Ted Simons: On tonight's Arizona art beat we meet singer songwriter Melanie, who burst on to the music scene in 1969 at Woodstock. Melanie is still performing and writing songs. She's also writing books, and she spends a lot of time in Arizona with her daughter, Jeordie, who shares her mother's love of singing and song writing. Here now to talk about her life in music is Melanie Safka. That's your last name?
Melanie Safka: My last name. I finally was able to acquire it from some huge corporate group that had bought it and was trying to sell it for a ridiculous amount of money. Finally they gave up.
Ted Simons: Well it’s so good to have you here, thanks for joining us. There are so many things I want to ask you but so many people look at you and say, I remember Melanie, a '60s songwriter and singer. Does that bother you when they say you were a 1960’s performer?
Melanie Safka: it's funny, people say, you're from the '60s, as if the '60s is this place that people like me go to. No, I mean, I just continued, you know. I have never retired. I have never gone anywhere else except on the road. In fact we were on our way to Arizona, my husband, myself and Bo, my guitar player, and Peter was -- he was my inspiration. He was my husband for 45 years. He managed my career. He produced every record of mine. He passed away on the road a year ago. We have been picking up the pieces. We continued to do the gigs that he booked, and he had booked something in Arizona. We just came here -- it's almost like I was guided.
Ted Simons: it felt right, didn't it?
Melanie Safka: It felt like the right place to be. I have been writing here nonstop. As soon as this happened, I began to write. He had bought me a journal, a blank journal, and he said, Melanie, you have to write your book. You have to write your story. I always get the chronological order wrong, so I thought, somebody has to help me with this. I kept backing off. The night after Peter passed away I was in the hotel room and I looked at that blank book and I realized that I have to tell our story. Because the story that is unfolding to me right as I speak because I'm writing this now, is that we grew up together through Woodstock and the Vietnam war, and the music that wove its way through those things and what we did to keep my musical integrity and because making the decision to stay who you are can be a very expensive decision.
Ted Simons: Let's talk about the difference creatively between writing a book like that and writing songs.
Melanie Safka: A song is magic. A song just comes out of me. Somebody the other night said, I think unfairly, oh, you come from the ethereal place. You need to be with a crafter. I thought, that isn't really true at all. I write a song and it just comes right out, but then I spend weeks refining a word, and I'll go over a word and I'll refine it.
Ted Simons: So what's more challenging, then, writing a song or performing the song?
Melanie Safka: Oh! It's a whole other universe. I have learned how to be on stage. I was very shy. I didn't want people to look at me. The last thing this universe I wanted to be was a celebrity. I wanted to be in the Peace Corps or an archeologist. I did not want to be a famous person. Now people are famous for being famous. You don't know what they do. I have seen that face before. But the last thing I wanted was to be a famous person. But I did always have a passion for music.
Ted Simons: With that in mind, you were born and raised in queens, New York, when did you know you were good, singing and song writing? I mean good.
Melanie Safka: I didn't know I was good ever. I knew that I had to do this. And that I was driven to make music and to sing in front of people. And I think it's not been since a few years I realized that I do have something.
Ted Simons: My goodness.
Melanie Safka: I didn't think of myself as a writer for sure. I only wrote songs that I would sing. I didn't think other people would sing them. Then Ray Charles sang my song. I'm a writer!
Ted Simons: You are a writer you have had some monster hits. Candles in the rain, especially the brand new key, everybody knows the brand new key. Were you surprised when you wrote those songs, when you first performed and recorded them did you have any idea that they would be a hit the way they did?
Melanie Safka: With brand new key I kind of wrote it as a slinky Cajun swamp thing. My husband, shameless record producer, heard this. He said, Melanie, it's a hit. I said, oh, no, I'll be doomed to be cute for the rest of my life. It was hard enough because I was cherubic and I smiled and the camera phased me. I grew up with brownie cameras. That's how it went. You smiled at the camera. So I didn't intend for that song to be a hit. Now, years later, I have come to terms with it. It's an amazing song. It really is. It just transcends time and genre. It just followed me. At first I was a reactionary to that song.
Ted Simons: A lot of people are like that. They have a one-hit kind of thing and the hit is so big, whether an actor or performer, they go I don't want to play that role any more.
Melanie Safka: But I always sang it because I realized people heard it and it was familiar. When things are familiar to people it would be a deprivation to not do it. So I always do brand new key. Some of my real core fans could care less if I do that song. They want to hear all the new things. But I feel that there are those people who came to that show -- I love that little song. That's such a cute song. Do the one about the roller skates.
Ted Simons: Last question. We would love to have you longer but we got about a minute left. Your daughter is a performer as well. What kind of advice do you give her? You've lived the life now.
Melanie Safka: I know. You can't stop somebody who has grown up in music. Jeordie has always written songs with her sister Layla, who is in Nashville writing for people, and she is also the singer, they grew up singing, they grew up in the studios. They were studio rats. 4:00 in the morning with me, sometimes they recorded background vocal parts. It was just part of their life.
Ted Simons: Can you give them advice on song writing, on performing, or do they have to learn it themselves?
>> no, they have their own unique little way. Jeordie is very quirky. She has kind of my quirk. Layla is more Celine Dion. More refined. Early on I said, don't do it. You know? But now it's part of who they are. My son is an amazing musician. He is here with me. We're going to go to a writing session right after this. He's been performing with me ever since.
Ted Simons: It's a pleasure to have you here. I know you have the book out, you have a children's album, lots of things going on. We’re glad you could make some time. Welcome to Arizona. It’s good to have you here, good to have you on the show.
Melanie Safka: Thanks a lot.
Ted Simons: That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons, thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening.