By Susanne Tabata
VANCOUVER — “It’s the same ethic. You sit down with a guitar and hope for the best.” So begins a conversation with Bryan Adams about his music, then and now, and the current collaboration with producer Jeff Lynne, which just might be the best pairing of distinct rock sounds in a long time.
Lynne, of Electric Light Orchestra, has his producer credits on projects with The Beatles, George Harrison, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Brian Wilson, Randy Newman, Roy Orbison, Dave Edmunds, Del Shannon, and Tom Petty. And now that recognizable sound reminiscent of the Lynne/Harrison produced 1988 self-titled album Travelling Wilburys is heard on GET UP, which also heralds a true return to form for Adams and longtime co-writer Jim Vallance.
“I’ve known Jeff, sort of, since the ‘80s. He came and saw me in Birmingham when I played there once. We peripherally knew each other, but really I had no contact with him until two years ago and I was introduced to him through a mutual friend who is a director. I said you must say hi to him. A week later my friend said, ‘You know, Jeff wants you to give him a call.’ Next time I was in L.A. I called him and went over there, and that’s how it started, just like that.” The inspired new album GET UP features nine new songs and four bonus tracks in what Adams says “is one of my best if not my best record.”
In a career spanning more than three decades, it never hurts to remember it all started in Vancouver. “I think there was a lot of fortuitous things that happened early on. There was a lot of hard times too and I don’t want to even begin to tell you what that was like. I think Vancouver was the right place for me at the right time.”
Myth has it Adams put a mixtape into legendary manager Bruce Allen’s car and begged him to take him on. Busted. “The truth about Bruce Allen and I is that I had been in club bands before. He was the main agent in town, and there was Sam Feldman. He had BTO (Bachman Turner Overdrive) and Prism, so when it came time for it, Jim Vallance said ‘you should go and speak to Bruce.’ And so I went and talked to him and that’s how it happened. I didn’t hang around his office or any of that bullshit. That never happened. I phoned up, made an appointment and went and saw him.” Bruce Allen still manages Adams, even though Allen is better known now as the best soundbite on commercial radio with CKNW’s Reality Check.
Adams says he’s grateful for all those early experiences he had in music before he was 17. “Breaking out, I was lucky that I was in Vancouver at that time. To have gone through the club circuit and the bars and the dives, and then to be fortunate enough to get into the studio scene and meeting people like the great Robbie King who gave me my first sessions. And learning how to work with guys like Peter Berring and Jim Vallance and all these guys that were doing studio sessions. Jingles with Michael Koren and Wayne Kozak. Getting to sing with Ann Mortifee and be a background singer for Nancy Nash. Finally when Jim and I sat down for the first time to work on music – I remember the first day writing a song – I knew right away that something would happen. ‘Course I had no idea that 35 years later we’d still be grafting away.”
Whereas Reckless was written in a basement, GET UP was written in Vancouver, Toronto, London, New York, the Caribbean, and LA, wherever Adams was for the last two years. “Working with Jim, this has been the most intense we’ve been since the ’80s. He’d send me an idea and I’d send him an idea back and we’d work back and forth on our computers. And we’d get together and we’d hash out the song and do some quick overdubs, and some guitars and vocals and send that to Jeff and then Jeff would take what he liked and whatever he didn’t like, he’d replay it or get me to redo it. Having someone like Jeff involved – both Jim and I have an enormous amount of admiration for[him] – was inspiring because we were able to lift our game. We got nine songs. Seemed like a good collection. Didn’t want to take up too much more of Jeff’s time and I didn’t want to pound on his backdoor. We never actually discussed writing an album together. We just did a bunch of songs.”
“A lot of the credit has to go to Jeff for just being involved. He was a big inspiration. The one song on the record, ‘We Did It All,’ is written for him. We wanted to write a song that Jeff could get his teeth into and sure enough he did. In that particular song, Jim sent me a verse idea and a sketch melody on top of it. I sat down one night by myself and was listening to it and grabbed my guitar and thought, ‘Where could this go?’ [I was] recording what I was playing and the first thing I recorded was this chorus idea [and] in amongst the mumbles – I’m the world’s greatest mumbler – was the title ‘We Did It All.’ There was a toss up at the end of the recording session with ‘We Did It All’ or ‘In a Heartbeat.’ I think ‘We Did It All’ won.”
Not since Tina Turner could something hold such magic. In a career of great moments, Adams admits the duet with Tina Turner is a standout. “And with all due respect to everybody else, when I did the duet with Tina for Reckless it was 1984. She was the support act for Lionel Ritchie, coming through Vancouver. I managed to get ahold of her manager and Bruce (Allen) helped me get to him and I met her backstage at Lionel Ritchie’s concert and said, ‘Do you want to sing a song?’ And she said, ‘I’d love it.’ I said, ‘Great! Well, can you come in tomorrow?’ She said, ‘Yeah’, so she came in and no one would have been able to guess that she was going to go from playing clubs and back up gigs to the biggest star in the world. Private Dancer was a huge album. I was asked to write for it but I was in the middle of Reckless and didn’t have time. So at any rate I asked her to sing on my record, as a way of reciprocating. Because Carter, who was the producer for Private Dancer, was a good friend of mine and we used to work together on Prism, that’s how that connection started. Then Tina started her tour and guess who got the first call to play with her? It was me. This happened to coincide with the fact that Reckless had just been released. And her album was just exploding. We went on tour together and we had the best time and I did 20 shows in Europe which took me from oblivion to being on the charts in Europe and that is completely due to her asking me to be there so I’m grateful.”
Since then, Adams has done projects with a lot of people, but remains loyal to the same backing band he’s had for his whole career – Keith Scott, Mickey Curry, Norm Fisher, and Gary Breit. And fame hasn’t eased the process of songwriting: “The key word is that [Vallance and I] are kind of ‘grafters.’ We work well to a deadline and I work well with him on projects. I think putting the time in is something that’s critical because I’m not the kind of person who wakes up in the morning and has a song in my head. I have the drive to go and find a song, but I don’t necessarily have the melody. I have to sit down and work at it. I have to allocate time in my week and time in my day to songwriting, otherwise it just won’t happen.
“You put me on a beach with a guitar and I might write a song but unless I’ve got something to write for, I’ll probably just go swimming.”
Thankfully Adams stayed on shore because GET UP is destined to be a classic.
GET UP is Bryan Adams 13th album and will be released October 16. Special thanks to Bryan Adams & Marlene Palmer.BC, British Columbia, Bryan Adams, GET UP, Susanne Tabata