The Royal Teens, Herb Alpert and Bobby Hart have something in common: They were all discovered by Lee Silver.
Silver started in the music business as a singer-songwriter and producer in New York in the early ’50s. Today, he calls Palm Desert home.
Before entering the music business, Silver served in the Army, and he worked as a mechanical engineer. However, it was hard to deny his first love—music. He’d been a performer since the age of 6, when he began singing and dancing onstage.
During a recent interview at his Sun City home, he discussed his start in the music business.
“When I was in the Army, I was stationed in Nashville. I fell in love with country music, and I’m a boy from Brooklyn,” Silver said. “There was no country music in Brooklyn during that time period. I remember producing a record in New York with an engineer who became so famous, Al Schmitt. Schmitt worked with Natalie Cole and became an engineer at RCA. At that time, I was a young kid who produced a country record that I loved.
“One of the songs, ‘In the Valley of the Sun,’ went on to be in Breaking Bad during its last season.”
Silver said the song, performed under the pseudonym Buddy Stuart, was inspired by a visit to his sister in Arizona.
“I went to Los Angeles and made an inexpensive demo that sat on a shelf for 50 years,” he said. “A movie called The Hills Have Eyes came out, and the producer heard it, and he said he wanted to use it in the end credits. I said, ‘Go ahead!’ It got a little bit popular, and the producer and the director of Breaking Bad said, ‘Hey, we’d love to use that song in our show.’ They used it in a scene where they’re driving a truck.
“That was me singing a demo that I made for myself. I didn’t want to be an artist. I just made demos of the songs I wrote and sang on them. That sat on a shelf while I was producing so many people after that.”
Silver and Herb Alpert formed a professional relationship that led to hit records before Alpert eventually started A&M Records with Jerry Moss.
“Herb Alpert and I got together, and I gave him his first song, ‘Baby Talk,’ for a group he had that was called Jan and Dean, before A&M Records existed,” Silver said. “He asked me if he could use the song, and I told him to go ahead. He did, and it became a No. 1 hit. Herb and I became partners in a record company called Lash Records, which was way before A&M. Lash stood for: L for Lee, A for Alpert, S for Silver, and H for Herb.”
All of Silver’s songs that have been featured on shows such as Damages, Mad Men and Breaking Bad are credited to Buddy Stuart.
“When you produce, you go to the record companies to show your product,” he explained. “I went to Capitol Records, Liberty Records, and they would say, ‘You wrote and sang on it, and you produced it, and you’re publishing it. We want half of the royalties.’ The next time I would visit the record companies, they would ask, ‘Who is singing on that?’ I would say, ‘Buddy Stuart.’ I gave them a phony name.
“That name stuck with me from that time on. I was on the labels as Buddy Stuart. They didn’t know that was me singing, because when you go to a record company, they know you have the artist signed, and the song, and you’re just giving them the master copy. That’s how the name stuck, and how I used it.”
Silver has 300 songs to his credit. His daughter manages his catalog and other master tapes he made as a producer. He told an amusing story about how the great Les Paul and his wife, Mary Ford, used a song he wrote called “Fire,” from which he never received any compensation or royalties.
“I wrote the song ‘Fire,’ and Les Paul and Mary Ford are appearing in New York, and I’m a young, aggressive kid. I waited behind the stage door when he came out, and I said, ‘Mr. Paul, I have a song for you.’ He said ‘Give it to me, son.’
“It was recorded on Capitol Records a month later. I was the writer; I gave it to Les Paul. I loved the guy, and I called him after a while. Jody Reynolds owned a record store in Palm Springs, and we had a song of Les Paul’s. and I said, ‘Jody, we can’t release it unless we get his permission.’ He told me I could call Les at a specific number at 3 in the afternoon. I called him and said, ‘Les, remember the song called “Fire” that you recorded?’ He said, ‘I loved that song.’ I told him, ‘I NEVER GOT PAID!’ I never got any money for it—but he let us release that song of his.”
When Silver looks back on his career, he’s proud of what he accomplished on his own terms. He especially takes pride in the ownership of his own catalog.
“There are people who are so talented who never made it at all in this business, and that’s who I feel bad for,” he said. “I have friends who were struggling every day and never had that hit to get them going. I feel fortunate because I did have a couple of hits, and I could have been very wealthy, but I also wanted to smell the roses. I didn’t really go crazy, and I did what I wanted to, and I built a big catalog in the process. I own my product, and a lot of guys who produced for different record companies do not own what they produced.”