David Cassidy, from North Jersey to Hollywood -- and back again
“I grew up listening to everything,” he says. “Eric Clapton, George and Ira Gershwin. B.B. King was one of my favorites. I’d like to do a few of his songs in my next show. I always loved the blues.”
Nah. David Cassidy, who is on tour once again and performing two shows Saturday at New Jersey Performing Arts Center.
And, yes, he hopes to see you there.
“I do have the most incredible fans,” he says. “They’re loyal and so passionate. They seem to have this deep connection with the music and that whole era when I was starting out.”
Cassidy, now 66, is talking about 1970. And if you thought you loved him way back then — when his first hit single, “I Think I Love You,” roared to the top of the Billboard charts — then you weren’t alone.
Like the Monkees before him, Cassidy became a real-life teen idol while portraying a fictional one on television. He was, in fact, the No. 1 teen idol in the world for five tumultuous years, no small feat, with a voice that seemed made for catchy, sugary pop — a genre he really didn’t care for at the time — and a shag haircut that wouldn’t quit.
The actor and singer was 20 then, playing 16-year-old Keith Partridge in the ABC hit “The Partridge Family” — a musical sitcom loosely based on the lives of The Cowsills, who had a string of hits in the late 1960s that included “Indian Lake” and “The Rain, the Park and Other Things.”
Showbiz was in his DNA. His parents, Evelyn Ward and Jack Cassidy, were both actors. Both starred on Broadway, although Jack Cassidy eventually became better known for his TV work in the 1960s, on the comedy “He and She” with Richard Benjamin and Paula Prentiss, and as a guest star on almost every popular show of that era, from “Gunsmoke” and “Bewitched” to “Get Smart” and “Hawaii Five-O.” (He turned down the part of news anchor Ted Baxter on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” which was reportedly written with him in mind. But Jack eventually did make an appearance as Ted Baxter’s competitive brother, opposite Ted Knight, who earned two Emmys playing the vain newsman.)
Ward hailed from West Orange, and that was where David spent his early childhood. “Most of my fans in New Jersey know my history there,” he says. “I lived with my grandparents from the time I was 5 and lived there until I moved to L.A., to live with my mom, when I was 11, almost 12.”
His father Jack married Oscar-winning actress Shirley Jones in 1956. A veteran of several acclaimed movie musicals — “Oklahoma!” “Carousel” and “The Music Man” — Jones turned to television in the ’60s and portrayed pop matriarch Shirley Partridge in “The Partridge Family.” (She can also be heard singing on the early Partridge Family hits, including “I Think I Love You.”)
Despite having divorced, career-driven parents — his fractured relationship with his father was particularly difficult — Cassidy insists he had a traditional childhood. “My grandparents were very religious,” he recalls. “I went to Bible school. I was a soloist in the choir. And I had plenty of other relatives, aunts, uncles and cousins, all within a couple of miles of each other.”
Even then, he loved music. But he really, really loved baseball. Ten years before his posters were hanging in the bedrooms of swooning teeny-boppers across America, Cassidy says the pictures hanging on his walls were of Yankee slugger Mickey Mantle.
“He was the hero to every boy — and plenty of girls — at that time, especially if you lived in the New York area,” Cassidy says. “I was an enormous Yankee fan, and I think I was 7 or 8 the first time my grandfather took me to Yankee Stadium. We took the bus to Port Authority, then the train. I can still remember the thrill of walking through that tunnel to our seats and seeing the stadium, right in front of me, for the first time. It was breathtaking. And I saw Whitey Ford pitch. Yogi Berra catch. And Mantle? He was just the guy everybody gravitated to. He was so charismatic.”
Fast-forward to 1972, when the equally charismatic Cassidy, who, in his teens, longed to be a serious actor, performed to a sold-out house of screaming fans at Madison Square Garden. A review of that performance in The New York Times referred to him as “a still developing singer” but praised his onstage instincts, saying he had “the same fresh-faced, wide-eyed style that made the early Beatles so successful with teenagers” and a “markedly mature familiarity with the core qualities of show business.”
Cassidy may not have enjoyed many of the pop hits he was churning out at the time, but he knew how to sell them. And as his fame grew he got a bit lost in the dizzying whirl of overnight stardom — a part of his life that he recalled honestly in his book “C’mon Get Happy,” written in 1994 with Paterson author Chip DeFaa.
“I appreciated [being a teen idol] at the time,” Cassidy says now of the enormous fame that virtually engulfed him. “But I didn’t have a lot of time to reflect on it because I was doing it.”
On the plus side, he says, he got to meet and work with some extraordinary people: “The Wrecking Crew, Hal Blaine, Larry Carlton, Mick Ronson right after ‘Spiders from Mars.’ I was fortunate enough to play with John Lennon a couple of times, but we didn’t jam, that was a private thing. Elton John came out once and did a number with me. I worked and wrote with Brian Wilson. I played and jammed with McCartney before the ‘Wings Over America’ tour in Paris. Really amazing. I like to say I’ve had the chance to dine with kings, and I’m grateful to have had the chance to work with people who had so much soul and talent.”
Cassidy continues to work as an actor, tours when he can and remains open about his life, and everything from his father’s indifference and alcoholism to his own bouts with booze and the rejection most teen stars experience when they mature.
“Back then, I always appreciated the ability I had to reach out and touch people,” Cassidy says. “But as you get older ... you know ... so much happens, maybe you got kicked in the guts a few times, but the positive outweighs the negative. I appreciated everything then, but I think I appreciate it even more, now.”