The Reluctant Artist: After a Lengthy Career Behind the Scenes, Steve Tyrell Now Basks in the SpotlightWritten by Brian Blueskye
For years, Steve Tyrell worked behind the scenes as a producer and songwriter for artists and movie soundtracks. However, his cover of “The Way You Look Tonight” for the 1991 film Father of the Bride pushed him out of the shadows and into the spotlight.
He will be performing at the McCallum Theatre on Thursday, March 5.
“Mainly, I was a record producer,” Tyrell said during a recent phone interview. “I worked as a music supervisor and making music for movies. Those were my main two jobs.”
However, Tyrell, now 70, has always been a singer, going back to his childhood.
“I made records down in Texas with local bands,” he said. “… I got more interested in being behind the scenes writing songs and producing, but mainly producing. I’ve written songs that were successful, and some that have been recorded by some very legendary people. I enjoyed doing that much more than I did singing songs myself. I did a lot of music for movies and television shows, and sometimes, I would make a demo of something, and the director would hear my voice on the demo and say, ‘Well, why don’t you just do it?’ That happened to me several times.”
One of those times occurred while he was working on Father of the Bride, which starred Steve Martin.
“I sang the demo, and the filmmakers liked it so much and put it in the movie—and the rest is history,” he said. “It became pretty popular, and people said, ‘You should make an album.’ Ultimately, I did. It was kind of an accident. I’m the reluctant artist, you might say.”
In Tyrell’s voice and music, you can hear one of his biggest inspirations—the late Ray Charles.
“I liked everything (Ray Charles) ever did. He could sing the phone book, and it would be great,” Tyrell said. “A lot of the guys from my generation were totally influenced by Ray Charles; Michael McDonald would be one to say that. (Charles) had the blues in everything he touched. Modern Sounds in Country (and Western Music) is one of the most influential albums in my life. I was from Texas, and I heard those songs back when I was in high school. He took all those country songs by those original country artists and made history with them.”
However, one person may have inspired Tyrell even more: Burt Bacharach, the man Tyrell considers his mentor. Tyrell has helped Bacharach along the way, too: Tyrell, along with B.J. Thomas, helped work on “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head,” which went on to win an Oscar in 1969 for Best Original Song after it was featured in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
“I moved to New York when I was 19 years old, and I went to work for a company called Scepter Records. The lady who owned it, named Florence Greenberg, gave me a job,” he said. “Burt Bacharach and Hal David were just getting started, writing and producing for Dionne Warwick. … I had a lot of input as to which songs I thought would be the most successful. Burt and Hal used to listen to me, and we became very close. I didn’t realize we were making history.”
Tyrell said he doesn’t have a specific favorite moment or piece of work from his career.
“I don’t even think like that. I’ve made 11 albums, and I try to make them all as good as I possibly can with classic songs,” he said. “I’m really proud of this new album (That Lovin’ Feeling) I just released, because it takes me back. I made an album in 2008 called Back to Bacharach, where I went back with him and Hal David and did … all the songs I started my career with. A lot of those people participated on my album. It might be the album I’m most proud of, and it reunited me with my beginnings and my friends.”
Tyrell said that like every other recording artist, he’s had to adapt to changes in the music industry.
“Nowadays, everybody has a studio in their house,” he said. “The digital domain made that possible. You don’t need 24 tracks and two-inch tape anymore. Everything is in computers, and everybody has a studio. This album was put together in that way. Every vocal track for this (new) album was done in my house. I sang with Bill Medley in my house, and I sang with Neil Sedaka in my house.”
While Tyrell seems to be as busy as ever, he always takes the time to sing at the Café Carlyle in New York City during the holiday season. He took over after the death of his friend Bobby Short.
“That has been a tradition that I have done … for 10 straight years since Bobby Short passed away. He did the holiday season there for 36 years,” he said.
Steve Tyrell will perform at 8 p.m., Thursday, March 5, at the McCallum Theatre, 73000 Fred Waring Drive, in Palm Desert. Tickets are $45 to $85. For tickets or more information, call 760-340-2787, or visit www.mccallumtheatre.com.