Our Man in Miami: Taking a Drive with Desmond Child

Thank Zeus for cool friends. No sooner had a certain electronica act passed on having a chat with yours truly than a gal pal o’ mine set up an interview with someone infinitely more palatable—and enduring. So rather than having to force myself on a couple too-cool-for-school Canadians, I got to get with the cat who’s largely responsible the soundtrack of our lives. So there.

That’s how I found myself sitting in the backseat of a Dodge Nitro speaking with legendary producer and songwriter Desmond Child yesterday afternoon. The ever glam Debbie O made the connect, and I couldn’t have been keener on the prospect had I suggested it myself. Child just so happened to be holed up in one of Ricky Martin’s stately abodes wrapping up the Latin heartthrob’s latest LP. Martin’s home, as you might imagine, is literally fit for storybooks. But even more impressive was the fact that it had been converted into some kinda sound factory. The moment I crossed the threshold I could feel the magic in the air.

Child had to jet away for a few days to take care of a couple things, so I hopped on board for the drive to the airport. And while all I heard of his latest production came in snippets through one of Martin’s three studio doors, I nevertheless sensed something brewing that just may knock the proverbial socks off the whole wild world. Confirming my suspicion was Child himself, who told me just enough about Martin’s next collection of songs to make everybody’s day. But first, I asked him to backtrack through some of his career highlights, which still leave me somewhat agog.

Would you consider Kiss’ “I Was Made for Loving You” your breakout track? It was my first international hit, and yeah, it helped put me on the map as a songwriter with bands. Up until that point not very many bands wrote with professional outside songwriters. At the time, though, I was really an artist with Desmond Child & Rouge, and it was more of a collaboration between artists, because Paul Stanley was a fan of our group. He’d come down to the shows all the time, and one day he said, ‘Hey, let’s write a song together.” So he co-wrote a song on our first record called “The Fight,” and I co-wrote “I Was Made for Loving You” for Kiss’ Dynasty. I think I did better than he did in the exchange.

And Stanley is the one who recommended you to Bon Jovi, right? Right. Bon Jovi was on tour in Europe with Kiss—they were the opening act. And I think they really liked another song I wrote with Paul called “Heaven’s on Fire,” which also became a hit for them. Jon asked Paul about me, and Paul gave him my phone number. And then I went over to New Jersey to write with this new band called Bon Jovi. I ended up co-writing four songs from Slippery When Wet, including “You Give Love a Bad Name” and “Livin’ on a Prayer.”

And you’ve been working with them ever since? Yeah, I served as Executive Producer on the last four albums.

I know you’ve also worked with Alice Cooper, who gave me a great interview last year. Was that the Trash record? Yes, I co-wrote with Alice and produced Trash. That had a song called “Poison” on it, which was his big comeback song.

Have you worked with him since? Yeah, in fact, we worked recently with Bob Ezrin. Wow! The immortal Kiss producer! Yeah, but he also produced all of Alice’s early records too.

Did he do Killer and School’s Out and all of those? Yeah, and Billion Dollar Babies and Welcome to My Nightmare… He’s an amazing producer and one of the most wonderful people I’ve even known.

You’ve also co-written with Joan Jett. Was “I Hate Myself for Loving You” the only song you two wrote together? No, we did “Little Liar” and “Get Off the Cross I Need the Wood”…

You guys wrote a song called “Get Off the Cross I Need the Wood”? That’s brilliant! (Both laugh) We did a few other songs together too.

I also wanted to ask about that Hanson track, “Weird,” which is a really beautiful song. Thanks. Maybe other than “Livin’ on a Prayer,” that is singularly one of my all-time favorite songs. I always perform it whenever I’m asked to sing somewhere.

I’ve also got Cher in my notes, with three exclamation points. How did that come about? John Kalodner, the legendary A&R man at Geffen Records, signed Cher when no one believed in her as a recording artist anymore. I had been working on Aerosmith’s Permanent Vacation, where I had co-written “Dude (Looks Like a Lady)” and “Angel,” and I was also having success with Bon Jovi at the time, and he asked if I’d produce her. I’d met her back while she was doing the play Come Back to the Five and Dime Jimmy Dean when another producer had used a couple of my songs, so Kalodner re-introduced us, and she was thoroughly enchanting. I ended up bringing in a bunch of my friends to do the record, including Jon Bon Jovi. And that’s when she met Richie Sambora.

Oh, so you’re responsible for that? (laughs) Yeah, it’s all my fault! (laughs) Not that I could’ve stopped it. Instant chemistry.

Another triple exclamation point I’ve got is for Lindsay Lohan. She did your song “I Live for The Day.” Really? How? Why? Actually, I didn’t work with her. The song was pitched to her and she cut it. In fact, I’m ashamed to say I’ve never even heard her version. The record company didn’t send me a copy, because they don’t do that anymore, and at the time I didn’t know how to download, so, through one thing or another, I never got to listen to it.

More recently you worked with Mika. What’s he like? Yeah, we co-wrote a song with Jody Marr called “Erase.” He’s wonderful. A great guy, very smart.

Then there’s Katy Perry’s “Waking Up in Vegas.” Yeah, that went number one a year ago. She’s amazing. She’s absolutely adorable and gorgeous and funny and irreverent – exactly as she is in her songs.

Okay, that brings us to the next Ricky Martin record… I’m really excited about the music, the content, because since he’s come out it’s unleashed his creativity and the scope of what he can sing about and say and do. He’s a formidable person – an activist, a philanthropist, a humanitarian. All of the work he’s put into his charity—it’s all going into the music. His personal life too, and how much his life has been changed by his children. Once he opened that door a floodgate of energy and creativity just really exploded.

So, it’s fair to say that the next Ricky Martin record will be unlike anything we’ve ever heard before? Definitely. We really reached a creative fusion of rock and pop and electronic and Latin music – it’s all over the place in a really great way.

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