Isley Meets Bacharach, The Supper Club, New York, Nov. 11, 2003
Through the generosity of Burt's publicists, Linda Dozoretz and Allison Ravenscroft, I attended the New York showcase performance of Here I Am: Isley Meets Bacharach. To say this was a special evening is to overstate the obvious. The performance took place at the Supper Club, a plush nightclub on West 47th Street off 7th Avenue. The capacity couldn't have been more than a few hundred. It was by far the most intimate setting I've ever seen Burt, and probably the most intimate setting I'll ever see him. The show was strictly an industry and media event, which initially concerned me as everyone knows how jaded music business people can be, but there was nonetheless a buzz in the air that we were about to witness something special.
Burt and Ron took the stage a little before 8 o'clock and announced that they intended to perform their new record, which had just been released that day, from start to finish. Burt commented that, from his perspective, it simply doesn't get any better than this: performing with a well-rehearsed 40-piece orchestra and a vocalist of Ron Isley's talents. They began with "Alfie," which perfectly encapsulates the record and which set the tone for the evening: beautifully spare arrangements and shimmeringly soulful vocals. When Ron sang the first line of "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head," there were smiles and some laughter in the crowd at the new, unexpected arrangement. By way of introducing "Make It Easy on Yourself," Burt revealed that the song marked the first time he and Ron had worked together, some 40 years ago. The Isley Brothers had planned to record "Make It Easy on Yourself," but in the studio, the band and Sceptor A&R director Luther Dixon changed the lyric to "Are You Lonely by Yourself." Bacharach came into the studio, discovered what they'd done to his song and was furious. After going back and forth about it, Burt stormed out of the studio. The Isleys, left with 20 minutes of unused studio time, decided to record a B-side: "Twist and Shout." The success of that record ultimately led the Isley Brothers in the direction of rock, funk and soul and away from the sound of Bacharach, Dionne Warwick and Jerry Butler, who eventually recorded "Make It Easy on Yourself."
"So now," Isley concluded, "I finally get my chance."
(Trivia: You can hear the Isley Brothers' altered demo of "Make It Easy on Yourself" on the Westside Records' release The Sound of Bacharach)
The emotional highlight of the night, and the song that drew the biggest reaction from the audience, was Isley's rendition of "Anyone Who Had A Heart," one of the few songs from the record on which Isley really lets loose. Burt wryly (but perhaps honestly) introduced "Here I Am" as a song he'd forgotten writing. Prior to performing "The Windows of the World," for which Burt sings a heartfelt first verse, Burt commented on the timeliness of the song's lyrics. He also took a moment to thank Hal David as well as DreamWorks Records and executive producer John McClain for having the faith to support such a project. The concert ended with a second take on "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head" because, Burt explained, his soft pedal had broken during the first version of the song, something that had never happened before. Ever the perfectionist.
After the concert, I wandered upstairs and hovered on the periphery of the media and well wishers. Burt did a few interviews and posed for photos with the Isley Brothers and Paul Schaffer, who had sat a row or two behind me and appeared to be as thrilled as I was with the show. I had just sat down for a drink with my friend Jen when Sue Main, Burt's tour manager (and an absolute joy to deal with), spotted me and asked if I'd had a chance yet to say hi to Burt. I told her no. I honestly hadn't expected to get a chance to with so many high-profile friends, industry people and media in the house. Sue immediately pulled Burt over to greet me. He was in a great mood, he looked terrific and he thanked me for the support. Thanks to Jen, I managed to get yet another photo of Burt and myself with an embarrasingly rapturous look on my face. Please excuse the poor framing. Burt caught us by surprise and Jen had a little trouble operating my camera, no doubt exacerbated by the open bar. One of these days I'm going to take a picture with Burt where I don't look like a moron...
I also had a chance to say hi to Rob Shrock, Burt's keyboard player and musical director. Rob told me that Burt had signed a solo deal with Sony UK, so, hopefully, "Here I Am" is just the first of a new series of Bacharach recordings.