Howie Fields and “Big” John Wallace discuss music and Harry Chapin

As much as I admire many of the actors, musicians, ball players and others that I’ve grown up watching, I’ve only cried at the death of four of them:  John Lennon, because it was so senseless; Roy Scheider, because he was my friend; Ron Santo, because he was my first “idol” and Harry Chapin… just because.

When I was 13, Chapin’s song Cats in the Cradle came out.  It struck a chord in me that I never forgot.  It was almost like Harry was singing about my father and me.  My son is going to be 31 later this month, and that song still rings true.  Where I was once the little boy that wanted to spend more time with his dad, now I’m the father who has to accept that my son now has a family of his own.  As I got older I became a fan of Harry Chapin’s music and I was crushed when he was killed 34 years ago today, July 16, 1981.

Today, Harry’s music is still being played, the torch being carried by his brothers Tom and Steve and the members of Harry’s band.  I recently asked drummer Howie Fields and bass player “Big” John Wallace a few questions about Harry Chapin and his music.

Mike Smith:  What were your musical backgrounds before joining up with Harry?
Howie Fields: Drum lessons at age 15 followed by a parade of teenage basement and garage bands playing Beatles, Stones. Rascals, Dylan, Kinks, Hollies, Who, etc. Better bands WITH PAY in my college years leading up to my entry into Harry’s band in 1975.
John Wallace:  I started out as a vocalist in the Grace Church Choir in Brooklyn, New York, where I met Harry and the other Chapin brothers.  I dabbled with the bass guitar in my teen years and my first public appearance on bass was in my teens when Harry asked me to perform his songs with him in people’s homes in Brooklyn. Fast forward approximately 10 years when he asked me to join his band.

MS:  When did you join the band?
HF: 1975
JW: I was a founding member, 1972.

MS: How was Harry to work with – was he open to collaboration when working out his songs with the group?
HF:  That ran the gamut. Sometimes Harry would run down a new song or two and ask us to come up with some ideas during concert sound checks (which he rarely attended) and at other times he would come in with a song and have very precise ideas. The rest of the time it would be pretty equitable collaboration in the recording studio.

MS:  Is there a favorite song you enjoyed playing live?
HF:   “Mercenaries,” “Odd Job Man,” “The Mayor Of Candor Lied”
JW:  Too many to choose from.

MS:  Do you have a favorite memory you’d like to share?
HF:   Quite notably for me, within the run of the show (NOTE – in early 1975 Harry and the band performed on Broadway in a show titled “The Night That Made America Famous” with words and music by Harry.  The show went on to earn two Tony Award nominations), was the night of March 1, 1975. Both Saturday performances were completed and Harry entered the band dressing room and asked Big John if he would come with him to attend the Grammy Awards ceremony at The Uris Theater for which he had one extra ticket and for which he had been nominated as Best Male Vocalist for “Cat’s In The Cradle”. He was also performing the song that night but John politely declined. Harry then put the ticket up for grabs and only after it appeared no one else was taking, I found myself in a cab with Harry, his wife Sandy, and his dad Jim, rushing over to the Grammy’s which had already begun. We entered the building and as we approached the doors leading from the lobby into the actual theater, a young usher (about 20) noted that Harry was overburdened with a guitar (not in its case), a leather bag, and one or two other items. He offered to take the guitar which Harry gladly gave up and then, somehow, as the usher was holding the guitar and at the same time attempting to open the door to the theater for us, he simultaneously dropped the instrument and tripped in such a way that one of his feet came down right on the guitar. So…there the guitar lay…smashed on the ground. It happened in a nano-second and it wasn’t pretty. All I remember at that point was Harry putting his arms around this devastated and horrified kid, saying “Don’t worry about it bro”. He could be like that.

MS:  Harry was killed on his way to perform at a benefit concert.  Did that show ever go on?
HF:  No, that show did not occur but one year later the band plus Tom Chapin did a memorial show on the same stage in Eisenhower Park in Long Island.

MS: Are you amazed that, three decades after he passed away, Harry’s music continues to gain new fans?
HF:   I am, as it’s pleasantly remarkable to me that Harry’s music has endured AND in many circles/families has been passed down to younger generations. The variety of age groups are evident at many of our concerts.

