Gary James' Interview With Bruce Sudano Of
Alive N Kickin'
He was a member of the band Alive N Kickin', which enjoyed success with the song "Tighter and Tighter". He co-founded the group Brooklyn Dreams. He's written songs for Michael Jackson, Tommy James and Donna Summer to name just a few artists. He was named Adult Contemporary Artist Of The Year in 2004 by New Music Weekly. And he is also the husband / manager of Donna Summer. His name is Bruce Sudano and he spoke with us about his life.
Q - I actually did an interview with your former bandmate in Alive N Kickin',
Pepe Cardona awhile back. He seems to be doing quite well in the tri-state area (New York, New Jersey, Connecticut) in the wedding band circuit.
A - Yeah. He's kept it going all these years, which is a great, great thing.
Q - Now, do you guys stay in touch?
A - Oh, yeah.
Q - He's allowed to keep that name Alive N Kickin' because he was a co-founder?
A - Yes. Actually he and I started the band in the mid-60s I guess.
Q - So, he's doing the wedding circuit and you're doing what, these days? You're primarily a songwriter?
A - Well, right now I'm a solo artist. I released my first solo record in 1980 for RCA. It was called "Fugitive Kind". That was the title of that album. I had a song called "Starting Over Again" which was then recorded by Dolly Parton and became a number one Country hit back in '81, and was subsequently recorded by Reba McEntire. So that came off that record. Then in about 2005, my youngest daughter moved out of the house. I have three daughters. She was the last to leave. I found myself with a lot of extra time. So, I recorded my second solo album, which was called "Rainy Day Soul" and that produced three Top Ten AC (Adult Contemporary) songs. Subsequently I recorded my third solo CD, which is called "Life And The Romantic", which came out last year. (2010). I've had a Top Five AC song again, which was actually New Music Weekly's AC Song Of The Year, last year. It was called "It's Her Wedding Day" which I wrote about my daughter's wedding. I've just had off that record two Smooth Jazz songs that have done real well on the Smooth Jazz charts. I'm currently in the process of finishing up the next record. I'm probably midway through that.
Q - You're making these CDs for what label?
A - I'm releasing them on my own label, on i-tunes, CD Baby and Amazon.
Q - Where does your music fit in today's marketplace?
A - It basically fits in the Adult Contemporary, Smooth Jazz formats.
Q - Is it tough getting the songs heard?
A - It's not that tough getting the songs heard because stations have been playing them and they've done well. The thing that's tough in these formats is sales. So, typically the AC format... well, obviously all record sales are not nearly what they used to be, but traditionally the AC, Smooth Jazz formats never sold that many records anyway. But in terms of hearing, they got lots of spins and have been on a lot of stations. So, that's been really good and now I'm heading out to get back playing 'live' again. So, it's been good. I'm having a very enjoyable time at this point in my life. It's very satisfying. I'm very free creatively without having to create for the record company or for the artist, but just saying things I want to say in the way I want to say them. It's energizing.
Q - I read something in the paper last week that Lee DeWyze's debut CD sold 102,000 copies. That's not very good for an American Idol winner.
A - Yeah. It's very bad. It's the state of the record business. It's very bad, but I believe in music. It's what I do. It's what I've done my whole life. I'm fortunate that I came up in a time when you could write songs and make records. I'm well-established, so I can continue to do what I do in the way I do it.
Q - What seems to be missing today is the venues that existed when you were coming up. There was Top 40 radio. Each city had it's own promoter and touring was made easier. That doesn't exist today. It's been erased.
A - Well, not the touring part. The touring part is still very viable. In fact I think there's a big resurgence of live performing which I think is great first of all for music. I think it's great for all the artists because I came up as live playing musician. That's what I did. That's where I came from, from the time I was twelve years old, I started earning money playing music. So, years before I made my first record I had been playing clubs in New York, honing my skills and learning how to be a musician and a live entertainer and practicing and rehearsing with the band. The music business got to a place where people would just come along and not have any foundation in playing 'live' and just become record stars. Lots of things suffered as a result of that. My daughter is a singer. She's a duo with her husband. They're called Johnny Swim. In fact they're on the front cover of MySpace this week as a Russell Simmons pick. But, they are foundationally going around the country playing clubs, honing their skills, basically turning down record deals because the record deals that get offered these days aren't' really worth it for the artist because the record companies don't sell any records and don't have a way of making money. They take part of your touring money, which never happened in the past. They take half of your publishing, which sometimes happened in the past. They take half of your merchandising sales, which rarely happened in the past. They basically are pulling money from every aspect of an artist's life. It's called a 360 deal. So, many artists are opting out of jumping into that mainstream record company situation because you're basically tied up for a long time and have very limited ways of earning money and there's no guarantees that the record company can do anything for you because they don't know what to do. It's an interesting thing because I view what's going on in the record business now, to use a very 60s word, it's Karma. The record companies were pigs and took advantage of everybody, the audience first, the artist second, for so long that it's a what goes around comes around kind of situation.
