Question Time

 

Bruce Roberts
 

 

 

If you love great pop music, you know him. If you're a Donna Summer fan, you love him. In his long and extremely fruitful career, he has written the greatest songs for the greatest artists, from Bette Midler to Patti Labelle, from Laura Branigan to the Pointer Sisters. In 1979, with Paul Jabara, he wrote Donna's (and Barbra's) fourth Number 1 single on Billboard's HOT 100: NO MORE TEARS (ENOUGH IS ENOUGH). His close friendship with Donna lasted throughout her career, so it's safe to say that a conversation on Donna with him would be a dream for any Summerfan. The dream has finally come true.


Before we start, have you anything to declare?

That I am grateful for my life.

How are you, Bruce?

I’ve been in an extraordinarily creative mode.

Coffee, tea, or...?

Coffee, sometimes too much…

What music are you listening to, these days?

Billie Eillish, Lizzo, Lewis Capaldi, Donna, Frank Sinatra. My favorite new music is a band I heard about called The Babel. It's on Spotify. My fav track on their CD is Becke Bolton.

Do you remember falling in love with music - a melody, a voice, a song - or is music a part of you that's always been there?

I was born with music in my soul. It’s always been a part of me. I grew up loving Motown and Sinatra.

The first time you heard Donna's voice...

I was captivated, hypnotized, blown away.

How did you meet her?

I met her through mutual friends.

Do you remember working with her for the first time?

It wasn’t work – it was magic.

Most Donna fans learned about you and your talent as a songwriter through, well, ALL THROUGH THE NIGHT - one of the finest ballads she ever recorded. What was the inspiration behind that song?

We wrote it together very quickly. The verse came first and the rest followed almost immediate. We both inspired each other. It just came out of us.

By the way, I learned about you through Barbra's version of I DON'T BREAK EASILY (on the SONGBIRD album, 1978) and bought your lovely first album because of that song...

Thank you. (smile)

Is there a Donna record you wish you had arranged and/or produced?  

LOVE TO LOVE YOU BABY.

Why that song?

It's truly organic in nature in all it says both musically and lyrically. It just poured out of her. That's how Donna wrote. She had such a gift.

Tell me about SOMETIMES LIKE BUTTERFLIES. Once you told me it's one of your favorite songs, and Summer fans have always wondered why it was not included on the Quincy Jones-produced album, in 1982.

It is one of my favorite songs, and I quite frankly don’t remember why it wasn’t included. We wrote it at the grand piano in our friend David Geffen’s living room in about 20 minutes.

I remember listening to a promotional uptempo version of BUTTERFLIES. It was quite beautiful. Was a different vocal take? I know Donna, unlike music legends like Barbra Streisand or Frank Sinatra, was never a fan of multiple takes...

She sang it once. There was another version that she sang that we made into the dance version, and she sang that one too.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of NO MORE TEARS (ENOUGH IS ENOUGH), Donna's timeless duet with Barbra Streisand. I'm sure you have a lot to say on this... A dream come true with a hint of nightmare in it, I guess. (laughing)

The stories are way too long. Let me just say it was a challenge, not creatively, but more on the business side. Creatively for Donna, this was her world, she was comfortable singing this kind of song. It was not as natural for Barbra. I actually sang her part on the demo, and she learned the phrasing from that vocal. They both ended up being very comfortable with each other and respected each others talent. Quite thrilling for everyone involved.

Do you remember hearing NO MORE TEARS on the radio for the first time?

I do. It was just a few days after we finished recording and mastering the record. Usually, in those days it took weeks for a record to get on the radio, but in this case it was instantaneous.
I was driving on the 405 freeway in Los Angeles and I was channel surfing and heard it. For a second, I thought my cassette player in the car had kicked in, but soon realized it was in the big top 40 station playing the record. It was indeed an event. I got off at the next exit and enjoyed the moment.


So many songs you wrote were recorded by the greatest stars in the business. Most of those songs became very popular, some did not. What is it that turns a great song into a great hit?

A lot has to do with timing, when the records are released, the promotion it gets. There are may amazing records around that are not hit. They must be discovered. Now’s a great time for that. The audience can decide – post them on streaming services and expose them to the world.


I was very surprised when you not only wrote the theme song for a Sylvester Stallone movie (Daylight), but you also sung it with Donna! How did that happen?

I wrote the song with my best friend Edgar Bronfman, who used the pseudonym Sam Roman. We wrote it specifically for the film. Sly was a huge fan of Donna’s, so I played it for him, and I played it for her, and it all came together!

One unforgettable moment for Summer fans was when I GOT YOUR LOVE was briefly featured on one episode of Sex & The City (The Post-It Always Sticks Twice). Then it got released, and the remixes became a hit on the Dance charts. Long-time fans are aware that it was originally recorded for an Epic/Sony album that was shelved. Do you think it will be released at some point? Some of the songs (Only Words, Valley of The Moon and others) were even featured on Donna's official website in the early 2000s...

I’m not sure if they will, but ALL of those tracks should be re-released! They’re fantastic!

I do believe you should work on this release - and be the executive producer. To me, no one could do it better, no one has the right YOU have to do it!

One day I will. With the blessing of her family.
 
I can still remember the first time I listened to TO PARIS WITH LOVE - You let me hear it. Back then it was titled LOOKING FOR LOVE, and it was brilliant. Such a fresh, fun recording. Donna's vocals were absolutely adorable. At some point it seemed that an album co-produced by you & the very talented Peter Stengaard was in the works, then nothing happened. Can you tell us why?

That was the beginning of her health issues. I’m sure you can understand why….

Is love really the healer?

Absolutely. Love and deep faith.

What is it that makes life worth living?

Find the beautiful things that surround you. Make waking up every day joyous. Don’t concentrate on the other things. There are many "Life’s too short" moments. I once saw something I really loved, I don’t remember exactly what it was, but I said to Donna, "that’s to die for!" - She turned to me and said, "No, that’s to LIVE for". I’ll never forget that moment and I live that way every day of my life…









Question Time: Bruce Roberts 2019 Sebastiano Lionti
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The Summer/Roberts Connection





  • ALL THROUGH THE NIGHT is included in all the editions of Bad Girls (1979).
  • ON THE RADIO - GREATEST HITS I & II (1979) was the first album/compilation to contain the extended version of NO MORE TEARS (11:43). The Columbia Records long version (8:21) is only included on Streisand's WET album (1979).
  • Unlike most Donna compilations, The Donna Summer Anthology (1993) contains the Columbia Records version of NO MORE TEARS (different edit and mix) (4:42).
  • The I GOT YOUR LOVE EP (2005) contains both the original version (3:57) and the remixes.
  • The original long version of TO PARIS WITH LOVE (5:24) is only included on the 2010  EP.
  • The Remastered & Expanded edition of Donna Summer (2014) was the first Donna album/CD to contain SOMETIMES LIKE BUTTERFLIES (originally B-side of LOVE IS IN CONTROL, 1982).
  • Summer: The Original Hits (2018) is the latest Donna compilation to include the Casablanca Records version of NO MORE TEARS (4:48).