Rock and roll fans take notice:  I first “met” Howie when I was working on a screenplay about Harry’s life.  I contacted Howie and asked him if he had any idea what the set list was at Harry’s last show.  He sent me a copy of it.  Not a list of the songs, but a copy of the actual set list.  Howie runs a web site called “Rock Paper” and I’ll let him tell you about it:

HF:   Rock Paper is a business I have had going for over 20 yrs. It’s an archives of rock music and its two main entities are a complete archives of Rolling Stone magazine, whereby ANY article, record review, concert review, advertisement EVER published in the magazine can be located. Rock Paper has over 10,000 back issues o the magazine going back to the issue #1 (1967). There are also thousands of other back issues available of other classic rock magazines….Crawdaddy, Circus, Creem, etc, etc, etc,

It also has an archive of concert ads cut from newspapers from NYC & the UK.

You can search for whatever you’re looking for at

All photos copyright


Howie Mandel talks about his new game show “Take It All”

From his early stand up days to his years as Dr. Fiscus on the Emmy award winning “St. Elsewhere” to his role as host of “Deal or No Deal” Howie Mandel has always found a way to let his good natured, fun loving side show through.  This week he begins a new chapter as host of the new show “Take It All.”

Based on the popular “White Elephant” prize swaps that usually occur this time of year, the show will run starting Monday, December 10, through Friday, December 14 at 9:00 p.m. EST on NBC, with the show’s finale running at the same time on Monday, December 17.  While promoting the show Mr. Mandel sat down with Media Mikes to talk about his new show, his mostly hidden enthusiasm for contestants and the latest “Gremlins” rumors.

Mike Smith: Thanks for taking the time to talk today.
Howie Mandel: Oh, you’re welcome.

MS: How is this game different from what people play in their homes each year?
HM: Well, if you play this in your home, I’m coming to your home, because I don’t know that people give away cars and anything from hovercrafts to exotic vacations. This is beyond any gift that Secret Santa would have. And then, what we did was, you know obviously that was the theme of the idea, and I had gone to a few parties and had seen this, and watched the type of the gamesmanship and people play against each other. So, the simplicity of it is everybody comes out, we start with five, everybody comes out with a different prize. So, if you pick a car and the next person picks a hovercraft, whoever ends up with the least expensive prizes gives it back and goes home. And eventually we end with two people that have a veritable cornucopia of extravagant prizes. And then, they can pick cash, you know, a 1/4 of a million dollars, hundreds of thousands of dollars, and then they have a choice. And I don’t think they do this in the house, but their two choices are keep it, so they can keep everything that they have, or take it all. If one of them decides to take it all, they get everything that they’ve accumulated throughout the hour, plus what their opponent has accumulated and they end up with tons of money and prizes and cash. But here’s the catch. If they both decide to take it all, they both end up with nothing. And neither of them knows what the other is going to do, so it’s like – it’s great gamesmanship, because it’s like poker. They get a chance to face-off each other and against each other what they’re going to do and it’s the most surprising social experiment I’ve ever been part of. I thought “Let’s Make a Deal” was an incredible social experience, this takes it to the next level.

MS: Part of the fun of a Yankee Swap in homes is that people tend to bring kind of dud gifts, so somebody ends with a dud. Is that an element of the show?
HM: No, absolutely not. There are no duds. Well, the only dud, if you want to call it a dud, is you end up out – and I say that a couple times on the show, you know in one of the beginning rounds when the amounts are lower, you know you could end up with – you know where there’s a range from $15,000 to $100,000 in one round, and end (the game) if you end up holding the $15,000 prize, you know which for all intents and purposes is a really nice valuable gift, that could end up being the dud because that could send you home. You have to give that back. You give back everything you’ve accumulated up to that point. So, there aren’t any – you know in that way there are no duds. That being said, prizes are like characters in themselves. I mean, you will see things that you haven’t seen on any other show. And I’m talking things like hovercrafts and submarines and jet packs, and things like you’ve never seen before, so they’re all amazing. I mean, I’m just as blown away as the contestants when the gifts are revealed and I go, “Oh my, God, this is amazing. I want one,” you know?

