By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
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O'Brien likes living in Dallas and doesn't miss L.A. or the show biz scene. "Maybe it used to be exciting," he says. "But it's different now. I still work a lot and have friends and family there, but I can be at D/FW Airport in 20 minutes from [Carrollton]. If I need to, I go, but I'm happy here; I like it here." When home, he prefers to spend his time with his wife fixing up their house.
O'Brien doesn't regret not having a solo career as a musician or in front of the cameras; what he enjoys most is playing show music and the excitement of working with a star. There are some stars, however, that he would just as soon never work with again. "Some of them aren't too stable," he says. "It's hard enough working with the ones who are stable." Singer Connie Francis, for one, is "unpredictable and has a lot of mental problems. She could have been a big star again; a friend of mine started managing her and put this package together, but she has a way of self-destructing, of not letting people have any control, [even though] she's not really capable of doing it herself.
"I think you have to be a little bit paranoid in this business; most of the people I work with are. Even Shirley--as slick and professional as she is, and who has done everything--she's a nervous wreck before a live show! Barbra Streisand wouldn't sing live for years. It's amazing to me what Shirley goes through to get herself out on stage."
O'Brien is quick to praise Bernadette Peters, whom he calls "one of the most undifficult people to work with, probably the sweetest person I know of on the face of the earth and very talented." He has worked with Peters on and off since 1968, when she was a guest on The Carol Burnett Show.
At 50, O'Brien is still going strong, and he doesn't spend a lot of time worrying about the future. "I don't look that far ahead," he says. "I really don't. I like to just keep things interesting, trying to learn. I could say, 'I don't want to play drums anymore when I'm 65,' but what if I'm 65 and I really do want to play drums?