge on the top floor and the roof of the Hilton. You could see the whole of Vegas from every window. It had a Jacuzzi that said it would only seat 46 people. If you bring 47 people, the cops come out. They had a lawn on the roof of the Hilton and the rooms were ridiculously big. I made one room into a recording studio. I just had the greatest time there. We were there for five years. They created a little bar for us. The band and I would go up on Friday nights. They called it Frank’s Friday because of Sinatra, and that’s when we’d all hang. A lot of famous people came to see our shows during those years. But Fridays were really great.”
“The only one – and I did it twice – is Carnegie Hall. I don’t know why we never go back there. When we get to New York, we always do, I don’t know, a Madison Square Garden kind of place. I’ve done Radio City a lot and the legit houses. Those are great, too. But Carnegie Hall is so special. I did that when ‘Mandy’ came out and my grandparents were still alive, back in the ‘70s, and they got to see me – their grandson, at Carnegie Hall! That was really, really great.”
You once said you thought Palm Springs needed a singer’s showcase-type nightclub. Now Suzanne Somers is trying to buy the Plaza Theatre to use as a showcase for her talents. What are your feelings about that?
Barry Manilow, shown at the 2009 Steve Chase Humanitarian Awards with Suzanne Somers, says Somers would provide great entertainment at the Plaza Theatre, should she be allowed to purchase it. (Photo: Desert Sun staff photo)
“I wish her luck. I think she’s a wonderful performer. I love the shows that I’ve seen her do. She sings better than anybody would imagine. She’s funny as hell. She’s beautiful up there. If she could find a place that she could do a show as much as she wanted, she would be so happy and these audiences would be very happy, too. If she can get that place, good luck, man. It would be wonderful for Palm Springs. She’s just great live. People think of her as an author, which she is. But they don’t know how wonderful she is an entertainer.”
Could you see yourself dropping in and doing a show or at least a few numbers with her once in a while?
“Who knows? We’ll see what happens.”
“We’ve been doing this for a long time. I have taped audio or video of everything I have ever done and the only reason I do it is so I can learn from my mistakes or give my notes to my lighting people or my band. I learned that from Joan Rivers. Before I met Bette (Midler), I had an act with a girl singer. We were opening for Joan at a club called the Upstairs at the Downstairs in Manhattan. When I was playing her on, she would go on the stage with a little cassette machine. She would hit the record button and then she would do her show and she would listen to it and make corrections and add stuff. So, I did the same thing when I began to perform. I took a cassette machine and gave it to my audio guy. When I got a video camera, I did the same thing. Well, I’ve done this since the ‘70s and I have everything. So that’s what ManilowTV is. We just dig back into the archives of these performances of 40 years and we put it on ManilowTV. I think people have been enjoying it.”
“I had my own channel on iHeartRadio. I had three years of that and I took that very seriously. I didn’t play my concerts. I played my favorite songs. I (now) have a BBC radio series. I’m on my third year of it and it’s all about songwriters. It’s very successful in Britain. It’s called “They Write the Songs.” I do 10 episodes a year and I just finished 10 episodes. It’s fun and funny and kind of informative.”
“In the early days, (the critics) really were very brutal to me. In Britain, they call it “the tall poppy theory.” That means they cut down the tallest poppy. That do that to everybody. I was on the road for about a year promoting my first album, which had ‘Could It Be Magic' on it, 'I Am A Child,' and it got great reviews. I would get to these little clubs and get great reviews for the show, too. Then ‘Mandy’ came out and went No. 1 and, as soon as the sold-out signs went up, I could do no right. I’m telling you, terrible reviews. Because I’m a human being, I would feel bad and I would pull the covers over my head and I would go into self-pity for one afternoon, and that would be it. I’d go back because I like what I do. The audiences were still loving it. I certainly wouldn’t be doing anything differently because of a review or two. I do what feels good.”
I like your most recent album, “This Is My Town: The Songs of New York.” “Lonely Town” reminds me of Sinatra and you have a great blend with Mel Torme on “Brooklyn Bridge.”
“I loved doing it. It took me over a year to create this one. Bruce (Sussman, his lyricist) and I had a great time writing the original stuff. It was choosing the standards (to complement the originals) that was the hard part because I didn’t realize how many great songs there were about New York. That’s why I wound up doing a long medley at the end of the album and I put “Uptown” and “Downtown” together. I didn’t want to leave anything out. I could have done five albums of New York songs, written by some great people.”
Do you have another album planned?
“I’m thinking about it. They take so long for me and they mean so much. I never just phone it in. Every single album I’ve made, I just dive in. This month is filled with Christmas and then if we hit Vegas, that’s going to be another exciting, creative experience."
Do you think that could happen by summer?
“I think it could be sooner than that. Garry will kill me for talking too much, but, if it happens, it will happen sooner than summer. It all depends on if he can work out all the deals. He’s telling me it’s getting very close.”
What: Barry Manilow's “Gift of Love” holiday concerts
When: 8 p.m. Tue.-Wed., Fri.-Sat., 7 p.m. Sunday
Where: The McCallum Theatre, 73-000 Fred Waring Drive, Palm Desert
Information: (760) 340-ARTS
Charity beneficiaries: ACT For MS; AAP-Food Samaritans; Angel View; Animal Samaritans; Barbara Sinatra Children's Center; Boys & Girls Club of Coachella Valley; California CareForce; College of the Desert Foundation; Desert AIDS Project; Desert Arc; Desert Cancer Foundation; The Desert Symphony; Gilda's Club Desert Cities; The Girlfriend Factor; Guide Dogs of the Desert; JFS of the Desert; The LGBT Community Center of the Desert; The Manilow Music Project; Martha's Village & Kitchen; McCallum Theatre Institute; "Paws and Hearts" Animal Assisted Therapy; S.O.S.; Tools for Tomorrow; United Cerebral Palsy of the Inland Empire; The Well in the Desert