Ladies and Gentlemen, our special guest, Stephen Bishop, is a singer, songwriter and recording artist. He joins us to talk about his most recent album ‘Be Here Then.’ Thank you so much being a guest on The Paul Leslie Hour.
So, I think most stories are best from the beginning. What was life like growing up?
That’s a good question, not many people ask me that. (Stephen laughs) Growing up, in the beginning, was a little rough, my parents got divorced when I was 5, I had an older brother who’s nine years older than me and wound up buying me my first guitar when I was 13 or 12 and a half, something like that, and I had a… after my parents got divorced, my Mother eventually wound up re-marrying a guy who was an Opera singer, who sang… Opera teacher actually that sang at the hardware… I mean, didn’t sing it the hardware, worked in a hardware store that’s about his whole thing, and he made it difficult for me because he hated rock n roll and that kind of thing so, you know, I wasn’t allowed to play guitar in the house, it was kind of a drag, so that was rough. It was kind of… you know, at times, pretty rough actually. I loved the Beatles and loved music, he wanted to push me into more of a John Philip Sousa bag (Stephen laughs).
(Stephen toots a tune, Paul laughs)
You know and it didn’t, you know, I’d be at the lunch quad trying play… you know he bought me a clarinet when I was 10, so I started first on clarinet and I’d be like, at the lunch quad at school you know, and the Beatles were happening and everything, trying to impress girls playing the ‘Satisfaction’ riff on my clarinet, at school, I just didn’t make it getting girls interested.
I see. So tell me, do you think the ability to write songs was something that was just natural to you?
Not really, I don’t think so, no, I was shown how to write by the songs on the radio, by the Beatles, always had great structure in their songs, so beginning riff, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, riff again, bridge, chorus, out… you know… that…I followed that except for ‘Separate Lives’ which is a totally different structure I follow that structure for most of my songs.
Is it the melody or the lyric in a song that attracts you more, that excites you more?
Good question. It’s probably the melody, you can have kind of crumby lyrics, if the melody is really, really catchy, I mean I was just noticing that song that’s a big hit now, ‘Happy’ by Darrel… I mean by Pharrell Williams, it’s really catchy song, it’s really well done and he doesn’t change the lyric very much in the chorus, and he says (Stephen sings)… ‘Cause I’m happy’… and he says something like ‘when there’s rain upon the roof’ or something like that, but he says it over and over, I don’t know where I’m going here with this, but it’s an interesting use of structure there.
You just mentioned this artist of today, as a songwriter, do you think it’s important to continue listening to the recordings of other writers?
Oh yeah. Sure, I mean, god, I’ve been very influenced by other writers, I mean, the British invasion, all that and I love Comden, I think it was, Comden and Adolph Green, Betty Comden and Adolph Green, you know, something like that, a song like ‘The Party’s Over’ by Judy Holliday, the way she does that, and amazing songwriting and Bacharach and David and the Starlings, you know, Jagger and Richards they made great, great songs, usually there’s not much of a shortage of great songs. They do keep popping up, sometimes some of the songs on the radio kind of.. I feel like they’re like ‘fast food’ music, kind of here today, gone tomorrow kind of thing.
Well, sometimes it feels like some of the songs of today are here today, gone later today (Paul and Stephen laugh)
Yeah. Right, right, right, yeah but they’re… people love them, my step son loves them.
When you decided to pursue the life of an artist, did you ever doubt yourself? Or did you always believe in yourself?
Always doubted myself, (Stephen laughs) but I always believed in myself. I did both, I do both.
What kept you going?
Well, What kept me going most of the time, during the tough times, was that I’m not really adept at many traits, I’m not like ‘this is what I do,’ I’m a good entertainer and I can write songs and do this kind of thing, but I’m not going to design a new architectural dig or anything, I’m not going to do anything amazing that doesn’t have to do with music, unfortunately.
I’ve seen two Art Garfunkel concerts where he specifically mentioned you, once he was with an orchestra and another time it was just him and a solo guitar player and he would list his five favorite songwriters in both of these concerts and he made a point, twice, to mention Stephen Bishop as being a favorite songwriter.
Well that surprises me, mean I just had dinner with him just the other night, I would never have thought he would do anything like that.
No? He did it twice.
Wow, wow, amazing.
He listed Jimmy Webb, Paul Simon, Stephen Sondheim, Stephen Bishop and Randy Newman. I have a strange memory and he did this twice.
Wow. That’s very cool. He’s an amazing singer, he’s a great singer, Garfunkel.
Yes, absolutely, one of the best, so how did Mr. Garfunkel come to record your songs?
Well that actually happened through a woman I became friends with and still really close friends with Leah Kunkel who is Cass Elliot’s sister and was back then the wife of Russ Kunkel, the drummer, the session drummer and he was doing a session with Garfunkel, and Garfunkel was looking for songs for his album ‘Breakaway’ and Leah Kunkel had got a tape together of mine, and got it through her husband and he wound up hearing it and I came in there, met him, way back when and recorded some songs on tape and he wound up doing two and since then has done about 8, he’s done about 8 of my songs.
