Tell us all about your exciting songwriting career!
Loved playing electro-acoustic guitar, a faded upright piano and a harmonium in the old coach house I grew up in, from as early as I can remember. Back then, UK radio played all known genres side by side, so soulful Tamla Motown tracks by artists like Smokey Robinson and the Four Tops were happily pumped out alongside Merseybeat songs by The Beatles, bluesy Rolling Stones and Yardbird tracks and country artists like Tammy Wynette. I was also hearing songs from my parents that went back to Stephen Foster and Cole Porter, and my older brothers taught me about everything from classical music to Elvis.
From age 11, I felt the need to start writing my own songs and this eventually led to my recording a ten-song demo album of my tunes in two hours in a studio in Harrow, with a couple of pals on drums and vocals (yep, it was mostly single takes!). A music manager in the area took the acetate to a few contacts and so age 14, I walked into the Knightsbridge offices of the legendary producer of The Who and The Kinks, Shel Talmy. Shel was a genius and my first mentor. Like in a scene from a movie, I arrived in my school uniform straight from geography class and played him songs I'd written, which were cut by Amen Corner, Paper Dragon and Cupids Inspiration. At his Hush Music, I met and worked with another of Shel's discoveries, Hugh Murphy, whose productions included 'Baker Street'. I've always felt honoured to be in that very special group of people so young. After that it was back to schoolwork and A levels. Having let things slide a bit (23% in History at one point), I turned things around and surprised my teachers with grades that took me to Cambridge. It was there I met Frank Musker and we started playing in a student wine bar for fun, and a few free drinks. A song I wrote around that time called Take Me With You was chosen for the American Song Festival, and Frank and I headed off to NYC for the first time. It was a great trip and Frank had soon signed with my publisher KPM in the legendary Denmark Street, as we started writing songs together. Initially, these were in the acoustic style of duos like Simon and Garfunkel and it was at that time I started using the pen-name ‘Bugatti’ as a tribute to the Italian family of artists that made outstanding cars, artworks and furniture.
After university, the magic carpet ride really began, as ‘Bugatti & Musker’ became effectively ‘writers to the stars’ in the tradition of the famous Brill Building. Our songs were picked up by artists such as Bette Midler (Married Men), Sister Sledge (Thank You For The Party), Cher (Back On The Street Again), The Three Degrees (My Simple Heart and A Woman In Love), KC & The Sunshine Band (Something’s Happening Tonight and Sway), The Who’s Roger Daltrey (Milk Train), The Babys (Back On My Feet Again), Chaka Khan (Fate and Best In The West), Stardust (Music Sounds Better With You), Sheena Easton (Modern Girl and a song I wrote with Florrie Palmer called When He Shines, which was nominated for best lyric at The Ivors).
The cherry on the cake was our song for Air Supply, Every Woman In The World, which scored a BMI 2 million play award and has sold around 7 million copies.
During that period we went from recording on an old TEAC 4-track machine in our flat, to moving into the Chappell studio in Bond Street on a more or less permanent basis. Our USP was that we could record a demo that laid out all the essential arrangement ideas for top producers like Quincy Jones, Girogio Moroder, Chris Neil, Arif Mardin and later on Daft Punk, in a single day. I would cover keys, electric guitar and bass and Frank would cover drums, guitar and percussion. I hear them now and can’t believe how fast we worked. Amazing but true story… when Quincy cut our song Every Home Should Have One with Patti Austin, he called for another copy of our demo, because he said ‘I’m not sure if I’ve done it justice’. Not too shabby for a couple of young students playing for drinks in a wine bar!
The trip when I guess Frank and I had that champagne moment when you can admit to yourself that maybe you’ve started cracking it, was when we went back to NYC to meet world famous A&R chief Clive Davis. As we came through the traffic tunnel in the limo that had been sent to meet us at JFK airport, and just as we could see the lights of the city laid out before us like a blanket full of stars, our first hit in the US, Heaven On The Seventh Floor by UK artist Paul Nicholas, came on the car stereo from a New York radio station. It’s hard to describe the rush that kind of experience produces for someone like me, a kid who grew up listening to American hits on UK radio. That was a crazy period all round. We had an Ivors nomination for best lyric on that one too and oh yeah, when we arrived in Clive’s office, he didn’t say ‘Hi’ or ‘Hello’. He just stood up behind his palatial desk and said ‘Gentlemen, your songs are your ambassadors!’ Insane.
How did you and Frank Musker get together for The Dukes?
After we’d made a name writing for other artists, Arif Mardin heard some new demoes of ours, and suggested we might like to make an album as artists with him as producer. He had produced some of our favourite artists, like The Young Rascals, Hall and Oates and the Bee Gees, who he set on the road to Saturday Night Fever success with tracks like Jive Talking and Nights On Broadway. Arif had already cut our songs with Chaka and Bette (and another track with George Benson, that was never finished), so he had a good idea of what we could do. The album we made together was a labour of love and has universal five star reviews. It featured the absolute cream of musicians at the time, such as Hamish Stuart of AWB, bassists Will Lee and Abe Laboriel and Michael Jackson’s drummer John ‘JR’ Robinson, plus Jeff Porcaro of Toto. The original Dukes album was recorded at Music Grinder in LA and Atlantic studios in NYC. It produced a well-known club and radio hit for us called Mystery Girl, and our versions of songs like Thank You For The Party, Memories, Fate and So Much In Love. Reviewers have called it a ‘West Coast Masterpiece’ but my favourite is, ‘The Holy Grail of Yacht Rock’!
