Bryan Adams tells it Straight from the Heart
"I've learned that not every song is going to be a hit and that's not what is important now. What's important is the joy I get from writing, recording, singing, meeting people along the way, enjoying every minute of it because you never know when it's going to come to an end. That's what works for me."
~ Bryan Adams
Photo Credit Bryan Adams Facebook Page
By Abbe Davis, June 2023
It’s kind of funny how people are obsessed with the Bryan Adams’ song, “Summer of ’69.” It’s a great rock song. Ask a lot of people and they may comment, “Of course I know why he titled the song that way, everyone knows it’s about how Bryan Adams got his first guitar back in the summer of ’69.” Nope. Please go read an interview he did years ago in Rolling Stone magazine, where he says it is about teenage lust, and thought it would be funny to title the song that way. There it is. The opening guitar riff makes ya stop as he does what he does best with his songs. He jumps in and brings his brand of forthcoming emotion. If you hear one of his songs and have to ask what he is thinking, well, you might not be listening well, please rewind. It is all right there and you feel it. He has appealed to the masses thru decades, having brought so many rocking songs and memorable ballads, and soundtracks to boot. His latest album is So Happy It Hurts, and it has to feel great, touring (with Joan Jett) across the country and across continents to promote the album, still kicking it with his sound.
Raised in Ottawa, Canada, by 1974 he and his family moved to North Vancouver, while his dad was in the service abroad.
He bought his first electric guitar at age 12, some Italian brand from Gherson, based on the Fender Stratocaster. Soon he quit school to play in a band and used the funds his parents saved for his college education to buy an Estev grand piano. He did odd jobs to pay rent. By age 15 he was the singer of the pub band, Sweeney Todd.
By 1978, at just age 18, he met co-songwriter, Jim Vallance, and they formed a successful songwriting partnership that lasted for decades. Later that year, Bryan signed to A&M Records for only $1, and released his debut album by 1980.
He truly rose to fame with the release of his third album, Cuts Like a Knife in 1983. That album popularized him in the US, yet it wasn’t until 1984 (at age 25) his fourth album, Reckless made him an international superstar and gave him his first Grammy nomination. The album sold four million copies back then. The album featured hit singles, “Heaven,” “Run to You,” “Somebody,” “One Night Love Affair,” and of course, “Summer of ‘69.”In 1984 Adams was on a two-year world tour to launch the album in the US, Canada, Japan, Australia and in the UK. He also did dates to support Tina Turner’s Private Dancer tour.
They both won awards for their live performance of the hot duet he wrote, “It’s Only Love.” It won Best Stage Performance at the third annual MTV Video Music Awards. In 1986 it also was nominated for a Grammy for Best Rock Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group.
By 1985, Bryan Adams collaborated with other musicians on the song, "Tears Are Not Enough" in order to lend support to Ethiopia as it recovered from a horrific famine (via CBC News.) Adams also worked with prominent organizations such as Greenpeace and PETA, speaking up about issues he cared about.
In 1987, he released his fifth album Into the Fire, an album of social consciousness. It brought him a top ten single "Heat of the Night", another Grammy nomination, and another platinum album to his name. By 1991, his album, Waking Up the Neighbours, which included the single "(Everything I Do) I Do It for You," sold over three million copies in the United States, becoming the second bestselling single, second only to "We Are the World". The song was Adams' first Academy Award nomination and Golden Globe nomination as the song was written for the movie, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Waking Up the Neighbours garnered him six Grammy nominations (which was a record for a Canadian artists). He won one for best song written specifically for a motion picture or television,"(Everything I Do) I Do It for You."
In 1993, Adams released a greatest hits album, titled So Far So Good, which spawned a #1 single, "Please Forgive Me". That same year, he sang the single "All for Love" wit Rod Stewart and Sting from the movie, The Three Musketeers. It became a #1 single reaching across Europe and North America. He released the single "Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman?" from the movie Don Juan DeMarco in 1994; quickly his fourth #1 single and second Academy Award nomination. He became one of two non-American singers to have four number one hits and the most successful Canadian singer ever.
