Mort Shuman was one of those larger-than-life characters that could light up a room as soon as he walked into it. Plagued by poor health during his last few years, he was taken from us way too soon! Mort’s pet name for me was ‘Groton’ and we worked closely together during the preparation of his last album A Distant Drum.
For those unfamiliar with him, Mort was one of the music industry’s legends – he and Doc Pomus wrote 25 songs for Elvis (Viva Las Vegas, Mess Of Blues, Teddy Bear etc) and many other absolute classics, including ‘Sweets For My Sweet’, ‘Teenager In Love’ and ‘Save The Last Dance For Me’. The latter I remember him elaborating in quite some depth about how it all came together – what trends everybody was reaching for at the time musically (the Bossa, which is referred to in the triangle part) and particularly what his process was in the writing of the lyrics.
Mort came from a tradition of writers who were trying for clever subtlety in their writing, rather than how graphically they could describe shagging people in dingy underground bars, so it was with a justified sense of pride that Mort talked about the lines he wrote and his thought processes behind them. I remember him doing this with another song, The World Is Waiting For Love, that we worked on together in London. We mocked up a demo one day & the next morning he arrived in fine spirits, having walked on a sunny day to Harley Street (our studio) through Hyde Park. He talked in depth about the lyrical & melodic changes he had made & his reasons for them, which was a great insight into the master’s work.
Mort’s spirit was like a child when he talked about his craft. You could see that he was totally in love with his job and he had been lucky enough to benefit enormously from it, owning beautiful homes in London, Paris and New York (although it wouldn’t surprise me to find out there were more) . His enthusiasm was infectious and created a great atmosphere for the work in hand. He could be also a very generous man, buying a young studio engineer like myself lunch or dinner when working late.
Perhaps Mort’s most famous legacy is for translating the works of Jacques Brel, for which he was awarded the Légion d’Honneur. At the time of the award he was the only non-Frenchman to have received it. From this point on he became a superstar in France and lived there for a good part of his life, releasing quite a few albums, as well as marrying and raising a family.
Thanks for all the valuable stuff you passed down Mort, we’ll never forget you!