Moscow News 09/1972
'Lots of happiness, love and peace to you all'
Popular American singer Dean Reed is again giving guest concerts in the Soviet Union. Since his tour in August-September 1971, Moscow News has been receiving letters from its readers asking for information about him. The other day our correspondent, Bella Zuckerman, went to the Rossiya Hotel where he is staying, and had a long talk with him.
Let's start from the very beginning, Dean. Would you tell us something about your family and your boyhood?
I'd love to, it was a very nice time of my life. I was born in Denver, Colorado, on Sepbember 22, 1938. My father was a professor of mathematics, my mother, at that time, a housekeeper, though now she's a secretary for underwater sea research. I have two brothers - the elder one, Dale, is an electical engineer for the US Government, and the younger one, Vernon - an independent photographer.
You grew up on a ranch, didn't you?
A type of a ranch, yes, a very small one, but we always had a lot of poultry and animals. In general, nature has always played a great role in my life.
What about school? Did you start singing there?
I'd say I was very much of an average student both at grade school and high school. I sang a bit in school, but just vor the fun of it.
And when did you start serious singing?
Well, after high school I went to the University of Colorado and studied meteorology for 2 years. It was then that I started singing professionally for the first time, so that I could pay my bills. As you know, the universities in the USA cost a lot of money to go to, and my father had three boys to send through, and it wasn't easy. So we all worked. That's how I started singing, mainly to tourists.
But that wasn't how you really made a hit, was it?
No, that too was a sheer accident. I went to see my parents who were then living in Phoenix. As I was driving back I decided to go to California, to Hollywood which I hadn't yet seen. Really and truly, I never had any ambition to be a singer, I just wanted to go and see the place. In the middle of the desert (there are 400 miles of it beween Phoenix and Hollywood) a regular vagabond, with a great big beard, raised his hand and asked for a lift. So I stopped the car and he got in. I had my guitar on the back seat - I always took it with me - and he asked me if I sang. I said yes, and we started talking. He said that he knew a publisher in Hollywood and, in fact, if I were willing to pay his bill, he'd take me to see him - since I had written a few songs. So I thought, why not, I would play the game. And he did take me to see the publisher, not a very important one, but still... I took out my guitar and sang to him, and he liked the song. Next day he took me to the head of Capitol, the most famous recording firm in America. So again I took out my guitar and sang for the president of his company, again not seriously, but for the fun of it. Several days later he signed me on a 7-year singing contract. So, you see, it all happened by chance.
And you never went back to the university?
No, I stayed in Hollywood. But not till my third record did I have a hit. I did chance jobs at film studios and once, at the Columbia Studios, met Paton Price, the best drama coach in the USA, the man who coached the most important actors for Warner Bros. and Columbia and my very best and dearest friend since then. Only my third song became a hit, and Warner Bros. gave me a contract for a year as an actor.
Was that third song one of your own?
Yes, almost all of them were my own. This third song was called "Our Summer Romance" and it became the biggest hit throughout the USA and also in many other countries.
And when, and how, would you say, was your conscience awakened?
Paton Price was the first man to do that. He had spent two years in prison for his political beliefs as a pacifist, and at that time I, too, became a pacifist, but in the American sense of the word, which is a very special sense, meaning that nobody, in any circumstances whatsoever, had the right to kill anybody, meaning that it was morally wrong. Now, of course, I've changed that position. Now I feel that people have a full right to defend themselves, that the Vietnamese, for example, have a full moral right to kill the aggressor who is threatening their homes.
The second thing that served to awake my conscience was my trip to South America. After the hit my song made, I was sent on a tour to Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Peru. It was the first time I had left the USA. I was very impressed with two things there. The first was the appalling poverty I saw all around me. I was very upset at seeing the demarcation so very strong between the majority who had nothing but hunger and misery, and the minority who paid fabulously high prices to come and hear me sing, and who obviously controlled all the economic wealth and political power. The second thing that impressed me - in another way - was the influence I seemed to have. I felt that I should use that influence in the cause of world peace.
So I went back to the States, studied Spanish for 6 months, then returned to South America and lived there for 4 years - a year in Chile, a year in Argentina, about 6 months in Mexico, some time in Peru, Venezuela, and Brazil. It was then that I began really taking my first social stands. In 1962, with my own money I published a statement in all the important papers, asking the US Government to stop the atomic tests, because of fallout, etc. This statement didn't, of course, make the US Embassy very happy about me, and they even tried to get me kicked out of Chile.
