Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Music Weird interviews Sherrell Paris of the Paris Sisters

The Paris Sisters: Albeth, Sherrell, and Priscilla Paris

The Paris Sisters recorded one of Phil Spector's earliest hits—"I Love How You Love Me"—in 1961 before he created his famous Wall of Sound. The Paris Sisters' sound, unlike Spector's dense Wall of Sound, was whisper soft. 

Their sound didn't start out that way, though. They recorded a number of singles in the '50s for the Cavalier and Decca labels that sounded more like their heroes, the Andrews Sisters. 

The three Paris sisters are actual sisters. Albeth is the oldest, Sherrell is in the middle, and Priscilla ("Prissy") was the youngest. Priscilla died in 2004, not long before I talked to Sherrell. 

I interviewed Sherrell when I was working on Eric Records' reissue of the Paris Sisters' 1967 album Everything Under the Sun!!!  It's a great album, and the sisters' story is heartbreaking. 

Sherrell was really fun to talk to. After the Paris Sisters broke up, she became Bob Barker's assistant on The Price Is Right until 2000.

Here's the complete interview with Sherrell Paris from 2004. 

The story is that the Andrews Sisters "discovered" you, but you had already made some recordings.

We had made recordings for a local recording company. I don't know if they were ever released. Maybe they were.  

There were two. One was a Christmas single.

That's right. I recall that.

And the other was "The Bully Bully Man" [credited to Jimmy Diamond and His Sparkling Music].

"Bully Bully Man" or "Zorch Boogie." I think one was on one side and one was on the other.

We were in the audience watching the Andrews Sisters, hoping we could go back and meet them. Every day. We even cut school. We went every day and sat there to watch them. And they finally noticed us.  How could they not?  

And that was '54?

You know, I don't have the exact year. I honestly don't.

So you probably don't remember what year the Cavalier singles were made.

My goodness, no, Greg. I don't want to remember the years!

"Bully Bully Man" was a promotional tie-in with a local disk jockey.

It was. I don't know which disk jockey it was. I don't think it was Bill Balance—he came later.  Was it Don...? He was someone who was either a local disk jockey or on a local television show, and he was a little bizarre for that time. He was different. We had done his show a lot and that was all connected with "Bully Bully." [It was Red Blanchard.]

You were the middle sister.  How far apart in age were you?

Priscilla and I are only a year apart, and Albeth is a few years older. That's all you're getting!  Albeth sort of took care of us when we would go on the road and travel and all that. People always assumed I was the oldest because I was, like, 5' 7" at ten, and then they thought I was going to go on forever.

That helped you pass for adult.

And we did that. If you saw the pictures I sent to [Bill Buster of Eric Records] last night, we would wear the bustier tops—of course they were padded—and makeup, and our hair, which had always been long, in buns, and tried to look much older for a long time. We have never not worked.  We were working at five, six years old. We were already dancing and working and doing shows.

You skipped your childhood.

We did. And I know to Albeth and myself we were fine with that. Going to [places] after school or being with friends or playing in the street—we didn't do any of that. We used to come home and stand at the piano and rehearse and sing and do our scales. I loved the fact that it was different.

You didn't have any ambivalence?

No. No. And I know that Priscilla felt she missed a lot of her childhood and youth, but you never can really go back. You just say, "This is the way it was," and we gained something else from it. For me, I thought that we gained so much more from not following in the normal routine. And, who knows? The end isn't here for me yet, so I may change my mind.

That isn't Priscilla singing lead on the Decca singles.

I don't think she was. That was something that no one knew because when we very first started singing, we were dancers first. Bill has some of those pictures. I sent him pictures of us in leotards and dancing. Priscilla was so young she couldn't even sing. She kind of just strutted around. I did a lot of leads on the Decca records and so did Albeth. It was always a slightly different sound. The younger, more youthful, sweet sound came with Priscilla when we started doing the soft sound with Phil Spector.   

Did the Decca singles do anything regionally?  Did you gain any local notoriety?

There was some with it, because we were starting to do a lot of the veterans hospitals and camp shows. So, to the local area—like we did Camp Stoneman and Treasure Island, the Presidio up by San Franciso. They might have been only local hits.  

Then you moved to Gregmark. Priscilla said she never sang in that whispery style until Phil Spector encouraged her to do it.

She hadn't. We sang more like the Andrews Sisters.  

She said he coached her. Were you there for that?

