An English musician, orchestra conductor and arranger, JOHNNY HARRIS, is a familiar name in the LYNDA CARTER universe. He's been with Lynda not only in the Wonder Woman series, and movies like "The Last Song", Born To Be Sold", "Hotline", but he's been the musical talent behind all of her five CBS musical specials. In a rich interview, he shares some of his memories with us.

Lynda Carter with Johnny Harris on stage.Lynda Carter with Johnny Harris on stage.Lynda Carter with Johnny Harris on stage.

Q: What is your musical background. I know you were born in England.

A: Well, originally, yes. I’m now an American citizen. I moved in 1972 and recently became an American citizen. Yeah, so I’m here. I started as a trumpet player with big bands way back, and turned to arranging in England, and then I wrote arrangements for a lot of bands. Then I got into the recording industry and started making records. My Father went to school with Tom Jones’ father, my heritage is Welsh, and Tom was a friend. His manager at that time, and who’s long been dead, Gordon Mills, asked me if I would do arrangements and put a whole act together with him for Tom to travel the world, so I did. I was Tom’s music director for two years – that was in ‘66 to ‘68. Then I quit and went and did a lot of television shows, and I made my own albums – two albums for Warner Brothers. One just last year was re-issued worldwide, and they’re re-issuing the second album later this year which features the group Yes. They guested on that album for me, and I produced and arranged four albums for Shirley Bassey for United Artists and got her back to the top of the charts with her rendition of “Something”, the George Harrison song.

Q: Your Father was a musician?
A: Yes, my Dad was a musician, and so was my Grandfather.

Q: So it’s kind of a family tradition that you wanted to be a musician yourself?

A: Oh yes, that’s all I knew in our household. My Mother was a singer, my Father a musician and a singer, and that’s all I knew from birth I suppose.

Q: Obviously it’s in the blood, I guess you might say?

A: Oh yeah, and it’s transferred from me to my son, to my daughter, and yeah, it’s keeping it going.

Q: Now, how did you become involved with working with Lynda Carter?

A: Well, I did a few movies in this country. I did quite a few movies in England. One of the movies I did in England, and it was through the connection with movies that I met Lynda, was “Man in the Wilderness” with Richard Harris and John Huston. It’s a classic. It’s still showing all over the world. I did that in England, and I came to the States with Paul Anka actually to produce a couple of albums, and we wrote some songs together. One is called “Jubilation”, which he’s still using. Barbra Streisand recorded it for us as well. I spent five years with Paul when I moved over here as his music director and toured the world with him. Through all of that, once I moved here, I met so many people. I worked with Sammy Davis, Michael Jackson, Engelbert Humperdinck, it goes on and on and on.

Q: It sounds almost like a history of pop music.

A: Yeah. Diana Ross…I forget, there’s so many. Lynda’s husband at that time, the famous Ron Samuels who was her manager, this was in 1977 or 1978. . . I’d lived in Vegas at that time for four or five years. I built a house there. Paul lived there, so after I left him I moved to Los Angeles where I wanted to get back into my movie career in this country. I mean, this is it – Hollywood. So I decided to get off the road and leave Paul. I had married my second wife, I had a young daughter, and I kinda wanted to calm it all down. I met Lynda and Ron Samuels, her husband, probably a year prior to that when they’d come to see

