Songwriter Interviews

Terry Cashman

by Carl Wiser

Share this post

  • Email
Terry Cashman wrote the best baseball song of the last 100 years, produced Jim Croce and wrote several hits, including "American City Suite."

Born Dennis Minogue, he changed his name when he was the head of ABC's Publishing Companies after he wrote the classic "Sunday Will Never Be The Same." His job was to promote ABC's songs by getting them recorded, and he didn't want to give the impression that he was promoting his own songs for selfish reasons. He also had hits as Cashman & West and The Buchanan Brothers.
Carl Wiser (Songfacts): What was is like producing Jim Croce?

Terry Cashman It was a once in a lifetime thing where a lot of elements came together. Tommy West, my partner, went to college with Jim - they went to Villanova University. When I met Tommy at ABC Records, Tommy introduced me to Jim and we wound up signing Jim and his wife to a contract and did a record with them, which did nothing. But at the same time we signed a fellow named Maury Muehleisen and did a record with him, and nothing happened with that record. But Jim and Maury got together and all of the sudden Jim started writing these great songs, and Maury came up with these really wonderful guitar parts - the two guitars were like an orchestra. We all got along very well, and Tommy and Jim were best friends, and I became friendly with Jim, and he trusted us. After making the first album, we had a hard time selling it here in the United States, but we persisted and persisted, and finally when Cashman and West were signed to ABC's Dunhill Records, we convinced them that we had an artist that we were producing that was great. They signed Jim and instantly "You Don't Mess Around With Jim" became a hit. We followed with a couple more albums, and then the tragic plane crash ended everything. That was very sad, because he had a lot more in him in terms of musical accomplishment. Maury was also killed in the plane crash, and he was really a musical genius. You know, we had a great time producing the records, and the records hold up over the years. When I hear them now on the radio they still sound as good as they did 30 years ago. It was a once in a lifetime thing where the songs, and the right artist and right producers came together at the right time.

Songfacts: But what was an actual session like?

Terry: Well, 99% of the record that we did with Jim we did live. Meaning that we would set Jim up in a booth and he would play guitar and sing. And then we'd have Maury baffled off in a kind of a booth of his own in the studio, the most we would use on a track would be bass drums and maybe a keyboard. We would record Jim's vocal live. All those vocals, except for "I Got A Name," are live vocals done with the band. So they have a certain sound to them that is unusual because of that. Most people, especially today, wouldn't do a live record at all because of computers. But even in the late '60s and early '70s when we did those records, people would do tracks without a vocal, and then add the vocal later. But we thought it was very important to capture that live feeling. Because Jim sang with the guitar, and Maury played with him as Jim sang. So if you hear them live they'll sound a lot like the record, even though it's only two instruments and just Jim singing, because of the similarity between the way that they sounded live and the way that we recorded them. Now, for records, of course, you have to add other things. We overdubbed strings on some things and background vocals and all that kind of stuff. But that's just producing records.

Songfacts: It's really honoring what he did. Because it's one of those things that could be screwed up in the hands of an overzealous producer. Ingrid Croce was telling us that when he was doing "I Got A Name," it was really hard for him, because he didn't have his guitar. Can you tell me about that session?

Terry: Yeah, it's the only hit that he had that he didn't write. We recorded it because Jim was going to get a lot of money to record the song, and if it was released as a single, it would be the main title of a movie called The Last American Hero. So it wasn't a song that Jim wrote on the guitar with Maury. Tommy and Jimmy and Maury and I came up with the arrangement together. It was a different kind of animal. We did that song with just the tracks for us, and then recorded Jim's voice over it, which is the way most people did records in those days. But most people think that Jim wrote that song because it sounds like the other songs, and then the production of course is a little bit more elaborate. It was different in that way, but Maury has a big guitar part and it certainly sounded like one of his records. And it became one of his most popular records. You know, a lot of people have covered that song, and it's been used in a number of other movies.

Songfacts: You wrote the song, "Sunday Will Never Be The Same." Can you tell me about that?

Terry: Sure. That song I wrote with Gene Pistilli. I had hired him as a writer at ABC's publishing company - I was the head of their publishing companies. I'd gotten the job a year or so before, and I convinced them that they had to sign young writers and get with the times. They were way behind the times as far as the music business was concerned. So I hired Gene as a writer and we wrote a couple of songs together. One day he came into the office, and he had this chord progression he came up with. Most simple rock and roll chord progressions in the key of G would be G to E minor to A minor to D. And Gene came in with a change which was instead of going from G to E minor, he went to E major, and instead of going to an A minor - the typical rock and roll kind of thing - he went to an A major, so it made it sound different. And when he played it for me, I started singing this melody to it. And you know, it made me think of a girlfriend that I had a few years before. We used to walk in the park on Sundays, and that whole story became the idea for the song because she left him, and the love affair was over, that Sunday, that special day would never be the same. We wrote the song very quickly. That song Gene and I wrote and Tommy West helped us with the demo, and we did a really, really good demo of the song.

