Interview by Matt Howe / Barbra Archives
Gary Klein lives in New York City where he has been in the music business for more than 40 years. Starting out as a songwriter, Gary co-wrote the 1962 seminal hit, “Bobby’s Girl (I Wanna Be).”
In the early 1970s, Gary Klein was a producer & assistant to Charles Koppelman, vice president of national A&R, Columbia Records. By 1975 The Entertainment Company was established. Comprised of producers Gary Klein and Charles Koppelman, the company promoted song catalogs, acquired major songs, and produced a series of hits for superstar recording artists.
Klein produced many of the big 1970s and 1980s acts, including Glen Campbell (“Southern Nights”), Dolly Parton (“Here You Come Again”), Johnny Cash, Tanya Tucker, Judy Collins, Janis Ian, and BJ Thomas.
As for his work with Streisand, Gary Klein first met her in 1974. He told writer James Spada, “I was a staff producer for CBS, and Charles Koppelman of the Entertainment Company asked me to talk to Barbra and Jon Peters about Butterfly, her 1974 album which Jon produced. Both Charles and I didn't think it was up to Barbra's standards, and he wanted me to go out to California, sit down with them and tell them why.”
In the 1990s, Klein was head of creative services at the Koppelman-run EMI Records.
Matt Howe: Which is your favorite album of those you produced for Barbra Streisand? Superman, Songbird, or Wet? And why?
Gary Klein: I can’t say that I have a favorite album, but there are cuts on each album that I could call my favorites.
“Superman” – I loved the dynamics of the melody. It was a challenge for Barbra and she really got into it. Barbra especially liked the lyric and the whole idea of a woman being “Superman.”
“My Heart Belongs to Me” – Alan Gordon was a brilliant songwriter. Period. He understood what “pop” songs were all about, and this was one of his best. I loved the arrangement and the dynamic range of the melody. Barbra nailed it.
“New York State of Mind” — I flipped when I heard Billy Joel sing this song. I knew it would become a standard, and, who better to sing it than Barbra.
“You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” – I loved the song, the vocal and the arrangement.
“Songbird” – Melodically, I think this was a great song for Barbra and she delivered a beautiful vocal.
“No More Tears” — I liked everything about this cut. The dueling divas both gave great vocals, and the energy of the arrangement was undeniable.
“After the Rain” – A wonderful Bergman, Bergman and Legrand song. The melody was ideal for Barbra.
Matt: What was the song selection process like, and how involved was Barbra with the songs on the albums you produced?
Gary: I lived in New York and commuted to Los Angeles on a weekly basis, when producing there. I listened to songs from publishers, writers and even unsolicited songs, at home. Publishers and writers were always hounding me, as you can imagine. I never said “no” to anyone; I listened to every song I received. I also visited every publisher on both coasts.
Barbra was always deeply involved in every aspect of the song selection process. In fact, she was deeply involved in everything concerning the album. Ordering lunch in the studio was a major event.
Matt: What was it about producing a Streisand album that was different than, say, Dolly Parton or Gladys Knight (who you also worked with)?
Gary: She was the best female singer on the planet!
Barbra was the most critical artist of the three. She was also the most intense. This doesn’t mean that we didn’t ever laugh, kibbitz, or just hang. She examined each vocal track, each breath (literally) and spent countless hours reviewing multiple mixes of songs. I had heard how difficult she was to work with. I think “challenging” is a better word. If I liked one vocal better than another, she wanted to know why, she wanted specifics. Most of the time we agreed on these types of decisions… most of the time.
Barbra was critical of everyone who participated in the recording, and I don’t mean that in a negative way. Most of all, she was really tough on herself.
I liked her work ethic. It made me a better producer.
Matt: Streisand fans love to hear stories about unreleased songs. This is probably a big trip down memory lane for you, but do you recall Barbra’s recording of “Rainbow Connection” (P. Williams/K. Ascher) from the WET sessions?
It’s been more than 30 years since I produced these albums, but there’s one story that sticks out in my mind:
Jason, Barbra’s son, loved “Rainbow Connection” and asked Barbra to record it. She played it for me and I told her it was a “nice” song, but didn’t belong on the album. She insisted. She won.
We recorded it at Capitol Records Studio A, a legendary (and huge) room. We were recording live with a large orchestra.
I knew from the first take this was not happening. We did take after take. Barbra would come into the control room to listen to the playbacks, then go back to the studio to do yet another take. It was getting late, close to midnight. One of the string players objected to playing so late. He said, “I don’t have to stay here any longer!” He packed his violin and left.
We tried a few more takes, and things got worse. Everyone was really tired, especially Barbra’s voice.
Barbra called me into the studio, moved in close to me and said (smiling), “Why the fuck are we recording this song? Can we go home now?”
I thanked everyone and said goodnight.
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