Harry Skidoos

Skidoo, the infamous psychedelic Otto Preminger film starring a veritable who’s who of some of Hollywood’s biggest stars also featured a young Harry Nilsson, and playing Fred the professor was Harry’s co-star, Austin Pendleton. Here, Austin shares his memories of Harry with us …

I wasn’t in scenes with Harry in Skidoo, but he was a beacon of light on the set of that movie, and then in Miami when we were at the premiere. We had long talks — he told me about his life, and connecting with his biological father again. I remember how moved and excited he was by that, down there in Florida.

I don’t think I ever saw him again after the Skidoo set and its premiere. And I always looked forward, after that, to seeing him again.

Jimmi Accardi’s Memories of Harry

Harry hides behind a tree

A composer, musician, producer and artist, Jimmi Accardi has written and played with some of the best. Here he shares a few fond memories of his time with Harry … towards the end.

I first met Harry in 1977 when I was the guitarist for Micky Dolenz & Davy Jones during their Monkees reunion tour in 1977. I didn’t see him again until 1993 close to Christmas time. It was more of a social/friendly visit but quickly turned into a two day recording session.

It was in northern California (Grass Valley) at our mutual friend, E.J. Gold’s, home studio. Harry knew E.J. from the 60s at RCA. We had Bob Bachtold join us on drums and Oz Fritz (engineer for so many great artists including Tom Waits). We hung out and jammed and Harry told us what was going on with him and trying to get a new album out. One of the sad things he said was that he left a demo of his new songs at RCA and they never got back to him so he had to call them. That’s when he found out that they never even gave the tapes a listen! He played us some ideas he had on cassette tapes of the things he wanted on his new album. One was a Jimmy Webb tune called “What Does a Woman See in a Man”. Also – “Try, Try, Try”, and a song that Yoko Ono had written lyrics for called “SNOW”. Harry gave me a cassette with just his voice and a single instrument on it. He asked if I would overdub some vocals, guitar, and drums so we did. We also did a duet of a mashup of “Yesterday” and “Georgia” which Harry was convinced was practically the same song except for the lyrics and a single chord. He asked me to sing the “Yesterday” part while he sung “Georgia”.

He’d recently been in the hospital due to complications with his health (I think due to years of abusing his body with drugs and alcohol), and his voice was shot – very hoarse and almost completely gone. But he was having a blast and it was great to have the honor of helping him out. During his stay, we talked and it came up that we were both born in the exact same section of Brooklyn (called Bushwick). He also shared a few stories about the time he spent with The Beatles and especially John. When he was getting ready to go home (he had his kids and his wife Una with him), he was excited and we had plans for him to come back to finish making the demos that would knock RCA out of their socks! I was actually working on one of the demo tapes he left when we got the call that he’d died in his sleep. What a sad feeling that was!!! I remember we had kind of our own vigil for him and recorded a whole album’s worth of Harry-inspired stuff including “Spaceman”, “Jump Into the Fire”, and many more. I still have the recordings.

One more thing. Harry was lazy and had to take a pee during one of the recording sessions and didn’t want to walk all the way from the studio to the house to use the bathroom. He asked “Would anyone mind if I peed on the big tree outside the studio?”. So he did and after he passed away – we named that tree “Harry”!

Me & My Taxi

Our pal Shelly Leibowitz kindly shares another wonderful Nilssonian tale. Thank you Shelly for providing us all with another glimpse into the great man’s warmth and humor …

It was beautiful spring day in New York City and Harry and I had just had a late breakfast and as we were leaving the restaurant we hailed a cab. Harry was making small talk and I said that I thought that he would make a great cabbie. Well Harry convinced the cabbie to let him drive (after we promised to give him $500 plus whatever was on the meter, after a couple of minutes Harry was driving, me in the front seat and the cabbie in the back. Harry turned on the meter smiled and said let’s go have some fun. We drove around the city picking up passengers for free. Harry even stopped at a hot dog street vendor and I bought hot dogs for us, the cabbie and a passenger. At one point Harry even started singing “Me & My Taxi” to the tune of “Me And My Arrow”, we all laughed.

After a few hours our fun was done so we dropped the cab and cabbie off in front of Radio City Music Hall, paid the cabbie and walked over to Hurley’s bar. We had a grand old time at the bar for a couple of hours, and a few drinks. Harry was in a silly mood and amused and entertained all of the patrons in the bar. Harry asked me if we could go to the Dakota and get John Lennon to come out and play with us, so I called and him and he said to come on over.

When we got there the doorman called up and we went upstairs. Yoko answered the door and was really not amused that we had been drinking and wanted John to join us but we promised not to be gone for too long. We grabbed a cab and went down to Chinatown for dinner. We had a couple of drinks during dinner then we went club hopping for the next few hours with Harry and John joining in with whatever entertainment was happening at each place. We continued drinking our way back uptown. I suggested that we go to Thano’s restaurant for a night snack – they never close and lot’s of Broadway entertainers go there after shows. From there we went over to my office since it was only 3 blocks away and I had a fully stocked bar and we could listen to some outtakes from different recordings. We listened, drank, smoked a few joints and both John and Harry sat at my piano and sang all kinds of songs.

It was around 4AM when we got a cab and dropped John off, we wouldn’t dare go upstairs at that hour and confront Yoko with John so drunk that he could hardly walk and it being that late. Then the cab dropped me off and took Harry home to his hotel.

Shelly Leibowitz’s Memories of Harry

It’s not every day that Twitter puts you in touch with someone who’s worked closely with legendary artists but that’s exactly what happened recently. Shelly Leibowitz has worked with the greats and the truly greats. Amongst those was his friend Harry.

I knew two Harry’s, the professional artist and the fun loving drinking buddy.

When Harry was working he knew exactly what he wanted and he made sure that he got it. Musically he was a perfectionist and a creative genius. The inspiration for most of his songs came from deep within him. His talent always amazed me, his vocals and his songs were both made in heaven.

Anytime he was in NYC and not working he would call me up and ask me if I’d like to go out for a drink. So we would call up John Lennon and I’d ask him if he wanted to come out and play (Yoko would just shake her head). Needless to say we drank so much that we did not come back for at least three days, sometimes much longer, once it even turned into the famous “lost weekend”. There were times when I woke up in other countries. Harry was a bad influence on me with the drugs and drinking but I loved him like a brother. Our great sense of humor and our mutual love of all kinds of music bonded us. Once I took Harry and John to meet Ella Fitzgerald and they acted like they were meeting the Queen of England. She praised them for the song writing and she told Harry that she felt that he had the sweetest voice she ever heard. Harry blushed, laughed and then belched. We all laughed.

Harry had a fascination with the American Songbook songs so he liked to hang out with me when I was working with Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald or Sammy Davis Jr. He felt that at that time his voice was at its’ peak and that was the best time to record an album of standards which idea RCA hated. He had asked me to produce it for him but I was under contract with another label who would not give permission.

To me he was one of the greatest singers who ever lived and a songwriter who’s songs will live on forever. I miss Harry sitting at my piano playing new songs for me, joking around with me and us laughing together. Every morning I start my day with me playing one of his songs. I miss my friend every day!