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Thursday, May 16, 2013

EXCLUSIVE Q & A with BOB ESTY Part 1: Once Upon a Time with Donna Summer

Bob Esty is truly a legend in his own time. A producer, songwriter and arranger who worked with Casablanca Records from 1977 to 1980, he has collaborated alongside major divas like Donna Summer, Cher, Barbra Streisand, Martha Wash, Raquel Welch and many more. It is my sincerest pleasure to have spoken with Bob over the phone when he generously consented to give me the following, exclusive interview. I have divided it into parts for easier reader consumption and digestion because it is such a delicious treat. 

In Part 1, Mr Esty discusses his early days with Casablanca, working with Donna Summer, Paul Jabara, Giorgio Moroder, Neil Bogart and more. Please also check out Bob's Facebook Page: "Disco Citizens -- The Work of Bob Esty!" His guide vocals and the special remixes there are amazing!

Dj Buddy Beaverhausen: Hi, Bob, and thank you so much for taking the time to do this Q&A with me. I am thrilled you're doing this.

Bob Esty: Thank you.

DJBB: I recently saw that someone posted at "Bob Esty never seems to get deserved credit." I certainly believe that's true, and people on that thread seemed to agree as well. I noticed that you don't have a Wikipedia page, and I couldn't find a Bob Esty web page either. Is this all by some grand design?

BE: I think it's because most of the people I worked with were [already] very famous. Giorgio Moroder had an exclusive contract with Donna and he may not have been completely happy with the fact that my name is on the 12" of "Last Dance." He went to Neil Bogart [founder of Casablanca Records]'s office and said he wanted my name removed.

Paul Jabara never credited me for co-writing "Last Dance." I did the hook and the bridge. The rest was by Paul. The original version of the song was recorded by Paul, on his piano, in Puerto Rico, with Donna Summer in the bathroom. She was [virtually] trapped, so she said, "Oh, I'll do it!" So Paul went to Neil Bogart. I had to create an arrangement because the original was not very good. I had arrange the hell out of it! And I modeled it on Diana Ross' "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" because I loved what Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson did with that arrangement.

So Casablanca liked what I did. We did a demo with me on piano and Donna singing the whole fucking thing! And at the end of it, she said, "Thank you very much!" Neil Bogart liked what I did but Giorgio didn't like the song. He was not there for the recording. It was recorded in one day. He barred me from the vocal session that night. And ultimately he took my name off the record. So, that was basically the first time I ever "produced" anything.

But, after that, Giorgio did hire me to do Once Upon a Time [the album] in Germany. That was the first time I [officially] produced. It was July 1977. He let me do what ever I wanted. And I do, so much, appreciate Giorgio -- who is an outstanding talent -- for thinking about me and having me aboard to work on Once Upon a Time.

Once Upon a Time's theme was about Cinderella but no one had written the lyrics yet. So I sang a "la la la" melody thing for the whole album for Donna who was then on the road. Giorgio spent just one night each for all four sides. When Donna recorded the first side, she was in her Donna voice, which I love. It was a transitional vocal album for her. "Last Dance" was not released yet.

The summer before I went to Germany, I had produced two more songs for Thank God It's Friday with Paul [Jabara], one of which was featured in the movie. It's called "Trapped in a Stairway," which I wrote with him in August 1977. At the time, Paul told me, "The director of this movie has never done a movie let alone a musical!" Paul had the idea he could do his number coming down the stairway like Fred Astaire. The director had never even heard of Fred Astaire! So that was X'd.

And when "Last Dance" was sung by Donna, they took out the ballad [portion] because they didn't know if the clubs would like it.

DJBB: Ballad openings and bridges in classic disco songs really became a trend during that period. And you spearheaded that at Casablanca. You set that trend!

BE: Yeah. We were hoping it would be successful but nobody knew. It hadn't been played by djs yet. When I first heard the single of "Last Dance," I went to Neil Bogart's office because he picked the wrong ending! The stronger ending, high note and everything else was on our second vocal. Neil said to me, "Oh, it doesn't matter! It's going to be a hit anyway!"

DJBB: While we're talking about Casablanca, have you read Larry Harris' And Party Every Day? [A scandal-filled tell-all about Casablanca Records.]

BE: I never read it. When I signed my contract with Casablanca on December 31, 1977, I'd already done many productions for Casablanca and Larry was their lawyer. I had a list of what I did before signing but Larry said, "Uh, you can't do that. We own everything." Back then, I didn't know jack.

That was a good introduction to my musical career!

More to come in Part 2 of my interview with Bob Esty. You won't want to miss what he says about Cher and so much more! Meanwhile, enjoy the official Casablanca video of "Last Dance" posted below:

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