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!

Eric Idle’s Memories of Harry

I recently reached out to Eric Idle to ask if he might be willing to share some memories of Harry. To my great surprise and delight, he was. Eric kindly sent me the piece below and has allowed us to republish here. Thanks Eric!

I met Harry when Monty Python played City Center in New York ( Monty Python Live! April 14th to May 2nd 1976)

Harry and Ed Begley came to the show and I went out for a drink with them to a bar on Sixth Avenue round from the Hotel Navarro where we were staying on Central Park South. I liked a drink in those days but Harry was a professional. There was a lot of merriment but Harry could always say something sharp and I remember Continue Reading

Chris Spedding’s Memories of Harry

Guitarist extraordinaire Chris Spedding has played with some of the best, is known for his incredible studio work and has been the member of a number of bands (including a personal favourite, Nucleus) but he was also one of the key components of a Harry Nilsson classic, Son of Schmilsson. I asked Chris if he wouldn’t mind sharing his memories of working with Harry, and happily he obliged.

I just got a call in the usual way from David Katz, a session contractor, or “fixer”. And, as is also usual, I didn’t know who the artist was til I got to the studio.

My memory of working with Harry Nilsson is at odds with all those stories of “lost weekends”, etc. I remember a musician who was very focused, intensely concentrated and who wanted to get the music just right. He wasn’t dictatorial or obsessive, instead he was easy going but very conscious of what he wanted. It was challenging work for us, but very rewarding.

I’m sure he could get loose when he was relaxing, but at work in the studio he was the complete professional and a very talented musician.