Wagner Interview Show
note: transcribing an interview is tedious work and I got side tracked by other projects (new websites) and never polished it, but much of it is here, so better posting the rough form than nothing.....
Paul Wagner - Need Your Gentle Love (1973)
This is JD Doyle and you are listening to Queer Music Heritage, and that was a little bit of a song from an album that definitely has a place in our history. In the early 70s, 1973 in particular, openly gay singers were beginning to record songs with openly gay lyrics, and that artist was one of them. He's Paul Wagner and he along with just a handful of others, like Steven Grossman, Chris Robison and Michael Cohen, among the male singers, were some of the pioneers. I have been wanting to interview him for many years, but didn't know how to contact him, when then last month out of the blue he emailed me. I immediately requested an interview, and I am delighted to share it with you.
Paul, welcome to Queer Music Heritage.
Paul: Thank you. I'm honored to be here.
JD: Your solo album was released in 1973 and that it contains lyrically gay material and was one of the first to do so is what delights me that we can do this interview. But before we talk about that I know you had some recordings before that album and want to touch on that a little.
You had a single on the Scepter label, "In My Dreams Tonight" and "Seasons." Could you talk about that 45?
PW: Sure, I was signed to Scepter Records. Stan Greenburg heard my material, and Stan just really, really liked that song. He signed me up and we went into the studio. It was my first time ever in a recording facility of any kind, and we recorded it with a full band and with a full string section and keyboards and the whole deal, and they just wanted something for the b-side, and so I went and did an acoustic version of the song "Seasons." And it got released, and that was the beginning. I sang slightly flat on certain notes on "In My Dreams Tonight," but it really is a delight pop recording. I'm still proud of it.
Paul Wagner - In My Dreams Tonight (1972)
JD: And how did it do:
PW: It went absolutely nowhere. The publisher of the song reported to me that it was being played on a college radio station, and I went there to thank them, with some more copies of the single and they'd never heard of it. Yes, and that was the beginning of my having a youthful slow tantrum and leaving Scepter Records.
JD: Well, slightly in their defense, judging from the 45s charting around your 45, and people like BJ Thomas and Beverly Bremers, I figured yours was released around August of 1972, and the label then was on a definite decline.Their string of hits with the Shirelles, Dionne Warwick, BJ Thomas had pretty much run its course...
PW: That's right, they were desperate.
JD: They were probably scrambling to market material they already had by those artists and just try to keep going.
PW: Yes, and I was young and impatient and didn't understand the business, and did not understand that often single after single comes out, and people simple aren't interested, or that 17 other things are released that same week, and they get all the attention. I had no idea of any of that. I just felt that I had been misled, and not knowing anything about the business I was a fool, and I left Scepter Records. Not before though next recording two albums with my musical partner, my musical performing partner Mark Robinson. And we did two acoustic guitars, he on nylon string and me on steel string, and two voices and recorded two entire albums of either original material, some of Mark's and some of mine, or public domain material, things that had been out long enough that there were no extant copyright claims on them, like the old traditional song that Burl Ives did, called "The Fox" (sings) "oh the fox went down on a chilly night"...that one, and we did two albums of that stuff for a food company. I believe it was Sara Lee, although I'm not sure, who was going to use them as promotional products, free giveaways if people bought enough. For some reason that whole campaign fell apart. Those albums ended up in closets and under beds as well.
JD: I tracked them down.
PW: Have you gotten them yet?
JD: I've got them.
PW: Wow, wow.
JD: Do you have favorite tracks on them? By the way, they were called "Folk Songs for the Family" and "Alphabet Soup."
PW: That's right, and "Alphabet Soup" was Mark's song. That was an original song, I seem to remember.
JD: That was a good song, too. I liked it.
PW: Okay, you've listened to them. Again I only have a copy of one of them and don't even know what's on the other.
JD: "Whoopi-Ti-Yi-Yo" is also I think pretty good.
PW: That was my father's favorite song. (sings) "whoopi-ti-yi-yo, get along little doggies, it's your misfortune and none of my own." I still love that song, and my dad was a lovely person; couldn't wait to record that for him.