In 1996, Adams released the album 18 Til I Die, which garnered him another two Grammy nominations. Later that year, he wrote and sang the single "I Finally Found Someone", a duet with Barbra Streisand for her movie, The Mirror Has Two Faces. The song became a top ten single and won Adams his third Academy Award nomination. He released three more albums since then, "MTV Unplugged" (1997), "On a Day Like Today" (1998) and most recently the songs for the DreamWorks animated movie, Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron in 2002, earning a Golden Globe nomination for Best Song.
Bryan Adams was awarded the Order of Canada and the Order of British Columbia for his contributions to popular music and philanthropic work through his own foundation, which helps improve education for people around the world. Adams has been inducted into the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Canada's Walk of Fame, the Canadian Broadcast Hall of Fame, the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame. On 1 May 2010, Adams received the Governor General's Performing Arts Award for his 30 years of contributions to the arts.
Adams’s songs have been in more than 100 film and television soundtracks, and he has won a Grammy Award, an MTV Video Music Award, and an American Music Award for his hit “(Everything I Do) I Do It for You” (1991).
Adams has a second career as a professional photographer. Per Rolling Stone, his first photography book from 2012 was titled,"Bryan Adams Exposed" and included stunning photos of famous artists such as Pink, Lindsay Lohan, Billy Idol, Mick Jagger, and Amy Winehouse (whom he became good friends with). He has also published a number of books to raise money for various causes, and has had many photo exhibitions. The singer has received several awards for his humanitarian work. While accepting an award in 2010, he was quoted as saying that he hoped to motivate others. It was an honor speaking with someone whose music I'd always loved, and I was eager to hear his side of things about his life.
By Abbe Davis, June 2023
AD: Congratulations on the 40 years since your first album, the Cuts Like A Knife album. What have you learned thru this music industry along the way, from the start to now about who you are, what works and also, what doesn’t work for you in your life?
BA: Hmm. Tough question. What have I learned from the music industry and what doesn't work for me in my life? Wow. I guess I've learned that to make it in this profession, you have to surround yourself with the right people, people who are smarter than you are, people who are just as driven as you are, and people who understand the profession from the beginning to the end. I've learned that not every song is going to be a hit and that's not what is important now. What's important is the joy I get from writing, recording, singing, meeting people along the way, enjoying every minute of it because you never know when it's going to come to an end. That's what works for me.
AD: That sounds like a lot of good lessons, maybe other musicians can remember that when they see this.Off of your album So Happy It Hurts: I particularly enjoyed the songs, "Never Gonna Rain" and "These Are the Moments that Make Up My Life." What a beautiful ballad. Do you agree that if you sang most of the album with a country twang, that it has a Country music type vibe for the most part? Was that intentional?
BA: I guess the songs could be made into country songs. You could probably say that with a lot of songs, too. But, yeah, I could hear Tim McGraw probably singing a couple of these. As far as intentional, nah, that wasn't the intent. I was looking for something more pulled back, maybe a bit more spiritual in thought, songs that a lot of people could relate to in their lives. With 'These Are the Moments that Make Up My Life', it's about slowing down, enjoying what you've done, where you've been, and taking time out to look around, outside yourself. But, yeah, I could probably see some of these songs being done with that country twang. LOL.
AD: Going back to your younger years, do you remember the very first song you heard, and I mean, the first one or two songs where you said, “I have to sing and I need to get get a guitar?”
BA: I don't know if there was one song. As far as I can remember, I've loved music. I loved Creedence Clearwater Revival, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, T-Rex, Janis Joplin, Joni Mitchell, Elton John. So many great bands, artists. I really just loved music. I loved Tina Turner. Just listening to all these great bands and singers, I knew that's what I wanted to do. I bought my first guitar when I was 12, taught myself how to play it. When I was 16, I decided to drop out of school and to go for it, taking a big chance on the music profession. I already had some experience singing in a band, Sweeney Todd. I worked at a recording studio, learned a lot there.
AD: That's a young age to get started, and a lot of guts to leave school at a young age like that, too. Great that you got those experiences to set you on the path of it all. For songwriting, talk to me about programs you use to get ideas out initially these days? Pro Tools? Did you find it frustrating to begin with, using a laptop for ideas, the change of it years back?
