Near the top of Curtis Stigers’ wish list was performing at Idaho Shakespeare Festival. Granted!
Curtis Stigers doesn’t like to look back.
“I've tended to just move forward and plow ahead and do new things and confuse critics and publicists," said Stigers.
Indeed, Stigers' career has included top-charting pop songs, his box office success at what was described as being a “blue-eyed soul singer” and, of course, his jazz chops ... all of which have kept Stigers in the spotlight for three decades.
“I am just as grateful to the people who have given me a career for 30 years,” sad Stigers. “It's amazing that I still get to do this for a living. I still get to stand in front of a room full of people who like what I do and I get paid for it. It's crazy.”
But there’s one thing he hasn’t done yet: perform in the amphitheater of the Idaho Shakespeare Festival. Just as tickets go on sale for his first-in-his-career collaboration with ISF (find out more information here), Stigers visited with Morning Edition host George Prentice to talk a bit about the past and a lot about the future.
“We're just all grateful to be back out in the world, hearing some music and playing some music.”
Read the full transcript below:
STIGERS: Lovely. Thanks, George.
GEORGE PRENTICE: It is Morning Edition on Boise State Public Radio News. Good morning. I'm George Prentice. Shakespeare's plays are awash with music. The most iconic characters in the canon make reference to music, and songs regularly accompany the comedies, even the tragedies. So, we can't think of a more perfect union than the setting of the Idaho Shakespeare Festival and the music of Curtis Stigers. So, let's spend some time with the man himself. Let's say good morning to Curtis Stigers.
CURTIS STIGERS: Good morning, George.
PRENTICE: We should note that you will be bringing your band to the amphitheater of the Idaho Shakespeare Festival for a special evening on Monday, May 23rd. And my first question is: Why didn't somebody think about this sooner?
STIGERS: I have been thinking about this, George, for years. Every time I step foot in that theater, I think, Oh, I would love to sing here. And I love the company, I love the organization. I have been a fan since I was a kid. And finally I get to sing in that beautiful theater. It's really exciting.
PRENTICE: And we're there with our picnic baskets, a bottle of wine and you.
STIGERS: What could be better?
PRENTICE: Let's talk about your upcoming visit to Record Exchange.
STIGERS: The Record Exchange - another place that I've been a fan of since a kid, since I was a kid. The Record Exchange, which was founded in 1977 by my friend Mike Bunnell, I am going to sing there on Sunday night, the 24th of April, as part of Record Store Day weekend. It's a thing that happens every year. Record Store Day is an international event. And I'm lucky enough to get to basically talk about my new record and play songs from my new record at the Record Exchange on Record Store Day. And I'll be basically solo acoustic. And then the Shakespeare Festival is when I get to bring my whole band out.
PRENTICE: So can we talk about “This Life,” because you're revisiting some of your greatest musical moments, but can I assume that it wasn't just a matter of looking back… it was about bringing them forward?
STIGERS: Well, that's a nice way to put it, George. Yeah, I, I've been making records for 30 years. My first album came out in 1991 in the United States and then in the beginning of 92 and the rest of the world…So, it's 30 years old and I haven't done a lot of looking back in my career. I've tended to just move forward and plow ahead and do new things and confuse critics and publicists. You know, they've always said, why can't you just do the same thing again? Please. It's easier on us. But I like to learn new things. This time around, I decided to take a look back. It's 30 years. Why not? And I had a few hit songs on my first album back then. And then I've had other songs that have stuck around because they've been successful in different ways. Those first three songs from the first record, You're All That Matters to Me. I Wonder Why and Never Saw A Miracle. On this new album the way I play them now…I used to play when I first came out, you know… I was a pop singer, I was a blue eyed soul singer. And so I played with a band with electric guitars and, you know, we were loud… and now I play as a jazz quintet. So that's how I've recorded these songs. They sound different over the years. We have completely retooled these songs. We've rearranged them to make them fit who I am now. And that's what the whole record is. It's me looking back at songs that have meant a lot to me and that have changed considerably in the way they sound when we play them live.
PRENTICE: I'm anxious to hear about your most recent tour in the UK… and I'm wondering what your sense has been from audiences. This is bit like a reunion.
STIGERS: People are so happy to be out of their houses. You know, that's the first thing I say after singing a couple of songs. I say, I'm so glad that you're here tonight and I am so glad to not be in my kitchen. And it always gets a laugh and a big and a big cheer because we have all been kind of stuck in our kitchens. I mean, certainly in the last six months or so, it's been it's been more open. But it's still you know, it's the first time for a lot of people. And my fans tend to be in my age group. And my age group is still a little bit wary of being out. So, the people that do come out are grateful to be to be with other people, to be seeing live music and hearing live music. And I am I really am. You know, I like my kitchen. I love my wife and my dogs. But it was really nice to get out among my fans again and sing songs for them. And it was the longest tour I've done since the early nineties because as the gigs started coming in, I just said, okay, just book anything. I just want to go play. And it ended up being an entire month-long tour of the UK and it was, it was wonderful, it was great. A lot of fish and chips, a lot of nice pints of ale.
PRENTICE: It's hard not to recognize that we've all been changed by the last couple of years… so what matters to you lately?
