Bo Bice is coming to Adelaide to front the latest line-up of jazz-rock legends, Blood, Sweat & Tears.
Whilst he was yet to be born when the band were in its hit-making heyday, a performance of one of their standards, Spinning Wheel, during the fourth season of American Idol by Bice (he eventually was runner-up to Carrie Underwood) aroused the interest of the band’s management and they wooed him, over several years, until he agreed to take up their offer to join them as they embarked on the next leg of their crowded world touring schedule.
Now, three years into his association with the band, he is enjoying the relative freedom of simply being one part of the BS&T collective and not having to deal with the hassles of being a solo star.
The Upside News spoke to him as he was readying himself for the Australian leg of the tour, and we found out that Bo certainly loves to talk!
Upside News: Being runner-up to Carrie Underwood in Season 4 of American Idol back in 2005, must have been both a great experience and ultimately a little disappointing not to win – but, in retrospect, what’s been the greatest benefit of the being part of the Idol experience?
Bo Bice: Well, you know, looking back on it now over a decade since I was on Idol – and I’ve kind of said the same things over the years, Ken, and I don’t use it as an excuse or an easy way to answer – but there’s not a lot of people who are as lucky as I am.
Because, over the ten months that we were all involved in that show that none of you saw – you only saw the competition side – you grow relationships with people. And the people who were in the top 24, a lot of you folks might not remember them, but I remember almost all of them.
The people who made it into the Top Ten, I got very close to them. I was roommates with several of them – Scott Savol, Constantine Maroulis, Nikko Smith – those guys were my roommates and we all shared an apartment. A four bedroom apartment.
So, when you’re standing there at the finale, and you’re standing beside someone who has become one of your close friends, and has been through this whole rigmarole with you, and experienced it all with you, there is a level of anticipation because you want to win or else you get beaten, but I can’t say as I left that night that I shed a tear.
Well, if there were any tears shed, it was only out of joy because there’s not a lot of people who get to see all of their dreams come true in one night. And they get to see their fellow friend’s dreams come true. And I think over the last decade Carrie [Underwood] has shown that not only was she worthy of the crown of being an American Idol winner, but she has had a wonderful solo career and I am extremely proud of her.
And, you know, I haven’t done too shabby myself in my career, and so God’s been good to me.
On the back end side of that, a thing that a lot of folks don’t know about me is that I have been in the business for twenty-five years. So I was in it a long time before the show.
And right after the show [my wife and I] had our first son – now we have four kids: three boys and a girl. And at some point, you know two or three years after Idol, during my career, I really started to understand that I am really good at this dad-husband thing when I am doing it right.
So for me, back in 2011, I decided to make some changes – you know, stop drinking, started to dedicate myself a lot more to thinking about who I am as a person, and as a dad and a husband, because that’s my real job and it just so happens that my gig is going out and standing on stage for ninety minutes a night making people happy playing music.
But don’t ever get it twisted around though, Ken. I’m a dad and husband first, and I pretend to be a rock star on the weekends.
UN: I can certainly empathise with your viewpoint there.
Returning to your Idol performances, was it through your performance of Spinning Wheel on the show that Blood, Sweat & Tears got in touch with you and asked you to come on board?
BB: Well is that not crazy or what, Ken? Little beknownst to me, I did Spinning Wheel on American Idol and I didn’t know that it would be my audition to someday be fronting this band.
From the way I heard the story told, I was giving the performance and someone in the crew, or band, called up Bobby Colomby [BST drummer and founder member] and said, ‘There’s this guy doing Spinning Wheel on American Idol. Check him out.’
And after that, you know, well, you’re very insulated.
If you choose to join ‘the club’, you become very insulated. And I joined ‘the club’ for about three years, and I learned that I’m not really cut for ‘the club’. I don’t really like wearing the green jacket. There’s a lot of rules and regulations that you have to follow when you get the green jacket and you’re in ‘the club’.
