Thursday, December 6, 2012

Let's Put "Christmas Portrait" in the Top 100

Quite possibly the finest Christmas album of all-time. Karen Carpenter was born to sing Christmas music.

Today is the start of my campaign to get "Christmas Portrait" back on the charts and to peak even higher than it did in 2011. Way back in 1978 "Christmas Portrait" was on the charts and made it to #150 in the US and then in 2011 (an entire 33 years after it's release) the album reached a new peak position at #126. On the
Billboard chart for the week ending December 8, 2012  "Christmas Portrait" re-entered the chart at #147. The newest edition of the chart finds the album falling down to #171 (we've got our work cut out for us). This year (2012) the goal is to get the album into the Top 100. We can do it.

The way to get the album into the Top 100 is to purchase a brand new copy of the disc. If you're purchasing it from (which you will find links to amazon in this post) there are options to purchase it brand new directly from . You will find that new copy from Amazon in the box listed Formats. It will be listed in the first row which is listed as Amazon Price. It's either available as MP3 Music or Audio CD. Click on either one of those to make your purchase.

Sales of brand new CD or MP3 copies will put the album on the charts. Purchases of used copies will not help.

Please send this link to everyone you know so we can make a difference and get "Christmas Portrait" into the Top 100 this year.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

A Tribute to Merry Christmas Darling (2012)

It is now 2012 and we're still talking about Carpenters. Their music was timeless and Karen Carpenter was a singer for all times.

Karen Carpenter was born to sing Christmas music, that reality first materialized in 1970 with the release of "Merry Christmas Darling" and came full circle in 1978 when "Christmas Portrait" hit the stores.

This year a very special gift, in the way of a music video, was produced by Lee Arboreen for his significant other Robb Brawn. Robb Brawn is a lifelong Karen Carpenter/Carpenters fan and has even produced his own recordings of Carpenters songs most recently "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas".

The following video is Lee Arboreen's video tribute to the song "Merry Christmas Darling" as dedicated to Robb Brawn...

                      Thank you Lee and thank you Robb for this fantastic gift of the season!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Carpenters "Offering" album covers

Many big thanks go to Irene for offering these photos to Karen Carpenter Avenue and Karen Carpenter Magazine. Your generosity is much appreciated.

Released on October 9, 1969, "Offering" is the name of Carpenters' debut album. The album did not chart and sold only 18,000 copies. However there was one semi-hit single with the release of a ballad version of the Beatles' "Ticket To Ride" which reached #54 on the Billboard singles chart and remained on the chart for 12 weeks.

 Original album cover "Offering" 1969

The following are outtakes from the "Offering" photo shoot in 1969.
(Thank you again Irene for contributing these photos)

This set of photos show Karen and Richard in a rustic atmosphere. Suburban Southern California, the dusty fallen leaves, the stained cement. It's down very earthy.

After the success of the mega-hit "Close To You" A&M Records repackaged "Offering" with a new album cover and renamed it "Ticket To Ride". The reissued album has gone on to sell over 400,000 (in the US). Mint copies of the original "Offering" vinyl album are valued at $1,000 +.

Carpenters  - Ticket To Ride (1970)
The original 1969 recording of "Ticket To Ride".
In 1973 Carpenters rerecorded the song for inclusion on their mega-hit compilation "The Singles 1969-1973".

Carpenters - All I Can Do (1969)
(Rick Henry's favorite tune from the album)

Monday, October 15, 2012

Randy Schmidt: An Interview with a SuperFan

Randy Schmidt has had three books published (to date) relating to the music of Carpenters. His first book, "Yesterday Once More: Memories of the Carpenters and their Music" was a compilation of newspaper, magazine and book reviews and articles all put into one book. This collection was publisheded in 2000 and was a huge delight to all Carpenters fans. Eleven years later Schmidt released his prized work "Little Girl Blue: The Life of Karen Carpenter". Schmidt compiled data and interviews from Karen's friends and associates and wrote a compelling story attempting to tell the real story of Karen Carpenter. "Little Girl Blue" was a big success. Because of this success Schmidt decided to expand his first release "Yesterday Once More: Memories of the Carpenters and their Music" by adding several more articles to it. This new expanded issue is titled, "Yesterday Once More: The Carpenters Reader".

This interview gives us a nice insight into the workings of his books as well as an introduction into the person that Randy Schmidt is.

