PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved.
October 3, 2010.
Time for your reality
check, kids: the classic 70s sitcom, The Partridge Family,
debuted on ABC forty years ago. And its star, the
teen-idol-extraordinaire David Cassidy, is now 60.
So now you know how
you feel, but how does he feel?
“It doesn’t make me
feel old; it makes me feel grateful,” Cassidy tells me by phone from his
home in Florida. “It means so much to me that it has had such a lasting
and indelible influence and impact on so many generations. The
Partridge Family changed my life. It gave me an opportunity to
record and play music and sell millions and millions of records and do
shows all over the world.”
In 1970, he was
plucked out of relative obscurity to play the character of Keith
Partridge (relative because his co-star was his stepmother, the actress
Shirley Jones). Once cast, Cassidy was immediately strapped into the
Rolling Thunder roller coaster of fame. And although his was meant to
last only fifteen minutes, he parlayed it into four decades, and
During one weekend in
1972, Cassidy sold out not one but two concerts at the Houston
Astrodome. He sold out six concerts at Wembley Stadium in the UK, again
over one weekend. In one day, his Madison Square Garden concert sold
out. In 1974, a young girl was killed in a crush of fans at a London
concert (650 fans were injured). That same year, 33,000 fans attended
his concert at The Melbourne Cricket Ground in Australia.
likeness graced the covers of endless fan magazines, coloring books and
lunchboxes. And the girls. Girls ran after him hard, Hard-Day’s-Night
“I carry the torch,”
he says of The Partridge Family legacy. “I played in concerts all
over the world, in stadiums and in coliseums and huge outdoor arenas.
When I went all over the world they called it World War Three. There was
hundreds of thousands of people. What happened was that parents would
bring their kids. The parents would be outside waiting for them.
Actually, there were more people outside, cars and parents waiting for
their kids to find them. There was such chaos and madness in those
During those live
performances, the other Partridges were nowhere to be found, even though
the series was billed as “the family who plays together, stays
together.” Like all television, it was an illusion rooted in reality.
The well-known plot: a suburban family tries to turn a buck by singing
and recording, and they actually catch on. Although Shirley Jones added
her voice to the music, the rest of the characters pretended for TV; the
truth was that they didn’t play, sing or record. But Cassidy did.
“I was an actor,
although everybody at the studio and the network knew that I could sing
and play guitar, which I did in the actual filmed screen test,” he says.
“I didn’t sing, but there was an old Stratocaster there and I asked them
to plug it in. Right before the first line of dialogue, as they were
rolling the cameras, I played a little bit of [Jimi] Hendrix, only so
that they knew that I could actually play. I had played in blues bands,
very different from Partridge Family music. I had seen Hendrix four or
five times. I saw Clapton and Cream. I was an enormous Beatles fan. I
had seen the Stones at the Forum in ’68. I was a big BB King and blues
fan. That was the music that was in my generation as a teenager.”
Despite his eclectic
and sophisticated personal tastes, Cassidy had made his mark though what
was known then as “bubble-gum music.” Although once easily dismissed as
too sweet and strictly for kids, Partridge Family bubble-gum is now
being reconsidered and acclaimed by many critics today.
He says, “The guys
who played with me, if I told you their names and gave you a list of
their hits… it’s a remarkable thing to have had that education. I came
out playing in garage bands, blues bands and college kind of bands, just
messing around. Then I go and play and record with the likes of Gerry
Goffin and Paul Anka and Wes Farrell and Tony Romeo. I got to know
Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. All of those writers were signed to Screen
Gems [the studio that produced show]. These were the greatest pop song
writers, and they also had a great influence on Lennon and McCartney.”
In fact, The
Partridge Family’s first single, “I Think I Love You,” was a monster
smash before the series even aired its first episode. Thanks to genius
marketing, the Partridge Family was to be offered up as recording
artists as well as TV stars (even though after Cassidy and Jones, the
rest of the Family consisted of studio musicians and vocalists). The
record was released months before the show premiered, climbing up the
charts and getting major radio play, priming young America for the
He recalls, “I
remember I was at an award show, called NARM [National Association of
Record Merchandisers]. It gives awards for the largest selling records.
