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I Sang That is a personal journey behind the scenes into the world of music-makers who created the film scores, television music, sound recordings, commercials and concert evenings over the last sixty years. It’s about a Sally Stevens’ long singing career that began in 1960 with concert tours – Ray Conniff, Nat King Cole, and others – and later, solo work in concert with Burt Bacharach. Add to that thirty years of vocals and main titles for The Simpsons, vocals for Family Guy…vocals on hundreds of film and television scores and sound recordings, plus twenty-two years as Choral Director for the Oscars. It’s also the personal story of growing up in a “his, hers and theirs” family in the forties and fifties, and how a shy little girl became a second generation singer in the ever-evolving music business of Hollywood.
Sally’s very short list of credits:
Film Singer: Airplane!, Alien, Apocalypse Now, Caddyshack, Deadpool 2, Dr. Zhivago, The Exorcist, Elf, Forrest Gump, Grease, Mulan, The Princess Diaries, Shrek, Slap Shot, Star Trek
TV Singer : The Brady Bunch, The Carol Burnett Show, Family Guy, Happy Days, The Simpsons, True Blood, The X-Files
Music: Linda Ronstadt, Johnny Mathis, Liza Minelli, Sonny & Cher, Johnny Cash, Michael Jackson, Harry Connick Jr., Frank Sinatra
Sally Stevens is a singer/lyricist/choral director who has worked in film, television, concert, commercials and sound recording in Hollywood since 1960. She sings the main titles for The Simpsons and Family Guy and her voice can be heard on hundreds of film and television scores. She has put together choirs for John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith, Elmer Bernstein, and many others for film scores, and was choral director for The Oscars for 22 years. In the earlier years she toured with Ray Conniff, Nat King Cole and Burt Bachrach, and she has also written lyrics for Burt Bacharach, Don Ellis, Dominic Frontiere, Dave Grusin, and others.
Her short fiction, poetry and essays have been included in Mockingheart Review, The OffBeat, Raven’s Perch, Hermeneutic Chaos Literary Journal, Los Angeles Press, The Voices Project, and Between the Lines Anthology: Fairy Tales & Folklore Re-imagined.
Along with singing and writing, her other passion is photography, and her black & white photographs of film composers have been included in exhibitions at the Association of Motion Picture & Television Producers headquarters in Los Angeles, and at Cite de la Musique in Paris, France.
Sally, welcome to Discovered Wordsmiths. I’m very excited to talk to you today. It’s one of my other passions is music.
, and I’ve been getting back into playing more music again. So I think this will be a great discussion. I can’t wait to hear some of your achievements. And for those of everyone else joining in that has not read the press release or anything, Tell them a little bit about who you are and where you live and some of the things you like to do, which you’re not really an author, it just, you’re writing about your life.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Sally: Thank you. I live in Studio City, California, and I’ve worked in in the music business here in Hollywood for the last 60 years. Literally, the first film score I sang on was How the West was won in 1961. And some of the more recent ones were Deadpool two.
And nice . Yeah. I’ve never had to give a cutoff before on You Can’t Stop This Mother, ,
Stephen: that’s awesome. .
Sally: But it, it’s it’s been a wonderful journey. I’m blessed to have made it stretch this long. I think the reason it lasted so long was I started out for the first 25 years or so just singing.
I was a session, what they call a session singer, and I did solo cues. I did some solo cues in Clte and I sang the Lullaby, secretive Nim and that kind of thing. But most of my work has been Ched Coral underscoring in, back in the variety TV days, I worked on Danny Kay Variety show. I did some vocal cues for Murder She wrote, and that era.
We worked a lot in television and film scoring. And then about 25 years into that, Journey. I had a cha, I never wanted to, what they call vocal contracting. It’s like that’s when you put together a choir or a small group for a composer. And I’d never wanted to do that because I thought of it as something very political, and I thought the other contractors wouldn’t wanna hire me if I did it.
It turned out exactly the opposite. It’s really what allowed me to be active in the business this long because it gives you a closer connection with the composers, with the project. You have to shape the sound to be what the composer needs. That’s, that was a blessing too, to be, to begin that work.
And I’ve done vocal contracting, put choirs together for John Williams and Mark Shaman, Alan Sylvere. And,
Stephen: A lot of, can you say, John Williams, please? Please tell me some of the work you’ve done that he’s
Sally: composed. Oh the first thing I did with John was a film called Amistad. I don’t know if you’re, oh, wow.
It’s the I don’t, I can’t tell you the year exactly, but it was a Stephen Spielberg film. It was a brilliant film. About the story was that the journey of these people who were put on a slave ship and brought across the Atlantic, Loaded into the states here, and they were able to resist becoming that what, which they’d been brought here to become the slaves.