RH = Rick Henry, RS = Randy Schmidt

RH: In composing, compiling, editing and authoring these books have you ever felt like you were in any way entering the life of Karen Carpenter or maybe becoming part of Karen's soul?
RS: The Yesterday Once More book (YOM for short) was lots of research and digging and permission seeking, so it was not nearly the emotional journey of Little Girl Blue (LGB for short). For that project, there was something really special about the stories shared with me by Karen’s friends. Getting to know them and to witness the love they have for her nearly thirty years after she passed just goes to show what a special person Karen was. Karen was such a private person, though, so I don’t know that I felt I ever got to a soul level with her story. She didn’t let anyone get that close. Even Karen’s closest confidants were lied to and deceived, with no ill intent, of course, in her continued attempts to convince them she was okay. On some level, I feel she desired attention, but then she also just wanted to be left alone with her illness. I think she lived much of her life inside her head.
RH: "Little Girl Blue" was a touching tribute to Karen. A lot of it was very emotional and somewhat revealing to Karen's inner being. Did you ever become over emotional while working on this book?
RS: I certainly did get emotional from time to time. Imagine sitting in Frenda’s living room and hearing all this for the first time! I was numb with emotion that day. Witnessing Mike Curb, Olivia, Terry Ellis, and others choked up over “what might have been…” Those moments were so touching and at the same time I couldn’t believe I was on the receiving end of these deeply personal feelings. There were so many revelations in LGB and luckily for me they came sporadically. The tidbits of information were released by various interviewees over time, so I had time to digest the contents little by little. I was caught off guard by the emotional response of readers, but I guess I shouldn’t have been. It was the combination of all those tidbits that combined for an overwhelming amount of information. I realize now that sitting down and reading the book in a few hours or even over a few days often results in a truly heart-wrenching experience.
RH: What motivated you to write "Little Girl Blue"? Why did you see a need for this book?
RS: I’m reminded of a comment Karen would often make regarding her singing voice: “It just sorta happened!” After Yesterday Once More was published in 2000, I got the idea to do a children’s book about the Carpenters. I hoped to focus on their early musical influences, their experimentation with various instruments, attempts to get a record deal, and so on. The first person I interviewed was Debbie Cuticello, one of Karen’s childhood friends from New Haven. That children’s book project never really took shape, but the interview with Debbie proved to be the first of many I would do over the following years. The project took on many different shapes—from children’s book to a career retrospective to an oral history of the Carpenters’ music and recording sessions. But there came a time when I began to see a pattern in all of the research I’d been doing and especially in the responses of those I was interviewing. The common thread was Karen. And I am sure Richard struggles with this on a daily basis, but all I kept hearing was “Karen, Karen, Karen.” No joke. I don’t remember exactly what made the decision for me, but the focus shifted from the duo to just Karen, specifically. Of course you can’t tell her story without his and vice versa, but I began to realize that, even though she was one-half of a duo, Karen was important enough as an individual to warrant her own book. When considering a book proposal, one of the things publishers want to know is “what’s different” about this book. What sets this book apart from others on the same subject? There had never really been a KAREN Carpenter biography. I had so many unanswered questions after reading Ray Coleman’s book and seeing and hearing other accounts, so I knew other fans probably felt the same way. Richard wasn’t talking, so we weren’t going to get more of the story there. I had been secretly hoping Paul Grein would write the Carpenters bio that I wanted to read, but I finally took matters into my own hands, I guess you could say. I remember having dinner with Chris Tassin one night in early 2008 and telling him some of my thoughts and ideas. We went to a bookstore afterward and looked through lots of celebrity bios. I think it was that night that I knew it was going to happen. I left there ready to find a publisher for the project. 
RH: What was your most unusual or maybe funny experience during the process of collecting information/ conducting interviews to write "Little Girl Blue"?
RS: One that comes to mind is not necessarily funny, but it was certainly unusual. And frustrating for sure. I started trying to contact the Carpenters’ manager Sherwin Bash as early as 2002, I’d say. I sent an email here, left a phone message there, and the answer was always the same: “No!” And it wasn’t just “no,” at one point it was more of a “Hell, No!” He was not very kind or personable. At one point I was in contact with his daughter Randy Bash, but she wouldn’t talk and said her father didn’t want to either. I consider myself to be very tenacious, but I am not one to keep pushing to the point of making someone mad. I finally gave up. I’d discovered a nice interview Sherwin did with UK music writer John Tobler in 1990, so I ended up licensing that from him for Little Girl Blue. It wasn’t original to the project, but at least Bash’s thoughts and opinions would be included in some manner. Fast forward to 2010: A letter arrives at my home from Sherwin Bash saying, in so many words, “Why would you write a book about Karen Carpenter and not interview ME!?” I was dumbstruck. I responded, reminding him that he’d said “no” on numerous occasions, to which he replied saying I should have asked one MORE time! It was hilarious, in a way, but terribly frustrating. I responded again saying that I, of course, regret not having gone back to him again and told him I hoped he would consider granting an interview to help correct or append future editions of the book. His reply was “Too late!”
RH: What made you decide to expand upon "Yesterday Once More: Memories of the Carpenters and their Music" and release "Yesterday Once More; The Carpenters Reader" ?
RS: The original edition was much loved, but never received the distribution and attention I thought it deserved. After LGB was released and did so well, people started asking about YOM. I only had a few copies in my collection, Amazon sellers were pricing it over $100 since it was considered to be “rare,” but I wanted people to be able to find copies. I considered self-publishing the second edition, but first decided to send out book proposals to a few publishers I thought might give it a chance. As a last resort I took it to Chicago Review Press and basically explained the renewed interest in the book and that I planned to self-publish, but wanted to know if they’d have any interest. I’ve been told that LGB is their bestselling title to date, so I guess they figured that there might be enough residual interest from that book to carry another Carpenters title. I think they did a beautiful job with the new cover, layout, and everything else. They are a class act publisher. They really encouraged me to return to the roots of a lot of these articles, too, when we discovered a lot of the articles had been heavily edited and even shortened for the first edition, some with and some without my knowledge. It makes me really happy to know they’ve all been restored for this edition. I was also able to get rid of a few pieces that didn’t work well in the first printing and add a number of new pieces to this edition.
RH: Are there any plans for anymore books?
RS: There’s only one more Carpenters related book on my horizon, I guess you could say. That children’s book idea that started it all has finally developed into something pretty special. I hope to find a publisher that agrees, because I think it would be well received and something that would find a home in school libraries around the country. That manuscript is finished and just waiting for a chance. The success of LGB has opened up many other opportunities for other books, too. I am mostly into biographies and creative nonfiction at this point. My current project is tentatively called Through These Portals: Beryl Wallace and Earl Carroll’s Hollywood, and is the story of a beautiful showgirl, her impresario boss/lover, and their fascinating lives leading up to the couple’s tragic demise in a 1948 plane crash. It will be an illustrated history with 175-200 photos. A lot of people know of the legendary Earl Carroll Theatre on Sunset in Hollywood. It’s since been the Moulin Rouge, the Aquarius Theatre, and others, and it’s now known as Nickelodeon on Sunset where they tape shows like iCarly and Victorious. It’s a pretty fascinating and previously untold chapter of Hollywood history and I am so grateful to be working with members of the families of both Beryl and Earl.

