Ramblin' Rhodes: Hamlisch almost performed in Augusta

Conductor and award-winning cmposer Marvin Hamlisch wrote The Way We Were, which was a hit for singer Barbra Streisand. They were photographed at the Cedars-Sinai Board of Governors Gala in November 2011 in Beverly Hills, Calif. Hamlisch, 68, died Aug. 6.

The recent death of Oscar- and Grammy-winning composer Marvin Hamlisch reminded me of a phone interview with him for an Augusta concert that never happened.


Hamlisch had been booked to perform in April of 1987 with the Augusta Symphony in what is now James Brown Arena.

But almost the same day my article was published in The Chronicle, the symphony announced the concert was being postponed because Hamlisch was sick.

It never was rescheduled, and I always suspected poor advance ticket sales was the real culprit that changed his plans.

Nevertheless, I had a great phone conversation with Hamlisch telling me some cool stories about his life.

Hamlisch’s rich musical legacy includes themes and scores for hit movies and Broadway shows, television show themes and such hit singles that he wrote or co-wrote including Break It To Me Gently, The Way We Were, Downtown, Nobody Does It Better, Looking Through the Eyes of Love, Needles and Pins and What I Did For Love.

His parents immigrated to America from Vienna, Austria. His father was an accordion player. His mother was a housewife. He began taking music lessons at 6 and was admitted to the prestigious Juilliard School of Music when he was 7.

He had an amazing career built largely on being at the right place at the right time.

In our phone conversation, Hamlisch told me that he got his first big show business break at 20 while working on a music composition degree at Queens College in New York.

It came from, of all people, his ear, nose and throat doctor, who also was taking care of composer and music producer Quincy Jones.

“Jones told Dr. (Lester) Coleman that he was looking for a song for (’60s rock singer) Leslie Gore to sing in a film while riding on a bus, and Dr. Coleman told me about it,” Hamlisch said. “I got together with Howard Lebling and came up with Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows.”

Gore’s recording of the song stayed on Billboard magazine’s Top 100 charts for 11 weeks and established Hamlisch as a hit songwriter.

Hamlisch told me that three years after that he was hired to play piano for a party given by movie producer Sam Spiegel. He learned Spiegel needed a musical score for his new Burt Lancaster movie The Swimmer. Hamlisch got the job.

Through television producer Bob Shanks, Hamlisch scored two more big hits.

“I got off the elevator on the bottom floor of the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills and television producer Bob Shanks recognized me,” Hamlisch said.

“He told me that ABC was going to have a morning program, and he asked if I possibly would consider writing the theme. I went home and wrote the kind of music I would like to wake up to, and it’s still being used by ABC 11 years later,” he said.

Shanks became the producer for a new morning show on CBS, and Hamlisch got the job of writing the theme music for it also.


LOOKING FOR GEORGIA MOUNTAIN BOYS: Veronica Carranco e-mailed me that her mother recently told her that her grandparents, Joe and Elease Smith, toured as the Georgia Mountain Boys opening shows for Carl Smith, Grandpa Jones, Minnie Pearl, Johnny Cash and other entertainers.

All she knows is the band had a Louis Brady on fiddle and this band played all over Georgia and the Carolinas probably in the 1940s and 1950s. Anyone with more information on the band please let me know and I will pass it on to Carranco.


NEW RICKY SKAGGS ALBUM: When Ricky Skaggs returns to the Imperial Theater with his Kentucky Thunder band at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 14, he more than likely with have copies of his new CD Music To My Years on Skaggs Family Records for sale.

The official release date for the CD is Sept. 25.

Skaggs’ guest artist on the CD track Soldier’s Son is none other than Bee Gees surviving singer Barry Gibb, who on July 27 was Skaggs’ guest on the Grand Ole Opry. The two performed When The Roses Bloom Again.

Also new on the CD is the new composition Tennessee Stud – Tribute to Doc Watson in honor of the North Carolina singer and guitarist who died in May.

Just last week, on Aug. 14, Skaggs was inducted into the Gospel Music Association’s Hall of Fame.

Tickets for the Sept. 14 show launching the Morris Museum of Art’s 2012-13 Budweiser Southern Soul & Song series are $13, $19 and $24. Series tickets are also available. Call the box office at (706) 722-8341 or buy online at imperialtheatre.com.