Northeast Ohio man uses Kickstarter to fund book on ‘Partridge Family’ show, band
By Breanna Mona
Johnny Ray Miller of Canton is the author of “When We’re Singin’ — The Partridge Family & Their Music.”
“The Partridge Family” not only dominated the TV scene in the 1970s, but the music charts, as well, with some of the biggest names in music behind the albums.
After booking a concert for David Cassidy in 2009, Johnny Ray Miller, a Northeast Ohio native and Partridge Family fan, saw the need for a comprehensive and carefully researched book. So he penned “When We’re Singin’ — The Partridge Family & Their Music,” which is available at www.whenweresingin.com.
The Huffington Post has already tipped its hat to the new book, acknowledging Miller’s “ridiculous drive to achieve what no one else was able to concerning this much maligned/beloved fictitious musical family.”
Miller, who lives in Canton, not only created a book with the fans in mind — he is one himself, after all — but landed interviews with the cast members and even a foreword by David Cassidy himself.
The book also reads like a guide to the music of the 1970s in general, making it not only a nostalgic trip for fans of Cassidy and the show, but also a comprehensive look at the era for music fans. Research aside, putting together a book like this with no prior experience was no easy feat. Miller shares his story on what it took to bring the book to life.
Q Is this a tell-all book?
A It’s definitely not a tell-all book. It’s a book that focuses on the music of The Partridge Family. It’s a story that’s never been told before — very few people realize (that) because it’s always been the television show that gets all the attention. The stories about the actors have been told several times on “Biography” and made-for-TV specials. But nobody ever touches the music.
Q What will readers be surprised to learn about the music?
A The interesting story about the music is that it was done by the greatest musicians and songwriters of the day, but it was sold and glossed over underneath a marketing image that was geared towards kids and the bubblegum (culture). But really it’s rooted in adult-contemporary/easy listening of its day. Songwriters like Paul Anka and Rupert Holmes and David Cassidy himself wrote songs for “The Partridge Family.” Bobby Hart who produced the Monkees wrote songs for “The Partridge Family.” Cashman and West were producing Jim Croce at that time were writing songs for “The Partridge Family,” too. Wes Farrell was the producer of the music and was really connected in the business. One of his greatest gifts was to recognize talented people and get them on board. He knew how to spot a hit.
Q Do you cover aspects about the TV show, as well?
A I do cover (in the book) all of “The Partridge Family” TV show stuff, too. Stories from the cast about being on the set. I’m a fan, so I didn’t want a tell-all book. I wanted something that was a tribute to the show but with a really strong focus on the music. I do talk about their relationships to one another, and I did interview them. I put in the fun behind the scenes stories but no tell-all type stuff. (Cast members) gave it to me, but I left it out.
Q How did you get started on the book?
A Shirley Jones was my very first interview. In fact, my background is in theater. What happened was, I was working in theater and I booked David Cassidy for a concert in 2009, and the show was phenomenally successful. After it was all over I thought, “Hmm, the fans have always wanted a book on “The Partridge Family.” There’s never been one. There was an episode guide in the ’90s. but that’s all it was. I knew if I could get Shirley Jones on board, I felt like David Cassidy would be in my corner, too. Long story short, I got her on board and I went to Hollywood and spent an afternoon in her house. It was a dream come true. With that, the doors started opening.
Q Which cast members did you interview?
A Shirley Jones asked me if I had talked to David yet, and I hadn’t. I wanted to approach him last, after everything was together towards the end. So I interviewed Shirley Jones, Danny Bonaduce, Brian Forster, Suzanne Crough, Dave Madden, then the first kid to play Chris, Jeremy Gelbwaks. I actually had the last in-depth interviews with Dave Madden and Suzanne Crough before they passed away. Suzanne Crough actually died very young; she was only 52 years old. She kind of became a friend of mine through this process.
Q How did David Cassidy eventually come into the picture?
A With David Cassidy — this is actually a funny story — I approached him kind of towards the end, and I went through his publicist. At first, I simply could not get passed his publicist. I eventually thought this wasn’t going to happen. I had already had a lot of support at this point, with people in the music business and everyone (encouraging) me that it would be a good book even without interviewing him. In the back of my head, I knew an interview from him would be a great endorsement, but I also knew a forward would mean more to the fans before he had never done one before. But to have him would give the book so much credibility. I thought to myself that if he wrote a forward, it would be even better. I didn’t ask for the forward. I spent five years on (the book), so a year or two later he gets a new publicist so I contacted her. David had a lot going on at the time and our conversation just never happened. Then one day, out of the blue, I hear from the manger of his website, and she says David would like to write a forward — and I didn’t even ask! I always joke with my friends that nothing in my life ever goes right, but this book did. Everything about this has just unfolded like it was completely meant to be. So that’s how it happened. He has never written a forward for any other book, so I feel incredibly privileged.
Q Why did you decide to self-publish?
A Ken Sharp, an author who has written several books on the Beatles, Elvis, the Raspberries, etc., suggested I self-publish and create a Kickstarter campaign to fund the book saying, “The demand from the fans for something like this is going to be pretty huge.” The deal with Kickstarter is you set a goal and you have to raise all of it or you get none of it and you have 30 days to do it. I needed $24,000 to publish this book. We raised $27,000 and had hit our goal three days before the end.
Q So you could say this book was funded by die-hard “Partridge Family” fans then?
A I don’t know of any other TV show where a book like this has been funded because fans had wanted it so badly.
Q Where did you get your research for the book?
A I did most of my research at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. I wanted to find the chart positions, not only from Billboard but Cashbox and Record World, which were trade magazines of that era. They’re really hard to find. The Rock Hall had every single issue of Cashbox between 1970 and 1974, which were the years that I needed. I would go up there [Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Library and Archives] once a week for over a year, spending four hours at the library at a time, and I flipped through every single page of every single issue of Cashbox from that era. Then on top of that, I got permission from the owner of Cashbox, who actually donated her copies to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, to include any and everything I wanted from Cashbox in the book. So I have photos that have never before been seen, all kinds of charting information and articles with information that “Partridge Family” fans don’t even know about. When I ran the Kickstarter campaign, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame even backed it.
Q For someone who would pick up the book not being familiar with “The Partridge Family,” what are you hoping will be their take-away?
A That the music was very, very good. It was right up there with all of the adult contemporary music of the day. In fact, it charted higher on the easy-listening charts than it did on the pop charts. The marketing image was so powerful that it actually colored the perception of the music. But the music was in fact the marketing image that sold the records. So while it was disregarded as bubblegum music, 45 years later you look back and you listen to it and you realize that it’s some of the best adult contemporary music of its day.
Q What do you think keeps the show’s continuing nostalgia?
A I don’t think you could sell something with such innocence today. It’s the innocence [of the show] that makes the nostalgia precious. I think we all have something from our childhood that we latch onto that serves as an escape for us when we need to get away from the craziness of today’s world. We like to reflect back on whatever that innocence was of that time in our childhood. For a ton of us out there that innocence was “The Partridge Family.”