RH: What was the first song you that really caught your attention?

RS: I’d have to say “Rainy Days and Mondays,” only because it was the opening title for the CBS TV movie The Karen Carpenter Story. I was 13 when I watched it and fell in love with Karen’s voice at first listen. I know there were some Carpenters songs buried deep inside somewhere, but that was the first time it really clicked. Instant connection. The “cry” in her voice appealed to me and there was a sense of longing that even a teenage kid could detect with ease. I felt from that moment that she was singing only for me. Little did I know that she had that effect on nearly every Carpenters fan!

RH: Which five Carpenters songs are your "desert island" songs?

RS: In no particular order, I’d have to say:

Superstar, Only Yesterday, Road Ode, I Can’t Make Music, Now

RH: If you could choose one Carpenters album which would you say is the closest to perfect?

RS: A Song for You, with Lovelines running a close second (though made up of various outtakes, it’s a really cohesive album).
RH: I ask every fan I interview about Karen's solo album. I feel it's one of the most important albums in the entire output of Carpenters/Carpenters related music.
Had the album been released in 1980 do you think it would have changed the way people viewed Karen Carpenter? 

RS: I think it might have given her a bit more edge than she’d had in the past. I do NOT think it would have done anything to tarnish her image or reputation.

RH: Do you think her solo album may have helped or hindered sales of subsequent Carpenters albums?

RS: If anything it would have helped. By 1980, the Carpenters’ albums were not selling like they did even five years earlier. It would have surely garnered more attention and sales than
Passage and Made in America. It would have at least had people talking.

RH: Do you think the album would have changed Karen's course of life in anyway? If so how?

RS: I have said this before, but I firmly believe that Karen’s whirlwind romance with Tom Burris was a rebound from the disappointment and eventual shelving of the solo album. Had she been releasing and promoting an album in the spring of 1980, she would not have had time to devote to that relationship. In that manner, I do feel it would have changed the course of her life in a very big way. Also, I wish she’d stood up to Richard and the folks at A&M. Herb Alpert never liked their A Kind of Hush album, but it wasn’t stopped. There wasn’t pressure to go back and redo everything. It was terribly crushing for Karen to have this album—her most personal, creative product ever—deemed unworthy of release. Her friends told me she never fully trusted Richard after that. Their relationship was damaged and you can sense the tension in the interviews they did together for Made in America.

RH: Lastly is there any one of two... maybe three Carpenters tunes which hold a special memory for you?