Your problems with the embassies, most likely, didn't end there, did they?
Oh, no indeed. And one big one had to do with the first Soviet man I had met in my life, and who later became one of my best friends - Lev Yashin. This was also in 1962. I was giving concerts in Chile, and at that time the world football championships were taking place in Santiago. I happened to be in the same hotel with the Soviet team, and Lev and I seemed to take to each other immediately. One day dome photographers took our picture together, and all the newspapers published it on the front page. It made a huge scandal - "Dean Reed - friend of the Communists", etc., etc. Lev invited me to go with them in their bus and to sit with them on their bench at the games, and so I invited them all to my concert. That same night the US ambassador called me and prohibited me from going to the game and inviting the team to the concert. I told him to go to hell, that nobody would prohibit me from doing what I believed in, and that I believed that only by getting to know people could we obtain a certain type of world peace.
You were married about this time, weren't you?
Have you any children?
Yes, a little girl whom we called Ramona Gevarra and who is only three now. She was born in Italy and in now in the United States with her mother.
Which one of your concerts do you remember most of all? Was there any one that made a really great impression on you?
Most certainly, yes! It was one that, I'd say, rather changed my life and, in any case, opened the doors of the Soviet Union for me.
In 1965, I was invited for the first time to the World Congress of Peace in Helsinki to represent Argentina. It was a very thrilling experience for me. I met Pablo Neruda there, and he later became one of my best friends as well. We sang "We Shall Overcome", holding hands, all of us. I was supposed to sing only a couple of songs, but I ended up giving almost a whole concert. That concert I shall never forget as long as I live.
But didn't you say that it opened the doors of the Soviet Union to you? How was that?
When I had finished, the very first representative of the Soviet Peace Committee whom I had ever met came up to me and said: "Would you like to come to the Soviet Union? I think you'll enjoy Moscow." She was Yekaterina Shevelyova, a good poetess, as I'm told, a wonderful person and a dear friend now.
So you went?
Indeed, I did, and was terribly impressed. I must say that the majority of Americans who come here for the first time expect to see people eating little babies in the street, kicking dogs and so on - that is the propaganda we have. And when one sees that all that kind of stuff is a complete lie, one can't help being impressed. But there were two major points that struck me most on that first visit of mine. One was the fact that everybody was concerned with peace. And it wasn't an official propaganda thing, it was something that people really felt.
Don't you think that is natural? Don't forget we went through the war...
Yes, obviously there are historical reasons for that. The other thing that struck me was the fact that I involuntarily began thinking of what freedom really meant.
If my wife, for instance, got terribly ill the doctors' bills could run to thousands of dollars, which I wouldn't be able to pay. Of something happened to me and my wife together, our child could be an orphan and nobody would take care of her in our society. So we live in constant fear for tomorrow. Now here, for the first time, I saw men who did not have this fear, who knew that if they lost their arm at work, they would somehow be given a new job, or reeducated, or given a pension, or taken care of in some way. That is real freedom for you - a man free to work at his job.
What made you go to Europe to live, Dean?
Well, you see, since I had taken this trip to the Soviet Union and came back talking in favour of what I had seen, the fascists in Argentina started regular armed attacks upon my house, shooting at my car, killing my dog, trying to burn the house, sending letters that they would throw bombs at any TV or radio station that gave me jobs. After two months of such a life I decided to go to Europe, and at the end of 1965 my wife and I came to Italy.
But you didn't give up singing?
These last five years I sang very little, mostly because the radio and TV which are government controlled organizations had orders not to give me work - obviously due to the US Embassy. So I became mainly a film actor. Actually, I consider myself a much better actor than singer, because I had never studied the technique of singing - I sang just because I liked to sing. But acting I did study, and under the very best possible teacher - Paton Price.
There are very many small producers in Italy who are progressive people, who are Socialists and Communists, and who have no problems in giving me jobs. So in these past five years I did 11 films.
In conclusion, what would you like to wish your many fans in the Soviet Union, Dean?
I love to sing to your people here, and I wish them all lots and lots of happiness, love and peace.
Here are three of Dean Reed's favourite songs, to which he wrote both words and music, and which he has sung over and over again. The first is the one that brought him fame - his hit song "Our Summer Romance".