Interview With Hit Songwriter Bruce Sudano
Co-writer Of Donna Summer's 'Bad Girls' Releases New CD
Bruce Sudano is a songwriter whose hits include "Bad Girls" (Donna Summer), "Starting Over" (Dolly Parton) (Reba McIntire), "Tighter and Tighter" (Alive and Kicking), and "Tell Me I'm Not Dreamin" (Jermaine and Michael Jackson). He has released a new CD called www. Rainy Day Soul.com on Purple Heart Recording Co. We met at BMI in Nashville to discuss his songwriting and artist career.
[Doak Turner] Bruce, what is happening good with YOU?
Bruce Sudano The most recent thing that has been happening is this new CD, Rainy Day Soul. The second single is currently # 1 on the AC Charts. The first single went to # 2. This is my first CD in twenty years. It has really focused my own artist persona. For a long time, being a songwriter and working on other people's movies and other projects, you are in a side situation. When you become the artist again it takes on a more personal and meaningful point of view. It is making a statement that represents YOU! For other projects, you tailor the song to the situation for the other person. On Rainy Day Soul I got to say just what I wanted to say in my songs. I have been writing songs for 30 years and it was very fulfilling in this situation. I got a sense of leaving a legacy of who Bruce is and what he really wanted to say, so it was very fulfilling.
[Doak Turner] Tell me about the title, Rainy Day Soul.
Bruce Sudano The title was an afterthought. I had a list of titles, but nothing was really jumping out at me for a title. I was at a mastering point in my studio, [and I] put the CD on as background music while I was doing e-mails. People are always multitasking these days, which were some of my thoughts on the songs. It is not like back in my day when someone bought a Beatles album and just listened to that album, not doing anything else. Today everyone is so busy, so musically I tried to create music that would work as background; it would not rock your world if you just had it on. However, if you wanted to focus, it could hold your attention.
One day I'm sitting in the studio and the title "Rainy Day Soul" just popped in my mind. As a title, I felt it was a statement that reflected the mood of the record. As for the meaning, it is a common thing that we all have inside of our soul. "The hollow place in all of us that longs for and seeks after the spirit of God, while at the same time, possessing a childlike faith which believes that no matter what, if He be for us, then who can be against us." That is the spirit of this CD.
[Doak Turner] Tell me about the new single.
Bruce Sudano "Where Would I Be" -- I call it "Ode to My Wife" because those of us guys who have been single for a long time, [it's] a crazy life. I wonder where I would have been if I did not meet my wife. The road I was gong down would not have led to a good end. There is one line in the song, "My life is like a symphony with the highs and lows and all the in-betweens." The fulfillment of my life is what the song is about. My life before meeting my wife was all about music. I didn't get married 'till I was 31 years old, and [I] walked down that road pretty far by myself. Part of the decision of getting married was realizing it is time to broaden your horizons and fill out your life. Part of being married has been being a husband and a father, and now a grandfather.
[Doak Turner] Was it pretty hard to write that song or did it come pretty easy for you?
Bruce Sudano All the songs came out of a turmoil [in] my life. I had been married for over 20 years, and my youngest child was out of the house. Our relationship was in a period of adjustment. There was a void in a sense of purpose and what do I do with my time, having two people in a house where there used to be five people. So, a lot of these songs came out of the adjustment period. None of it was difficult, just time spent soul searching and living through that adjustment. For this CD, I had that time and focus to live out the transition.
[Doak Turner] Were you journaling?
Bruce Sudano I usually do not write songs through journaling. I had the time to go to the studio and I would start with a chord change or a drum beat. Over the years, I have written to a rhythm track or piano and guitar. I used to write to drumbeats years ago, and [I] did not want to do that, as those songs used to be shallow. Now, I write more lyrics and I usually write a song in a week. I start building a track, building up what that lyric is about. I can go top to bottom of finishing the track and writing the lyric. The last thing for me is finishing the lyric. I like to put most of the time in the lyric. You have three and a half minutes, and I want to say things soulfully and what is really inside me.
[Doak Turner] Do you re-write?
Bruce Sudano Generally, I do not re-write. I haven't been a good re-writer. I have had to force myself to re-write. Lyrically, I may fine tune it, but by the end of the week, I have re-written the song. I have to apply and work through it to re-write. When I write for myself, I find I am much more free and more creative, as compared to writing for someone else, thinking the song is too far out of the box for that other person.
[Doak Turner] What are you doing to promote the CD - are you touring?