And there was a trial and they were able to return to their home country. It was very we, it was a wonderful project, and the reason I got to do it with John was because I had done a film for Han Zimmer called The Power of One. Ok. Which w which also involved African music, authentic African Music, and with with Amistad, it, it was.
It had to be authentic that we had someone on this, on the scoring stage to help us with the pronunciation of the words and so forth. But it also had it was John’s music, which also has a touch of the classic approach to music. So the choir was, I believe it was either 48 or 52 voices, and we worked about four or five days with those sessions.
We had, some days we had just a women’s choir, some days, a men’s choir, and then mostly it was combined and we also had a 48 voice children’s choir in that film. And it was it, there was one cue. That I went to John’s office to look at, and in those days he still used a movie Ola, which was the, there was none of this digital stuff.
And we looked at this cue, and this was a very emotional cue. There was a, on the ship, as they were coming across, wrapped in chains, was this lovely young woman who was about to be made a slave. And you could tell by the expression on her face, she was not on for this ride. And she was sitting on the edge of the ship, for the bow or whatever, the wall that goes around the deck.
And she was, and in slow motion with all these chains, she falls back into the ocean, into the water and waves and sinks down. And John had written a solo cue for that scene that shot, and he had to find the right voice. It had to have an ethnic quality, but it had to just be the right emotional voice.
So I gathered some demo tapes from singers here in la, which is part of what contractor does. And they were all wonderful, but they weren’t quite right. John listened to them all. I had to be in New York from meetings for the trustees of the after pension and health fund. So I thought while I’m here, maybe I’ll audition some of the young ladies at Julliard and that would be exciting for them.
And so we did that. But again, nothing was quite right. And then someone told me that there was a new opera director up in San Francisco and that I should reach out to him, and I did. And he told me about a young lady, Pamela Dillard. Who was on the road at that moment doing classical tours. And I contacted her.
She was in Birmingham, Alabama at the moment. And sometimes you just get this, you just know I talked to her, talking to her on the phone. I knew this was the right person, and she sent a recording and John loved it and he wrote two more solo accused for her for the film. So that was my first experience with John.
But John is the most gracious. I talk about him a bit, quite a bit in the book. He’s the most beloved, gracious, gifted man in the business, I think. And everybody who’s ever worked for him would say the same thing we had, there was one little solo cue that we had to audition a couple of boys for on a trailer that we did for one of the Harry Potter movies.
It was another kid’s. Yeah and we, I thought there were two little boys that I thought might be the right little boys, so I had them both audition, sing to the track for John, and rather than, have one of them be disappointed in front of their friends, he just said we’ll pay them both we’ll and then we’ll decide later who will use.
So I’m, that’s so typical of how he does.
Stephen: That’s nice. Yeah. So you’ve started off mostly as a singer and progressed into more of the administration work, but did you keep singing? Oh,
Sally: yeah. In order for you the, a vocal contractor is a sag after a covered job and you must be a singing, a performing part of the singer group.
And the reason that they put that into place back in the, or late fifties, I think that was added to the contract, was that there needs to be someone out there on the risers or in the room around the mic with the small group to communicate with the producer in the composer who is in the booth.
And you need somebody that’s knowledgeable about the community that’s part of the community. So the role of vocal contractors floated to the surface out of the community of singers and maybe composer, a particular composer or a particular music department would think someone was doing a really good job.
And that. That contact or relationship deepens. So that I, when I began contracting, and the first score I contracted for was a Danny Elman score. It was Beetlejuice and it was a small group. Just I think it was six or eight of us, I always forget. And then I had done also, I had done PeeWee’s, great adventure ,
Sally: and formally a wonderful singer and contractor by Ron Hicklin, who was very, we were all very much a part of the business in the wrecking crew days, if you know about the wrecking crew.
Oh yeah, he was, yeah, definitely side by side with them All from nine to, I, when I started to write this memoir, I’m getting off track. So pull me back if you need to. No, please. . But when I started to write this memoir I dived into my journals and date books that I’d kept over the years. I must have 50 of them.
And I found Paper calendar books, date books from 1965 and 69 72. And in, as I looked through those days, I had forgotten that the union covered activity in this town was so active, so busy that there would be a nine o’clock session, a 12 o’clock session, maybe a two or three o’clock session, or a five o’clock session and nine a seven to 10 session.
It went on from nine in the morning to midnight, many times, six days a week. And the, there were a lot. Nothing paid a whole lot cuz in those days, I, when I wasn’t contracting, you’d write down in the calendar book the time, the ca, capital studio two o’clock Johnny Mann contractor or whatever, but I didn’t know what the project was.