Q - So your daughter and her husband have their own record label?
A - Yup. They're just putting out their second EP. It's kind of like the new way to do it. They partner up with different people. Russell Simmons has put them on this thing. They're part of an organization called Dot To Dot, which is a young think tank where young people are brought together from different aspects of life, journalists, TV commentators, musicians, young lawyers. It's an elite kind of group. Soldiers are a part of it. War vets. They share ideas. What Johnny Swim does is partner up in these different situations. They're part of a not-for-profit called Got Your Back, which deals with kids in South America and Africa. So there's different aspects of their base that supports them. So, that's kind of how young artists are doing it now and it's the way they have to do it now.
Q - What do you do with the songs you write that you don't record? Do you try to pitch them to other artists?
A - No. I was never a writer who kind of did that. I was always either the writer for my band as a result of a song that I wrote for my band, I would get a cut or by accident somebody would hear something and cut it or I would work with the producer and write songs for a specific artist. Now, I'm really, totally committed into being Bruce Sudano the singer / songwriter. Whatever I write that doesn't make it onto my record, just doesn't make it onto my record. I'm still of the old school where I put ten songs on a CD and I kind of have a theme of where I'm going. It all kind of flows together.
Q - How many songs have you written that charted? Do you have any idea?
A - Well, you know what? I have no idea. But I've written a lot of songs for a long time. I had my first hit song for Tommy James And The Shondells in 1969 when I was still a teenager. It's gone on and on for a long time. I sometimes astound myself with the number of songs that I've written along the way. Half the time when you're living your life, you don't even know what you're doing. You're kind of like going along. It's like one day after the other day.
Q - I know that feeling.
A - But every now and then you take a look back and say "I've built quite a body of work." How cool is that?
Q - It's very cool.
A - The way I look at things right now, it's really about legacy. That's where even with the music I'm writing now, I'm really trying to leave a point of view with what I'm saying and how I'm saying it, so at the very least if my great, great, great grandkid wants to figure out someday who Bruce Sudano was and what he thought, he can go to these records and say "Oh, this is who he was. This is what he thought." And at the same time, if I can impart some truth, wisdom, joy to whoever else listens to it along the way, then I'm way ahead of the game.
Q - How much touring did Brooklyn Dreams do?
A - We did a fair amount of touring, basically 'cause we were the opening act for the Donna Summer tour. That was '78, '79, into '80. By 1980, Brooklyn Dreams was kind of disbanding by that point 'cause it was right at that point I got married. One of the other guys in the group, his mother passed away and he had to go back to New York. We had just finished recording our fourth album. Brooklyn Dreams kind of went from 1976 to 1980, 1981. Something like that.
Q - Did Brooklyn Dreams ever play the club circuit?
A - We did. We played clubs in Brooklyn for years, the three of us in different configurations with different guys. We couldn't get arrested in New York with a record company. But as soon as we moved to L.A., people were viewing us differently. We kind of became a hot commodity. Then we had multiple offers. So it was kind of interesting how that happened. So, not actually as Brooklyn Dreams did we play together prior to being Brooklyn Dreams, but we played together for years.
Q - These days you also manage Donna Summer?
A - I'm not really her manager. I'm kind of her manager by default because we kind of do everything together. So, as we're going here and going there, I became the person that people talk to. Just running interference for her. We kind of have an ongoing life. We're on the move a lot. We don't have a crew that travels with us. I mean, we did for years. I'm a firm believer in, he travels fastest who travels alone. We kind of got it down to a very tight, lean, mean ship. That's not to say when we go on the road there's not people. We have thirty-some-odd people when we go on the road, when we're touring. But it's a tight, well-oiled machine. Everybody knows their job so it runs very smoothly.
Q - I would think being the manager of Donna Summer is a full-time job.
A - It can be. We have a great tour manager. We have a great music director for the band. We have a great agent. In three or four phone calls everything is in place because everybody knows what the parameters are. If there's an issue that comes up beyond the existing, everybody knows what to do. It's all very manageable.