Video Premiere & Web-Exclusive Interview
Video:  “You Can’t Fight Love”
Songwriters:  Jimmy Ryan & Mike Ragogna


The Hit Men are musicians in a class all their own. They have played on 85 albums, many of them gold and multi-platinum. They are rock’s great sidemen. This lineup of stellar musicians leaps from the shadows to release a music video of their original track, “You Can’t Fight Love.”

After decades of helping deliver dozens of hits with the likes of Paul McCartney, Elton John, Rod Stewart and Carly Simon, The Hit Men, the music industry’s “youngest senior citizens,” have finally taken several large steps toward stardom on their own terms—with original music that bears no other names but theirs.

“You Can’t Fight Love” is the Hit Men’s first original single and music video. The song is featured on their album, Don’t Stop, which was released last month. No other group of sidemen from rock’s golden era, not even the revered Wrecking Crew, can make such a bold claim.

What the Wrecking Crew meant to the pop music revolution of the 60s, the Hit Men have meant to some of the most indelible hits of the 70s and beyond. It’s only now that the evolution of the Hit Men’s story, fueled in part by their countless first-hand experiences as eyewitnesses to rock history, has become a revelation.

From transistor radios, vinyl, 8-track tapes and cassettes to the Sony Walkman, CDs, digital downloads and the Apple iPod, the members of the Hit Men have seen and heard it all. The Hit Men are Lee Shapiro (keyboardist/founder), Jimmy Ryan (lead guitarist/vocalist/founding member), Russ Velazquez (vocalist/keyboardist/percussionist), Steve Murphy (drummer/vocalist) and Jeff Ganz (bassist/vocalist).

Photo credit Bobby Bank

If you’re lucky enough to catch them perform live you will hear stories about Jeff Ganz and his first rehearsal with Chuck Berry, or hear Jimmy Ryan talk about Carly Simon and Jim Croce, or Russ Velazquez meeting David Bowie, or Lee Shapiro sharing comical tales of his time as one of Frankie Valli’s legendary Four Seasons.

The Hit Men intersperse these stories and more when they hit the road on a national tour in February to support their new album Don’t Stop. Along the way, they engage audiences of all ages in light-hearted, self-deprecating fashion, as they continue to sign up new members of the Hit Men “faithful” wherever they’ve played since coming together in pristine harmony seven years and hundreds of shows ago.

“One main reason our singing and playing is so strong is that none of us ever stopped, so we didn’t get rusty,” says Jimmy Ryan. “Our voices have remained kind of young. We honestly don’t sound like we look.”

The Hit Men bring the hits on stage and in the studio with astounding vibrancy, from so many rock greats and legends. Aside from the artists previously mentioned, the Hit Men count Lou Reed, Foreigner, Sting, Barry Manilow, Carole King, Cat Stevens, Cheap Trick, Chicago, LL Cool J in their collective court.

The Hit Men are not steeped in the past. Thanks to their illustrious past, they know good songs when they hear them, and are attracted to well-written songs with great melody and hooks from contemporary stars like Ed Sheeran, Lady Gaga, John Legend and Jason Mraz.

As The Associated Press recently noted, “Nostalgia fades but The Hit Men play on.” “We’re the youngest senior citizens there are,” proclaims fellow Hit Men founder Lee Shapiro. And truth be told, with ages ranging from 52 to 70, most of the Hit Men are not yet officially seniors. They might be “old dogs” says Shapiro, but “All of us are still living our dream.”

We talked with The Hit Men songwriter Jimmy Ryan about writing hits that date back to The Critters, and also the Michael Johnson hit “After You,” composing music for film & television, playing that memorable solo on Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain,” and the passion that helps him continue to stay creative and keep making music.

with M Music & Musicians magazine publisher, Merlin David

How did the idea of “You Can’t Fight Love” come to you?
I wrote the music first, then handed it to Mike Ragogna—an old friend who wrote the lyrics. Writing songs for me rarely comes from a life experience, despite my wishes to the contrary. It’s more like I pick up a guitar, unfocus and music starts coming out. I’ll never understand it, but that’s how it works.