‘Let it Be’ [was also nominated in my category]. It was the Beatles’
last album, and one of my all-time favorites as well. McCartney was in
the audience and they announced me [as the winner]. I stood up and there
was like a hush in the room. I’m like twenty-years old, this punk
upstart. I went up to the podium and I said, “I’m honored to be here.
One of the great inspirations is knowing that one of my mentors is here,
Paul McCartney, and I want to acknowledge him. You’re the reason that
I’m doing this. Thank you all very much.’ There was mild applause
because I acknowledged him. I was making records for nine months.”
The nine-months would
turn into a Beatles-like magical mystery tour. It was a four-year
odyssey in a three-channel world.
“There isn’t that
kind of hysteria [today],” Cassidy says. “There is hysteria, don’t get
me wrong, but the audience then was much more naïve. Now there is the
opportunity to see somebody on line 24 hours a day, plus music videos.
Back then, there was none of that. You had to sit in front of your TV,
and then you go and see them live, and you actually see them walk and
talk, other than watching them on the tube. It was a totally different
experience. Elvis and The Beatles experienced that because the audiences
were so unsophisticated and there wasn’t access to stars.”
Of course, many of
the lovesick teens confused the TV character and the man. As the series’
breakout star and historic heart throb, the line between Partridge and
Cassidy was irrevocably shaded.
Naturally, there was
(and is) much more to David than there ever could be to Keith. The only
way to prove this was to go to press. Rolling Stone magazine
scored the coup: a Cassidy cover story that didn’t pander to the
Tiger Beat crowd. It was meant to be adult, honest and raw,
including his historic photo shoot, in the nude, for legendary
photographer Annie Leibovitz. The feature ran in 1972 and caused yet
“Another writer wrote
a piece that [Rolling Stone] didn’t think was controversial
enough,” Cassidy says. “Then they put a writer in named Robin Green. [Rolling
Stone publisher] Jann Wenner saw me when I was playing Madison
Square Garden and had dinner with me there and told me what he wanted to
do. I said, ‘That’s great, I’m a big fan of Rolling Stone.’ So
they came with me that weekend. I played the Garden and I played another
gig. What they did was something that made me – what the intent was I
think was to not make me look so squeaky clean.
“I liked women, and I
was 21 or 22 at the time, but I was playing sixteen. I was playing this
white knight kind of thing. One of the photographers that was on the
road with me had been smoking pot or something – not in my room but
somewhere near me and [the writer] conveniently said there was a smell
of [pot] smoke, trying to insinuate that I was getting high, which I
certainly wasn’t. At the time, I couldn’t possibly have functioned or
have done what I did. And that really always, always bothered me.
“The photographs were
taken two months later at my house in California. [Leibovitz] did
brilliant, brilliant work and it became the largest selling issue of
Rolling Stone ever at the time, until John Lennon’s death. It
exploded because the pictures were fantastic. That cutout centerfold is
one of the most requested photos when she does her shows and galleries,
she told me. It’s a beautiful photograph, even if I take myself out of
it. She’s brilliant.”
The Rolling Stone
story was only a first step in a long line of steps away from Keith
Partridge, if only for the good of Cassidy’s career – and sanity.
He says, “People
thought that I didn’t want to do [Partridge Family reunions]
because I didn’t love it. It was really quite the opposite. I wanted for
me to have the kind of career that I’ve had, doing a lot of different
other things. In order to do so I had to distance myself from it for a
He managed, in fact,
to create quite a distance. He won an Emmy for his role in an episode of
the NBC drama Police Story, and then appeared in a
spin-off series (David
Cassidy: Man Undercover). He performed in musical theatre on
Broadway and London’s West End. He also continued to have a thriving
recording career, many of his songs becoming huge hits all over the
world well past his initial Partridge exposure.
Yet to this day, his
millions of multi-generational fans are still as loyal as lovesick
puppies, and his fan clubs number as many members as of those for Elvis
and The Beatles.
