Music interview: Chatting to Bruce Sudano, aka Donna Summer’s hubby & author of ‘Bad Girls’

Singer-songwriter Bruce Sudano is back with his latest single, Make The World Go Away, a powerful anthem for people in need of a break from today’s world (which is pretty much everyone!). This new single succeeds his release of Ode to a Nightingale, which was a musical masterpiece dispatching various messages from the heart.

Noted for his song-writing for Dolly Parton, Michael Jackson, and Donna Summer and his own hits with the band Brooklyn Dreams, Bruce Sudano has established a burgeoning reputation as a recording artist in his own right.

This Spring, Bruce Sudano will be opening for Rock & Roll Hall of Famers The Zombies in the UK tour. Enjoy this interview!

Bruce Sudano posing for mums' magazine

Monica Costa (MC): I have just listened to your new single Make the world go away. What an emotional song that is! That proves the point that music/your music is so meaningful (like your song ‘Starting over again’ about your parents’ divorce) and shows that your music has evolved over the years: from your early rock/soul roots (Brooklyn Dreams: Lady, Lady, Lady used in Flashdance 1983)  to your more recent gospel-inspired sound. Can you talk about a specific experience or event that inspired this evolution in your music? How has this change influenced your song-writing process and the themes you explore in your music?

Bruce Sudano (BS): As any artist, I am committed to what I do and, as part of my commitment to what I do, to keep growing and keep redefining what I do. When I look at my history and I look at what I’ve written and compared to what I write now, there are certain things that are similar because it’s coming from the root of who I am as an artist: how I process and how I assimilate things. I always like to start from a seed of inspiration. When I write, I don’t consciously sit down and say: ‘I want to write this song’. I search until I find a seed of something that’s an inspiration. I am in a simulator: I live my life, I interact with people, I’m curious, I’m in tune with my emotion. So, these things just come out and when I find something there that’s poetic then I apply craft. I’ve been a songwriter for many years. Writing songs is a combination of inspiration and craft. Over time, I try to refine what I do: be poetic, be ‘nuts on the nose’, be intriguing, don’t be cliché. All of the above. All different combinations of elements that you like to balance with psyche when you write a song. Song-writing? I view it as a calling. Something I was called to do. It’s my natural place of where I know who I am. If I go through a period of time in life when I don’t sit with my guitar or at the piano for a while, I feel unbalanced. I feel a bit lost.

bruce sudano album coverr

MC: How has your relationship with Donna Summer (I feel love, Bad girls in 1979, Could it be magic) influenced your music, and vice versa? You and Donna are like my mum and dad, music wise!

Bruce sudano and donna summer

BS: I hope we’ve done a good job as parents.

Donna and I started writing songs the day that we met. It was always a very good mentoring situation. We both loved to write and we worked very well together. We had complimentary gifts: l would admire her ability to just pull poetry out of the air, and she would say to me: ‘You just have a way of just writing it so that people can really understand what you’re saying’. We balanced each other out in a way, and we respected each other’s gifts. Ours was a very complimentary collaboration. In our relationship, in general, we respected each other and we gave each other space to be who we were. We found a way to come together and we compromised to become one. It’s a matter of respect and commitment. We took our commitment seriously. 

MC: You’ve written songs for (iconic artists like), apart from Donna, Michael Jackson and Dolly Parton. Can you tell me about a specific song you wrote for one of them that was particularly meaningful to you? How did you approach the song writing process for these artists compared to writing for yourself? 

 

BS: I did the writing for the Jacksons and Jermaine’s song Tell me I’m not dreaming in collaborations with Michael Omartian, who was also the producer of those records. Whenever I’m writing specifically for another artist, I always would like to sit with that artist and get to know them and have a conversation and get a sense of who they are, where they are and try to write something that they could sing and believe. Because it would be intrinsic to them. When Dolly Parton and Reba McEntire, another very big country artist, wanted Starting over again, this song was personal to me and was written about the divorce of my parents not specifically for the artist. But they related to it as well. As a songwriter, you have to be adaptable.

