Prolific composer Steve Dorff will appear at the Book Festival of the Marcus Jewish Community Center on Nov. 6 to discuss his autobiography, “I Wrote That One Too … A Life in Songwriting From Willie to Whitney.”
Dorff spoke to the AJT from his home in Los Angeles.
AJT: Your musical career began in Atlanta. Tell us about that.
Dorff: I went to the University of Georgia and spent my last two years there cutting classes, writing songs for my first publisher in Atlanta, Bill Lowery. It was a great experience, and when I graduated, I ended up spending four years in Atlanta. I grew up in New York, dabbling in music there, but Atlanta was really the first professional melting pot for me.
AJT: You had no formal training as such.
Dorff: None. It’s pretty crazy. I knew I had this gift, or whatever you want to call it. As I got older, I thought, “This is what I do better than anything else, so how do I make it happen and make a career out of it?” Even as a young kid, I manifested my dreams without training. I went on to conduct the London Symphony Orchestra without any training at all, and it sounded fantastic. I would wonder how in the world I pulled this off, like I’d been pulling the wool over people’s eyes, because I didn’t go to music school or conservatory, didn’t practice piano three hours a day. I don’t know how I’ve done it. I just know that I have, so that’s good enough for me, I guess.
AJT: You’ve been described as an enigma.
Dorff: Who taught Michael Jordan how to throw a basketball better than anyone? Certain people just have a talent. You dedicate yourself and work hard at it because it is hard work. I’ve never gotten a free pass. I’m always thinking how to come up with something new and fresh and innovative. I feel obligated to whatever talent I have been given, and working hard at it is what makes success pay off.
AJT: You listened to The Beatles a lot when you were growing up.
Dorff: I used to get records of the whole British Invasion. I loved that period. I would go into my room and play them until they were worn out. That was my passion.
AJT: Then you got to work with Ringo Starr years later.
Dorff: I did. It was surreal, incredible, something I’ll never forget, one of those great “pinch me” moments. I worked with George Martin too. He was just lovely and so amazing. Such a nice man. I met George Harrison at a Grammy party once, briefly, but I never met John or Paul.
AJT: Apparently Ray Charles was not easy to work with.
Dorff: Ray was pretty old at the time, and the song wasn’t great. I think Ray was just there for the payday. He was doing a song for a Clint Eastwood movie, and I got to arrange and produce and co-write it. I didn’t think it would be anything much, but I was excited to work with him, and it just wasn’t fun. He was coming off something or was hopped up. For me, though, having the opportunity to work with some of my heroes is the real icing on the cake.
AJT: What are you working on now?
Dorff: I just finished a movie with Ray Liotta that will be out in the spring. I wrote a song that — keeping my fingers crossed — will be on Barbra Streisand’s next album. I’m working with a couple of new, younger acts that I’m producing, and we’re optioning a new property for a Broadway musical.