Absolutely. He would come to our home and we would sit out on the front steps in the sun with his guitar, and he had all of us do it, and he was looking for that certain sound. He tried all of us. Of course, the younger singer was the closest he got to that sound.

On some recordings you all sang in that style.

Oh, we did. We learned it. It was called the "soft sound" at that time. The big band sounds were out by then.

The Andrews Sisters themselves weren't selling many records at that time.

They were basically way retired by the time we met them. But we did two of their songs. We did "Rum and Coca Cola" and "Roll Out the Barrel," and we did it in the Andrews' three-part harmony. That's when they finally called us up on stage.  

I don't know if you remember the bandleader—I think it was Dick Schoen—he was married to Patty. [Patty was married to Walter Weschler.] That's who was the bandleader. And our mom came out on stage and had his pianist move over, and she sat down and played it, and the band followed her. That was really the start. There was an MCA agent in the audience and he signed us up, and we never missed a day of work.

What about the famous Paris Sisters lost album? Wouldn't it have mostly contained the singles? What was on the tapes that were lost?

From what we can remember....  That was such a heartbreaking point that I don't think we stayed with it or labored with it much. We tried to put it to rest and move on. They were songs that were all similar to "He Knows I Love Him Too Much," "By My Boy," "Let Me Be The One." The album would have been the Gregmark/Phil Spector soft sound.

But they were all new songs?  It was a completely original album?

It was a complete original album.

You don't remember any of the songs?

No. I think there was one called "Lonely Hearts." You know, I don't want to say. I don't remember. At this point, we didn't want a life filled with litigation. We'd had our share, trust me. We'd gone after and didn't want to bury our heads in the sand, but we were still in our teens and we wanted to get back to school, I wanted to go to a prom, that kind of thing. And it was right about that time that our father passed away, and it just changed the dynamic of everything. He passed away when "I Love How You Love Me" hit the Billboard charts with a red bullet. We just got to tell him that, and he was gone shortly after that. I can remember sitting on the bed and talking to him.

How did Jimmy Bowen and Jack Nitzsche work together?

As far as I can remember, they worked well together. We did most of our rehearsing with Jack Nitzsche, as I recall. He used to wear these great big dark glasses all the time and we never knew why. Day and night.   

Nitzsche wrote the arrangements?



And the vocal. He did the vocal too. I remember us sitting at the upright piano in the home up on Sunset with Jack Nitzsche. He'd come up at night—that's why we thought it was so funny he was always wearing dark glasses.  

Casey Kasem, you know, did the byline on the album. How did that all come about? Jack Nitzsche was starting to be around a lot. Albeth had just gotten married about that time. Her husband knew Jimmy Bowen. In fact, they're still friends. We were being managed by Stan Irwin—he was Johnny Carson's manager. One thing led to another.

You say you won a Grammy around this time?

Talk with Albeth. We won some special award at a Grammy event. I have the picture. I thought that we won the Grammy for girl's singing group, or original girl group, or soft sound category—I don't know the category. Albeth was having a young romance with Clancy at that time and not paying as much attention. I was the one who kind of took care of the books and money when we'd go on the road. We had managers—I remember Stan Irwin very well.  We did the Johnny Carson show because of Stan Irwin. We just did it one time.  

Casey Kasem's liner notes say that you had an offer to do a TV series.

You know, we could have. I'm trying to think what the series was. The series could have been The Glass House. They were going to do a series called The Glass House and we did the album. We did a video on that too. That could have been the one. I don't have all the facts. We had another manager who managed the Lettermen, and his name was Jess Rand.  

The album Everything Under the Sun. Where'd the title come from?

I think it was because it was a bit of an eclectic album. It wasn't just any one sound. It was like a bit of everything. And I remember we wore those white linen dresses and daisies and the whole thing. I remember the dresses because I remember thinking that I always got the ugliest dress. Because I was the tallest. I had grown so much so soon, I don't think I became a swan until a few years ago.

Who picked the songs? Those were the first songs your recorded that came from within the group, right?

I'm pretty sure. Then we did the McGuire Sisters' "Sincerely."

Albeth said she thought Jimmy Bowen suggested that.

I think he might have.

Whose idea was it to combine "Sincerely" with the background vocal melody of "Be My Boy?"

It would have been Nitzsche. "It's My Party" was after Lesley Gore. My favorite was "Some Of Your Lovin'." It was great. On this, we were all singing—it wasn't just one voice.  