So, for me, I got rid of the handlers, and the agents, and the people behind me who were whispering in my ears…
It took a little bit of time but I kind of whittled things down and surrounded myself with the people that I wanted to be around me, and not the people I was told I needed in my life because I had made it to this level now.
Once I did that, and cut back on all of the staff and the handlers and the ‘yes’ men, well one day I ended up getting a call through one of my managers saying that Blood, Sweat & Tears have been trying to reach you for several years.
‘Oh really? They must have been talking to my old handlers. [Laughs] And – the rest is history. They had literally been trying to reach me for about six years. They wanted me just to come out and do some shows.
I finally got in touch, and I said, ‘Take me out for a steak dinner and let’s talk about this.’
So what was going to be two shows turned in to five shows, and then it turned into eight shows – and now, three years later, we are on our second world tour ready to come back over and meet all of our friends in Australia, and Djakarta, and we get to do Honolulu again, but for me that’ll be the first time.
So, you are right. It was that audition, I guess you could call it, when I did Spinning Wheel on Idol, that set all the balls in motion.
UN: It is amazing to think how one small thing can set off a whole process.
Did you have any specific connection to BST and their music before taking on the role of lead singer for the band? Were they on high rotation on your family’s radio when you were young, or anything like that?
BB: Well, I am a musicologist and have loved music ever since I was a young boy. Let’s take you back a bit. I used to listen to the radio and I would tape my favourite songs, you know, put them all on a mix tape and then I would learn that music and that’s what opened me up to it. That, and my mum and dad’s record collection. That’s when your record player used to be a piece of furniture. [Laughs] When I was young they used to have the built in speakers and a table and it was my job to clean it and to dust it, so I would throw on Jim Croce albums, all different kinds of music. And Blood, Sweat & Tears was one of those groups that were in their collection.
But I think more than anything that the musicology side of me is really what drew me in because I am sort of an oracle of music kitsch, so looking back on them, when you say Al Kooper to me, I don’t go, ‘Yeah! Al Kooper – Blood, Sweat & Tears!’ I go, ‘Al Kooper? Wow! He produced one of my favourite albums – Second Helping, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s second album.’
It’s one of my favourite albums – it’s got Sweet Home Alabama, Call Me The Breeze, Don’t Ask Me No Questions, [The Ballad Of] Curtis Loew…huge hits.
And people go – ‘Oh, oh I just thought he was in Blood, Sweat & Tears.’
So when I think about guys like that, and you’ve got Jaco Pastorius who was in a previous [incarnation of the] band…
UN: The Weather Report bassist…
BB: …even if it was for such a short span. Al was producing some stuff for Jaco, and then he came in and filled in – please excuse me if I’m wrong – in for a ’75 and ’76 stint. I’m sure there’s some music historian out there who going to say ‘No, you’re wrong!’
I think he came along in ’75, the year I was born. And I do know it was just a short stint, but he made such an impact on the band and on the catalogue, but also you’d have to think that he was one of the pioneer bass players who really made it to where…you know, most of the time, the drummer and the bass player are the rhythm section and that’s just what they do, and they stay there and we get to wrap all this stuff around it. Jaco really showcased the instrument for use, not just the top two of the four strings. You know, for the low hand and the walk-in, he turned it into a servile instrument.
And I think when you are looking back on the history of Blood, Sweat & Tears, and people ask, ‘Is it really true that you have had around 150 members?’
I say, ‘Well no, there’s not been 150 members – but there have been 120 people who have passed through this group.
There are some who are certainly considered alumni, right? They had their stint – like Jaco, who is considered an alumni, so is Steve Katz, so is Al Kooper and David Clayton-Thomas.
Myself, I’ve been here for three years, and I’ll be honest with you – I, only now, in the past several months, feel like I have earned my spot to be part of the alumni. Before that I was a special guest.
