For lifelong musician David Cassidy, you might say that music and show business are in his blood. And it all began long before he became a household name on The Partridge Family.
“Both my parents were from musical families and in the theater,” Cassidy says. “My father [Jack Cassidy] was a brilliant singer, and my mom [Evelyn Ward] was the same; my grandmother was an opera singer, concert pianist, and piano teacher; and everyone on my mom’s side of the family played instruments.”
He lived with his maternal grandparents near Manhattan from about age five until age 11. “There was always music,” he says.
“I was in the choir and chorus.”
Cassidy’s first instrument was a drum set given to him by director Elliott Silverstein. “I loved playing drums, and would tinker around on the piano,” he says. “Then I saw The Beatles onThe Ed Sullivan Show for the first time, and the next day I went out and bought an electric guitar. I was 13 years old.” By then he had moved out to L.A.
Still, the music was a side interest. Cassidy’s career goal, which he had defined when he was just three years old, remained squarely focused on theater and becoming an actor. In a taxi, coming home from watching his father perform in the Broadway show I Wish You Were Here, Cassidy announced to his parents that he would become an actor too. “They turned to me, almost in stereo, and said, ‘Fine, but not until you graduate from high school,’” he recalls.
Cassidy auditioned for and joined the L.A. Theater Company during his last year of high school, but music also remained a big part of his life.
“I took guitar lessons and played in a lot of really bad garage bands,” he says. And living in L.A., as a teenager in the ’60s, meant that he was surrounded by influences. “I saw B.B. King at the Whiskey; I saw Hendrix four times; I saw Clapton and Cream do one of their last shows.”
“I just flourished listening to The Beatles, and over the next few years Van Morrison was a big influence, all that R&B stuff, and I got very involved in the blues,” he says, explaining the diversity of the music that inspired him. “Jim Densmore, the younger brother of John Densmore of The Doors was in school with me, so I saw The Doors.”
“A lot of political and social change was going on and I aligned myself with that ideology. It was an amazing time to be a teenager in that environment,” says Cassidy, who also had strong support for the arts at home. “I was heavily influenced by the growing freedom and desire to follow my dream as both my parents, and my stepfather and stepmother had. That was my environment: ‘Follow your dream, young man.’”
“So, I graduated high school, and two weeks after, I moved to New York City and got a part-time job in a mail room,” he says. There he began studying acting and auditioning for parts. “In the afternoons I would go to two or three auditions.” It took him nine months and about 200 auditions, but he finally got a part in The Fig Leaves Are Falling and quit his mail room job the same day. However, the show was not a success and it closed after just four performances.
As luck would have it, a casting director from CBS films had spotted Cassidy working on the show and invited him out to L.A. for a screen test. The move back to L.A. proved fortuitous when he got the part of Keith Partridge on The Partridge Family, fusing his love of music with his dream career in acting.
On the show, he and his real-life stepmother, Shirley Jones, were the only two members of the Partridge family that actually played their instruments and performed on the group’s 10 albums.
The show made Cassidy a household name and the first globally merchandised celebrity. In 1970, the year the show was launched, he had the number one selling song and record of the year, plus multiple Grammy nominations. By age 21, he was the highest paid performer, and ever since that time, music has been a big part of his life and career.
When The Partridge Family was canceled in 1974, Cassidy was free to re-establish himself in a variety of other artistic projects. He wrote and performed his own tunes, collaborated with other artists, and starred in Broadway and London shows. In 1996, he revamped and starred in the Las Vegas MGM Grand’s EFX extravaganza. Three years later, he put together the musical The Rat Pack Is Back!, paying tribute to the legendary quartet.
Cassidy has written more than 100 songs and his records have sold more than 30 million copies worldwide. “I’ve written all different kinds of stuff, in different genres,” he says. “I’ve written three themes for television shows, plus original music for shows that I’ve produced.”
Looking back on his career, Cassidy feels lucky that he’s gotten a chance to work with many of his influences, including writing with Brian Wilson, Harry Nilsson, and Richie Furay, and working with Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil, Gerry Goffin, Larry Carlton, and Hal Blaine. Mick Ronson played on one of his albums in the late ’70s, and he even got to play with Paul McCartney and John Lennon. “I grew up with them as inspirations and it was wonderful,” he says. “John Lennon became somewhat of a mentor to me.”
“In a way, without trying to network, I found a way to do it because I was involved in so many different kinds of music and recording, and singing background, and working with different artists in different genres,” says Cassidy. “I was blessed to become very successful. I got to meet all different kinds of people from a lot of from different creative walks of life.”
Since the 1990s he’s been writing with Sue Shifrin, who later became his wife. Today, Cassidy keeps a busy schedule touring national and international venues. “To play live now, for me, that’s spectacular,” he says. “I am so lucky to be able to do something that people love, and something that I love, for 42 years.”
His concerts include a mix of Partridge Family staples like “I Think I Love You,” and Cassidy’s own original tunes. “I take pride in being as good as I can be every night. If I felt I wasn’t very good one night I couldn’t live with it,” he says, explaining how he manages to keep his show fresh. “I never do the same show twice. Even though a lot of people come to see me more than once, if there is one person there that has never seen me, I’m going to share with them a lot of stuff they didn’t know about me.”
“I love doing things that make them say, ‘Gee, I didn’t know you could do that,’” adds Cassidy, and people who have never seen his show may be surprised. “I’m a much better guitar player than most people think. I came from such different influences than what I became so successful in my early career with.”
He thanks his father for teaching him this professional work ethic, and sharing with him one special piece of wisdom. “The one thing he said was, ‘The only commodity that ever survives is talent. It’s the only thing that’s always going to be in demand,’” recalls Cassidy.
But, all these years later, what keeps him making music? “It was the first love in my life from the time I can remember and it was around me all the time,” says Cassidy.
Now he also looks to the next generation. His son, Beau, is an up and coming singer-songwriter with his band Beau Cassidy and the Fates. “He is becoming a really fine writer, lead singer, and guitar player,” says Cassidy.
Cassidy’s many years in the business have led to a kind of wisdom about what is important. To young musicians like his son he offers this advice: “Stick to being yourself; be authentic. Don’t get discouraged. If it’s your dream, follow it.”
As Cassidy looks to the future, he plans to keep performing, and will release a new album in 2013. “We started recording bits and pieces last year, and I don’t have a deadline, but I know what I want to do.”