Steven Bishop, songwriter to the stars, is excited about his Hong Kong debut
Text: Robin Lynam
Back in 1976, not many aspiring singer-songwriters recording their debut albums were lucky enough to have Eric Clapton turn up at the studio to contribute a couple of guitar solos. According to Stephen Bishop, who is due to perform at Kitec in Kowloon Bay on July 28, his manager at the time was also managing Clapton's friend, Ronnie Wood from the Rolling Stones, and swung the session by telling the guitarist that Bishop was "a funny guy".
Bishop is certainly funny, and he proved it a couple of years later in John Landis' 1978 classic comedy National Lampoon's Animal House. As well as singing the theme tune, Bishop plays the folk singer, serenading a girl at a frat house toga party, and having his guitar smashed by John Belushi. "An iconic moment," Bishop chuckles over the phone from his home in Los Angeles. "I've been very fortunate in having been associated with a lot of movies. Sometimes they use me as a singer, sometimes as a songwriter, and sometimes they ask me to do both."
In addition to his Animal House role, Bishop contributed cameo appearances to two other Landis films, Kentucky Fried Movie and The Blues Brothers, but it's with movie songs that he found his niche.
He sang It Might Be You, the theme to the 1983 film Tootsie starring Dustin Hoffman, and wrote Separate Lives for the soundtrack of 1985's White Nights, which became a huge hit for Phil Collins and Marilyn Martin.
Bishop wrote and performed One Love as the theme for 1984's Unfaithfully Yours, and has contributed to many other soundtracks, including The China Syndrome and The Money Pit.
Separate Lives was nominated for the best original song Oscar in 1986, but lost to Lionel Richie's Say You Say Me — from the same film. But he has just been invited to become a governor of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which he says is "kind of neat".
It is some time since Bishop was last involved in a film score — "I haven't been working it like I should" — but has still been keeping busy. He recently released a new studio album of original compositions, Be Here Then, and is about to put out a live album of his old hits.
There is quite an extensive catalogue of those — in addition to the movie tunes, On and On, Save it For a Rainy Day and Everybody Needs Love did well in the US charts — and he will be playing most or all of those, on his own with an acoustic guitar, during his Hong Kong show.
"I'm very used to doing that. It feels very comfortable. I enjoy playing with a band too, that's fun, but it's nice to get a little more intimate sometimes. I get a bit more loosened up. I don't do vocal acrobatics so much. It's not my thing. I'm more of a storyteller, I guess," he says.
Bishop started out as a songwriter playing his songs in person to artists like Barbra Streisand, Bette Midler and Diana Ross. Streisand recorded his One More Night, which is not the same song as the Phil Collins hit — "He copped my title," he says.
Collins has also served as his drummer and producer, and Clapton has continued to contribute to his albums, most recently, 2008's Brazilian-themed Romance in Rio, on which Earl Klugh also played.
He gets a particular kick out of the fact that Holy Mother, a song he wrote with Clapton for the latter's 1986 August album, was also recorded by Luciano Pavarotti, with Clapton, in 1996 for a TV special recorded at a charity benefit concert.
Other artists who have covered his songs include Johnny Mathis, Kenny Loggins, Phoebe Snow, and the Four Tops. Art Garfunkel has recorded several of his compositions, and calls him one of his favourite songwriters.
"They are very personal songs," he says. "They're about loss, and about old love, new love and in between love. I try to cover all fronts as far as getting ideas for songs is concerned, and coming up with original ideas. I'm very happy to say I have some of those. I try to stay current."
He likes to rejuvenate old songs. Romance in Rio found him working with the late Oscar Castro-Neves to reframe some of his hits in a bossa nova style. "It's fun to try different beats. You don't want to sound dated," he says. " Save it For a Rainy Day, the original was back in 1976. I tried to make it like a disco song back then, but I don't do it that way now."
Bishop will also be performing in Singapore and the Philippines, where he has a particularly devoted following. He has played in Singapore before, but this is his Hong Kong debut, and he is full of questions about the city. "I'm excited to go to Hong Kong," he says, "as I haven't been."
Stephen Bishop, July 28, 8.15pm, Music Zone, Kitec, Kowloon Bay, HK$480, HK$680, HK Ticketing. Inquiries: 9476 8655