The crisp night air on Cinco De Mayo 2013 was a very special evening to celebrate the life of John Braheny. Welcomed were 4 dozen lucky friends of John Braheny’s to enjoy a very private and intimate benefit concert with some talented hit songwriters and amazing friends and family. Friends, family and fans who could not attend due to the size of the venue tuned in to watch from their computers around the world!
John Braheny, lovingly referred to as “The Songwriter’s Best Friend” and author of the best selling book “The Craft and Business of Songwriting,” has left behind an inspiring and phenomenal legacy. John Braheny battled prostate cancer. In support of his final wishes, Michael Laskow and Dan Kimpel co-hosted an online webcast musical tribute as a fundraiser. USC (University of Southern California) has expressed an interest in hosting a website for John’s LASS (Los Angeles Songwriters Showcase) archives of their abundant audio interviews articles and photos. There are also plans for an audio version and e-book of his book.
We gathered at Kulak’s Woodshed in Los Angeles CA. for an online event benefit broadcast in John’s honor that included hit songwriters and performers whose careers were dramatically impacted by LASS, the organization that John co-founded with Len Chandler and co-directed. The night was full of music…and the room was filled with love. The performers were Stephen Bishop, Grammy and Oscar nominee for “Separate Lives,” “It Might Be You” from the movie “Tootsie,” “On and On,” and many more along with Dorian Holley, (The Tonight Show Band with Jay Leno, and Michael Jackson’s voice coach and friend for the “This Is It” tour), Allan Rich, who received a Grammy and Golden Globe nomination for “Run to You” from “The Bodyguard” for Whitney Houston, and multi-platinum songwriter Harold Payne, who co-wrote the Bobby Womack hit song “Daylight” with and for Womack and which Kelly Rowland of Destiny’s Child released the song as a hit single on her Ms. Kelly Diva Deluxe CD.
“JB” is the name John was lovingly referred to among John and JoAnn Braheny’s close friends and family. John is known as “the songwriter’s best friend,” For the sake of this article I will be referring to John Braheny as simply “JB.”
Open up the doors to a little treasure chest, the greatest little “open club house” called Kulak’s Woodshed in North Hollywood CA. “Woodshedding”… is a term used by musicians everywhere to mean ‘I’m in a creative mode, we’re gearing up for tour…we are writing songs, we are trying out new songs, we are listening to songs”, etc.! Kulak’s has been that place to come share songs, from the major pros to the next big thing dreaming of their big break! Wow… to have a small TV studio run strictly by volunteers and a live audience plus a world audience who can tune-in and watch live performances…”hello” bonus!
I love stepping into a venue when a sound check is going on. It is such an exciting secret part of the evening. I witnessed Stephen Bishop on stage sitting down playing a very strange looking instrument called a Cue Chord. He was performing a great song called “New York in the 50’s.” A little line in the song that made my ears perk up and almost stopped my heart was “walking down an afterthought.” He warmly smiled at me when I complimented him on that line after his sound check. I also got to peek in on Harold Payne during his sound check. He added in JB’s name, which really set the mood for the love we would all feel throughout the night.
The stage was set and since the venue was so small, a few lucky friends of JB’s that have been deeply touched by him throughout the years picked their spots to enjoy the show. Some sat on comfy chairs you would find in your living room, a few lucky folks stretched out on a California King size bed, complete with big soft pillows, which would have made John Lennon and Yoko Ono proud!
Grabbing an oversize pillow, I chose a spot on the floor a little stage left where I was out of the way of the TV studio camera, which was on my right, and there, center stage in attendance throughout the performances, were three of the very closest people to JB, his wife JoAnn, his sister Mary, and Len Chandler, John’s partner with LASS. John’s spirit could be felt in every note played and every song sung by the magnificent talent and for those who turned on, tuned in, and dropped in on that very night. Kulak’s Woodshed became “our very own little miniature Woodstock” as Michael Laskow of Taxi described it. Looking around at the wide variety of oddities and little treasures on the walls, a rocking library and the number of LP’S hanging on the walls… were just so eye-popping!
Michael Laskow (CEO of Taxi) and Dan Kimpel author, teacher, singer-songwriter were the hosts of the benefit. Taxi is known as the World’s Leading Independent A&R Company. I must note that JB was Taxi’s 1st consultant and a song critiquer on their staff from the beginning. Dan Kimpel, was a major coordinator for both JB’s memorial and, working together with Laskow, Paul Kulak and JoAnn, helped make the benefit an outstanding success. Both MC’s are long time pals of JB’s and JoAnn’s. They took turns as masters of ceremony in between acts, both personalities vibrant and attentive to the crowd as they answered the many e-mails coming in from various parts of the world…yes that’s correct, I said the world. JB’s love for the craft and business of songwriting can be felt everywhere on this big blue marble! It’s easy to see why he titled his 3 book editions just that, “The Craft and Business of Songwriting.”