Bruce Sudano I have always been a member of a group, so I am looking at myself as a new artist. I am laying groundwork to radio, going to get out there and do the Borders and the Barnes and Nobles book stores. I have a vision for the kind of group [I want]. I am starting with myself, building around my ability to play and translate these songs to my ability, then maybe [expand] to a two- or three-piece group. I vision a jazz-folk kind of vibe.
[Doak Turner] When are you looking at hitting the road?
Bruce Sudano Probably in July and August, locally in Tennessee and the stations that have been on my singles, [then] hitting the Midwest towns. AC Weekly Magazine recently nominated me and I won the award for Best New Contemporary Artist . The award ceremony was in June in LA. That will be my debut performance. That is a shock to me, totally flattering, as I was nominated with John Mayer, Seal and Josh Grobin .I did not expect to win, and it was a great time to rest and relax in LA. I look forward to meeting some of the radio people. It is Radio and Records (a radio publication) week.
[Doak Turner] Do you own your record company?
Bruce Sudano Yes, it is my company.
[Doak Turner] What about the next single?
Bruce Sudano I am making a creative decision. It will be "Hey Chatty." It is more of a pop and less of an AC (Adult Contemporary) song. I want to expand the base of listeners to my CD. I am already actively writing songs for the next CD. I am on a program to release the next CD by next year and I will start recording this July and release it next July.
[Doak Turner] What have you found gets your songs played on radio?
Bruce Sudano The song, the person working the song, and the money. I had success at the lower and middle rung of the AC world. I get calls from independent radio promoters that want me to give them money to have a song played - to the tune of $25,000. There are a great number of stations out there that are willing to play my music, and they have been very responsible and they are looking for great adult songs to play. If they hear something that is new and credible, they play them - thank goodness.
[Doak Turner] You have had big success over the years. One of my favorite songs, "Tighter and Tighter," was a big hit for you when you were a member of the group Alive and Kicking. You were based out of Brooklyn. Where you writing with the group? What was that period of your life like?
Bruce Sudano I wrote a co-song a song with Tommy James and the Shondells called "Fireball." He was my mentor as a songwriter. I was about 18 at the time, [and] had this band, Alive and Kicking. I was working my way through college, working the clubs such as Trudy Hellars, The Cheetah, and all of these clubs in Manhattan. I would work the clubs six nights a week, and I would work until three in the morning, [and then ]get to class at St. Johns University in the morning.
Somewhere along the way, Tommy James showed up at The Cheetah, which was at 8th Avenue and 52nd Street in Queens. He lived around the corner. We became friends. I would go to his apartment and we would write. He was working on the Crimson and Clover album at the time. I sang backgrounds on this album. The song that we co-wrote, "Ball and Fire," was on that album. "Crystal Blue Persuasion" was on that album and it was originally slated to be on my band's (Alive and Kicking) album. We got signed to Roulette Records.
When the song became a big single, that all changed. Morris Levy was president of Roulette Records, and he said scolding, "Bruce - you can't have that song. We are putting that our with Tommy - don't worry, Tommy will write you another hit." WE had already rehearsed "Crystal Blue Persuasion" and I told Morris we needed that song! He said "Don't Worry." Tommy and I kept writing and one day Tommy called and said he and Bob Kin co-wrote a song that they thought was a smash. Tommy played it for Morris Leavy. We got an arranger, Jimmy Windsey. We went in the studio and it was a big hit pretty quickly, "Tighter and Tighter." Myself and the other guys in the group wrote all the other songs on the album. I haven't listened to that album since we cut it in 1970. Recently, Rhino Records put it out. A friend of mine sent it to me, and I was embarrassed. What the heck was I writing about and what were we singing about?
Tommy was writing and producing and was a mentor to me. I got to spend time at the Allegro Studios on 51st Street with Tommy till all hours of the night, singing parts and learned how to make a unique record, what makes a hit song. Those lessons have served me very well over the years.
[Doak Turner] Did you use those on your CD?
Bruce Sudano Those years in the '70s are something that are a part of my being. I have grown and developed the craft more and more. But those initial things that I learned and still deploy, [are] something in developing your ear. There is still something that when I put on a record, it will speak to me and say "Hit Radio." I was not thinking radio when I recorded my CD. I was thinking about creating a record for a listener. It wasn't part of my consideration. It is all part of that initial training.
[Doak Turner] You have had tremendous success with a couple of other hit songs that you have written, "Bad Girls" and "Starting Over Again" to mention a few. Maybe a couple of stories behind those great songs?
