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BJ Leiderman: 'I'm The Luckiest Composer On The Planet'

May 20, 2017

If you're a regular NPR listener, you know BJ Leiderman's music. Leiderman is the John Williams of public radio: He's written the theme music for programs like Morning Edition, Marketplace and, yes, Weekend Edition.

Now, the composer has released his first album, BJ, a collection of songs he's written over the past several decades. The Randall Bramblett Band acts as Leiderman's backing band, and banjo master Béla Fleck is featured on three tracks.

"I'm the luckiest composer on the planet," Leiderman says. "It's the perfect storm of being in the right place at the right time, with the right bunch of chords and a good melody ... It all just came together."

Hear Leiderman's full conversation with NPR's Scott Simon — including a pretty convincing John Lennon impression and a comic tale about a fire alarm at NPR headquarters — at the audio link.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Our next guest has written a few musical numbers that you just might recognize. This wake up tune.

(SOUNDBITE OF BJ LEIDERMAN'S "MORNING EDITION" THEME)

SIMON: A theme with true commercial appeal.

(SOUNDBITE OF BJ LEIDERMAN'S "MARKETPLACE" THEME)

SIMON: And music that always makes my heart race.

(SOUNDBITE OF BJ LEIDERMAN'S "WEEKEND EDITION" THEME)

SIMON: As you've heard me say week after week after week our theme music is written by BJ Leiderman. He is the John Williams of public radio theme music. He's just finished his first album. It's called "BJ." And you'll hear him as never before.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SOMETIMES")

B J LEIDERMAN, BYLINE: (Singing) Sometimes I think of all the times I think about the times I'm thinking about nothing else but you.

SIMON: BJ Leiderman joins us in our studios. BJ, how wonderful to have you with us.

LEIDERMAN: It's a - I'm verklempt. I can't believe I'm sitting here with you after all these years looking at my gray, balding self in the mirror.

SIMON: (Laughter) Avoid the mirror. We don't have a mirror in here, BJ.

LEIDERMAN: Looking at you, you still have all your hair.

SIMON: God bless you. Thank you, yeah.

LEIDERMAN: Oh, my Lord.

SIMON: I've been to clinics all over the world. Could you tell me the story of when you came here today. I love that story.

LEIDERMAN: Yeah. It's been a long time since I've really been downtown in D.C. And when I got to the building, the side of the building was on fire kind of, you know, the bushes and the brush. I parked and ran into the lobby and everybody was running out of the building. The lights were flashing.

They actually called a fire alarm the second I get in here. And so on my way out, I noticed you had a big beautiful grand piano in the lobby. So I put my bag down, and I sat down and started playing the theme to WEEKEND EDITION (laughter).

SIMON: (Imitating WEEKEND EDITION theme song).

LEIDERMAN: Yeah. (Imitating WEEKEND EDITION theme song). I said, no, no, this the place where you - and security tapped me on the shoulder.

SIMON: Fitting somehow, though, if you and I would be trapped in the building somehow and that would be the end for us, right?

LEIDERMAN: There are less nice ways to go.

SIMON: Not that I want that to happen.

LEIDERMAN: I have an ending theme. I have a real close theme.

SIMON: (Laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WATERSIDE")

LEIDERMAN: (Singing) I've been walking the beach all night trying to figure it out held aloft by the wings of hope on a wind of doubt.

SIMON: Why this album now?

LEIDERMAN: I've been writing these songs over the past few decades. Some of the songs on this album are almost three decades old, and some of them are two or three years old. Before, I'm playing in this cover band and that cover band and having a great time and going across the country. I've been enjoying my life. That's the short answer to the question.

SIMON: It's a good answer.

LEIDERMAN: And while you're enjoying your life - you know, John Lennon says life is what happens when you're making other plans. But to me, life is what happened when I was enjoying my life. You know, I'm sorry, John, but that's the way it was.

(SOUNDBITE OF BJ LEIDERMAN SONG, "BELLA BJ, PART 2")

LEIDERMAN: The Randall Bramblett Band is the backup band.

SIMON: Yeah. They're from Athens, Ga.

LEIDERMAN: Right.

SIMON: And Bela Fleck...

LEIDERMAN: And Bela Fleck.

SIMON: ...The - you know, the greatest picker in - yeah.

LEIDERMAN: He let me come to his home studio in Nashville - not Asheville but Nashville - and produce him on three of these tracks that I had written in the '80s.

