Friday, October 7, 2011

Super ‘70s and ‘80s: “Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!”—Austin Roberts, theme song and “chase songs” singer, season 2

Introduction to series “Super ‘70s and ‘80s.” 

Introduction to subseries “Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!” (including list of interviewees).

What’s your professional background?

I started working as a writer for ABC Music in 1968 in New York. I’d gotten a writing gig on R&R from the Marine Corps. I got a singing gig about three months after that.

Had you intended to go into music after your service?

Yes, I’d been messing with music since high school, since I was 14.

What were you doing in 1970 before the Scooby call came?

I was living in Los Angeles and writing for anyone that would take songs. I think I was with Screen Gems for a little while. I was learning the business more than anything.

How did you get involved with Scooby?

A friend of mine that I’d met out there, Danny Janssen, asked me if I would sing in [the actor] Kurt Russell’s ear. Kurt—another great guy—had gotten a deal with Capitol and they cut a song of mine with him. They hired me do the album with him.

Austin Roberts 1970s

What do you mean by “sing in his ear”?

So he could follow me and sing the melody line.

Quietly guiding him?

Yes. Anyway, after that, the people at Hanna-Barbera liked what Danny was doing. They asked if he would write for and produce this new cartoon. Danny said, “You’d be great for this.” I said sure, it’d be fun. Most anything [musically] I could do, I wanted to do. I think we started the vocals in 1969, but the stuff didn’t come out till 1970.

Before singing the theme, had you seen the show?

I hadn’t seen it. They just told me about it. We just did the theme and some of the songs he’d written and a couple I’d written.

Do you remember the songs you wrote?

The one that did the best was “Pretty Mary Sunlite.” Jerry Reed did it.

Were you told about the show to help you perform the theme, or didn’t it matter?

They did tell me and it did help. I’m not an actor but any singer kind of acts a little bit when they’re singing.

How did the recordings go?

We cut about ten things plus the theme. There were several sessions. They went real well, real smooth. Danny was really easy to work with. We became close friends. Kurt came around some because all the pretty girls were auditioning for Josie and the Pussycats. Cheryl Ladd was one of them.

Are you still in touch with Kurt?

I was for a while and then I moved. I think he lost my number. He keeps in touch with me through Danny. I once saw him on TV telling the story about me singing in his ear.

Do you did meet [Scooby-Doo theme co-writers] David Mook and Ben Raleigh?

I didn’t know Ben but I knew David. He was a talented guy. These people were very friendly. It was an eye opener after all I’ve heard about the music business.

Was there ever talk of releasing the song as single?

There was some talk. They were thinking of releasing “Seven Days a Week” and I think the theme song as well. Hanna-Barbera owned everything. It’s hard to say what happened. It [would have been] fine with me if they wanted to release it.

Did you have a favorite of those songs?

I guess “Pretty Mary Sunlite.” The most melodic thing I’d written. Danny and I rewrote it.

Were you paid a flat fee or royalty?

For the songs I wrote I got royalties each quarter. I still do sometimes. The songs I just sang, they went through AFTRA so I got paid the first time I sang them plus every time they played on TV. It worked out well in the long run because the show’s been on so long.

Do you remember if you watched the first episode?

I did, as a matter of fact. I was tickled with it. I’ve been to a couple of hospitals in Nashville and Charlotte to see sick kids and I take them Scooby-Doo dolls. I was there because I was involved with Scooby-Doo. Everyone knew Scooby-Doo, like the circus. I did it then [when the show was new] and up until about three years ago. I had open heart surgery about a year ago.

Were the hospital visits something you did on your own or were you asked?

I was asked. Once I volunteered when they asked for singers to go to hospitals. It went over real well. I sang them Scooby-Doo. Gave the stuffed dog. It was pretty moving.

Was that covered by the press?

No, we were trying not to. We wanted to just keep it in the hospitals. [To announce it to the press] would’ve been headline-grabbing to me.

What did you think of the show when you first saw it?

I really liked it. I’m a kid anyway.

Do you remember who you watched it with the first time?

I don’t. I was thinking it might’ve been my ex-wife, but we weren’t married in 1971 [a year after Austin’s theme debuted on the show] and divorced in 1999.

So you were young and single at the time?


Did the song have any impact on your dating life?

It did. Some of the girls who auditioned for Josie and the Pussycats. We had guys hanging by the rafters there, stuffed into corners. They were some beauties.

How many kids do you have?

Three. All in this area but none in the music business. Two grandchildren.

What do your children think of your connection to pop culture history?

They get a kick out of it.

Any stories about your kids growing up and friends learning their dad sang the Scooby theme?

A lot of times when their friends were over at the house they’d try to get me to sing the theme. At my older daughter’s wedding, they got me to. The frat her fiancé belonged to at Ole Miss conned me into singing the song. I told the guys I’d sing it if they’d come up on stage and help me. I can remember the words of the hits more than the ones that weren’t. Fortunately the band there knew the song. This was in the early ‘90s.

So this was unrehearsed?

Totally. You could tell.

And unplanned too?

I didn’t expect it at all.

Was it videotaped?

I don’t think it was. There was some drinking going on because of the fraternity. It was a loose reading at best. (laughs)

How old was your daughter at the time?

She’d just graduated from Ole Miss.

Was it the first time you’d sung the song since you first sung the song?

I think I sang it some when I was on the road for my three biggest hits [in order of highest charting: “Rocky” (1975), “Something’s Wrong with Me” (1972), “Keep On Singing” (1973)]. I think I sang it as part of the show.

Remember any reactions to that or all a blur?

Everybody knew the song! (laughs) I never understood the reason it was so popular and I don’t mean that as a negative. It was a good thing, by all means. It was kind of overwhelming.

