Songwriter Rand Bishop is not, by his own admission, much of a sport about aging. But he is realistic and not without a sense of humor. So, a few years ago, when Bishop took his parents to the movies and his father offered to pay, Bishop reminded him, “Three seniors, Dad.”
What might have been an ouch moment for some became for Bishop inspiration for a song. The aptly titled Nothin’ You Can Do About It is part of the Grammy-nominated songwriter’s upcoming show, “Rand Bishop – Songs, Observations & Confessions,” Nov. 19 and 20 at the Newport Performing Arts Center.
The show grew out of a conversation about the difficulty in staging performances in these post-pandemic days. Finding the staff and volunteers to mount a full-fledged production isn’t easy. But a cabaret show? Much more doable.
“I am not a cabaret performer, but I thought, ‘Jeez, I have these songs very few people have heard,’” said Bishop, who lives in Newport and moved to the coast 10 years ago to look after his parents. “It just planted a little seed in me.”
While it’s not exactly a cabaret show, it is similar. There’s music, of course, and in between, stories, jokes, and a bit of patter. It begins with a blackboard lettered with words: success, connection, reality, falling in love, unconditional love, Jesus, original sin, friendship, commonality. And that’s just Act One. Act Two takes a stab at hypocrisy, war and peace, regret, Thanksgiving. Just some lightweight stuff, as Bishop likes to say.
“Each song addresses those themes. Some in a lighthearted way, some in an emotional way. What I hope is to bring people from laughter to tears and to relate my perspective on life as a human being. I would like the audience to walk away saying, ‘Wow, he really spoke to me.’”
Speaking to people is something Bishop knows. His 45-year music career includes a Grammy nomination for the soundtrack to Staying Alive, several BMI awards and more than 300 songwriting credits, including the number one hit My List, recorded by Toby Keith and the most played single on country radio in 2002.
The song led to Bishop’s companion book, My List, (24 Reflections on Life’s Priorities), published by McGraw Hill in 2003. His column, “Makin’ Stuff Up,” was featured in American Songwriter magazine for seven years, and in 2017, Bishop walked from Southern California to the Central Oregon Coast, a 90-day, 900-mile adventure recounted in the memoir TREK: My Peace Pilgrimage in Search of a Kinder America.
Bishop is a native Oregonian, but has spent much of his life elsewhere, including Los Angeles, England, Montreal, and 16 years in Nashville. He’s worked with The Beach Boys, Rita Coolidge, Kris Kristofferson, and Ted Nugent, hung at the famed Troubadour with Linda Ronstadt and Glenn Frye, and produced music for Lorrie Morgan. He’s sat in a New York studio listening as the legendary Richie Havens sang his song, Light of the Sun, and likewise, in L.A. as John Farnham, Ann Wilson, and Robin Zander recorded his music. He says his most notable thrill came when he got the call that My List had hit number one – his first on a U.S. chart, and one of the emotional tales he shares in the show.
That Bishop is performing in the Newport theater named for David Ogden Stiers seems, if not fated, certainly fitting. In 1976, in an apartment in L.A.’s Hollywood Hills, Bishop met Stiers, who spent part of his youth in Eugene and was just getting started in the role of Major Charles Winchester in the TV hit M*A*S*H.
“He used to invite me over to listen to his hi-fi systems,” Bishop recalled. “He had this very sophisticated state-of-the-art stereo system. He would play classical music and he would position me on the floor. I had to be in this one place so I could hear the exact balance of the stereo field. He would serve fruit and cheese and wine.”
Years later, back in Oregon, Bishop became reacquainted with Stiers, whom he remembers for his deadpan humor and his support of the community. Performing in the theater often referred to as the “black box” and renamed the David Ogden Stiers Theatre in 2018 is an honor, Bishop said.
“I am very, very proud to be working in a space named for David,” he said. “He is so deserving of that. I’ve always loved the Stiers theater, even before it was named for him. I love how intimate it is. … it has the feeling of performing for a club audience. Like in Nashville, when people actually listen when people are playing.”
Next weekend, when people listen, what they will hear are personal tales, the moments that have struck a chord in the performer’s life. In Bishop’s book of song, that’s what it’s all about. “It if doesn’t communicate emotionally, then it’s not really art. It’s not the paint and brush that makes the art, it’s the heart of the person holding the paint and brush. That’s very true of songs.”
Years ago, Bishop made a promise to himself to be totally honest in his work, and he’s worked to keep that promise. It’s not always easy and it takes digging, which might at times make the audience uncomfortable, he said. “But that’s an emotional response, isn’t it?”
“When we hear a song, regardless if it’s a song about world peace or having a beer, it evokes an emotional response,” he said. “The words, the music, the chords, the sound are all important and contribute to it, but the art is in the ability to communicate emotion. My intention is to communicate totally honestly from the bottom of my heart. It’s not just a set of music, it’s an experience above and beyond just songs.”