11 Questions: Bryan Adams
The Canadian rocker talks Justin Bieber and the economics of music before landing at the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
It was a little more than 30 years ago when Bryan Adams set out from his native Canada to make a name for himself as a musician and songwriter. He hoped for a foot in the door. What he got — and didn’t necessarily bargain for — was success on a global scale, boasting sales of tens of millions. The 51-year-old dad-to-be (he’s expecting his first child with personal assistant Alicia Grimaldi) continues to tour, bringing his treasure trove of hits (his biggest came during the 1990s) to some of the world’s more remote markets such as India and Nepal. And on March 21, he’ll have a permanent home in Los Angeles when Adams receives a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. It’s a long way from being “just a spotty kid from North Van,” as Adams describes his pimply self in the early days. THR caught up with the Grammy-winning rocker.
Canada has long been hailed for supporting the arts by providing grants to musicians and mandating that 35 percent of songs played on the radio be by Canadian artists. Do you think this helped at all as you were starting a career in music?
I never took a grant or borrowed a penny from anybody. It was partially because I didn’t really know how to do that, but secondly, my pride would never have allowed me to. In the beginning, it was about doing it the right way — on the merits of the music.
You famously signed with A&M Records in 1979 for one dollar. Can you explain the circumstances of that deal?
They were cheap as chits and didn’t want to invest any money in me — and it was the time when I needed it most. But in those days, the idea of getting your foot in the door was everything, and let’s see where it goes from there. All they really wanted were the songs, but we made an agreement — and this is probably the one redeeming thing about the deal — where they could have a few of my songs under the condition that I get to record some myself. So I got a shot. … I did say to the label, “Could I have that dollar, please?” And they sent me a check, which I still have.
One would imagine it was renegotiated soon enough?
At some point, but not right away. The only thing we negotiated immediately was tour support. In 1980, as soon as my album was ready, we were put on tour, and I don’t think I went home until about 1999.
You reached your career high at age 27 when promotion was winding down for your fourth album, the multiplatinum Reckless. How did you not end up with an alcohol or drug addiction, as so many musicians often do?
First of all, I decided to make an album called Into the Fire, which is kind of how I felt. Reckless was such a big album in 1985, and it was a lot to take. There’s not an instruction manual on how to deal with success, so you just have to rely on having great friends and a good team. I’m really grateful to my manager, Bruce Allen, and producer Mutt Lange because both had seen it before with different artists. And I had a great girlfriend at the time, Vicki Russell, who was a child actress and her father was a director, so she was able to laugh at the situation and help me see the humor in it. Plus, I was never really interested in drugs or alcohol at all.
Did you want to be famous?
I didn’t understand what that meant because I really wanted to be a working musician. The craft was everything to me. To be a celebrity — I couldn’t think of anything more cringe-worthy. I had difficulty with it and used to argue with my manager all the time about some of these press things that would come up. I would shun the limelight completely and didn’t really want to be out there. Laughing at it is key; if you can laugh at yourself, you never cease to be amused.
These days, a band can sell 40,000 albums and be No. 1 on the Billboard chart. What’s your take on how much the economics of music have changed?
I feel quite sad for the young musicians coming up because they may never get to pay their rent properly. It doesn’t matter what the genre; nowadays, it’s so much harder than it ever was. You want to get paid for your work and be able to take something home to your family or yourself. I tip my hat to anybody today that can make music and move forward.
One Canadian who’s seeing international success is Justin Bieber.
His success is incredible. I wish him lots of strength and hope he can keep his sense of humor about it, too.
You were involved in one of the greatest benefit concerts of all time, Live Aid. What do you remember of that day in 1985?
I had two gigs that day. I opened Live Aid, got blown away by that, and then we got in a plane and flew to the next town, where we had to play a gig that night. So I didn’t even get to see the show and hardly got to participate. I had to slot it in among many other things we were doing at the time. Live Aid was possibly the greatest live concert ever. Woodstock would’ve come close in terms of its breadth, but Live Aid was far more watched.
As a result of Live Aid, it has become the norm for musicians to band together for a cause or to aid in relief after a natural disaster. And it seems especially appropriate now, on the heels of the earthquake in Japan.
It’s more rare these days, but it’s part of the sense of community among musicians and singers. Like when we did the Prince’s Trust in London, it was incredible. Backstage there were so many different people working on songs together — the greats of the record business: Eric Clapton, David Bowie, Jagger, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Mark Knopfler, Tina Turner, Rod Stewart. … You’d have to pinch yourself. So when everybody pulls together like that, things get done. I’m wondering when someone is going to put something together for Japan. I’ve been thinking about it for a few days now. It would be great if the rock community got together for Japan because Japan has given so much to all the rockers over the years. Everybody has spent time there.
You performed on American Idol three seasons back. Would you have any interest in judging a singing show like Idol or The X-Factor?
I would have a really hard time being on television that long and also being critical of other musicians — I don’t really like to criticize people.
If you were starting out today, would you take the talent-show route?
I probably wouldn’t get in. Too many spots.
WHERE HIS STAR WILL SIT: Adams’ star ceremony will take place at 11:30 a.m. March 21 in front of the Musicians Institute College of Contemporary Music at 6752 Hollywood Blvd. Wayne Gretzky is guest speaker. The school, which opened in 1977, boasts Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo, Brian Bell and Scott Shriner among its many alumni.
THE STORIES BEHIND THE SONGS: Adams offers insight on some of his best-known work
“Summer of ’69” (1984)
“It was one of the hardest records I’ve ever made. I can remember thinking, ‘I don’t know if this is finished,’ and having a really hard time committing myself to finalizing it. It’s now one of the biggest crowd-pleasers I’ve got.”
“Run to You” (1984)
“We shot three videos in one day — ‘Heaven,’ ‘Summer of ’69’ and ‘Run to You’ — for a VHS tape that went along with the Reckless album. They’re the most cringe-worthy videos known to man.”
“Everything I Do (I Do for You)” (1991)
“It was written [with producer Mutt Lange] in 45 minutes. There are moments you know you’ve got something magical, and I remember when Mutt and I had put together a structure for the song and I played it for the first time, we both looked up and smiled at each other. We knew we’d written something pretty beautiful. But unlike Mutt, I had no idea it would have the impact that did. I just thought it was a pretty song.”
“Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman?” (1995)
“Michael Kamen was a film composer who asked me to come listen to a piece of Spanish guitar music he was writing for the movie Don Juan DeMarco. He was having terrible trouble with the director [Jeremy Leven], who didn’t like the music, so I came over and heard him play ‘Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman?’ on a keyboard. I said to Michael, ‘I don’t care what anyone is telling you, that’s an amazing piece of music.’ Later on, when Mutt and I were writing in Jamaica, we took the pieces of Michael’s music and made a song out of it, which turned out to be beautiful.”