Jamaican Music Music Interviews

A Conversation With Musical Artist, Family & Child Activist And Air Jamaica Jazzfest Performer Michael Bolton

Written by Stan Evan Smith

The architecture of great music is province of creativity. Michael Bolton is a musical artist; blessed with an abundance of talent he combines his song writing and music producing skills. His great vocal ability spans many musical to create genre defying music. It may not be a stretch to say he’s renaissance musical artist. From classical Arias and opera, (his opera CD ‘My Passion: the Arias, topped the classical charts for 6 weeks) to soft rock balladeer, to pop hit maker and R& B covers Michael Bolton’s succeeded where narrow-minded critics predicted he should fail. He’s has sold more 53 million Records world wide, won multiple Grammy awards and other honors, gave sold out performances around the world including London Royal Albert Hall. He’s part of a selected few who’ve been able performed and record with opera legend Luciano Pavarotti and also performed the great Ray Charles, his all time favorite singer. Bolton describes working with both Pavarotti and Charles as ‘one of the great moments in my life’.

His songs writing skills have been employed from rock legend Kiss, and Greg Allman, Salsa star Marc Anthony, Cher, country singer Wynona Judd, R&B singer Peabo Bryson and Barbara Streisand. Collaborated with Bob Dylan. His music has been sampled by Hip Hop superstars Jay-Z, John Legend and Kanye West.

With aide of 15 time Grammy-wining producer Alex Christensen his big band project

(17 horns 35 strings) Bolton Swings Sinatra, one of his ‘dream projects, was recorded in the legendary Capitol Studios where the ‘Chairman of the Boards recorded many of his hits. Bolton’s fiancée, Nicollete Sheridan duets with him on “The Second Time Around.’

Bolton over come critics who questioned his right as a white singer to top the charts singing R&B classics like “Otis Redding ‘Dock of the Bay’ (moved to tears after hearing him sing the song Redding’s widow Zelma, wrote Bolton a letter saying his rendition “my favorite version of my husband’s classic. Of Bolton’ rendition of “When a Man Loves a Woman’ originator Percy Sledge said “it really an honor for him to do my song.” He’s performed at the world famous Apollo theatre, The Ebony Awards and was the only white singer invited to perform at Motown 35th anniversary Gala.

Bolton’s social consciousness extends to women and children at risk. From rising awareness about Domestic Violence Against Women to serving as executive director of Lifetime Network’s documentary Terror at Home: Domestic Violence in America he’s testi and the Michael Bolton Charities. His ties to the African American community extend beyond just music. Martin Luther King was a heroic figure in his home and his Russian- Jewish father survived intolerance. He developed respectful friendship with Civil Rights icon Coretta Scott King and wrote “The Courage in Your Eyes’ as tribute to her. Bolton created a United Negro College Fund Scholarship and music class for the Harlem Boys and Girls Choirs.

Jamaicans.com senior music writer Stan Smith spoke with Bolton.

SS: How many times have been to Jamaica?

MB: I have been to Jamaica maybe 8 or 9 times this (Jazz& Blues Festival) would be the first time I… ever performed there. I was invited may half a dozen times by different promoters but it never happened. A landmark moment because of the 10th anniversary. (Bolton did a solo performance in Kingston after his appearance at the A.J.J. & B.F.)

SS: Have performed elsewhere in the Caribbean?

MB: No, haven’t done concerts, the closest has been San Juan in Puerto Rico; I would perform at the Roberto Clemente baseball stadium every other year. I vacationed and traveled thru the Caribbean quite a bit. Jamaica, I use to bring my kids to Ocho Rios and year after year we would do our annual vacation there. It was an important time in my life. I was single parent and the kids were young and that’s where we chose to spend our vacation. Thru the years I would come there on my own. One year I learned to scuba dive and my certification there in Jamaica. There were a lot of important movements taking place there. While driving around or out side eating I have heard my songs recorded in reggae. I heard reggae versions of ‘How I am Suppose to Live w/out You’, Soul Provider, Said I loved you but I lied’ and few other songs done in reggae, it’s very cool.

 

SS: What do think of that?

MB: I love that, because its people appreciating the work you’ve done and performing it in the language of their birth … the musical culture that they’re born into. They take one of your songs, this it a cool song and this is how I feel it, then you hear their interpretation, it is hard to describe to you, you start to hear some melody that you recognised then you realize that is one of your songs. (laughter) but somebody is taking from their heart, the way they fell it. It’s a very cool thing, it’s been embrace by another artist, another musical creator, by someone who could do whatever they want and they have chosen your material. I know that I have been fortunate to have a lot of fans and having my music being play in Jamaica throughout the years, since 87 with ‘that what love is all about and Dock of the Bay. It nice to be able to be there, to be recognised and not feel like you’re not gonna be harassed, because everything is cool there

MB: When people come to see your show they want to hear the hit they embraced yrs ago that there families grew up to, Music becomes a backdrop or the sound track of peoples lives, you’re going thru something in your live, its powerful experience whether good or bad, and the background is whatever music is playing and we associate that music with certain moments of our lives.

Michael Bolton & Reggae artist Busy [email protected] in Jamaica

 

SS: You have visited Jamaica, the home of reggae have you ever recorded a reggae song, and if not would you?

MB: Yes, I would love to down the road. At one point I was thinking of an entire reggae album

 

SS: Interesting.

MB: I would not want to something like I was trying to go reggae. It has to be organic and it has to be authentic. I would either have come to Jamaica and record with real player that live and breathe reggae.

SS: They would love that. You have sold millions of records and have been doing this for a long time what keeps you going?

