Gary James' Interview With
Stephen Bishop




He is the song writer's song writer. His songs have been recorded by people like Kenny Loggins, David Crosby, Eric Clapton, Art Garfunkel, Helen Reddy, Steve Perry and the list goes on and on. His is best known for the songs "On And On", and "It Might Be You" which he did not write, but was the theme for the motion picture Tootsie, starring Dustin Hoffman. His new album, "Blueprint", was released July 29th, 2016. We are talking about the one, the only, Stephen Bishop.

Q - Every track on your new CD could be released as a single and played on the radio.

A - Oh, boy, that's a good compliment. From your lips to God's ears, that's for sure.

Q - At least, the radio we used to know. What happened to that radio?

A - Yeah, it's different. I tried writing lyrics that say something. You don't always hear that on the radio these days.

Q - You don't hear it anywhere, period. Where then do you go with a CD like "Blueprint"? How do you promote it?

A - Well, just try to get it out there and get it known. It's on i-tunes and Amazon.com and Spotify and CDBaby.com for physical CDs. You can get physical CDs from Amazon too I think. It's not quite like the old days, but I don't have a giant record company behind me furnishing me with naked girls. (laughs) Actually, I never had a record company furnish me with naked girls.

Q - I was just about to ask, what record label was that?

A - Yeah, I mean everybody would want to be on that label.

Q - There must've been somebody like that.

A - (laughs) I wish.

Q - Maybe Casablanca Records. I don't know.

A - Oh, that's funny. I got to be friends with Gene Simmons. Believe it or not I was friends with Gene Simmons for years.

Q - And then what happened?

A - I don't know. We were buddies at one point. We actually went to a Billy Joel concert, Gene Simmons and I, and we tried to get into the party backstage and they turned us down. (laughs)

Q - See, the problem was you didn't have a beautiful girl on your arm.

A - That's right. A beautiful, naked girl.

Q - That would have done it. You realize it now.

A - No problem there.

Q - You were just talking a moment ago about how much effort you put into lyrics. You hardly hear any songs today with a beginning, middle and an end. As a singer / songwriter, doesn't that drive you crazy?

A - Well, there's just so many people putting out music. It's a lot of competition, but some of the competition died this year. Unbelievable. Terrible. You got great artists really. David Bowie, God.

Q - Artists like David Bowie, Prince and Glenn Frey had already peaked. They had their hey-day. Who's at the top of the charts now, Beyonce?

A - Yeah. Beyonce sampled one of my songs, "On And On", on one of her albums, her last album, "Platinum Beyonce", a song called "Ring Off". She took my little lick from "On And On" and it went all the way through the song. Kind of funny.

Q - Do you get royalties on that?

A - Oh, yeah.

Q - We love Beyonce, don't we? What a great singer!

A - (laughs) I love her anyway. She's gorgeous and she's talented as hell.

Q - I was trying to make the point, Beyonce, Britney Spears, that's the type of act the public in going for those days.

A - Yeah.

Q - I saw you on one of those competition shows I believe, years ago. I can't remember the name of the show. I don't know if you were a judge or not. You said, "I'm Stephen Bishop. You know the song 'On And On'" Do you know what show I'm talking about?

A - Was it Putting On The Hits?

Q - Maybe that was it.

A - It was a long time ago, like in the '90s.

Q - I see your CD was put on General Records. Is that your own record label?

A - Yeah.

Q - So, you're the General?

A - No, like General Mills, General Electric, General Records.

Q - Not General Stephen Bishop?

A - No.

Q - Eric Clapton mentioned you in his autobiography as one of his favorite singer / songwriters. You have to be happy about that.

A - Yeah, and there's a song that we wrote together on this album "Blueprint" called "Holy Mother". He performed it on his "August" album and he also recorded it with Pavarotti, which was amazing. I've known him for all my years at making albums. He was on my first album. He was on my "Bowling In Paris" album. He was also on my Brazilian album, which went Wood by the way. (laughs)

Q - It went what?

A - Wood.

Q - What does that mean?

A - (laughs) It's a joke. Instead of going Gold, it went Wood. It didn't sell. But it was a great album. People would love that album I'm sure. A really great album. But you know, to get it out there and push it, there's so much stuff. Sometimes it slips through the cracks.

Q - You have to do as much marketing as you do writing and recording.

