At 64 (soon to be 65), Stephen Bishop is fit as a fiddle, physically and vocally. The sensitive soft-rocker owes it to clean living and a positive attitude.
“I was never into major mind-altering things,” he says over the phone from his L.A.-area home. “I was never a drinker. I can’t imagine what that would have done to my voice. Can you imagine me singing ‘On and On’ with a gravelly voice?”
There’s no doubt that Bishop can still hit the high notes on his new album, “Blueprint” (out July 29). He moves flawlessly from beginning to end, from “Everyone’s Gone to the Moon” to a more upbeat version of his 1983 Oscar-nominated hit, “It Might Be You.”
For his ninth album, the singer-songwriter dug deep into his own archive to find material.
“I found some old demos that I had held onto for years,” he says. “Some of them were songs intended for movies I was writing for but, for whatever reason, they didn’t make the cut.”
Another demo that he turned into a full-fledged song was “Holy Mother,” which he had co-written with Eric Clapton in 1984.
“Eric had done a version of it (for his 1986 album ‘August’), but I had never recorded my own version,” Bishop says. “After I had picked the best songs of the bunch, I got together with (producer) Jon Gilutin, and we used the demos as a blueprint for the whole album, to see where the songs would go. And that’s why we picked that as the title.”
Bishop is quite proud of the end result and is buoyed by the positive response he’s getting.
He’s come a long way from 1964 when he first saw The Beatles perform on “The Ed Sullivan Show” and decided he wanted a career in music.
“At the time, I was mostly into playing the clarinet and being in a show band,” the San Diego native says. “I had a stepfather who definitely didn’t care for The Beatles and didn’t think much of rock ‘n’ roll, but I knew what I wanted to do.”
With songs in hand, he moved to Los Angeles in the late 1960s, landed a deal with Steve Morris of EH Morris Publishing and thought he had it made.
“I had these really weird songs, like ‘Beer Can on the Beach’ and ‘There’s a Hair in Your Enchilada,’ ” he says, with a laugh. “They were really horrible. It took me six years to get a record deal.”
Bishop’s big break came when a longtime friend, Leah Kunkel, handed one of his demos to Art Garfunkel, who in turn liked them enough to record two of his songs (“Looking for the Right One” and “The Same Old Tears on a New Background”) for his 1975 gold-selling album “Breakaway.”
From there, Bishop cut his debut album, “Careless,” for ABC Records.
“I can’t believe it was 40 years ago, it’s mind-boggling to me, really,” he says. “I thought ‘Save It For a Rainy Day’ could be a hit. I mean, it had Clapton on guitar and Chaka Khan on backup. I wasn’t so sure about ‘On and On’ and yet both of them did so well. I remember I was vacationing in Barbados, sitting in a tiny restaurant and I hear these guys next to me singing ‘On and On’ out loud, not knowing that I sang and wrote that song.”
He snared a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist, but the award went to Debby Boone. (In past interviews, he has recounted how Boone gave him her Grammy and said, “You should have won.” But he gave it back to her six years later after reading in TV Guide that she didn’t know where her award went.)
Later, the amiable singer found himself in movies, including four directed by John Landis. His claim to film fame? He was billed as “Charming Guy with Guitar” singing “The Riddle Song” in “National Lampoon’s Animal House” (you know, “I gave my love a cherry that had no stone / I gave my love a chicken that had no bone”). Bishop still has the guitar that John Belushi’s character smashed in the stairwell scene.
His last big solo hit was 1983’s “It Might Be You,” written by Dave Grusin, Alan Bergman and Marilyn Bergman for the movie “Tootsie.” It was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song, but lost to “Up Where We Belong” from “An Officer and a Gentleman.”
As a songwriter, his greatest success came with “Separate Lives,” a No. 1 smash for Phil Collins and Marilyn Martin in 1985. The love theme from “White Nights” was nominated for an Academy Award, but the Oscar went to Lionel Richie’s “Say You, Say Me” (oddly enough, from the same movie).
“I wrote the song for the movie after meeting with the director,” Bishop says, “but as you do with a lot of songs, you draw from some of your own experiences. In that case, I was inspired to write it after I had broken up with an actress (Karen Allen). But that’s water under the bridge … a very long time ago.”
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