Speaking of Garfunkel, it seems like, especially great vocalists are attracted to your songs, Barbra Streisand has recorded a Stephen Bishop song, Johnny Mathis, the aforementioned Art Garfunkel, Pavarotti. Why do you think it is that great singers seem to be attracted to your work?
It’s funny that you would.. (Stephen laughs). I never even thought of that… yeah, that’s great. I don’t know, I mean, I do try and have a lot of range in my songs and have it be interesting and exciting and melodic and… I don’t know, I don’t know… Frank Sinatra never recorded one of my songs, but he actually heard ‘On And On’ where I mentioned him , which is cool.
What did he say about that?
He liked it, that’s all he said. He told his daughter Tina and Tina told me. They drove down to Palm Springs and she played it for him. I kept thinking ‘well, I’m going to open my front door and there’s going to be a shiny new bike from Frank with a little note.’ But I never see it. (Paul laughs)
Tell us about that song ‘On And On,’ did you know that it was going to be as successful as it was and is?
Not at all, not at all, no, no, no, I did not. I was surprised because it started being played on college stations and… back then and a lot of people really liked it. The record company back then… we had that hit with ‘Save It For A Rainy Day’ and they thought ‘well, let’s just move on,’ you know, let’s go to the next album, I said “Well, the people are playing ‘On And On’, so.” Then it became a big hit so, it was one of those things, that song… I don’t know if that song would ever be a hit now, I mean it’s just so unusual and different, and doesn’t have to four on the floor with the bass drum.
In my humble opinion, a truly great song is found at the very beginning of this comedy, that I love to death, starring Tom Hanks, I’m talking about ‘Money Pit.’
What inspired ‘The Heart Is So Willing?’
Technically, I didn’t write it, but the reality was, they wanted me to sing it and they were going to pay me well for it and the song wasn’t completely written… I worked on it, but I didn’t get any credit on it, I worked on it all night with Kathy Wakefield, the lyricist.
Who wrote the initial version of it?
I think it was written by… the music was written by Michel Colombier.
Oh yes, the late composer.
Yeah, and Kathy Wakefield I think and I went over to her house and I worked out the structure of it and I wrote another little part and I didn’t get any credit. I just was doing it mostly to make some money.
Of the songs that you wrote, who do you think has done the best rendition of a Stephen Bishop song?
I’ll just tell you what comes to mind… right… the first thing that comes to mind, first thing that came to mind was Sandie Shaw’s version of ‘One More Night,’ Sandie Shaw was a big hit artist in England and she always wore… she always dressed wearing bare feet and she’d sing wearing bare feet and she had a hit with my song ‘One More Night’… not a hit, but it was a recording with ‘One More Night’ and I got a big kick out of that, because she had the song (singing) “girl don’t come” and that other song (singing) “Always something there to remind me.’ She had those as hits, and then I guess the other person I would say, would be Phil Collins and Marilyn Martin with ‘Separate Lives,’ I did really like that version, it’s really interesting, came out great and Kenny Rankin’s version of ‘On And On’ which was really good, he did that with the orchestra. Plus Garfunkel, almost everything that Garfunkel did of mine, I really like, he just always had a nice vibe on it, the recordings he did of mine. I didn’t like Barbra Streisand’s ‘One More Night’ so much, was a little over produced and stuff, but hey, it was great that she recorded my song.
What’s the greatest compliment you’ve gotten as an artist?
The greatest compliment? I guess… the first thing that comes to mind, I was very fortunate to work with Oscar Castro-Neves, who was the guitarist for Carlos Antonio Jobim and all those early recordings, Brazilian recordings, it was a treat to work with him and record with him and just by him liking my songs and stuff, it was a big compliment. He’s just an amazing guitarist, I did an album called ‘Romance In Rio,’ it was all with this fellow Oscar Castro-Neves playing guitar. He’s just a brilliant guitarist, Brazilian guitarist.
Working our way to the present, this new album you have ‘Be Here Then’, tell us about… first of all the title of this album, ‘Be Here Then.’
Well, what actually happened was, during the Beatles time, when the Beatles were first getting together and you know, they needed a name and then John Lennon used to say ‘A man with the flaming pie came and suddenly appeared and said ‘you’re the Beatles’, so, that same man with the flaming pie showed up at my house about six months ago and said ‘you’ll call the album ‘Be Here Then,’ (Paul laughs), the same man, you wouldn’t believe it.
It’s funny because there’s that Buddhist expression, ‘Be Here’… what is it?
‘Be Here Now,’ and then the name of Jeff Bridges, his first solo album was called ‘Be Here Soon’, (Paul laughs) so…
It’s ‘Be Here Then’.
It’s just the natural progression.
I guess so.
The Album starts off with this song ‘Pretty Baby,’ and it’s one of those songs that just sinks into your heart right away. Tell me about the inspiration.
I’m not sure if it’s about a runaway, or about a girl, or what we meant it about, but I thought it was about a runaway, but it also could be about a girl that you, you know, lost or something. I wrote it with this great songwriter named Tia Sillers who co wrote ‘I Hope You Dance,’ that great song, (Stephen sings)…‘I hope you dance.’
