I was already writing songs from the time I was 16. I was going down to Hollywood and to the publishing company and doing my songs. I played cards every week. I had a girlfriend when I was 18, I think. But nothing much. Some drugs, some alcohol – but I guess music is what I was interested in then.
I didn’t know it but apparently the new decade was bringing in an exciting time, especially in the field I was in, music. In the latter part of the 1960s, singer-songwriters became almost the norm. I never thought performing would be my career. Never. I did it and I liked it. I liked it better than writing. You are there, people are applauding and they are laughing if you say something funny – and then you are gone. It is not like a recording where you go back and work on it. Some people like that better, the hermetically sealed contemplative style.
I didn’t have a lot of self-confidence so I needed to be pushed with everything. My friend Lenny Waronker was responsible for me starting songwriting. I would always play him things first. And even when I would fall out with the tune and say it was no good – and I would really mean it – he would tell me it was really good. He started me off, and for years he was my courage.
I would give my younger self the advice I give kids who ask me for advice now. You have to show up for it every day. Do it. I haven’t gotten many ideas when I wasn’t trying to have an idea. It doesn’t come to me when I am driving or in the shower like it does for some people.
I didn’t ever have this deep-seated confidence that I would make it
Most of the kids don’t have the problem I had. They are a hell of a lot more confident than I ever was, unless they are putting it on. I didn’t ever have this deep-seated confidence that I would make it. I always felt a lot of weight on me. I would tell my younger self to enjoy the process. I don’t know whether my younger self would listen.
I’m surprised a song like I Think It’s Going to Rain Today, which is at least 50 years old, is still around. It never felt like it would last. I was very excited when Ray Charles did Sail Away and Joe Cocker and Tom Jones did You Can Leave Your Hat On. The best of them though, to me, is Etta James doing God’s Song. It took some real courage for her to do that. She did a number of my songs. I wish I had met her.