Dennis Lambert Interview

image courtesy of Derek Slaton

Of All The Things

March 8, 2007

AUSTIN–A gregarious gentleman with music in his soul and his grown son have an extra bounce in their step this morning.

Although it’s only 11:00 a.m., a crowd has gathered on the sidewalk outside the Alamo Draft House on Sixth Street. The occasion is the world premiere of Of All The Things, a documentary film from Jody Lambert about his dad’s 2007 tour of the Philippines and his return to the music business.

Dennis Lambert is a singer-songwriter, producer, performer and one of the true giants of pop music. He has written more than 600 songs, 75 of which have placed in Billboard’s top 100. Some of his tunes that are universally known and instantly recognizable include, “Rhinestone Cowboy,” “Baby Come Back,” “One Tin Soldier,” “Ain’t No Woman (Like the One I Got)” and “We Built This City.”

After decades of successful work in the recording industry, Lambert eventually faded from the scene. He relocated from Los Angeles to Boca Raton, Florida, and started a new career selling high-end residential real estate. Yet, like the character in “Rhinestone Cowboy,” Lambert sought to “be where the lights are shinin’ on me.” Thanks to a huge following in the Philippines, Lambert got his chance to be in the spotlight again. And his son, an actor working in New York City, got a chance to make his first feature length film about a subject near and dear to him.

A number of hours after the film’s debut, the Lambert men arrive at 604 Sixth Street to soundcheck for tonight’s party in their honor. The entrance to Camel’s private club, a.k.a. the Austin Beast House, is nondescript. The Lamberts aren’t sure they’re at the right place until they reach the top of the stairs, see the room and start setting up on the intimate stage. Earlier in the day, Dennis mentioned how people love to hear his songs in an intimate setting. This is that setting and the veteran entertainer gets his game face on.

Happy to talk about the film and the music, Dennis and Jody generously sit for an on-camera interview and offer up their stories.

Q. What was it like working together?

Dennis: It was fun for me, I think firstly, because I got to go for two weeks to a really distant land with Jody. And that was fun. We don’t get to spend that much time together anymore. So being around each other for two weeks was really great.

Jody: For me, it was great. Making the movie was challenging and intense but also just to be able to see him do those concerts in the Philippines and actually take the time away from the movie to just sit in the audience and just appreciate I was on this trip as a fan and as a family member.

Q. Was this the first time you really had an opportunity to see your dad in that setting?

Jody: Oh yeah, definitely, there were little things over the years where he would do a song or a perfomance but nothing of that scale, that intensity, that size. Especially that final show which was for 10,000 people or something.

Q. How many years in the making was this tour of the Philippines?

Dennis: The album, my one and only as a singer-songwriter, was made in 1972 and released in that same year. Within a couple of years, it was successful in the Philippines. It took some time to ferment and kind of stick over there. By the late ’70s, he had approached me to come over there and tour. Each time he approached me, I always treated it seriously. I always thought about it. I always entertained the idea, because I thought it would be interesting to consider. But in all the cases before we finally said yes, I thought it would be more disruptive than useful. Somehow I thought I’m too busy now. I’m making records with so and so, I have an album I’m due to start on this date. To take two or three weeks off, to form a band, rehearse songs, get on planes, go over there, do a tour for whatever length of time, come back…I thought for what? Where is that leading? It wasn’t important enough, earlier on to me to make the commitment to do it. This time it was for different reasons. The movie goes into those reasons I think fairly well.

Jody: I also think the interesting thing we sort of discovered at the end of the filmmaking process and at the end of the journey of the film is that here was this offer that was coming to him that seemed to be so insignificant over the years. And yet, the movie sort of shows that this thing in life that sometimes you could kind of blow off or think is sort of not really part of what else is happening in your life ends up being super important because without that tour, none of this would be happening. Without that album he made back then, we wouldn’t be sitting here. He wouldn’t have reconnected with his past and his music. Yet, that thing over the years was like a minor blip on the radar. Just a crazy lark that was always floating out there that you think you could just blow off but it ended up being a really important thing for his journey and subsequently mine and the producers of the film.

Q. Do you see yourself performing on a regular basis now, or getting back into the game, if you will?

Dennis: I think so. This has opened up some interesting new doors. Live performing, which I think is a wonderful way to present all the music I’ve been involved with over the years in one way or another. I think I can put together for different venues, or different style tours or shows, a slightly different show that is built for a particular kind of audience. For example, if I do something in a residence in Boca where I live, it’ll be for a slightly older more affluent audience member and it’ll have a little more theatricality as part of the show.

Q. Do you want to work with emerging artists today?

Dennis: I love the best of what’s going on in music now. I always did. I always found there was plenty to like and plenty of good reason to like lots of the music. When people complain, it’s usually a sign that they’re not paying the kind of attention they might have when they were younger. I still listen and I still find things that I like.

Q. What makes a great song?

Dennis: Well it’s a lot of things. If you really want to put it in simplest terms, it’s when the marriage of the music and the lyrics press all the right emotional buttons in the listener. It’s the way the words sit on the notes. You can’t split them out, you know. You can say that’s a wonderful lyric taken by itself. Or that’s a great melody but it’s what happens when they merge that makes a song really special.

By 7:00 p.m., the room is filling up with film buffs and fans of Yacht rock. As Dennis heads to the small stage, he is greeted by enthusiastic applause. One of the signs that this is a special performance is the fact that no one is talking. Instead, all attention is on Dennis as he launches into “Rhinestone Cowboy.” He’s “sending cards and letters to people he doesn’t even know.” But it’s clear that the people here in this spectacular loft space know his timeless work and now, thanks to this Camel showcase, they know a bit more about the man behind the songs.