Today, the Slow Boat brings you something very unusual into port. I’ve interviewed announcers, hosts, and producers. But today, I’m interviewing a composer whom I’ve grown to like. His name is Steve Dorff. And so, on our little hypothetical ship, I’m promoting him to Piano Man (sorry, Bill).
Anyway, I hardly had to do any editing this time. He has an assistant named Amy. Real nice girl, I think.
Greg Palmer: Hi, Steve. First off, how did you get involved in music?
Steve Dorff: You could say I’ve been in music my entire life. As a young child, I would underscore in my head everything that was going on around me. I’d be the kid in a snowball fight that would be getting pelted by ice while musicalizing the entire event. The funny thing is that I heard orchestras in my mind long before I knew what they actually were. As I got older I began to write songs and play the piano. It was only a matter of time before I started to figure out how to break into the professional songwriting ranks.
GP: Now, one of your first major successes was “Every Which Way But Loose”. I like that song. It seems your specialty is country music, and it’s done you well. You’re working on a network devoted to it. However, the airwaves these days are full of manufactured acts such as Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga, anyone on American Idol, and Miley Cyrus. In your opinion, why is country music still so appealing?
SD: My first success was actually “Every Which Way But Loose”, by Eddie Rabbitt. It was my first number one record, and my very first foray into country music. It’s funny but I’ve never considered myself a “country writer”. I grew up in New York City and couldn’t spell country music until years and years after I got into the business. I just try to write good songs. I truly believe that the artists who record them identify them with a genre – whether it be pop, R & B, country, etc. The songs I’ve had recorded in the country market have always kind of had a different spin on the ball. I’ve been very fortunate to have had some of the great classic artists in all genres record my music. I think the appeal of country music is the universality that’s written into the lyrics. People tend to identify more with the stories and the heartfelt simplicity of the songs being written for that market.
(guess who the guy playing piano is)
GP: Of course, not all your music is country. You’ve made your way into TV and movies as well. You’ve written songs for Tin Cup, Cannonball Run II, and surprisingly, Rocky IV. And of course, you also wrote the themes to Growing Pains, My Sister Sam, Free Spirit, Spenser: For Hire, etc. etc. The list goes on. With music from the aforementioned series, I’d say there wasn’t a hint of country in there (which is good). How do you do it?
SD: Well, like I’ve said, I grew up a complete rock ‘n roller, and was inspired by the British Invasion of the mid-60’s. I also grew up loving classical Broadway showtunes, and admired the great writers of those songs. Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Jules Stein, the Gershwins, Richards Rogers, Lorenz Hart, Frank Loesser. The reason I went to Hollywood was to try and break into the music for television and film arena. Oddly enough, my first big country hit “Every Which Way But Loose” was written for a Clint Eastwood movie. And, I’ve had 9 Number 1 records out of films.
GP: Now, what’s really interesting is your current gig as bandleader on The Singing Bee on CMT. You replaced Ray Chew from the NBC version and put your swing into it. In the process, you’ve joined the ranks of Tommy Oliver and Stan Worth. First off, how did you get involved in this?
SD: The Singing Bee is a project that I never thought I would find myself doing. In the first place, I’ve always considered myself a behind-the-scenes kinda guy, writing, arranging, and producing in the studio. My agent called regarding this program and I took a meeting with the show’s producers. Thought it might be fun to be on camera, and so I agreed to do the initial 10 episodes. I never dreamt that it would be the big success on CMT that it’s been. And now, we are about to start Season 3!
GP: What’s it like working on the show? Do you have any experiences you’d like to share?
SD: I’ve had a complete blast doing the show. I have a great band, and six very talented vocalists, a great host, in Melissa Peterman, and we all have a lot of fun both on camera and off.
GP: I saw the original version with Joey Fatone, and it was a fun show. The current one is fun and all in all is a great format, but I do have 2 complaints about it (nothing against you, personally). First off, the song selection. I know it’s on Country Music Television, but it forces a certain demographic in the contestant selection and limits the ability of a non-country music listener to play along. With the original, there was a wider range of genres. Almost anyone could guess the lyrics. Here, it’s just different. Although, to be fair, I have heard some non-country songs on the show. Do you have any advice for potential contestants who aren’t exactly fans of country music?
SD: Being on CMT, the show is certainly geared toward a country music loving audience. We do about 70% country music, and 30% pop/R&B. CMT knows its audience and the show plays very well. If contestants are not listening to country radio pretty much all the time, they are not going to do well with our present format.
GP: The other complaint I have does involve you a bit. The music. “There’s A Party Going On” is an all right song, but it just doesn’t capture the original excitement of the NBC theme, with the horns and the intense beat. Still, it’s a very good song, and it matches the mentality of the audience. You certainly know your target market. The only other thing is during the Final Countdown. On the NBC version, Ray Chew belted out the first line of the chorus from that famous Europe song. Your introduction song just doesn’t have that same excitement, it gives a different nuance. Of course, that’s just my opinion. Is there any particular reason you decided not to use the introduction from the NBC version?
SD: All the theme music in our new CMT version of The Singing Bee is new and was written by me. Again, since the show has taken a new direction, the music needed to be adjusted appropriately. I wanted to do something that fit the new flavor.
GP: All in all, it’s still a good show and one of the few cable game shows out there to include returning champions. Now, I understand you’re working on the soundtrack of another feature film. Can we get any hint as to what the film might be?
SD: I just finished the music for the Warner Bros. feature film Pure Country 2: The Gift. It came out mid-October, and is a lovely story about a young girl who possesses an extraordinary vocal gift and goes to Nashville to seek her fortune and fame.
(and here’s the trailer for it)
GP: Finally, what advice do you have for those who want to enter your field of work?
SD: Wow. That’s a frequently asked question… and one that’s not very easy to answer. The only thing I can emphatically say without any reservation is that this a business of rejection by the pound. If you’re not prepared to pick yourself and dust yourself off at least 10 times a day it’s probably not the right profession for you. Also, never give up.
Ladies and gentlemen, what have we learned today?
1. You don’t have to live in the Southwest to write a good country song. In fact, you can live in New York City.
2. If you don’t have your radio tuned to a country music station, you don’t stand a chance on The Singing Bee. Better to try Don’t Forget the Lyrics instead.
3. Friday night’s a great night for football.
Keep it tuned right here. You never know who you’ll meet next.