Michael Bolton: Cutting my hair was a $100m risk
It was about the hair, now it's just about the voice. Michael Bolton's on the road with his greatest hits
He's going through the motions when we start. He's utterly charming, of course, apologising that he's got so little time but saying he's happy to chat. It's impossible not to imagine he's answered the same questions to different journalists during a hectic day of enforced promotion.
So we take a different tack. We try not to focus on the tour and the show. Instead, we want to know about his hair.
The American crooner, who has won multiple Grammy Awards, sports shorn locks at present. He's best known, however, for his long mane of extravagant curls. It was a look he developed as a 12-year-old. "I had hair down to my waist, and I sounded like a 50-year-old black guy," he says.
His hair developed a personality of its own. It became a star in its own right. In 1997 – with Bolton an A-list celebrity and household name with around 30 million album sales to his name – his hair made worldwide headlines. Bolton did the unthinkable – he cut it all off.
Even today, 16 years on from his severe scissoring, he remains synonymous with those locks. The question is simple: will he ever escape from Samson Syndrome?
"It was really traumatic," he said.
"It was like a part of my childhood and my rebellion and everything I went through to wear long hair . . . It became my look. Not exaggerating, there was probably a good $50 million to $100 million in marketing that was spent establishing my appearance all over the world.
"I had no idea it would be such a big deal. I remember I was in London and I was watching some serious news story, when they interrupted the bulletin with, 'News just in–Michael Bolton cuts his hair!' It was hysterical. But we raised about $9,000 for women and children at risk, so it was worth it."
His girlfriend of the time, Ashley Judd, said she liked it. However, soon after, they split up,"Ashley was the first person to say that she actually kind of missed my long hair. I went back to the studio after I got the haircut. I was definitely insecure about it, I felt kind of naked without it. Fortunately for me people were coming in to look at me and they were being extremely complimentary. And at one point, I was sure my assistant had either cajoled them or paid them to boost my morale."
But enough about the hair. Bolton is a man with more to talk about than a mane.
Bolton is one of music's most prolific artists, having released 17 studio albums and 35 singles. He has now notched up more than 60 million album sales worldwide. His latest offering, Ain't No Mountain High Enough – Tribute To Hitsville, was released in February.
"I think one of the great things about the Hitsville record is that those songs are in our DNA. When you kick into those songs, you realise that everybody knows them anyway. Motown made feelgood music with great lyrics and great hooks. People usually associate that music with fond memories or happy moments."
He also continues to tour whenever he can. He'll return to the UK in spring for a major tour, which includes a date at Wolverhampton's Civic Hall on May 8.
"It'll be a greatest hits show. You know, you go to see an all-time favourite artist and you end up at a show where he or she is promoting new material – and you leave disappointed. It gets to five songs in and people are thinking: 'Come on, play the hits'.
"That's not something I ever want my audience to think. I don't want them to think I'm pushing something or promoting something. It's my responsibility to be aware to pay attention to what the audience is doing. A concert is not a self-centred experience. It's an on-going relationship with the fans who are holding the tickets and spending their time with you. It's my responsibility to pay attention to what they are enjoying most and when they are tuning out.
"Performing is all that I ever wanted to do as a kid. The reason I'm getting to do that is because of all those people sitting on seats. They sing the choruses. It's a relationship, it's about being considerate."
Bolton has led a remarkable life. He started out as a hard rock and heavy metal performer, playing with a band called Blackjack. He once opened for Ozzy Osbourne and in 1983 auditioned to replace Ozzy as the lead singer in Black Sabbath.
However, his greatest successes came when he switched to easy-listening, radio-friendly tunes. His first big hit came when he wrote How Am I Supposed to Live Without You for Laura Branigan, while during the 1980s and 1990s he dominated the easy-listening charts.
He realises how fortunate he has been.
"There's a lot that I've enjoyed. It's been a very profound and privileged journey. For many years, my career was the opposite of that. I endured the long famine, it was an 18-year climb before I became successful. That made the success deeper and I am more grateful and more appreciative because of where I came from.
"The moments when things go well can be so out-of-body and surreal. There have been things like singing with Ray Charles or BB King. If somebody had told me in my teen years that those things were going to happen I would have told them they were nuts.
"Success opens doors. But there are two sides of it. There's a ying and a yang in this business. As strong and as powerful as those great moments have been, there has been an equal and opposite reaction.
"But you need to look to the bright side and overcome the hardship."
During Bolton's glory years, he sold many millions of records. He looks back on them through rose-tinted shades.
"You know, back in the 1990s, you could sell seven to 10 million copies per album. Those days are pretty much gone. You have a few artists, like Adele, who can still do that. There's always the odd enigma. But overall it doesn't happen. I guess I look back on those times and I'm very fond. I am grateful that I did the work in those times, got on the plane and performed because that audience is still there. There is nothing I would rather be doing than performing."
Bolton has looked back on his life in a new memoir, The Soul Of It All, which also lifts the lid on romances with such figures as Judd, Teri Hatcher, and Nicolette Sheridan. His hair also gets a look-in.
"I don't cringe when I look back at that look, that hair, because it a huge was part of my 20-plus years of 'overnight success' and who I was as an individual and as an artist. I cut my hair off and sold it for charity but now I have hair growing out of my ears. I don't know if it's revenge or something."
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