A - I know. Well, that's what I'm trying to do this time around. It's fun to talk about this album. I put a lot of work into this album and I had a great producer named Jon Gilutin who did all the arranging and playing and everything. He's just amazing. These songs were songs of mine that were on demos. We kind of used the demos from years ago as blueprints as far as where to go with the songs. There's songs on here that are like 28 years old. I wanted to get my best songs and I think I did. There were a couple of songs we didn't do of mine that were just too goofy, this one song called "Jet Lag", and another song called "I Follow The Crowd".

Q - Goofy sells. People like goofy songs.

A - They do like goofy songs.

Q - See, if I was your producer I'd ask to hear the goofiest song you have, and release that as a single.

A - (laughs)

Q - As a bonus track on "Blueprint" you offer "It Might Be You". Why is that?

A - We wanted to do a different version of it as a bonus track so we did it up tempo. It's just faster. It's different. It's got some different melody things. I just wanted to make kind of a different version of it. "It Might Be You", besides the main one that was on their album, it was on the Tootsie soundtrack, so I never really did it myself for my own album, but I did have it on my 'live' album, a "Stephen Bishop Live" which came out last year or a year and a half ago. But this was a studio version and people like it. It's kind of a different thing.

Q - Is that song written for, or about, or to, your wife Lynne.

A - No. I didn't write it. I have written songs about my wife Lynne. It was written by Alan and Marilyn Bergman and Dave Grusin for the movie Tootsie. It's practically the only song I do that I didn't write. People get so disappointed.

Q - It's almost your signature song. Why did they think of you to sing it?

A - I don't know. They thought of me. They first went with Kenny Loggins as up tempo music and then they decided on me. I did two songs for Tootsie back then. I've done a lot of different movie themes.

Q - And you've been in some movies too!

A - I've been in some movies. Animal House, Blues Brothers. I didn't really look like me. I had a line in Blues Brothers which was, "They broke my watch," when the Blues Brothers trashed this mall.

Q - And how many takes did it take for you to get that down?

A - (laughs) Yeah, right. How many takes? We were upside down, so not many takes 'cause we wanted to hurry up and get out of the car. We were upside down, me and the director.

Q - Are you known more as a songwriter than a singer?

A - I don't know. It's kind of like I have two jobs. I'm a songwriter and a singer. I've sung for films like The Money Pit and Tootsie and a lot of movies as a singer and then I've written themes too like "Separate Lives" for White Nights and Animal House. But mostly I consider myself more of a songwriter than a singer. But I'm a singer too.

Q - Were you ever part of a band when you were growing up?

A - I sure was. I was in this group called The Weeds. We were the garage band that should have stayed in the garage. (laughs)

Q - Why is that?

A - You know, we weren't the greatest band. We did some of my original songs. We played for like fraternity parties and high school dances. That kind of thing. We never really branched out. We did come up to L.A. once and recorded in Ray Charles Studios, which was really cool 'cause we got to see Ray Charles.

Q - The idea being to get a record deal and that never happened?

A - Yeah. We didn't. We were so young and naive. You remember those old bikes that had the high handlebars? What were they called, Banana bikes or something?

Q - I remember those bikes.

A - Well, I had one and my friends Mark and Herb, they were the bass player and drummer, we rode our bikes down to this place that made records. They just made 'em for you. The guy told us, "Hey, it just takes twenty bucks" back then, "and you can have a record." I thought, Oh, God, all we need is twenty dollars and we could be stars. (laughs) I was so naive. I didn't know about the process which is a big thing.

Q - He was just talking about copies, right? He wasn't talking about studio time, was he?

A - He was talking about going into the studio back then.

Q - What year was that?!

A - '65. It was just this little place on University Avenue or something in San Diego. We saw all these 45s on the wall. I think he had a studio. This was a long time ago. I don't trust my memory that well.

Q - You never recorded there then?

A - No. We never went in the studio, but we tried to record in the Ray Charles Studio in L.A. I think it was called Tangerine Studios back then. We saw Ray Charles at the top of the stairs. We didn't meet him. We just saw him. (laughs)

Q - So, the band didn't have any success. Next thing you're doing is pounding the pavement in L.A., knocking on record company doors for yourself, right?

A - That's right.

Q - You'd walk in with what? A demo tape?

A - Yeah. I used to have my tape with songs on it. I remember playing some songs for this one record company guy and he said, "I'm sorry man. I don't hear a hit." On the tape was "On And On", "Madge" and "Save It For A Rainy Day". (laughs) I told him, "Hit rewind." I wanted to get out of there 'cause I didn't dig the guy. His name was Donald Trump. Can you believe it?

Q - He was in that business back then, was he?

A - (laughs)

Q - You just have to wonder who that guy did eventually sign?

A - Late at night you just sit there and wonder.