Paul Anka at Caesars Palace in Vegas. They came backstage afterwards. She was very, very friendly and a very sweet lady, and we just clicked immediately. We really liked each other, and her husband too, so about a year after that I was back in L.A. Ron called me, and he said, “I want to put Lynda into Vegas at Caesars Palace”, and he said, “I want to put an act together for her. Would you be interested?” I was right in the middle of doing a movie at the time, scoring a picture, and I said, “Well, it’s kinda tough”. So he said, “Well, how long do you think?” and I said, “I’ve got another picture looming after that, they’re trying to negotiate the deal.” It was a Rod Steiger picture, and I kinda put him on hold to be quite honest. Later on in our relationship Lynda told me she would say, “I know Johnny Harris is fantastic, but I want to get on with this. Why do we have to wait for him?” And Ron Samuels said, “I want to wait because he’s the best. He’s the best one for you.” So they waited, and eventually I said okay and that was it. I met with Lynda again. It was a wonderful experience, and we started working together on the act, and the rest is kinda history, you know? I did the last season of “Wonder Woman”. She introduced me to the producers and said, “I would like Johnny to do the series”, which I did. Then she did 5 specials, and I did those. And she did 3 or 4 movies of the week, which I did. Unfortunately, the marriage between Ron and Lynda broke up at that time, and then we went on a world tour to the Philippines and all over the place, and we played in Vegas and on the east coast in Atlantic City.
Q: So the very first time you performed with her was in Las Vegas at Caesars Palace?
A: At Caesars. That was the very first time, yes. We had lasers, a laser light show. It was quite an amazing show. It was a wonderful show, and it went very, very well. It kind of was the launching pad for her music career, her singing career I should say.
Q: I remember her saying she had played in Vegas when she was 17 and had to enter through the back door because she was only 17 and couldn’t go through the lounge.
A: Right. She used to tell that story on stage. She said, “I had to go through the kitchen”.
Q: I think she used that on her first TV special, too?
A: She did. Yeah, that story was on there. Yes. Absolutely right.
Q: What was your primary role with Lynda?
A: Well, basically I was her musical director and arranger. That was my primary position. We wrote songs together, and we also were very, very involved in her act from the point of view of coming up with ideas for songs, coming up with ideas for songs for her specials. So it was a collaboration, a close collaboration creatively in all aspects of her music.
Q: Was there anything in particular that you thought was something that sort of couldn’t be done, and it turned out to be very, very well done in the stage performance?
A: Well, we did one piece that my ex-wife helped put together. We called it the hi-tech medley. It was done, pre-recorded with the early synthesizers, but we took old songs like “Stepping Out With My Baby” and things like that and made a medley of it. But it was done with all the electronic sounds, and we’d play that track, and the orchestra would play along with it, with me conducting them. She would perform these songs, and also dance. We brought one of the top dancers out of Hollywood to join her in that one particular piece. It was actually done, when I think about it now, for one of her specials. I think it was the last one.
Q: I think it was in “Body and Soul” where she has the Hollywood Medley.
A: That’s it. That was it with the keyboard and all the people, you know, dancing on the keyboard. They superimposed the dancers and everything on a big long keyboard. We were hoping it would come off, and it did. Then when we went on the road, we took it with one dancer.
Q: Lynda and one dancer, or just Lynda?
A: Just Lynda and one dancer for that one particular segment which lasted about 5 minutes on stage, and she would bring him out and do this particular medley, the hi-tech medley.
Q: Besides singing on stage, did she do a lot of the dancing medleys from her specials?
A: No, she didn’t. That was the only one as far as I can recall. I used to, if you  remember from “Street Life”, that whole section of “Loving Feeling”?
Q: Yes.
A: Well, we adapted that. That original arrangement, that whole suite, was originally off my second album for Warner Bros. which is called “All to Bring You Morning” which I told you is going to be re-issued by Warner Bros. in the fall. That piece I suggested to the director whose name was Stan Harris, and I said, “Do you know, I think this would make an incredible dance routine,” and he agreed and played it to the choreographer, Walter Painter, and he said, “Oh my gosh, yes, it would be fantastic”. So they did that like a  West Side Story type, you know, the two guys fighting off the girl, thing. She did not dance on stage, but we used a big section of that musically for her to go and change her costume and left me to conduct the orchestra, featuring the orchestra and myself.
Q: That was during the “Street Life” show, right?