RS: “Don’t Be Afraid” was one of my first favorite Carpenters songs and I remember singing it as a solo at a junior high choir concert. I sure hope no recordings exist! Other than that, I think “Tryin’ to Get the Feeling Again” gets to me because I remember hearing that for the first time in a record store in 1994, I believe. I ran across the Interpretations CD by accident. I didn’t even know it was out. I took the CD to the listening station and was moved to tears. I am not much of a crier, but another one that really hit me hard was “And When He Smiles.” It was another “surprise” song that I didn’t know even existed until I was face to face with it. The youthful spirit of innocence in Karen’s voice and the looks of optimism on her face in the BBC footage were chilling. 
Carpenters - Interpretations

RH: In ten words or less tell me, who are you?
RS: Dad of two, partner of one, and creative music lover

RH: What makes you happier than anything else in life? 

RS: Seeing my daughters happy and smiling and enjoying life. They love music, too, so I love to see them enjoying music of all genres. They both have beautiful singing voices, too.

RH: How old are your girls? Do they sing any Carpenters tunes?
RS: The girls are 13 and 8. They have been surrounded by Carpenters tunes since birth, of course, and sing along just about any time I play their songs, but they have their own tastes in music. My eight year old loves "Top of the World" and "If I Had You."

RH: Outside of your family is there an elder person in your life that you really look up to?

RS: Frank Pooler is one of my idols. He’s become a bit of a mentor. I only wish we lived in closer proximity to one another so I could really spend time learning from him and absorb some of that creativity and energy. He’s such a kindhearted man and I really admire the relationships he maintains with his former students. It says a lot about him as a person and educator. There’s something, too, about the bond between singers and their conductor. It’s a very intimate, emotional thing to make music with others and when you work with someone like Frank, I imagine you can’t help but fall under his spell.

RH: In which way is Frank Pooler a mentor to you?
RS: It's completely unofficial, of course, but we've sat down at length and discussed music education, choral singing, and so on. He recommends various books and passes along links to songs and recordings he thinks I might enjoy. He's really like a music educator idol for me and he's willing to share anything and everything, the greatest being his knowledge. He's such a fascinating man!

RH: Care to share any embarrassing or humorous happenings in your life?
RS: Where do I begin!? During a trip to Los Angeles I went hunting for the Brady Bunch house. I finally found it but as I turned the corner I was so fascinated I wasn’t paying close attention and ran the car up onto the sidewalk. It blew out a tire on the rental car!

RH: What would you say are the 3 biggest achievements in your life?

RS: 1. Being the father of two beautiful girls
       2. Authoring Little Girl Blue and seeing it go above and beyond my wildest dreams
       3. Figuring out that I don’t have to be who I thought everybody else wanted me to be. It’s ok being me!

RH: Who or what has/have played the biggest role(s) in the shaping of your achieving of goals?

RS: My grandma Margie was a huge influence on my love for music during my formative years. I miss her so much and wish she  could have stuck around long enough to see all this. She would have thrilled.

RH: One thing I really appreciate about you is your sense of outspokenness. I haven't met you personally, but you seem comfortable at intelligently speaking up for what you believe, what you like and what you do. What drives this attribute of your personality?

RS: I came to a point in my life around the age of 30 where I had to stop living the life I’d been prescribed and start living the life I was always meant to live. I’ve always been such a people pleaser, so it used to really upset me to think I’d hurt or disappointed someone. But as it turns out, most people appreciate honesty and authenticity more than they do facades.

RH: Randy, I want to thank you for taking the time to do this interview. I also thank you very much for the three books you have released so far. All three of them have been valuable additions to my library.
RS: Thank you! It’s such a pleasure to visit with you. What a great discussion!

 Chris Tassin and Randy Schmidt
Click here to read the Chris Tassin Interview

  CJ, Debbie Cuticello, Randy Schmidt, Carol DeFellippo,
 Frank Bonito (l to r)

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Carpenters / Karen Carpenter Memorabilia

Check out these wonderful collectible Carpenters / Karen Carpenter items...

This stunning picture of Karen Carpenter was taken in 1977. This is a beautiful 8" x 10" poster print.

Keep this classic 1971 image of Karen near your computer as you perform your daily tasks.

Another fantastic book release from Randy Schmidt. This is the revised and expanded edition of "Yesterday Once: Memories of the Carpenters and their Music".

Released in 2003. This rare and valuable Japanese issued single includes the classic version of "Top Of The World" as well as karaoke versions of "Top Of The World" and "Sing".

Sharp looking decal looks great anywhere. 

This smart set includes ten premium guitar picks featuring photos of Karen and Richard from various points in their career. Accompanied with a great looking round shaped tin with Carpenters logo.

Ten fantastic premium guitar picks containing much loved photos of Karen and Richard Carpenter. These ten guitar picks are attached to a stunning photo card backing (as seen in the picture above). Nice gift item for the die-hard Carpenters fan.

