the "rights" story
When you’re an author and you love to write – and doesn’t that just sum me up to a T – it’s tough signing on to the drudgery side of the publishing biz. Now, I’m not complaining, but my role in the last few days has been to play Inspector Clouseau and chase down the rights holders of lyrics and photos. If I thought my research skills were good before, I've really had to fall back on them for this endeavor.
You see, my publisher, Margot Wilson, insists that we have proper accreditation – as well as permission – from the companies or individuals who own various parts of Ruth Lowe’s creative life. This is for my newest book, “Until I Smile At You” which comes out in 2-3 weeks. Now, if you’re saying, “Who’s Ruth Lowe”, let me remind you that one of the 20th century's most enduring musical talents was a superstar whose astonishing story has never been told until now. Her song, “I’ll Never Smile Again”, dynamited Frank Sinatra's career into the stratosphere in 1940. It charted on Billboard for an unheard of 12 weeks, following which she went on to write Sinatra’s theme song, “Put Your Dreams Away” (in a humorous story which I recount in the book), as well as 50 other tunes for Broadway and Hollywood. As Nancy Sinatra writes in the book’s Foreword, "There’s a reason why 'I’ll Never Smile Again' has endured: it was a perfect song, interpreted by the perfect singer, at the perfect time.”
This is also the ideal time for a story like “Until I Smile At You”: the world is facing increased levels of stress and anxiety and having a positive, feel-good story of resilience like this is fitting.
Did you know that “I’ll Never Smile Again” has been recorded by more than 150 legends of jazz? And it’s still being recorded (I open the book in-studio, as famed Blood, Sweat & Tears singer David Clayton-Thomas records his own unique version). And in today's era of women claiming their full rights, consider that Ruth was one of the earliest liberated females who worked in a man's world and never let her gender, nor her attractive good looks, get in the way of her outstanding talent.
In Ruth Lowe, we are talking about a lady who’s been called “One of the Architects of the American Ballad”, she is the recipient of a Grammy Award, her songs have been inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame and she’s about to be added to the Great American Songbook Foundation Hall of Fame. And yet, no one has been privy to her life story until now. I was personally selected by her family to write the book.
One of the interesting features of “Until I Smile At You” is my interviews with such luminaries as Bernie Taupin (Elton John's lyricist for over 50 years), Sir Tim Rice (who writes lyrics for Andrew Lloyd Webber), Alan Bergman (who, with his wife Marilyn, has written award-winning songs for Barbra Streisand, Sinatra, etc.), David Clayton-Thomas (we join the famed Blood Sweat and Tears singer as he records "I'll Never Smile Again" himself), the late Frank Sinatra Jr., music historian Chuck Granata, Sinatra biographer James Kaplan, Nancy Sinatra, and others… all of whom cast a glow on Ruth’s talents. I also feature my talk with noted businessman/philanthropist Seymour Schulich who learned a lot at the beginning of his career from Ruth’s second husband.
But… I digress. Back to the issue of Margot loving my manuscript, yet starting to ask me questions… the kind that ensure we don’t end up being sued for using things without permission. Who knew that music publishing companies own the rights to “I’ll Never Smile Again” and “Put Your Dreams Away”? And who knew that various photographers own the rights to photos of Ruth and Frank and Tommy and Seymour (as in Schulich). So, it’s fallen on me to track down these organizations, do the research, and then negotiate for the best rates to use the lyrics and photos. And then nail down with them specific verbiage for accompanying each insertion.
It’s not been fun.
But the good news is, I’m almost done: I only have a day or two to go and we should have everything we need.
Man! It’s been a learning experience.
But who says ya can’t teach an ole dogs new tricks?
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