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He Loves 'L. B.' : City Council Chambers Reverberate With Composer's Rendition of a Theme Song He Wrote for Long Beach

May 16, 1985|ERIC BAILEY | Times Staff Writer

Fly a plane, drive a car, taxis or bus Come on down and visit with us in Long Beach, Long Beach Long Beach is a beauty and a city to see

--"Long Beach" by Willie Briggs

Tony Bennett sang about misplacing his heart in San Francisco. Frank Sinatra belted out "New York, New York" in honor of the Big Apple. Even Los Angeles has an unofficial anthem of sorts, Randy Newman's chortling rendition of "I Love L. A."

And if Willie Briggs has his way, Long Beach could soon have a song all its own.

Briggs, a commercial refrigerator mechanic, has written and recorded a tune heralding Long Beach and its charms. The cheery, two-minute ditty is entitled, appropriately enough, "Long Beach."

Now the 40-year-old Long Beach resident would like to have his tune declared the city's official theme song.

"We have an official flag in California. We have the national anthem. Almost everything major has a theme," said Briggs. "Long Beach deserves a song to put it on the map."

Plays All the Instruments

On Tuesday, Briggs strode into City Hall with a portable tape recorder in hand and played the song for members of the City Council. The song features Briggs' wife, Gloria, on lead vocal. Briggs plays all the instruments.

A grin on his face, Briggs held the cassette player up to a microphone at the speakers' rostrum so the tune could be heard throughout the chamber. The council members sat quietly, some smiling weakly, others bobbing their heads slightly in time with the music.

"That's very good," said Mayor Ernie Kell as the song faded out. "That was one of the high points of the day."

Nonetheless, the council stopped short of giving the song any sort of endorsement, voting instead to refer it to the Long Beach Convention and Visitors Council.

"I'm just happy it came out as well as it did," Briggs said later. "I was as scared up there as I've ever been in my life."

For Briggs, who has lived in Long Beach since 1965, the song is nothing new. He has composed scores of tunes over the past decade, and one gospel number was even purchased "by a small record label," Briggs said.

Although Briggs began working on "Long Beach" about 10 years ago, the song remained unfinished until 1982, when it was copyrighted.

"I said, hey, Long Beach doesn't have a theme song," Briggs said. "I wanted to do something about it. I love this city. I want the song to be something uplifting, something positive. I'm proud of it."

The jaunty melody line--played on two synthesizers, piano, rhythm guitar and bass--forms a backdrop for lyrics that would make any Long Beach booster smile. In six verses, Briggs names just about every tourist attraction in the city, from the Spruce Goose and Queen Mary to the annual Grand Prix.

Although Briggs thinks the song could be used for promotional events or advertising, he insists he did not write it to make money.

"I wanted to write something that would remind people of Long Beach," he said. "I wanted it to be a song that everyone could relate to --white, black, young, old, skinny, fat, whatever."

Home Studio

Briggs recorded the song in a studio he fashioned several years ago in a spare room of his spacious westside home.

The walls of the makeshift studio are covered with burlap for sound insulation. A small control room is crammed with sophisticated tape recorders, eight-track mixers and other electronic equipment that Briggs has acquired through the years. Dozens of musical instruments fill the room--guitars, a piano, electric keyboards, a drum set.

Those instruments are put to good use. Briggs, who took up the trombone while in high school in his native Arkansas, plays nine instruments, including the tuba, guitar and harmonica. His son, Kevin, 13, plays drums and trumpet. Willie Jr., a 17-year-old student at Millikan High, plays classical violin. Gloria does most of the singing and "plays a heck of a stereo," Briggs said, laughing.

Briggs recorded "Long Beach" by playing each instrument, then mixing the tracks on a master tape, using the complex electronic gear in the control room.

About a month ago, Briggs played the song on his cassette recorder for Councilwoman Eunice Sato after a neighborhood meeting at the Silverado Park Community Center.

"I played it and people started coming up and saying, yeah, that's what Long Beach needs is a song," Briggs said, explaining how Sato encouraged him to go before the entire council.

Even if the song is never embraced by city officials, Briggs said, he is happy.

"It won't be the first rejection I ever got," he said. "If it doesn't happen, I won't be down and out. Just getting as far as I did was nice."

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