Tonight I'm excited to bring you a special interview with Bill Bloom. He has a distinguished and exciting career. As a musician, he wrote and produced for a record company, performed with Duke Ellington and his orchestra, and co-wrote the hit album "Double Dutch Bus" with Frankie Smith. He has also taught at several schools in Philadelphia. Recently, he was ordained as an interfaith minister, and he is the minstrel of music at a church in suburban Philadelphia. He also happens to be the father of one of my good friends.
I had the privilege this evening of talking to Bill Bloom by phone about his own music and his thoughts on music of today. Here is the much-awaited interview.
Q. Which singers and bands are your favorites?
Luther Vandross, Stevie Wonder, Barry Manilow, are probably my favorite pop male singers. Barry Manilow not so much for his singing: I like his music, I like his arrangements, I like his versatility and diversity. He does a lot of things. I'm not sure if everyone's aware of all that he does. He does a lot of jazzy stuff. He's performed with some jazz artists; I like that stuff. Also, I like him as an arranger. He has a pretty good pop sensibility.
Q. What defines a good musical arranger?
Well, he has a good sense of what moves people, what touches people, so that they just really respond emotionally to his music, and to me a good arranger really knows how to wed music and lyrics. A good wedding of music and lyrics is essential, and Barry Manilow actually spends a lot of time trying to do that.
Q. And do you have any musical groups that you like a lot?
Well, Earth, Wind, & Fire is always one of the groups for me. I like stuff that Quincy Jones does, and he has worked with a lot of different groups and bands. I like Eminem; I'm a big Eminem fan. My musical tastes are very eclectic, and sometimes I just like different things at different times. A lot of times, someone will get into my car, and will be suprised. Maybe, a couple summers ago, all summer I blasted Eminem and Josh Grobin, and also Luther Vandross, and then today I'm listening to classical music.
Q. Which piece?
I'm listening to Sacred Songs by Renee Flemming.
Q. What do you think of the evolution of hip-hop, rap, and R&B music? It seems like all of the genres have come together recently?
Reflecting on my song, "Double Dutch Bus,": when we wrote it--this was like 25-years ago--it was considered an R&B song but in reflection to me that was probably the beginning of hip-hop. Well hip hop to me is just another form of R&B. Yeah, I think there's sort of been this coming together, well it's an evolution .
Q. What era of music is your favorite?
I like it all, but I like a lot of the music of the 30s and 40s, because again the song-writing of the time, I think the lyrics were more thought-out, more interesting and clever. The songs like "Tin Pan Alley"; these were guys who would get together and bang out songs in their rooms. They spent a lot of time together. Today a lot of pop music is more about production.
Q. Were you surprised when you found out that Missy Elliott was using your song, "Double Dutch Bus" (1982) in her song "Gossip Folks" (2003)?
Oh, yeah, I was very surprised, very pleasantly surprised. I think my kids got a big kick out of it because I know they were fans of Missy Elliott. I like her as a hip hop artist. To me she's one of the favorite ones because I think she takes her craft very seriously too, and I think she does a really good job. Again, a lot of the young hip hop writers just want to come up with anything that's attention-grabbing, maybe they'll come up with a hook that's kind of shocking. To me there's not a whole lot of creativity in that.
Q. By the way, did you ever get to meet Missy Elliott?
No, actually, I was a little disappointed. We belong to different performing rights societies. Mine is BMI and hers is ASCAP [American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers]. Basically, what they do is collect royalties from the performers, and they pay the writers and the publishers. Last year, BMI recognized "Gossip Folks" for being one of the top urban records of this year, so I got an award for that, and I was hoping she was going to be there, but she is with ASCAP, and this is a BMI event.
Q. It's interesting that a lot of the songwriters are using songs from the 70s and 80s. Is there still originality if they're doing that?
Dubbing different versions of older songs is nothing new. I think it's a good thing, and a couple of things: it introduces some of today's young people to music of a period before their time, it also helps out a lot of songwriters, gives them some new light and some new royalties. I do have to say, I like what Kanye West is doing with music today: he's sampling music but he's doing it in a creative way. I think he puts a lot of time and effort into what he's doing, and I'm impressed with his work. Yeah, I really think that song that he does with Jamie Foxx is a hot song. First time I heard it, it dropped me in my tracks because I liked it so much.
