Winds may blow, o’er the icy sea
I’ll take with me the warmth of thee
A taste of honey, a taste much sweeter than wine.
Music aficionados 40 and older are probably familiar with the haunting, Grammy-winning tune “A Taste of Honey,” made famous by Barbra Streisand, Herb Alpert, and The Beatles, among others.
However, those music aficionados may not know the guy who penned it: desert resident Ric Marlow. He recently released a compilation of poetry and song lyrics, with a theme of love, called Tastes of Honey.
Born in the Bronx on Dec. 21, 1925, Marlow grew up on Long Island. As he sang, Marlow took other jobs to survive, including hauling cement, building tennis courts and driving a cab. He says his best non-musical job was demonstrating pogo sticks in the toy department at Macy’s. He claims he once sold $17,000 of pogo sticks in one month. Amazingly, Marlow still keeps in touch with the guy who worked next to him on stilts more than 50 years ago.
However, Marlow has always been, first and foremost, a singer.
“It’s an easy gig,” he said.
He was lucky: His musical ambitions were helped along by an aunt who was the secretary to the president of Chappell Music. Through her, he met some big names of the era, including Tommy Dorsey and Harry James.
After high school, Marlow attended New York University, and then joined the Army; his stint lasted a total of seven months. Upon reviewing Marlow’s application for officer candidate school, the Army decided the fractured skull he suffered in a childhood diving accident made him unsuitable.
His vocal talents later took him to Florida, where he married and had a daughter, who is now 68. Then he went back to New York. In between singing gigs, he worked in the garment industry, selling fabric to design houses. After divorcing, Marlow headed to L.A. in 1951. He was entertainment director at an uncle’s dude ranch.
Marlow joined the Screen Actors Guild in 1959, and carved out a successful TV career, with appearances on 46 television shows. He was always robbing someone, killing someone—or being bumped off himself. He appeared on Sea Hunt with Lloyd Bridges on five separate occasions.
However, his career-defining moment came in 1960. Marlow’s former pianist, Bobby Scott (who many call a genius), had been hired to write incidental music for a new play in New York called A Taste of Honey. The play was written by a young Irish girl named Shelagh Delaney, and the original Broadway version starred Angela Lansbury, Joan Plowright and a very young Billy Dee Williams.
As Marlow puts it, a week before the opening, Scott called Marlow from rehearsal and said: “Marlow, we’re in trouble.” Marlow responded: “What do you mean WE are in trouble?”
Scott explained that the director, Tony Richardson, wanted a ballad at the end of the second act, when the sailor leaves. Scott was stuck, and felt that since Marlow had been at all of the rehearsals, he knew the play well enough to come up with something. That something became “A Taste of Honey.”
The song later became a hit on the radio. It’s been recorded by many great vocalists, including Tony Bennett, Peggy Lee, Johnny Mathis and Andy Williams.
It was the version recorded by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass that won the most awards. When the Grammys rolled around in 1966, “A Taste of Honey” won the award for Best Instrumental Arrangement and Best Instrumental Performance.
Not bad, especially considering it’s the first song Marlow ever wrote. He said he does not feel it’s even close to being the best song he’s written—but he still smiles when he takes those royalty checks to the bank. In fact, those royalties have allowed him to stop working. Marlow’s last musical show here in the desert was in 2011. He only works with the best local musicians, and says most venues here these days are not willing to pay what they are worth.
His new book, Tastes of Honey, has been a 53-year labor of love, he said. (Fun fact: The title was changed from Come With Me, which the publisher deemed pornographic.) The compilation of poetry and song lyrics focuses on love—wondering about it, finding it, enjoying it, losing it and then dealing with the loss.
I first met Ric Marlow at the Melvyn’s Sunday Jazz Jam, 16 years ago. I had arrived in the desert from Washington, D.C., just two days before. After singing a few tunes with the late, great pianist Andy Fraga, I was heading out the door when this guy came running up behind me with his business card. When he told me he had written “A Taste of Honey,” I was a tad skeptical. I went straight home and searched through my piles of sheet music to check out his story. There it was, in a compilation of pop tunes: “A Taste of Honey,” words by Ric Marlow, music by Bobby Scott.
Ric Marlow and I have been dear friends ever since. A true Sagittarian, he’s blunt, witty and hilarious. One of his pearls of wisdom: “Not everyone’s going to love you. That’s OK—just don’t cater to the assholes.” And at age 89, he can still sing. Friends are planning a big 90th birthday celebration for him in December.
Marlow has been married five times, and widowed once. When asked about his philosophy of life, Ric paused a moment, then recited one of the poems included in the book:
I think I’ve lost my place in time
For here I am, a man of rhyme
Who wiles away the idle hours
Spouting lyrics to the flowers
Thinking thoughts of love, not hate
Not too stupid, not too great
Not too skilled at magic art
Playing life as just a part
Spinning through each lifetime’s maze
In search of purple passion days.