What is it about The Hit Men that is so unique?
We have all had basically the same experiences in the music business as well as parallel careers. There is a lot of coherence in our thinking and direction. Learning songs is a breeze because we have all had long careers of recording session work where that was the job—learning songs quickly and coming up with good ideas along the way. That common ground creates oneness in our singing and playing, which makes it easy and fun—and that is contagious. Our audiences really get that, and thoroughly enjoy themselves at our shows.

Tell us about the new album, Don’t Stop.
We just released our new album Don’t Stop. It’s a representation of the hit songs in our show and demonstrates the way we represent the hits songs each of us have been a part of. It also features the original “You Can’t Fight Love,” and the album is available at our shows and all the usual distribution channels—iTunes, CDBaby, our website.

Who inspired you to write songs?
Mostly my band mate in the Critters, Don Ciccone (who was also an original member of The Hit Men). He had written a couple of songs before he joined the band, and encouraged me to try it. We were doing Ray Charles songs and pop songs of the day. He believed that if we were ever going to make it, we would have to write our own songs. His song “Georgiana” was our first single. I wrote the B-side, “So Hard to Find,” my first attempt at songwriting.

Tell us about your creative process—for writing songs.
It’s been very unorganized and undisciplined lately. Because The Hit Men is a celebration of our legacy, there isn’t much demand for new songs. So lately I’m a bit of a slacker with the exception of our new single. In the days when I was a staff writer for Walden Music (Atlantic Records), it was a very different story. I was being paid to write songs, so I put in a very disciplined 40-hour week. Most of my work in those days was with my then-writing partner, Andy Goldmark. One of us would come up with a musical sketch, and we would go to work—day after day, hammering out melody, chord changes. For us, the lyrics came after the music.

And these days?
Occasionally, I’ll get a writing assignment for a TV show, and they’ll need something done very quickly. I’ll start thinking about it, and then if there is a piece of a melody in my mind that I like, I’ll pull out my iPhone and sing it into the phone—wherever I may be, in the car, out for a walk. When I get back to my studio, I’ll listen to it and go to work from there.

An amazing musician, Michael Johnson, recorded a wonderful song of yours, “After You.”
I wrote that with Andy Goldmark in the early 80s. Often I would come in with music and Andy was a lyrics guy. Usually we would just sing nonsense lyrics as we were writing, and phrases would stick. When one of us would come up with something catchy that fit the music, we’d work—building a story around it. One of us kept singing the phrase “After You” as we were writing. We decided that was a good place to start. The rest unfolded over a few weeks. Our publisher (ASCAP’s Walden Music) loved that song.

Tell us one experience where something unique inspired you to write a song.
That’s easy—“Don’t Let the Rain Fall Down on Me.” I was in my dorm, at Villanova, at 3 in the afternoon—after a chemistry class. I wrote it on a 12-string guitar with a lowered D tuning. My dorm was at the other end of the campus from the class, and it was a dark, cloudy day. I did not have an umbrella. I looked up at the sky as I was swiftly walking and said, “Don’t rain! Come on, five more minutes.” It rained. (Laughs) I got soaked. Went inside, changed my wet clothes, picked up the guitar, played a few chords, and what came out was my experience of a few minutes earlier. The song was finished in a half hour.

Didn’t the Critters chart with that song?
It went to #39. Wouldn’t it be nice if all songs could be written that quickly? (Laughs)

What songwriting tip would you like to offer?
I will answer by referencing my pet peeve—melodies that simply follow the lead tone of the chord changes. My question to new songwriters is: If you spoke to people in a monotone drone, they would think you were really weird and very boring. So why would you think music, that in its very nature is to inspire and go straight to the heart, would move people if the melody just sits on one note in each chord?


Photo credit Bobby Bank

Which songwriters did this well?
The absolute masters of melody were Lennon and McCartney. Their melodies were up and down and all around the chord changes—creating an almost always catchy, infectious and memorable listening experience. It’s much like a great orator or charismatic speaker, modulating their tone and emphasis as they speak. Beatles songs would draw you in and make you want to hear them over and over because they were interesting, clever and heart felt.