Outstanding live performance from Carpenters' 1974 tour of Japan. This is a must get for every Carpenters fan. Includes Japanese sung version of "Sing" and a rollicking rendition of "Leader of the Pack".

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Retooled, Updated and Renewed: online with Carpenters

On December 29, 2011 I premiered my new website called "online with Carpenters". It was designed in a magazine style. After about six months I just was not happy with the site. It just was not very user friendly. I decided to rework the site and update it.

The newly retooled, reworked site debuted on the internet on June 14, 2012 to very positive reviews from fans and friends. CLICK HERE to visit online with Carpenters

Please check out the new site, I really enjoyed putting it together.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Chris Tassin: The Artist that Drew Karen Carpenter

Almost every diehard fan of Carpenters/Karen Carpenter has seen Chris Tassin’s artwork. You may not have realized that it’s Chris’ work but certainly at one time or another you’ve seen one of his works floating around the internet.

Chris is a wonderfully accomplished artist who has been drawing since a very young age. His portraits are finely detailed and are realistically lifelike. It is with his portraits of Karen Carpenter that Chris has come to worldwide acclaim.

I have the honor of sharing this interview with Chris with you the fans of Carpenters and Karen Carpenter. This is the first in my interview series of Carpenters Superfans.
- Rick Henry

 RH = Rick Henry, CT = Chris Tassin

RH: When did you first start drawing? What were your first ever works of art? How old were you?

CT: There were some drawings that my mother showed me recently from when I was 4 years old.  They were mostly nativity scenes, which I suppose was not much of a surprise, considering how much I loved the Christmas season. I enjoyed drawing throughout in my childhood and started putting larger amounts of time into art projects in my early teens.

RH: What or who inspired you to become an artist?

CT: My mother used to paint when I was very young. Her vision and love for her projects was wonderful to be around. She inspired me, particularly when she used to design and paint elaborate Christmas displays for outside our house. She and my dad made my early holidays visually memorable.

RH:Who are your favorite artists? Do you favor a certain type of art/painting/drawing?

CT: There are so many types of art I love, but portraits have always fascinated me. It's almost as if there is some type of energy or extra something inside a painting or drawing of a person. At the very least, it usually makes me reflect. It's a nice way to pay tribute and honor someone as well. Some of my favorite artists, particularly known for their portraits, include Richard Amsel and John Singer Sargent. Modern and abstract art are some of my favorites as well.  Pure, vibrant colors have always appealed to me. The entire spectrum of colors is one of the most beautiful things in this existence.  When one color is positioned or seen next to another, it makes it stand out all the more. We can appreciate its uniqueness.

RH: How did you learn to draw/paint? Did you take any art classes?

CT: Enjoying it and drawing the things I loved, helped me learn. Drawing is like most things in that the more you do it, the more you develop and progress.  I learned mostly through practice and being inspired by other artists.  I had a couple of art classes in high school and then two years of commercial art school. Since I saw my mother drawing and painting when I was young, I would ask her things like, "How do you draw an eye?".  She would give some guidance, but I realized later it was through my own practicing that I would come closer to what I was trying to achieve.

RH: Your mother sounds like a wonderful person.

CT: She's a very warmhearted person and cared about making things beautiful for everyone. I'm grateful for her always.

RH: How long does a portrait generally take you to complete? When working on a portrait is it all consuming or do you work on it a little bit at a time with breaks in between?

CT: The time spent on a portrait varies, but I usually complete them within a few weeks to several months for the larger or more involved ones. Most of them were done in colored pencil which is a medium can take large amounts of time. Once I'm into the process it can consume me, but I do take breaks that vary in length.

RH: Do you have a particular method of drawing/painting? Such as do you have a special room or a special set-up.

CT: For a long time I had no set-up. It's not something I had ever taken the time to prepare for whatever reason, but I should have. About ten years ago I finally got a drawing table which is very helpful.  Before that it was table tops, the floor, and walls.  When doing a portrait, after getting the general outline done, I always do the eyes first and work from there.

RH: Tell me a little about your first (or first few) Carpenters/Karen Carpenter drawings? When did you first draw a portrait of Karen? What inspired you to draw Karen Carpenter?

