Interviews

Published on July 26th, 2013 | by Gerry Galipault

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Everybody’s talkin’ about Harry Nilsson again

Lee Blackman knew the minute he met Harry Nilsson, he had found a friend for life.

Nilsson may be gone – he died of heart failure on Jan. 15, 1994 – but Blackman is making sure his legacy lives on.

The Encino, Calif.-based lawyer, who has handled several big Hollywood divorces, provided legal help for the singer-songwriter up until his death and continues to represent his estate. He has overseen the placement of Nilsson’s songs in films and on TV, and he produced the 2006 documentary, “Who Is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin’ About Him?).”

“Harry was the smartest, wittiest person I’ve ever met,” Blackman says. “He had a bullshit meter like you wouldn’t believe. He could spot a phony from a mile away and he just couldn’t do stupid. He probably thought I was real, and that’s why he felt so at ease with me.

“We had so many things in common, like our love for Ray Charles. When I was a kid, when I heard ‘What I’d Say’ for the first time, it changed my life. He told me the same thing.”

Blackman is talking about Nilsson for a reason: He’s hoping that a new RCA/Legacy box set, “The RCA Albums Collection” (out July 30), and a new biography, “Nilsson: The Life of a Singer-Songwriter” (released July 16), will revive interest in Nilsson and eventually gain him overdue induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

The 17-disc box set contains all of Nilsson’s 14 RCA albums, expanded with 65 bonus tracks, including 26 previously unreleased songs. There are also three CDs of 58 rarities, 29 of them previously unreleased.

In the late 1960s, about the only thing that all four Beatles could agree on was that their favorite artist was Nilsson.

“They really admired Harry,” Blackman says. “They loved his voice and how many different ranges he had, and of course, his songwriting. They invited him to London in 1968 and he got a chance to see the way they lived. They couldn’t go anywhere in public; they were holed up in their houses and their studio.

“He made a conscious decision after that meeting, ‘That’s not for me. I want to walk around on my own and not become a famous rock star.’ If you notice, on all his album covers, he has a different look about him … that’s because he just wanted to move about freely.”

Nilsson had plenty of hits – like the 1972 No. 1 “Without You,” the Grammy-winning “Everybody’s Talkin'” (written by Fred Neil, from the film “Midnight Cowboy”), “Coconut,” “Jump Into the Fire” and wrote Three Dog Night’s “One.” But he shunned the public life and did not tour. That’s why Blackman thinks Nilsson’s low profile has kept him from being recognized for his career achievements.

“He certainly deserves it,” Blackman says. “I miss him dearly. He was the most generous, most amazing friend I’ve ever had.”

 

 


About the Author

Gerry Galipault debuted Pause & Play online in October 1997. Since then, it has become the definitive place for CD-release dates — with a worldwide audience.



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