MB: The only explanation I have is that it’s a long musical journey you never even think of stopping. Now sometimes my body is telling me you need a break, you need to just shut down to two week or ten days, just turn the power off. I have toured Europe, Asia and China; these new opportunities keep revealing themselves. Suddenly you receive a call they want you go to Beijing or Shanghai. In all of these years in my career I have never been offered that… it sounded exciting to so we went. Two great examples for are Ray Charles and Tony Bennet….Ray had great influence on me as vocalist growing nd I had the opportunity to sing with him several times and he loved getting up on stage, on a Piano… he loved it with a passion as powerful as the first years of his career, of his performing life. He was true artist…. If he were still alive he would still be touring, he would be thinking about his next record. An artist never wants stop making art…a singer never wants to stop singing.

 

Bolton released two theme albums in 2007.

SS: You’ve worked with many artists, is there an artist that you would like to work with that you haven’t?

MB: If I were going to do a duet I would love to do something with Whitney Houston. I terms of production, every one in while I think about creating and album that sounds fresh and is different. I am a solo artist.. I think I would like to make a record where Eric Clapton as guest, it’s difficult to think too much combing, or collaborating with other artist. I collaborate with other writers. As solo artist I am focused on the next record, the next tour… Iam also involved in the production of it. I usually have full plate.

SS: Let me change gears for a minute, we know you as the music icon, but lets focus on the Michael Bolton Charities, tell me about the assistance you provide for women and children at risk?

MB: It is a foundation I created about 14-15 years ago. I was an accident. My original plan was to try to find families who were having a difficult time economically in my home state. I was being invited to all of these fund raisers … for Juvenile diabetes, for cancer research, for autism, all of theses needs and causes you want to be a part of, my experience has been if they can build the fund raiser around the celebrities, they can raise money, sponsorship and they can build awareness to these causes. You have to use your celebrity to give back. If you know my history….I was an artist all my life so I went through a period of time when I have three kids and wife, a family to support and as musician you’re basically a starving artist for most of your early years. It was very, very difficult to raise a family. In Connecticut where Iam from when it snowed…or bad weather, which we had a lot your shows were cancelled. You basically had to look at your kids and think how are we eating, how we gonna clothe our children for school that was coming up in September. When you live that you never forget what that’s like. I originally planned on raising money for families who were struggling in Connecticut … I found out…that a lot of women and their kids were there because of domestic violence. The violence was directed either the mothers or children. That where the turn “at risk comes from.

 

SS: I fully understand because I am social worker

MB: Okay so you know, it’s a syndrome and it’s a cycle… that repeats itself. You’re probably familiar with this, the more work you do; you network with people who have been doing the work longer that you, I have met with people who have been dealing with at risk you for more than 30 years. They have a lot they can teach us.

SS: Right.

MB We talk to them about new programs we’re finding out about. We raise about 300 to 350 thousand dollars a year. We pay out grants every year, to shelters and organizations that hire family advocates who work with women and their kids. Get them in new situations so they are not back in the same situations. We teach living skills and nurturing skills, things that you never think about. My parents were divorced and things were tough, but compares to the hardship and the things that families go through in America these days, the things their kids have to deal with to get through their childhood.

SS: I have seen it for twelve years in NYC so know what you’re speaking about. Let just change gears for a minute. There is another project, the Yale child study; the homeward bound could talk about that?

 

MB: I was born in New Haven, (there are) there are a couple of things we do with Yale University. What we do with Yale Child study program is we find family advocate, people who are skilled and have studied, social worker who are committed to getting people back on their feet. There is couple of programs, one I just working with families out of shelter. Getting them back … so they can have a much better start. Shelters temporary cure for long term problems, unfortunately families end back there again. When you put social workers with parent, mothers giving them living skills and give them tools to work with helpful to their self esteem as well as very practical means to get on with their lives.

Michael Bolton

SS: I fully understand what you are saying because I use to teach parenting skills and working with domestic violence victims (when I worked as Assistant Director of Family Programs for the American Red Cross)

MB: Exactly so you understand what we do.

SS: Precisely, while doing the research on your work, the interesting thing is, you have celebrities who will perform (for the cause) but is that you actually had programs that focused on the population you serve. I must commend you on that.

MB: Thank you, you also know from doing the work, no matter how much you do unfortunately you can’t fix the problem

SS: Because they are long range problems.

MB it’s an epidemic in America, which is such shame to because it is such as wealthy country and it just doesn’t take care of these kinds of problems. But there are a lot of success stories, where there are a lot of people who can say because people like yourself committed their time and energies to this, they have great stories to tell about their lives and their kids going on to college. They have great lives and not repeating the cycle.

 

SS: And sometimes that all you can hope for just breaking the cycle.

MB: Yes, its goal. You lose the illusion of getting out there and reaching hundreds of thousands of kids and families and fixing it. You get down to the reality, when you’re doing the work that it’s one by one. I have great people you do the day to day work and they bring me up to date and every thing is copied to me. We look at who gets the grants from year to year and they are some great people doing great work but you have to say no because there is program just down the street that is very effective, they both need the money sometimes its just about extra beds or extra resources for the year but you have make a decision about who gets the grant. We do the due diligence by going into the shelters and partnering with Yale University, they have access to tremendous amounts of information…they have been at it long time. They also have a certain amount of credibility. You still have reach into the community and find who understand the nature of living at risk… and what you have to do to break this cycle. That doesn’t come from Yale professor; it comes from a person who has been working with families for a long time…. Gang mentality is still a big problem… in my home town; we also fund programs that are like Boys and girls club…controlled by the youth.

 

End of Part One

About the author

Stan Evan Smith

Senior Editor and North East Media Coordinator for Jamaicans.com