They were known as pop’s most wholesome duo, a husband and wife team beloved for their dazzling smiles, love-conquers-all message and super-cute songs about butterscotch castles, muskrat kisses and Disney girls. But was there more to the story for multi-platinum, Grammy-winning, hit TV stars Captain & Tennille?
Monday Rock City catches up with Toni Tennille on the heels of her new tell-all memoir to find out.
I want to challenge this “pop’s most wholesome duo” thing.
Ah, okay. Go ahead.
When I was a little kid I was listening to the radio and “Do That to Me One More Time” came on. My grandmother made me turn it off because it was dirty. One of my earliest musical impressions. So thanks for that.
Ha! You’re grandmother had a dirty mind. I made it clear in the song I’m talking about kissing.
Come on, now.
I didn’t say do it to me one more time! Okay, people can think what they want. It was always innuendo, never blatant – but I did put that into a lot of my lyrics, yes. And I always knew it was there.
Wait a minute! Really?
Conway had that era in the 80s where he cut suggestive pop songs like “Slow Hand.” Anything Conway sings is saucy.
Well, that would have been an honor!
Hmm, I guess so. We hint – but we didn’t quite put it out there. The name of the record was Keeping Our Love Warm so we’re in a . . . steam bath. And the weird guy in there with us on the back cover —
Weird guy in there with us!
(laughs) – is our road manager. We had to have one weird guy in there with us.
True or False: The Captain played a role in the recording of Guns ‘N Roses Appetite for Destruction.
We owned the studio where they did those recordings. Daryl’s dream was to build and create Rumbo Recordings. Guns ‘N Roses were in there ages putting that record together. That wasn’t my thing so I wasn’t hanging around being a groupie or anything. But yes, that’s true.
You sang on Pink Floyd’s The Wall.
A tiny part, yes. Bruce Johnston from the Beach Boys, Carl Wilson, John Joyce and I – if one of our colleagues needed some background vocals and we were all in town, we’d usually get the call. We did some for Elton John, Art Garfunkel, people like that. Bruce called one day and said Pink Floyd needed some vocals. I have to be honest, at that time I only knew their name but I thought it would be interesting to see how a rock group does things in the studio. I have to say, it was one of the most no-nonsense, all-business sessions I had ever been a part of. I thought they were wonderful guys. Dave Gilmour invited me to the first concert in L.A. of The Wall. It was the most amazing live performance I’ve ever seen in my life.
Where would I hear you on The Wall?
I get that question often and I’m really not sure. We just sang the parts, there were no song titles at the time. I can hear my voice on Elton’s “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down On Me” but on The Wall, I really can’t tell because my job on that session was to be right in the middle of the chord.
Thought I heard you on “The Show Must Go On” and “Goodbye Blue Sky.”
You’re a classically trained pianist, correct?
I had ten years of classical piano and thank goodness for it. That made it a lot easier for me as a writer because I did both music and lyrics so I was able to write it out.
Most, I wrote alone. I’ve talked with Neil Sedaka about this and when you get in that zen place of writing, it’s almost like you’re not even doing it. It’s coming through you somehow. It’s mystical. I would get a lot of song ideas while I was going for a hike or doing something mindless. I’ll give you an example. Howie Greenfield was the lyricist for “Love Will Keep Us Together” and several of our other songs. He was a dear friend and we lost him to AIDS. When I learned he was sick I was devastated. We lived in Tahoe at the time and I was out for a walk thinking about Howie and the phrase just came to me – “love survives, in a song and a memory.” To me, that’s how Howie would be remembered, through his music. We would never lose him. I raced back home, sat at the piano and started working on that idea. It was one I was very pleased with but not the kind of song for my voice. I thought it would be better for someone like Whitney Houston.
Did you pitch it to her?
I was shy about presenting my songs to other artists because I thought they might think, if it’s so great, why didn’t she record it? I knew Whitney was with Clive Davis so I sent him the demo. Weeks went by and I finally got a note back saying:
“Thanks for the submission but Whitney has her own songs we use for album filler. You don’t have the cache we are looking for.”
Well, I just laughed. I knew we weren’t Clive’s kind of artist. I had hoped he could look past our image. There was a lot of depth to our music that some people understood at the time and others are just now beginning to understand. But I guess some will never get it.
Look, if Soul Train’s Don Cornelius says you’re cool, you’re cool.
Are you still writing?
Not really. A lot of my work was inspired by Daryl and the feelings I had for him all those years that I just couldn’t seem to communicate. Also, I could write anything and he could make a wonderful record of it. I wrote a couple of kid’s songs for my friend’s grandchildren about my dog. I could write if I had a purpose, a reason. Daryl and I are no longer together, of course. So that part is gone. Maybe it could come back. I don’t know.
I talked to him about it. He says he’s going to wait until the audiobook comes out. I let him know it was downloadable on Amazon. He always knew I was going to write the book. It was no secret. I made it clear, this is just my point of view, the way I saw things. I encouraged him to write his own book or a blog or something. Tell his side of the story. But he just said, “I’m not worried. You’re always a straight shooter.” And I am.
What would his side be?
Who knows? Maybe I did something to set him off. I don’t think so. I always tried to help him have the kind of wonderful life he wanted. To. . . expand his universe so much more than it was. His world was very small. Daryl is very into his own thing and himself and I always thought if I could just help him break through — just think of all the amazing things he could do. He is so talented. But I was never able. That’s the sad part.
You seem to get along better now that you are apart.
I still talk to Daryl once a week or so. We still have Moonlight and Magnolias, our publishing company so there’s business to discuss. I finally figured out that Daryl is happy as long as someone is doing what he wants for him. And it doesn’t have to be me.
I have to give credit to Daryl. He has a very good business mind. His tangents can be very unusual but music business wise, he’s sharp. From the very start he was adamant we would never give our publishing away and that we would have our own company.
The seventies were notorious for excess. Were you around that much?
We never saw a lot of that because people considered us so square. We knew about it. My father was an alcoholic so I was always very careful about drinking and was never interested in drugs. When I perform I want to know where my face is. Daryl never did any sort of substance because he was so into the health food thing. We would be invited to Hollywood parties and we knew there was a coke room, we just didn’t know where it was and didn’t care.
After A&M you were with Casablanca, the party label.
There was an older A&R guy there and when we signed on he sat us down and explained that whenever they would have meetings there was always a big pile of cocaine in the middle of the table. I never saw it and we didn’t care because Casablanca was great to us and worked very hard. We came back with them and had another number one.
Casablanca was home to KISS, Donna Summer, Cher, The Village People. Did you hobnob with their other artists?
I did meet Gene Simmons when he came to Rumbo. I did meet Donna once at one of her shows. The Village People I never met. We were always outsiders, I guess.
Casablanca was big on crossover films for all their artists. With all your TV success, did they ever pitch the Captain & Tennille movie?
(laughs) No. I don’t think we would have done one.
What’s next for Toni Tennille?
I loved doing the audio version of this book and thought it came out beautifully so I would love to do more voice work, for animated features and such. That way I’m just at home in the studio and don’t have to worry about hair, makeup, gowns or any of that other crap that I hated!
Toni, thanks for an awesome Monday Rock City. You rock.
Ha! Thank you, Jamie. It was fun.
Caroline Tennille St. Clair sat on her Aunt Toni’s lap during a Christmas appearance on The Captain & Tennille Show. She lives in Florida with her dog and numerous cats and continues to write fiction from young adult adventures to grown-up thrillers. These days, Toni and Caroline enjoy exploring the back catalogues of The Smiths, Joy Division and Black Flag.
(If there’s any lingering doubt, one more from Soul Train for the road.)