And then, but when I got my paycheck, then I’d indicate the amount that came and the date that it came. And some of those checks were $9 and 27 cents or . In those days the demos for jingles didn’t pay a lot, but the good thing was that it was all on contract. And if those jingles got used, you were paid according to how they were used, whether it was a national spot or, so the, there wasn’t there was a huge amount of activity. Of course, the pays were, the payment was less in those days, but it was the golden age I think of our
Stephen: business. I, yeah, I agree. Now the one thing you said I’m not sure I completely believe you, that really you had musicians come in for sessions at 9:00 AM that’s like an ungodly hour for a musician
Yeah. Late night 2:00 AM I could believe that , no,
Sally: we did we’ve worked at Western sometimes and often the artist, maybe if, like we did some stuff with Wayne Newton at the little studios at Western Recorders, and most of those were afternoon or evening. But a lot of the jingles were in the morning.
The orchestral things were, and the film scoring was often a nine to five day. It was an eight hour day where the orchestra and the choir or the singers worked together. Then it’s evolved more. There are still some sessions like that, but there are more sessions where the orchestra records by. By section, the rhythm and the horns and the strings and whatever.
And then the singers are brought in and they, we sing to those tracks. So it’s not all in one room like it used to be. Sometimes it is, but
Stephen: not. I was gonna say, doesn’t John Williams do that sometimes for the movies, he’ll be playing the movie and recording the score while watching it. Yes.
Sally: You’re on a big story scoring stage and also when I started in the, There was the MGM scoring stage, which is the first one I worked on, which it’s the place where Judy Garland sang over the rainbow, and that studio is now Sony. But the stage is just the same. The scoring stage is just the same.
There was mgm, there was Fox, the Fox Newman stage, which is still there in its glory, beautiful big stage. And Warner Brothers, which Clint Eastwood saved from extinction because the work had slowed down and there, so he the score there is now called the Clint Eastwood stage at Warner Brothers.
And it’s also the same big original space. And it accommodates a large orchestra. When we did the we did a I’m trying to think, we, John Williams projects, we did those vocal sessions as overdubs because the choir was so big, it was 50 52 voices, but many times we’ve done the choirs live with the orchestra.
Stephen: Nice. Nice. So you’re a musician, you’ve sang your whole life. , what was it like trying to put singing life into written life? Because that seems very oh, and by the way just the fact that you did anything with the wrecking crew is super impressive to me. I love those. So what was the it like trying to, did you wanna do like a story five version of your life from, point A to point B, or is it a collection of stories or
Sally: It’s basically first of all regarding the writing.
I, I I’ve always loved writing. I started writing when I was five years old, as soon as I knew what to do with the pen excuse. But, and I’ve also written, I had a ch in the beginning. I, can I go back to the very beginning? ? Oh yeah, please. When I was at ucla herb Alpert, Herb Alpert and Lou Oh yeah.
Lou Adler. They were partners together in a little office on Sunset Boulevard before either of them had their tremendous successes. And they were looking for young singer to sing a song that Herb Albert had written. So a manager took me to see him. I was 19 at the time, I think 20. And, um, and he thought I would be the okay person.
So he said, do you have a song for the other side of that, that in the, this is the days of single 45 records. So I went home and wrote another song and brought it back, and he liked it better than his song. So he said, write another song. And he recorded the two songs that I’d written, and that’s really what I wanted to do.
That was my dream. I wanted to be a, an artist, but I got a chance to go on the road with That song by that record by the way, got to number 10 in Connecticut, but that’s as far as it got . But I shortly thereafter had a chance to tour with Ray Keff on his first tour as an artist. And doing that, I met some of the other session singers and I met my first husband and then we ended up going on a long 47 1 nighter bus tour with Ray the next year later in that same year actually.
And I began to learn more about the session singing business. And, when you have a chance to do that it’s word of mouth. You, someone recommends you cuz you did a good job standing next to them or whatever, and it begins to open up, but it’s so competitive that if you don’t show up when you’re hired, they might find somebody else.
So that became really my focus and I was very blessed and very. Lucky to just have been at the right place at the right time in many cases. And you get to show what you do if it’s a high amdo or something, whatever it might be. Now I’ve forgotten the question. Oh, the right,
Stephen: we were going back to the beginning.
I was asking about getting the singing life onto the written
Sally: page. Over the years, I, I kept writing, I did the writing workshops and so forth cuz I loved it. But I also always wrote poems and I always wrote lyrics. And the first chance I had to write Lyric for a film was a film called On Any Sunday.
