A few weeks back we asked our members to mail us questions for Mr. Roy C. Bennett. He is the (co-)composer of many Elvis songs, ranging from “G.I. Blues” to “The Bullfighter Was A Lady”.
EN. Can you tell us something more about the man behind that name we all know from the movie songs? Or to use the question from a visitor, “what is your real name? It is always written Roy C. Bennett”?
RB. I was born in Brooklyn, New York, in August, 1918. Graduated from the City College of New York, where I studied music. My legal name is Roy C. Bennett.
EN. Can you tell us how you got into songwriting?
RB. When I was discharged from the Air Corps after three years in the China – Burma– India theatre of war, I had a choice of studying opera singing or becoming a songwriter. I chose songwriting. Sid Tepper and I began to write seriously when we were 24 (two months apart in age), but were interrupted by World War II.
After the war, we started a music publishing company, Crest Music, with three of our buddies who had also just been discharged from the service. After a while, it soon became Crestfallen Music, and was dissolved. In the meantime, our work had come to the attention of Sidney Mills of Mills Music, and we were hired as staff writers for that prestigious firm. We wrote two Hit Parade songs during that period: Red Roses for a Blue Lady, and Say Something Sweet to Your Sweetheart.
After four years with Mills Music, we spent several years as successful staff writers for the Aberbach brothers. That was when we wrote our Presley songs. At this time, we also became record producers for Big Top Records and recording artists under the names of Kenny and Corky.
EN. What was the first successful song you wrote, and what is the biggest success of them all?
RB. Our first big song was Say Something Sweet to Your Sweetheart (1948).” It was on the Hit Parade in the U. S., and was recorded in the U. K. by Vera Lynn and Sir Peter Pears as a duet. Our biggest song is Red Roses for a Blue Lady.
EN. Besides Elvis, which other “famous names” did you work with?
RB. We didn’t “work with” any artists personally. Our songs were submitted to them by the publishers. Among the long list of great artists who recorded our songs are Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Perry Como, Cliff Richard, Andy Williams, the Ames Brothers, Sarah Vaughan, Billy Eckstine, Rosemary Clooney, Robert Goulet, Vaughn Monroe, Guy Lombardo, Duke Ellington, Connie Francis, and numerous others.
Cliff Richard recorded 15 of our songs including the mammoth international hit The Young Ones. He also recorded Travelin’ Light and When the Girl in Your Arms Is the Girl in Your Heart. The Ames Brothers recorded nine, two of which became hits: The Naughty Lady of Shady Lane and My Bonnie Lassie.
EN. How did you end up writing for Elvis?
RB. We became staff writers for the Aberbach brothers, who published Elvis’s songs. Scripts were mailed from California to Freddy Beinstock, the general manager in New York, and given to us.
EN. How many songs did you write for Elvis?
RB. We had 37 songs in his movies, and five more in albums. Additionally, three were sung in the movies by actors other than Elvis.
EN. Of the songs you wrote for Elvis; which do you feel was the best one he ever did?
RB. I think his best recording of one of our songs is New Orleans. This is pure Presley!
EN. What’s, in general, your favorite Elvis-stuff? Can you name your favorite Elvis-song, -movie and -album.
RB. My favorite Elvis song is Puppet on a String. Favorite movies are Follow That Dream and Flaming Star. My favorite album is Blue Hawaii, which was voted by Elvis’s fans as their favorite soundtrack. We had five songs in that movie.
EN. Is there one of your songs you would have liked to be recorded by Elvis but that he never did?
RB. Yes, Red Roses for a Blue Lady.
EN. Did you have any interaction with Elvis while writing the songs he sang? What was it like to work with Elvis? Did he have any favorite one, of the ones you wrote? Did you ever meet Elvis to discuss the songs with him?
RB. Unfortunately I never met Elvis, so I don’t have the answer to these questions.
I regret very much not having met Elvis. It would have been an honor and a privilege to me to meet a legend and a man I admired. I met Cliff Richard for the first time last December and it was wonderful. I sang a duet of one of my songs with him before 10,000 people. It made me realize how much I missed by not meeting Elvis.
EN. Did it take long for Elvis to get the lyrics and music on tape? Just want to know that if he heard one song he could sing it at once or if he had to study on it.
RB. He must have had a great memory for words and music. I believe he didn’t read music.
EN. What was your initial reaction to Elvis' treatment of your songs? From a creative artistic point of view (not commercial success et al)
RB. I liked Elvis’s versions of our songs. But when he changed our melodies, sometimes I liked the change, but more often I didn’t.
EN. Most of your songs were used in the movies; did you have a difficult time writing songs for the movies?
RB. Not at all. We were very prolific and fast. Once we wrote four movie songs in one afternoon.
EN. You wrote a lot of songs together with Sid Tepper, can you describe the way you cooperated with him?
RB. We both wrote words and music. We’d work on a song without using a piano. When the song was finished, I went to the piano, put the chords to the melody, and made out a lead sheet. Then we’d go to publishers and demonstrate the song for them. More often than not, the song was accepted for publication.
EN. What is Mr. Tepper doing today?
RB. Sid, also 85, is retired with his wife in sunny Florida.
EN. What is your reaction to a common opinion among a certain group of Elvis fans who claim that the movie songs are the “weak” section” of Elvis’ catalogue.
RB. It has always been a great disappointment to me that his movie songs are regarded as not worthy of him, to put it mildly. It’s true that the movies songs are of varying quality, but so are the songs that were written for Elvis outside of his movies. Also, these songs were written for specific situations in the scripts, and should be judged only in the context of those situations. For example, for Fun in Acapulco, where one of the characters is a female bullfighter, we wrote The Bullfighter Was a Lady; in Girls, Girls, Girls, where Elvis is working on a shrimp boat, Song of the Shrimp fit a scene; in Blue Hawaii and Paradise, Hawaiian Style, our songs had a Hawaiian flavor; and our song G. I. Blues dealt with American occupation forces in Germany.
As to the quality of the songs: Sid and I had hits before the Presley movies, songs such as Red Roses for a Blue Lady, The Naughty Lady of Shady Lane, I’m Gettin’ Nuttin’ for Christmas, My Bonnie Lassie, and others. I believe that our songs for Elvis's movies maintain that high standard. For example: Puppet on a String, Angel, G. I. Blues, When a Boy like Me Meets a Girl like You, Hawaiian Sunset, Confidence, All That I Am, Am I Ready, Island of Love, and Beginner's Luck. One of Elvis’s movie songs was even considered for an Oscar: our song, It's a Wonderful World, from Roustabout. Other writers as well wrote many fine songs for his movies.
I believe that Elvis’s movies and their songs made a mighty contribution to his career. They brought him to the attention of millions of people who otherwise would never have known the greatness of the King.
EN. Which other authors who wrote for Elvis do you admire?
RB. Don Robertson wrote many fine songs for Elvis. Also, Otis Blackwell and Leiber and Stoller.