Steve Tyrell: Standard Bearer
“ I think this music is America's greatest contribution to the arts. I don't think it will ever go out of style. What makes these songs standards are that singers can do their own things and breathe life into the songs. ”
Singer, producer, and composer Steve Tyrell was born in Texas and grew up in Houston's 5th Ward. As a teenager, he performed in local R & B bands and at 19 he landed a job as a staff producer in New York at indie label Scepter Records. Tyrell was soon promoted to head of A & R and promotions and began to work with some of America's greatest songwriters; Burt Bacharach, Hal David, Gerry Goffin, Barry Mann, and Carole King. After recruiting fellow Texan BJ Thomas, Tyrell produced his hits, "Hooked on a Feeling," and "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head." In Los Angeles he co-founded Tyrell - Mann, a music-supervision company, and continued to produce Grammy-Award winning songs for movies and also music for television. He returned to singing in 1991, with a cameo performance of "The Way You Look Tonight," for the movie Father of the Bride. That eventually led to three albums of standards and a Christmas album, A New Standard (1999), Standard Time (2001), This Time of the Year (2002), and This Guy's in Love (2003).
All About Jazz: When did you start your career?
Steve Tyrell: I started my career in high school. I was in two R & B bands. One was kind of an R & B cover band and then an all black band and me. I grew up in an area called the 5th Ward in Houston. In fact all the jazz crusaders, Joe Sample, Stick Wilson, and Wayne Henderson grew up on the same street as me. I was the only white guy for miles. I played in clubs every night while I was still in high school.
AAJ: You started out as an R & B singer.
ST: My style of singing has some blues in it at all times. That's the only music I really ever listened to and sang. The biggest influences on me were all R & B artists.
AAJ: At what age did you became a producer?
ST: I got a record deal when I was 16. I was producing my own records; I just did them on my own. I was always fascinated by writing, producing, and putting records together. I got a job working for Scepter Records, an R & B label, when I was 19. I started working as a staff producer and produced people like Chuck Jackson and Maxine Brown.
AAJ: Is that where you started to meet some of the great songwriters?
ST: That's where I met Burt Bacharach. He was just getting started at the time with Dionne Warwick. I was kind of "the kid" in the company. I felt very much a part of their success, I was involved with all of their records and I helped to promote them.
AAJ: So you were also an A & R person as well?
ST: I was. I went from being a staff producer to the head of A & R and promotions. In those days that is what people did. The record business wasn't like it is now. Everyone did everything in those days. I worked on the records with Burt, Dionne, and Hal David and B.J. Thomas who I brought to the label from Texas. This is making me sound like I am a thousand years old. That is how I got started. Because of Burt Bacharach and Hal David and my association with them, at a very young age I got an opportunity to work on movies. When I was around 21, I worked with them on several movie projects. "Alfie," "The Look of Love," "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head."
AAJ: "Raindrops" won an Oscar in 1970, right?
ST: Yes, I brought B.J. Thomas in from Houston to the label and he sang it. Burt won the Oscar for that. I went to the Academy Awards at 23.
AAJ: You were kind of a pioneer in using music in movies.
ST: At that time they weren't really doing that. It was really all rock and roll, not a lot of pop music in movies. Maybe only Henry Mancini. One of the things that occurred to me early on was that you could take a good song and put it in a movie and release it at the same time as the movie.
AAJ: Was it then that you started your company, Tyrell - Mann?
ST: Yes. Barry Mann, a great songwriter who I had met at Scepter, and I. We started a company in Los Angeles. The first thing we did was another song that got nominated for an Academy Award.
AAJ: Was that "Somewhere Out There?"
ST: Yes, with Linda Ronstadt and James Ingram. It got nominated for a Golden Globe, an Academy Award, and won two Grammys for the Song of the Year and Best Song From a Motion Picture.
AAJ: That was probably one of the first songs used in an animated feature, right?
ST: Yes. It kind of set a trend that is still going on today for songs in animated movies. I was one of the first ones to put pop songs in an animated feature with a pop artist singing the song.
AAJ: Was there a time when work was hard to come by?
ST: There was a time between when I left New York and I came to California that I went back to Texas and wasn't doing much. I guess it proves that you can't really go home again. I left Texas at a very young age and when I came back there wasn't much to do. Also when I came to LA it took a while to get things rolling.
AAJ: Looking at the artists you have worked with like Bonnie Raitt, Linda Ronstadt, Alice Cooper, and LL Cool J it really runs the spectrum. That is a huge variety of artists and kinds of music.