CT: Being a young child in the 70's, hearing all the great sounds on pop radio, the Carpenters music stood out to me the most.  I remember hearing "Yesterday Once More" often and being so captivated by it. I had no idea who the lady singing was, but her story about listening to the radio waiting for her favorite songs and how today seemed "rather sad", affected me.  Hearing the Carpenters sound and her voice saturate the airwaves over the years, I realized how special they were.  Up to the point of Karen's death, even though I loved their music, I was what you would consider more of a casual fan. I only owned a Greatest Hits album set that I treasured, and the Christmas album. I was in my junior year of high school on February 4, 1983, the day that Karen passed.  I'll never forget hearing the news after classes that day. I realized in that moment what a great loss it was and I was filled with thoughts of her.  I immediately felt compelled to draw her portrait and began on it the day after. Discovering more of who Karen was and becoming more in awe of her one-of-a-kind voice, warm and funny personality, and her genuine quality, touched me deeply. It continued to inspire me to render her lovely image through the years.  I consider her an angelic friend as I know she continues to be a friend to all who love her and the gifts she brought with her brother Richard Carpenter.  

RH: Do you have a particular favorite drawing of Karen? What makes it your favorite?

CT: The colored pencil portrait of Karen that I remember working on the most, was in 1993, when I did one of the solo poses of her curled up in the big violet chair. While it's not a very original piece at all, because it's almost exactly as it is in the wonderful original photograph, it was a favorite and the one that challenged me the most. The artwork is a large piece, measuring 30" x 30".  I went through so many violet colored pencils.  But it was that subtle, gentle smile on her face that was difficult to render.  Since it's a favorite pose of many fans, most are familiar with that closed mouth, relaxed soft smile she has in that shot.  Even with the control of a pencil, it was much harder to get it to look natural than I thought it would be. At one point I erased the entire mouth.  The waxy texture of a Prismacolor colored pencil is difficult, if not impossible to erase.  It tore away some of the surface of the illustration board.  This really disappointed me as I thought the piece was ruined and I'd spent so much time on it.  The rest of her face was all done and her eyes were especially pleasing.  I put it away out of frustration and left it alone in fear I'd make it worse.  About a year later when I was relaxed and ready to attempt the mouth again, I carefully took the time to gently lay in the colors again and it turned out fairly well.  It was a nice surprise to see that I could salvage it.
Another favorite of mine would be the more recent black and white pencil drawing I did in 2009 for the biography, "Little Girl Blue: The Life of Karen Carpenter".  It's a piece that I was asked by Randy Schmidt to create and it's one of my more original drawings of Karen, inspired by her 1975 look.

RH: Before we continue with this video I'd like to share a few other drawings Chris has done, outside of his Karen Carpenter/Carpenters work.

 Trumpeter, Al Hirt

RH: You did such an outstanding job on the "If I Had You" video. What inspired you to create this?

CT: Thank you.  That video was fun to put together.  It's a great song and one of my favorites. I felt it would work well with that sort of quick cut, fast moving visual treatment.  Karen's solo work, particularly on "If I Had You", had such a sophisticated, modern sound. It's sad that she never got to make any promo videos for her album. I felt that in putting the video together, it would be my tribute to her, along with helping expose this great recording to more people.

RH:  It worked. Your video has near 443,000, which is an amazing feat. The HD version has an additional 32,000 views. You must be proud.

CT: I'm happy it's been well received and enjoyed! It's especially fun to read comments from those hearing the song for the first time. They are impressed by this edgier side of Karen and love her performance. It was a thrill and a surprise when Larry Herbstritt, one of the writers of the song, commented, "As I sit here fighting back the tears, I feel such appreciation for this lovely video. I miss Karen and wish we all could have her back again."

RH: I did an interview with Larry. He’s a nice guy and extremely talented.

RH: What type of software or editing tools did you use for the video?

CT: Photoshop was used for editing the images and then iMovie to put the video together.

RH: aha, you’ll have to teach me how to use iMovie.

RH: How many images of Karen were involved? Did you have to draw multiple images of the same pose in order to create the somewhat moving image of Karen toward the end?

CT: I'm not sure how many images were used.  As far as Karen moving toward the end, I just took frames of her from “Music, Music, Music” and edited the background.

RH: How long did it take you to create the video?

CT: It took a month or two to complete, working on it a few hours here and there most days.

RH: What was your biggest challenge in completing it?

CT: The biggest challenge was having it timed correctly. I wanted to keep most of the images changing on the beat during the chorus, and following the words on screen during certain portions.  The program used for building the video gave a little trouble near completion. It wouldn't export it to a movie file, but after shifting around some of the images, it worked out.

RH: Will you do another Karen Carpenter music video? I'd like to see one for "Guess I Just Lost My Head".

CT: There have been a few ideas in my mind for videos of other songs. "Guess I Just Lost My Head" would be a good one. There have been a few things delaying me in doing so. Finding the time is one.  Another is that the ideas I have envisioned will take more learning on my part and different computer programs.  Finally, there is the fact that I've already used most of the Karen solo images available to us on the first video.  I suppose if they were used in a different treatment and style, some could be used again and still seem fresh.

RH: Now on to your views about the music...

RH: When did you first hear Karen's voice? What was your response?