A: No, that was on the live show, but the music was taken from the “Street Life” section in  “Loving Feeling”. She would start singing it, and then she would turn to me as the music continued and changed in character, and she would say, “And now Ladies and Gentlemen, I would like to introduce my musical director Johnny Harris”, and she would leave the stage and I would back the orchestra in that frenzied fast section. Then she would come back on again at the end with the slowed down section of the final piece of “Lost That Loving Feeling” in a new gown, so it gave her a change of costume.
Q: Oddly enough, Donna Clemens, your fan who sent the information about you…
A: Right, Donna, yeah.
Q: She had sent me a tape of the Atlantic City performance, and I’m just realizing that what you’re talking about is where as you say she turned and said, “Ladies and Gentlemen, here’s Johnny Harris”, and then you break into your medley?
A: That’s right.
Q: I was wondering how that was being worked into the live stage show. Now, what was the name of the album that was from?
A: It’s called “All to Bring You Morning”, and that featured the group Yes. They were friends of mine and also on the same label, and they guested on it on about 7 or 8 or the pieces.
Q: Is there any particular song that Lynda identified herself with in her live stage performances?
A: Well, yes, it was “Always”, the closing piece which was picked for the specials as well. “I’ll Be Loving You Always”, the old Berlin song “Always”. You notice at the end of each special she would close with that song. Well, I think that basically “Always” was her sign-off song, and that was associated with her because of the specials. She closed every one with it and also closed the show with it.  So I would say that would be it.
Q: I’m curious – the sequence on “Street Life” where she had to march down between the rows of U.S. Marines tossing their rifles back and forth with bayonets. How did that come to be? Actually, one of the Marines wrote into our website and said she kept speeding up and they had to keep stopping to keep from accidently cutting her.
A: Well, actually one of the Marines cut himself. Not seriously, but we had to stop shooting for a second. It was pretty scary. But she, the trouper that Lynda is, she said, “Okay, I’ll do it”. Those guys were very, very clever and very, very experienced at what they were doing, but it was still kinda dangerous. I mean, I had to close my eyes, I couldn’t look at it. It was an idea of the choreographer, I reckon, and her husband at the time who was her manager, Ron Samuels, okayed it. She had the final say and decided to go ahead and do it. It was a very effective piece.
Q: What do you recall, was she always ready to go on with the show if anything was wrong or if she was ill?
A: Oh God, yes. She was fabulous. She was a real trouper. I remember the sight of her always before she went on – she’d be in the wings waiting as I’m doing the overture section, and then the voiceover would announce her, and she was there in her gowns and with her 4 or 5 inch heels on she was about nine feet tall, you know. She always looked like, ‘Get me on there, here I go’. She was like champing at the bit to go and was always that way. It was very exciting, and she was just a delight to work with.
Q: Do you recall any particular time when there was illness or there were any problems with the shows?
A: No, no, no, no. No, she was always, I mean she worked very hard and would come off and be tired like all of us, you know, and a little sweaty. But no, she was right through to the end. She’d make that final curtain with all the energy that she started with. There was one interesting or funny, well it wasn’t funny at the time, incident. We were about to open in Atlantic City, and Joel Grey was going to be opening for her. I forget the Hotel, I think it was Harrah’s, but I’m not sure. The day before the rehearsal, the closing night of the previous act, about 2 o’clock in the morning we got a call to say our music case was missing. We searched, and our road manager searched, and then we realized what had happened. They’d put it on the truck of the previous act. The truck had left, and  we didn’t know where it was going or what direction. Actually, we found out pretty quick where the act was going, but nobody knew what route this truck was taking. So it was either trying to re-write the arrangements overnight which somebody suggested, her agent, and she said, “No, that’s ridiculous, and it’ll never be done in time, and I’m not going to put Johnny through that. It’s silly. There’s no way we can go on until we find that music”. So the next day, the opening night, Joel Grey did the entire show himself. You know, it was short, but the audience understood. But to find the music eventually, she, through her managers, got in touch with the Air Force. They sent out a helicopter, and they found the truck, and they stopped it. These guys must have been like really scared. They picked the music up, and they flew it back to Atlantic City, and we opened the next night. But that was pretty…like a helpless feeling. Lynda and I were looking at each other. What are we gonna do? You know, there’s no way you can go on with just a piano. Everything was missing, the drums, the bass, I mean the music. That never left our sight for the rest of the tour. That was the beginning of the World Tour.
Q: What an amazing story. I can just imagine you people standing there tearing your hair out?
A: Oh, I mean it was awful.
Q: That was the beginning of the World Tour when she went over to England?
