Interview with songwriter Margo Guryan

Margo Guryan

In 1968, the world was introduced to Margo Guryan via her now legendary and sought after debut album Take A Picture. Little did the public know, she’d been writing songs for other artists for over 10 years prior. She continued to write throughout the 70′s, although mainly for other musicians. She eventually focused her energy on teaching. Originally from New York, Margo currently resides in Los Angeles. I recently had the extreme honor of speaking with Margo about her legacy.

You began playing piano as a child, where did the inspiration come from so early on in life?

The “inspiration” came from my parents deciding I was going to take piano lessons!  (They decide everything when you’re 5, 6-years-old.)

What was it about Jazz music that sparked your interest at such a young age?

No…just MUSIC. I was exposed to classical and pop and jazz, too. My father taught me “Tea For Two” (the melody, while he played the accompaniment). That was the first song I learned. Later, when I was given a record player, the first record he brought me was George Shearing’s East of the Sun. But my piano study was purely classical.

How old were you when you began composing your own songs?

Very young…8, 9, 10 perhaps. I was always encouraged to ‘make up’ poems for birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, etc. By the time I could make my way around the piano, words and music just seemed to go together.

In 1957, Chris Conner covered “Moon Ride” for Atlantic Records. Did you feel at this point that success as a songwriter was in your future?

I don’t know about “success”, but I did know that I wanted to be a songwriter. My heroes were Cole Porter, Rodgers and Hart/Hammerstein…the pros.

Artists such as Paul McCartney, Elton John, and Bob Dylan cite Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys as a truly significant album. For you, what makes the album so special?

I had fallen in love with Jazz (Miles Davis, Bill Evans, the MJQ, Gil Evans, etc.) and had not listened to pop music for quite a while. But when I heard Pet Sounds (specifically “God Only Knows”), I fell in love again! That song taught me that there was a way to write pop music that wasn’t inane. I listened to it over and over, turned off the record player, sat down at my Wurlitzer and wrote “Think of Rain”. Voila!

Take A Picture (1968)

In 1968 your album Take A Picture was released. Why the decision to not tour in support of the record?

I didn’t want to be a performer. I wanted to be a songwriter. Performing opens up too many avenues that I didn’t want to travel. You needed a manager, an agent, a lawyer, an accountant…people telling you what to wear, what to say, who to be. The whole thing just didn’t appeal to me.

Take A Picture is your one and only record. Was recording it simply your way of documenting the songs? Or perhaps a tribute to your new found appreciation for pop music?

When I was signed to April/Blackwood (a publishing company) by David Rosner, we discussed the production of demos…and decided to hire “good” singers .  The problem was: though these young ladies had lovely voices, they had no ‘time’.  They would round out my 3/4 measures to 4/4… completely destroying what I had written.  When it came to recording the demo for “Think of Rain”, we decided to try to get a decent vocal performance from me.  David came up with the idea of doubling my lead vocal.  That smoothed out imperfections in my range break and proved perfectly acceptable.

When David took this (and subsequent demos) to record companies , it ultimately came down to…”why don’t we record her?”  There were several interested labels and David decided on Bell Records.  So it was, in fact, a way of documenting the songs as I intended.

What was the public’s response upon its release?

I’d say there was no public response. The reviews were generally positive. There was a modicum of airplay, but not enough to reach a vast public.  In any case, there was so much good music at the time…so many excellent records that were receiving airplay…that when the promotion stopped, my record was barely heard.

25 Demos (2001)

By the time Take A Picture faded from the public eye, artists were still covering your songs, and you continued writing into the 70’s. When did you decide to make the switch from penning love songs to songs of a more political nature? (“Please Believe Me (A Watergate Love Story)” and “16 Words”.)

I never did “switch”;  I always wrote about whatever was uppermost in my mind.  At the same time as I wrote “Please Believe Me” (and “The Hum”, which was about the gap in the Nixon tapes), I also wrote “Hold Me Dancin’”, which was a love song of sorts (in a sort of disco genre).  “16 Words” was the only song completed from an aborted session that included other songs which were not political.  (Please don’t ask me what happened;  it was something of a disaster.  Many of those tracks still await completion.)

It’s been over 40 years since the release of Take A Picture. In 2000 the album was reissued. 2001 saw the release of 25 Demos, and in 2007 16 Words was released. Labels from the likes of Sundazed, Oglio, and Franklin Castle have reintroduced your music to a whole new audience. What are your thoughts on this new found recognition?

The original reissues emanated from Japan in 1999.  I was amazed that cds had emerged there (most prominently on Trattoria (a label owned by Cornelius, a Japanese pop star).  I am very grateful to the Japanese pop fans that generated this interest.

That was followed by a release on Siesta for Spain and Europe.  And finally, the American labels.  I remain amazed.  Everyone should be so lucky!

Brad Tilbe About Brad Tilbe

I am 35 years old. I was born and raised in Central New York. I currently reside in Seattle, WA.