BA: My cell phone is my recording studio! LOL. Well, not the recording studio but, if I get an idea for a song or hear something in my head, I'll record it on my cell phone and save it in a file. I think a lot of singers would tell you they do the same thing. It's easy and convenient. As far as programs, there are so many out there that make it easy these days. Pro Tools, yeah, that's a good one. Garage Band. It's so much easier these days, as far as getting your ideas recorded and locked away, then it was when I first got started. The days of toting around a cassette recorder and mic or a pen and some scrap paper are long gone. For me, anyway. I'm sure there's still someone out there with a cassette player. LOL. But, those were good times, too, and that's really all we had, and we all made the most out of those things. Once cell phones and laptops came about, it really changed the whole landscape of recording, made it simpler in some aspects. During the pandemic, I got turned on to Songbox Pro. It's great for sharing MP3 files.
AD: Glad you've gone with the changes and enjoy it. I'll have to check Songbox Pro out, cool. In 1985 at the Juno Awards, Tina Turner, an icon and you sing “It’s Only Love,” which goes on and wins best performance. It’s amazing whenever I go see the videos of you two performing, it’s just sheer rock and soul out of the both of you. What went through your mind the first time you both performed, right before you meet her or get on stage with her?
BA: I've always loved Tina. Her voice, her singing [was] unlike anyone else. Her stage presence, energy, her personality, that voice! It all comes at you like a ball of fire. I remember Tina was busy making her album Private Dancer at the time, in 1984. Her producer called me to ask if I would write a song for her, for that album. I was busy at the time, writing and recording my album Reckless. I didn't have any spare songs but asked him if she'd sing with me one of my songs on my album. It took a while, but I eventually heard back from her manager, Roger Davies, around the time she was doing a tour in Vancouver with Lionel Richie. He asked me if I'd come to the show to meet her and speak with her afterward. That was a pretty ridiculous question. LOL. So, I'm backstage and after the show, you can see her walking, strutting down this long hall, moving through this huge crowd of people, and I hear her saying, "Where is he?" Recording with her and doing that video, it was really incredible. I mean, this was one of my favorite singers as a kid, and to not only have the chance to meet her, but to record with her and later on produce some of her songs, it's very humbling and really one of the greatest highlights of my life.
AD: Thanks for sharing this, I can envision her asking for you, what a moment. The Live Aid concert in Philadelphia to give food and supplies to a then war-ravaged Ehtiopia. There were 90,000 people at that concert. I’m not saying the money was appropriated well. I’m asking you as a musician at that time, what are highlights when you look back, as in people you got to meet or performances you saw, or being there?
BA: That was one amazing day. Looking back, it's something so special and I don't think any of us performing really knew just how big this was going to be on a world-wide level. I mean, the talent, the artists who performed, it was incredible. Elton John, U2, The Stones, Led Zeppelin, Queen, David Bowie, Tom Petty.....man, what a concert. And to be asked to join those bands, it was a thrill.
AD: I can only imagine. Still watched today and great performances by every one of you. Best story of you when you toured in the 80’s and 90’s, you meet an idol of yours and it bombs; it can be awkward or unexpected, yet it is so human.
BA: Oh wow, unfortunately I have one. And, it's a big one. When I met Eric Clapton. I was walking backstage with his tour manager to go meet Eric, and when I finally met him face to face, I called him "Mick!" I called Eric Clapton Mick! Man, did I feel like an idiot, so embarrassing. I'm still embarrassed whenever I think about that.
AD: LMAO! It would have been maybe easier on ya if, when you called him Mick, Eric just looked at ya with no expression, and began dancing like Mick Jagger. Seriously now, other world musicians like yourself have told me stories like this. In the moment there's no telling how anyone will get. Human! Glad you shared this. In the 90’s you helped Amy Winehouse with sobriety, you had taken some photos of her and other musicians, you both became friends, and you asked her to stay at your home so she could get sober, etc. What do you want people to remember her for, the qualities she had, that maybe people didn’t get to see enough of?
BA: Amy was an amazingly talented singer. She could do jazz, pop, the blues, rock. She had so much talent and soul. I had the pleasure of getting to know her several years back, and also had the pleasure of taking photos of her. She really was quite amazing. I wish she were still here, because she had so much talent and so many more songs to share. She had a great personality, very intelligent. I miss her a lot.