Harold Payne set the mood for the evening as the first performer. He played a great acoustic set which included some audience participation. He gently rocked us with songs like “Don’t Worry About Me,” and very clever lyrics in “Pass It On”…if you can’t pay it back… than pass it on. “Music Speaks Louder than Words” was an audience participation song…Payne performed songs which I’m sure reached deep into the heart and souls of the TV studio audience in their kitchens, living rooms etc. Payne’s latest endeavor is teaming up once again with Bobby Womack, and let me tell you, the next song, “The Bravest Man in the Universe”, just hits you right in the gut with a cross between Native American and R&B vibe! Harold Payne is quite the performer.
The next performer took my breath away when he sang. Allan Rich made us feel as if we were in attendance back in the day at John and JoAnn’s wedding where he had performed the very touching song “And I Love You So”(Don Mclean). The first time I heard him sing this song was at JB’s memorial event which had taken place at the Concert Hall at the Musicians Institute in Los Angeles. The song at Kulak’s Woodshed was so beautifully accompanied on the piano by Marty Axelrod and left some of the audience a little teary-eyed. Allan Rich is not only an amazingly gifted songwriter but his voice moves you in such a precious way. He has a way of reaching you, the listener, to welcome those “angels are clapping” type chill bumps, the very same chill bumps that Whitney Houston made you feel when she sang “Run To You” on screen in the “The Bodyguard.” Allan Rich is a two-time Academy Award, Grammy and Golden Globe nominee whose songs have sold over 65 million copies. Allan Rich introduced his long time songwriting partner Jud Friedman who also co-wrote “Run To You” for Whitney Houston in which Allan sang beautifully from a place deep down in his soul.
He then turned the stage over to his accompanist, songwriter Marty Axelrod, Marty then played a really nice piece with a very catchy hook, “Smokey, Where are You Now, (We Really Need a Miracle).” I was captivated by his songwriting. I searched YouTube and found two more little gems that he played at Kulak’s and he did not disappoint. “She Makes Me Crazy She Makes Me Laugh” made me cry, and “Small Potatoes” was a cute song. Then Allan performed “For the First Time”, a song written for the movie “One Fine Day” starring Michelle Pfeiffer and George Clooney. The song is a collaboration between himself, Jud Friedman and James Newton Howard.
The next song which James Ingram is known for, “I Don’t Have the Heart”, was so sweet and so sad that Allan was given a great compliment by hit vocalist Luther Vandross. “I have to turn that song off cuz it’s just so baaaad!” (He meant that in a good way!) Then we were gently soothed with a touching song which Allan dedicated to JB called “That’s How I Feel About You.” It was a beautiful moment when Allan pointed upward to the sky ending his set with such an “I love you my friend” feeling.
As I said before, this little club has an atmosphere like none other. In between performers the two hosts, Kimpel and Laskow, checked the TV screen as someone yelled out “we have an e-mail!” I believe this one was from Australia and I believe another came in from the Midwest. JB’s friendship and legacy reaches so far across the world. The comments poured out love to John and JoAnn and made very sweet comments about the performers of the evening.
The next performer (also a LASS alumnus) you may have seen as the lead singer in the Tonight Show Band with Jay Leno, or you possibly have caught one of his shows with his own band, The Dorian Holley Band. Dorian Holley had the amazing privilege of voice-coaching Michael Jackson for his “This Is It” tour. Holley takes the stage with his accompanist Roberto Montero who was on jazz acoustic guitar, Holley wearing camo pants, a tan military ammo belt, and a shirt as blue as a California Dreaming sky. He started his set with a great song about his father called “Just One Dance.” It was a jazzy song that had a “celebration of life” feel to it.
The next song had an introspective lyric line that really caught my attention, “Gonna fly down and land in love.” The song was so beautiful and on the last note it was as if he were gliding down on those wings of love. He did small inviting loop de loops with his voice and you can certainly tell why he was Michael Jackson’s voice coach. The crowd snapped their fingers along with the next song, Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature.” As soon as Holley sang the lyric line… “Looking out” you knew what song was going to fill the air with love. You can’t do that song in a room full of songwriters and singers and not get some harmonizing buzzing throughout the room. Holley and Montero smiled throughout the set and Holley’s instrument… his voice and the jazziness of Montero’s guitar… were great compliments to each other as performers.
Last up was Stephen Bishop, accompanied by Jim Wilson on keyboard. If you ever see Stephen Bishop strap on his guitar…get ready for a retro-good time! As Dick Clark said, “Music is the soundtrack of our lives.” Bishop has been helping to provide that soundtrack since 1977 with his first major hit, “On and On,” (first presented at LASS) and several others throughout the decades. “It Might Be You” from “Tootsie” and “Separate Lives” sung by Phil Collins and Marilyn Martin from the movie “White Nights,”
How many remember the smash hit “Animal House?” The IMDB cast list reads as follows: John Belushi, Kevin Bacon, Donald Sutherland and…I even caught the name… Stephen Bishop, “charming guy with guitar” love it! So true, the falsetto voice that you hear in the theme song of the movie is none other than the charming guy with the guitar who took the stage at Kulak’s and a long time friend of John and JoAnn’s.
