Michael Boltons a young singer and songwriter on the rise. With Laura Branigan’s hit recording of his “That’s What Love Is All About,” he became a sought-after songwriter for artists such as Barbra Streisand, Cher, Kenny Rogers, and Kiss. Branigan was the first artist to record his popular single (written with Doug James) “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You,” in 1983. Bolton’s own recording of the song became a hit and won him the 1989 Best Male Vocalist Grammy. His 1987 solo album, The Hunger, occupied the charts for the better part of the year. But it was Bolton’s 1989 album Soul Provider that went platinum. Performing an eclectic mix of rock and roll, sentimental ballads, and soulful rhythm and blues—both his own compositions and classics—Bolton has captivated audiences with the power of his raspy, four-octave voice and with the emotional intensity he conveys in his music. Tall and well-built, with chiseled features and shoulder-length brown curls, Bolton has engaged a young female audience with his appearance as well.
Reviewing Michael Bolton, the singer’s 1983 album, for the Wilson Library Bulletin, Bruce Pollock called it “the classic, leather-lunged Mister Macho sound of high-power rock... honed to a glistening agony.” Noting Bolton’s kinship to singers Bob Seger and Bruce Springsteen, the critic nonetheless judged the young artist’s “agony... truly his own,... his dramatic, at times overly bombastic, but always convincing vocals crashing like breakers against the rocks.” Stereo Review writer Alanna Nash, assessing another album—Soul-Provider —reported that “Bolton’s four-octave range can be powerful and spellbinding... [as] he soars through some truly amazing flights of melody.” But “his bigger gift is songwriting,” decided the critic. “The songs here are all uncommonly soulful... [and] reach an affecting level of angst.”
Turning to music early, Bolton was eight when his parents rented a saxophone for him. Sitting in front of a mirror, he only pretended to play—but sang with abandon—indicating that “even then the voice was the main instrument for me,” related Bolton in an interview with Seventeen. While lacking formal musical training, Bolton could always retain melodies and create harmonies when he performed at home or at school; most important of all, he was passionate about music, stirred by the possibility to communicate emotion. Thus soul performers like Ray Charles and Marvin Gaye were favorites: “They sing with feeling.... They’re not inhibited about expressing emotion,” Bolton explained. The young singer/songwriter penned his first composition—a love song—at the tender age of thirteen, and by fifteen had landed a record contract for the single (though its release, unfortunately, fell flat). Around 1982 Bolton finally tasted real success as a composer of
Surname originally Bolotin; born c. 1955, son of George (local official in Democratic party) and Helen (an amateur songwriter) Bolotin; married Maureen (an exercise instructor), c. 1975 (divorced, 1990); children: Isa, Holly, Taryn.
Songwriter, for himself and other vocalists, c. 1982—, for motion pictures, 1988—; featured performer and recording artist, c. 1982—.
Awards: Grammy Award for best male pop vocal, 1989.
Addresses: Record company —Columbia/CBS Records, 51 W. 52nd St., New York, N.Y. 10019.
rhythm and blues pieces for himself and other vocalists—his lyrics exploring “compelling things… that hit hard and mean a lot.” Bolton’s performing career has mirrored the same steady progress. “Music is the air I breathe, how I express myself,” he told Seventeen. “I want to move women to tears—and men—with my vocal ability and strength.”
Michael Bolton, Columbia, 1983.
The Hunger, Columbia, 1987.
Soul Provider, Columbia, 1989.
People, June 3, 1985.
Seventeen, September 1988.
Stereo Review, October 1989.
Wilson Library Bulletin, June 1983.
Singer-songwriter Michael Bolton is perhaps the quintessential sensitive and sexy balladeer. At six-foot two inches tall, the wavy-haired, aristocratic-looking performer has attracted female fans in the millions with his gravelly serenades. The male population has not been as easy to win over, however. Nor have the critics been kind, despite Bolton's 1989 Grammy Award for his version of Percy Sledge's "When a Man Loves a Woman." He has been compared disparagingly to Neil Diamond and Barry Manilow, but Bolton told Redbook writer Pam Lambert that he sees nothing wrong with Diamond's "longevity and loyal audience."