And it was the sort of the documentary about motorcycling that Steve McQueen was featured in. And that was for composer Dominic Frontier. And I did several other film projects for him. And then I had a chance to write a lyric for Dave Gren for a film called Absence of Malice. And it was just a little source cue.
It was a, it was a. Christmas song with Chil where children were singing, walking into a Catholic church and 20 years later, and he and Dave had wanted to write something that sounded kind of old English a little bit, so we did that. So about 20 years later, Dave was involved with James Taylor’s first Christmas album and he reached out to me and sits, Alec, can you write a second verse for our little Christmas song?
And so I did, cuz it had been very short in the beginning and James loved it. And it was in his first, and in some of the other versions of his Christmas album it’s a song called Who Comes This Night. And so that the writing was always a part of what I was doing, but in a very small way. It was just special moments, and when I sat down to write the memoir, it. I had written, over the years at those writer workshops, I’d done memoir workshops and poetry and fiction and essay and everything, and I’d occasionally write a chapter or two that I thought was an interesting story to tell. So I had some of those together during the pandemic.
It was a wonderful time to edit all this stuff together. And I had two, two people that were hugely helpful. One is a wonderful writer himself named Gordon Meninga. And he has, he was head of the writing studies at Collge and he also taught at the University of Iowa at Summer Shops workshops. And another one was Laura Munson, who’s a woman writer up in Montana, who’s had a couple of very successful books.
And I sent the memoir to each of them. Gordon sent me back many comments, can you expand on this or what, that kind of thing. During the pandemic though, I, it was when I had a chance to pull this all together. And coincidentally, when you do something for 55 or 60 years, it become, for me, it just becomes your life.
That my community of singers became my family. I was also very active in the the governance of my unions, screen Actress Guild and aftra, which about 10 years ago merged into SAG aftra. And so I was on boards and committees, and I was participating in the negotiations and everything. And when that begins to slow down as it does, as you have to expect that at a certain age, and there are young singers that have begun to do some contracting, and they, they have to, they’re entitled to their time.
But it was very painful because in the early days we were very considerate of one another. We didn’t talk about other jobs when we were there on the stage. But then Facebook happened, , and you get to see all these parties that you’re not invited to as that begins to happen. And it was very painful and it was helpful during the pandemic when things got shut down for six months or so, and you didn’t have to look at Facebook and see that happening.
And it gave me a period of time to adjust to what was really going on in life for me. It’s not over yet. I just worked on a wonderful project for Seth McFarland this last week. But it’s not like it was, and the first chapters of the book are from today. It’s how you feel when you realize that things are changing and you have to adapt.
And then I went back and just started with childhood and the family stuff and kind of got into, I think they’re probably 10 chapters before I’m really into the business stories. But my, both my parents and my stepfather were all singers, all also. And my, I just recently learned from on Facebook I came in contact miraculously by to this wonderful lady who, Laura.
Oh my God. This is the time of life when you can’t remember names.
Stephen: Oh, I can’t remember ’em. So it’s not just
Sally: and she’s a, I’ll think of her name in a minute, but she’s a wonderful writer. And I had posted something somebody else had said, oh, I think I know Kenny Steven’s daughter, somebody posted something about Bob Stevens, who was a session singer and someone this guy said think I know Bob’s daughter Sally.
And I posted, no I’m not Bob’s daughter. I was Kenny Steven’s daughter. And the, and this lady happened to see that she writes about the early film days the actors and singers of the thirties and forties. and she took, she wrote me a note and said, I was a huge fan of your father, Kenny Stevens.
And she started to write an article about him, and she has sent me pictures and film clips and sound clips of things I never knew he had done. Wow. It was just amazing. Wow. Anyway, that’s I knew that there was such a job as a session singer, because both my parents did it.
My mom’s sang on The Wizard of Oz and,
Stephen: nice. Nice. What type of feedback are you getting from people who have already read the book?
Sally: Wonderful kind feedback. I’m just I can’t believe it. So many friends and people in the business and some people I don’t know, have posted on Facebook. I just ordered the book or just started it, or I’m enjoying it.
It’s I’ve had very good feedback. I’m very grateful for that. I never expected it to be a widely read book. I just thought it’d be something interesting for people who wanted to get into the business or who particularly love the business. And that’s probably what it is, but it’s it’s been very warmly received.
Stephen: What I gotta ask, we, you’ve mentioned a lot of great movie composers. , what was probably your favorite thing to sing at some movie, some score or
Sally: whatever. Oh my gosh. It, I’ve sued such beautiful music where it’s hard to say which is the favorite and a lot of things come to mind.