I was the head of the publishing company, so my job was to take the songs that we had made around to the various producers. I sent it to Lou Adler at Dunhill Records, which was associated with ABC for the Mamas and Papas. He said, "Hey, this is a great song." But John Philips, is doing mostly his own songs right now. So, okay, fine. The Left Banke sounded to me also like a group that could do this song, but they passed on it. And then with nobody in mind I went to a producer named Jerry Ross, who was a very hot producer. He had produced "Apples, Peaches, Pumpkin Pie" for Jay and the Techniques, and "98.6" with an artist called Keif. So I played him the demo, and after about 16 bars he took the needle off the vinyl, and he said, "Has anybody else heard this song?" And I said, "Well, Lou Adler turned it down for Mamas and Papas, and Left Banke turned it down." And he said, "Well, don't play it for anybody else. I have this great group." And he played me a demo of a record that Spanky and Our Gang had done, and they had all these vocal harmonies. A couple of months later he cut the song, and it was a smash hit. It was something that really put me on the map in terms of the music industry.

Songfacts: Did they stay true to your demo?

Terry: No. The demo was a ballad. They changed it, and they added the vocal, "Ba-da-da-da-da," which was a great hook.

Songfacts: So, then you went on and you had a hit as the Buchanan Brothers.

Terry: Right. That was Tommy, Gene, and myself.

Songfacts: Can you tell me about your hit "Medicine Man"?

Terry: We had started our own company. There was a label called Event Records, and we made a deal with them to cut some singles. They were mainly a black record, R&B label. But they wanted to get into some pop stuff. So we came up with the idea for a group called the Buchanan Brothers, which was actually the three of us. That song was from a bass figure that Tommy and Gene were figuring out with like an eighth-note bass thing. I think Gene came up with the title. When the three of us wrote together we all contributed and if you had to assess our strengths; mine was melody, Gene's was lyrics and Tommy's was arrangement. All of us had the ability to write melodies and lyrics. But that song… the three of us were just sitting around and someone came up with the chorus of "Medicine Man": "I'm the man, understand, I'm the only one who can." It was written pretty quickly, which happens with a lot of songs, something flashes and you get a riff, or a line or a title, and then everything kind of falls into place after that. It didn't have any particular category, but it was a catchy song.

Songfacts: I know you're from New York City. And you did the song "American City Suite." Can you tell me about that one?

Terry: It was actually four songs strung together as a suite. Tommy and I signed as an act, Cashman & West, with ABC Dunhill. We had written a number of songs, but I really wanted to do something that would be special for the album. And it was a very sad time for me. A lot of my friends were leaving the city and going off, getting married, and you know, things were changing. I was 30 years old, and New York where I had grown up all my life was really deteriorating. It was a very bad time financially, and it was a time of turmoil and of racial strife. It looked like the city was gonna collapse. This great place where I had grown up and enjoyed so many friendships and so many good times - the city that I love - was actually dying. I was going into our office the next day, and I said to Tommy, "I had this thought about New York in particular, but it's really happening to all the Eastern cities. They're decaying and white people are moving out of the cities and going to the suburbs. There are only very rich people and very poor people in the cities, and homelessness." We started talking about the whole phenomenon, and we came up with this idea to do a song about how it was, which was the first movement of the first song of the suite was called, "Sweet City Song," and it was very happy, it was about growing up in a city where everyone got along and it was fun to be there - rock and roll was in the air. And then tracing that through, going away to school and coming back and seeing that things had changed, and then the third movement is an up-tempo song about how things were at that particular time as opposed to ten years before. And then it goes into "A Friend Is Dying," which is the last movement of "American City Suite," which is about the city dying. And that's the way it seemed to us at the time. That it was not only New York City, but all the Eastern industrial cities were having the same problems.

At the time, Tommy and I were producing Jim Croce - we did the first album, which had "Don't Mess Around With Jim," and "Operator," and "Time In A Bottle" on it, all finished, and we would go play it for people and they would look at us like we were crazy. But when we started recording "American City Suite," ABC out in California became so excited about Cashman and West as an act that they listened to us about Jim Croce. They started playing "Don't Mess Around With Jim" and "Operator" for various people out there, and all of a sudden they said, "Hey, this is really good." (laughs) And you know, without all that happening, nobody would have ever heard of Jim Croce.