STIGERS: Well, yeah, that's a really interesting question. I really did learn a lot about myself in a lot of different ways. I mean, I learned that I, I don't really love spending 10 hours on an airplane. And that's what I do a lot of. I do about 120,000 miles a year on United Airlines alone every year going back and forth over the Atlantic. And I spent a year and a half not getting on an airplane. And I have to say that was delightful. I loved getting to spend more time with my wife and with my daughter, too, because she took a gap year from college and was home working here in town. And my dogs were so happy that I've got… I started the pandemic with three dogs. Now I have four dogs and I've grown a lot. I've become a much better guitar player. And if you come to the record exchange on on Sunday the 24th, you'll see that. I mean, I was always a pretty good sort of singer songwriter guitar player, but I have learned to play the guitar much better because I spent every day learning new songs from my from my live stream show that I do songs from my kitchen every Wednesday. So that that was it was fun to teach this old dog some new tricks. I also had to learn how to make videos. So I spent a lot of time with my iPhone and my and my laptop creating videos for the previous record because there was no way to sell it. I had to sell it online. So I guess I learned that I have a lot to learn, that there is still plenty of growth to be had as a as a human being and, and as a musician.
PRENTICE: Lately, I am crying at the drop of a hat and nine times out of ten it's usually to a song. It's just any song that connects. I'm wondering what you're leaning into musically lately.
STIGERS: Oh, as far as listening, I mean, I love singer songwriters. You know, the latest record by Hayes Carll is gorgeous. There's a song about dementia on there that he wrote that is just it's just called Help Me Remember. And oh, my God, every time I hear that, it knocks me down. Every time I hear John Prine, I get choked up because we lost him during the pandemic. We lost him to COVID. And that's really sad. Also, one of the members of Fountains of Wayne. And so I hear them. And even though their songs are always hilarious and smart, I still I still get a little choked up. There's a song on my new record that someone just asked me about this. And there's a song on the new record called “Don't Go Far,” and it's a song that I wrote and recorded back in the late nineties, but my daughter was born two years after I wrote it, and suddenly it was about Ruby. It's basically talking about loving someone and letting them grow and letting them fly if they need to, and still being there and being supportive and loving them. And every time I sing this song, I mean, I announce it as Ruby song, and then I sing it. And by the end of it, I'm just this close to losing it. And I can't even look at the audience because usually there are a lot of there are a lot of not dry eyes in the house as well.
PRENTICE: So, did I read that you're going to be appearing with Van Morrison?
STIGERS: Yeah, yeah. Wow.
PRENTICE: Talk about best of the best.
STIGERS: It's exciting. Yeah. Van. You know, we're on first name basis, of course. Yeah. Then start. I met Van a few years ago. Well, more than a few years, five or six years ago at a at a festival at Royal Albert Hall in London. And he was really approachable. I'd always heard I'd been near Van many times over the years, and he was not approachable. He was pretty tough. He was he can he is known as a kind of a rough guy. And but recently, I think, you know, his life has evolved in a way that he's actually quite lovely and or he's been nice to me anyway. So he started coming to my shows. He came to three of my shows at Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club over. Over a two year period. And came down to the dressing room, hung out with the bands. He took photos with us. I mean, it was Van Morrison with a big smile. You don't see that very often at all. Got that photo. But they his people reached out to me recently to open some shows for him. The first one will be on May 1st in Atlanta, Georgia. And I was thrilled. You know, it's really exciting. He is someone who means a lot to me musically. And I grew up learning so much from his singing and his music. So that's pretty cool. I'm also supporting shows for Barry Manilow in June. Wow. In the UK, which is a whole different kind of thing. I mean, Barry was I mean, who didn't who didn't love Mandy when they were a kid? I mean, I just I talk about a song that made me cry as a as a sixth grader.
PRENTICE: That'll be a lot of fun.
STIGERS: It will be. I've done it before. It's been almost 18 years since I opened for him last and I opened a UK tour and an American tour and he's always been very kind to me. We were on the same label, we were on Arista Records back. He basically was Arista Records. The first hit ever for Arista Records was a Barry Manilow record. I started hearing that he was saying nice things about me in interviews. They'd say, “What are you listening to? What do you like?” “Oh, that Curtis Stigers. I loved his jazz record.” So, they've reached out to me again after, you know, 17 or 18 years to open for him. And I'm really looking forward to it. I mean, his fans are so dedicated to him, they love him. And if he says to his fans, this is my opening act, I like his music, they like my music, and they treated me so well. I mean, I'm looking forward to not just having a great shows but selling a lot of CDs and LPs to his to the “Mani-loonies” as they like to call themselves.
PRENTICE: Well, now that the gates are back open, we know that we're probably going to be losing you a little bit more. But in the meantime, we've got you on the 24th of this month at Record Exchange and then the 23rd of next month at Idaho Shakespeare. And that's an opportunity for us to bathe in the music. But honestly, to thank you for 30 amazing years, and the moments that you give us.
STIGERS: Well, I'm grateful. And I I am just as grateful to the people who have given me a career for 30 years. And I've been saying that on stage this entire year is just it's amazing that I still get to do this for a living. I still get to stand in front of a room full of people who like what I do and I get paid for it. It's crazy. It's really a lucky thing. So we're all grateful and we're just all grateful to be back out in the world, hearing some music and playing some music. It's good to get together again after so long.
PRENTICE: Well, thank you for giving us some time and much love to your better half.
STIGERS: Thank you, George. Jodi says hello and she looks forward to seeing you soon. We hear you a lot.
PRENTICE: We're glad that you're home for a brief stay. And in the meantime, we'll catch you at the record exchange and out of the amphitheater.
STIGERS: Lovely. Thanks, George.
Find reporter George Prentice on Twitter @georgepren
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