Jake Holmes (born December 28, 1939 in San Francisco, California) is an American singer-songwriter and jingle writer who began a recording career in the 1960s. Holmes, who has a particular talent for writing clever, perceptive lyrics, is perhaps best known as the original author of the song "Dazed and Confused", later popularized by Led Zeppelin, and for composing the US Army recruitment jingle "Be All That You Can Be" in the late 1970s. Holmes put lyrics to Bob Gaudio's music on The Four Seasons' 1969 Genuine Imitation Life Gazette album, after which the pair went on to compose the Watertown album.
Author and Sinatra guru Ed O'Brien (Sinatra 101), provided this full 1995 interview with Jake as part of the CD booklet, and has allowed it to be reprinted here:
The Creative Process
A conversation with Jake Holmes
Ed O'Brien: How did you and Bob Gaudio get together?
Jake Holmes: Bob and I had the same manager. I was in a group called Jim, Jake and Joan (with Jim Conell and [comedienne] Joan Rivers). I played the guitar and sang and we did sketches. Bob sort of did an experiment with us, asking me to write some material with him. We were successful, so we kept working together. We had a great relationship. Watertown happened along the way.
EO: What do you remember about the recording sessions with Sinatra?
JH: I can remember a couple of things very, very well. One was the respect Sinatra showed us as writers. I was very much taken with that. Here I am this little guy from nowhere, and he would come up to me with a lric and say, "Can I change this 'the' to an 'and?" Or he would say, "This isn't working: should this be the way?" I was absolutely blown away by his respect for lyricists and songwriters. He is a real aficionado of songs. The other thing I remember about him was his way with a song. He didn't sing a song to show how well he could sing. He always got into a song. He would sing the words because they mattered to him. A lot of contemporary singers sing to show you how great they can sing. The thing I respected most about Sinatra as a singer was his commitment to the song, as opposed to his own voice. It was a very honest thing which I think is the key to his success as an artist.
EO: Is there anything else that stands out in your memory?
JH: I remember it went very smoothly, though he was uncomfortable doing the overdubs. I think he would have preferred a situation with a live band. If he had done that, I think he would have aced it even more. You know, the orchestral tracks were laid down in New York City (July 14-17, 1969). He was there, but he did the vocal overdubs in Los Angeles (August 25-27).
EO: He wasn't completely satisfied with some of the tracks, so he went back in on October 21st and did some additional overdubbing.
JH: I didn't know that. He was such a perfectionist, it makes sense.
EO: I recently spoke with the guitarist Al Viola. He told me that at the August 27th session he accompanied Sinatra on the verses of "Goodbye (She Quietly Says)" and "What A Funny Girl (You Used To Be)." They were done live with Sinatra. He was uncomfortable with the electric guitar so Al used a classical guitar. Sinatra was then able to segue into the overdub with the orchestral arrangement.
JH: This is fun for me. I'm getting all kinds of information that I never knew. That story just confirms what I've said about him.
EO: I would like to comment on "Michael & Peter." I think you did a fantastic job with the lyric wherein the narrator is writing a letter to his estranged wife. Sinatra brought tremendous understanding to his performance of that song. What he is interpreting is the subtext of that song.
EO: You put that in there and he got it. He was able to do that so brilliantly. There is emotion that isn't on the surface but every once in a while jumps to the surface. That is in the reading of the lyric.
JH: Exactly. It was the thing about him that killed me. His respect for the words. I had never realized how seriously he took his craft. It was a big revelation to me. From then on, I had a very different kind of feeling for him. This man studied like an opera singer. It was so impressive.
EO: How did the concept of Watertown happen for you?
JH: It all came from one song. I wish I could remember...I got it! It was "Goodbye." Everything evolved from that piece. It was such an interesting concept– a man left by his wife. He has two young boys. The story really intrigued me. It was Bob's idea to call the place Watertown. He got it off a map of New York State.
EO: Bob told me that the words and melody came together.
JH: No. It was much more with him starting with the melody. I would have to fit words to that melody. It was hard to do it that way for me. His melodies were really well crafted. They were the kind of melodies that you couldn't really screw around with much. I basically write my own music most of the time, so it was a real struggle to get the music and words together. I must say it was a great process. It taught me a kind of discipline that I didn't have before.