One of the early films I did for Danny Elsman was D Edward Scissor Hands. And beautiful movie. We used a 20 voice women’s choir group and it was this beautiful I the tone that I love from the Sopranos, which is straight tone and floaty and beautiful. And so that was very special. Everything I’ve done for John has been very special.
I did a project for Mark Shaman. We did this, a couple of vocal cues from South Park, which was just fun because of the, you don’t Blame Canada and oh, I love that song. . We did that in the session. Then we did that for the Oscars. I also was a choral director for the Oscars for about 22 years, and we did an on-camera choreographed version of that south blame Canada version.
And Robin Williams was, did the solo and we were all characters behind him. But that’s another blessing in my life. Was that to work with Robin Williams. Nice. I worked on the last TV series that he did called The Crazy Ones. I love
Stephen: that show. Yeah. Yeah. It was very sad when,
Yeah. You lost him.
Stephen: Okay, so you mentioned South Park, Uhhuh . I love that because you’re talking about Amistad, which is a very deep movie. It’s not comedy or anything. No. And in South Park is just totally off the rails irreverent. But the music that Matt and Trey do in that, that their show and on that movie, and Stu, it’s amazing music.
Really. It’s very
Sally: well done. Yes, absolutely. I’ve also I haven’t worked on the series, but I have worked on, from inception of the shows, I’ve worked on The Simpsons and Family Guy and American Dad. I the main title for The Simpsons that I sing with Danny and Susie Stevens, Logan, my daughter also sang on that.
that air, that main title has been running for 33 years. And the Family Guy main title I also sang on, but I worked on the shows as the music team for Simpsons. Sadly changed about two, three years ago. So I’m not doing the vocal cues within the shows any longer. But we did all the special just the silly songs, that the Village people would sing or that, and once in a while I’d do a sound alike end title.
I do, I did a little Barbara Streisand version of people and stuff like that. And for Family Guy we do, we’ve done cues. One of them was You’ve Got aids, which was a scene in one of the episodes. But ironically, Can I tell you a story about that?
Stephen: Please. . Anyone that would wanna read your book, this is what they wanna hear.
This is what would interest them. So
Sally: please. Now some of these little stories I don’t break, go into detail with on this, on the page. It’s more general. But first of all, Seth McFarlane is one of the most amazing, also the kindest, greatest guys in the
Stephen: business. Yeah. He’s, I love his, he’s amazing.
Sally: Christmas album. Yes. He’s a wonderful singer. He values quality music. He’s insisting on still in these days, using live orchestras to score the Orville, the family guy, and oh, love that. Has some wonderful composers that do his scoring, Walter Murphy. And so anyway we did this little song for the call.
It was, we’ve got AIDS and then a few, and one of the singers on it was a dear gentleman who who was a gay man. And it was sensitive. Cue for him to do, and some, a couple of years later, one of the there was an interview show on one of the public tele or the NPR stations or something, and I just happened to listen to it cuz I’m addicted to NPR R And it was a young man telling this story about hi himself, having had aids and come through it.
But it changed the way he related to people as he met them. And he met, he had met a young man that he was very interested and wanted to know, and, but he was concerned about how to share this information, that he had aids and they were watching television one night and a rebroadcast of this episode came up and it allowed him to have the conversation with this young man.
And I when there was a request even after that time. To reuse, to reen that cue for some other project. And I had to get permission of all the singers, which were protected by sag so that they and this one young man was, he just had over the years beat himself up for being on that song.
And he didn’t wanna allow it to be used. But I was able to share that story with him. And he said, okay we’ll let I nice find, they can do whatever they want. But, it’s it becomes very personal sometimes these projects. And that, when we did South Park Mark Shaman kindly that, that couple of the days before the scoring called to tell me that there was some language in the queue that some people might be offended by.
So to be careful who I hired it with who I booked it with. And there was another episode of the Family Guy where we had a lyric that was, SAC religious in, its in its satirical way. And I knew it was. It was not gonna be something that this one singer wanted to sing. So I had, I just said you can sit out sit this one out.
And we did it without him and then he came back and we did the rest of the cues.
Stephen: I do another podcast with a friend of mine. It’s all about geeks and nerd topics and stuff, . And one of the things we discuss quite often is how comedy is a reflection of our society and it can point out the faults in our society in a way that just editorialization does not.
And absolutely, yeah, that’s some of these shows, like The Simpsons, the things they do South Park too, the things they do in it to point out the stupidity of our life and our culture sometimes.
Sally: Absolutely. Absolutely. It allows topics to be discussed and. Positions to be stated in a way that it’s not gonna offend The people who don’t particularly feel that way.
They’ll they’ll go to the humor of it, or they’ll miss the boil together, . But it does allow those, you’re absolutely right. Yeah.