Songfacts: Wow. Pretty important song. Was the length of the song any concern in terms of radio play?

Terry: Oh, sure. But at that time there was "Nights In White Satin" and "Papa Was A Rolling Stone," there were other records that were being played by AM radio, because they were trying to be like FM. FM had become so popular that AM was loosening the restrictions on only playing 3-minute records. But I think the full version is almost 12 minutes, and when they put out the single it was about 7 minutes.

In the Tim Pan Alley Era, there were lots of songs about going to a baseball game, since it was a common shared experience. The most famous is "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" from 1908. Once the Rock Era began, the market for baseball songs dried up - good luck getting a radio station to play one - but Terry wrote one anyway.
Songfacts:"Talkin' Baseball." Tell me about how you got the idea to do that song.

Terry: Well, we had Lifesong Records at the time, so it was 1980. A guy I had known from college called me up and said, "I have this guy, he's got a song about baseball that he's written, and he'd like to play it for you." So the guy came up and he played it. It wasn't a bad song, and I said to Tommy, you know, "There hasn't been a baseball song in a long time. Maybe it's time for a baseball song. Maybe we should go and record this." The fellow who wrote it wanted me to record it, and I said, "No, we'll get somebody to sing it. I'm flattered, but I really don't want to do it." Anyway, one thing led to another, and it was going to be a single. So we needed a B-side. In the meantime a friend of mine who worked for the Mets gave me a picture of the four great centerfielders: Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Duke Snider, and Joe DiMaggio, and they were in center field at Shea Stadium walking towards home plate at the 1980 old-timers game. So somebody had taken a picture from behind, and all you could see was the four guys walking in. You only saw the backs of the uniforms, so you saw the four uniforms with the numbers 24, 4, 5, and 7. Anybody who knew anything about baseball in New York knew who that was.

I played baseball as a kid. I'd played in the minor leagues and always loved baseball, and really I'm somewhat of a baseball historian. So I looked at this picture, and I said, "Oh, my God, this picture is phenomenal. It's Mays, Mantle, Snider and DiMaggio in center field, walking in… you only see the numbers…" So I bought the rights to that picture, and I own that photograph. So in 1980 around Christmas time I started giving out the picture to people as gifts. I gave it to people I knew would appreciate what that was and what it meant, and of course I had the picture framed for myself. So I went home one day, and I'm thinking about this song and having to have a B side. And I looked at the picture, and I said, "Jeez, there's gotta be a song in this picture somehow." I tried writing it with DiMaggio involved, but then I realized that DiMaggio retired in '51, and Mays and Mantle came up in '51, and really the great years of those other three players were in the mid-'50s. And Snider was great, '53, '54, when Mays and Mantle were coming into their own and winning MVPs and it wasn't Joe DiMaggio. It was Willie, Mickey, and the Duke. The minute that title came into my head, it brought about a remembrance in my mind of what it was like at that time, of being a baseball fan in New York, and all the arguments we used to have about who was better. I told Tommy, "I've got a great idea for a song, it's called 'Willie, Mickey, and the Duke.'" And he had this big smile on his face, because he knew what that meant. So that night I went to sleep and I must have been dreaming about being a teenager in those years and going down to the corner and waiting for the papers to come up, and hearing all the men argue about the different baseball players, and how that would happen almost every night in the summer as they waited for the early editions of the papers to come. I woke up, picked up a guitar, and wrote the song in 20 minutes. It was all there in my head, and all I had to do was come up with a melody. And that was it.

Songfacts: Wow. Now, you have done different versions of that song over the years.

Terry: Yeah, every team has their own version. That's a whole other story.

Songfacts: But how often do you update those?

Terry: Every year or so. They usually do the teams that are in the playoffs. iTunes wants to do this every year.

Songfacts: Gotcha. So the Pittsburgh Pirates haven't had one for many years, probably.

Terry: Right.

Songfacts: Who are Bachelor and Cookie?

Terry: They were friends of mine growing up. They were guys who were my age, and we played baseball together. The Bachelor is still a good friend of mine named Mike Green, and he was a Yankees fan. He loved Mickey Mantle and he used to imitate the way Mantle ran and held his glove. And Cookie was one of the few Dodger fans in our neighborhood - upper Manhattan was mostly Giants and Yankee territory. But you had your odd Dodger fan, and Bobby Cook, who we called Cookie of course, was a Dodger fan. He loved Duke Snider. And I was a Giants fan and loved Willie Mays, as I say in the song. And the three of us really paralleled the three great players.