Particularly on "Born To Be With You."

That's how we started, with the three-part harmony. Basically, Albeth sang lead first, then I think I started singing lead. Even on "I Love How You Love Me," Phil pulled out little bits and pieces, like an "I" or just a word. You know, he had us all do it, but the youngest and purest voice was Priscilla.

Do you remember much about "It's My Party"? That's a very unusual recording. It's very slow and, toward the end, Priscilla's lead is strangely out of sync with you and Albeth. It has a strange, disconnected feeling.  

You know, that kind of would describe Priscilla, God bless her, and her life, that statement you just made. I don't remember it, honestly. It's been a long time since I've heard it.

"I'm Me" is very dark.

It's very, very dark. 

Did she grow up too soon? I don't know. You know, we were different.  She was—I don't mind saying this—she was absolutely striking. She was simply beautiful. When I look back on these pictures, it took me a long time to get to a certain point where I....  Priscilla was very beautiful, like little JonBenĂ©t Ramsey or Britney Spears. I mean, she had that look. You know what? It isn't always a benefit. There are many, many piranhas around, and she had her share.

Albeth said she thought "I'm Me" said a lot about Priscilla's personality.

It did. It did. I may go back and do some of her songs. It's not the point of having a hit record. I don't mean this to sound bourgeois or something. I wouldn't be doing it for money—I've had a wonderful career. It would just be more to kind of do it as a tribute. And Albeth went on to another career, also. And the one who didn't was Priscilla.  

Was there any resentment that Priscilla was placed on a pedestal?

Albeth and I never saw it that way. I know that might sound too good to be true, but we had performed so many years together. Albeth, as a young teenager, fell in love with Clancy. I was always into managing, and the entrepreneur, and doing things from a young, young age when I sold all my mother's jewelry. [Laughs] There wasn't resentment. 

Albeth and I—it was fine. It kind of evolved. It just evolved, because, remember, when we started, we sang and Priscilla couldn't; she kind of strutted in the middle back and forth on the stage. I don't mind saying that there was no doubt who was the prettiest of the three, and the most willowy, and the most fragile and all. Which kind of shows by her early demise. And it was Priscilla.  

I had my moments. I remember walking into a door into Gold Star once when they let the door slam in my face. Prissy had gone inside and I was like, "Okay, I don't like this."  

Did you miss singing lead?

That's the interesting part. As long as we were all still together, it was okay as long as it was going well. When we would do a live performance, we all would take leads, and get just as many accolades in a different way. Albeth had a Doris Day voice and I was more like Cher. We were just used to it being that way. The one who wanted to run and go on her own was Priscilla. She basically left us.  

Were you frustrated that your followups to "I Love How You Love Me" weren't selling as well?

Of course, but everything had become so convoluted with the Spector lawsuits and Gregmark and Lester Sill. We basically wanted to hold on to a normal life. We had great parents. We had great, great parents, kind of stable and normal. Would I say there was a loss when we didn't have a hit with another album? Of course, but we were on a whirlwind. At that time we were traveling the world, going to Japan, doing six shows a night in Army barracks, running all over the place.  

Wasn't that jeopardized by not having a hit?

No. We could have gone on and still been performing today. Priscilla did not want to. She finally got to a point—the one with the most troubled life was Prissy. She wanted to go out on her own. And the funny thing, unfortunately, is she didn't get the success that she thought she would have again. She tried.  

No one wants to feel that they've peaked early.

No, of course not. But especially when you've had so much attention and accolades for so many, many, many years. Priscilla had it all, but I don't think it was a good thing for her. It was painful for her when she couldn't repeat it. Just like the child star. We were all stars in our own right. We had all done it together. I know that Don Peak took Priscilla under his wing and tried to re-record her. So did Chuck Kay. I'm not sure who else. But it never happened again

Priscilla didn't realize we were her support group. We were her two anchors that kept her on the ground. We weren't her stumbling block to having the success come again. When we'd go on the road and do shows, we performed with George Burns, we performed with Elvis in Vegas, with Rowan & Martin on the road. We had great success as a trio. But Priscilla, because of the records, always wanted to go on her own.  

In 1976, Jack Nitzsche, when asked about the Paris Sisters, said, "Please don't remind me about them." Why would he say that?

