Michael Bolton live in SA: Flashback 2007

In March 2007, not long after his engagement to ‘Desperate Housewife star Nicolette Sheridan, multiple Grammy winner Michael Bolton played Kfm’s ‘Night Of The Superstars’. The engagement is over, but Bolton is still an incurable romantic who’s sung with Pavarotti, Celine Dion and Ray Charles, written songs with Bob Dylan, and penned hits for singers ranging from Barbra Streisand to KISS. Here’s what he had to say in an exclusive interview before coming to South Africa four years ago.

This article first appeared in the Cape Argus “Good Weekend” of 2007/03/09.

Michael Bolton live in SA: Flashback 2007
Michael Bolton answers the ‘phone in his Connecticut studio in a relaxed frame of mind. He’s taking time out from a Christmas tour and touring his “Bolton Swings Sinatra” album, which includes a duet on “The Second Time Around” with Nicolette Sheridan, his (then) fiancé and also the star of “Knott’s Landing” and “Desperate Housewives”. “I’m working on songs for a new studio album that should be out in the Fall (our Spring). I start with sometimes 15 or 20 songs, some that are titles, some melodies and some lyrics and then work on them,” he says.

“I’m in a creative mood,” he says, talking about the second-wind that he gets late at night when the ‘phones stop ringing and he can work undisturbed. “It comes from years and years of working until 4am, working until your body is bent and your ears need a rest. When everyone else is heading to sleep, I get another surge of energy and I often feel I can do some writing as well. I’m sitting in a room surrounded by Macintosh computers, in this state of the art studio that I converted from tape to a 48-track digital machine and I’m happy.” He explains some of the complexities involved in retaining the warmth and the human element in digital recording and praises the advances in modern software, then catches himself and laughs and then admits, “So I’m working late and loving it – and my body clock is not on the healthiest of schedules.”

What prompted going back in time to revisit the old Sinatra songs? “That’s a good analogy,” he says, “We’re going back in time to an era where those songs have outlived the writers who wrote them and the artists who recorded them,” he says. “I did a bunch of research looking at the Billie Holiday catalogue and the Nat King Cole catalogue and a lot of Sinatra and looking at which different arrangements really made the songs work. There are these arrangements by Nelson Riddle and Johnny Mandel, these guys who wrote these incredible charts. In some cases Frank Sinatra did three recordings with three different arrangements, or there’s a song by Cole Porter or Gershwin and you have to choose,” he continues, losing himself in the music.

“We wanted to get this feel from a different time and a different place, and protect the integrity of the record,'” he says, “I sat down with Chris Walden, my arranger, who knew Nelson Riddle, who knows Mandel’s work and knows how they treated these songs differently, and we worked through what we wanted. I have produced or co-produced every record I’ve done for a long time because I love being in on every note. I do these little demos of what I want and then the next thing you’re in a studio with over 60 or 70 or even 80 pieces (in the orchestra) and we would get it in one complete take, or a second take. Very rarely did we have to run through a song more times because the players love these great songs. They want to make a living so they will respond when there’s a call for session musicians, but here they are enjoying themselves, and there’s this sense that we’re recording something that will continue beyond our lives.”

Bolton is best known for his soft pop-rock ballads and adult contemporary hits – songs which have seen him sell more than 50-million albums and earn a brace of Billboard No.1 spots, American Music Awards and Grammy Awards, and has a star on the Hollywood “Walk Of Fame”. He has also been honoured for his charity and social work with his Michael Bolton Foundation and Michael Bolton Charities, primarily in assisting women and children threatened by poverty and abuse. He was awarded the Martin Luther King Award from the Congress of Racial Equality and the Lewis Hine Award from the National Child Labour Committee, and serves as the honorary chairman of Prevent Child Abuse America.

It turns out that the crooner also has a penchant for the blues, and plans a purely blues album in the near future. “I’m thinking of holding that one back,” he says, “A blues record is a very kind of focused part of our industry, people will think they’re in for the usual Eric Clapton or Robert Johnson, but not a lot of people know a lot about blues. I want to bring in really great players, and launch it by playing with them, but not in arenas or amphitheatres. I want to do a “House of Blues” tour, doing the clubs and the venues that are right for this kind of record.” Bolton engaged guitarist Michael Thomson, described as “super session bluesman” who’s played “almost every blues venue in the country” and Billy Callery, who’s toured with Jeff Beck and is hailed for penning classics like Willie Nelson’s “Hands On The Wheel”. “It’s a pretty serious record,” says Bolton, “But I told them, ‘Go back to your childhood; remember when you were a teenager playing the clubs, rocking out and letting it all go – that’s what we’ll get on tape.’ Of course, it’s a hard-drive now, but that was what we wanted; to have as much fun as we used to when we were 27. Everyone had permission to get back to that again.”

A blues lick here and a Sinatra song there might enter the South African shows, but they will be built around the Bolton hits. “I want to bring a lot of songs to the show that people have embraced in South Africa,” he says, “I understand from my South African friends that that’s songs from ‘Hunger’ and ‘Soul Provider’ and ‘Timeless’. This South African tour is not about me saying, ‘This is what we’re promoting right now,’ it’s about saying, ‘This is a body of music that I want to share, and give back to the people who have supported it.’ We’ll be exploring some of the classics that I’ve written and taking a bit of a journey, with some of the recent songs too. We’ll have some horns with us and creating some big band and rock ‘n roll too. So, hopefully, there will be something for everyone in there. We’re very excited – we’re bringing cameras to be a bit of a tourist-thing too. But the main thing is that I’m finally performing and getting close to my fans in South Africa.”

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* In March 2007, Michael Bolton played  the Kfm “Night Of The Superstars” with Westlife and Michael Learns To Rock.

* In 2011, Michael Bolton plays the Big Top Arena at Carnival City in Brakpan on 8 and 9 August 2011. Tickets from R280 to R500 at Computicket.

This article first appeared in the Cape Argus “Good Weekend” of 2007/03/09.