Songwriter, record producer
Everyone can easily name the singer of their favorite song, but naming the person who wrote the song is much more difficult. Songwriters are the invisible men and women behind the singer. Occasionally, fame does shine its spotlight on the songwriter, especially when that songwriter has been penning hits for more than 25 years for hot rock groups like Kiss and Aerosmith and pop superstars like Bon Jovi. Desmond Child is the songwriter behind these groups. Yet, fame was never Child’s ultimate goal. “My mission,” Child told Exito Online, “is to continue making music that helps others to get in touch with their feelings.”
Born John Charles Barrett, Jr. on October 28, 1953, Child grew up in Miami, Florida not knowing his Hungarian father; however, his Cuban mother provided Child with a home filled with music. Surrounded by an artistic heritage—Child’s grandmother was famed Cuban poet Elena Casias; his aunt, Olga Guillot, as Exito Online noted, was, “the queen of the bolero,” and his mother constantly wrote songs—Child felt that, “art grew out of life itself,” as he stated in Billboard. At 14, inspired by a Laura Nyro album his aunt played for him, Child began writing songs. “When I heard Laura Nyro’s wailing sound,” Child recalled in Billboard, “…I knew that instant that was what I wanted to do: to be able to move people in that way.”
In tenth grade, Child met Debra Walstein. He further recalled to Billboard that he saw Walstein singing folk songs on the school lawn and “loved her from the minute I saw her.” After deciding to write songs together, Child renamed Walstein Virgil Night while Walstein renamed John Charles Barrett, Desmond Child, “because we wanted to call our group Nightchild so we were already marketing the whole thing!” Soon after, Child and Night began dressing like John Lennon and Yoko Ono, quit school, and, as stated in Rolling Stone, “bought a beat-up Buick Skylark convertible and… headed north in search of the folk scene.”
However, after spending time at a commune in Woodstock, New York, working at an apple-processing plant, and discovering that New York was too cold, the two Miami natives returned to Florida. Child completed high school and began music studies at a community college, but still dressed up with Night as Lennon and Ono. Once, Child told Rolling Stone, the couple met Clive Davis, then-president of Arista Records, “he was nice to us; I guess he thought we were funny. We thought we were gonna be discovered.” Nightchild was not discovered, so Child continued studying music at Dade Community College. There he met and fell in love with Maria Vidal, a singer, and soon both transferred to New York University where Child earned a degree in classical music.
In 1974, Child and Vidal, with friends Diane Grasselli and Myriam Valle, formed a cabaret act, Desmond Child and Rouge. The group, as Rolling Stone described,
Born John Charles Barrett, Jr. on October 28, 1953, in Miami, FL.
Formed first group, Nightchild, as a teen; formed new band, Desmond Child and Rouge, late-1970s; signed to Capitol Records, 1977; released first album, Desmond Child and Rouge, 1978, which included the songs, “Our Love Is Insane” and “Westside Powwow”; performed on “Saturday Night Live” and recorded second album, Runners in the Night, 1979; band broke up, 1980; wrote with Paul Stanley of Kiss that band’s hit song, “I Was Made For Loving You”; continued writing songs as well as producing albums throughout the 1980s for popular rock groups and singers like Bon Jovi, Cher, Aerosmith, and Joan Jett; released solo album, Discipline, 1991, containing hit single, “Love On A Rooftop”; after alternative music began to dominate radio, turned to Nashville and wrote songs for such superstars as Garth Brooks, mid-1990s; returned to Miami, FL, in the late 1990s and worked with Latin pop singer, Ricky Martin and penned his hits, “Cup Of Life” and “Livin’ La Vida Loca”; formed independent record label, Deston Entertainment as well as song publishing firm, Deston Songs, 1998; continued developing new talent as well as intern programs at his record label, 2000.
Addresses: Record company —Deston Entertainment, Miami, FL.
was “both catchy and kitschy—[and] combined pop covers with put-ons, while slipping in Child’s growing repertoire of original songs.” Three years later, Capitol Records signed the group, and in 1978 released their first album, Desmond Child and Rouge. This album, although spawning two singles, “Our Love Is Insane” and “Westside Powwow,” did not fly off record shelves. “Their lack of commercial success,” noted allmusic.com, “probably had a lot to do with the fact that their R&B-influenced pop-rock was so unique.” In 1979, the group released their second album, Runners in the Night. However, “even though Capitol probably thought that [this album] was more radio-friendly than its predecessor,” allmusic.com further noted, “it was [still] ignored by radio and didn’t sell.” In 1979, Desmond Child and Rouge performed their last show on Saturday Night Live. However, Child was not only struggling to create a successful band, he was also struggling with his sexuality. “I was very much in love with Maria [Vidal],” Child told The Advocate. “But I had certain feelings that… were real feelings of lust and an emotional need for the strength and warmth of a man.”
After the breakup with Vidal and his group, Child spiraled downward into confusion. “It was razor-blade time,” he told Rolling Stone. “Where am I going? What am I doing? Why am I alive?” Those were the questions Child was asking himself. He found answers to his questions when a fan of his former group asked him to co-write a song. Paul Stanley, a guitarist for the legendary rock group Kiss became friends with Child and, as Child remembered in Billboard, “Paul and I talked about how dance music at that time didn’t have any rock elements.” To counteract the synthesized disco music dominating the airwaves, Stanley and Child wrote, “I Was Made For Loving You.” So, “we made history,” Child further remembered in Billboard, “because we created the first rock-disco song.” That song became Kiss’ best-selling single.