(SOUNDBITE OF BJ LEIDERMAN SONG, "BELLA BJ, PART 3")

LEIDERMAN: In Asheville, there is a festival called the LEAF Festival - Lake Eden heart festival. And Bela was playing with his wife Abigail Washburn. And my assistant whose name is Barbie Angel (ph) - and, yes, she is - said I want you to meet somebody and dragged me backstage. And I met him. And I - she looked at me like this would be a good time to ask him, would you like to be on the album?

And he knew who I was because, of course, he's an NPR listener, as he should be. And the rest was just he said, send me some stuff. And he picked out three of - you know, I had like 10 of these cuts already pre-mixed. He played to pre-mix stereo tracks. And that's what you got.

(SOUNDBITE OF BJ LEIDERMAN SONG, "BELLA BJ, PART 3")

SIMON: In many ways, the star of this album is your mother.

LEIDERMAN: Sorry, mom.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MOM'S PHONE MESSAGES")

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: BJ, don't buy or eat romaine lettuce it's full of E. coli. Regular lettuce is OK but not romaine. This is your once-a-day loving mother calling you. Bye, darling.

LEIDERMAN: One, two, three.

If you were alive today - certainly, dad - it would be whispering in my ear, put the damn thing on the album, son. It's going to sell copies (laughter).

SIMON: Yeah. I (unintelligible).

LEIDERMAN: My vaudeville dad - put it on there. No, Sammy, don't do that. Do something about this boy. BJ.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MOM'S PHONE MESSAGES")

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: BJ, have you talked to an exterminating company about setting off a bomb in your house? The company is called National Exterminating. They take care of fleas and things like that. You'll probably have to leave the house in several hours. Call them to get rid of lice. It's a serious thing. I think you should do it because I'm (unintelligible). That's my advice.

SIMON: Her voice - what's it like for you to hear her voice after a few years now?

LEIDERMAN: It's bittersweet. You know, I'm an only child. I was the only surviving triplet.

SIMON: I knew that.

LEIDERMAN: You did know that, OK. You know, I asked her, did you have a funeral, say, for the other two? She said, no, we didn't - you know, back then we didn't know nothing about nothing. She said she was happy that she had one healthy child. And, you know, she gave me her all. I had the best and hearing her voice and there's some guilt.

SIMON: About?

LEIDERMAN: About the guy that I was at times. You know, I'm extremely flawed individual, dude (laughter).

SIMON: Oh, but BJ, you're human. There's a difference.

LEIDERMAN: OK, then, I'm extremely human.

SIMON: (Laughter).

LEIDERMAN: Yeah, I'm an excellent driver. I'm extremely human.

SIMON: But mothers love that.

LEIDERMAN: At the end of the day, I did the best I could. And I think - I know they were proud of me.

SIMON: Yeah because they should be.

LEIDERMAN: I know they were proud of me.

SIMON: I mean, that's a blessed life, BJ.

LEIDERMAN: Oh, boy. Yes. I'm the luckiest composer on the planet. It's the perfect storm of being at the right place at the right time with the right bunch of chords and a good melody and a fakakta name and some great producers - you know, early Jim Russell and Jay Kernis - and it all just came together.

SIMON: Yeah. Is there a song you want to point us to that we can play as we as we depart this interview?

LEIDERMAN: Yeah. On this album, I had to put a few songs that embody what I'm trying to do here. And that's what John Lennon was trying to do when he wrote "Imagine." So the last real song on the album is called "Praise One Another."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PRAISE ONE ANOTHER")

UNIDENTIFIED CHOIR: (Singing) Praise one another. Worship one another. Love one another and the whole round world will be fine. Praise one another. Worship one another.

SIMON: BJ, this is a genuinely great song.

LEIDERMAN: Thank you.

SIMON: I'm going to call it the second greatest song you've ever done.

(LAUGHTER)

LEIDERMAN: Well, you may say the third and the fourth and the fifth are on the bloody album, too. I think they're all pretty good.

SIMON: I have a favorite one. Well, it's wonderful to talk to you, wonderful.

LEIDERMAN: Thank you so much for having me.

SIMON: The one and only BJ Leiderman. His album is called - you can remember this - "BJ."

LEIDERMAN: And can I do one thing?

SIMON: Yeah.

LEIDERMAN: And our theme music is by me.

SIMON: (Laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PRAISE ONE ANOTHER")

UNIDENTIFIED CHOIR: (Singing) You've got to worship one another. Love one another. And the whole round world will be fine. I'm telling you to praise one another. Worship one another... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.