Despite his own loyal audience, Bolton's celebrity did not come overnight. The New Haven, Connecticut, native was drawn to the saxophone at age seven, and developed an appreciation for his big brother Orrin's record collection, which featured such popular, soul, and rhythm and blues greats as Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, and Marvin Gaye. By the time he was 12 years old, Bolton was writing songs himself. "I had hair down to my waist, and I sounded like a 50-year-old black guy," he told Cynthia Sanz and Robin Micheli in People. Just a few years later, Bolton was caught up in rock 'n roll and heavy metal as well. By the time he was 14, he had picked up the guitar and was singing with a group called the Nomads. After the band signed with Epic Records the following year, the young singer left school to devote time to his budding career. As his mother recalled in Redbook, "Once he got into music, it wasn't a matter of if but when all this would happen."
"All this" success was not to be Bolton's for another decade and a half, however. By the late 1970s he was still living in New Haven, along with his wife, Maureen, and their three young daughters. His latest hard rock band, Blackjack, had dissolved and it was touch-and-go for the family financially. "That was the darkest period, when I didn't see any light at the end of the tunnel," he recalled in an interview with Steve Dougherty and Tom Cunneff for People.
Luckily, Bolton stuck to music anyway, and eventually discovered that writing lyrics for other artists was one way he could stay in his field and still be able to pay the bills. "I had a talent I didn't even know about," he observed in Redbook. The first major turning point in his career came in 1983. Songstress Laura Branigan blasted to the top of the adult contemporary charts that year with "How Am I Supposed to Live Without You," penned by Bolton and Doug James. Soon afterward, phone calls poured in from superstars like Kenny Rogers, Barbra Streisand, Kenny Rogers, Cher, Kiss, and even rock legend Bob Dylan.
Four years later a second turning point came in Bolton's career. He was at the top of the charts again, but this time singing his own "That's What Love Is All About." The romantic ballad has since been played at countless weddings across the country. Bolton then reached back to the rhythm and blues of his boyhood to put together 1989's Soul Provider, with the Grammy Award-winning cut "When a Man Loves a Woman," a move that brought him fame as both a singer and songwriter. Earlier, Bolton's rendition of "(Sittin' on) the Dock of the Bay" by Otis Redding and Steve Cropper led to MTV and radio time. In Redbook, Bolton said that Redding's widow, Zelma, told him "it was her all-time favorite version," and her husband "would have loved it if he'd heard it."
When asked about his earlier reticence to singing his own ballads, Bolton told Us magazine's Laura Morice that the change from rhythm and blues to emotional love songs represented a "big crisis" for him. He elaborated: "You lose a great deal of the male support that would be there and respect you for your voice, but who can't deal with the subject matter. So you lose your male audience, and you incur the wrath of the critics."
In Newsweek, John Leland grouped Bolton with a pop subcult that included Harry Connick Jr., Natalie Cole, and Mariah Carey. Leland interpreted the message of these singers as "love can still conquer all, and cozy traditionalism warms over all of life," a message he called "unrealistically gentle." Bolton got back at some of the more offensive critics when he told Morice that "these … are bitter, unaccomplished underachievers who just rip other people apart." The singer caused a stir with his Grammy Award acceptance speech, when he compared critics to chimpanzees who throw paint on masterpieces.
As his career skyrocketed, Bolton's 15-year-old marriage to Maureen fell apart in 1990. "It's definitely a deeply painful reality because of the timing," he told Sanz and Mitchell. After the divorce Bolton was spotted with model-actress Marla Maples, and also dated such notables as tennis ace Gabriella Sabatini and actors Brooke Shields, Julia Roberts, and Nicollette Sheridan.
Bolton's sensitivities and interests extend to several charities in which he plays an active role. For example, he has performed benefits for a foundation that supports the New York Cancer Research Institute, called This Close, which was originally set up by a friend with leukemia. And under the auspices of the National Committee for the Prevention of Child Abuse, the singer made public service announcements.
Bolton had sold more than 23 million albums worldwide by early 1993, including the number one hit Timeless (The Classics). In November of 1993 Bolton released The One Thing, an album that quickly climbed Billboard's top ten, where it remained for ten months. The album eventually sold three million copies, and the track "Said I Loved You … But I Lied," co-written by the singer, became a hit. "My first priority is always to have great songs," Bolton told Alan Jackson in the London Times. "I've no intention of delivering an album with just one great track on it." After releasing Greatest Hits: 1985–1995, Bolton issued a holiday album in 1996. This Is the Time: The Christmas Album featured renditions of classic holiday material including "White Christmas" and "Joy to the World" alongside new material. "Bolton brings real emotion to the carols and pop standards on … This Is the Time," wrote John Harper in the Virginia Pilot.