Bruce Sudano The biggest Donna Summer song was "Bad Girls." That came about when I was in a group called Brooklyn Dreams. We were recording our first album in Los Angeles in 1977 when I first met Donna. We met and instantaneously started writing songs together. I had to move to Irvine, CA, which was about an hour from LA. Donna would drive out and visit maybe one day or night a week. She did a part on our album, and Brooklyn Dreams sang backup on her album, I Remember Yesterday.
As Donna's and my relationship developed as writers and as a couple, whenever we had a day together, a friend of mine from Brooklyn, Inky (laughter) was his name, would get with us. Those guys from Brooklyn always have those cool names. Inky had a studio in the valley and Donna, Joe Esposito Eddie Hogason - members in our trio - and I would go in the studio and write at 11 at night. Inky would turn on the mics, [and] I would play guitar and piano. We would go for hours with the tape running.
One particular night, Donna had an incident at Casablanca Records on Sunset Blvd. Sunset was famous for street girls walking up and down the street. This one particular day, there was this black secretary working at the record company. She got pulled over by the cops because they thought she was walking the streets. In fact, she was a secretary walking down the street. Donna wanted to write a song about the girls on the street. The tape was running, and she started singing about Bad Girls. A couple days later we talked about it.
Probably six or eight month later, Donna was going into the studio to record what was going to be and ended up being the Bad Girls album. Donna was writing with Georgio Moroder. There was this engineer, Steve Smith, [who] was going through a pile of tapes that Donna had brought in. He stumbled on "Bad Girls" and really liked it. I did some lyrical treatment. She usually just streams out tons and tons of stuff and I will go back and edit, pull and tweak. That is what I did with "Bad Girls" after she spewed out about 90% of the song. Donna and I cut a real demo with a band. We brought it in to Neil Bogart, who was head of Casablanca Records, and said we had a smash. Neil did not hear the song as a smash. He thought it was too Rock and Roll for Donna, said he had just signed Cher, and wanted her to record the song "Bad Girls." So, we looked at each other and told him to give us our song back.
We took the song to Georgio Moroder. Georgio cut it and it was a catalyst song for Donna. She was more orchestrated disco up until this point. The Isley Brothers' "Who's That Lady" was a big influence on us. When Georgio and Donna opened up to the song, it evolved into "Hot Stuff," "The Rock," and all that stuff. It was a crucial song, almost going to Cher.
[Doak Turner] Is that you playing the lead guitar on "Bad Girls"?
Bruce Sudano No, it was Skunk Baxter (former Doobie Brother, Steely Dan and studio musician). We wrote it on acoustic guitar, tripping on an Isley Brothers groove, tapping into a "Fly Robin Fly" by the Silver Convention, or some kind of groove like that!
[Doak Turner] Did the "Bad Girls" song lead to the "Sunset People" song on the album?
Bruce Sudano Yea, it all evolved for the album. It just opened the floodgates to what the album was all about. Another song on the album, "On My Honor," sounded like a country song with a German perspective, as Georgio and those guys gave it a twist.
[Doak Turner] Any other stories behind the song you would like to share?
Bruce Sudano "Starting Over Again," which went to #1 for Dolly Parton in 1980. Reba recorded it as a title cut of one of her CDs a couple years ago. I wrote the song with my wife, Donna Summer, about the divorce of my parents. They were married for 32 years and got a divorce. I never thought the song would see the light of day. Most of my song that were hits, I never thought they would see the light of day. However, through some fluke or whatever you want to call it, strange things happen. Somewhere out of left field songs get cut. It came at a time when "Bad Girls," "Thank God It's Friday" and "American Hot Wax" were happening. We were going 150 miles an hour and my parents were going through a divorce.
I was sitting at a piano and Donna opened a door to the big house where we were living. This part of the house used to be the maid's quarters and we set up what would become our studio and writing area. I was writing the song, she stuck her head in the door and said, "You know what you should say in this song - All the kings horses and all the kings men couldn't put mommy and daddy back together again." I incorporated what she said into the song. Donna and I have this standing joke where she says, "Yea Bruce, you wrote the song, but I gave you the hook." That is Donna's strength, as she is the Hook Meister.