Q - Eventually you did land a job for $50 a week at E.H. Morris Publishing.

A - They were a big publishing firm that had like, Bye Bye Birdie, Mame, Hello Dolly. Huge musicals that were very, very successful. They had this guy, Alan O'Day, who wrote "Undercover Angel", but I was writing really weird songs back then. I was writing songs like "The Hair In Your Enchilada" and "Beer Can On The Beach" and "Will There Ever Be A Sunday In Nebraska?". All these weird songs. So the publisher back then was, "How am I going to take this to Cher?" (laughs "The Fifth Dimension won't cut these stupid songs." (laughs) It took me awhile to start writing heartbreak songs.

Q - Couldn't Tiny Tim have cut some of those songs?

A - I guess. I'm not sure how many albums he sold. (laughs)

Q - I don't know.

A - Not many.

Q - Could you live in L.A. for $50 a week?

A - You wanna know something? I saved money on $50 a week.

Q - What a different world it was back then.

A - It was a totally different world. I had a studio apartment. I was trying to get somewhere. It was hard. It was really hard to get going back then. It seemed so impossible to get a record deal back then, but I finally did. I was actually signed by the guy who produced Simon And Garfunkel, Roy Halee, which was pretty cool.

Q - That was really your first big break then?

A - It was my first big break, yeah. That was through my friends Leah Kunkel and Russ Kunkel. He was doing a session for Art (Garfunkel) and gave him a tape and I had these songs on there and I ended up meeting him and he wanted to do the songs.

Q - And you were on your way!

A - I was on my way. Now my songs have been recorded by a lot of people.

Q - Did you keep banker's hours when you were working for this publishing company? Did you go into an office?

A - Some writers do that. Jimmy Webb does that. Randy Newman does that. I've never been able to do that. I'm a very long writer. I just write when I feel like it, usually late at night. I would just pop into the office once a week and see what's going on. I never really hung out there, although for awhile there they had me as a publisher. I was a publisher for about five months and I did have a regular job. I liked it 'cause I had an expense account and I could take my friends out for lunch.

Q - You were living high.

A - I was living high!

Q - You got one good meal a day.

A - Right. It's funny that you mentioned that. When I first came to L.A. I was so broke, I would go get a big can of beans and then I would combine that with Kraft's macaroni and cheese and I would get Saltines and the I would eat that for the entire week. I rode a bicycle for the first three years I was in L.A.

Q - That must've been tough to get around?

A - It was tough when you go and get groceries and you try to hold them on the basket. (laughs) They spill in the street half the time.

Q - Your father was an insurance broker. If you hadn't had any success in the music business what would Stephen Bishop's lot in life have been?

A - Well, that's a good question. At one point I was doing so bad trying to make it. I just wasn't getting anywhere and my Dad sent me a telegram and said, "Listen son, it's obvious you can't make it in the music business. Time for you to maybe think about coming back down to San Diego and working for me in insurance." I don't know what I would have done there you know 'cause I have no concept of working for a living. Nobody really ever explained that to me. (laughs) But I had other jobs for awhile. When I first came to L.A. I worked as a car parker. I was a terrible driver and parked these cars. I would crash all these cars. Originally I wanted to be a history teacher. They give you those vocation things, "What do you want to be?" I put, Number one: songwriter. Number two I put singer. Number three I put history teacher and number four I put President of French's Mustard Company because I loved French's mustard back then. I really was going to be a history teacher. I loved history. I still do. I was really good in history.

Q - How long did it take you to write "On And On"?

A - About a day. I was living in Silver Lake. I just walked out to the corner grocery store and I was walking down the hill and I just got this idea for a song called "On And On". It just came to me. Just like that. I went and got my groceries, came back to the house, sat down and I had this chord that I loved. I was playing the chord over and over. I do a little bit about this on stage. I was playing this chord. I couldn't stop playing it and so finally I just started working on the song. I still have the rough draft of that. It's been forty-one years now I think.

Q - Your writing it on piano or guitar?

A - Guitar. I'm a guitar player. I don't play piano. I wish I did play piano, but I don't.

Q - Would that make your song writing easier?

A - Oh, God, I could be George Gershwin if I could play piano. I didn't say Ira Gershwin. I said George Gershwin. One thing I wanted to say is I did the album as kind of a concept album. That's why it started with "Everyone's Gone To The Moon", that old '65 hit. I like it when people listen to it from beginning to end. It's really kind of a concept. I sequenced them in a way that I think will really work for the listener.

Official Website: StephenBishop.com


© Gary James. All rights reserved.


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