 

MC: Disco truly brought people of different races and socio-economic standings together. Tell me about Bad Girls

BS: First of all, Bad Girls came out of a situation where it was Donna’s idea. Casablanca Records was on Sunset Boulevard in LA, and right across the street there was this place called The Body Shop. A lot of women were hanging around there. When the secretaries would come out of the Casablanca office, people would stop, pull over and hit on these girls who were getting confused. We had to write a song for these girls. It is a song that really has a message, has a point. We always tried to convey messages when we wrote songs. Especially in the early days of dance music, it got sort of put down because it didn’t have any depth of content. We were seriously aware of that. But when we created lyrics, we wanted them to have a real meaning and depth to it. Something that would touch you emotionally. In my UK show (supporting the Zombies), I play Bad Girls with my acoustic guitar and I introduce it by saying: ‘Bad Girls was the number one pop record around the world but the song was written on an acoustic guitar like this…’.

And I play the song just as it was written.

I have just come back from Berlin where we had the first international screening of the forthcoming Donna Summer documentary that will start airing on Sky at the end of May. The music for the end credits is the original demo that we did of Bad Girls played with a guitar and a drum machine. I found that footage while I was doing all the research for the documentary. It’s pretty cool even in its initial format.

 

MC: Can you share a story from your early days as a musician when you first felt like you were rebelling against traditional music norms? How did this influence your song writing style

BS: I was never a rebel because I had parents who allowed me to dream and raised me believing that you could do whatever you can be and what you want to be. I was very very lucky in that from a very early age I knew what I wanted to do. This is something that I really feel blessed by. From the time I was little I was writing poetry and as an eight-year-old I got to the theatre in Brooklyn at Brooklyn Fox. There were these rock ‘n’ roll shows. My cousin took me. I was nine years old when I saw Chuck Berry and Little Anthony and The Imperials on stage.

By the time I was 13 years old, I was starting to put together bands in Brooklyn. I started playing in little church dances. It’s a very similar story to many of us that grew up in that time period. So, I just kept putting bands together. the only way at the beginning where I could get my songs heard was writing songs for my own band. We were playing in these clubs and I would work while I was going to school. By the time I got to university, I was playing with my band called Alive and Kicking in the top club in Manhattan six nights a week. There I met Tommy James, a singer songwriter for Tommy James & The Shondells. He basically took me under his wing and brought me into the record business. I co-wrote my first hit song ‘Ball of fire’ for him and with him in 1969. I was in my teens.

The following year he produced my band Alive and Kicking and we got a top 10 songs in America called Tighter Tighter. I was just catapulted into my dream and I have never looked back.

Bruce sudano and monica costa chatting

MC: What do you hope listeners take away from your music, both on a personal and a societal level?

BS: I hope that they take away something good. I write different kind of songs: philosophical, spiritual.. 

I wanted them to take away a bit of encouragement. I want them to feel uplifted and comforted. Depending on the song, I want them to learn something, explore and relate to them. I want to bring something to their life. Whether to reinforce something that they are feeling, that they see themselves in the song.

 

MC: What’s your favourite song from your vast repertoire, a song that a special meaning for you?  

BS: Let’s go with the current single Make the world go away because I think it’s a song that relates to the moment we’re in: everybody is feeling stressed and the weight of the world. We are all wrapped up and we don’t know how to relieve the pressure. This song is tied up to a video where the guy’s dancing. Let’s go dance which is a good way to escape.

 

 

MC: What can fans expect from Bruce Sudano in the future, and what are your plans for your next music project?

BS: My next single is Two bleeding hearts, a song and a duet with Valerie Simpson, one of the greatest song writers of our generation. She wrote Ain’t no Mountain high enough. She was part of the great duo of Ashford &. Simpson, so I’m completely honoured that she’s singing on this song that she wrote with me. Look out for that one as it’s a beautiful song.

 

Meantime, see you at the London gig on 14 April 2023.

 

 

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