After the huge success of “I Was Made For Loving You,” Child began to realize that songwriting could be his future. However, Child, still searching for direction in his life, moved to India and studied yoga. Finding the study unsatisfying, Child returned to New York and, as Rolling Stone noted, “desperate for an anchor in his life… latch[ed] on to… Bill Barber.” Barber, a voice teacher, recalled Child, “was always happy and had a very peaceful thing about him.” In 1984, Child, along with other students of Barber’s, formed the Akwenasa Community. This community, based on the philosophy that self-sufficiency was the key to happiness, soon controlled not only Child’s personal life, but also his professional and financial life as well.
By the late 1980s, Child had been isolated from his family and friends in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, while any professional work had to be approved by Barber. Thus, Child, as Rolling Stone commented began “living two lives: Each week he’d spend four days ‘out in the world,’ working in the studio or writing songs; the other three would be spent with the community.” And, even though the Community thought Child’s work was unworthy, it still took the money Child made from songwriting. “I couldn’t feel proud about what I was doing,” Child told Rolling Stone, “It’s like ‘I’m a whore who has to go out and bring in the dough.’” Child finally broke off from the group by the early 1990s.
Although he was trapped in the Akwenasa Community throughout the 1980s, Child had success as a song- writer. His collaboration with Kiss led Child to write songs with Kiss’ opening band, Bon Jovi. Child and Bon Jovi collaborated on hits like, “You Give Love A Bad Name,” and “Livin’ On A Prayer.” With this success, more bands started knocking on Child’s door. Soon, Child was collaborating with Aerosmith on their smash hits, “Dude Looks Like A Lady,” and “Angel,” with Cher on her hit “We All Sleep Alone,” and with Joan Jett on her hit “I Hate Myself For Loving You.” Child enjoyed collaborating with other artists because, as he told Billboard, “I had such a lonely childhood. I’m just not really that inspired to sit down and write by myself.” However, in 1991, after being signed by Elecktra Records, Child released his only solo album, Discipline which produced the hit single, “Love On A Rooftop.” In 1992, Child and his manager, Winston Simone, formed Deston Entertainment, an artist-management company.
In the mid-1990s, as alternative music’s angry voice began to dominate radio, Child turned to Nashville and country music to, as he told Billboard, “feel something, because it was the only music around that had stories, that had any kind of positive messages.” In Nashville, Child wrote hits for popular country groups like Black-hawk and superstar singers like Trisha Yearwood and Garth Brooks, for whom he wrote a duet. However, throughout the late 1990s, he not only continued penning hits, but returned to producing albums as well. Child turned his company, Deston Entertainment into an independent record label. The label’s first success story was Billie Myers, a British singer for whom Child wrote the hit single, “Kiss the Rain.” Yet, it would be a Latin phenomenon who would catapult Child’s name once again into fame’s spotlight.
In 1997, Child began to work with a then-unknown in the United States Latin singer, Ricky Martin. Taking time to craft a “melding of different [music] genres,” Child told Billboard, created two smash hits, “Cup of Life,” and “the millennium party song from hell,” Child further told Billboard, “Livin’ La Vida Loca.” With this success, Child, in 1999, formed Deston Songs, a publishing company. Child’s goal is to sign songwriters and singer-songwriters who can plug or sell their songs because, as Child stated in Billboard, “the publishing business has really become a business of signing catalogs and artists with record deals,” thus, cutting out the songwriter.
However, it is the songwriter who ensures an artist’s longevity in the music business, because they provide the words that the singer sings. Over the last 25 years, Child has written songs that are, as he told Billboard, “clear and honest” for many singers. The key to Child’s collaborative successes or as the Wall Street Journal commented “custom-tailorfed]” songs, has been his, as he further told Billboard, “almost psychic ability to get inside the person I’m with and get them to say something that’s urgently needed to be said.” In turn, a message has been sent to listeners. For the hit song, “Weird” sung by teen-pop group, Hanson, Child wrote “about being an outsider” which “could easily reverberate with gay kids,” noted The Advocate. Thus, Child, once one of many invisible songwriters, has become a visible, successful, gay man who writes songs, as he told The Advocate, “about people who are different,” and with his record label and publishing company provides the opportunity for other songwriters to step up into the spotlight and shine.
Discipline, Elektra, 1991.
Desmond Child and Rouge
Desmond Child and Rouge, Capitol, 1979.
Runners in the Night, Capitol, 1979.
“Livin’ La Vida Loca” and “Cup of Life,” Ricky Martin.
“Livin’ On A Prayer,” “You Give Love A Bad Name,” Bon Jovi.
“Dude Looks Like A Lady,” “Angel,” Aerosmith.
“I Hate Myself For Loving You,” Joan Jett & The Blackhearts.
“We All Sleep Alone,” Cher.
“Love On A Rooftop,” Desmond Child.
“Our Love Is Insane,” Desmond Child and Rouge.
Billboard, November 20, 1999; November 27, 1999.
Rolling Stone, June 13, 1991.
The Advocate, July 1999.
Wall Street Journal, October 14, 1998.
All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (August 7, 2000).
Exito Online, http://www.citeweb.net/seth/desmond (August 7, 2000).
—Ann M. Schwalboski