Featured Artist

Harriet Schock Harriet

I heard she had a new CD and a book out. Harriet Schock, singer-songwriter, teacher, human rights activist, one of those friendly people you sometimes have the luck to meet in Los Angeles.

She was off to Austin, to a songwriter conference, that lady I'd first seen playing her songs to an electric piano in a little vegetarian restaurant on Santa Monica's Main Street; story-songs, something a small group of songwriters excelled in when it became acceptable for writers to perform their own material. In a genre, she'd be in the good company of  Harry Chapin, Tom Waits, Springsteen. I got an E-mail from her, via Todd Everett, crony extraordinaire and colleague, fellow traveler in the wilderness of American popular music. Thanks for giving her my E-mail address, Todd, I'll enjoy hearing whatever tales she hasn't already consecrated in songs.

The difference between Harriet and the storyteller singer-songwriters, is that the others sing short stories, poems, ballads where we may see tableaux, landscapes, noirs, while many of Harriet Schock's songs are like little movies. True to her Dallas roots, they are neo-country, or say alternative country. With feeling.

Harriet was going to Austin for the Austin Songwriters Association gathering, there to talk and perform.  She's quite busy. The CD "Rosebud" came about when she had a talk with Nick Venet. She met Nick at a NARAS governor's meeting years before --  at the time he had the God Dog cassette label. They put out "American Romance" then made "Rosebud." Nick was a well-liked record producer, curly-haired Greek guy, pleasant, one of those people who discovers artists, brings them to their audience. Through his hands went Linda Ronstadt, Jim Croce, Dory Previn, lots of others, Harriet Schock. Over the years he had several labels, one of them was Evening Star. If you were looking for a father figure, Nick would have been a good choice. He had a concept to share with Harriet. Remember that Orson Welles movie, "Citizen Kane," where the kid at the beginning is playing in the snow with his sled, it's beautiful, he's carefree, having fun, the way kids do at the first big winter snowstorm. Then his life changes and everything goes away. He grows up and builds a publishing empire, becomes one of the envied, successful, rich . . .  Ok, at the end of the movie he dies. His last word is "Rosebud." Nobody knows what that means. Dissolve to some old trash being burnt in a furnace, throw in an old sled. It's his sled. As it burns into oblivion you can see the letters on the seat crinkle as they burn off: Rosebud. Nick Venet told Harriet, there is a "Rosebud" in everyone's life; a person or time that is special, that is the pilot light for the fire of your creative passion. Harriet cast about for what it could be in her life, and realized that she felt that way about her father, who died in 1975. She named the CD "Rosebud" for that idea and  metaphor that welds the CD together. Listen for the line,  " . . . his arms hold me."

Nick died of lymphoma in January 1998. I hope he had a Rosebud in his life.  He deserved one.

While teaching about songwriting, Harriet was writing articles about the craft. One of her students pressed her to put them together. Before Harriet could demur or temporize,  she gathered them and edited the book:

For Songwriters and Those Who Love Songs

Naomi Healing placed Harriet's articles in chapters: Integrity, Clarity, Technology. Published by Blue Dolphin, Nevada City, California, it is one of their two top sellers, and is available in editions with/without CD.

A Native of Dallas, Harriet came to Hollywood in the early 70's, married to an actor. That did not work out. She wanted to write screenplays, found work in an ad agency. Meanwhile, she played the piano, and found her way to reconnect to songwriting, something she  began doing in 7th grade when she wrote a song for her boyfriend; words and music. She wrote some new songs, began to play them around town. One night at the Bitter End West, Roger Gordon of Screen Gems-EMI saw her, signed her to staff deal and produced her first two albums on Russ Reagan's label, 20th Century, "Hollywood Town," "She's Low Clouds." 20th also released her third album, "You Don"t Know What You're In For."

She took piano lessons as a child, did not become a sight reader, since like many of us, she found a way to trick the piano teacher and played by ear. Still, she considers the piano her instrument, though guitars are more in use today for performing; she is a keyboard act -- "I play the piano! I love the voicings of the piano, there are things you can get out of the piano that you can't get out of the guitar." She listened to classical music; Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, Bach, Aaron Copeland, Mozart. An early musical influence was provided by her nanny, "other mother" Earnestine Jefferson who brought her up, and whom she eventually moved into her home in Los Angeles in her later years. They listened to the radio when mom was out of the house, (mom did not allow listening to radio) Ray Charles, Aretha, Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, gospel music. Harriet spent hours alone at the piano picking out their tunes. Harriet's father was a musician who played cello and Marimba in Shakey's Orchestra, a Jazz band, to put himself through college, became a doctor. His father founded the Chemical engineering branch at the University of Texas. Harriet's mother was a beauty from Galveston who was Queen of the Oleander Parade. Although her family was supportive, Harriet was thankful to have had  a hit before her father died, "Aint' No Way to Treat a Lady." They never doubted that she would make it.

She went into film work for eight years, collaborating with various film composers or on her own. For Jobete (Stone Diamond) she wrote a love song for the movie "Berry Gordy's The Last Dragon" which Smokey Robinson recorded, but the song, ”First Time on A Ferris Wheel," a tour de force for singers,  a "big" European-style pop song, became a signature song for Carl Anderson.  Harriet teamed with composer Misha Segal for the film score to "Delta Force II," and "Winds of Change" with Frederic Talgorn. Also with Misha, "The New Adventures of Pippi Longstocking"  and then the animated version of "The Secret Garden" Mike Young Productions, (ABC -TV). She worked on Disney's "Songs From the Sea," with Jody Benson as The Little Mermaid, and "Sing Me a Story With Belle" a series where an episode is an old Disney cartoon.  "You write the song to a picture" Harriet explains. For Universal, a Mike Young animation, "The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus" by Frank Baum, who wrote "The Wizard of OZ.

She has performed live except the eight years she spent in the film world. She has gotten a Dramalogue award, and often gathers an audience who simply wants to hear her sing and play. "There are people who come to my shows who don't even know I wrote the songs."  Some of her venues:  Genghis Cohen, At My place, and the Coffee Gallery in Pasadena where she'll be playing on September 27, 8 p.m..As President of L.A. Women In Music, she's hosting a showcase for writers at Genghis Cohen on September 29, and is due to release a compilation CD of their work soon.

When she tours outside home base, "I go wherever songwriting organizations fly me in -- Tulsa, Oklahoma City," she says, for songwriting seminars. She has been teaching since 1986, and taught at the University of Southern California for two years. What makes her a good teacher is a love of learning. "When you learn things, you see things differently afterwards, and it's . . .  an exciting journey."  She characterizes herself as a "People-junkie." She is active in the Citizens' Commission on Human Rights, an organization against shock treatments and drugging.  Harriet admits she likes talking to people. "I had no idea when I started teaching . . .  [how] guiding people to write songs [could be] bringing them out . . .  changing their lives."  Lately, she teaches privately, and holds seminars; she will speak and perform at Durango in October, Portland in November, elsewhere next year.

What does she listen to lately for inspiration? Country radio, Dixie Chicks, Dena Carter, Jewel, Tori Amos, Paula Cole, the Lilith Fair people. Yet she is inspired not only by songwriters, but by literature and poetry, "Toni Morrison, Pam Houston, Frank McCourt who wrote 'Angela's Ashes,' or watching people at the farmer's market."

For the future, she says, "I hope I get to do what I do for a long time. That I touch more lives and benefit people, because under it all that's really my intention."

Article by: Aida Pavletich
Aida Pavletich is a Los Angeles writer and videographer.

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Harriet at podium--------Harriet at keyboard