Your advice?
Write melodies like you’re having an emotional experience—with ups and downs. Be clever. Don’t settle for the first thing that comes out—unless it’s amazing. Craft your songs like the art that they are.

What’s the biggest difference between composing music for film/TV and writing songs?
The obvious difference is songs have words and music. Score composing usually has music only—almost always writing for someone else: a movie director, a TV producer, an ad agency. You’re writing to order—sometimes 105 cues, with each just a little different. Unless you’re a staff writer for a publishing company or a composer that exclusively writes for other artists, songwriting is a voluntary effort with no set parameters or guidelines—unless you are trying to write a song like something you’ve heard.

In which film score did you utilize a wide palette of sonic ideas?
“Deadly Descent”—for the Discovery Channel, a documentary about extreme cave exploration in remote places. The score had cues that utilized big classical orchestral scoring as well as cues with a variety of very unusual electronic music and effects.

Was there a specific moment when you realized you were meant to be a musician?
At four years old, I started hammering out melodies on the family upright piano—from songs I heard on my parents’ radio. By the time I was 10, watching American Bandstand, I absolutely had to have a guitar and start lessons.

<> at Broadway Theatre on February 18, 2017 in New York City.

What instrument/equipment can you not live without?
I cannot live without my Mac Pro computer and Apple Logic X, and all the plugins I use to create sound. That is the platform from which I compose, record, edit and mix pretty much everything I do as a composer, songwriter and with The Hit Men. I’m not so particular with my guitars. Depending on what I’m writing, I could use my Martin D-28 or any of my collection of electric guitars. I also do my score composing on keyboard, and any good keyboard controller will do—as long as I have my Mac and Logic. For video editing, which I do for the band, I use Apple’s Final Cut Pro X. I couldn’t do without it. Those are the essentials.

Anything else?
Oh, I have tons of stuff. I have a D’Angelico guitar, a Steve Vai Ibanez, and other standard guitars I had to have—Gibson Les Paul, Fender Strat. I’ve had those since my studio days when people wanted that specific sound. I have a Paul Reed Smith that Delta broke in half—twice. (Laughs) Now I don’t take that on the road anymore. I still have the Gibson ES-335 that I used for the solo on “You’re So Vain” [Carly Simon]. I will die before I get rid of that guitar. My sons can sell that on eBay after I die. (Laughs) I have a couple of mandolins—a Harmony, and an Aria that’s very special. It was modeled after the 1949 Gibson with the curly horn on it—very ornate headpiece. It was so good that Gibson sued them, and I think they only made about 20 of them. (Laughs) I had a luthier in New York, Carlo Greco, who worked on all my guitars. Someone brought that Aria in—couldn’t pay for it, and took something else in exchange. I now have this wonderful work of art that’s just a fabulous mandolin that I used on recordings because of it texture. But I’m not one of those amazing bluegrass pickers. (Laughs) I just use the mandolin in the background.

What PRO/Performing Rights Organization are you with?
ASCAP. Truthfully, I’m not sure it’s a PRO’s job to help songwriters. They collect royalties from broadcast entities and distribute them to the writers. They reach out now and then, but not often. I’ve attended ASCAP-sponsored lectures by famous score composers who talk about their process, but other than that, my relationship with ASCAP has been pretty much wait for the quarterly checks. I am also a member of PRS for my European works.

Photo credit Bobby Bank

Do you remember the first time you heard one of your songs on the radio?
I was at Villanova, a new freshman. WKBW Buffalo NY, at the time a 50,000-watt AM radio station, made the Critters’ first single the Pick Hit of the Week. It was “Children and Flowers” for Kapp Records. I was blown away as I had arranged it and was the lead singer. I remember knocking on friends’ dorm doors and telling them to tune in and listen—and to tell me how many times they heard it. I was only 17, so there was no heading out to a bar to celebrate, but I was certainly elated. Don Ciccone, the lead singer from the later releases, “Younger Girl” and “Mr. Dieingly Sad” was my roommate. He was with me at the time, and we were jumping up and down cheering when we heard it. (Laughs)

Top 5 Musicians who inspired you to become a musician?
Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis.