Stephen: Now did you write the whole book or did you use somebody like, as a ghost
Sally: writer or anything like that? I wrote these, the book, and I didn’t want any help
Good. I like that. Yeah.
Stephen: Thank you. Okay. I’ve been dying to ask. , so did you get to do anything on any Star Wars movie? Yes. Thank. Oh, that’s awesome. I love that. . What, what can, what did
Sally: you do? I sang on a couple of them. I sang on the series, but, I gotta tell you, I’m 83.
I will be 83. Next week on Thanksgiving and thankful. Happy birthday. Thank you. And so my memory for the early projects the ones that I wasn’t contracting, I sometimes I have to look at the list of credits to remember what I did or what I
Stephen: just loved. . You have a huge list, so that’s understandable.
Regardless of age, it’s much more forgiving, being 85.
Sally: I love that. I got another story to tell you about John. I sang for his one of his earlier contractors, Janine Wagner, who was Roger Wagner’s daughter, and she did some of his earlier films. And then he’s used the Master Corral several times too.
But what was I going to just tell you? Oh my god. John Williams story. Okay. . So for the second to the most recent Star Wars film Jedi, something about the Jedi. The Last Jedi. Last Jedi, thank you. My phone rang one day and. It was John and he said, hi, baby. How many low B flats do you think we could find?
And it was like, John, and this story is in the book. It was, that was, he was talking the way he would talk to his five-year-old granddaughter. It was just, that’s what he does. He’s just he calls everybody baby. And so we did, I found 21 low B flat guys with the base in the base community here, and it, that’s pretty low register.
And what John had written for that film was not he had several cues, but most of them were this very sound, which they also used a couple of those cues in the next star Wars, the more recent one they licensed to reuse. But yeah, that I’ll never forget that. Call .
Stephen: Nice. So we were talking a little bit earlier about the Iowa Writers Conference, Uhhuh, or workshops.
Sally: the what the, there the program is the Iowa Summer Writing Festival, actually. Yes.
Stephen: That’s it. So you’ve been involved with that for a very long time. Like you said, you’ve not been a writer by career, but you’ve been involved with writing. So tell us a little bit about that and what you did with
Absolutely. It, as you, and I’m sure a lot of your listeners know Iowa, the University of Iowa is legendary. They’re I had known about it and I. And I knew I couldn’t go away long enough to do a writing program, but I thought I’ll investigate the writers festival writing festival.
So I reached out to them and they asked me to send some material, which for most of those workshops you don’t have to do. But I sent it and I got accepted into the M f a poetry program accidentally , but I couldn’t stay away from town. That was that was 22 years ago, and I was very busy and you just, you couldn’t go outta town that long.
So I, I did get finally into the writing festival workshops, and those are like five day and two day workshops over, they start in June and they go through mid-July and you can choose, two or three or one or all of them. So over the years, I’ve done writing workshops that poetry, short fiction memoir, personal essay, flash fiction.
Flash fiction came into being somewhere along the way. And I did a ton of writing, but I didn’t really submit much of anything for the first 10 years. And finally at the end of one of my week workshops, this Gordon Meninga, this dear guy, said, you gotta start sending stuff off. So I did. I sent a couple of flash fiction slash prose poems.
They were just little, like couple hundred words. I sent him off that night and then was to head home the next day. And the next day I got a, an acceptance email from the place I’d sent it to, which was a journal called Hermaneutic Chaos Literary Journal. And they were based in New Zealand. I don’t know how I found it.
It was online or something, but so that, that was so fun. So I thought, oh, this is great. . And then the, I got about over the years, I’ve had about 12 little stories and poems and essays landing in various journals. But the best lecture I ever heard about writing was in the earlier days there in Iowa. They did something called the elevens every morning, which is during the week one of the instructors would come and di give a lecture, and then the workshop started in the afternoon.
And this one instructor walked into his podium with a cardboard box full of letters. And he said, if you don’t get this many rejection letters back, you haven’t even tried. So I am not somebody that was good and still am not good about submitting. And I, it really, you really have to find your reader.
I’ve learned that you have to find the publication that, that, that likes the kind of stuff you write. And in that, Project, you have to do a lot of reading. So it’s it’s and the workshops were fabulous. The workshops were wonderful. I did a few zoom over the lockdown, but it’s not the same as being in the room.
You really get the vibe of how someone feels about your writing or how they don’t feel agreed. And along that way, and I’m sure you’ve heard this from other writers too you reach a point where you have to realize that every comment in those feedbacks, it shouldn’t send you flying to the moon or into the dark cave.
