Singer-songwriters Carole King and Louise Goffin

The prolific singer-songwriter and her producer-singer-songwriter daughter discuss King’s new CD, “A Holiday Carole,” and explain why working together was “like butter.”

A member of both the Songwriters and Rock and Roll Halls of Fame, Carole King has the industry cred to validate her status as one of a kind, including being the first woman to win four Grammys in one year. She's written some 400 songs recorded by more than 1,000 artists, plus songs for films, TV and Broadway. She's also made her mark as a performer, from the landmark '71 "Tapestry" CD—which was re-issued in '08 to mark her 50th year in the business—to last year's best-selling Troubadour Reunion album and tour with James Taylor.

Louise Goffin, King's daughter, never rested on her parents' musical laurels and paved her own path as a talented multi- instrumentalist, singer, composer, lyricist and producer. She started at age 17 by opening for Jackson Browne, which resulted in a record deal, and later played electric guitar as side-woman with the iconic Tears for Fears band. Her single “Uptown Boys” appeared on the soundtrack to Fast Times at Ridgemont High, making her the youngest artist featured on the classic soundtrack. Goffin produced King’s new, and first ever, holiday album, "A Holiday Carole."


Tavis: So pleased to welcome Carole King back to this program. The legendary singer-songwriter is joined tonight by her daughter and music producer, Louise Goffin. The two have teamed up on a terrific new holiday CD called, “A Holiday Carole,” C-A-R-O-L-E – I love that. From the project, here is some of the recording session for the holiday classic, “This Christmas.”


Tavis: I love Christmas music, but it ain’t Christmas for me, Carole, until I hear “This Christmas.” Then it’s official.

Carole King: That’s example right.

Tavis: That is my favorite Christmas song of all time.

King: It was pretty great, and I was a big fan of Donny Hathaway and I wanted to pay homage in doing this song, and Louise actually, I think you brought this song to me, right?

Louise Goffin: Yeah, at some point we put together a long list and sat next to each other and just listened to everything. That was definitely a taker.

Tavis: How did you whittle down that list?

Goffin: A lot of times on iTunes, a lot of research. I just went – you just go to one and then they show you other Christmas songs. I was avoiding the on the nose Christmas songs. I was actually thinking instead of make a Christmas record that’s only good at Christmastime, more of the holiday spirit that’s good all year round, every day will be like a holiday, my favorite things.

Tavis: My mother (unintelligible). My mother listens to Christmas music in July. Hi, Mama. She watches every night. But she literally, we’re around the house, cleaning house in July in Indiana with 89 degree humidity in Indiana, she’s walking around the house playing –

King: She’s still in Indiana?

Tavis: Still in Indiana?

King: Oh, my gosh. Well, enjoy this, Mrs. Smiley.

Tavis: Yes, she will. (Laughter) She will. She’ll be like, “Send that to me right away, Tavis, send that to me right away.” Is this – I don’t know the answer to this question, Carole, so let me ask anyway, and I should have researched this because it really bugged me that I don’t know the answer to it. I assume this must be the first album you’ve ever done in your career where you did not write a single thing on the record.

King: You are correct.

Tavis: Yes. (Laughter) If only I won something for that.

King: But the but is there are three original songs on the –

Tavis: There are.

King: – album, and they were all co-written by Louise and other people, and they’re wonderful. It was so much fun for me to be singing someone else’s song, and especially because of Louise’s sensibility and mine being so similar.

I have to tell you about one song.

Tavis: Sure.

King: “New Year’s Day.”

Tavis: Mm-hmm.

King: Okay. Louise is in London, where she spent some time and was part of the music community over there, and the mission was to write a song for Carole that sounds like Carole would have written it.

They did. Louise teamed up with Guy Chambers, and you can tell you’re a part of it, and then there’s a button to that story, so you go. (Laughter)

Goffin: Okay, well, I’ll see if I can do the short version of this. Throughout the whole record I knew we needed a New Year’s song.

Tavis: Right.

Goffin: In the back of my mind I thought, we need a New Year’s song. I’m not going to do one more song with the word “Christmas” in it. So I kept looking for them, and a lot of the ones, there’s a handful, some great ones, but they have been done a lot and they were a little sad. It was a little bit, like, glum on New Year’s, and I wanted to have it be kind of – I wanted it to be prayerful and hopeful.

So this lyric, “New Year’s Day,” I think throughout the whole record was writing itself, gestating, and then when I went to London I actually didn’t plan to write anything in particular. Where I ended up staying was across the street from my co-writer, and I just walked across the street, went in, and said, “How about we write a New Year’s song for Carole?” and this lyric had been writing itself during the whole record, and that’s what happened.

King: Well, now here’s the button of that story. Guy wrote the music and the chords with me in mind, and I heard it over Skype, and I’m like, “This is great. This sounds so much like me.” The thing is, when it came time for me to learn it to perform it, since I hadn’t written it I had to learn it, it’s much more complex than one thinks it is. (Laughs) So it took me some doing to learn this song that I supposedly might have written.

