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Arts: Steve Tyrell brings high hopes to encore

By Carrie Humphreys
For the Coastal Observer

Steve Tyrell wowed audiences in 2009. He’s back at the Pawleys Island Festival of Music and Arts by popular demand.

“I remember performing at Pawleys. It was a great concert, but it was hot, man!” Tyrell recalled by phone from his home in Los Angeles.

The Grammy Award-winning singer, composer, producer plans a similar concert from the Great American Songbook this time around, with some new material. “I’m doing new stuff from Sammy Cahn. People love it. In fact, right now, I’m working on a new album of just Sammy Cahn.”

The lyricist won Oscars for three songs written with Jimmy Van Heusen – “All the Way,” “High Hopes” and “Call Me Irresponsible” – and “Three Coins in the Fountain” with Jule Styne.

Much of Tyrell’s glowing career was collaborating with fellow artists. He produced Grammy-winning recordings with Rod Stewart, Burt Bacharach, Andy Griffith and others. His own career as an artist took off in 1992 after singing “The Way You Look Tonight” in the 1991 remake of “Father of the Bride.”

That song inspired a recent album, Tyrell said, crediting President Bill Clinton with the idea.

“President Clinton came to see me at the Carlyle [the Café Carlyle in Manhattan], where I now play two gigs a year. We started talking and he told me that he danced with Chelsea to my version of the “Way You Look Tonight” at Chelsea’s wedding. He said I should do an album of romantic music that people can play at weddings.”

Tyrell called the encounter with Clinton, a career highlight. Others were when the space program selected his recording of “On the Sunny Side of the Street” to wake up their astronauts every morning and when he and Quincy Jones at the request of the Sinatra family played at the Hollywood Bowl the night that Frank Sinatra was inducted into the Hollywood Hall of Fame.

“And I’m pretty proud that, going back in the 80’s, I was working on a movie with Steven Spielberg and I had an idea to put a song over the end credits.”

That was “Somewhere Out There,” which he co-wrote for the animated feature “An American Tale.”

“It set a trend which is still going on,” Tyrell said.

If you go | Steve Tyrell, Oct. 6, 7 p.m., The Reserve Club.

Blues singer makes leap from screen to stage

Mac Arnold said playing the blues in Muddy Waters’ Chicago blues band in 1966 was the highlight of his 60-year career as a bass guitarist. Waters was Arnold’s mentor.

“He taught me a lot. One thing was how to deal with situations with all kinds of people. That was to treat them all the same way. That way is warmness: with a smile and with respect.”

Living now in Pelzer in Anderson County, not far from where he was raised, Arnold recollects the early days when he first learned to play blues on a guitar fashioned by his brother from a steel gas can, wood, nails and screen wire. That guitar inspired his life’s work. He recalls early on playing with a young James Brown in a band called J. Floyd & the Shamrocks. At 22, he trekked to Chicago because “that’s where all the blues musicians were.”

He speaks fondly of those Monday nights in Chicago when he would hang out with all the blues greats. Besides Muddy Waters, Arnold worked with A.C. Reed of the Soul Invaders, and was back up for BB King, The Temptations and others. A natural, self taught musician, Arnold had to learn to read music to get studio work in California. His distinctive bass line can be heard on the theme for the TV show “Sanford and Son.” A four year gig as part of the set band on Soul Train was one of the highlights of his TV work, he said.

In 1980 Arnold grew weary of road life and returned home to Pelzer. Music still stirred his soul, however, and he eventually formed Mac Arnold and a Plate Full O’ Blues with band-mates Danny Keylon, Austin Brashier, Max Hightower and Mike Whitt. His return to the stage prompted a film documentary by Stan Woodward, called “Nothing to Prove – Mac Arnold’s Return to the Blues ... a Southern Americana Classic,” which was a music festival film feature in 2011.

“Blues hasn’t changed much,” said Arnold. “I stick to the traditional blues which is as strong now as it was 30 years ago. We slowed down for a while after most of the original blues musicians passed on. There are few around. And I’m trying to start a new generation of blues and to get more people involved.”

At age 70, Arnold divides his time between farming, mentoring young people in music and performing with his band. “I like to keep it all mixed up,” he explained. “Last night the band played in Charlotte and we had a really great time. But today, right now, I have about 30 tons of compost I have lay out.”

If you go | Mac Arnold, Sunday, 5 p.m., The Reserve Club.

A soprano with room to grow

Taylor Johnson has come a long, melodious mile since she sang “Jesus Loves Me” in church at age 2. These days, she performs the works of Mozart and Strauss. Opera is her passion. She hopes to engage more people in her art.

“Opera isn’t too popular. And it’s such a beautiful art form,” she said.

Her performance for the music festival will include several arias, but also showcase some of her favorite Broadway show tunes and several African-American spirituals she learned as a child.

Born in Charleston and raised in Orangeburg, Johnson has studied music all of her 24 years. She admits she has a natural inclination to perform and enjoys banter with the audience. A lyric soprano, she sings in six languages.

With a master’s degree in vocal performance, Johnson made her operatic debut performing Countess Almaviva in Mozart’s “Le nozze di Figaro” in 2006 and Rosalinda in “Die Fledermaus” by Johann Strauss in 2007. She was a featured performer for the Marian Anderson Gala in Philadelphia. At the Opera Festival di Roma, she sang the title role in Puccini’s opera “Suor Angelica.” She also received accolades for her portrayals of Mimi in “La Bohème” and Helena in a “Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

Johnson has appeared in Spoleto and with the Charleston Orchestra Spiritual Ensemble. She recently concluded a performance of Porgy and Bess, calling it a “real high experience.”

One day, she hopes to perform Madame Butterfly.

“Madame Butterfly is so complicated in terms of voice. I hope my voice will grow to be that dramatic, with lots of layers,” she said.

If you go | Taylor Johnson Tuesday, Oct. 9, 7 p.m., All Saints Church.

Festival schedule: Find all the programs and times, and order tickets at pawleysmusic.com

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