Now, I feel personally, and I hope I’m not offending any Blood, Sweat & Tears fans, but I feel like I have earned my stripes here, and mainly, Ken, it’s because when I first came into this and they asked if I really wanted to do it, I said, ‘Yes sir. As long as it never turns into the game show’. Because, we’re dealing with Bo Bice’s needs, we are dealing with people’s memories.
There are people who want the song that they danced at their wedding to, and that was You Make Me So Very Happy; the song that played the first time they were necking in the back seat of the car, and that was Spinning Wheel; and then it’s ‘And When I Die was at [such and such] event…’
These are people’s memories.
And being a fan on this side of the music, I didn’t want the fans on the other side of the stage to say, you know, ‘Here’s this new guy. He doesn’t know his stuff about Blood, Sweat & Tears. I wanted to make sure that everyone knew that I took this on because I want to make sure that the catalogue of music, that is what is going to always continue to be the star of the show. Bobby Colomby runs this show. It is not my band. The music, and the musicianship – that’s the star of the show.
UN: My dear departed mum requested And When I Die to be played at her funeral, so I know what you are saying.
I was really pleased to hear you talking about the musicology side of the band, because what a lot of people tend to forget is that Blood, Sweat & Tears were a pretty radical musical experiment when they started out. They had that spirit of experimentation. Is that still alive in the band? Or are you tending to accept that you have evolved more into a sort of golden oldie radio station staple sort of band?
BB: Well you know what I think is really great about this band is – and I give credit both to management and to Bobby Colomby – is that this band has never turned into, and you ‘ll have to excuse my term, my analogy – I don’t mean to be offensive, I could be more cute, I’m sure – but it never turned in to a tribute band. It’s never turned into any kind of ‘best of’ band.
And I’m not out there trying to be David Clayton-Thomas, or Jerry Fisher, or any of the other singers. Yet, I believe I was chosen to be a part of this group because o my similarity to their vocal styles. When I come onto the stage and you hear me sing the songs, I do this, again, for the fans. I don’t do my own interpretations, you’re going to come there and hear the songs like you wanted to hear the songs.
But on the back end of that, what’s kept this band from ever being an ‘oldies’ group, or any kind of tribute group is the fact that we incorporate a lot of newer music. Blood, Sweat & Tears have been nominated for ten Grammys. They’ve won three of them. And one of those songs wasn’t even one of their songs – so you know it’s still the same kind of thing.
They have become very well versed in choosing other great songs, like God Bless The Child. They did a version of Crosstown Traffic that’s really cool, All Along The Watchtower, and Fire And Rain. They’ve done some really cool stuff that people ought to know about.
And the current band – well when I came in I said I would never make it ‘The Bo Show’. That really meant, you know, they’ve asked me, ‘Let’s incorporate a few Bo Bice songs in here.’ And I’ve always been like, ‘Nah, let’s not. Why don’t we pick something that people would like, because they might not know my songs?’
And they said, ‘Yeah, but this will give them a chance to get to know you.’ And I was like, ‘No, but what about this…?’ And so, I threw out a few songs, one of them made it.
Our keyboard player, Glenn McClelland did an excellent arrangement of an Allman Brothers song that I love. And so we put that in the set, and people always freak out when we play that song, and they say, ‘Whoa! I never thought that Blood, Sweat & Tears would play that!’
And we also threw in a couple of newer songs, that people would recognise but yet they still fit in the vein of Blood, Sweat & Tears music. We don’t cover songs, we do our renditions of the songs which are usually a lot bigger, there’s a difference. Anybody can sit and say, ‘OK. Play that exact guitar part. You do this. You do that. Listen to the tape and let’s all play it right.’
That’s one of the things about this band, Ken. You never want to be the weakest link. Because there are some very strong musicians in this band. So I just try very hard, every single night, to never be the weakest link on stage, and to bring my A-game, because everyone else with me on stage are going to bring their A-game.
