The Ladies' Man
Often, musicians doing multiple phone interviews from a hotel room or publicist's office will try to open the door with journalists by throwing out some fond memory of said city, whether it's actually true or not.
But not Meat Loaf. You see, he was born and raised in Dallas. And he played high-school football. And he has a long memory.
"Hi Bob, too bad you're from Houuu-ston!" the leather-lunged Mr. Loaf laughs. "You gotta understand, they taught me in school that Houston sucked. But it's all about football rivalries. Our team lost big in Houston one year, and I remember that. But my best friend is from Houston, and I'm friends with Dennis Quaid — I just try to forget where they're from. Oh, and Fort Worth sucks, too."
The former Marvin Lee Aday isn't coming to Houston for any sort of gridiron rematch, but rather for a show in support of his recent album Hang Cool Teddy Bear. Produced by Rob Cavallo (Green Day, My Chemical Romance), the disc's loose — very loose — concept is about a dying soldier whose life flashes forward instead of back, navigating an existence with minefields of women and woe on tracks like "Peace on Earth," "Like a Rose," "Song of Madness" and the insanely catchy "Los Angeloser."
Throughout, the tunes feature Meat Loaf's signature dramatic/operatic delivery, bombastic instrumentation and Big Themes. He's aided and abetted by guests, including Jack Black, Steve Vai, the Darkness' Justin Hawkins, Queen guitarist Brian May, American Idol judge Kara DioGuardi and even Hugh Laurie of TV's House playing piano.
The narrative was built from a short story by screenwriter Kilian Kerwin, a poker buddy of Meat Loaf's who first babbled about the plot during one tequila-soaked game a few years back. When it came time to record, Loaf brought 19 songs to the table. Cavallo accepted three, so the next day Loaf brought in 29 more.
"I'm a collector of songs, I have them for every occasion," he says. "Completed ones, demos, pieces. You got a bar mitzvah? I'm your man."
But it wasn't until he found a demo CD for leadoff track "Peace on Earth" on his couch — a disc Loaf says he has no recollection of seeing before — that things really fell into place. Kerwin penned a new prose narrative, while Loaf worked with songwriters on tweaking and changing up the existing material to better match the story.
And while he's likened every studio experience he's had since starting with Motown Records in 1971 to "hell," Loaf says that he found in Cavallo more than a kindred spirit.
"Rob makes you feel like you're the best in the world. Like Freddie Mercury, Steven Tyler, and Steve Perry — to name three of my favorite singers — could come into the studio, but none of them are going to out-sing me," he says. "And he's very [plain-spoken]. When he asked me to take the vibrato out of my voice, and I told him I didn't know how.
"He said, 'All you've got to do is stick out your chin when you sing!'"
It's a far cry from the experiences he's had with Jim Steinman, his on-again, off-again, love-him/hate-him songwriting/arranging/producing collaborator. Steinman, of course, most memorably worked with Loaf on his biggest success, 1977's Bat Out of Hell.
At 43 million copies sold to date, Bat is a record which — like Frampton Comes Alive!, Rumours or Hotel California — was one of the decade's most successful, but left their creators forever trying to hit that bar again.
"Jim Steinman's a very strange guy," Loaf chuckles. "I'll say, 'How's the vocal?' and he'll go, 'It's OK.' I'll say, 'Well, should we do something?' and he'll say 'Well, um, why don't you do it better?' I'll say, 'Jim, how?' and he'll say, 'I don't know. Just do it again.'"
Loaf adds that the pair often didn't see eye to eye, even on tracks that were still monster hits, noting that he still doesn't like the mix on "You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth" and Steinman loves it. Conversely, Loaf adores the tinkering he and producer Todd Rundgren did to "All Revved Up (With No Place to Go)," which Steinman despises.
"I've always been told that nothing I do will ever be better than Bat Out of Hell, but I truly think this record is," Loaf adds of his new album. "There is not a single thing I would change about it."
He's also keeping it in the family on the Hang Cool tour as the opening act, Pearl, also is his daughter. Named for Loaf's favorite singer (Janis Joplin), she's married to Anthrax guitarist Scott Ian. Just imagine that meet-the-father dinner.
"Oh, I didn't like Scott at all when he first came around, I didn't trust him. He was like Eddie Haskell on Leave It to Beaver," Loaf laughs. "But hey, I'm a dad! I think he's great now... I mean, to quote Billy Joel, the only reason you get into rock and roll is for chicks and beer."
And Meat Loaf has certainly shared stage and studio with plenty of chicks over the years. From his very first band, Meat Loaf Soul, to his early duo with Stoney (Bob Seger/Little Feat vocalist Shaun Murphy), Bat sirens Ellen Foley and the luscious Karla DeVito, and disco dames Cher and Patti Russo, Loaf has been lucky with the ladies. It's something he attributes back to those high-school football days.
"I always dated the best-looking girls in school, the gorgeous ones, the prom queens, and I was huge. I weighed almost 300 pounds," he recalls. "And these guys would come up to me and say, 'How does a fat motherfucker like you get all these women?' And you know what I'd tell them? I'd say, 'Because I understand.' And they'd just look at me.
"I always played the beauty and the beast thing to the hilt, and it's worked for me since the tenth grade and with all these female singers. It even worked with Roger Daltrey!"
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