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SXSW 2008: Jody and Dennis Lambert on “Of All The Things”

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03192008_ofallthethings.jpgBy Stephen Saito

Dennis Lambert may be the most successful singer/songwriter you’ve never heard of — unless you live in the Philippines. Although best known as the songwriter and producer behind everything from The Four Tops’ “Ain’t No Woman Like The One I’ve Got,” Glen Campbell’s “Rhinestone Cowboy” and, more infamously, Starship’s “We Built This City” (which Lambert calls “an accumulation of all the crap of the ’70s and ’80s combined”), Lambert made one solo album, “Bags and Things,” in 1972 that faded away almost immediately. A few years later, Lambert followed suit, moving to Boca Raton and transitioning into the real estate business. But if that were the end of the story, his son Jody wouldn’t have much to work with for “Of All The Things,” which follows the elder Lambert tour in the one place his solo album was successful — the Philippines — 35 years after its initial release. From dilapidated dancehalls to the arena that housed Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier’s “Thrilla in Manila,” Lambert is greeted with packed houses, playing all of the music he penned, in some cases for the first time in public. Since then, the 60-year-old has settled back into being a realtor and family man in Florida, but he and his son Jody, and the film’s producer, Taylor Williams, gassed up the tour bus once again to stop by SXSW, where Dennis played a few gigs in addition to talking with me about the rigors of touring and the most unexpected of comebacks.

How did the concert tour in the Philippines come about?

Dennis Lambert: I’ve been approached by this particular Filipino gentleman going back to when he just became a promoter, which was in the late ’70s. He’d been a deejay, a very successful one and he was beginning to promote shows on the side when he first approached me. Every so many years thereafter, I would hear from him — I think he came and approached me at least five times over that 30-some odd years. And the last time was in 2006, when I said yes.

Why was that the right time for you?

DL: I think there were a lot of factors, but firstly it was the urging to do it by my family, particularly my wife, Jody and my daughter. Jody knew my music the longest and was wondering why I wasn’t doing more. There were other factors that got in the way in earlier years, like being so busy with commitments to produce and write for people, and it would’ve created too much chaos and inconvenience for me and for everybody else who had to get it in sooner. In ’06, I was living in Florida, I was working in real estate, I was administrating my music and there wasn’t really anything I could fit in. My real estate partner said, “Don’t worry about it. I’ll cover you if you need to leave. Go do this.”

How did it all become a movie?

Jody Lambert: When my dad said it might happen, I was thinking I was just going to get a home video camera and follow him around and learn iMovie. I started talking to Taylor, who’s my best friend and a big fan of Dennis, and he saw the potential for this to be something larger than a little home video tribute. I mean, we didn’t know what was going to happen when we got over [to the Philippines], but the story of a guy who was a really successful and prolific songwriter who now isn’t active and who gets pulled into it again is a real narrative and a real arc. Once he committed to it, we got a crew and some money from investors who saw the movie the way we did. We didn’t have a lot of time, but we just amped up and got it together and went with him and made the film.

03192008_ofallthethings2.jpgI would think the logistics of this were daunting — you had to shoot concert footage in a stadium, you had to shoot in the Philippines — how do two guys go about doing that in your first film?

JL: A lot of it was flying by the seat of our pants. We had two cameramen, so we shot all those concerts with two cameras. When we finally heard that the final show was at the Araneta Coliseum, when we heard how big it was, Taylor was like, “We’ve got to get more cameras.” So we ended up going for that real formal “Last Waltz,” kind of, everything on tripods for that final show. It was crazy because we were on the rock tour schedule, but it was great because it was the best of both worlds. We were making a film, but also on a rock and roll tour.

And you really do keep the concentration on the tour, but in your introduction to the film at the festival you said “There hasn’t been much music in my family, literally or metaphorically,” Was it your intent to keep the film about Dennis and less about your family as a whole? Did this film bring you and your father closer together?

JL: There wasn’t much of an inclination to put myself in the movie more, because I think that when we thought about the film, it wasn’t really about me. It’s about this decision that my dad made to do this, to go back out on the road, and we didn’t feel that the movie was a father-son discovery movie. God bless all the movies that are made by family members, but we didn’t want to do that sort of “My Architect” thing where it’s like “let me take you on a journey of my father and a journey of discovery.” That’s just not what we thought the movie was. It’s a rock movie, a fish out of water story, a comedy — the father-son element is the last part of it. As far as bringing us closer together, we’ve been close forever and it didn’t…

DL: If anything, this made us less close. [laughs] I’m still pissed.

JL: If I ever have to listen to his songs again… But no, it’s been a fun thing for our whole family — it didn’t heal any wounds or anything, because there really were no wounds.

So this isn’t your typical rock documentary — no family problems, no internal tension, no descent into madness, no drug addiction…

DL: There really wasn’t any drug use when there could’ve been for me. Lots of pot, lots of coke and lots of uppers to be in the studio hours on end. I lived pretty clean. Now, I’m into drugs. I take a diuretic, I take a cholesterol pill, blood pressure medication, Aleve, just for general aches and pains. [laughs]

Dennis, the film ends with you going back to a career in real estate, but are you doing more music now than you were before the film?

DL: Absolutely. This has opened up a lot of opportunities and given me a lot of food for thought. I’m working on a musical for Broadway, I’m now contemplating doing more live performances. I’ve done three or four in support of the film and they’ve gone really well. I had a sense that might be true because over the years, whenever people would say “Play a song or two for us” at a party, always you could hear a pin drop. It’s an intimate chance to listen to the singer/composer play his own music, especially if he’s not known to be the artist as well, and there’s something about that that’s interesting and intriguing for audiences and on a bigger scale, I see it now. I’m going to produce and write when the right thing comes along. But that would’ve been true before the movie, if people would reach out to me, to say “We want to have you involved in a new album.” If it was the right project, I would do it without hesitating.

[Photos: Dennis Lambert on tour in the Philippines in “Of All The Things,” The Shot Clock, 2008]

For more on “Of All The Things,” check out the official site here.

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