What are your latest projects in the music industry?
In the last few years, Frank and I decided it was time to revive The Dukes and we got together to write a new song which started with a chorus I sang down the phone to him while I was walking through the streets of Paris (I live in France). We got together in a piano studio in London, and as I thought, had finished the song in about an hour. Just by chance, our old boss at Chappell Music was in town and dropped by, so the omens felt pretty good. That song will hopefully be out later this year, with ‘JR’ back on drums and bass by Nathan East (Get Lucky), and for me it’s one of our best-ever tracks. Meanwhile, we got things started last year with Beautiful Disgrace, a song about a young girl caught up in street crime. It featured the additional voices of Hamish Stuart of AWB and Richard Darbyshire of Living In A Box, and got some great reviews. Going into this year, we followed that with 2020, which gave us an official UK Top twenty dance hit, which was nice. Looking forward to seeing the reaction to a new mix of 2020 we’ve just done with a guest female vocalist, and that special song I mentioned, which should be coming out later this year. The Dukes are now recording for my label Online Records, where we have some interesting acts, like rock artist The Fuze and Moodbay, an electro-pop duo who are fast making a name for themselves with great songs and production.
What made you want to release dance tracks under the alias Boom!?
Rhythm is a part of The Dukes sound, which is rooted in blue-eyed soul and the legacy of working with Arif Mardin. But there is an area of pure dance, which I love and wanted to explore in a different project, with a variety of featured artists from all over. So far, things are working out well. Our first release was ‘Remember This Night’, for which we received approval to feature a sample from ‘The Man’ by Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson. The distinctive voice on that is Brad Walker, a talented Australian singer-songwriter.
'Lockdown' is your latest Boom! song - tell us more!
I wrote the new release ‘Lockdown’ with my friend Kim Appleby (Mel & Kim and solo hits like Don’t Worry, G.L.A.D. and Mama). We’ve worked together on committees to advance the rights of composers and songwriters, and it was great to see her lend a helping hand to our lead vocalist, the talented up and coming Rosanna Eastman, by writing and also singing backgrounds with me on the song. Trixta, a rapper from South London, added an upbeat rap and a kicking mix by Wade Teo of Crazy Corner brought the whole thing to life. It has already been added to Spotify playlists like ‘Glitz and Glam’, ‘Girls Night out’, ‘Hed Kandi’, ‘Hits 2020’ etc, and is likely to hit the dance charts soon, so it’s all looking good.
All the Lockdown streaming links are here: songwhip.com/boom-2/lockdown-wade-teo-mix
Part of the Boom! project is to bring people together for online dance parties on Zoom. We had a great virtual launch party and are working with experienced party organisers to create a series of fun and family-friendly events. I love places where everyone’s made to feel like a VIP, where people can dress up and leave their daily worries behind, and no one cares where you come from or what your preferences are. For me, that’s when the event goes ‘Boom!’
What’s your songwriting process?
I have written about songwriting for PRS, the BBC, the Academy etc, and so have studied the craft pretty closely. I’m constantly knocked out by the creative ways that people put music together, so I tend not to lay down too many rules when I’m giving my Elite Songwriting seminars. I know that what works for me doesn’t suit everyone, but here goes, anyway! I generally write when I have a theme I want to explore and often some idea of the title. It works. Bill Withers wrote that way, and he left behind some brilliant songs. If I get a random riff or lyric or melody I like, I will record it and put it to one side until I can use it well. But sometimes inspiration can hit you hard, like a bolt from the blue, as happened to me with the first verse of Dogs In The Yard, from the Fame soundtrack album. Outside that coach house I grew up in, was an old cobbled yard, which, together with a desire to break out of conformity, was the inspiration for the song…
I want to be bad and not even care
I want to go out of my head somewhere
I want to go crazy like the dogs in the yard
I want to cut the rope, but it’s getting so much harder
Do you think the music industry has changed, and if so, how?
The music industry has always changed, and the advent of digital technology has brought its positives and its negatives. Copying and pasting loads of backing vocals, instead of having to sing them all the way down the song? Great! Seeing our work pirated and taken for granted with derisory streaming rates? Not so great. But the craft of song goes on and that’s where we still need to focus.
What’s your advice for songwriters and artists today?
There is no simple answer to this question, and in my seminars I give people a checklist of elements that aspiring writers in any genre need to be aware of today. ‘Keep going and keep improving’ would be my main advice, and looking back at Dogs In The Yard and another early song that got me noticed, called Milk Train, I would say that originality and doing something different will help to make you stand out.
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