And she wrote it with me and she was just really…coming up with the great lyrics and just brilliant writer, it’s very exciting when you collaborate with someone and you see the spark flying out of their head when they come up with great ideas for songs and she is just really brilliant, so she had these great lines in there and, not really like a country song, it’s more like a folk song.
More like a folky song.
Kind of in keeping with the substance of that song ‘Pretty Baby,’ the great novelist Pat Conroy, he said that ‘there is more music in loss’ and I read where you said that you find it easier to write when you’re feeling kind of sad. What do you think it is to that?
I don’t know, it seems to hold more weight, but you have this song out there we were just talking about, a glad, happy song and it’s like everybody’s happy and everything, but I have a tough time writing a song like, you know, (Stephen sing ad lib) ‘I’m in looooove, cause I’m happy, it’s a beautiful thing,’ I have a tough time with that, so, it’s funny too, because I just got this email from this guy who has gotten my album and said ‘I’m disappointed, there was no joy’, and I’m thinking ‘since when was I the bearer of joy?’ (Stephen and Paul laugh). Like in my other albums, you know. (Paul laughs) I’m no bearer of joy, I always have a little bad songs to my repertoire because it’s part of who I am I guess.
There’s a great guitarist who I did an interview with named Brian Ray, and he said that ‘happy art sucks.’
Oh I know Brian.
Yeah. He appears on this album.
Tell us about some of the musicians who appear, cos the great bassist Leland Sklar, Brian Ray.
David Paich from Toto. Let’s see, Mark Goldenberg, he wrote some great songs for Linda Ronstadt, ‘That Mad Love,’ we wrote a song on here called ‘Sparkle You Shine,’ which I really, really like. Players that have played for years, great players like Lenny Castro, a great percussionist and really talented people on here and got it all together. My wife’s in some of these pictures.
Could you pick a favorite song from this new album ‘Be Here Then?’
Well, They’re all my children, chillin. They’re all mine, but I guess I’d pick, if I had to pick one favorite, I’d go for different favorites, I would say there’s ‘Sparkle You Shine’ or ‘Cry of The Broken Hearted,’ just for my own self.
The one you just mentioned ‘Cry Of The Broken Hearted,’ that was one that I thought was interesting, so tell us about that one. How did that come about?
Well, It’s just a story song, it’s a… I do songs that are esoteric. It’s about a guy, yeah, it’s about a guy who gets you know, with a girl and they break up and he gets a record deal, and then she hears a song on the radio and it makes her feel badly (Stephen and Paul laugh). It’s not really..it’s not something really heavy, it’s not ‘War And Peace.’
Our special guest is singer-songwriter, Stephen Bishop. When someone listens to this new album ‘Be Here Then’, what do you want the listener to get out of the experience?
Entertainment, and a worthwhile album that they could play over and over again.
So, when you’re writing a song, how do you decide when a song is a keeper and… or is not?
I kind of do this in a couple of ways, I try and play the song for different people, friends of mine and get just kind of an overall reaction, what song, what kind of reaction the song gets, and it usually goes something like that, by taking a little poll, or just instinct, but most of the time I have to be reassured. I’m one of those people, unfortunately, that can walk into a building, just a small building and everybody is in there saying how great they are and how great their album is and they’d go. I’d walk out of there thinking I was great. (Stephen laughs) If I went into another building with everybody going ‘ohhh it’s lousy, I hate you’re album,’ I would think it was lousy. (Stephen and Paul laugh) I don’t know, I’m just like that.
What is the best thing about being Stephen Bishop?
The best thing about being Stephen Bishop. I’m happy, I enjoy my life, some things could be better, but generally I’m pretty happy and I’m creative and I like being creative, and still in this business after, gee, I don’t know, 40 years, or more. I was playing on a stage at the Del Mar Fair near San Diego, California when I was in my band ‘The Weeds,’ when, like 42 years ago.
For anyone who listens to this broadcast, what would you like to say to the listener?
Vote Democratic (Stephen and Paul laugh) No, I don’t even like the Democrats any more. What would I like to say to the listener? I would like to say, it’s important to treat other people as you would yourself. I always believe there’s two different kinds of people in the world, there’s a person and there’s somebody who messes with that person. (Paul laughs) and that’s it, I say it in a different way, but just to try and enjoy life without making it harder on other people.
That’s wonderful, I think.
Yeah, I think so.
Our special guest has been Stephen Bishop, his latest album ‘Be Here Then,’ my last question. Who is Stephen Bishop?
(Stephen whispers) Who is Stephen Bishop? He’s a guy who you wouldn’t have heard of if he wouldn’t have busted his ass to make it, that’s it.. (Stephen and Paul laugh). That’s who he is and I came up from San Diego, I did it the hard way, I walked around town and went to the school of hard knocks and I’m still in this business after all of these years, with all the young people and the young, happening people.
Mr. Bishop, thank you very much for this interview, I really appreciate it.
All right, it was fun.
Yeah, thank you.
All right, great Paul.
TRANSCRIBED BY ROSALIND WINTON