Michael Bolton - Biography

By Scott Feemster


Singer Michael Bolton has often been derided by critics as a blue-eyed pretender to the throne of the great soul singers of the 1950's and 1960's, but despite criticism, he has racked up an impressive string of both hit singles and albums over a career that was by no means easy. He still maintains a loyal following and has expanded his repertoire in the last decade to show he is more versatile than many people give him credit for.


            Michael Bolton was born Michael Bolotin on February 26th, 1953 in New Haven, Connecticut. His father George was a local official in the Democratic Party, while his mother Helen was a homemaker and amateur songwriter. Early on, young Michael remembered listening to the radio and hearing such singers as Marvin Gaye or Ray Charles and marveled at how they could interpret a song. At around the age of eight, Bolotin's parents realized that Michael was developing a love for music, and so they rented a saxophone so he could learn to play. Michael would sit in front of a mirror and try to play along to the radio, but he wasn't adept at playing the saxophone, and would get frustrated and would just start singing along. He soon realized that singing was what he did best, and though he never got any formal music training, he retained an uncanny ability to retain melodies and create harmonies when he would perform for his family at home or at school functions. By the time he was thirteen, he taught himself how to play guitar and started writing songs, and by the age of fifteen he was signed to produce a single, and though he recorded the song, it was never released. Through his late teen years Bolotin continued sharpening his writing skills and played showcase gigs on the East Coast in hope of getting signed to a label. He was finally signed to RCA Records in 1975, when he was just 22, and recorded his debut self-titled album Michael Bolotin, released that same year. The album was a mix of rock and R&B covers with a couple of Bolotin's originals, and trod the line between singer/songwriter fare and blue-eyed soul, much like his contemporaries Hall & Oates. The arrangements prominently featured his powerful, smoky voice, and he sounded something like a younger Joe Cocker. Though the album didn't do much sales-wise, RCA gave him another chance and put out his next album Every Day Of My Life in 1976. The album was similar to his first album in that it was again a mix of covers of rock and soul classics with a few originals, and again it failed to sell. After two disappointing albums, RCA dropped Bolotin, and he was left to try and re-invent himself. He emerged again a couple of years later as the lead singer of a pop-metal band Blackjack, which also included future Kiss guitarist Bruce Kulick. The group was signed to Polygram Records and recorded two albums, 1979's Blackjack, and 1980's Worlds Apart. Though the band was photogenic and had two great assets in Bolotin and Kulick, they never really caught on, and after the second album was completed, they were dropped and broke up. For the second time, Bolotin was back to square one with his musical career.


            Bolotin decided to change his name to Bolton, and started submitting more of his songs to other performers as well as trying to score another recording contract for himself. Restyling himself again slightly, he was signed to Columbia Records in 1983 and released another self-titled album, this time with his new stage name, Michael Bolton. With the help of some of his old Blackjack bandmates, the album was a mix of anthemic arena-rock in the style of Blackjack mixed with upbeat modern rock chuggers, (think Bryan Adams or Corey Hart), and covers of old R&B classics. Bolton scored a minor hit with the song “Fools Game” off of the album, and, at the same time, another song that Bolton had written, “How Am I Supposed To Live Without You”, became a Top 40 hit for pop singer Laura Branigan. It seemed that finally Bolton's career was on it's way, but his next album, 1985's Everybody's Crazy, stalled, and it looked like Bolton's career might be on another downward slide. Columbia, however, stuck by him and released his next album, The Hunger, in late 1987. Bolton restyled himself again, turning away from the commercial hard rock of some his earlier work to concentrate on a more classic soul-drenched middle-of-the-road sound. The result was another resurrection of his career, and this one seemed to stick. The Hunger contained Bolton's spot-on version of Otis Redding's “(Sittin' On) The Dock Of The Bay” and “That's What Love Is All About”, both of which were charting singles. The Hunger eventually went on to platinum sales and set Bolton up for his next big success.


            Now with his name firmly established in the record charts, and his image of his lion's mane hair and chiseled cheekbones recognizable to the record buying public, it would seem reasonable that his next album would be poised for success. When Soul Provider (Columbia) was released in 1989, it surpassed his or anyone else's expectations. On the strength of three Top Ten singles, including his #1 version of his earlier hit song “How Am I Supposed To Live Without You”, “When I'm Back On My Feet Again”, and “How Can We Be Lovers”, the album was a huge success. “How Am I Supposed To Live Without You” also netted Bolton a Grammy Award for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance. Using the same ballad-heavy, soul-influenced formula used on his previous two albums, Bolton returned again in 1991 with Time, Love & Tenderness (Columbia), which went on to be an even bigger success than Soul Provider, eventually selling over six million copies. The album featured the Top 40 hits “Time, Love & Tenderness”, “Love Is A Wonderful Thing”, (which the Isley Brothers later successfully sued Bolton for for plagiarizing one of their songs), and a cover of the Percy Sledge classic “When A Man Loves A Woman”. Bolton won another Grammy for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance that year, but at the ceremonies he was verbally, though not directly, attacked first by songwriter Irving Gordon for his style of singing, and then later by the press corps for copying soul singers in his renditions of their songs. He told the press corps to “kiss his ass”, and returned the next year with his album Timeless: The Classics (Columbia)(1992), which comprised entirely of cover songs, and included his version of the Bee Gees classic “To Love Somebody”, which became a Top 40 hit. Bolton continued his string of successes with his next album, The One Thing (Columbia), which was released at the end of 1993. It was another top selling album, eventually selling over three million copies, and featured the Top Ten hit single “Said I Loved You...But I Lied”. After the amazing run of hit albums and singles Bolton had racked up in the previous years, Columbia decided to issue his Greatest Hits 1985-1995 in 1995, just in time for the holiday shopping season. The next year, Bolton released his own interpretation of holiday standards, This Is The Time: The Christmas Album (Columbia)(1996).


            It seemed Michael Bolton was unstoppable as a commercial force, but his 1997 album, All That Matters, was a commercial disappointment and didn't generate a hit single at all. (Maybe it was because Bolton had cut off his trademark curls.) Regardless, Bolton returned the next year with a pet project he had been thinking about for years, and was finally able to do. Bolton's album My Secret Passion (Columbia)(1998), a collection of his renditions of his favorite operatic arias and solos, was successful both with pop audiences and, (somewhat surprisingly), classical audiences. Bolton followed My Secret Passion with another collection of his renditions of classic soul songs, Timeless: The Classics, Vol. 2 (Columbia)(1999). After touring to support the two albums, Bolton stepped back from out of the public eye for almost four years before returning again with the album Only A Woman Like You (2002), on a new label, Jive Records. Though the arrangements were vintage Michael Bolton, the album was notable in that Bolton's vocals seemed more restrained and nuanced. Bolton returned in 2005 with the album Til The End Of Forever (Passion Group), a combination of new material mixed with a live concert that featured Bolton running through some of his signature hits. Michael Bolton signed to the predominantly jazz label Concord in 2006, and issued Bolton Swings Sinatra the same year, featuring his renditions of many of Sinatra's signature tunes. The album included a duet with Bolton's then-fiance, actress Nicole Sheridan. Bolton issued another Christmas album in the swing style he explored on his Sinatra album, called, appropriately, Swingin' Christmas (Concord), in 2007. It is notable that though Michael Bolton has had a remarkably successful career, he has also given back. He established his own Michael Bolton Charities in 1993 to help assist women and children who are at risk of ill effects from poverty and emotional, physical and sexual abuse, and has done other charitable work to help those in need of a helping hand.

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