For the Record …
Born Michael Bolotin on February 26, 1954, in New Haven, CT; son of George (a local official in the Democratic Party) and Helen (an amateur songwriter) Bolotin; married Maureen McGuire (an exercise instructor), c. 1975 (divorced, 1990); children: Isa, Holly, Taryn.
Songwriter, c. 1982–, for film 1988–; recording artist and featured performer, c. 1982–; released Michael Bolton, 1983, The Hunger, 1987, Soul Provider, 1989, and Time, Love and Tenderness, 1991; released Timeless: The Classics, 1992, The One Thing, 1993, Said I Loved You (But I Lied), 1995, and This Is the Time: The Christmas Album, 1996; released All That Matters, 1997, My Secret Passion, 1998, Timeless: The Classics, Vol. 2, 1999, and Til the End of Forever, 2005; signed with the Concord Group and released Bolton Swings Sinatra, 2006.
Awards: Grammy Award, Best Male Pop Vocal, for "How Am I Supposed to Live Without You," 1989; Grammy Award, Best Male Pop Vocal, for "When a Man Loves a Woman," 1991.
Addresses: Record company—Concord Music Group Inc., P.O. Box 15096, Beverly Hills, CA 90209, phone: (800) 551-5299, fax: (310) 385-4466. Website—Michael Bolton Official Website: http://www.michaelbolton.com.
In 1997 Bolton made news when, to the shock of long-time fans, he did the unthinkable: he cut his long, curly brown hair. In 1998 Bolton received negative publicity in relation to his charity work when it was revealed that the Michael Bolton Foundation, which had collected $2.58 million dollars, had only donated $293,353 to charity. Bolton hired a law firm to review the charity, and stated that the foundation would "make every effort to keep expenses as low as possible," quoted the Newark, New Jersey, Star Ledger.
In 1998 Bolton released My Secret Passion, an album that revealed the singer's love of classical music and opera, and followed with Timeless: The Classics, Vol. 2 in 1999.
In 2000 a federal appeals court agreed with a 1994 jury that Bolton had plagiarized parts of the 1964 Isley Brothers song "Love is a Wonderful Thing" in his song of the same name. Ronald Isley had sued Bolton, claiming the singer had violated the song's copyright by using some of the song's lyrics and music, which later earned Bolton and his co-writer, Andrew Goldmark, a Grammy Award.
In 2000 Bolton joined a cast of singers to perform the songs of Andrew Lloyd Webber, a popular artist who, like Bolton, had often received a critical drubbing by the press. "If you have success to the extreme," Bolton said of himself and Webber in the Boston Herald, "you're basically labeled as fair game. But as far as I'm concerned, your audience casts the real ballot." The singer also continued to issue new albums, including Only a Woman Like You in 2002 and Til the End of Forever in 2005. The following year he released Bolton Swings Sinatra on Concord Records, an album that found him sharing the charts with other contemporary crooners like Barry Manilow and Rod Stewart. "It's memorable music," wrote Jim Santella in All About Jazz, "and Bolton has done his listeners a service by bringing it to a very large audience."
Michael Bolton, Columbia, 1983.
The Hunger, Columbia, 1987.
Soul Provider, Columbia, 1989.
Time, Love and Tenderness, Columbia, 1991.
Timeless (The Classics), Columbia, 1992.
The One Thing, Columbia, 1993.
Said I Loved You (But I Lied), Sony, 1995.
This Is the Time: The Christmas Album, Sony, 1996.
All That Matters, Columbia, 1997.
My Secret Passion, Columbia, 1998.
Timeless: The Classics, Vol. 2, Columbia, 1999.
Til the End of Forever, Passion Group, 2005.
Bolton Swings Sinatra, Concord, 2006.
Boston Herald, July 13, 2000, p. 57.
Gentleman's Quarterly, June 1992.
Glamour, August 1990.
Newsweek, September 23, 1991.
People, April 23, 1990; June 17, 1991; November 2, 1992; December 7, 1992.
Redbook, February 1992.
Star-Ledger, April 25, 1998, p. 3.
Sun, October 8, 1997, p. 15.
Times, December 10, 1993.
Us, February 1993.
Virginia Pilot, December 15, 1996, p. 14.
"Bolton Swings Sinatra," All About Jazz, http://www.allaboutjazz.com/ (June 9, 2006).
