Michael Bolton's face and his singing voice hardly seem to be related. The face looks like it belongs to rock 'n' roll by way of a daytime soap opera. It's one of those chiseled faces, framed by long curls.
But the voice is something else. His publicist likens it to "a 50-year-old bluesman's" and that's no hype. You may have heard him earlier this year on the radio, rasping out a soulful melody called "That's What Love Is All About," or more recently on a remake of Otis Redding's "Dock of the Bay."Bolton says he has been drawn to the blues since he was a little boy in New Haven, Conn., listening to his big brother's Motown records. The black rhythms appealed to him more than anything else he heard on the radio, and by the time he was 11 or 12 he had figured out how to make his skinny, boy's larynx sound powerful, throaty and a lot older.
"When I was about 12 I went for a physical and the doctor remarked that I had an unusually large neck," Bolton recalled in a phone interview earlier this week while on tour in Tennessee. The doctor wondered if maybe the youngster was lifting weights or playing a lot of football, and it took Bolton a minute or two to realize that all that singing had changed his anatomy.
By the time he was 13 he was already singing in bars. By the time he was 15 he had signed with a record company.
But it has taken many, many years - and seven albums - since then for Bolton to begin to be a star. He's still hardly a household name, but in 1988 stardom appears to finally be within reach.
Bolton will be in Salt Lake on Saturday, opening for Heart, in concert at 7:30 p.m. at ParkWest.
While total success as a singer eluded Bolton for years, he says he never got discouraged.
"My first two albums with RCA were an education," he explains. "My second two albums, with the group Blackjack, were encouraging and more education. And I kept making fans in the (recording) industry. There always seemed to be a light at the end of the tunnel."
One of the brightest lights was Bolton's success as a songwriter. Although his own early albums were hardly chartbusters, some of the songs he wrote were. Laura Brannigan's version of his "How Am I Supposed to Live Without You" was a No. 1 hit. Jefferson Starship did very well with his "Desperate Heart."
Such diverse stars as Kenny Rogers, The Pointer Sisters, Gregg Allman and Eric Carmen have recorded his songs. Cher's new album includes two Bolton songs, including Cher's comeback hit, "I Found Someone."
Bolton was asked to produce both of the Cher songs, a sign that he has made it both as a songwriter and a record producer - and insurance that the songs he writes will be recorded the way he wrote them.
Everything seems to be falling into place finally for Bolton, who was named "best rhythm and blues male vocalist" this past spring in the New York Music Awards.
His latest album, "The Hunger," has been getting good reviews. "This talented rock belter, who has been struggling for 12 years to have a hit, fuses the frenzy of Joe Crocker with the sweet passion of James Ingram," wrote the New York Times. "The new record's centerpieces are two gargantuan heart-tuggers, `That's What Love Is All About' and `Walk Away,' in which the singer pulls out every emotional stop."
Bolton says that "Walk Away" will be released in about a week as a single. He wrote or co-wrote all the songs on the album except for the Redding cover.
Bolton usually writes about 30 songs a year, but he says that since he has been on the road with Heart he has been "in more of a promotional frame of mind than a creative frame of mind." The only thing he has had either the time or the emotion for while on tour has been to jot down some song ideas, he says, but by the end of the month he will be back home, ready to finish writing the songs for his next album.
The next time he goes on tour, he says, he hopes it will be as the main act.