As far as the catalogue of music goes, people are going to hear the hits, and I can guarantee they’re going to hear some surprises that they have never heard Blood, Sweat & Tears do.
UN: Sounds intriguing! So, the Allman Brothers song – is that going to be Whipping Post? Or another song of theirs?
BB: Oh, Ken! I’m not going to give away the golden gift, man! You’ve got to come and check out the golden egg. The goose is back stage!
But I’ll tell you this, whenever we do kick into the song, people are going, ‘I don’t get it. I don’t get it.’
Then they hear that first riff, and you hear it kind of percolate.
And the crowd! Aw, they’re waiting for the vocal to begin. And when the vocal kicks in, they just start to [emulates crowd noise]. Every night when we do that it’s kind of being like a magician. You now the trick is just a trick, right?
BB: Well it’s your job to make it an illusion, and not a trick. And when you do it right, it’s really good. It’s good for the crowd, but trust me, it’s good for us on stage too.
UN: Our time is nearly up, so let me just ask you about your solo career. Do you have any new solo projects in the pipeline?
BB: Well, I took the last two years off. The first year was like the honeymoon period between us. Really, I swear. There’s been a lot of artists who have come through Blood, Sweat & Tears and they do featuring sessions, you know. And they do that, and that’s all I was coming on to do, I was just going to be that guest star. So now, that year passed and I decided, hey, I’m going to take a few years off just to dedicate to BS&T – and that’s what I’ve done.
So now, I am just now getting back, when we get back from this tour, I’m getting into the studio. I have six or seven song-writing partners I write songs with, and we’re starting to work on a new project that is for me. It isn’t going to be a Blood, Sweat & Tears project.
In 2018, I’m going to be releasing just a new project. It’s a Bo Bice project, and I’ll probably look to a little bit of gigging off of that in 2018 – 2019.
But to be honest with you, Ken, I’ll shoot you just absolutely straight, man; there’s a lot of responsibility that you have – about 18 to 20 families relying on you to make sure that the wheels on the bus go round and round, and the cheques get paid. And it’s been such a stress relief for me over the past two years. People come up and ask me, all the time, ‘Do this, do this…’, and I say, ‘Hey man..’ and I just go ahead and point. ‘I don’t have a dog in this fight. You just need to talk to one of the bosses.’ And I just point. I used to have to use my thought because I was the guy all the crap would get told to because my name was on the bill. You know, ‘OK – come to me, let me know what problem you got.’
So, it’s been very nice the past few years. I have been able, when I come home, to just be dad and husband, and then when I go out on the road, I’m able to point because I don’t have that level of responsibility.
So as much as I am looking forward to putting out another album in 2018, I am NOT as much looking forward to putting my work boots back on and going out touring on my own – just because of the level of stress that it does cause. I get it, I think it’s just because I’m getting older. I’m 41 now.
UN: Will you be getting any time between gigs whilst you’re here to check out the place?
You’ve actually scheduled your gig here in Adelaide during what we call Mad March? You should try and get out and about – it’s the one month of the year when our city is full of festivals, music shows and half the city is turned into a motor racing track, and all sorts of stuff…
UN: It would be a shame if you didn’t get out and amongst it.
BB: Well we do have a few days off in between shows, here and there.
And the last time we were there – I guess it’s been about two years – we took advantage of every opportunity that we could.
I truly mean it when I say it: Australia is on my bucket list. And when they said we had the opportunity to come back, I was just, as you say there – I was chuffed to bits! We had such a good time. Everybody was so hospitable and the hospitality was just amazing.
And to hear that you may have some car racing going on… you see, that’s something I do on the side.
I raced in the 2005 Celebrity Grand Prix, the Long Beach Grand Prix out there in California. And ever since then I ‘ve been kept well away from a racetrack because when we are on tour they don’t want me getting behind a wheel!
Abstract Entertainment presents Blood, Sweat & Tears at The Gov, Main Room, on Wednesday March 8.
Tickets from the usual outlets.