A ‘lost classic’ album featuring the combined talents of Harry Nilsson and Randy Newman has been re-created by British singer/songwriter, Steve Hogg, 50 years after its release.
Somerset-based Steve Hogg so loved the Nilsson Sings Newman album, released in February 1970, that he decided to produce his own version using just piano and his own vocal talents. But when Steve partnered with multi-instrumentalist and music teacher Jeff Spencer the project became more ambitious.
Released this month, Steve Hogg Sings Nilsson Sings Newman features more than twenty musicians, including a gospel choir, bringing their individual talents to the album. The vocals, piano and keyboards were recorded at the legendary Real World Studios near Bath, with further sessions taking place in studios around Bristol and in Wells between May 2018 and June 2019.
Steve became a musician at the age of 13 and has been in bands ever since. In the early 1990s he and his band Wushcatte were signed to Kitchenware Records, home of Prefab Sprout, a huge influence on Steve’s singing and song writing talents. However, it was the laid-back sound of 60s and 70s southern California that inspired Steve’s latest project.
“About 25 years ago I really started to listen to Randy Newman and love what he was doing,” Steve said, “so when I heard Nilsson Sings Newman it was almost the perfect match of singer and songwriter. I’m not in his league, but I have a range similar to that of Harry Nilsson and I found I could sing along very comfortably to the album, including the many harmonies he recorded.
“I had a couple of attempts to record songs from the album but I wasn’t satisfied with the results. I guess that could’ve been it, but I’m now 53 and at that age when the dreaming has to stop and the doing must begin! So I decided to get on with it, and not long after I met Jeff Spencer. He blew me away with his playing and arranging, so we put the word out to a bunch of musicians I really respect.
“The finished product is amazing and I’m delighted at the way it’s turned out. Part of my ambition for it has been fulfilled, in that I got to work with so many great musicians. Of course, having financed the whole project myself, I’d love for the album to sell and for as many people as possible to find their way to Randy Newman and particularly Harry Nilsson, whose genius seems somewhat overlooked by many.”
One of the album’s fans is Zak Nilsson, Harry’s eldest son. Steve contacted both artists’ families and representative to see their permission. Randy Newman’s manager wished the project good luck and the Nilsson family gave it their blessing.
“Zak Nilsson has been very supportive of what we’ve tried to do,” Steve added, “and I plan to take a trip to California to give him the album in person.”
One of the highlights of the album’s progress was the day at Real World Studios. The iconic facility in the village of Box has produced music from the likes of Bjork, Van Morrison, Amy Winehouse and Coldplay, among many others.
“That was such a memorable occasion,” Steve recalled. “We were on a mission to get as much done as possible without compromising on quality, and we managed to do all the piano and vocal takes we needed in one day. Just being there was an incredible experience and the results were mind-blowing. I knew what I wanted and I really got it that day.”
Highlights on the album include ‘I’ll Be Home’, which features the Bristol-based Renewal Gospel Choir and has an accompanying video, along with ‘So Long, Dad,’ (“a typically ironic Newman number about ageing,” says Steve) and ‘Snow’, a track that was left off the original album and has been re-created brilliantly for the new version.
“Although these songs were written during the 1960s they have huge resonance for today,” Steve said, “and many of the themes will register with contemporary listeners. There are gender politics, issues around racism, ageing, love and loss. Randy Newman writes characters we can all relate to, even 50 years on.”
Steve will be launching the album in December with a live set – in his own front room. Each month he opens up his house in Wrington to artists from all over the UK and beyond. As ‘The Old Refreshment Room’ the house has played host to eclectic and compelling music from the likes of Boo Hewerdine, Jefferson Hamer, Marry Waterson, Philip Henry, Bellatrix and many others.
“I’m looking forward to playing my own venue!” Steve said. “Who knows, maybe after that we’ll consider taking it on the road in a stripped-down version, which is perfectly feasible. I’d love to take it to the States too, but in the meantime I hope all Newman and Nilsson fans enjoy what we’ve tried to do with this great record.”
Copies of the album, available on limited edition heavyweight vinyl, and on CD, are available to purchase from www.stevehoggmusic.com
A digital version will be released on Deezer, iTunes and Spotify in January 2020.