Born: Michael Bolotin; New Haven, Connecticut, 26 February 1953
Genre: Rock, Pop
Best-selling album since 1990: Time, Love, and Tenderness (1991)
Hit songs since 1990: "How Am I Supposed to Live without You," "Love Is a Wonderful Thing," "When a Man Loves a Woman"
Michael Bolton gained fame in the 1980s and 1990s by applying his powerful, weighty vocal pipes to big-sounding pop ballads. Although Bolton had performed extensively in a hard-edged rock style during the 1970s under his real name, Michael Bolotin, he did not break through commercially until he simplified his surname and began singing romantic-themed songs in the mid-1980s. Never a critical favorite, Bolton nonetheless proved himself a skilled songwriter and performer with a sharp eye for gauging the taste of the record-buying public. His dramatic vocal style, leonine mane of hair, and sturdy, handsome image won him legions of female fans, while his far-ranging musical interests spurred a commercially successful foray into opera. Although Bolton stepped away from the spotlight during the late 1990s and early 2000s, he returned in 2002 with an album that brought his sound up to date with the latest trends in pop and rock.
Raised in Connecticut, Bolton began performing at the age of thirteen, singing blues songs in local nightclubs. By the mid 1970s, he had embarked upon a career as a singer and songwriter, signing to RCA Records and releasing his debut album, Michael Bolotin (1975), on which he sings in a tough style heavily influenced by rock singer Joe Cocker. While critics dismissed his singing as overblown, they applauded the intelligence of his songwriting; soon he had written an engaging song, "How Am I Supposed to Live without You," which became a 1983 hit for the pop singer Laura Branigan. After a stint fronting a heavy metal band, Blackjack, Bolton reemerged as a solo artist and released the hard-rock-oriented Michael Bolton (1983). His commercial breakthrough did not come until 1987, however, when he revamped his style and released The Hunger, a set of blustery pop ballads including the self-penned hit, "That's What Love Is All About." The album initiated what became a career trademark for Bolton: covers of R&B classics that bore distinct resemblances, in terms of arrangements and vocal phrasing, to the original versions. On The Hunger, Bolton scored a number-eleven pop hit with "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay," a 1967 signature song for the late R&B legend Otis Redding.
Soul Provider (1989), an album recorded in a similar style to its predecessor, made Bolton a star. This time, the R&B cover was a version of "Georgia on My Mind," a song associated with music pioneer Ray Charles. By the end of 1990, five of the album's singles had hit the Top 40, among them a strong version of "That's What Love Is All About." Although Bolton was often criticized for pilfering the rugged, soulful sound of great but neglected R&B singers, R&B pioneer Irma Thomas recorded a moving rendition of "That's What Love Is All About" in 1991, an indication that artistic influence often works both ways.
In 1991 Bolton returned with Time, Love, and Tenderness, another multi-million-selling album that featured his hit rendition of "When a Man Loves a Woman," a cover of the 1965 hit recording by Percy Sledge. By this time, Bolton had begun to receive substantial flak from the critical community. After performing the song at the 1992 Grammy Award ceremony, he was cornered by an angry group of journalists who faulted him for not giving artists such as Charles and Sledge proper credit. A nettled Bolton responded to the group with a suggestion that would be unprintable in most publications.
After his 1997 album All That Matters performed disappointingly on the charts, Bolton switched gears by recording My Secret Passion (1998), a collection of opera arias that reached the top position on the classical charts, causing many of Bolton's detractors to admit that he performed this material with more finesse than had been expected. Taking a self-imposed sabbatical from the music industry for the next several years, Bolton continued his deep involvement with charity work, lending his support to the fight against child abuse. In 2002 he released a comeback album, Only a Woman Like You, in which he updated his sound with slick, Latin-style rhythms and a new sense of vocal restraint.
After an unsuccessful career as a hard-rock artist, Bolton reinvented himself in the 1980s as a torchy balladeer of classic R&B songs and glitzy pop. Although his derivative style brought critical disdain, it pushed sales of his albums over the 40 million mark. Proving himself adaptable to new ideas, Bolton made a successful venture into opera before returning to streamlined pop music in the early 2000s.
Michael Bolotin (RCA, 1975); Michael Bolton (Columbia, 1983); The Hunger (Columbia, 1987); Soul Provider (Columbia, 1989); Time, Love and Tenderness (Columbia, 1991); All That Matters (Columbia, 1997); My Secret Passion (Columbia, 1998); Only a Woman Like You (Jive, 2002).