"Rock Me Gently" turns 50: Andy Kim on the genesis of his perennial hit | Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame
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“Rock Me Gently” turns 50: Andy Kim on the genesis of his perennial hit

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By Karen Bliss

Is it any surprise that a man who wrote the Archies’ 1969 No. 1 hit “Sugar, Sugar” (with Jeff Barry) — inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2006 — has a bottle-this attitude towards life, including setbacks? Andy Kim looks on the bright side of life, rolls with the punches, or as he tells the CSHF, just lets things go. Kim had had his day in the music industry, he thought, when he wrote a song 50 years ago called “Rock Me Gently.” No one cared.

He cut the song himself and released it on his own label, Ice Records. It rocketed not as gently to the No. 1 spot in the U.S., No. 2 in the U.K., spending four months on the charts. It led to a deal with Capitol Records. The song, a staple at radio, was covered in 1989 by country singer Michelle Wright, was placed in TV shows Donovan and Sex Education and used in a quirky wildlife commercial for Jeep Liberty.

Kim talked with Karen Bliss for the CSHF about the genesis of “Rock Me Gently,” which one can guess from the lyrics, was inspired by a date that went very well.

What do you remember of that guy on the single’s cover art with the pinky ring next to your cheek? You have the same hair to this day. Congratulations on that.
[Laughs]. It’s not that yesterday’s a blur, but if anyone got to know me with the way my brothers have known me since I was a kid, I really lived the moment. And, if yesterday caused me any difficulty, or anything that kind of disturbed my world, all I took with me to the next day, which is today, is the lesson. I’ve never reached back and wished I coulda woulda shoulda. I just learned the lesson. If there was disturbance, arguments, or anything that would disturb me, I would let it go.

That’s a great way to live and a rare way to live. Sounds like it would be a good song.
Well, basically, for me, I didn’t know that that’s what I did. There are things that I look back on and realize that. My brothers told me. But I just lived the moment. And somewhere, somehow, as I got older, I realized that I’m living my one and only life and there’s no sequel. So what do I do with that information? Well, what I do is just live the day, live the moment. I don’t know how to do it any other way.

You do know that’s a song title, right: Live The day, Live The moment? When we get off this Zoom, I’m giving you a homework assignment. So “Rock Me Gently” is the focus on this conversation because it’s 50 years old.

What is the genesis of that song? Did it start with the opening lines? The chorus?
Is this just between you and me, I’ll tell you what it is [laughs].

[Laughs] No, it’s not. It’s for an interview. Why? Is there something weird and nefarious?
Well, I met someone for the first time. I had just arrived in LA. And I hadn’t never been anywhere, except downtown LA or Sunset Strip LA. But I’d never been to Malibu. So we ended up going to dinner in Malibu. And I got home at four o’clock in the morning. You can fill in the blanks at that point. And it is, and was my custom, and sometimes I make Turkish coffee in the morning. So, I did that.

First of all, I moved into a penthouse on Sunset and Horn where Tower Records used to be. So, if you look up, you would see it’s a building that’s out of place, basically, and I had a penthouse overlooking the city. I had a car, a brand-new Mercedes, in the parking underneath the building. But I didn’t have a driver’s license because I lived in New York. I never really wanted to drive. I was always hoping as a kid that someone would drive me — to make a long story even longer — so she drove because she didn’t have a car. So I loaned her the car.

But I started having my Turkish coffee, picked up the guitar, and really, somehow or other, it described the time walking on the beach in Malibu. So, if you read the lyrics, you kind of get an idea of what was going on.

And then you self-produced it.
I was kind of known in LA doing American Bandstand and having hit records on the charts at KHJ AM, which, in Canadian terms, was kind of like CHUM. There was WABC on the East Coast and KHJ on the West Coast.

So, I methodically took it everywhere, one record company at a time, one producer at a time, and everybody turned me down. So, we’re looking at maybe three months’ worth of waiting. And then being told, “No. Thank you. What a nice song. What a this; what a that.” And I got to feeling that my two minutes and 30 seconds were done.

I don’t know if you understand that term. But in the Brill Building in New York, on the ninth floor, where Leiber and Stoller housed their musical talent, and Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich and Phil Spector were there, the mantra was, “You’re only as good as your last two minutes and 30 seconds.”

So, if I had a semi hit, I would have an opportunity to do it again. But if there were a couple of singles that came out that did not go anywhere, I was on my own. I came to the realization that most people thought I was done.

What were they hearing? What was that demo like?
It wasn’t a demo.  I had produced the record — so I’m the songwriter, the artist, the producer, the publisher. And I just needed someone to actually hear this record. Everything was done.

