Having just returned from a publicity jaunt to promote his new album in New York City, Stephen Bishop relates: “I walked all over in the cold, lugging my guitar to these appointments. It was like the old days when I was 18 and I first came to Hollywood.”
Of course when he was tramping the streets in the proverbial good ol' days, Bishop hadn’t yet written recorded and hits like “On and On” and “Save it for a Rainy Day.” He had not been nominated for two Grammys and an Oscar (for “Separate Lives,” recorded by Phil Collins from the film White Nights), or recorded the classic “It Might Be You,” the theme song from Tootsie penned by Dave Grusin and Alan and Marilyn Bergman. He was not yet recognizable from Manhattan to Manila.
Bishop occupies an intriguing niche in the songwriting pantheon. Revered by his peers and accessible within his community, he is now an indie artist with Be Here Then. Additionally, he will be recording a live album at Kulak’s Woodshed in Los Angeles for release by Sony. “I’m tempted to do some jokes,” he says of the upcoming live session, “but then you’d have to hear them every time they came around.”
For Be Here Then, Bishop enlisted some of L.A.’s most esteemed musicians including Leland Sklar on bass, David Paich and Brad Cole on keyboards, and Lenny Casto on percussion. “I recorded the songs at different intervals,” says Bishop. “Some in one bunch and others a year later.”
The lead off track, “Pretty Baby,” is a co-write between Bishop and Tia Sillers, best known for the Lee Ann Womack classic, “I Hope You Dance.” Bishop says, “I'd had that melody for a while. It was something really special to me. I got with Tia, and her style of songwriting was so exciting; she was just sparking ideas, ‘How about this and how about that?’ It was one of those dynamic sessions.”
Bishop has visited Nashville for writing collaborations on many occasions. “I think at my old publishing company the people in Nashville thought of me more as a city slicker and I didn’t get much attention for my songs. I’m hoping that my new publisher does something with them,” he says.
Underscoring his signature vocals with an Americana vibe, “Pretty Baby” is a musical departure for Bishop. “I cut that with Robin DiMaggio, who is the drummer on Arsenio Hall. He had a whole concept for the song. I think it makes me a little more contemporary.”
One plaintive song on the new collection is a melancholy view of bereavement. “Vacant is an unusual word,” agrees Bishop. “It’s weird for me; I take the plane to New York and go to the bathroom and the sign says ‘vacant’––that’s a title! But the song is about death, and loss.”
In the Philippines, where he has visited on 10 occasions, Bishop is a favorite. He will be returning this July for a three-week tour. “Filipino people are fun, romantic, nice people and really genuine,” he explains. “They love romantic songs. They never say, ‘I love Stephen Bishop’s depressing songs’ because I have a lot of those too. The song they love is ‘It Might Be You.’ Little children know it.” Bishop says that he is often recognized. “I go to The Philippines and they make a big fuss over me. Then I come back here to L.A. and go to the 7-Eleven store and it’s, ‘Hey! Get out of my way!’”
A new coterie of co-writers inspires Bishop: among them the U.K. artist Rumer who had previously recorded a version of Bishop’s “Same Old Tears on a New Background.” Bishop describes her voice as “between Dusty Springfield and Karen Carpenter.”
He notes a recent interview with a journalist who is writing a history of soft rock, a genre in which Bishop is often categorized. “He is saying that soft rock is every bit as valid as hard rock,” says Bishop. “It’s great to hear that.” Meanwhile, with Be Here Then, Bishop adds to his legacy of enduring song craft and insightful expression. “I’ve been doing it a long time,” he concludes. “It’s my job.”
Contact Jo-Ann Geffen, JAG Entertainment, [email protected]
By Dan Kimpel