Paul Wagner & Mark Robinson - Whoopi-Ti-Yi-Yo (1972)
Warren Schatz was the producer of the album. He was a prominent producer in the 70s, and actually, still is a prominent producer and his work in the late 70's was quite different from your album, he put out disco recordings for such artists as Vicki Sue Robinson, Frankie Valli, Evelyn Champagne King and others. How did you get connected with him and what was working with him like?
Let's get to one of the songs from the album, tell me about "As a Friend."
Paul Wagner - As a Friend (1973) 3:06 OL
I want to hear about the Firehouse, tell people what that was and about that experience.
Was there a gay singer/songwriter community?
Who were the other gay singers you knew about? (Grossman, Robison)
The next song I'd like to hear about is another of the lyrically gay songs, "Meadows of Peace"
Paul Wagner - Meadows of Peace (1973) 3:56 OL
After we hear another song I want to talk about how the press reacted to the album. But first, at the opening of the show I teased my listeners with a bit of the song "Need Your Gentle Love." tell us about the song and then we'll hear all of it.
Paul Wagner - Need Your Gentle Love (1973) 3:47
In July of 1973 in Variety it said "here's a program of gay-oriented folk music, an honest, sincere program by this talented songwriter performer. In keeping with changes in attitude by many homosexuals these days, these tunes are serious, mostly of love and attempts for love."
In October of 1973 "After Dark" magazine said "Wagner's debut disc does include songs that deal with that special nature of homosexual love...however he does not propagandize and his creations are both melodic and pleasing."
And I've got one more, from the notorious Screw Magazine. They show a poster for the album that says "You Don't Have to be gay to love 'to be a man'"...that apparently amused them as they said that's what got them to mention the album, though they did have it in a section they called "Pansy Platters."
So, given all this, how was the album received? Any idea how many copies were sold? Did the album get you more gigs, and were they different kinds of gigs from before?
I want to mention that oddly I found very few mentions in the gay press, and the album had already been out a year at the time. Two were in The Advocate, in May of 1974, and the first one was quite long and positive, and a couple weeks later their regular music reviewer, Christopher Stone, got a hold of it and just hated it.
What song from the album got the most reaction?
You've told me your favorite on the album is "But I love You", talk about that one
Paul Wagner - But I Love You / To Be a Man (1973) 2:23, 2:28
PW QMH ID
You also heard the title track for Paul Wagner's album, "To Be a Man."
Talk about the song "I Don't Know"
Paul Wagner - I Don't Know (1973) 4:07 OL
Paul Wagner - And Now (1973) 3:15 fade up at 0:25, down at 2:12, leaving 1:35
That was a bit of the song "And Now."
I also gathered you weren't crazy about the recording, called "Micro-Man."
Kim Dorell - Micro-Man (1982) 5:17...can fade at 2:06
Trivia: the new producer, Sandy Stone, was the same engineer forced off the Olivia Records label in the early 1970's, as Stone was a transsexual and that did not set well with fans of the women-only label
Well, I have the 12" dance single and I agree with Paul. I prefer his original cassette single version, and thank him for sharing it with me. We have time for about half of it.
Kim Dorell - Micro-Man (1981)
Okay, we've been talking about the 70s and 80s, could you talk for just a moment about what have you been doing musically since then?
W12-thanking me 0:33
This is JD Doyle for Queer Music Heritage and I want to thank Paul Wagner for the interview and I love that he shed some light on the New York City Firehouse scene. I've got one more song to ask him about.
Paul Wagner - The One (1973) 3:40 OL
This is Paul Wagner and
you are listening to QMH
Judging from the 45s charting around it (BJ Thomas and Beverly Bremers) I figure your 45 was released around August of 1972, when the label was on a definite decline. The label's string of hits with the Shirelles, Dionne Warwick and BJ Thomas had pretty much run its course, and they may have been spending their marketing money to try to keep them going.
While with Scepter, Mark
Robinson, my musical partner in performing at the time (we played
A decade later, after
moving to California, I released a stereo cassette, at that time under
Michael Cohen: nope.
Found a couple songs of his on Youtube; doesn't set off
See, there was no gay
singer-songwriter "community." Gay entertainment at
And none of us knew each
other. I only knew Steve Grossman, who I met
There was no "scene"
we came out of. It wasn't a Judy/Joan/Dylan/Cohen
Nor did we have support.
While the entertainment-industry pros, like at
In short, this was avant-garde
stuff. For which no established community