Those players — like Larry Carlton, Michael Omartian, Dean Parks, Ed Greene etcetera — they were on that original?
They were all on that record. I still remember it was a Friday night. It was raining. And I didn’t know any musicians in Los Angeles. So I called the Musicians Union. I’m a pretty naive guy. But I kind of get how my heart beats to my life. So I called the Musicians Union, and I needed five musicians. And they sent me, blindly, I had no idea who these guys were. But they’re iconic musicians [laughs]. You must you look at them today and see what they’ve done before I got there.

So, I make this record. I’m the producer. I’m playing them my song. And I really wanted to make a Staples record. You know, “I’ll Take You There” was a song that was just one of my favourites. It was a great bass line. It was just such a great groove. And I just wanted to do something other than what people remember me as.

And what people don’t know is that my early records were kind of sped up a little bit and so when I actually started singing, in my true voice, it maybe jarred people, I don’t know what it was. But since I don’t see “no” as any other thing than an opportunity for me to inspire my future and inspire my destiny, I just woke up one day and said, “You know what? I’m going to put it out on my own.”

So I started my own record company in Canada. I still remember I called home and my mom answered, and I said, “Mom,  I’m coming home,” and she started crying on the phone because she never wanted me to leave in the first place. But she didn’t hear the rest. “I’m starting my own record company. I’m going to call it Ice, and I’m going to be my own promotion man. I’m going to send the records out myself. And somewhere somehow someone’s going to hear it in the US.

That was my belief system. So I don’t hide from what I want to do. I’m going to do what I want to do, not for any other reason than I don’t have any other skills. So, this is what I do.

Fifty years later, have you heard any wacky interpretations, like a punk rock or metal version?
No, it’s funny, I really haven’t. You look for it because “Sugar, Sugar” is all over the place and even Homer Simpson does your song. But, for some reason or other, maybe the temperature or the intent of the lyric, it’s kind of hard to rock it out and change that song.

Have there been any translations into French or Spanish or German?
Yes. It was an Italian translation that came out in Italy and a couple of others. A French one.

I just rewatched that Jeep commercial with the squirrels, birds and wolf singing it.
I think the Jeep commercial ran throughout the world. I got letters from Greece and Lebanon.

Do you know why the ad company chose that song for the Jeep commercial? It’s unusual.
Well, I got a call one day to meet two directors in Santa Monica because they want to use “Rock Me Gently” in a commercial. It was just one of those great, not too hot, just perfect days. So I pull up, I walk in and there’s two directors from the UK and there’s other people moving around in this place. I had not gone to a place like this before.

They’d listened to 638 songs, they said, and “Rock Me Gently” is the only one for this commercial. I said, “Well, I’d like to see it. Do you have storyboards?” So they showed me the storyboards and I kept thinking, “Well, this ain’t going to happen. Okay, I’ll stay here and I’ll just let it go and just enjoy this meeting.”

And they wanted me to cut a 15-second version. So as the producer, I was doing a 15 second and a 30 second cut, so they would have it. It’s about two and a half hours later, I’m in the car. I’m going back and I think, “Well, this ain’t going to happen.” I mean, it’s not going to happen only because of the storyboard; the wolf and the birds and the squirrel made no sense to me. So, I let it go.

And the advertiser was BBDO. They’re huge, which I did not know. So they called me one day and they said, “Look, we’ve we were looking at this and we love the edit and the whole thing and we want to go and we want to do this video for the Jeep commercial. How much would it be? You’re the writer; you’re the artist; you’re the producer.”

So I said, “Let me think about it and I’ll get back to you in about half an hour.” So, I started thinking — and I’ve never done this before; I don’t negotiate for myself — It was a time where there was no one around. I didn’t have a manager. All I had was the belief that my one and only life was unfolding the way it should unfold. So I decided to give them a “Sugar, Sugar” number. I figured I’ll try that.

So I called them back and I said, “I spoke to my people and I gave them a number. And they said, “OK, we will think about it.” And a couple of days later, my business manager in New York called me and he said, “We just got a cheque for yada yada yada.” And I said, “Really?” “So what is that for?” I said, “It’s for a Jeep commercial.”

The money was beyond whatever I expected. And then they picked it up for another year. The only thing that I really loved, because it was exactly what they said — the bird, the wolf, squirrel — was that when the driver turned on the radio, you saw “Rock Me Gently by Andy Kim,” so that was  cool. So that’s that story. It may be dull today, but it was exciting then.

No, it’s still cool today. Have you ever sang along to “Rock Me Gently” by Andy Kim when you’re driving?
Sure [laughs]. I still sing it in the same key.

That’s good.
I’m excited about every day. And if I’m having a kind of a funky day, I figure, “OK, well, this is going to be a funky day.” I just let it go.

 

 

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