Hanging up his well-used walkie talkie, CHS campus supervisor Don Perry sits back in his golf cart. It is a sunny Wednesday afternoon, during seventh period block, and nearly two weeks since Perry presented on Career Day.
Of all the local professionals who participated, Perry is perhaps the most local to CHS, where he is easily recognized for his well-loved jokes and relaxed demeanor.
On Career Day, though, his shifts of parking lot and campus supervision would have to be taken by another, for, sitting alongside two local musicians and a booking agent, Don Perry was busy.
That day, he shared insights about a fulfilling career in the music and entertainment industry, which is only one track on the double album of his fascinating endeavors.
“I’ve had about seven or eight different lifetimes,” he muses. “My career was always something led to something else.”
It all began with an ambition to make it as a singer-songwriter. Accompanying his singing on a concert ukulele, the San Jose State University student had just begun cutting demo records when he was drafted into the Army and sent to Korea.
As it was a time without war—after Korea and before Vietnam—the standout lefty pitcher found himself first playing baseball and then booking shows, which included local Korean performers, to entertain the stationed troops, work that would be valuable experience in steering him on later career paths.
Perry returned stateside and eventually found work as a recording engineer through a Los Angeles vocal coach. Soon he was producing many up-and-coming acts, including Danny Hutton, a founding member of Three Dog Night, and Harry Nilsson, who would several years later become the Beatles’ favorite singer.
“So there were a lot of guys like that, that I was in on from the beginning,” Perry remarks. Impressed with their talent, he increasingly realized that his calling wasn’t as a performer himself: “But I was good at putting it together for them.”
Venturing from the Hollywood Sound studio, a determined Don formed his own small record label, worked on television jingles and found success booking top acts, like Stevie Wonder, in cities such as Bakersfield or Fresno that had been overlooked by major promoters of L.A. and San Francisco.
At last, after years of struggling to make it, the singer-turned-promoter-turned-producer discovered his niche supervising music for film and television. Working as virtually his own “in-house” music department for mostly small, independent companies, he would cut movie scores as he would cut a record: record rhythm tracks, then overdub.
This technique made his music’s quality very “tight,” and it drew many interested independents like Sunn Classic. When all is said and done, Perry has nearly 100 movies to his name and is currently revising a memoir on his career.
Shortly after his son was born, the San Francisco native moved to Carmel, while still commuting regularly to L.A. But as things became digital, jobs grew sparse in Hollywood, and Perry found new work as a disc jockey and talk show host on a local radio station.
The one regret he admits to is passing up an opportunity to play Minor League Baseball in college. He did, however, eventually open a store in the Barnyard selling apparel and trading cards—which he and his son had grown very serious collecting.
Perry has now been a campus supervisor at CHS for 14 years.
“I’ve gotten pretty good at keeping things calm and trying to defuse things rather than escalate them,” he says, referring to his experience orchestrating the egos and contrasting wants of producers, directors and composers. Here on campus Perry seeks to prevent problems rather than reprimand, be visible rather than angry.
Perry’s wisdom and optimism are immutable, and, when discussing his options at this point in his life, he wittily compares retiring and living in the past to watching bananas ripen.
“Or, I can come into work every day and live in the real world.”
And, Perry notes, “I see 14 years of kids coming through here, freshmen to seniors, maturing and coming up with new ideas. It’s a nice feeling to watch that unfold in front of your eyes. You’re watching the future.”