Stephen was quite engaging and, yes, charming with the audience. He told us a cute story where a woman kind of recognized him in a grocery store and said “oh I just love that song that you sing… “Short People.” He got a chuckle from the audience on that one and then he talked about when he first moved to LA. John and Len Chandler were so supportive, helpful and friendly through the years. He would see JB at different events. He said “It was always great seeing him. John will really be missed.” He then said he wanted to do this next song for John and as soon as you heard Wilson hit that first measure on the keyboards you knew the song “It Must Be You” from the soundtrack of “Tootsie!”
He performed a song called “Vacant” and then said “this is the experimental part of the show” and sat down with his Cue Chord and played a song called “New York in the 50’s.” I thought it was cute that his keyboardist was making memories of the night by taking a few pictures of “Bish,” as he’s referred to by his circle of friends. The song was really great, but I just have to say Bishop’s socks that showed when he was sitting down playing that very unusual and kewl sounding instrument really said what was felt in the room … one of the words on the socks… LOVE and at this benefit for JB there was so much of it. I heard one of the girls in the crowd whisper “He just sings from his soul,” and that he does!
Then the “charming guy with the guitar” said that he was nominated for an Academy Award but Lionel Richie won for “Say You, Say Me say I’m gonna steal Steve’s award, you know that song” as he chortled with the crowd. And then we were taken back to one of the soundtracks of our lives as we were caught up in the love of “Separate Lives” once more.
Bishop ended his set with the song that first introduced us to his fantastic “ear catching voice”…”On and On.” It was awesome!
All of the sets of the evening were fantastic. The performers all played from their hearts and really made lots of new friends and fans throughout the night. They were very engaging and took pictures, signed a few autographs, and the benefit was a huge success.
Donations are still coming in. If you would like to donate to this endeavor (and thank you to those who have already done so) you may do so via Paypal to JoAnn Braheny. You may also send a check, made out to the John Braheny Legacy Fund, to JoAnn Braheny, PO Box 5715, Sherman Oaks, CA 91413. Donations of any size are most appreciated. JoAnn’s e-mail is JoAnn@johnbraheny.com There is a Facebook page “Friends of John Braheny.” John’s legacy is of worldwide proportions … his books, music and his teachings will live on!
One last and final word before letting you read some heartfelt thoughts and feelings about JB from a few of his really close friends…. Congratulations are in order to Nic Monaco who received the 2013 California Copyright Conference John Braheny Scholarship Award! Congratulations also to Paul Otten for winning the first ever John Braheny Excellence In Songwriting Award at the 17th annual Taxi Road Rally Nov. 2013. In the words of Dr. Maya Angelou. “People will forget what you say and people will forget what you do, but nobody forgets the way you make them feel.” John Braheny, known as “The Songwriter’s Best Friend,” will forever make people feel as his legacy lives “On and On.”
About the author: I was introduced to John and JoAnn’s amazing loving world through Doak Turner in Nashville of The Nashville Muse. I too am an ASCAP songwriter as well as an NSAI (Nashville Songwriters Assoc. International) chapter coordinator for the new chapter in San Fernando Valley Southern California. I’m an actress, singer-writer living in the LA area and if John were here today I would give him a hug and thank him for all that he has done for the songwriting world…he was amazing and now we can all feel that amazement and his spirit alive and well through his heartfelt legacy…thank you JB for being a songwriters best friend!
Review Piece by KK Ryder 818-495-5395
Nice words from Friends of JoAnn and John Braheny:
Bart Herbison, Executive Director National Songwriters Association California Songwriters Assn. Nashville Songwriters Assn. International Texas Songwriters Assn.
John Braheny was a very special man, one of a kind really. He always put others first. In a music industry often themed by “what can you do for me” attitudes, John always wanted to know what he could do for you! Perhaps my last conversation with John, just a few days before he passed away, was most illustrative. He said that he did not want to talk about himself or his situation even for one second. He simply told me to tell every songwriter to never give up on their dream.
Through giving his time and attention to so many songwriters through the years John earned the title, “The Songwriter’s Best Friend.” And he truly was. There were many notable writers and artists that credited John’s help as important in their respective career paths including: Stevie Nicks, Lindsay Buckingham, Janis Ian, Warren Zevon, Stephen Bishop, Karla Bonoff, Wendy Waldman and Dianne Warren just to mention a few.
All of those amazing writers and artists would agree with me. His mentoring was important. but his friendship was invaluable. We will miss you John.