Tavis: So I’m glad you went there. I didn’t want to interrupt the story, this is a great story, but I was waiting for the story to end to ask you this very question, which is if people can write a song as if Carole King had written it, all of us would be writing songs – it’s the quickest way to the top of the charts, to write a song as if Carole King had written the song. What’s the trick to doing that?

Goffin: There’s an interesting trick in that. It’s when you try to do it like someone else you always get it wrong, but it can still be good. I would bring up Prince, who was doing Little Richard and Jimi Hendrix, and it wasn’t them but it was him, and sometimes just imbuing the feeling of someone who inspires you can just bring about an amazing song, and people say, “That sounds like you.”

King: If I want to write for The Shirelles, I have The Shirelles in my mind. If I want to write for Norah Jones, if I want to write for somebody more contemporary, I have that person in my mind. But I don’t sit down and say, “Let me see, what can I do?” It just comes out of you, and when it comes out of you you’ve got that person in your mind, but it comes out as you.

Tavis: I guess the question, Louise, is whether writing for your mom, given who she is, as opposed to someone else, is more intimidating or less intimidating? In your case, writing and producing for your mom. More, you think, or less intimidating?

Goffin: I think for me, less intimidating probably than anyone else, because I don’t have that feeling of, “What’s she going to think?” I’ve been giving her a hard time since I was five, so (laughter) she probably –

Tavis: She’s used to it by now, huh?

Goffin: She’s probably used to getting it from me. It really was just – there was one point we were on the phone, Skyping, there was one change, I think, that Guy and I had that was a real jazzy, and she said, “Oh, no, I would never do that change,” and we were like, “Out with the jazz chord.” (Laughter) So there was some input there.

I don’t want to be the guilty party here who took away Carole’s writing on this record. She was writing this book which is coming out next year –

King: A memoir. That’ll be the next time I come in to see you.

Tavis: We’re waiting. We are waiting on that one, yeah.

King: That’ll be in April. Let me see if you could guess the title.

Tavis: That’s a good one.

King: “A Natural Woman.”

Tavis: “A Natural Woman,” yeah.

King: Beautiful.

Tavis: That was in the back of my head. I should have gone for that.

King: Fair enough. I shouldn’t have done it. I shouldn’t have put you on the spot.

Tavis: No, no, it’s a great, no. You know what that means, is you have so many great song titles. Now that you raise this question, you have so many song titles that could be –

King: You’re right. No, you’re right.

Tavis: – that could be the title of the text.

King: You’re right, it’s true.

Tavis: No, that’s a good one, though, that’s a good one.

King: But just about that, it’s a memoir and leading back to this album, it was fun to write but it took so much of my brain space that the whole reason this album got made at all with Louise producing it was a former manager of mine said, “Well, why don’t you get Louise to do it?” She was desperate to get me to do it. I was like, “Good idea, but as long as Louise does the driving.”

Louise did do the driving. I didn’t have any brain space for it, and she brought me in the studio, really – she didn’t even pull it out of me. She put me in circumstances where I couldn’t help but rise to the occasion and be who I always was in the studio, and she inspired, and when I faltered she led, and when I was doing fine she stepped back. It was like butter.

Tavis: I’m going to hold my book questions, even though you’re tempting me now. I’ll hold them for two reasons. One, I want to do justice to this wonderful project in this conversation, but secondly, I want to make sure you come back when the book comes out.

King: I will be back.

Tavis: Somebody write that down, April.

King: April 2012.

Tavis: I just booked Carole King for a taping in April. Just write that down on the big wall in the office.

King: It’ll be my pleasure. You ask great questions.

Tavis: No, I’m glad to have you back any time. But it does raise this question for me – how does this project, working on this with your daughter, fit into the narrative, the storyline of your life? How special is – how would you – if you were writing about this moment, Carole, how would you write about this in the story of your life?

King: It’s kind of a coming home in that here’s this person that’s been in the studio, literally in the playpen, grew up making music, around music, creating it herself from a very, very young age, and here she is, coming to this project with all the knowledge and all the sensibility that I could possibly wish for in common with me, but enough different to add, to enhance. It’s just a coming home. It’s like, of course.

Goffin: She’s very generous.

Tavis: Did your mom ever try to talk you out of this, Louise?

Goffin: Talk me out of –

Tavis: Out of the business.

Goffin: Oh, absolutely. (Laughter) Absolutely. I was furious with her when I was 12. I said, “I’m going to be a singer-songwriter, and I’m going to make records,” and she said, “Let’s talk.” (Laughter) I was furious. I was like, “No,” and she told me it can be really hard, and in her mind she thought, well, you’re following in my footsteps, I’m really successful.

I just thought, what is all this stuff? Don’t tell me I can’t do anything in the world that I set my mind out to, which 12-year-olds, if you know –

Tavis: Believe they can.

Goffin: Yeah, and you want to at that stage. So yeah, she definitely did try to talk me out of it. But the thing is that the household was so artistic, there was music around all the time, there was vinyl around, there were people singing. My dad had a recording studio.

It was just – I was marinating in it, so.

