Song Writing

"Stuttering John" Melendez

by Greg Prato

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The longtime Stern and Leno mainstay recalls his greatest pranks and his wild nights with Sam Kinison and Joe Walsh.

Throughout the course of The Howard Stern Show, there have been countless memorable bits. Undoubtedly, one of the all-time best was when John Melendez (best known to Stern Show fans as "Stuttering John," due to his speech impediment) would surprise celebrities at red carpet events, appearances, or press conferences with probing - and oft-times hilarious - questions.

Although Melendez has not been on The Howard Stern Show in quite some time (he was a regular on it from 1988-2004, before leaving to become the announcer for three different Jay Leno-hosted shows, from 2004-2014), his memories of his time with the Stern crew remain vivid all these years later - as evidenced throughout his 2018 memoir, Easy for You to Say.

Speaking to Songfacts shortly after the book's release, Melendez discussed working for Stern and Leno, his musical career, and living with stuttering and OCD.
Greg Prato (Songfacts): What made you decide to do a book now?

John Melendez: I had started it years ago, and it just took a while to get a publisher, and then finish it - and things kept changing in my life. Things like the Trump phone call, and I just kept adding stuff, so it took a longer process than expected.

Songfacts: I know from listening to some old Howard Stern Show clips, back in the '90s, weren't you offered to do a book back then?

Melendez: I was offered to do a book, and Howard wouldn't let me. Which I explain at length in this book. Howard chose to believe that I was actually going to publish a book without his consent - which was never the case. But that's the way they put it - and that's normal procedure on The Stern Show.

Songfacts: So Easy for You to Say had nothing to do with the proposed book in the '90s, right?

Melendez: No, that was more in the "Stuttering John heyday," you know what I mean? So, it was more of just the interviews and stuff. It wasn't going to be like, a tell-all.

Songfacts: Was everything included in the book that you wanted to, or did you leave anything out?

Melendez: I tried to include everything I could. I didn't want to leave out a thing. Everything was true. If all the stories can be corroborated, then I've got no regrets.

Songfacts: As a long-time Stern Show listener, it was interesting to get a behind-the-scenes view of what was going on with the show in the '90s and early 2000s.

Melendez: Yes. That's the whole point of the book. It's a motivational/comedy/story of my life. It does have the message of, "Look, I was a stutterer, who became the announcer on The Tonight Show." It's a pretty cool thing, and it's been an inspiration for a lot of stutterers out there, or people with disabilities. So, I'm kind of happy about that part of the book.

Songfacts: I noticed that when you got The Tonight Show with Jay Leno gig, you're stuttering wasn't as noticeable anymore. Did you work with someone to overcome your speech impediment?

Melendez: Yeah, I did, but not really for the stuttering aspect - it was just to become a better announcer, I had a vocal coach. But as far as stuttering during announcing, it's impossible. It's like, singing a song. It's like Carly Simon and Mel Tillis - they won't stutter when they sing. Well, the same goes for announcing - if I'm going into character and doing a rhythmic thing like, "It's The Tonight Show, with Jay Leno!" there's no way I'm going to stutter. It's almost impossible.

But, I did have to prove that to The Tonight Show - I had to go there and audition, and prove to them that I could do the announcing without stuttering. They gave me a bunch of different announcements, and I was able to show them that the stuttering would not be an issue.

Songfacts: I noticed there weren't many photos of Howard in the book.

Melendez: It was just because I don't know who took them. I did want to include one with me, Jackie [Martling, aka "Jackie the Jokeman"], and Billy [West], but I didn't get it in in time. The other problem is you don't know who took them, so you have to get permission. It became problematic for me.

John found himself in the midst of some of the best pranks, bits, and interviews that The Howard Stern Show has ever offered. In addition to the ones mentioned elsewhere in this interview, who can forget the time he shed tears at a house that claimed that an image of the Virgin Mary had been spotted in a window, or interviewing Tony Bennett, Tiny Tim, and Donald Trump outside Joey Adams' 80th birthday party.
Songfacts: I always liked the "disguises" you used for some of the interviews you did for The Stern Show. I was glad you included one of those photos in the book.

Melendez: I know! [Laughs] I went as everything from a chef to a Hasidic Jew. I used to call myself "The Lon Chaney of stutterers."

Songfacts: Let's discuss the "Talk My Way Out of It" music video, from your 1994 album, Stuttering John. It had some great special guests in it.

Melendez: That was a trip - to get Sting and Gene Simmons in my video was awesome. The only person who was missing was Howard, who in his infinite wackiness - for lack of a better word - decided he couldn't make an appearance, because as he told me, he might have his own thing going on with MTV.