MS: Is there chance that this show will go on beyond the holidays?
HM: That’s a question for NBC. It’s not a question for me, you know? But, the fact that I have this opportunity to do an event, you know? And the last time I was involved with an event of this magnitude in this way was “Deal or No Deal.” When I was presented with “Deal or No Deal” they said, “You know, we’re going to give you five nights in a row on a network and we truly believe in this. We think it’s a fun holiday event.” And that fun holiday event turned into 500 episodes. So I would love that, but I take each take as it comes. And, you know when we played the game in the room with NBC I said, “If you ever decide to do this, this is the one time I want the host.” I’ve been asked since “Deal or No Deal” to host everything that’s come along in the way of games and been told “This is fun.” Because this is about people, it’s about gamesmanship. You know, can you play – can you bluff somebody, can you create a story from that has the other players believe in what you’re saying? You play it like poker.

MS: This is the second game show you’ve hosted. What have you learned about people’s natures from doing this?
HM: I’ve learned that I know nothing. I’ve learned that you cannot judge a book by its cover. I learned that I’m fascinated with the human condition. I’ve learned that if you put people in different environments they probably don’t even know what they’re going to do. What happens is they get up there and there’s hundreds of thousands of dollars cash in front of them: diamonds, boats, gifts, and real estate, and you watch their eyes glaze over and you see them become a different person. The same thing is true when you get into a casino. I’m fascinated by what happens, you know? All I try to do as the host is just direct the traffic and hope that I keep them as clear as possible and as focused as possible, so that they can manipulate whatever plan they have of attack in the clearest possible way.

MS: And what kind of game player are you? Are you good at games?
HM: No, not at all. I’m not really a player of games. I’m fascinated by watching somebody play games…trivia, for the most part, and physical things that people have to do. I’m fascinated by that. And I watched, right in front of my eyes, somebody’s life changed forever. Somebody shows up and they just graduated college and then 40 minutes later they’re standing there with hundreds of thousands of dollars, millions of dollars, just their value, their worth monetarily has gone up. And with that, you know their life is not the same as it was when they walked in. So I find it fascinating. I don’t have the guts. If I showed up some place and somebody handed me 5 bucks, I would leave with my $5 and be thrilled that I got my $5. So it’s amazing to me the guts that people have to play a game, to keep going on, and to push it to the limits.

MS: As a host of game shows and talent shows, are you able to maintain a professional distance from the contestants, or do you find yourself getting emotionally involved in what they’re going through and sort of secretly root for them?
HM: Well, yes. You know, first and foremost I’m a human being and I’m a father and I’m a husband. So yes, the professionalism lies in you You can tell that I root for people and you can tell that I care, and it’s really hard. The hardest thing is to maintain, and I guess that’s what they pay you for, to maintain my professionalism when I see, in my mind, just like you the viewer, you know I can go, “Oh, no, no, no, no, this is bad move. This is a bad move,” but I’m not allowed to say that. And I can think it, but I can’t tell you I’m thinking it because that may sway you. And then again, I could be wrong. So yes, I am very involved. I can’t totally remove myself from it. But I hope that I maintain a professional stance as the host of the show. I’ve seen some parts of it and I think I do a fantastic job. (laughs)

MS: You had such a great run on St. Elsewhere. Do you ever see yourself open to the option to return to episodic television again?
HM: I would love to, so if you hear anything, please let me know. You know, I’ve always – everything I’ve done in my life has been because I said “yes” to these opportunities, and they’re nothing that I planned, you know? And I didn’t plan to do “St. Elsewhere.” I was a standup comic, and then I did that. And I certainly didn’t plan to be a game show host. You know, I fell into “Deal or No Deal” and it was such a great experience.

MS: This last one is a little off topic but I was asked to ask you if you know anything about the possibility of a “Gremlins” reunion or perhaps a remake of the original movie? And would you be interested in participating in that?
HM: I know nothing about it, but if they do I hope they give me a call. I would love to be part of it.