A Harry Nilsson documentary!

This has NOTHING to do with LOUIE LOUIE, but I figured anyone that appreciates good music documentaries will appreciate this information.

Harry Nilsson publicity photoThanks to the good folks at Spectropop, I just found out a new documentary on singer-songwriter Harry Nilsson. This film will be called “Who is Harry Nilsson (And Why is Everybody Talkin’ About Him?)”

Harry Nilsson was a super-talented musician that received a lot of attention in 1968 when the Beatles declared Nilsson their favorite American musician. Once a night-shift manager for a bank while recording music during the day, Harry eventually quit his regular job to devote more time to music, writing songs that would be recorded by Phil Spector, the Monkees, Glen Campbell, Fred Astaire, and The Yardbirds, to name a few.

Harry won a Grammy for his recording of Fred Neil’s “Everybody’s Talking,” which was used in the soundtrack for the Academy Award-winning motion picture “Midnight Cowboy” starring Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight. His composition “One” became a major hit for Three Dog Night, and he found himself writing the theme song for the TV show “Courtship of Eddie’s Father.”

Harry even created a soundtrack for one of the silliest psychedelic movies of the 1960s, a comedy entitled “Skidoo” directed by Otto Preminger, featuring Groucho Marx in his final movie role, playing a mafia godfather (“God” for short), and lot of other name actors, including Jackie Gleason, Carol Channing, Cesar Romero, Frankie Avalon, Peter Lawford, Burgess Meredith, George Raft, Richard Kiel, Arnold Stang, Frank Gorshin, and Mickey Rooney. I wish I could I provide a link so you could purchase a copy of this film, but unfortunately, it has never been released on DVD or VHS.

A lot of people remember Harry for a crazy night of drinking with John Lennon at a Smothers Brothers show at the Troubadour. John produced Harry’s “Pussycats” album, and even helped Harry renew his contract with RCA Records. When John Lennon died, Harry did a lot of work with the Coalition to Stop Handgun Violence and made some public appearances solely to raise money for their cause.

Even though Harry was a successful musician, he was not known for any public performances. He never headlined any concert venues, or scheduled any nightclub appearances. Live appearances of Harry Nilsson in concert were extremely rare occasions.

I was very fortunate to see Harry Nilsson in concert. I was in the New York area in 1982, and attended a Beatlefest at the Meadowlands in New Jersey. I had the rare privilege to see him perform live with a Beatle coverband, peforming a handful of Beatle songs. When I met him at a table for Coalition to Stop Handgun Violence, I found him to be quite gracious. I mentioned to him that “Son of Schmilsson” was one of my favorite albums, and he seemed geniunely pleased to hear this. Even to this day, I still think “You’re Breaking My Heart” is one of the most entertaining love songs I’ve ever heard…. even if you can’t hear legally it on American radio (feautures a prominent, somewhat naughty word that rhymes with “duck”). In hindsight, I wish I brought a tape recorder with me to record this very rare concert, but at least I have the memories, and an autograph from the man himself in one of my old notebooks.

Harry died of heart failure in 1994, right after recording vocals for his as-yet-unreleased final album. When I visited England in 2000, I made a special point of buying Harry Nilsson CDs that were not available in the United States.

This upcoming documentary produced and directed by John Scheinfeld sounds absolutely amazing. Luckily, there’s the FilmForce Production Diaries, which provide some insight into how this documentary came to be produced. Some of these adventures are things I can absolutely relate to, especially the comparison of documentary films to jigsaw puzzles that can be assembled in a variety of different ways.

For more information, be sure to check out the official “Who is Harry Nilsson (And Why is Everybody Talkin’ About Him?)” website. If you’re in Santa Barbara next weekend, you might want to think about attending the world premiere at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, which looks like a great event.

3 comments to A Harry Nilsson documentary!

  • I agree that John Schneinfeld amazing sound producer!

  • Shoshana Geater

    The question is typically asked who it was that from the Beatle while using the most talent. I would say it absolutely was the amazing mix of all four Beatles, the music has created it so one of a kind. Exclusively, needless to say, was the relationship involving the two lyricists and composers, Lennon and McCartney. But John Lennon had produced also great solo songs, maybe he was the greatest solo artist in the four Beatles.

  • Harry fan

    Does anybody have a recording of the BBC TV Special ‘A Little Touch of Schmillson in the night that I could have a copy of or buy? There is also another BBC programme called ‘The Music of Nilsson’ that I would also like to get my hands on! I have scoured the internet and can only find them on ‘Youtube’. I would be really greatful for any help received!


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