Michael Bolton is full of surprises.
Even casual fans will know the singer’s songs, if not his successes. He’s sold 75 million records, had eight top 10 albums, two No. 1 singles and multiple Grammy Awards. They may not know that early in his career (in the pre-mullet days), Bolton sang in a hard-rock band that opened for Ozzy Osbourne. He was even rumored to have auditioned for Black Sabbath after Osbourne’s departure, though he denied it.
More recently, the 61-year-old Bolton played against his serious soul-singer image by appearing on season 11 of “Dancing with the Stars,” doing a cameo on the CBS sitcom “Two and a Half Men” and partnering with American Greetings on personalized birthday and Valentine’s Day e-cards. He also lent his voice to a huge, hooky chorus on “Jack Sparrow,” a hip-hop parody from Andy Samberg’s musical comedy group The Lonely Island. The video for the song, which features Bolton as titular Jack Sparrow, has more the 130 million views.
We talked to Bolton in advance of his show 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 17, at Table Mountain Casino. He talks about his new projects, looks back on his hits and explains how success just makes him want to create more music.
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Question: Are you working on any projects right now (music or otherwise)?
Answer: I’m currently in development on several TV and film projects, which all involve music. I just wrote and recorded the title song for a forthcoming Russell Crowe film called “Fathers and Daughters,” which was a really profound experience, creatively and personally. I can’t wait for everyone to see the film. I’ve also been recording and organizing songs for a new album and tour concept, which we’re planning to launch later this year.
Tell us about the Motown tribute you did in 2013. Why was it important for you to cover those songs?
Motown was my childhood and had a great influence on me as both a songwriter and a singer. I never dreamed at that young age that one day I would be able to meet or even collaborate with my musical heroes, like Lamont Dozier (of Holland-Dozier-Holland, the Motown hit makers) and Valerie Simpson (of Ashford & Simpson, who wrote and produced hits for Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, among others) and of course Smokey Robinson(the kind and gifted musical genius who I love singing and playing golf with). I’d always wanted to record an entire body of the Motown catalog and it was just a matter of time. It was most rewarding to have the musical legends be a part of that process with me.
Of all of your hits, is there a favorite?
I don’t know if there’s one favorite, as much as there are songs that had a different impact on me for different reasons. “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You” was a hugely important song at first because it became a No. 1 hit when Laura Branigan recorded it, establishing me in the industry as a significant songwriter and turning my songwriting into a career that could support my family. Then six years later, when I recorded and released it on my album “Soul Provider,” the same song won me a Grammy as a solo artist for vocal performance. “When a Man Loves a Woman” also earned me a Grammy for vocal performance, but also allowed me to celebrate one of my musical heroes, Percy Sledge. The same for “Dock of the Bay,” in honor of Otis Redding and “Georgia on My Mind,” which I sang live with Ray Charles more than once. “Steel Bars” is a favorite because it gave me the opportunity to write with Bob Dylan. Every time I perform these songs live, I’m reminded of the enormity of the experience they hold.
Have you fully realized yourself as an artist, or do you just keep evolving?
I think that by nature, creative people are always evolving. Looking at the scope of my career and the experiences I’ve had, from singing with Pavarotti to collaborating with Lady Gaga, it all just makes me want to do and create more. I’m starting in on a whole new chapter as well, in part launched by the success of the Captain Jack Sparrow video, because among those 130 million YouTube views are a lot of new fans. I’m excited to be working on a few projects that I think will really appeal to them.
Did The Lonely Island video change people’s perception of you?
Everyone tells me that after watching Captain Jack Sparrow they realized that I had a big sense of humor. Which is funny because I’ve always been the class clown. I think at some points during my singing career, people may have perceived my determination and discipline as seriousness. But my friends will all tell you I’ve always been a kid at heart.
I was surprised to discover that early in your career you were in a rock band with Bruce Kulick (who played guitar in Kiss). Are you a fan of hard-rock music?
Yes, before Kulick went off to join Kiss, our band Blackjack was opening for people like Ozzy Osbourne and Krocus. We had released two albums on Polydor in ’79/’80. Bruce Kulick and I wrote the songs together. I recently learned that Jay Z actually sampled one of our songs, “Stay,” on his record “A Dream,” and Kanye West used our song “Maybe it’s the Power of Love” in his song “Never Let Me Down.” It’s awesome to see the relevance of those songs now and it’s definitely got me thinking about the band again.