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Nashville Sound: Bob Feldman

March 26, 1998 GMT

BRENTWOOD, Tenn. (AP) _ If a guy from Brooklyn can pass himself off as a wealthy sheep farmer and rock star from Australia, who’s to say he can’t write country music hits?

``I think there’s always been a little of P.T. Barnum in me,″ Bob Feldman says, shouting over the music playing in the den of his log home in an affluent Nashville suburb.

Feldman was a member of the 1960s band ``Strangeloves,″ whose members claimed to be Australian but really were New Yorkers who lived in the borough of Brooklyn. He wrote or produced a string of hits, including ``My Boyfriend’s Back″ and ``I Want Candy.″

And now he wants to try his hand in Nashville.

Feldman, 57, is pretty excited as he plays cassettes of his recent work.

``Good song!″ he shouts. ``Wonderful, wonderful!″

Is he deluding himself?

``The bottom line is, a good song is a good song,″ he says. ``I’m writing better now. I don’t know that I’ll be as successful writing, but I’m a better writer.″

Feldman moved here about two years ago. He was trying to rejuvenate his career after spending seven years caring for a dying wife and not writing a note.

After studying country music radio and videos, he started pitching songs to country music producers. New recordings of Feldman’s songs feature generous samplings of fiddles and steel guitars, the better to lure country hit makers. A few are country reworkings of old hits. Most are new.

Forty years ago Feldman made his name in New York’s Tin Pan Alley. He grew up in the right time and place for a songwriting career. Neil Diamond and Neil Sedaka were classmates at Lincoln High School, as were the guys who would become the Tokens (``The Lion Sleeps Tonight″).

The first song Feldman published, ``The Big Beat,″ became the theme song for pioneer rock ‘n’ roll DJ Allen Freed. With partners Richard Gottehrer and Jerry Goldstein, he produced or wrote hits for The Angels (``My Boyfriend’s Back″), Jerry Lee Lewis (``I’m on Fire″) The McCoys (``Hang on Sloopy″) and many other acts from the 1950s and ’60s.

When the British Invasion arrived and accents were the rage, Feldman, Gottehrer and Goldstein pulled off a spectacular ruse. They became the ``Strangeloves″ _ three sheep-farming brothers from a small town in Australia. The band name was inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 film ``Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.″

Dressed in matching zebra-striped vests and banging ``authentic″ aborigine drums, they scored three hits (including ``I Want Candy″) and toured with British Invasion bands.

``The Strangeloves STILL have never been caught,″ Feldman says with a grin. ``We keep telling everybody, but they just want to believe.″

Two years ago, he dusted off his bad Australian accent and did 50 interviews to promote a Strangeloves retrospective. He said some asked him how the sheep farming was going.

So don’t tell this Yankee he can’t go country.

``I was out on a golf course in Florida and I heard John Michael Montgomery singing `Be My Baby Tonight,‴ Feldman recalls. ``And the DJ said, `This is the No. 1 country song all across the country.′

``I said, `That’s country? Then I’m Roy Rogers.‴

The success of Shania Twain, whose records are crafted by her husband, rock producer Mutt Lange, also inspired Feldman to move here. If that is country, he reasons, then his rock hit, ``Sorrow,″ just needs a little adjusting.

``David Bowie recorded this twice,″ Feldman shouts as a country version of the song plays. He thinks it would be perfect for The Mavericks. He plays a new song called ``A Bedroom Symphony.″

Feldman believes it’s just a matter of time before he cracks the Tin Pan Alley of the 1990s _ Nashville.

``I really don’t relate to rap,″ he said. ``I’ve done my oldies trip _ I’m still getting paid and played. But for new music (Nashville) is it. I don’t know anyplace else.″


Elsewhere in country music ...

FESTIVALS: Three Nashville music festivals of note are coming up. Tin Pan South takes place at various clubs April 15-18. Performing will be songwriters Paul Williams (``We’ve Only Just Begun″), Lamont Dozier (``Baby Love″), Dallas Frazier (``There Goes My Everything″) and others. The first year of Nashville River Stages will be held May 1-3. Set to perform are Bonnie Raitt, Paula Cole, Foo Fighters, Steve Earle and others. Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits will headline the second Chet Atkins’ Musician Days, set for June 22-28.

TV TIME: Pam Tillis will play guest roles April 23 in two TV series: ``Promised Land″ and ``Diagnosis Murder.″ Tillis is the daughter of country singer Mel Tillis.