Classic Tracks: Stephen Bishop's "On and On"

Mar 30, 2010 7:19 PM, By Gary Eskow


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The guitar-and-voice demo of “On and On,” recorded more than a year earlier, was followed closely when it came time to track the final at A&M. The way that Lewy—a German-born L.A. studio pro who cut his teeth working with Bones Howe at United Western in the early and mid-’60s—liked to work with Joni Mitchell, Bishop and singer/songwriters in general was to get a good vocal and guitar performance to serve as the basis of the “basic” track, and then fit other players around that, often playing as a band to that guitar-vocal basic (through headphones) and overdubbing as needed. In this case, we have few details about how the tracks were constructed, but we do know that there was considerable overdubbing.

“We had under-harmonies in the verses and choruses, all of which I sang,” says Bishop, who also played acoustic guitars. “We were looking to put together an unusual set of instruments. Victor Feldman played the bass vibes [along with marimba and other percussion], and we brought in Mike Staton to play steel guitar. We recorded three or four tracks of Mike’s playing, and during the mix my job was to ride his parts. I can’t remember the board or tape machine we were using, but we definitely used a 24-track deck.”

The recorder was a 3M-79 24-track, while the console was a custom 32-in, 8-out HAECO (Holzer Audio Engineering) model; monitors were Altec 604s. Unfortunately, there is no specific documentation about mics or processing, but certainly A&M was a very well-equipped studio, with a large complement of UREI, Pultec, Lang and API EQs; UREI and Fairchild limiters; and mics by the major players of the day, including Neumann, Shure, Sennheiser, Beyer, Sony and RCA. (Lewy always liked to use a U87 on Joni Mitchell’s lead vocal; whether he also favored that for Bishop is unknown.) The other musicians who played on “On and On” are guitarist Andrew Gold (who was also part of Linda Ronstadt’s band), bassist Mac Cridlin, electric pianist Barlow Jarvis and drummer Larry Brown.

Upon its release, “On and On” made a rapid ascent, cresting at Number 11 on the Hot 100 chart. Did Bishop believe it would all happen so quickly? “No, I certainly didn’t think that ‘On and On’ was going to be a hit at all. That surprised me.”

The zenith of his career might have come with the release of “It Might Be You,” the theme to the 1982 film Tootsie. Although Bishop didn’t write this song (Dave Grusin set a lyric penned by Alan and Marilyn Bergman), it cemented his image as a sensitive Everyman. Did he mind? “That doesn’t sound so bad! When you’re a singer, the whole idea is to be sincere; I don’t mind that at all! A lot of people think of me as the guy who sings the Tootsie song. But I’ve worn a lot of hats; in fact, I’m wearing one right now!”

Bishop, who continues to tour, recently produced his own EP, Work, Home, Dinner, TV, Bed. “I wrote the material over a period of several months. An excellent female singer from Canada, Nat J, appears on the track ‘Loveless,’ and I worked with a very talented producer/engineer named Vivek Maddala, who has a project studio in Venice, California, on a song called ‘Love Is You.’ I met Vivek through another singer, Wendy Starland, who was cutting her own version of ‘On and On.’ I sang a duet with her—not the first time I’ve done that.”

And so the career of Bishop goes on and on. He writes when he will and tours when it’s time, having stamped his signature style on an in-between era in the history of American popular music—a time when the tempo of pop music was a bit slower, the volume level somewhat attenuated. It was a time when performers like Stephen Bishop could sing about rainy days and make us feel that they were far away. 

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