Books

Stephen Bishop's Separate Lives Come Together in Autobiography

Stephen Bishop today.
Stephen Bishop today. Photo by Liz Kamlet for Stephen Bishop Enterprises
In those long-ago pre-online days before TikTok, YouTube, or Bandcamp, if an aspiring songwriter wanted to get their work out there for more established artists to possibly record, he or she would cut a demo tape that would hopefully be passed along. Though it might just as easily get tossed in a garbage can.

Braver souls would lug their acoustic guitars to various record company or management offices and put on a mini-concert to a guy in a suit whose thoughts could just as easily drift to what he's having for lunch that day as the eager musician’s words and melodies unspooling before them.
An even more select group might get a chance to perform for a top name artist in the superstar’s own home. And that’s how Stephen Bishop found himself in the living room of none other than Barbra Streisand.

“I went over to her house, and she came out on a balcony inside her home and said: ‘Oh I thought the radio was on, was that you Stephen?’” Bishop—who would also notch living rooms gigs for Diana Ross and Michelle Phillips—says. “I was star struck, she’s an incredible artist, and I still love her music today.”

Streisand would eventually record a Bishop song. As would Art Garfunkel, Dionne Warwick, Eric Clapton (who became and still is a close friend), Gene Simmons, Kenny Loggins, Sting and even Luciano Pavarotti.

But it’s his own career and string of hits for which he’s best known for, including “Save it For a Rainy Day,” “One More Night,” “Everybody Needs Love,” “Looking for the Right One,” and a string of movie themes: “Animal House,” “It Might Be You” (from Tootsie, which he sang but didn’t write), and “Separate Lives” (from White Nights which he wrote, but Phil Collins and Marilyn Martin had a giant hit with).

And then there’s “On and On.” His signature tune would reach #11 on the Billboard Top 100 in 1977. Bishop himself never thought it would be a hit, but then knew he had one when he overheard his mailman whistling the melody.

“Also, just after the song came out, I was eating at a Japanese restaurant and some guy was in the phone booth singing it to the person on the other line!” Bishop says. “I thought it was a setup, but it wasn’t!”

Stephen Bishop tells the story of his life, his music, and his encounters with a A list of musicians, film stars, and artists in his new autobiography, On and Off ($19.95, 257 pp., Windsong Entertainment).

Eschewing a traditional bio structure, Bishop’s narrative unfolds in 80 vignettes, along with some longer chapters, musical analysis, extensive photos, lists and lyrics. He says the idea came from his wife, Liz Kamlet, after she read a book on Bob Dylan that was half a standard autobiography and the other half with The Bard of Hibbing answering questions and offering short stories.

“I really liked the idea, as it made the book easier and more fun for readers,” Bishop says. He also discusses how it was almost a given he’d follow the career trajectory of a solo artist rather than as a member of a group or even fronting his own regular players.

“I was in a band called The Weeds in high school. We never had any major success, but it did teach me how to collaborate with others and be a better guitar player,” he continues. “My songs don’t exactly lend themselves to being in a band. But I do tell people that I was the sixth member of The Dave Clark Five!”

Bishop’s wry sense of humor has also helped him befriend plenty of comic actors, directors and comedians including John Belushi, John Landis, Penny Marshall and Carrie Fisher. His best-known onscreen appearance was as the all-black clad “Charming Guitar Player” (his actual credit) in 1978’s Animal House.

That’s him on the stairs at the fraternity party earnestly serenading a group of adoring college girls in togas with “I gave my love a cherry that had no stone/I gave my love a chicken that had no bone.” That is, until Belushi’s drunken Bluto Blutarsky character, his ears offended, rips the acoustic six-string from Charming Guitar Player’s hands and smashes it against the wall before offering a simple “Sorry.”
Bishop says the scene was shot in two takes, and a pair of instruments gave their lives for the cause (he had the cast sign the splintered second one). But Bishop still had to change his look to fit the character and the time period. And that meant shaving his beard down to a perfectly cheesy mustache.

“I just did it on a whim. I wanted to have a different look for the movie,” he says. “My hair was also really long back then, and they had to pin it back. This was just before I went on tour with Linda Ronstadt.”

A couple of years later, Animal House director John Landis would also give Bishop a cameo role in The Blues Brothers (also starring Belushi), this time as “Charming State Trooper” who ends up in a flipped patrol car during one of the film’s several chase scenes.

Stephen Bishop was also noticeable in an all-white site among the scores and scores of celebrities in a chorus singing the title song at the end of the ill-fated Peter Frampton/Bee Gees vehicle Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Where he saved one legendary performer from serious injury, and perhaps even her life.
“I do mention in the book how I saved Carol Channing after the final scene was filmed. She slipped on the rafters, and I grabbed her arm. She would have fallen pretty far,” he says. “She was a very talented lady and thanked me. So, I am glad I was in the film—it saved her life! I also met [blues guitarist] Elvin Bishop and asked him ‘Are we related?’ He said, ‘I don’t think so.’ And we both laughed.”

Today, in addition to seeing to the release of On and Off and recording the audio version, the 70-year-old Bishop has new music coming out soon with an album he was working on just prior to the pandemic. He hopes to have the first single out this summer, a tune he originally wrote in 1974, and play some shows. And he’s also deep in the throes of sitting for interviews and making a documentary of his life and career, slated for a 2023 release.

“My career has been a wild journey, and I am grateful to all of my fans and people who believed in me. The documentary has got a lot of interviews with my friends and musical influences. Plus, photos and videos that no one has seen before,” he says. “It will be fun from start to finish. And the working title is Life’s A Bish.”

For more on Stephen Bishop and to purchase On and Off, visit StephenBishop.com
KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Bob Ruggiero has been writing about music, books, visual arts and entertainment for the Houston Press since 1997, with an emphasis on classic rock. He used to have an incredible and luxurious mullet in college as well. He is the author of the band biography Slippin’ Out of Darkness: The Story of WAR.
Contact: Bob Ruggiero