CT: My earliest memory of taking notice of Karen's singing was hearing "Yesterday Once More" on the radio when I was seven years old.  She sang in a way that I believed every word. I thought she was telling her own personal story. The song haunted me. No other singer grabbed my attention like she did. 

RH: I like how you say that you felt as though Karen was telling her own personal story. I agree, she really had a way of making each song feel like it was her life story. I feel that most when I hear the song “Road Ode”.

RH: What was the first Carpenters record you purchased?

CT: The first ones I ever purchased were singles of "Yesterday Once More" and "Sing".  Later on I found the double LP compilation set of "The Carpenters Collection" in a nearby record store in the late 70's. I was so happy. Not only did it contain the hits, but it was the first time I heard certain album cuts that were included. The cover had one of those beautiful photos of Karen and Richard from the 1977 photo sessions. Karen was so pretty with those big, brown eyes and lovely, bright smile.

RH: Do you have a favorite Carpenters song? Favorite album?

CT: As anyone who loves the Carpenters knows, it's really hard to pick a favorite song! I guess my all time favorite classic still has to be, "Yesterday Once More".  I'm still in awe of it in every way.. her performance, the poignant lyrics, the harmonies, that gorgeous bittersweet melody.  Richard Carpenter, John Bettis, and Karen's talents combined to create a classic full of longing and memories.  It was the perfect recording for the airwaves. It was about radio, the songs we love, and our reaction to them. Its style and sound was a tribute to classic pop.
My favorite album is a tie between "Horizon" and "Christmas Portrait".  I feel the way so many do about "Horizon".  It's the Carpenters at their finest. There are so many incredible performances on that record.  Karen is at her most divine on "Solitaire", the incredible "Only Yesterday", and the exquisite "I Can Dream Can't I".  The Christmas album is my other great love.  No one can sing a Christmas song like Karen.  Her voice is the very sound of the season and all it brings. It is the voice of an angel.

RH: Boy, do I ever agree with you on that Karen is the true “Voice of an Angel”.

                                          Carpenters - Horizon (1975)

                                         Carpenters - Christmas Portrait (1978)

RH: Where were you when you heard of Karen's passing? What were your feelings?

CT: My sister had picked me up from high school that day.  Not long after I got into her car, she started out with, "Chris, Karen Carpenter of the Carpenters..."  Before she was able to complete the sentence, I knew somehow what she was about to say.  I remember immediately acknowledging to myself that she had died. Then my sister continued, "..she died today. The news on the radio says she had a heart attack." My heart sank. My response was, "She was my favorite."  My sister said, "I thought Olivia was your favorite."  "No", I said, "Karen was." I was deeply saddened by the news.  I didn't know much about Karen at that time other than having loved her voice on the radio since I was a boy, and playing the couple of Carpenters albums I owned. I had only seen very few photos of her up to that point. For some odd reason, I'd even managed to miss all of the Carpenters TV appearances while I was growing up. I just knew that something significant had happened in the loss of Karen. I remember having thoughts like, "She was too good to be true."  She had such a rare quality, not only in the sound of her voice, but in the feelings that came through her voice. She was just like a beautiful breeze that touches you and then it's gone.

RH: Wow, Chris that was beautifully worded. You really have a way with words.

RH: What was your reaction when you first heard Karen's solo album?

CT: First hearing Karen's solo album was both an exciting and bittersweet experience. I loved most of it and was surprised by some of it because it was so different from her previous work. I remember being particularly impressed by "Guess I Just Lost My Head", "All Because Of You", and her great take on, "Still Crazy After All These Years".  I was so glad when it was finally released on CD in 1996. The cover image, while one of my favorite photos of Karen ever, is not very pleasing in terms of its treatment. It's too bad they didn't go with the originally planned color stylings of her photographs. I'm guessing that the thinking was to do a different look on the cover photo in '96 because it was being released so many years after the fact. The face looks washed out. I realize it was a design choice, but I just wish more care would have been given to it. She was so beautiful in that solo shoot.  She deserved better. Well, at least the folks at A&M were consistent. They gave her a lackluster treatment till the very end.

RH: You are so right. It’s too bad that A&M did not put more care into Karen’s (and Richard’s) image. Even more they should have given Karen more opportunity to voice who she was and what she wanted to record.

RH: Do you have a favorite song from her album?

CT: As much as I adore both "If I Had You" and "If We Try", my favorite has to be her solo version of "Make Believe It's Your First Time". When I first heard it, I was in awe. I had always thought the Carpenters' version was nice, but it was not a favorite of mine. For the first time, I found myself loving the song. The solo version is so intimate and her performance is heartbreakingly beautiful.  I feel that the arrangement is better overall and the soft solo piano that begins and ends the song is gorgeous. I miss the bridge that was later added to the Carpenters version, but other than that, the solo recording of it is perfection.