AD: I'm sorry she was gone too soon. Her songs live on, a great voice and yeah, no doubt, lots of soul. You've done a lot of writing, producing touring, co-writing, and photography and charity. What are you surprisingly afraid to try, however, you still have the itch to do one thing you haven't done yet?
BA: Hmmm. I really don't know. Maybe home remodeling? That could be fun.
AD: Interesting! You might surprise yourself! Those shows are fun to watch. Let’s imagine this, robots have taken over, music is being wiped out and filtered, yet the robots like your sound, so they let you leave four of your songs. Which ones do you choose to keep?
BA: That's not a fair question. LOL! That's like asking someone who owns a dozen cats which 4 they would take with them if they could only keep 4. LOL. That's a tough one. I mean, all my songs have a special place in my heart, even ones that I haven't ever recorded, but are sitting there waiting. Man, only 4? Wow. And, it's the robots who like the songs? Where do you think of these questions? LOL. Wouldn't you rather know about something like what color socks are my favorite? LOL. OK, let me think about this. 4 of my songs. I guess one will be 'Cuts like a Knife'. Maybe, 'Run to You'. 'It's Only Love', can't leave that out. A 4th? Really? Man, this is tough! Let's go with 'I Finally Found Someone'.
AD: Ha. You did it, yay! The robots are pleased. OK, you're being a good sport, so let's go. Another one, you get to put together a ONE NIGHT ONLY show with some of your favorite musicians that have ever lived or are still alive today, for a Rock 'n Roll Relive show. Which guys do you choose: your idea of the ultimate musicians on drums, bass, guitar and fellow vocalist to join you?
BA: I'm going to cheat here a little. Just a little. I'm adding a few extra. Jimi Hendrix or Eric Clapton on guitar, drums has to be Neal Peart. Bass, John Paul Jones or Geddy Lee. Vocals, I'm going with either Tina Turner or Janis Joplin.
AD: I'd pay anything to see that. Yeass! You have written some amazing rock songs. Why collaborate often? Do you get writer's block? What is the reason when it seems you might be able to write a lot of great songs on your own? Does it get boring for you, or what goes on?
BA: Well, I've been writing with Jim [Jim Vallance, Bryan's long-time writing partner who is also in the Canadian Songwriter Hall of Fame recipient], for a long time. We met when I was about 18. Writer's block? Yeah, it happens. Just like in any profession, there's going to be those times when the creativity hits a snag. But, you learn to work through it or work around it. I've been fortunate to have Jim in my corner for so many years. I've also had the privilege to have also worked with many other great artists and songwriters; Barbra Streisand, Sting, Rod Stewart.
AD: With Jim, a great partnership of songs all of us love, as well as the others you've mentioned. Now onto another different type of question. If you had a time machine and you could revisit a year in your career which year would that be and why?
BA: I'd go back to 2011 and see if there was something else, something missing, that I could do or others I could call on to help Amy Winehouse.
AD: That's a very loving, heartfelt answer. I'm sure she feels your friendship wherever she is. You are on a world tour this year, right? Joan Jett opens for you. What else do you want to share, charities? Things about the year ahead, thoughts?
BA: It's going to be a fun tour. Joan is great, such a wonderful lady and so talented. I'm thrilled to be sharing the tour with her. We go way back. I have my charity, my foundation, the Bryan Adams Foundation. We use funds from the foundation to help people, especially kids, by providing funds and grants to further their education. It's something very dear to me and I love being part of this, being able to help others make their lives better.
AD: Thank you so much for this fun interview with you and for sharing so openly. I've always loved your Rock sound, and now the new album.
BA: Thank you very much.
Abbe Davis, Editor of TRR / Musician
Abbe Davis is a pro singer/songwriter. Her band's singles will release in the Fall.Abbe will co-MC the TRR new series,Tru Rock Live, streaming this summer. Abbe's background is Blues, Classical, Jazz and Rock. She performed alongside legendary Blues artist, Buddy Guy, at the Riverwalk Blues Festival. Abbe also played at the Parkland Memorial concert in South Florida. When not doing music or healing people at One of Asheville, she enjoys hiking and cycling with the family.