We spoke with Terry on February 16, 2009
More Songwriter Interviews

Comments: 13

  • Joe from MarylandAll true Jim and Maury fans know how important a role Tommy, Terry, Phil Kurnit and others played. We will always be grateful!
  • Gary from Dardeene PrairieI have always loved American City Suite. It barely ,are the Top 40 at #27. I finally heard the full version recently and the length doesn't bother me because it's a story written in multiple styles. This song has stood the test of time and that makes it a classic lost hit IMO. Jim Croche was also a great singer and I'm so glad Casman and West helped him out. Thank you for the great interview!
  • Jawbreaker from AlabamaGreat read! Cashman and West are one of the reasons the world knows Jim and maury. The truth about their careers and how they helped. Male Jim and Maury s dreams come true is long overdue.
  • John from Crystal MnI just finished Ingrid Croce's book about Jim, and Cashman and West were total rip-offs and con men. Croce was making 10,000 dollars a show and seeing very little of that money.
  • M. Pardys from PhillyHow does one acquire and watch a dvd of songman, when the dvd machine only reads for Us copies. As far as I know, this dvd was only released in Pal format?
  • Gene Romer from Inwood NyI grew up listening to Cashman. One of the best all encompassing music icons of our day.
  • Worn Hands from MichiganBe sure to buy the DVD "Songman The Jim Croce Story" if you want to learn the truth of what happened behind the scenes concerning Jim's career. You will learn many important facts about the small group of people that brought Jim's music to the world when he was ready to quit the music biz altogether. It's a great DVD and you will want to watch it several times. THX to Robert Langpaap for making this video.
  • Paula Schwartz from Palio Alto, CaI love the baseball songs and many others from Cashman, Cashman & West, and Jim Croce. Does anyone know (1) who the Kings of the Hill" are, and (2) What is the 'news' referred to in the song "Let your Feelings Go"? and (3) when was the latter song written? Thanks in advance.
  • Janis from Pleasanton, CaI just heard this song and fell in love with it. I didn't know who The Bachelor was, I assumed Cookie was a friend but thought the Batchelor might be a player. I love this song so much I have memorized it, not an easy task these days. Anyway, I just wanted to thank Terry Cashman for this brilliant song, not I'm sure an easy song to write or OH WOW!!! ;o)
  • John Stevens from NycTerry's daughter Annie is an amazing songwriter and performer herself. have a listen to her music

  • Mr. Gasoline from Redwood City, CaTerry, Please write memoir - so many would love to read it! It'll be easier than writing a song - promise.
  • George Burrell from New ZealandFrom the early 70's, I always wondered what was going on with Jim Croce, Terry Cashman and Tommy West! I loved (and still love) American City Suite. The above interview explains how it all unfolded. I had correctly assumed that Cashman and West came first. I particularly enjoyed the way the Jim and Maury combination worked - appreciating from the outset that this chemistry was key to the success of Jim's career. I also see confirmation of aspects I always enjoyed - the live recording sound, and the tasteful and sparing use of other interests. It is still sad to reflect on what else might have been.
  • Mary Muehleisen from Trenton, NjAnd this is why Terry Cashman is one of my favorite people on Earth. When he opens his heart and tells the stories of his life, that's exactly where they come from - his heart. This interview is such a pleasure to read - an honest picture of how things came about in Terry's life and career - and it's not the last we'll hear about him and the talent he has to share.
see more comments

James Williamson of Iggy & the StoogesSongwriter Interviews

The Stooges guitarist (and producer of the Kill City album) talks about those early recordings and what really happened with David Bowie.

Martin PageSongwriter Interviews

With Bernie Taupin, Martin co-wrote the #1 hits "We Built This City" and "These Dreams." After writing the Pretty Woman song for Go West, he had his own hit with "In the House of Stone and Light."

Crystal WatersSongwriter Interviews

Waters tells the "Gypsy Woman" story, shares some of her songwriting insights, and explains how Dennis Rodman ended up on one of her songs.

Chris Fehn of SlipknotSongwriter Interviews

A drummer for one of the most successful metal bands of the last decade, Chris talks about what it's like writing and performing with Slipknot. Metal-neck is a factor.

Ben Kowalewicz of Billy TalentSongwriter Interviews

The frontman for one of Canada's most well-known punk rock bands talks about his Eddie Vedder encounter, Billy Talent's new album, and the importance of rock and roll.

Angelo Moore of FishboneSongwriter Interviews

Fishbone has always enjoyed much more acclaim than popularity - Angelo might know why.