A Conversation with Amanda McBroom

| May 26, 2017

A Conversation with Amanda McBroom

May 22, 2017

Amanda McBroom

Amanda McBroom – songwriter of the Bette Midler mega-hit, “The Rose” – lives a creatively prolific life in the countryside of Southern California with husband of 43 years, actor George Ball, and assorted dogs and cats. Recorded by a varied collection of artists including Nirvana founder, Kurt Cobain, and as a duet by Amy Poehler and Jack Black, “The Rose” changed her life in many ways in 1980. Amanda, who made her Broadway debut in Seesaw, was primarily an actress until she performed the song on the Golden Globe Awards (she won Best Original Song – Motion Picture), the Grammys (Bette won for the recording), and The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. Suddenly, Amanda McBroom was a recognized songwriter and international concert artist as well. She has credited her 1970s turn in Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris with turning her into a songwriter of depth. She became an audiophile darling with the release of a groundbreaking direct-to-disc recording titled Growing Up in Hollywood Town in 1980, a record of some of her earliest compositions mixed with selections from the American Songbook. Since those nascent creative days, her songs have continued to appeal to many major recording artists including Barry Manilow, Barbara Cook, LeAnn Rimes, Betty Buckley, the Manhattan Transfer and Conway Twitty (for whom “The Rose” was a #1 country hit). Amanda has performed all over the U.S. including at Wolftrap, The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts (with the National Symphony Orchestra conducted by Marvin Hamlisch), and Carnegie Hall, and in such far flung places as Taiwan and Australia. Her song, “Errol Flynn” was named to NPR’s list of “Songs We Love” by the renowned music journalist, Ann Powers. On June 5th, Amanda makes her NYC Birdland debut in celebration of her new CD, voices.

Read our review of Voices at http://cabaretscenes.org/2017/05/05/amanda-mcbroom-voices/

Cabaret Scenes: Can you explain the meaning behind the name of your CD?

Amanda McBroom: The first song I chose for this recording was one I wrote a long while back with Gordon Hunt, with whom I wrote “Errol Flynn,” and a dear songwriting pal from Nashville named Rand Bishop. It is called “Voices That Come Through the Wall.” As I started deciding upon the songs for the CD, I realized that they are all voices of characters that resonate in my heart—characters I have invented over the years. So I figured Voices was an appropriate title.

CS: Besides your three cover song by other writers, are the songs on Voices new, or songs you’ve wanted to record for awhile?

Amanda: Some of the songs are new, like “Yarnell Hill.” And some are from long ago that have been hiding in my trunk  of “Good songs, but what do I do with them?” I was actually cleaning out my studio and going through the cassettes—remember them??—and, as I  was downloading them into my computer, I re-listened and discovered that some of these old babies were REALLY GOOD! They deserved to be let out of the closet!

CS: How did you get started as a songwriter? Weren’t you an actress primarily when you began your performing career?

Amanda: Actually, I am STILL an actress, whenever someone casts me in something, or I write a show for myself. I started writing songs as a hobby while I was on tour with Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well.... I had my guitar, a yellow pad, and lots of off-time and they just started appearing.

CS: How did the success of “The Rose” change your life?

Amanda: You can imagine! Suddenly I didn’t have to do commercials about singing tampon boxes anymore. Suddenly, I could afford to paint the kitchen. And suddenly people started looking at me as a songwriter, which I definitely did NOT think I was until my husband George said to me one day, “Honey, don’t you think you should start taking responsibility for this gift?” He was right — as usual. But it was a hard mental adjustment.

CS: Who were your early influences as a songwriter?

Amanda: Lerner & Loewe, Dylan—though I didn’t know that at the time. I thought Judy Collins and Joan Baez wrote all his songs—Peter, Paul & Mary, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Warren Zevon, Don Henley.

CS: Do your songs come from personal experience?

Amanda: Some of them. And some of them are from observation of what’s going on in the lives of my friends. Some from articles I read in the paper. Always I seem to be attracted to a character whose voice can be turned into a musical monologue. Ironically, the songs that are the most personal to ME seem to have the most universal appeal.

CS: What comes first for you when you write music and lyrics: do you get the lyrics in your head and then the music or…?

Amanda: Almost always lyrics first. Music then helps the bridge for the story to cross.

Michele Brourman
Photo: Mary Ann Halpin

CS: You have written with a few different people in your life, but Michele Brourman and you seem to have that extra something as writing partners. What makes a good team?

Amanda: I call Michele my Sister Wife. She has been the most enormous blessing in my life in so many ways. We have the greatest time writing together. We seem to know what each other is thinking. I will send her a lyric or a piece of one, and then she will take it and spin it in ways I cannot imagine and turn it into something so much more beautiful, or haunting, or funny, than I could have imagined. I am a journeyman composer. She is a genius.

CS: Back to “The Rose”: On Voices, you’ve recorded “The Rose” for the first time as a duet. What led to that decision, and also your choice of Vince Gill as a duet partner?

Amanda: My producer, Fred Mollin, insisted that we do a re-think of “The Rose.” I hadn’t recorded it in twenty years. And he said it should be a duet. He told me to think of anyone on the planet I would like to sing it with. The first name that leaped into my head was Vince Gill. He has God’s voice. He is one of the nicest people on the planet. And his sound seemed perfect for what we were doing with the arrangements, which we recorded in Nashville. Luckily for me, Fred and Vince are pals. He asked and Vince said YES. And I fainted.

CS: Tell us about your other songwriting work. Most people probably don’t know, for instance, that you wrote for the way ahead-of-its-time Cop Rock.

Amanda: Cop Rock was an outrageous adventure. Indeed, way ahead of its time! If it appeared now, it would be as successful as Glee and twice as dark. It was a joy and a challenger. I was the only female writer. The guys did the heavy rock, and I did the  ballads. It was HUGELY EXCITING!

And anyone who has had a four-year-old in their house has probably had my music wafting in annoying constant repetition, as Michele and I wrote the music for 14 of the 16 Land Before Time film series — the singing baby dinosaurs. I believe our biggest hit so far there has been “Big Big Big Water.” THAT was huge fun. No love songs. No  suicidal heartbreak ballads. Songs about mud and being friendly and liking people. Heaven.

George Ball & Amanda

CS: Why did you and George decide to live in Californiarather than pursue more theater in New York, after you had such extraordinary early success on stage with Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris?

Amanda: We came out to L.A. with the National tour of …Brel… I had been born in L.A. and had not been back since junior high. The minute we drove down Sunset Blvd., I felt I had come home. George seemed to love it, too — blue sky and green gardens and mountains and beaches. It just felt right to us. We would both probably have had much bigger theater careers had we stayed in NYC, but that was not the path we chose. I LOVE coming to NYC to work and to see all my beloved pals. But I could never have my three dogs and three cats in an apartment in the city.

CS: With the many clubs in New York City, how did you decide on Birdland for your CD release show?

Amanda: Birdland chose ME. Darling Jim Caruso called and said he would love to have me come. And I have always loved that venue! And wanted to perform there. So it was a blessing all around.

CS: Will you be going solo, or will you have any special guests join you for the show?

Amanda: I MIGHT have a special guest, but it will be mostly me.

CS: What are your future plans for recording/songwriting/performing?

Amanda: I am concertizing, trying to get as much attention for Voices as possible, looking for new venues and new acting offers, writing a new musical with Michele, and spending as much time in my garden as possible.

Amanda McBroom
315 W. 44th St., NYC

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Category: Cabaret Features, Los Angeles, Los Angeles Cabaret Features, New York City, New York City Cabaret Features, Regional

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