He says, “For all the
times I didn’t go out and perform and didn’t sing, [my fans] are
incredibly, remarkably resilient. They are devoted and I owe all of what
I have, and I am underlining all, to them. Because once you become a
star, without people caring about you, you’re history. And you aren’t
selling tickets; you’re pumping gas.
“There is a long,
long line of people behind me who I have no idea what they are doing
these days. They are not able to sustain and carry on. I think to a
great degree that I didn’t just keep going and going and going. I walked
away from it and I chose another direction. I chose things that people
didn’t expect me to do and that I had a lot of success with. And I
always loved to play live.”
Cassidy’s own long
and winding road was well documented in his frank memoir, Come On,
Get Happy: Fear and Loathing on The Partridge Family Bus. Yet
despite (or maybe because of) the marriages, the misfires, and the drama
of trying to get over being a former teen idol, he uncovered a secret to
success. He used it to his advantage, getting his act together and
taking it on the road. Once he managed to successfully plow through the
block-tackle (by appearing as characters other than Keith Partridge in
theater and television), he returned once again to the exquisite pop
songs that branded The Partridge Family. He still packs theaters and
venues to this day, playing sell-out concerts wherever he goes.
Does it feel the same
as back in the day?
“I don’t know,” he
says. “I can’t remember. I was just working 24 hours a day practically
[then]. I really worked 17-18 hours a day. I mean, I was fully aware of
what kind of impact I had, because I couldn’t even get to work in the
morning. [Fans were] following me outside, sleeping outside my home.
The madness of it is well documented.
“It feels the same, I
think. I wake up in the morning and I feel good. I love to play. I am
still the same. The essence of me is the same but I’m a very different
He has remained in
touch with radio personality Danny Bonaduce, who had played his TV
brother on the series and has gone on to have a colorful career as a bad
boy. At Cassidy’s invitation, Bonaduce will be joining him on some
future live dates.
“I issued a challenge
to him,” Cassidy says. “Back in ’91, I had him open for me and we did
fifteen or twenty dates together. He was brilliant.
“Danny is one of
those guys who people misunderstand. He would admit that he’s done a
lot to damage not just his own reputation, but his own public persona. What people don’t know that underneath it is a really good human being. He’s a very smart, very talented guy, very funny. And I saw him as a
ten-year-old. He used to come in with black eyes because his father used
to beat him up. Let me tell you, when you see a ten-year-old roll in
with a black eye and a parent treats his son like that…
he was jealous of
Danny, and I’ve always loved [Danny] for that.
“Other people don’t
have an idea of where someone comes from and how they become the person
they become. The need for love and attention has driven him in many
ways, but I will defend him as long as he does the right thing.
“I threw down the
gauntlet and said, okay, you are going to come on the stage and for the
very first time, you are going to play bass and sing one of our hits,
and for the first time The Partridge Family will actually be performing
live! This has never happened! I’m really looking forward to it.
“He played some stuff
over the phone for me and I can’t say he’s gotten good, but he’s been
very diligent and practicing and taking lessons. It’s a big, big deal,
emotionally and for the fans. It will certainly be an amazing and
emotional night for me.
These days, Cassidy
is devoted to his two children, Katie and Beau, both of whom are actors.
Katie is currently on Gossip Girl. He recently appeared in a
series with his half-brother Patrick, called Ruby and the Rockits,
which was produced by Cassidy’s other half-brother (and also a former
teen idol), Shaun.
His advice for his
children: “Follow your heart. Follow your dreams. Be authentic. Be
yourself. Don’t try to be like anybody else. Don’t do anything in terms
of your career for money; do it for the work. If you do good work, fame
and money and everything else comes. Talent is the only commodity that
survives, as my father [the late actor Jack Cassidy] told me. If you
pursue and do good work, all the rest will come. It may take a long time
as it did with my father. It may take a very short time, as it did with
The road just keeps
on keeping on for him.
“It was an amazing
ride that lasted all these years,” he says. “I’m out playing and doing
what I love to do and playing what people love.”
Features Return to the features page