Steve Tyrell Biography
As a teenager growing up in the heart of Houston, Texas, Steve Tyrell was drawn to the sound of the regionÆs special brand of borderland blues and R&B from the start. A skilled singer long before he had his drivers license, those days frequently found him onstage or in any number of local studios with such acts as CL & the Pictures or the Art Boatwright Band. At the same time, the devout music fan was enthralled by the music of Ray Charles, Otis Redding, Bobby "Blue" Bland, Ben E. King, Chuck Jackson, Jerry Butler, and Jimmy Reed.
"Those guys were my heroes," says Tyrell. "I guess thatÆs where I got my more blues-oriented instincts. As a singer, I had those guys in the back of my mind every time I picked up a mic."
His passion for music led him to a promotion gig with a Houston record distributor while, at the same time, he expanded on his recording experience as a producer for local artists like Sonny & the Sunglows and Barbara Lynn. He also spent many of his early years traveling to the famed CosmoÆs Studio in New Orleans where he worked at the control board alongside his early buddies Mac Rebennack (in his pre-Dr. John days), Allen Toussaint, and Aaron Neville.
"Working in distribution back in those days, I was often getting calls from Jerry Wexler at Atlantic," says Steve with a laugh. "Jerry was just making the calls to help break his records in Texas. I loved what Atlantic was doing û they were making my favorite music at the time. When I first heard strings on those Ben E. King and Drifters records, I thought IÆd died and gone to heaven. Man, we didnÆt have anything like that in Texas. It completely changed my concept of R&B and music all together. So, of course, I was always happy to get a ring from Jerry and always did my best to help break those Atlantic records in Texas."
By the time he was 20-years-old, Tyrell had moved to New York City to begin a job in A&R and promotion for the hitmaking independent Scepter Records label. It wasnÆt long before Tyrell was in the studio, working behind the control board with Dionne Warwick, the Shirelles, Maxine Brown, former Dell-Vikings vocalist Chuck Jackson, and taking fellow Houston compadre B.J. Thomas under his wing. Thomas was soon thrust into the limelight with his smash recording of the Burt Bacharach/Hal David-penned "Raindrops Keep FallinÆ on My Head," as heard in Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid. When the tune scored a best song Oscar at the 1970 Academy Awards, Tyrell was jubilant û but he was also paying serious attention to the lesson behind the success.
"I saw that you could put a great song in a movie and have a major smash," says Tyrell, an executive producer on the filmÆs soundtrack. "It was the kind of combination that could send the right song straight to #1."
During this same period, Tyrell was also busy working as manager with Houston-born songwriter Mark James, well known for penning the Elvis smash "Suspicious Minds" and the B.J. Thomas hit "Hooked On A Feeling." The professional relationship also extended to a creative partnership, resulting in their co-write of "ItÆs Only Love," notably recorded by both Elvis and Thomas.
By the late æ70s, Tyrell had relocated to Los Angeles and launched a music supervision company with Grammy Award-winning songwriter Barry Mann, who heÆd worked with during his Scepter days. The pair brought their skills to numerous film projects, including Extremities and Steven SpielbergÆs An American Tale.
In working on An American Tale, Tyrell first proposed the now common practice of having "human" recording artists reprise the main theme from an animated feature û performed, in this case, by mice û over the end credits. As a result, the 1986 Linda Ronstadt/James Ingram duet, "Somewhere Out There" (as co-produced by Tyrell), hit #2 on BillboardÆs "Hot 100" on its way to earning a pair of Grammy Awards, an Oscar nomination, and a Golden Globe nomination.
Tyrell again worked with Ronstadt, co-producing another Grammy Award-winning single, "DonÆt Know Much," a duet with Aaron Neville from 1989Æs CRY LIKE A RAINSTORM û HOWL LIKE THE WIND (the pair later found themselves in the studio together on 1994Æs WINTER LIGHT album).
TyrellÆs near 20-year music supervision career û which typically involves some combination of production, arranging, composing, and even performing û has brought him success on a wide variety of film and television projects. Eventually stepping out on his own, he has worked on such feature films as The Client, That Thing You Do, Blast From The Past, 20 Dates, Mystic Pizza, The Five Heartbeats, Why Do Fools Fall In Love, and both Brady Bunch movies. In the process, Tyrell has produced and written for artists as varied as Ray Charles, Diana Ross, Bonnie Raitt, Rickie Lee Jones, LL Cool J, and Alice Cooper.
It was, however, on television that Tyrell found entrance into the pop record books. In 1993, as the music director for the FOX series The Heights, Tyrell co-wrote (with his wife, Stephanie, and Barry Coffing) and produced the #1 Billboard smash "How Do You Talk To An Angel." Also nominated for an Emmy Award, the song was notably performed by future Atlantic artist Jamie Walters.
In the midst of composing and producing music for the 24 episodes of MTVÆs Catwalk series, Tyrell began work with Walters (by that time a full-fledged Beverly Hills 90210 star) on his self-titled label debut. An international success on the strength of its "Hold On" single, the album would sell more than a million copies and spend some 35 weeks on the Billboard pop chart.
TyrellÆs television work has also extended to such programs as Hanging With Mr. Cooper, WKRP In Cincinnati, Kurt VonnegutÆs Monkey House, the acclaimed series Elvis: The Early Years, and And the Beat Goes On: The Sonny & Cher Story, which this year earned him an another Emmy Award nomination.
Stemming from his extensive work on the long-running Matlock series, Tyrell went on to produce Andy GriffithÆs 1997 Grammy Award-winning, RIAA platinum-selling gospel album, I LOVE TO TELL THE STORY: 25 TIMELESS HYMNS (the top seller in Sparrow Records history) and last yearÆs Grammy-nominated JUST AS I AM: 30 FAVORITE OLD TIME HYMNS set.
"My work with Andy came from his playing me a copy of a gospel album heÆd recorded nearly 25 years ago," says Tyrell. "He said to me, æYou know, IÆd love to do another record like this someday.Æ And I remember telling Andy, æI donÆt know about the gospel business, but if you make a first class, well-produced album thatÆs truly heartfelt û I think youÆd really have something that people would want to hear.Æ A year later, we got together and made it happen."
Most recently, Tyrell has been working as the music director on Pam GrierÆs edgy new Showtime series, LincÆs, and on the upcoming ABC feature The Partridge Family (set to air in November).
Through it all, the one constant is that Steve is always up to something. As the force behind a wide variety of hit records in each of four consecutive decades (with a fifth on the horizon), Tyrell is the ultimate idea machine. Whether on television, radio, in a movie theatre, or on his latest release, A NEW STANDARD, one can truly hear the sounds of Steve Tyrell û as he so rightly sings û "in all the old familiar places."