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Paul Wagner Interview Show
The Script / Transcript


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)

3 4:30
So, it doesn't appear there was much time between being on Scepter to your album on Trilogy.
As I said earlier your album was one of the very first to contain openly gay material. How did the people at the label react to that? Did anyone try to talk you out of recording song with gay lyrics?

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

W4 6:16
One of the things we emailed about and I'm delighted to have the chance to ask you about was the music scene in New York City when you started. You had been performing in clubs for a while, what kind of clubs were these?

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

W5 2:10
what was the reaction to the album? And I want to break that down, how did the gay public react and what was the reaction in general?

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

W6 4:08
I've seen several press clippings and reviews of the album and I was a bit surprised how very positive they were, being that album is openly gay. Yes, these were likely liberal magazines, but still, it was 1973 and 1974. I'll pull out some quotes:

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


You also heard the title track for Paul Wagner's album, "To Be a Man."

W7 1:44
This is kind of a trivia question that probably only I would think to ask, but there are two different album covers, one is more brown in color, with a different photo, which came first and why was there a second one?

Talk about the song "I Don't Know"

Paul Wagner - I Don't Know (1973) 4:07 OL

W8 0:42
In our emails another of the songs that you said you particularly liked was "And Now"

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."

W9 2:37
For my next question I want to jump temporarily to 1982 and a song you did that I wouldn't have known about before you told me, as it was under a different name. it was released as by Kim Dorell and it was a political commentary.

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)

W10 0:18
Kim Dorell - You Won't See Me (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
Any question I should ask that I didn't ask?

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.

W11 0:36
I've been saving for last the song that's my favorite on the album, and my listeners already know that I would pick one that's very out. It's called "The One," could you tell me about it.

Paul Wagner - The One (1973) 3:40 OL

This is Paul Wagner and you are listening to QMH

Before being with Trilogy Records, who did "To Be A Man," I was signed to Scepter Records (Scepter 12358, 1972). Had a 45 rpm single released, "In My Dreams Tonight," B-side titled "Seasons." Got no play.

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
coffee houses) and I recorded two albums, mostly of traditional folk songs (like the one Burl
Ives made famous, "The Fox (Went out on a Chilly Night)", and a few original songs as well.
They were supposed to be promotional products for a food company; perhaps Sara Lee; the
promotion got cancelled, and into the vault they went.

A decade later, after moving to California, I released a stereo cassette, at that time under the
stage name Kim Dorell, of a spoken-verse, sung-chorus song called "Micro-Man;" a political
commentary on the Reagan era; it got radio play in this region, got me signed to a company
called Oz Magical Music; they took it into the studio and added some kick drum - did a
miserable job of producing it - and released it as a 12" dance single. It got some play in NYC
clubs, SF clubs, but most of all, oddly, in the South - the Dixie Dance Kings, the DJ group,
loved it. I'm not particularly proud of it, but it's now apparently a collector's item, selling for
up to $64 with early type of CD in Asia. :)

Michael Cohen: nope. Found a couple songs of his on Youtube; doesn't set off
any memories. I DO get a memory-itch with the phrase "five of his songs also
appeared on the Folkways album" -- maybe I heard somebody talk about that
-- but neither his photo nor his songs seem at all familiar to me. And I have a
freakishly long auditory memory.

See, there was no gay singer-songwriter "community." Gay entertainment at
the time was drag shows, punctuated by comedians and the occasional lesbian
folk duo or trio. There WERE virtually no openly gay male singer-songwriters
or entertainers. We were a rarity.

And none of us knew each other. I only knew Steve Grossman, who I met
twice, because I drove in from NJ to the Firehouse having heard that he
was great-- which he was. I only met Chris Robison, once, because my guitar
teacher, John Sachs, invited me to an Elephants' Memory show. I hadn't
heard him before, and didn't see him other than him playing the same NYC
Pride rally I played at in '73 or '74 (film of which Vito Russo had, and is
probably with his estate).

There was no "scene" we came out of. It wasn't a Judy/Joan/Dylan/Cohen
thing. The few of us were more like groundhogs who stuck our heads up
out of the ground fifty miles from each other. We all arose separately. We
had no community.

Nor did we have support. While the entertainment-industry pros, like at
Variety and After Dark, saw what we were doing and boosted us, the
general glbt public wasn't all that interested, especially the older people,
who associated a night out with high-camp drag. They would complain
VERY loudly about "all this serious stuff" and "was THAT really the show?"
and the whole deal. Sometimes they'd even sit and very audibly insult
us, over and over again, WHILE we were playing.

In short, this was avant-garde stuff. For which no established community
existed. It was all new, all experimental, and all just groping forward one
foot at a time.