The idea of writing a song with Bob Dylan is something that would make anybody a bit nervous. Michael Bolton received some helpful advice when the opportunity came along and knew that he had one shot to make it count.
“There was never any guarantee that ‘Steel Bars’ was going to get completed. When I received the call to go work with Bob Dylan, I was told I better try and finish the song in one session because he seldom asked people back for a second go,” Bolton recalls in an email interview. “So when we weren’t quite through with the song that first day, I was very nervous I wouldn’t get a chance to finish. But sure enough, he was happy with the song and we finished it quickly [later] and it became a big hit.”
The song needed just one final tweak by the time that he parted ways with Dylan for the second time. Bolton still had a couple of lines of lyrics that he wasn’t completely sure about. The legendary songwriter told him that he’d give it some more thought and be back in touch. Bolton began making plans to record the song and reached a point where he thought that he might not hear anything further — perhaps Dylan had forgotten or moved on. As he began the recording session, he received a fax from Dylan with 10 additional lines of lyrical possibilities. His song was finally completed and the whole thing felt really good. “I had been Dylan-ized. Seriously, no critic in the world could dent that armor,” he writes in his 2012 memoir The Soul of It All
Beginning with “That’s What Love Is All About” in 1987, Bolton had scored 12 Top 40 hits across three albums, with “Steel Bars” arriving as the fifth and final chart hit from his 1991 Time, Love and Tenderness
album. He continued to build on that success and admits that the memories of the struggle that it took to get there were never far out of his mind.
“Even when I had my first hit, or won my first Grammy, there was never a pause in my drive and discipline. It had been 18 years of struggling before achieving any success so I was determined to never let it go,” he says. “Actually sitting back and enjoying my successes along the way is something I have a hard time doing but should probably try to do more.”
He’ll take stock of his career with his Greatest Hits and Holiday Favorites tour, which arrives at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday at Hard Rock Live in Northfield
. For Bolton, holidays have always been a special time.
“Holidays growing up in Connecticut have that magical quality to them with snowfalls and fireplaces and, of course, A Christmas Story
and great holiday music,” he shares. One of the most poignant holiday songs for me is ‘Ave Maria’ which I had the opportunity to sing with Placido Domingo for the live performance and recording of Christmas in Vienna.”
According to Bolton, he grew up in a modest household, but his parents always found a way to save up for a special holiday gift, like a baseball glove.
That glove was an important formative gift that would have a lasting influence over the years that Bolton later spent out on the field playing charity softball games with local radio stations while he and his band were out on the road touring. It was fun, but also a learning experience. Not surprisingly, the radio stations would bring in heavy hitters to try and stack the deck and things quickly got competitive — Bolton had to eventually swap out band members and roadies for his own ringers — to prevent potential hand injuries that might knock them out of the most important lineup — that evening’s concert.
Backstage at a Playhouse Square concert several years ago, he admitted that his team, Bolton’s Bombers — an organization that had put him on the field with baseball heavyweights like Barry Bonds, Ken Griffey Jr. and Frank Thomas — had been retired, but there were no shortage of good memories that had been left behind from the experience.
These days, Bolton continues to record new music. He says his next album, Songs of Cinema,
will feature “the most beloved songs from the most iconic movies of all time.”
“I’ve always been a huge fan of the movies. I love all the classics from Casablanca
to The Wizard of Oz
. And then I’m always watching movies on planes and you can imagine how many hours I clock in flight as I tour around the world,” he says. “I’m always noticing the score and song choices in films and I’ve also written and recorded [things] for soundtracks like 'Go the Distance' for Disney’s feature Hercules
. I recently wrote and recorded the title song to Fathers and Daughters
, a film [released in 2015] starring Russell Crowe and Amanda Seyfried.”
He’s using PledgeMusic to involve fans in the project, which is scheduled to be released next year and says that the process has been extremely helpful.
“I’m actually using [their platform] to source ideas from my fans and they’ve offered up some great suggestions so far, like ‘Stand By Me,’ ‘I Heard it Through the Grapevine,’ and ‘I Will Always Love You,’” he says. “They get to be a process of the making of the album and see behind the scenes, which has been cool to share. There will definitely be a few surprises on this album which the fans don’t yet know about.”
For fans of his hard rock past with Blackjack, the band he shared with eventual KISS guitarist Bruce Kulick, Bolton says there might just be room for a sequel one of these days.
“A lot of people seem to be reminiscing about Blackjack and there might be an opportunity to revisit that music.”
In a 2015 interview with this writer, Kulick shared that he and Bolton had been “closer than ever” in recent years and the singer even gave a virtual thumbs up of sorts to his old group when it was mentioned on Twitter.
“He retweeted when somebody said, ‘Bring back Blackjack.’ I got such a kick out of that,” Kulick says. “I really appreciate the fact that where I know at one point, he was kind of like, oh, I don’t want people to confuse me with this rock and roll / big hair era, now he gets it that he’s had a long career and he’s not shying away from the fact that he was part of that.”
For the moment, as Bolton heads back out on the road, he says he’s looking forward to coming back to Cleveland.
“I have been touring through Cleveland since the late '70s [when I was touring with] Blackjack,” he says. “It is home to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and WMMS was one of the first big stations on earth to play my music! Cleveland has a special place in my heart because it to me represents the potential of the comeback of the American Dream which I think Detroit is on the verge of and that is the spirit of what I am hoping to capture in my [Detroit] documentary Gotta Keep Dreamin'.
We learned a lot about Dan Gilbert and all his initiatives not only in Detroit but in Cleveland and elsewhere to bring back jobs and industry and livelihood for a lot of people. Of course I had to become a Cavaliers fan as well.”