You begin to trust yourself. And I have in addition to the memoir, I have another work that’s long novel. It’s about 90, 80, or 90,000 words, which is a bit long for a novella, but it’s something I literally started back in the eighties when I was seeing a, an a, a counselor who was brilliant but nutty as a fruitcake.
And he would, you’d walk into his office and he would say, ah, you’re toxic. Toxic, you gotta go walk the stairs. And so I’d cycle the two or three fours of stairs and come back in until I wasn’t toxic anymore. And one day I was writing, I wrote this silly little story, which turns out to be the beginning of the me of the novella.
And it’s about a psychiatrist and a patient, and she walks into his office and the first thing he notices is that she’s got a fresh bullet wound in her forehead. And she says, oh, it was just my husband and I taking pot shots at each other. We’ll be, he was fine when I saw him lying in the driveway. And I was trying to be sarcastic with him, but he said, if you wrote a few pages like this every week at the end of the year, you’d be cured and you’d have a book.
So , I kept writing about this lady and it’s a kind of magical realism book, but she has a lot of adventures. So that’s my next project. I gotta get that one out into the world.
Stephen: Therapist inspired stories, ?
Sally: Yes. Therapist on fire. And at the end of the book he’s he gives up his therapy and is playing accordion for parties and she’s all better.
Stephen: So do you think the creativity of singing applied to your writing? Do you feel that it’s just another avenue to express yourself? Or was it something you had to work at?
Sally: I think, I think it. I think I was very blessed. My mother was also always had wanted to be a writer. She ended up, after her singing career, she taught writing at north Hollywood High School here.
And she books were, we never had a lot of money in my household. It was a, his, hers and ours family. My mother and father were divorced. She married my stepfather. He had two children by his first marriage, and then they had three more children. So we were a family of six kids. They worked freelance with their singing and it wasn’t always good times, but the one thing I remember is that books, she, they belonged to the Book of the Month Club. They b and she was a beautiful pianist and she also played the piano at night. But she, there were books everywhere in our house and there are in my house. Some of them are hers. And I guess I just the language part of it was never a problem for me.
And I, it, was it Stephen, when I knew we were gonna have this lovely talk today I woke up for some reason thinking this morning about the fact that writers, no matter what they’re writing about, are writing about their own lives in some way. And the emotions that we feel or we understand or we don’t understand, those are the things we write about.
The experiences will translate them into another character maybe. Everything in Mrs. Billingsley was based on things that had happened to me, but I just tweaked them a little bit. And it’s interesting that, let me gr I’m gonna grab a book. Okay. The actor Jim Carey he wrote a book a couple years ago that was release.
Called memoirs and misinformation. And when I saw that, I thought, oh, damn, I’m gonna get blamed for copying Jim Carey if I ever get Mrs. Billingsley out their end of the world , because he, it’s a fun book. But it’s, and I think you was talking about the connection between music and writing, and I think that there’s a, an instinctive kind of connection between the rhythm of a sentence.
The phrasing. The and I, and one other thing that I’ve, I learned at the workshops, which is very helpful with poems or any kind of writing, is to read them out loud to yourself. Read the, read your pages. Because I, I find things when I do that, that I miss on the page. We get so used to looking at the page.
That you don’t see it anymore. You just know, oh yeah, that’s what I was talking about, blah, blah, blah. And,
Stephen: agreed. So you mentioned you’ve read a lot. What are some of your favorite books and authors? No,
Sally: I was afraid you’d ask that , because I can’t remember anything you say. I James Tate wrote is a poet, and he was the first poet I wrote that he, his book of I’ve forgotten what the title of the book is, but he wrote prose poems that were little stories almost.
And some of them were fantastic, funny, interesting satirical. And that encouraged me with my flash fiction and poet, some of my pros poems. Mostly honestly I realize I have, I love reading biographies, memoirs and autobiographies. I love reading about people. I could go look at my shelf bookshelf in the hall, but I don’t wanna leave the screen too long.
I and I, Kurt Vonnegut, I read his it was the famous book that he wrote about the the war the Fahrenheit,
Stephen: Four, that, that was Bradberry Fahrenheit 4
Sally: 51. Oh, that, that’s not the book I’m thinking of. Yeah. Anyway,
Stephen: I am,
Sally: yeah. Anyway, I love Kurt Vonnegut. I
Stephen: gosh. I’ll look it up.
I can include a link. I’m, I haven’t read a whole lot of Vate, so I’m not familiar with his work, but I know a lot of writers love his work.
Sally: Yeah. And what I was fascinated by was an article that I read about him. It might have been an excerpt from a memoir or an interview that he’d done, but it was, it came the book I’m thinking of came about through his own experiences in the war, in, in Battlefield and seeing his colleagues wounded or killed, or, and I thought, I then I began to worry about, oh my God, you gotta have really amazing experiences to write fiction, to build on that kind of stuff.