This was the kind of thing that was a constant with Howard: everything revolved around Howard. He was a megalomaniac, and if we got anything - any offer - it was always because of Howard. Like, when I asked him if I could do my book, he said, "No, because I might have a book soon." Everything was about Howard. And it's unfortunate, but that just happens to be the case. Whereas you have a guy like Jay Leno, who is the complete opposite.

Songfacts: I also learned from your book that you wrote music with Joe Walsh. How many songs did you write together, and did they make it to the album?

Melendez: I wrote one, and it didn't fit with the rest of the songs. The song is called, "I Don't Like You Either." It was Joe Walsh's title, and we had a blast writing it. Joe Walsh is one of my musical idols, so it was really a great tune.

Songfacts: What are some memories of that? Because that would have been before Joe cleaned up, right?

Melendez: I got to his house in the hills in LA. The first thing I did is we hung out in the living room, had a couple of beers, and Joe was singing to tracks of his new songs, and singing live with a microphone... and I'm the only person there. It was like, "Holy shit. I'm getting a private concert with Joe Walsh!" And then we went downstairs and snorted coke, smoked weed, and played pool, and then wrote all the lyrics to the song "I Don't Like You Either." And it was like, "I don't like my ex-wife's lawyer, I don't like waiting in line at the bank when it's my money" - it was all these things.

And the next day, I show up at Joe's house to record the demo for the song. Joe comes out of the house, and I go, "Joe, do you have the lyrics?" Because he wrote everything on notebook paper or whatever. And he goes, "Oh, I'll go get them." He goes back in the house, comes out, and goes, "I can't find them."

Thankfully, I have a pretty vivid memory of things, and I was able to remember most of the lyrics - if not all of them. I think a lot of it has to do with OCD - my memory allowed me to recall a lot of the incidents on The Stern Show, and exactly where and when these things took place, which was very helpful in the book, because I was able to remember a lot of crazy, wacky stories.

Songfacts: You just mentioned that you also suffer from OCD. Is there a possible correlation between stuttering and OCD?

Melendez: It's interesting that you say that, because there have been correlations made. But it has not been 100% proved - the theory has not been proven by most doctors. But if you Google it, there are people who say there is a correlation. I don't particularly know, because my kids all have OCD and they don't stutter, so I don't know if there is a correlation. But it is interesting.

Songfacts: You also talk about your friendship with Sam Kinison in the book. Who was wilder to hang out with back in the day, Joe Walsh or Sam Kinison?

Melendez: Oh wow, well, definitely Sam. Sam was just crazy. I mean, not crazy in a bad way, but let's put it this way, when I was hanging out with Sam at the China Club in LA, he brought me into a bathroom stall - this was the night that he strangled Arsenio Hall, when Arsenio came down the stairs in the China Club, because Arsenio had made a joke about Sam's dead brother. But Sam pulled me aside in the bathroom stall, and pulled out a page full of coke. I'd never seen that much weed in my life, but this was a page full of cocaine, and he was like, "Here!"

So we did a couple of lines, and he was like, "Listen, if you get crazy..." and he reaches into his pocket and pulls out this white pill with green and purple dots on it, and goes, "If you get too crazy, take one of these!" You know, "Dr. Kinison"!

But I will say that Sam treated me like a comedy legend. He would introduce me to people like Katey Sagal and Julian Lennon, like, "This is one of the funniest guys ever." He treated me with such respect. It was something that I cherished. It's so sad how Sam died, because here he finally stopped drinking, became sober, and then, he gets killed by a drunk driver. It's just the irony of life.

Songfacts: If you'd like to talk a bit more about the "Talk My Way Out of It" video - I'd imagine you must have some great memories of filming it.

Melendez: It was so much fun. Barry Williams did it as "Greg Brady/Johnny Bravo," and Gene Simmons, Sting, Gilbert Gottfried, Nuno Bettencourt from Extreme, Grandpa Al Lewis, Gary [Dell'Abate, aka "Baba Booey"], Jackie, and a lot of the wack packers like Kenneth Keith Kallenbach and Melrose Larry Green. Even the chairman of Atlantic, Craig Kallman.

I remember Gene and I went out that night to Scores - the strip club - and hung out. I picked up one of the girls in the video, the one who in the video I say, "You're in," and she says, "I'm in the band?", and I say, "No, in the bus." I ended up hanging out with her and we ended up back at Gene's hotel room. I remember my girlfriend at the time was on the phone, and she was going, "Where's John?" She was calling Gene Simmons' hotel room, and Gene had to lie to her, and say, "I don't know! Uh... he was just here."

Songfacts: In support of the Stuttering John album, you also opened shows for the likes of Ozzy, Mötley Crüe, Ted Nugent, and Collective Soul.

Melendez: I tell two funny stories about Ozzy. Opening for him was awesome. And we were backstage with Ozzy, all smoking weed, and I'm videotaping everything. And then like, a week after the gig, I bring my friends over to watch the video. We turn it on, and it's my kid on a swing - my wife taped over the whole fucking video!

