There are some oddities in the Concert Vault.  Oddities like a 1983 Michael Bolton gig from Dallas, TX, when Bolton was hanging on the frayed edges of a failed attempt at success as a hard rock singer.  Bolton was four albums into his career – two with the band Blackjack, and two albums prior to Blackjack, recorded under his birth name of Michael Bolotin.

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Blackjack featured a heavy list of players – future KISS guitarist Bruce Kulick, bass player Jimmy Haslip (later a big name in jazz with the Yellowjackets, and also recorded/toured with Bruce Hornsby), and drummer Sandy Gennaro who eventually collaborated with a wide range of musicians from Cyndi Lauper to Bo Diddley.  The wimp rock detector hit overload every time that Bolton took the stage with Blackjack, and despite this crafty promotional film featuring good words from legendary producer Tom Dowd (who called Bolton the most talented vocalist he’d worked with since Gregg Allman), Blackjack quickly sank.

Dropped by RCA Records in 1982, Bolton would have been homeless and living on the streets, had it not been for the intervention of close friend Benny Mardones, who gave Bolton a couch to crash on while he figured out his next move.  Columbia Records came calling, and Bolton signed on the dotted line with the label that would be his recording home for the next 17 years.  Michael Bolotin became Michael Bolton, and with his self-titled Columbia debut in stores in 1983, Bolton hit the road with a band that featured former Blackjack mate Bruce Kulick on guitar, Kulick’s brother Bob adding additional guitars, and believe it or not, Aldo Nova on keyboards.  Despite the failure of Blackjack, Columbia still believed that Bolton had legs as a rock vocalist, and using bands like Bon Jovi and Foreigner as a template, Columbia gave a friendly nudge to rock music fans and suggested that perhaps Bolton was the rock vocalist they had been waiting for.

Rock music fans sent a nudge back and let Columbia know that in fact, the rock vocalists for which they had been waiting went by names like Joe Elliott, David Coverdale and Kevin DuBrow.  Undeterred, the label put Bolton out on the road for nearly two years of touring, including a curiously sci-fi themed tour that went under the banner of “Blue Oyster Cult vs. Bolton.”  Bolton’s set was surprisingly well received by Blue Oyster Cult fans each night, and in Dallas, he wrapped up his set with a treat for a few old-school Blackjack fans that he had met prior to the show, gifting them with a smoldering rendition of “Fool’s Game.”  “Fool’s Game” had come together during the closing moments of Blackjack, and finally was released on Bolton’s Columbia debut.

Bolton had been in Dallas nearly a decade prior to making his eventual return as “Michael Bolton.”  In 1976, shortly after the release of his second album Everyday Of My Life, Bolton got the phone call that any struggling vocalist would dream of.  He had an offer to join Eric Clapton’s band as a backing vocalist for Clapton’s pending U.S. tour, a series of dates that would run for about 3 months, giving Bolton a much-needed steady paycheck.  Performing at the Dallas Convention Center, Clapton led the band through a set that excerpted here, features 40 minutes of EC gold, including 12 minute versions of both “Blues Power” and “Layla.”  Promoting his current release No Reason To Cry, (recorded with the help of guests including Robbie Robertson and Rick Danko of the Band, and Bob Dylan), Clapton was in good spirits, and with the addition of Bolton, Clapton finally had his touring band assembled as he had envisioned it.  Bolton’s backing vocals on “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” provided a poignantly powerful highlight each night.  The dates with Clapton helped Bolton to build much needed touring chops, and he also began to learn how to play the guitar, with Clapton showing Bolton simple chords and riffs during the long bus rides while heading to the next gig.

Touring as a member of Clapton’s band proved to be valuable experience for Bolton, and Bolton gave a subtle nod to his old boss in 2009 while filming a live DVD at Slowhand’s adopted homebase, The Royal Albert Hall, incorporating a memorable cover of “Blues Power” as his slightly ironic opening number.  More than 30 years later, Bolton’s career had finally come full circle.

It’s rumored that Bolton might pick up the axe once again for a heavier rock album (apparently, with a country flair?  How does that work?), although details remain scarce regarding song titles and the possibility of any special guests.  In the meantime, Bolton recently had a cocktail party (cue the dick jokes) for a select group of journalists at his house, to give them a first listen to his forthcoming release One World One Love, which isn’t a reggae album, despite the slightly misleading title.  The new album, due in May, features songs co-written with Lady Gaga and Ne-Yo.  Seriously.

Will music fans go “Gaga” for Bolton in 2010?  The jury is still out on that one, but we hear that Bolton makes a mean Long Island iced tea.  Bottoms up!

Listen to this complete show at Concert Vault by clicking here.

About the Author

Matt Wardlaw

Matt Wardlaw is a music lifer with nearly 20 years of experience in the industry. Of course you all have shoes older than that, but that's okay, Matt realizes that he's still a rookie. His byline has appeared in the Riverfront Times (St. Louis), Cleveland Scene, Blogcritics, Music's Bottom Line and Ultimate Classic Rock, among others. In addition to writing for Popdose, Matt also has his own music blog called Addicted to Vinyl where he writes about a variety of subjects including but not limited to vinyl. In his spare time, Matt enjoys long walks in the park, Cherone-era Van Halen and driving long distances to Night Ranger concerts.

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