STEVE TYRELL: Late-blooming crooner

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While Steve Tyrell regularly sells out shows at Feinstein’s at the Nikko and the Cafe Carlyle in New York, he never planned on a life in the spotlight.

“I never wanted to be a singer,” recalls the native Texan and longtime Los Angeleno. While he played in rock bands as a teenager outside of Dallas, Tyrell says “I didn’t see myself as a performer, touring from city to city in a van.”

At 18, he moved from Dallas to New York and became a record producer and A&R rep at Scepter Records, working out of the Brill Building. He introduced an old friend from Texas, B.J. Thomas, to Scepter’s ace writer/producer Burt Bacharach, leading to the recording of  “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head” for the soundtrack to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The song went on to win an Oscar.

Over the next two decades, Tyrell produced an impressive range of material, from Woody Allen’s Stand Up Comic album, to songs with Aaron Neville, Stevie Wonder, Bonnie Raitt, and Bette Midler. He even produced a Grammy-winning Gospel Album for Andy Griffith.

Eventually, Tyrell moved to Los Angeles where he became a music producer and supervisor for film and television productions ranging from Mystic Pizza to Garbage Pail Kids cartoons to John Grisham’s The Client.

In 1990, at age 45, he was working on the Steve Martin-starring remake of Father of the Bride when the creative team was looking to include a version of the Dorothy Fields-Jerome Kern standard “The Way You Look Tonight” that would effectively capture the feelings not of a suitor, but a father.

In stitching together a rough soundtrack to early footage, Tyrell quickly recorded the song himself.

“When the director heard it,’ he asked, “‘Who’s this guy singing?’  I said, ‘It’s me,’ and he said, ‘Ok, why don’t you just be the guy in the movie!'”

“The scene with Steve Martin turned out to be very sentimental and memorable. And we reprised the song at the end with a 100 piece orchestra. People started to use my version of the song at their weddings.”

Tyrell was approached to record a standards album in response to the film’s success, but he turned down the offers. “It was 1990. Who would buy a standards album?” he remembers thinking, “Everyone was doing grunge music from Seattle.”

Five years later, though, after Tyrell sang “”Give Me the Simple Life” and “On the Sunny Side of the Street” on the soundtrack of Father of the Bride 2,  legendary Atlantic Records chief Ahmet Ertegun convinced Tyrell to cut his debut album, A New Standard. 

Since then, Tyrell has recorded 11 albums of 20th century classics, all of which have charted in Billboard, many among the Top 5 jazz albums.

Tyrell relishes his unexpected late-in-life celebrity, regularly playing cabaret gigs with a small combo, performing as the guest of symphony orchestras and hosting a weekly radio show on Los Angeles’ KKJZ.

Still, being a performer does have certain drawbacks for the earthy and mirthful Tyrell: “I’ve got to eat dinner really early, like by 4 o’clock, so I’m not belching on stage. In San Francisco, I’ll be taking the whole band to House of Nanking. It’s the best Chinese food ever. But we’ll probably go after the show.”