The other thing is, after my band was done and Ozzy was on stage, I went onto the rafters to watch him from above. There was a black curtain, so I decided to pull away the curtain. I did, and it's this guy with a microphone, singing all of Ozzy's lyrics! He's like, "Close that curtain!" It was like The Wizard of Oz.

It's sad, but look, Ozzy's up there in years, so he needed someone to sing, because he probably can't do it anymore. But Ozzy was a great guy. [This isn't the first time that someone has alleged that Ozzy utilizes another singer in concert - Robert Mason once spilled the beans to Eddie Trunk.]

Collective Soul couldn't have been a nicer band. We opened for them in I think Tallahassee or Jacksonville, Florida. I'll never forget it, because we were midway through our set, and we blew the transformer. It was an outdoor concert. They took an hour-and-a-half break to fix this transformer, and Collective Soul let us go back on stage and finish our set! They were really cool.

But those were the days, man. I miss the life of a rock star. I mean, I was getting girls... two at a time, two in one night. I'm thinking to myself, "Man, if I'm getting this and I've only sold 50,000 albums, what the hell is Pearl Jam getting?"

Songfacts: What are some memories of working with Howard's band, The Losers?

Melendez: I wrote a song with Howard that I called "Skunk." The name was "Skunk," but the lyrics were, "You get me high, get me high." It was a really good song - Howard came up with the keyboard part, and I wrote the melody and lyrics. Later on, Howard - in his usual fashion - said that Fred [Norris] had something to do with it. But Fred had nothing to do with it.

But it was fun. It was a fun time. It was kind of cool that I was in the band - it was me, Howard, Fred, and Scott [Salem, aka "Scott the Engineer"] on drums. I was part of a band, so it was definitely a good time.

That's the thing in the book - some people will say that I come off as ungrateful. And I don't want it to sound like I'm trying to bury Howard, because I had a lot of great times there. But I cannot lie, and I'm unfiltered - which is what Jay Leno writes about me in the foreword. I'm not going to not tell a story for fear of hurting someone's feelings.

This is the person Howard was, and I talk about what Howard has become, and it's just the truth. I speak very candidly about Baba Booey, Jackie, Fred, and Robin [Quivers], and I just don't hold back. And that's why it's a must-read for any Stern or Leno fan - because I don't hold back with Jay, either. Again, Jay is really the complete opposite of Howard in a lot of ways.

Songfacts: How would you say Jay is the complete opposite of Howard?

Melendez: See, I just wanted to test your journalistic skill - to see if you would follow up with that! You've passed the test. [Laughs] Let's put it this way - Howard has the hallway that he walks down cleared out, because he doesn't want to talk to anyone... no staff members are allowed to talk to him. But meanwhile, Jay Leno has his door open, and anyone is allowed to come in there - from the executive producer to a page, which is an intern. Jay is completely available to everybody. And not only financially, but emotionally - he would offer advice.

And Howard is just not that guy. I mean, Scott the Engineer, his wife was dying of cancer, and he needed money to pay for the hospital and medication, and Howard didn't even help him [John explained his thoughts about this topic more thoroughly on his podcast, which was then quoted in this article]. And Jay would always help.

Songfacts: When was the last time you had correspondence with Howard?

Melendez: Just what I talk about in the book - when I was at his house in the Hamptons. I think that was the last time.

Songfacts: Are you in regular contact with any others from The Stern Show?

Melendez: Well, I've got my list of moles over there - that's how I got a lot of the information about a lot of things in the book. I still talk to a few of them. I talk to Robin every now and then. Gary every now and then. I've kind of stopped talking to Gary, because I heard from someone that Gary can't stop trashing me every time he's in the studio with Howard. It kind of turned me off to Gary. But I don't hate Gary - I think he has a tendency to lie, and he has to cover his ass. But that's Gary.

Songfacts: Would you ever go back on Howard's show if you were invited?

Melendez: I would go back, but he would never have me. There's no way he would allow me on the show. Especially not to plug this book, because it doesn't always portray him in the light that he probably sees himself as. But it's very honest from my experience in what I had to deal with there.

Songfacts: Do you have any idea if Howard has read your book?

Melendez: I don't think he has read it. He'd probably have his lawyers read it. I don't have any worries about lawsuits or anything - everything is true and has been corroborated by other people. So, good luck if he ever decided to do something like that - he would lose. I don't think he's going to do that. And plus, I don't think he would want to do that because it would promote the book if he decided to sue me. So, I don't think Howard is going to do that.

Songfacts: What were some of your favorite celebrity interviews for Howard?

Melendez: The Gennifer Flowers one was the biggest one - that's when she came out and said that she had an affair with Bill Clinton. It was like, a whole press conference with the National Enquirer. I screamed out, "Will you be sleeping with any other presidential candidates?" "Was there ever a threesome?" "Did President Clinton wear a condom?" And the place went nuts, laughing. I would have to say that was probably the most famous.

