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Facing the music

Long-retired songwriter Dennis Lambert discovers he’s a star in the Philippines. His son Jody documents the hit-maker’s South Asian comeback in Of All The Things.

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As far as comebacks go, Dennis Lambert's was more unusual and unheralded than most.The New York native made his name in the 1960s, '70s and '80s as a versatile producer and songwriter, penning hits for The Four Tops ("Ain't No Woman Like the One I've Got"), Glen Campbell ("Rhinestone Cowboy") and The Commodores ("Nightshift"). He even was one of the songwriters on the huge mid-'80s hit for Starship, "We Built This City."In the midst of making a name for himself behind the scenes, he cut a single album under his own name, 1972's Bags and Things, which didn't make much of a splash, though songs from the album were covered later by The Fifth Dimension, The Righteous Brothers and The Oak Ridge Boys.

"There was a song on the album called 'Of All The Things,' that was recorded by Dusty Springfield," recalls Dennis, on the phone from his home in Boca Raton, Florida.

Fast forward to the 21st century: Dennis, now in his 60s, has retired from the music industry. He's working in real estate, selling big homes to an affluent clientele in Boca. But the music comes looking for him: After years of pestering requests, a Filipino concert promoter finally convinced Dennis to play a series of shows in the Philippines where his solo album Bags and Things, over 30 years old, was a big seller. What Dennis didn't know was how big.

"The people were incredible," says Dennis. "They're so sentimental, and they're very, very loyal to the music that they've loved, however old it may be. And I didn't know how big the audiences were that was capable of putting together for this show."

The documentary, Of All The Things, is directed by New York theatre actor and first-time feature filmmaker Jody Lambert---Dennis' son---and follows Dennis' multiple-date tour in Southeast Asia, culminating in his show at the 14,775- seat Araneta Coliseum in Manila.

"Just the storyline is a big selling point," says Jody on the line from New York, who decided to make the doc about his father's tour partly because other members of the family weren't able to go on the trip. "We knew that it would just be him and me, kind of a father-son trip, and he would need me there, not just for making the movie but as support. It felt like this was a movie we could pull off as first timers."

What gives the film much of its comedic joy is the celebrity that Dennis discovers when he arrives in the Philippines.

" jokes that he thought when we showed up it would be eight people in a bar," says Jody. "We just didn't have any real sense of the magnitude of his popularity, we were so busy preparing the movie; I suppose we could have done some research. I mean, on YouTube there are videos of people singing his songs. But you just can't really fathom that this 60-year-old guy with an album that is 35 years old is somebody that they'd embrace."

"Part of the fun of the movie is not only is my dad witnessing this but so are the filmmakers. We were constantly cracking up, in a state of shock over what we were seeing."

The tour also allowed Dennis, who is hard at work on a Broadway musical, to reconnect with his muse and reacquaint himself with his songbook.

"It took this film and my going out to play my songs live to remind me that they were always mine," says Dennis. "I shouldn't have allowed so much distance to set in. I've been performing wherever the movie has been showing and hopefully I'll be able to continue to go out and do it."

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