Q. I've read about the background of "Double Dutch Bus," and it seems like the song was inspired by the jump rope game and Frankie Smith's days as a bus driver. Am I right about that? Do you have a different angle on that?
It definitely was inspired by the jump rope game. Well Frankie and I, we used to be staff writers for Philadelphia International Records, and we started collaborating there. Actually, at one point, Frankie had recorded a song called "Double Dutch", and nothing ever happened to it. When we left Philadelphia International Records, we actually appraoched another company, WMT Records. They had some previous hits --some R&B hits. At that time, not much was happening, and they were looking for a good artist, a hit record. We actually just went to them with the idea of the song, we didn't even have the song. Initially what they did was give us the end of someone else's studio time, so they told us we could go in at the end of their session using some of their recorded stracks. The only thing we could do initially was record a drum track: Fat Larry was the drummer in the band and all he did was record a drum track. The following week we went back, I took that track home and added some keyboards to it, so the next week we added keyboards and we were supposed to use some base and guitar, and the following week, I think the third week, we added the bass to it. What we would do, we would take what we recorded home and listen to it. Frankie came up with some words and I came up with some musical ideas. The fourth week the record sounded good enough that the company let us record the song.
We had never done a song like that before, we sort of made it up as we went along. We ended up with one long tape: one side we called Double Dutch and the other side we called Double Dutch Bus because it had a horn in the song. Initially, Frankie and I liked the Double Dutch song. The slang part of it at that time--kids in Philadelphia were using that slang--and it's really just a contemporary pig latin. What we decided to do, is we brought in some of Frankie's neighbors, and we told them what we wanted them to say, and they spoke the slang, and then we figured out rhythmically how to insert it into the song.
Q. Is that the izzle part?
Yeah, we call it the slang. Yeah like the part that Missy Elliott included in "Gossip Folks."
Q. Is it interesting to you that the use of izzle has just taken off?
Right, that completely blows my mind that 25-years later, it's kind of become mainstream pop because everybody's using it. I really get a kick out of it because every once in awhile people send me cartoons; people use it in commericals. Snoop Dogg is one of the people who sort of helped keep it alive. [For more information about the origins of the izzle, look here]
Q. Has he acknowledged that he heard it in your song?
Yeah, he did, I've heard him acknowledge that. Although recently, he's trying to take more of the credit for it, because I think he has a TV show. It's called something about f'shizzle.
Q. What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
I like going to the gym. I don't know if I have hobbies so much, because music is the thing that permeates my existence, and just about everywhere I go, I'm known for music, so even at my job, well we had a choir at my job for awhile--I work for an electronics company which I'm getting read to retire from--and whenever there's a retirement party or special event, I'm asked to sing. I play a lot of parties: I play piano for the local judges in my county who recently had a Christmas party with judges from around the state. The one thing I'm doing right now: I'm singing at the Philadelphia Boys' Choir in Chorale. They travel around the world singing, and they're ambassadors of the state. They've been to Russia, they've been to Cuba three times. They're doing a Spring tour; we're going to go to south or central America. I'm having a lot of fun. That's my latest diversion. I used to direct a community choir here where I live. We went on a hiatus after I started doing the ministry stuff, but I missed singing in a group that sang good music, so this past summer I auditioned for the Boys Choir.
Q. And how do you like being a minister?
Oh yeah, I'm enjoying that a lot. At my church, I'm a minister of music, but I have a significant role there beyond the music. I do a segement called Seasons of Music and Reading where I choose a few songs that lead up to the sermon, and I choose a few readings and prayer. One of my favorite poets right now is Rumi, a 13th century Sufi poet. Sometimes I do readings from him or maybe a book I'm reading or some other spritual tradition. My church is a very progressive kind of church, and they're open to hearing what other people have to say. What I really like about the ministry I'm doing now, as an interfaith minister, a lot of people ask me to do their marriages, and they're mixed marraiges, like Protestant-Jewish, and I really enjoy working with the couples and comparing their ceremonies.