Singer, songwriter, producer
Whereas most artists are lucky enough to have one successful career, Steve Tyrell has had two. He produced records during the seventies, working on B.J. Thomas' version of "Rain Drops Keep Falling on My Head" for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and Diane Warwick's rendition of "Alfie" for the movie of the same name. Tyrell's success as a producer and songwriter, however, took a new turn when he completed a demonstration (demo) recording of "The Way You Look Tonight" for Father of the Bride in 1991. In a few years, he would join the ranks of up-and-coming traditional jazz singers like Diana Krall with a series of popular albums filled with standard jazz songs. "If you told someone, 'Listen, I'm turning 50 and I'm going to sign with Columbia Records and I'm going to start recording standards and I'm going to be a star,'" Tyrell told Gene Stout in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, "people would send you directly to Bellevue. They'd say, 'This guy's lost his mind.'"
Steve Tyrell was born Steve Bilao in the late 1940s, and grew up in Texas where he attended St. Thomas High School in Houston. After finishing high school, Tyrell moved to New York City and started working as an A&R person for Scepter Records. He was in the right place at the right time, working with studio engineer Phil Ramone, singer Dionne Warwick, and songwriters Burt Bacharach and Hal David. "I was the young guy on the team, the street kid," he told Rick Mitchell in the Houston Chronicle. Soon, however, Tyrell was signing his own acts, like B.J. Thomas, and working to place "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head" on the Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid soundtrack. "I saw early on how you could fuse songs into movies," he told Mitchell, "and have hit records from that."
Tyrell left Scepter in 1970, but he continued to work with high-profile artists like Blood, Sweat, and Tears, Ray Charles, and Diana Ross. He also produced music for movies, including the animated feature, An American Tail, where he teamed Linda Ronstadt and James Ingram for the duet, "Somewhere Out There." "They said, 'You can't have a hit from a cartoon,'" Tyrell told Mitchell. "'Nobody's had a hit from a cartoon in 50 years.' They had only heard it sung by the mice. They couldn't imagine it as a hit." "Somewhere Out There" soon proved the experts wrong, however, winning two Grammys in 1988.
Tyrell continued with his production work in the 1990s, accepting a job as musical consultant for Father of the Bride. When he sang "The Way You Look Tonight" for the film, however, it was only a demo, meant to be filled in by a bigger named singer at a later time. But test audiences liked Tyrell's version, and the movie's star, Steve Martin, decided to keep it. "When I got the opportunities to sing these songs in the movies, it was kind of a lark," he told Joel Selvin in the San Francisco Chronicle. "I was happy to do it. But it wasn't my lifelong dream to become an artist again at 50 years old. It never occurred to me. When this door opened to me and I got into it and started getting all this response from people, I started thinking, 'This is pretty cool stuff.'" In 1995 Tyrell recorded "Give Me the Simple Life" and on "The Sunny Side of the Street" for Father of the Bride, Part II.
In 1999 Tyrell recorded his first album, A New Standard, for Atlantic, but the label, fearing poor sales, dropped him "My albums don't get played on the radio," Tyrell told Stout. "They get played in restaurants and antique stores. That's where you hear my music. And then people ask who it is and they buy five copies and give them to their friends. It's been a real word-of-mouth thing." In this way, A New Standard grew in popularity, reaching number three on the Top Jazz Albums chart and remaining on the chart for two years.
Tyrell soon signed to another label, Columbia, and recorded Standard Time in 2001, an album that easily matched the success of his first effort. "Standard Time," noted Stout, "is another first-rate collection." Reviewers noted Tyrell's raspy vocals, and compared him to other Southern singers like Leon Russell and Dr. John. "The results are always pleasant …," Aaron Latham noted in All Music Guide, "as Tyrell's Dr. John-ish voice is what distinguishes these recordings from other similar standards discs." While it may have seemed obvious to follow up two successful albums with more of the same in 2002, Tyrell offered a new spin on a different set of classics when he recorded a holiday album, This Time of the Year, in 2002.
While many artists strive to keep up with the latest trend, Tyrell has been content to work within the boundaries of the American songbook. From comical gems like "Baby It's Cold Outside" to familiar classics like "Stardust," he has worked happily within the same vein as singers like Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald. "There's a certain elegance and romanticism in the great songs," Tyrell told Bob Young in the Boston Herald. "and also a naiveté that doesn't exist in pop culture anymore. The sophistication of the chord structures and the way the lyrics married the melodies was masterful. They created songs that were genuinely timeless." In 2003, he once again turned toward songs by Rodgers and Hart, Cole Porter, and Burt Bacharach and Hal David on This Guy's in Love.
The old songs combined with old-fashioned charm have endured Tyrell to his audiences. "Steve Tyrell looks as if he could be Rod Steiger's younger, better-looking brother," wrote David Finkle in Back Stage. "But where there's something sinister in Steiger's bearing, Tyrell is all smiling charm." These charms have stood him well with his audiences, helping to make him one of the three most popular male vocalists in jazz (along with Tony Bennett and Harry Connick, Jr.). Writing of one concert, Terry Perkins noted in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, "Tyrell's amiable, relaxed approach to standards is decidedly straightforward. Judging from the ovation he received at the end of the set, that's just the way Tyrell's fans like them performed."
For the Record . . .
Born Steve Bilao in Texas.
Produced for Scepter Records, late 1960s; sang "The Way You Looked Tonight" for Father of the Bride, 1991; sang "Give Me the Simple Life" and on "The Sunny Side of the Street" for Father of the Bride, Part II, 1995; signed with Atlantic Records and recorded A New Standard, 1999; signed to Columbia Records and recorded Standard Time, 2001; This Time of the Year, 2002; This Guy's In Love, 2003.
Addresses: Record company—Columbia Records, 550 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10022-3211, website: http://www.columbiarecords.com/. Website—Steve Tyrell Official Website: http://www.stevetyrell.com.
A New Standard, Atlantic, 1999.
Standard Time, Columbia, 2001.
This Time of the Year, Columbia, 2002.
This Guy's In Love, Columbia, 2003.
Back Stage, February 15, 2002, p. 19.
Boston Herald, May 9, 2003, p. 25.
Houston Chronicle, January 4, 1996, p. 3.
San Francisco Chronicle , October 15, 2002, p. D1.
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, July 12, 2002, p. 6.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 12, 2004, p. E5.
"Steve Tyrell," All Music Guide,http://www.allmusic.com/ (December 16, 2004).
—Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.
"Tyrell, Steve." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 24, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/tyrell-steve
"Tyrell, Steve." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved February 24, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/tyrell-steve
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