EO: Bob can't remember when the actual writing was done.
JH: It must have been in the winter of '69. Late winter or early spring.
EO: Do you have any comments on "Lady Day" being the final track on the reissue?
JH: It was wonderful. Sinatra really, really cared about that song. It gradually evolved into a tribute for Billie Holiday. He redid it with that in mind.
EO: Artists are usually very reluctant to anaylze their own work. Having said that, I'm wondering if you would give me a brief synopsis of the songs from Watertown?
JH: Oh boy!...sure. I'll do my best.
EO: Let's start with the title track.
JH: It was the set-up for everything that followed. I had in mind as a model "Lazy Afternoon." I wanted a languid feeling. If we had done the TV special, it would have opened it up, with the credits going by.
JH: I had a line in my head. "There was no tempest in the tea." That's what led me there. I love the idea of those kind of goodbyes that people have where nothing is happening emotionally. It knocks me out when there is nothing on the surface.
EO: It is all subtext.
JH: Right. People are just sitting in a coffee shop and devastation has happened. They don't articulate their feelings. Instead, they are putting sugar in their coffee and spooning cake. They are having a quiet conversation but meanwhile a life is coming apart.
EO: "For A While."
JH: I've always felt that there is that moment in your life when you forget about something that is really terrible. For five minutes the sun is shining and everything is beautiful. Then all of a sudden you realize that the person you cared about is gone, and it all comes back. It is one of those horrible things about grief – one of those little holes in grief when it becomes even more painful.
EO: "Michael & Peter."
JH: I had lost a child in my first marriage. I would have had a child by myself if I could have (laughs). I desperately wanted kids. In a funny kind of way, Gaudio's kids were the models for that song. I put it in letter form, because it was the only way the guy could articulate those sentiments to her.
EO: "I Would Be In Love (Anyway)."
JH: I guess...it's that you can't regret where you are even if life takes you someplace where you don't want to be. In a strange kind of way, it was was this guy trying to let go of this woman without being angry with her. You know, throughout the story, he was never really angry at her. He kind of understood; she had to go.
JH: It was real simple. I just love that name. Bobby was writing the song and that word just fell into the melody. I just imagined a girl named Elizabeth and wrote words that were a tribute to her.
EO: Bob told me he Sinatra had a demo made of the song and sent it to Elizabeth Taylor for her birthday.
EO: "What A Funny Girl (You Used To Be)."
JH: The album could have been a little mid maudlin and dour. I was trying to put a little bit of sunlight everywhere I could. It was a retrospective song. I also wanted to indicate in the song that they had been childhood sweethearts. I wanted that kind of an idea. They were probably kids together. I wanted to give the sense that they had gone to school together. They had fallen in love and married quite young.
EO: "What's Now Is Now."
JH: There is in that song an indication that she had obviously gone with somebody else. She has had a relationship, and he hadn't been able to accept it. That is partially what drove her off to the big city. There is a guilt theme in that song. It is the song that opens up the story.
EO: "She Says."
JH: The song is a triple turn to me. He is suspicious of the small talk. The kids are echoing his fears. Why is she sending this letter? What is going on? It is such good news; they can't believe it and they don't trust it. The twist is her saying, "She's comin' home." They don't trust that eithe:r.
EO: "The Train."
JH: "The Train" is the story. We find out that he really didn't communicate anything to her, and she isn't coming back. Although we're getting all of this story from him, she never got any of this. If she had heard this album, she might have come home. She never saw this side of him. When I think about this in retrospect, there is so much that is not done. There is so much that is unfinished. It gives the story a very deep resonance.
EO: "Lady Day."
JH: I saw the woman as someone who had talent. She wanted to be an artist or a singer. He was a hometown person. His whole orientation was family and business. He was the knd of guy who really lived in Watertown. She was more restless – a more contemporary woman. She wanted to do other things. She wasn't liberated enough to tell him, and she didn't think he'd understand. He was basically a good guy, but she wanted more. She abandoned her family and went for a career. The postscript was whether or not she got it and was it worth it.