And this is embarrassing because I can’t remember anything
Stephen: No that’s not a problem. I don’t remember everything, so I’ll just, I’ll look it up. I’m sure I can. Figure out which book it was.
Sally: Yeah. But there are so many the writers. I haven’t, I haven’t read as many of the classics.
I’m sure as I should have. I’ve gotten back into Shakespeare a little bit and I took a course, Shakespeare course in college, but of course I don’t remember a lot of
Stephen: it. Did you ever sing anything for any of the Star Trek movies or TV shows?
Sally: The TV series, yeah. They, there were they used vocals as underscore a lot in those, some of those projects.
So there weren’t sos but Jerry Goldsmith was he, did he, what was his, yeah, he did the series.
Stephen: Yeah. Yeah. Cuz I interviewed Arman Shimerman who uh, did QU on DS nine. He wrote A book where he took Shakespeare’s tempest characters and put it into the history of the time period.
It’s, yeah. So I did talk to him. So it’s a connection
Sally: there. . Oh yeah. How fun. One of the musical projects I’m working on to help get accomplished as a dear friend, a Coral, a classical composer, has written three coral settings of three of Shakespeare’s sonnets. And we’re gonna record those in a few weeks with the choir here.
And that’s kinda nice. Fun. Wow.
Stephen: Nice. So do you have a website, Sally?
Sally: I do. I have several . The I have www Hollywood film Corral, C h o r a l e.com. And that’s something that again through John. I did a concert with him back in 97, I think it was. Some music from Amistad and other films at the Hollywood Bowl, and they needed the name of the choir for the program.
And I didn’t, we didn’t have a name. They were just freelance singers that I’d gathered together. So I asked John if that would be okay and he said yes, and you could, you should trademark that name because you could record under it. So I did. So we’ve been able to use that for screen credit all these years cuz the studios wanna know that you own something before they put it on the screen.
So there’s that website. Then www sally stevens writer.com and sally, www sally stevens photographer.com/film scoring H t M. Htm. Okay. And those are the writers, the workshops, the websites, none of them are really up to date cuz I’ve been focusing on other things.
The Hollywood Film Corral has a lot of information about film scores that I worked on and contracted and but it’s missing a couple of the more recent ones. And then the Sally Stevens writer, I posted a lot of, some blogs, some poems, some links to other writing that’s been published. And then the photography website is not completed.
I, but I in 19 let. It would’ve been 20 years, 27, 22 years ago on my 60th birthday, I gave myself a couple of gifts. I did a cabaret symposium workshop on the East coast. I did a photography workshop in in the Lair Valley. And I had started taking photography at Essence cuz I’d always been interested in that.
So in about 2002 or three I began doing black and white photography shots of composers on the scoring stages as they were at work. Oh, wow. And the photography website has about, I think about 30 of those with a little bit of credits about the composer. The first one I photographed was Jerry Goldsmith on the Paramount stage, which is no longer there.
And then I photographed John Williams and Steven Spielberg on the so Sony stage. Nice. And and then and over the years, Alan Sylvere, mark Shaman James Newton, Howard, James Horner just Wow. Tyler Bates, the more recent composers. So that’s the website that deals with the photographs of the composers.
Stephen: That’s awesome. Yeah. You’re naming all these composers cuz you know I watch a movie and I’m like, oh, I gotta see who was the composer.
Sally: Yeah. It’s so funny. In the olden days you, the lights were off until the credits ran. Now the lights come up, the minute the credits start and people walk out and they I can’t, I’m glued to my seat.
I have to see who the musicians contractor was and who the orchestrators were and the engineers and blah,
Stephen: blah, blah. To be fair in the older days the credits would last a minute and a half. Now they last 12 minutes
Sally: That’s true. That’s true. And the portable potties get credit and everything gets, everybody gets credit.
Stephen: Yeah. All I just gotta ask, say no but you mentioned The Simpsons. , you sang a little bit. Do you, would you sing just a line or two that you did for The Simpsons? Because my, that’s one of my son’s favorite shows. Oh
Sally: the, just the main title. The Simpsons. The Simpsons.
Stephen: Oh, it’s all, I love that. He’s gonna be tickled to hear about that. And I love all the Star Wars stuff. I appreciate you talking. We didn’t really split it up into two different episodes. We talked about your book in the d writer stuff kind of all mixed up. So a little bit different of an episode, but I think that’s great because your stories are wonderful.
I love that.
Sally: I hope I didn’t get too far off track. I not
Stephen: at. Not at all.