RH: I’m with you on “Make Believe It’s Your First Time”. I was never much for the Carpenters version, which showed up on “Voice of the Heart”, but Karen’s solo version is pure magic. It’s one of several songs from her solo album, which I feel had hit potential.

RH: What are your views on the shelving of her album?

CT: Karen's album should have been released at the time. We'll never know if it would have changed the ending of her story, but at the very least it would have been a celebrated event and a highlight in her career. She and her legacy deserved that. Karen was far too huge a talent not to have put out solo records. Had it been released in 1980, I feel that the solo album would be even more treasured by her fans than it is now.  While not everything on the album was top-notch, the rest of it was far too good to keep it under wraps. They had the greatest female voice in the world in their hands.  If there were certain tracks they were less than pleased with, they should have paid *her* to record more songs instead of the other way around. It's simply criminal and very sad that she was not supported.

RH: Do you think any of the songs on her solo album could have been a hit in 1980? Which one song do you think would have been best for a single release?

CT: It's hard to say for sure, but "Making Love In the Afternoon" sounds like a hit to me. Another strong one is, "If I Had You".  When it was released as a single in 1989, it was encouraging to see it go to number 18 on the Adult Contemporary chart. I heard it often on light rock radio stations, which was exciting. One time after it was played, I remember hearing a DJ say, "That was the late, great Karen Carpenter with 'If I Had You'.. that is HOT!!"

RH: And that’s it Chris, Karen Carpenter was just simply sizzling HOT! And your portraits of her capture that essence completely.

RH: I thank you Chris for your time and I have really enjoyed sharing this time with you and coming to learn a little more about. I wish the very best for you in all your endeavors. I hope to one day see that video for “Guess I Just Lost My Head”, that in my mind is one HOT song!

Chris Tassin with one of his masterpieces

A few more drawings by Chris Tassin: 

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Karen Carpenter was a "Downey Girl" (A song written by Dave Alvin)

The song “Downey Girl” is an ode to Karen Carpenter, written and performed by Dave Alvin. The song is tender and simple. The emotion with which Alvin conveys the song is honest and soulful. Best of all, the melody stays with you and grows on you as you hum it’s refrain. I think this is a song Karen Carpenter would have liked had she been around to hear it.

Dave Alvin (2009)

 One of the most compelling parts of the song is the dobro played by steel guitar master Greg Leisz. This made me think of the Carpenters song “Two Sides”, which contains some excellent steel guitar work by Jay Dee Maness.

“Downey Girl” was released in 2009 on the album “Dave Alvin and The Guilty Women”. With this album, the Downey, CA born Alvin reached back to the experiences of his youth to for inspiration in writing these songs. In the song “Nana and Jimi”, Alvin writes about how his mom dropped him off at a Jimi Hendrix concert when he was 12 years old.

Dave Alvin got his start in music in 1979 when he and his older brother Phil formed the band The Blasters. They performed a unique blend of roots rock, alternative country, rockabilly, blues and punk rock. Alvin left the Blasters in 1986 to pursue a solo career and also worked with punk band X on their “See How We Are” album. He also recorded with The Knitters, The Flesheaters and The Gun Club.

In the lyrics for “Downey Girl”, Dave Alvin mentions that Karen had the “voice of an Angel”. One of the most emotive parts of the song is when Dave sings, “No one in our whole town, knew anything was wrong,” this obviously is a direct reference to Karen’s battle with anorexia. In the song Dave sings, “Well I never liked her music”, which echoes a sentiment that was shared by many during the 70’s. In their heyday it was uncool to admit you liked Carpenters, even though their records sold millions around the world. Near the end of the song Dave sings, “And I can feel a little pride, when people say her name”, with this line Dave Alvin sums up his tribute to the girl with the golden voice almost in the same way one would look upon the amber waves of golden grain.

Downey Girl (lyrics written by Dave Alvin)
There was once a young girl
Lived in my hometown
She became a star the whole world round

With the Voice of an Angel
Singin’ sweet suburban songs
No one in our whole town knew anything was wrong
She was a Downey Girl
She was a Downey Girl

Well I never liked her music
I never saw her hangin’ round
And I never said nothin’ when people put her down.

Now that I’m older
I can understand her pain
And I can feel a little pride
When people say her name
Cuz she was a Downey Girl
Cuz she was a Downey Girl

Now I’m on the highway
A thousand years from my hometown
Missing friends and family who are no longer around
Then I hear her sing
On the car radio
A sweet suburban song from a long time ago
And I think about her sadness
And I think about her pain
And for a few sweet minutes
I’m back home again
She was a Downey Girl
She was a Downey Girl

 Karen Carpenter with date at the Downey High School Prom (she was a Downey Girl)