I grew up on the film version of Jesus Christ Superstar starring Ted Neeley and Carl Anderson. In 2007, my friend Gary introduced me to the beautiful and brilliant Original London Concept album starring Ian Gillan and Murray Head. About a year ago, I came across Shannon Park. Shannon is filming a documentary about the Original London Concept album called Heaven On Their Minds: The Creation Of Jesus Christ Superstar.
1)Shannon, tell us about your amazing project – your film documentary regarding Jesus Christ Superstar – the Original London Concept album – Starring Ian Gillan and Murray Head.
I’ve started a feature length documentary film about the making of the original concept album JCSs. It’s essentially an oral history of how this project got started, was written, cast, recorded and then the amazing success that followed.
2)When did you first hear, and fall in love with, the Original London Concept album – Starring Ian Gillan and Murray Head? Did it have a profound effect on you?
It absolutely did! It was around 1972 and it was summer. I was barely 4 years old when I remember my dad coming home from work, he taught at Clarion State College in Western PA, with a brown double album in his hands, saying all the kids were talking about this music and he wanted to hear it. We were in his study and we listened to it. All I know is, the album lived with me from then on. It was my first rock album and my first lesson of the bible. My parents were atheists and I knew nothing of this man, Jesus Christ.
3)What made you decide to do a film documentary on your love/passion for the album?
I was searching on the Internet back in 2009, looking for answers to questions I had about the making of the album. I was stunned that nothing exists about it. No interviews, photos, or TV shows about it. How could that be? So many credible people were on that record- no one cared to document this history?
The only thing I had was a book by Ellis Nassour called Rock Opera. I took it from the Brookville public library when I was 17 and have had it all this time. The book was about it’s meteoric flight to the top, but didn’t have the pre-story: how the original album was made.
4)What challenges did you face, are you facing, in filming this documentary? Or dare I say trials and tribulations?
I’m new at this! I am learning about filmmaking and story telling through film and pictures on the ground running! Money is an issue too- we’ve been very fortunate that so far we haven’t really spent much and we do depend on the kindness of strangers. The film crew and Producers have done a lot without zero compensation, but eventually we had to go on hiatus and are regrouping. People need to work and make money. Passion started this film, but support, gifts and money will take it where it needs to be!
5)Of the cast and crew, who haven’t you been able to interview for this documentary?
I have pre interviewed via phone and email almost all of them. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s manager Peter Brown called and we spoke a while. I was told ALW was very interested in my project. I met Tim Rice here in NYC, he assured me he’d love to sit for an interview as soon as proof of funding for the project was made. Of the singers I’ve communicated with Murray Head, Yvonne Elliman, Barry Dennen, Brian Keith (O’Shea now), John Gustafson, Victor Brox and Mike d’Abo. I spoke to Pianist J. Peter Robinson and Saxophonist Chris Mercer as well. I filmed Ian Gillan and got a great interview. I have top executives from Decca Records and the album artist and creator, Ernie Cefelu, who gave me permission to use the angels. They all said yes to being in the film.
So far, so good!
But for the life of me, I cannot locate Joe Cocker’s Grease Band. To me, they’re the heart and soul of this project. Their playing was incredible and the film cannot be made without them. I got a cheeky email from Guitarist Henry McCulloch and thought, eureka! But then it went cold and he never responded to me again and I was crestfallen. With the exception of bassist Alan Spenner, who died a while ago, the remaining members are out there and I want them to sit with me and tell me a tale!
6)You mentioned that the unsung heroes of the album are the band members. Can you tell us about these amazing band members?
Well, what do all JCSs fans love about the brown album? Above all, it rocks. The musicianship is outstanding and it’s a time capsule of what was happening in London, 1970. All those artists creating rock and roll and the new technology to create raw, rock sounds. And the singers complimented this music because they were, most of them, rock singers. This is a solid rock album with incredible rock cred.
7)Did you do some good traveling to interview the cast and crew?
No we didn’t. Ian Gillan happened to be in NYC for a Deep Purple concert and he gave me 30 minutes. The rest of the cast is either in California, Hawaii or the U.K. We need money to get to them.
8)Do you believe that this film documentary will create a whole new generation of fans?
It has the potential to awaken a lot of people who are susceptible to superb playing and melodies. It’s infectious music. It emotionally takes you by the soul and whips you around. Musically it is an incredible masterpiece. For instance, the use of different time signatures to build tension in the story, the lush string arrangements with the intricate, and often funky, bass and drum rhythms underneath along with the timeless production quality is a musician’s dream.
It has a strong theater following, but there are also people who love it who are not into musical theater. I actually feel it’s been totally co opted by musical theater when it’s roots are in rock and roll.
I don’t think Deep Purple fans even know one of Ian Gillan’s most incredible vocal performance exists on this album. And that’s a shame.
9)How will this film documentary be different from other film documentaries out there? How do you plan on making yours stand out from all the rest?
I won’t know that until it’s all shot. The story emerges from the subjects. But I can promise it will have heart, a great story and wonderful music.
10)Ian Gillan was asked to do the film, and wanted his band members to be paid for the time he was away from them. What do you think about this?
He’s a rock star and his band comes first. He told me there was no negotiating, he wasn’t ever going to do it. The Deep Purple tour had been booked already and Jewison interviewed him as a courtesy. Perhaps if Gillan did request that, it was a way for him to put the screws to the director. See how badly they really wanted him, you know? All conjecture.
11)While filming, did you sense any bitterness or anger from cast/crew, or was the making of this album pure joy for everyone involved?
All in all, everyone pretty much loved the experience and said so. The wonderful enthusiasm the cast has had toward me and this project has been overwhelming. The passion from the fans encouraging me to keep going has been mind-blowing. People really want to know all about how these two unknown collaborators, who had moderate success with Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat got London’s top shelf rock vocalists and session musicians to make this crazy concept album about JESUS!
Really, how on earth did they pull it off?
Shannon Park was born and raised in Western Pennsylvania – in a town called Brookville. She attended The Boston Conservatory of Music, studying Musical Theatre, and then moved to New York City in 1992 to pursue a career in the arts. She has been a professional make-up artist from 1996 – present. Her active beauty Blog is http://gothamgoddess.livejournal.com/. She runs a make-up and eyebrow grooming business, which she runs out of her home – which she shares with her husband and daughters – in the Inwood section of Manhattan. To contact her, please find her on her HOTMinds Facebook group or her personal Twitter account. Her tumblr link is Tumblr – dedicated to the documentation of the filming process of HOTMinds.