Michael Bolton is still shocked that his music is used to soundtrack baby-making. He talks to Karl Puschmann.
Michael Bolton sang with his heart in his mouth and the wind in his flowing golden brown hair. His voice, not so much gravel but more like the rough grit that gets smoothed away before a rock becomes a diamond.
In song he asked the big questions; 'How am I supposed to live without you', 'How can we be lovers if we can't be friends', and 'Can I touch you ... there'; his passion doing away with the need for such unpassionate things as correct punctuation.
He is a soul singer of such pedigree that he trained with Pavarotti and of such pop-rock balladeering sophistication that he got away with including fret-frying guitar solos in dramatic break-up songs. A hat tip, perhaps, to his hard-rocking roots in the hard rocking not-quites Blackjack and his own background as a guitarist.
Michael Bolton, so ubiquitous at the tail end of the 80s and early rush of the 90s with his pleading eyes, clenched-fist chest-pulls and furrowed brows that he became a bit of a punchline when that initial spark gave way to tired familiarity and detached cynicism made his brand of sincerity deeply, passionately uncool.
Just like the rest of the world New Zealand was not immune to his charms. We gave the singer four top 10 albums, beginning with his defining 1989 opus Soul Provider, which housed his most recognisable, inescapable hits, and ending in 1995 with his first Greatest Hits album.
He kept releasing records, he kept touring. For a charity softball game in 1993 he formed a team with his bandmates and absolutely crushed Michael Jordan's All-Star team of pro-athlete ringers by a score of 7-1.
And right now he's enjoying a renaissance and gaining a new audience with his reinvention as a comedic talent, taking his reputation as a smooth ladies man into bizarre and wild places with ongoing collaborations with comedy team The Lonely Island.
Want the best of news, sport and entertainment delivered straight to your inbox? Sign up for Herald newsletters here.
Their parody song Captain Jack Sparrow has clocked up over 185,000,000 views on YouTube and last year they produced a Netflix comedy show, Michael Bolton's Big Sexy Valentine's Special.
"It turned out to be so successful in a very freeing, liberating way," Bolton says from a hotel in San Francisco. "That did create a certain amount of permission for me to have fun, basically. I've taken my career as seriously as someone can focus on something and it's really a great feeling to know that I'm at a place in my life where I can have fun."
It wasn't always this way. He spent his career singing heartfelt songs about falling in and out of bed and weighty songs about falling in and out of love.
"I remember being embarrassed when a journalist said to me, 'How does it make you feel knowing children are being conceived to your music?' I blushed, I almost lost it," Bolton laughs. "I was like, 'Did you have to say that? That was not my intention.' It's a lot of responsibility when you start thinking about children being conceived to your music."
It's a responsibility Bolton takes pleasingly seriously.
"Music is not just entertainment. It's something that gets people through the toughest parts of their lives and also something they celebrate with the greatest times of their lives," he says. "I never take it for granted, anybody's experience in the audience. I've realised these songs are the backdrop, the soundtrack, to people's lives."
Bolton is bringing their soundtrack to the forefront of their lives next Tuesday. He'll be backed by the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra and he says he's excited. These orchestra gigs are relatively new for him. He's rarely performed with the full orchestral shebang.
"I've never ever been this hands on about all the instrumentation," he says of the process. "The experience needs to be rich and deep so whatever is emotional about the music the orchestra amplifies, magnifies that."
"I have nothing against performing the greatest hits but adding a symphony orchestra to the hits ... You're experiencing something more full and rich and lush. It's a beautiful experience."
It all sounds good. Bolton's big songs, sung with his big voice, backed by a big orchestra. But there's one thing that's been troubling me ...
Around the two minute mark of his hit How Can We Be Lovers is a guitar solo. It's eight bars of perfection. A soaring journey that kicks off riffing on Bolton's earnest melody and sending squealing notes to the skies before heading full throttle into a classic rock whirlwind and exiting on a fret-shredding chugging yowl. It's a flash of absolute brilliance. His upcoming gig is with an orchestra but please, Michael Bolton, tell me that virtuoso guitar solo made the cut.
"I don't think I'll ever get tired of that solo," he laughs. "The solos are all intact. I'm bringing my lead guitarist. So no, you won't hear guitar solos replaced by a cello. I promise you."
WHO: Michael Bolton
WHAT: Playing the Civic with the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra
WHEN: This Tuesday night.