Top 5 favorite albums of all time?
Elton John (1970) – Elton John
Meet the Beatles! (1964) – The Beatles
The Beatles [White Album] (1968) – The Beatles
Crosby, Stills & Nash (1969) – Crosby, Stills & Nash
Rubber Soul (1965) – The Beatles
Led Zeppelin (1969) – Led Zeppelin – sorry, I had to give you six.

Tell us a “pinch me” moment when you thought “Wow, this is really happening to me!”
My first concert with Carly Simon—July 27, 1971 in Central Park, New York City at the Wollman Skating Rink Arena. It was sold out. We were opening for the Beach Boys, and hanging out with us backstage were George Harrison and Art Garfunkel. It was just four of us, Carly, Paul Glanz, Andy Newmark and me—guitar, bass, piano and drums. We were driven right to the stage in a limo, past the guards, barricades and thousands of people. I looked out over the sea of people as we walked onto the stage and started performing. I thought, “this is how it should be.” The Critters never made that kind of impression, but Carly did—from day one. There were other times when I felt the same, later on, but this was the first—and I remember it like it was yesterday.

Tell us one thing that you learned from the many years working with Carly Simon?
I was always shy and awkward around women. Carly was like an amazing big sister. She used to coach me like no other—educating me on the ways many women think, what to say, what not to say, reading body language. I owe a lot of my confidence to her. She understood my insecurity and got right to the heart of it—weeding out many of my fears and mistaken ideas. In return, I tried to do the same for her with her stage fright.

Best advice someone has given you?
This is an odd one, and it came as a result of recommending one of my friends, a drummer, for an album project. He wasn’t the best drummer, but he was a close friend. The bass player, on the other hand, was a very accomplished musician with a degree from Berklee College of Music. He was not pleased with my drummer friend. He said to me, “It’s much better to befriend great musicians than to try to make great musicians out of your friends.” We struggled through those sessions, and the album did not produce any hits. He was right.

Any other advice?
My old boss and best friend back then, Dan Armstrong (Carly Simon’s boyfriend at the time) told me: “Always keep a few guitar picks with you wherever you go. Keep them in your right front pocket. You never know when you’ll be in an opportune situation to show off what you do, and you don’t want to be asking anyone if they have a pick. You also want to know where your picks are, so you can have one in your hand before you even pick up the guitar. You will look a lot more confident if you aren’t fumbling. First impression is everything, and you want to immediately look like a pro!” To this day, I still carry a pocket full of picks—at all times.

Photo credit Bobby Bank

Best advice you’d like to give upcoming musicians.
Never underestimate the value and importance of study and practice. I was once told by a concert pianist that “genius is 5% genius and 95% hard work.” Nothing will stop a creative moment faster than hearing a musical passage in your head and stumbling while trying to play it. I had the opportunity to chat with Joe Satriani’s mother after one of his concerts. We were both backstage. She said as a kid, Joe would wake up and practice before school. Then he’d come home from school and practice for a few hours in the afternoon. He’d do his homework and practice more before he went to bed—every day, while he was growing up. David Lee Roth used to say that the only time Eddie Van Halen would not be playing his guitar—was in the shower, or while sleeping. That’s just two of our greatest living guitarists. Steve Vai has a similar history of extremely hard work. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to practice as much as you can possibly stand. Even if you feel you don’t have a lot of natural talent, if you practice enough, you can still be better than many who do have talent. I’ve run into several studio musicians who fit that description. It’s just muscle memory and training like any athlete. Work hard, and you will be rewarded with excellent results.

What is the driving force that makes you want to keep making music?
Fun. It is really fun to be my age and still be making people happy with my music. I don’t reminisce much. There is so much pleasure coming out of my work in the present moment, that there is very little from my past that I feel tops what I’m doing right now. And that’s what keeps me going.

What’s next?
We have just released this new CD, and this is the debut release of the video of a new Hit Men original song that I co-wrote and produced. We’re currently filling in tour dates for 2018 and 2019, and as long as our health remains good, we’ll keep on making people smile, one concert at a time.

Where can your new fans get more info and stay updated?

The Facebook page and official website are updated with everything we’re doing.

Photo credit Bobby Bank


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