I now know how singing the Scooby theme impacted your dating life. Did it have an impact on your career?

It gave some more import to it. It showed the fact that I could sing different kinds of things. Maybe the label would feel a little more secure. It affected my career as far as when I was performing, if I sang it, it was fun. I stopped recording the year my son was born in 1977. I decided I didn’t want to miss anything. So I quit the traveling.

Do you know of any films of you singing it live?

I’ve been on Dick Clark and Johnny Carson singing my hit records, but not Scooby-Doo. But Dick would bring it up. I think he was a fan of Scooby-Doo. (laughs)

What are you doing these days?

Working on a musical. I wrote a song with a guy named Kerry Chater called “I.O.U.” and it did well for Lee Greenwood. Kerry and I just decided to get back together and do some writing.

Austin Roberts now

What can you tell me about the musical?

It’s not in the infant stage. We’re kind of in the high school stages of it. (laughs) We’ve got a ways to go.

How would you describe the music?

It’s got a black thread through it. It’s got some pop, some hip hop. We’re pretty proud of it. In fact we worked on it today.

Is it already slated to be produced when you’re done, or is that next hurdle?

That’d be the next hurdle.

Will it be performed first in Nashville?

Just depends on where we can get the first showing. I’ve had three musicals; one has been done three times and one done twice.

Name them?

No, they’re…well, one was called Rachinoff. The lead in it was the guy who directed the movie Chicago, Rob Marshall. It was performed at Carnegie Mellon [1981], then that summer in the park in Pittsburgh and was nominated for an ACE [now CableACE] Award.

What was your reaction when you heard why I was contacting you?

I thought it was great. I’ve done several interviews where the thrust was Scooby-Doo but it always went into other directions as well. Some of [the interviewers] knew my hits. I kind of like this theme of Scooby-Doo.

So no else ever contacted you for an interview about Scooby?

Larry Kane had a TV show out of Houston. He brought it up with me on his show in 1973 or 1974. Most everything [Scooby-related] was a long time ago. My dad said if you don’t have anything (gold records) on the wall, find another business. [NOTE: I didn’t get what this last line had to do with the topic of this question/answer, but I liked it so I kept it!]

Have you ever done a print interview about Scooby-Doo?

Yeah, and I’m trying to think…Danny Janssen did a real long one…gosh, I’d say in the 1990s. I can’t remember who did it. I do remember seeing something in print at least once. It may have been in one of those music books.

Have you heard from Scooby fans?

Yeah, I started getting Scooby-Doo pajamas and underwear from fans. It was more at the time, in the early ‘70s.

Through your record company?

Yeah, or Hanna-Barbera.

Do you have any fan letters?

I used to have a whole ton in storage. I’ve moved several times since then, and I don’t know where any of that is.

Did you get letters specifically about Scooby-Doo?

I did. Mostly from younger kids. I used to keep things but where I kept them is gone. I had a big box and it disappeared. I don’t think it was stolen, just misplaced.

Do you have any Scooby memorabilia?

I’ve got underwear. The ones sent back in the ‘70s. It’s probably torn and tattered. I haven’t checked on it in a while. It’s stored away. I’ve got one small stuffed Scooby.

Do you have any personal notes, letters, contract, etc. related to your Scooby work? 

Just royalty notices. I did have a couple letters from Hanna-Barbera but that was so long ago, I don’t know where that is.

Would you appear at pop culture conventions to sign autographs?

This would depend on when and where. I really am involved with this show. It might be fun. It was a good time in my life.

Do you have an iPod?

No, I don’t have much of anything. After my surgery, I got rid of some things that were hard to deal with. [After my surgery] I got 1,000 messages, some on Facemail, what do you call it, Facebook. Most were on my phone.

How do you feel now?

I work out and I feel pretty good. I’ve got weights and a treadmill. I mostly try to treadmill it or walk, things that are not too heavy. The surgery was January 2010. I had double bypass and a valve replacement. I think it took 13 hours.

Anything to add?

Scooby-Doo was one of my favorite things I’ve ever been involved in.


hobbyfan said...

You know, it is quite amazing. Austin recorded the Scooby-Doo theme using a British voice, or so it seemed. Kind of like he was mimicing Peter Noone of Herman's Hermits.

"Rocky" was my first exposure to Roberts, not knowing about his Scooby-Doo work until way later. To find that he co-wrote "IOU" for Lee Greenwood is another surprise. That was all over the radio back in its day.

If H-B was going to release any Scooby-Doo music, it'd have been the cardboard singles that came in cereal boxes, same as Josie & the Pussycats, because I remember seeing that, and I think the same was done for Filmation's Archie shows. "Seven Days a Week" wouldn't have cracked the top 40, as Roberts would do 2 years later.

Heh, I associate "Keep on Singing" with Helen Reddy, but what do I know?

Marc Tyler Nobleman said...

Educate me - what singles that came in cereal? That included Scooby songs?

What makes you think "Seven Days..." couldn't have been a hit?

hobbyfan said...

If I remember correctly, either Post or Kellogg's had the rights to release Josie singles, and, maybe, Scooby-Doo singles, on the cereal boxes. The other did Archie, I believe. We're talking more than 40 years ago, and I'd have to do a little research to verify what I remember.

As for "Seven Days a Week", having heard it over the years, there really wasn't a catchy enough hook, and some people might think it was a Beatles knock-off ("Eight Days a Week"), though the concept of the song was much different.

JohnnyR said...

Hi all! I am currently working on a book about some music of the early 70s and I have been looking for contact information on Austin Roberts. Can anyone help me? Thanks.