Yeah. [Laughs] Priscilla, at that point, wanted so badly to go on her own, that she became a little difficult. There were many, many times we became very close again. Prissy and I were very, very close. I went back and lived with her for a month last year in Paris, and we walked and we talked and were arm in arm, and we laughed, and she said, "Okay, Shasha,"—Priscilla called me—"I know everybody thought you were the big oaf and just there because," God, I was so tall and everything!  And gangly! 

And she said, "You went on to a different type of life." I don't want this interview to be about me, but Albeth and I really went on to much more success in a different field. In 23-24 years with CBS, I sang all the time on different shows for Mark Goodson. And I sang "I Love How You Love Me," and I sang it just the way we did it, and it would bring applause and great memories, but I wasn't doing it for a career.  

Then, I was, like, doing it for Mark Goodson for his 70th birthday. And I think that I reaped so much more benefit from the hit record than Priscilla did. I think if Nitzsche said that, those were the years that she wanted desperately to step out on her own. Maybe she felt we held her back—I don't know, because we never knew. We never knew she was thinking that way.  We knew she was troubled. She received all the attention from Phil Spector and Nitzsche and Don Peake and Chuck Kay and just everyone out there in the business.  

Did she have any trouble convincing them to let her cut her own songs?

I don't know. I have a feeling that she did. They were all pretty deep and the world wasn't ready.

Some people think that her songs are the highlights on the album.

It's possible. She wrote more that were not recorded, but they were very, very dark.

How did you feel about performing her songs?

I loved her writing. I had to become very independent with doing my own thing from a very young age. I think that gave me strength. Priscilla never got to that point. She always remained very fragile. When I was with her in Paris, and she would come and stay with me, we'd have a huge tub, so we'd get into the bathtub together and talk, take a bubble bath, or get into the jacuzzi. We'd put on some music. I'd take a glass of wine. Prissy never drank.  

It sounds like you and Albeth were the Broadway, the-show-must-go-on types and Priscilla was the tortured artist.

You know, I didn't know that it sounded that way, but that is it.  

You came out of that vaudeville tradition that emphasized showmanship, stagecraft.

Right. You're not late, you all dress alike. We did our thing. We didn't give the bandleader a bad time. 

That's right. We were old school. Especially Albeth, more than I was. In fact, Albeth went on to do some review in town, and she did Kiss Me, Kate. She did all those. This was after we broke up. In fact, she worked with Loretta Swit in the same review company, and Gavin McCloud was in it. You're right—that was very astute. Albeth and I are still that way.

She went on singing, became quite an accomplished artist. I have two guitars here, and I said, that's it—they're antique pieces. But Priscilla played every night. She played and sang for me when I was in Paris.  

She had that drive.

But she was tortured. We don't know why. Albeth and I... Was it too much attention, too much suiters, too young? Possibly. Too many broken hearts?  

I'm going to tell you the truth. If these were to be a hit now, and hopefully they will be, something will happen. 

It's a wonderful thought. I don't think Priscilla could have handled it. She tried. She went on and did so much after. And Albeth went on to another career and I went on to Mark Goodson Productions. To get that job, I had to take my resume that said we sang here and we sang there, and I changed it to read that I did production here and production there. I think I was with the company 10 years before they found out.  

Albeth had a wonderful, successful marriage. My husband—we had a good marriage. He passed away.

Prissy did not. She was married again—she has two wonderful sons, but she never got solid roots again. She loved her music. When she left us, she just said, "I'm done." We had just signed a contract to do the Johnny Carson Show for 10 times, and she left.

So she left you in a bind?

Well, she had said she had told Stan Irwin that she would only give him a year, and we didn't know that. Stan told me that years later. Al and I understand—we really do—that's what she had to do. She was searching for that single again. Would I be talking this openly if she were alive? Probably, but you'd probably hear a different version from her. [Laughs.]  

She did the best thing. It wasn't the best thing for her, because we were her support. I know that. I handled the money and the books and Albeth took care of the hotels, you know. Prissy didn't have to worry. I hired five musicians and ended up back in Vegas and went on my own and sang solo for probably eight years and loved it. And it was enough for me.           

Here's Sherrell singing "I Love How You Love Me" in 2011. 

1 comment:

  1. This was a terrific interview. Too bad it wasn't a video. It is sad to learn that Priscilla had such a sad life in between the good times.As I read this, I kept thinking ,it must have been terrible being around Phil Spector not as an artist but as a girlfriend. Maybe he was not so,weird early on but I doubt it.