King: She never stopped. She was like a laser, always writing, always singing, and always doing it for the love of it and the ambition part of it, there’s – we all want to achieve something, but she never looked back. That’s always what she’s done.

Tavis: It may not have been intimidating, Louise, given all these years that are passed, to write and produce for your mom, but take me back and tell me how the journey has gone.

That is to say, trying to chart your own path, write your own stuff, perform in your own right. Everybody knows that this is your mom.

Goffin: Well, I moved all the way to London thinking I could get away from it. (Laughter) Then I’d be in Top Shop and a Carole King song would come on. Yeah, the journey has been – it’s been a tough journey in that every – well, first of all, I always had the confidence to feel like wherever I went, I was me, and I always knew that my sound and musicality was not derivative.

What happened was the ’80s. The ’80s suddenly made music corporate. It was suddenly you were a brand, and as Carole was just saying, when I started out, music was much more of a joyous play, for playing, be in the studio, make records, make long shelf life records. Make a record that was an artistic statement. Make gatefold records, whatever it was. Artwork, it was all a big statement.

Then when the ’80s came along it was all about you’re a Pepsi-Cola product. You’re something else. I didn’t think that way, and I was never very good at suddenly thinking of product in place of inspiration and musicality, so –

Tavis: That’s because you’re a very wise woman with a very wise mother. A lot of folk fell for that in the ’80s, and they came and went.

Goffin: Well, they came and went, true enough.

King: And part of my story of success, which is undeniable, for which I’m incredibly grateful, is the opportunity, the window in time in which I was able to do what I did, and I was sheltered from having to think about any of that by working with Lou Adler at that time and Donnie Kirschner before then.

So I have the New York experience as a writer and then the experience as an artist. They shielded me from having to deal with the corporate world, so between those two things I had maybe a more advantageous time period.

Tavis: How difficult is it – I would think difficult, but you tell me – to introduce new music at Christmastime? I only say that because it is the most traditional season of our lives, I think, and people – that’s what tradition is. People are used to singing and doing things that are normal, that are typical, that are traditional.

So when you’re trying to break in three or four new Christmas songs or holiday songs, how difficult is that?

Goffin: That would probably be a question for the record company.

King: I can answer it, actually. (Laughter) The answer is that we come on shows where the host is generous enough to make people aware of the music, and then hope that somebody actually catches it and passes it on, and with the Internet you can fail big but you can also succeed big.

Goffin: I would like to say that having Carole in the room making this music, and also the lyrics. The lyrics were all joyous. Again, it was all prayerful to spend the entire year, it’s all about hope and joy and peace.

King: And Christmas paradise, which is just fun.

Goffin: That was fun. Yeah, it’s just – when she walks in the room and sits down and plays the piano, you’re not thinking about is anyone going to buy this. It just goes to another level and you just hope people find out about it.

Tavis: God knows I don’t speak for record companies, but I suspect if they were on the set right now they’d probably say what I’m thinking, which is that “White Christmas” got introduced at some point.

King: That’s right.

Tavis: “This Christmas” wasn’t around before it came around.

King: That’s right.

Goffin: Yeah.

Tavis: For there to be new music, somebody’s got to put new music out there. I think people don’t do it in part because Christmas is such a challenging thing. Who wants to take on a holiday season and try to put out a new song when you’re competing with Bing Crosby and Donny Hathaway?

King: Hope.

Tavis: Yeah. (Laughter) That’s why I love Carole King. What a great place to end our conversation. That’s what this project is all about. I love the – can I just say this also, that I love the design. You can’t really see this. Jonathan, can you see this? It’s got a little sideways – good, yeah. So this thing opens up, and it’s really cool because it just kind of like –

King: You can prop it up on your table or your chair.

Tavis: That’s why record folk make all the money. These little creative ideas like that.

King: Bravo, Concord.

Tavis: It’s a great – can I just ask what – I’m out of time. One last question, Louise, I’m just curious. I have friends who I’ve done this with a thousand times over the years, and I’m always curious as to whether or not it’s for television or that’s how they relate to their parent, but you always call her Carole, as you’ve done tonight, or do you call her Mom?

Goffin: I always call her Mom, but because this has been a professional project –

Tavis: That’s what I thought.

Goffin: – and there’s so much family, we’d just be talking to the world going, “Mom, Mom, Mom,” so. (Laughter)

Tavis: I was just curious. I love that. I just wanted to ask.

Goffin: When I need her to take care of the little ones, she’s Mom, and when I’m going to the set, it’s Carole.

Tavis: It’s Carole, got it. All right.

Goffin: Yeah.

Tavis: Just curious. Carole King has a new project out. It’s called “A Holiday Carole,” with some new material written and the whole project produced by her daughter, Louise Goffin. I am honored to have them both on the program, and might I say now, happy holidays to both of you.

King: And to you. And to you.

Tavis: And I’ll see you in April. Yes. I’ll see you in April.

Goffin: Thank you. Thank you, Tavis.

King: Yes, you will.

Tavis: Don’t forget.

Goffin: Thank you, Mom. (Laughter)

Tavis: Ba-dum-bump.

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Last modified: November 17, 2011 at 12:18 pm