A: Yes, I think so, or maybe we started in England, then here, then we went to the Philippines. It’s a bit difficult for me to recall that now, but the sequence doesn’t really matter. We toured England, and we ended up at the London Palladium. That was wonderful.
Q: What was the reception from the audience like?
A: Well, she sold out everywhere she went. She sold out the London Palladium. They’d been getting “Wonder Woman” for quite a while over there, so they knew who she was. They weren’t quite sure how she would sing, but she got the entire audience in Liverpool . . . at the end of the show she started singing “Always”, and they started singing it with her. Wonderful. Oh yeah. And the Palladium was an incredible, wonderful moment because my Father was in the orchestra. He was a violinist, and of course, she knew my Mum and Dad very well. My Father also played in the orchestra on “Street Life”. He was one of the violinists in that show. He came over here for a while and did some TV with her. He was in the orchestra (at the Palladium). I’ll always remember she introduced him. My Mother had just had a stroke and she wasn’t very well, and she actually passed away about 2 weeks after that show. But she was in the audience with a nurse watching her husband and her son on stage at the London Palladium. Lynda introduced him. She said, “I’m going to introduce somebody now that is more responsible for the music than my musical director.  It’s his Father, because he helped create Johnny Harris, whose Mother is in the audience”. And she introduced Dad, and he stood up and took a bow. It was very sweet of her. She’s just a sweet, darling lady. She really is.
Q: I remember you accompanying her a couple of times solo on the piano. On one of her Maybelline commercials you were sitting at the piano kind of on a sound stage? Then when she was on “The Joan Rivers Show” in 1986 or ‘87 you accompanied her on “Out Here On My Own”, and on the Michael Parkinson BBC TV show when she was interviewed in 1980 when you just got over there, you were playing the piano and conducting the little orchestra there. Did you do a lot with just you and her?
A: No. No, it was always with an orchestra. That one exception was the commercial. I very rarely played the piano. I think on those 2 or 3 occasions I did for specific reasons which I can’t recall any more, but basically we had our own piano player, and I would conduct the orchestra.
Q: Did you have a chance to work your own music into the program besides the “Street Life” one?
A: My music? No, not really. It was basically all my arrangements. Lynda and I wrote a song which opened the second show. That’s the one where they’re building a big sign of her. It fades to the band, and she walks out of a huge letter L. That opening song Lynda and I wrote. We wrote 4 or 5 songs together. So it was mostly the arrangements.
Q: Have you and Lynda kept in touch?
A: Yes, she came to visit, to my house here ( in California), to meet my wife and my little boy she’d met before. She was doing a movie. It was the last movie she did. It was about 6 months ago. She was in town, so she popped in, and we had lunch and saw her for a couple of hours. It was lovely to re-visit with her. We stay in touch all the time on the phone, and we e-mail each other. She has a wonderful family, and her daughter and her son are growing up so wonderfully. So yeah, it’s wonderful to stay in touch. We had a marvelous working relationship for, my God, it must be 10 years, 10, 11, 12 years. It was a long time we worked together. It was a lot of fun. We covered a lot of bases and did some things.
Q: It’s been several years. If she wanted to go back on stage again and perform live, would you like to do something with her again?
A: Oh yes, I would. I’d love to work with Lynda again. It would depend on both our schedules. If she approached me and I was available, I would be delighted.
Q: I think the grueling performance would take its toll on both you and her. Do you think you could do it again?
A: Oh, yes. It would depend. I have a young son, and I’m also going into business with my eldest son who’s just moved over here and got married, a musical product called Musical Names which is in Borders Books now, and we’re going to go nationwide with it. There’s a lot of things happening in my life. I finished the “Star Search” series that just closed. I don’t know if you saw any of those episodes at all? One of the finalists, a little black girl called Tiffany Evans – I did all her music for her, and she won the final blow-out and has just closed Vegas, opening for the Smothers Brothers. She’s 10. She’s the youngest performer to ever work Vegas. The child is an absolute phenomenon as a singer. Just incredible. In a nutshell, my life is very, very busy, and I know Lynda’s got a lot of things going on in her life. If she ever found the time and decided to do it, and I had the time, it would be fine. I don’t think it would be for very long. It would be short, maybe a couple of appearances, but it would be fun. That would be cool.
Q:  Thank you so very, very much for letting us interview you. We’ve learned so much about her live performances from your anecdotes.
A: You’re more than welcome, let me know when it goes out. I’ll put it up there, and I’ll take a look. And it was nice talking to you, and I hope you have a lot of success with the website. It looks very good.
Interview © 2003 by WONDERLAND • The Ultimate Wonder Woman Site. All rights reserved.

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