And then I could go with the funny ones, where I got strangled by Lou Reed by asking him if he still masturbated. And judging by his grip, he does! I asked the Dalai Lama if people go up to him and say "Hello, Dalai." I got punched by Raquel Welch by asking her, "Are they drooping yet?" She hit me with a left. I asked OJ [Simpson] if he would sign my knife - and coincidentally, he brought his own!

The best response I ever got was by Joan Rivers. I asked her if ugly people should be allowed to have children, and she said, "No! I told your mother that!"

Songfacts: I have to say, my personal all-time favorite was when you tried interviewing Morton Downey Jr., and he attacked you!

Melendez: Yeah, that was awesome.

Songfacts: My friends and I still recite quotes from that interview, like when Mort said, "Suck my earlobe."

Melendez: I remember I asked him when he had his warts removed, if he saved them in a pickle jar. I don't remember all of it. I remember he pushed me off a chair or something.

Songfacts: It's on YouTube if you'd like to check it out again.

Melendez: YouTube is like my new friend - it promotes me like crazy.

Songfacts: Do you ever go back and watch some of your old interviews?

Melendez: Sometimes. Not so much, because I've seen them so many times. But sometimes I do. One of my favorite things on YouTube is when I prank-called Beetlejuice, and I'm literally sitting behind him. I call into K-Rock, and he was answering the phone. I challenged him to a fight, and he had no idea that it was me and I'm right behind him. It was hysterical. It's up to like, 500,000 views.

Which exceeds my Trump phone call [the full back story about the call is here], because my Trump phone call got over 400,000 views - that's the most recent prank I've pulled. But we're in talks with a television company now to bring back the Stuttering John interviews, and have me go on the red carpets again. If we ink this deal, then I will be back, doing one of the things I do best.

Songfacts: There were also other great Stern Show bits you were involved in, such as when you hid the Gary Puppet, and then Gary retaliated by saying you were fired and secretly videotaped it.

Melendez: Yeah, the stealing of the Gary Puppet was right around the time where Howard and I started to bond the most, and we became good friends. It was like the turning point of me being in the inner-circle as far as off the air with Howard. When I pulled that prank off and stole the puppet, Howard and I were laughing our asses off - because it happened on a Friday, so we had all of Saturday and Sunday to get on the phone, laughing. I would call him every time Baba Booey would call me, saying, "Please tell me... did you steal it?" "No Gary, I don't know what you're talking about." And then I would call Howard! [Laughs] Gary was terrified - it was awesome.

Songfacts: And did you ever fully forgive Gary after he did the prank when he said you were fired?

Melendez: In my head I kind of knew it was a gag, but I had to play it up like I didn't, because it wouldn't have worked for Gary.

Songfacts: You mentioned Scott the Engineer earlier, and I know Scott played Howard your tryout tape for The Tonight Show.

Melendez: I was a little angry at the time. But in retrospect now, I'm not as pissed. But I was at the time, because he promised that he would throw it out. But the thing is after all the pranks I pulled on Scott, I guess he had to get back at me. But it's OK. At the end of the day, I'm fine with it.

Songfacts: I recall a while back you posted on Twitter that you suffered two strokes. How are you doing health-wise?

Melendez: I've lost the feeling in half my body. It's a real pain in the ball. [Laughs] I've lost feeling in my lips, and my left ring finger and thumb, and my pointer. I've lost feeling in my toes on the left side. It's a pain, but look, it could have been worse. It was caused by high blood pressure and high cholesterol. It sucked, because ever since the strokes, I don't have the stamina I once did...which really sucks for my sex life.

Songfacts: What are you currently up to, and would you ever plan on doing a follow-up book?

Melendez: I'm up to a lot right now. I just shot a new show I'm doing on the Green Bee Life Network. It's a cannabis network that's going to launch in January, and I have a show on there called The Stuttering Inquisition. So, we have Kevin McDonald, AJ Benza, Chris Pontius, and a bunch of other celebs to be on there. And like I said, I may be signing a deal for a red carpet [interview show], that will be in connection with The Stuttering John Podcast. I do have another book and I have already started it. I have to say that my book is selling pretty well, and the publishers are happy.

Songfacts: Will the proposed follow-up book be similar to this one, or will it be different?

Melendez: Nah, it's a completely different idea that I've had for a while. I don't want to really talk about it yet, but if I sign another publishing deal, then I'll be on track to get it out before anybody else does. And I'm still doing stand-up.

January 6, 2019
John is on Twitter.
Also of interest:
Richard Christy interview
Dee Snider interview
Ozzy and the abattoir
Bully problems? call Ozzy
Weird Al Fact or Fiction

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