That song was written and just sat there for a long time. Donna was going to be on the Johnny Carson Show. She came to me and told me that she is going to sing "Starting Over Again" on the Johnny Carson Show. I asked her, "Why, it 's not on your record"? She thought it would help get my parents back together again and it is a good song. She sang it on the show, the next day we got phone calls from Dolly Parton's producer or somebody with her organization asking who's song is it, who wrote it and whatever. At that time, I was doing my first solo album called The Fugitive Kind and I had just recorded it on my unreleased album. To this day, Donna has never recorded the song.
[Doak Turner] You just had to write the song, didn't you? You just wrote what is happening in your life.
Bruce Sudano Yea, just write them to the best of your ability.
[Doak Turner] Tell me about Jermaine Jackson cutting one of your songs.
Bruce Sudano "Tell Me I'm Not Dreaming," which was a duet with Michael and Jermaine Jackson that I wrote. I co-wrote it with Michael Lamortium and Jake Ruska. It was another evolution. We were working on Jermaine's record. Michael Lamortia was producing the album for Jermaine. Michael and I became friends when he produced Donna's album, She Works Hard For The Money, and we had co-written a couple songs for that album. Michael had a track that Jermaine liked, and if I wanted to write something, it would probably get on the record. Jake and I went to my studio and came up with the lyric. Everyone liked the song. Jermaine took the song and played it for his brother, Michael Jackson, who also liked it and it became a duet. Jermaine released it as his first single, radio went nuts about the song and then Jermaine's record company, Arista, got a call from Michael Jackson's company, Columbia Records, with a "Sist and Desist" from playing the song. Michael's Bad album was coming out and the company thought it would hinder Michael's new release. It was a top 5 R&B and #1 dance. In the pop [charts] it was cut short, in the 30s, because of Columbia Record Company's actions against the song. Every song has a story!
[Doak Turner] What else is on your mind today regarding songwriting?
Bruce Sudano I would love to talk about Harland Howard. Before I came to Nashville about 10 years ago, I had been living in Los Angles for about 16 or so years. My love of songwriting over the course of living in LA had diminished, because my focus had gotten shifted from the art and doing what you love for the love and passion [of it], the need to do it, and [the] need to say what you need to say. It went to "I need to write a hit, the mogul factor." Bigger and greater than always is how it is done in LA. Over the years, I felt smaller and smaller, [and I] lost touch with my creative heart and soul.
We moved to Connecticut for a couple years, where I connected with real people, auto mechanics, plumbers, and those kinds of people. I started coming to Nashville to write because I had never written here, although I had a big hit ("Starting Over Again"). One of the first people that I met was Harland Howard, and he sort of turned my head back around of having pride, and the contribution it is to have songs make a contribution to a society. I will ever be indebted to Harlan Howard for taking the time to spend with me. Now that he is gone, I think about those times with Harlan, [when] he would just sit with me. I never wrote a song with him, and people would ask why I hadn't written a song with him. I would tell them that if that day ever happens and he wants me to write a song with him, that would be fine. I was not going to maneuver Harlan to write a song with Bruce Sudano. That was not what I wanted to do. He gave me so much by spending the time with me. He helped me refocus as a songwriter. It took me a long time to say, " I am a songwriter, this is what I do, and this is what I am going to do till the day I die." There is no more hedging of the bets.
When I left LA and moved to Connecticut, I was having doubts about being a musician and a songwriter. I was having hangover from the mogul factor, as I mentioned a couple minutes ago. I thought I would just open a bagel store. I came across something in the New York Times of where they were having a bagel seminar. I called up one of my buddies who worked in an auto body shop. We took a Saturday afternoon and went to somewhere in New Jersey, and went to a bagel seminar. I sat there and I watched guy after guy come up to a counter and say, "Do ya see THIS Bagel, THIS is the Best Bagel in the world. Look at this crust, is that the Best Crust you've ever seen in the world." With every guy that did this, I sank further and further in my seat. But, it was a revelation that they were passionate about bagels, and I could never compete with these guys and their bagels, because I did not care one thing about bagels. What I care about is songwriting, making records, THAT is my love. From that day forward, combined with what Harland put in me, there was no turning back ever. I am proud to be a songwriter.
[Doak Turner] What would you tell someone that just moved to Nashville to write songs?
Bruce Sudano I tell any songwriter to be true to yourself. The plus and minus of living here is you can schedule yourself everyday to write with different people. Songwriting is 50% craft. There is that thing that happens when you co-write, but take time to write on your own! Develop who you are, the things that you have to say in the ways that you alone can say them. It is a balance and both things are important.
[Doak Turner] Thanks, Bruce, and continued success to you and your family!