Pamela Phillips Oland- Award Winning Hit Songwriter and author of “The Art of Writing Great Lyrics” & “The Art of Writing Great Love Songs”
As the memorial comments started pouring in for John, I read them with a sort of wonder. It was a real education in how far reaching a human being’s impact can be on this world. John’s admirers numbered in the thousands, from all over the world. And I suppose each of us thought of him as someone special in our own life. His communication gift was such that he made each of us feel the center of the universe when he spoke with us. What a capacity for love, caring, wisdom, and friendship he clearly had. And the odd thing is that although he’s gone, it’s as if he’s still among us, a measure of his powerful spirit.
Doak Turner- Songwriter, “The Nashville Muse” & “Music Starts Here” an online GPS for music industry professionals,songwriters,artists and more.
John Braheny -‐ means the world to me and my songwriting. His first book got me on track of what to do with my songs, 2nd one kept me on and was the reason we met in Nashville which led to a great friendship with him, JoAnn and many of their friends. Many times, John gave me inspiration to stay on my songwriting journey and I am grateful for his books and most of all -‐ his great friendship and knowledge he shared with me and my brothers & sister songwriters!
The fact he quoted me on the back of his Third Edition and on one of the pages -‐ was a dream come true for me. John Braheny will always be one of my all time favorite people in this world!
Steven McClintock – Award winning Hit Songwriter / Artist
CEO of 37 Records and The Host of “The Songwriter” a webcast series
I was in town for only ONE DAY from Texas…and got to play at the Improv with the LASS songwriter night sponsored by BMI. Len and John introduced my duo, Fertitta and McClintock, with glorious praise. All I could think about was, “why did that say that?” Yikes!!
The minute we were done, BMI President, Ron Anton and his VP both came up and asked us to sign to BMI…that they would get me in doors to publishers.
I DID and they did….6 months later I signed with Island Music and Arista Records. Because of John and LASS, I have been blessed with a career doing what I love.
Thanks John… Steven
Paul Zollo- Author – “Songwriters on Songwriting” & Blue Railroad Magazine
In an industry where competition is built into every single day, JB was remarkable because he was content not to compete. Though he and I both wrote books on songwriting, he recognized from the start, with great generosity of spirit, that there’s room in the world for both books and for both authors and rather than compete with me, he supported and celebrated my work. That is the kind of guy he was. He truly loved songs and songwriters and worked not just for his personal advancement, but for the progress of all. He also emphasized that a serious songwriter is a scholar, and he forever shared his love of all kinds of books with me and others. I find it comforting, in these days since his passing, that I can commune with his books. He left his entire library even the very shelves to The Songwriting School of L.A., which is in Burbank. If you want to spend some time with JB, this is a great way to do it: spend time with his books.
Dan Kimpel – teacher, singer-songwriter and author of “It All Begins with the Music: Developing Artists and Careers for the Music Business” and many industry books
John validated us, supported us: confirmed that we were not crazy for having these creative passions. And when he was asked what he wanted us to do for him, said, “Just Use What I Taught You.”
Sterling Howard – Musicians Contact
I would definitely remember John as a person who never shied away from any person’s question, he always answered very completely and with utmost interest. I remember the very first Songwriters Expo, it was held outside on the grounds of Sacred Heart, (or is it Immaculate Heart?), school at Western and Franklin in Hollywood, about 1977. Our booth was right next to the Music Connection booth, a magazine which had just started. I became friends with the owner of Music Connection, Eric Bettelli, and we have been best friends ever since. So without John, we may have never met!
Robert Miles – (Smokey AKA Count Smokula) songwriter-artist and interviewing Host
John was a wonderful, cheerful man who was always there to help out songwriters and give them knowledge and advice. I knew him from working at the Los Angeles Songwriters Showcase, which was my first job in LA selling advertising for the Musepaper. After that we kept in touch for many years. We’d jam together and hang out at the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market on Sundays. He was always ready to sit in and play his fiddle at many parties and jam sessions.
Jim Wilson-Guest Performer of the evening
I loved John and we had many spirited conversations about the craft of songwriting. He was an inspiration to me a beacon of integrity and a stellar example of what a life of selfless service looks like.
Dorian Holley-Guest Performer of the evening
I love that no matter your status, be it beginner or veteran with song placements, John and Len always had time to meet with you personally and give advice. They must have heard a billion horrible songs, but they were always encouraging and inspired people to go on. I have no doubt that relationships I formed at Songwriters Showcase led me to where I am today.
Harold Payne-Guest Performer of the evening
I met JB through his involvement with LASS. I would always receive one on one attention. If John heard you settle for an idea he would call it a settler and if he heard a truly original idea JB would say “that’s a pioneer!”
Please enjoy this beautiful tribute in celebration of Johns life with a video and song by Frances Gorman