On stage at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre, Allan Rich was recalling the advice he kept getting as a struggling songwriter. “Allan, don’t write ballads!” he kept repeating like an industry mantra. “You can’t get ‘em placed anywhere anymore!”
That’s counsel he and most of the other writers on the bill at the fifth annual Salute to the American Songwriter program Wednesday have ignored, and profitably.
It was virtually a Salute to the Contemporary American Love Ballad, with such adult-contemporary song factories as Rich (“I Don’t Have the Heart”), David Foster (“Glory of Love”), Tom Snow and Barry Mann (“Don’t Know Much”), Charles Fox (“Killing Me Softly”) and Jeff Silbar (“Wind Beneath My Wings”) on hand to make a stab at crooning their own creations.
These writers, who rarely get a chance to be on stage, were almost invariably enjoyably hammy, and though many of them proved quite capable vocalists, the irony inherent in the occasional top tunesmith’s not being able to carry a tune made even weaker moments diverting. Plus: Only on this occasion can one go to a hall usually reserved for classical pieces and hear an earnest, full-band rendition of the theme from “The Love Boat.”
Ideological or non-love songs and singer -songwriters were under-represented. Filling both niches was Jackson Browne, with “World in Motion” as one of his two choices. Country’s Dwight Yoakam also turned in an all-too-brief, two-song acoustic turn, and ‘60s folk-rock figure P.F. Sloan (“Eve of Destruction,” “Secret Agent”) made an exceedingly rare appearance.
The long evening was capped after midnight with a lifetime achievement award to--and medley from--Motown greats Barrett Strong and Norman Whitfield, reunited after 20 years and joined by the full cast on “I Heard It Through the Grapevine.”