There are so many different paths an interview with Meat Loaf can take. He found himself at ground zero of what would be an counterculture revolution of creativity during the ’70s when he landed a role in the now cult-classic film “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” and became John Belushi’s understudy in National Lampoon’s Broadway show.
It was during this time when he and his musical partner, Jim Steinman, began working on what would become one of the best-selling albums of all time, Bat Out Of Hell.
Now Meat Loaf’s show biz history is the basis for a Las Vegas residency called “RockTellz & CockTails” beginning later this month at the Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino. Not only did Meat Loaf talk with Pollstar about the upcoming gig but producer Adam Steck gave us the story behind the show. Steck’s interview follows our chat with the artist.
How do you take a 47-plus year career and condense it into a 90-minute show?
It won’t be the same show every night because it’s interactive. There’s certain pieces that are set in stone and that’s called a foundation. Each night we’ll build a different house. It depends on … I think there are seven questions [in a Q&A] … maybe one night there will be eight, nine, whatever, and it depends on what they ask me.
Was there ever a point in your career where you had to make a decision whether to be a singer who occasionally acts or an actor who sings in his spare time?
No. I’m an actor. I don’t think of myself as a singer. … I was originally cast as Billy Bibbit in “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” with Jack Nicholson. There was a writers’ strike. We were getting ready to go to Seattle to film the movie … and the move got canceled. I wound up going to D.C. and did a play there.
I literally got off the plane, opened my apartment door, put my luggage down and the phone rang. It was Lou Adler calling me about doing “Rocky Horror Picture Show.”
None of those two things would have happened. I would have been up in Seattle doing “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.”
You also did the “National Lampoon Road Show” about that time and the show would close with you leading the audience in a mighty “F**k you!” cheer.
We were just talking about that. Ivan Reitman, who was the producer, and Marty Charnin, who was the director, who directed [the Broadway musical] “Annie,” they changed the show up from what it was. I was John’s [Belushi] understudy and had done some stuff with Gilda [Radner] and Billy [Murray] in New York. I’m not as quick as Richard Belzer but I’m pretty quick. Belzer is the quickest improv guy I’ve ever met in my life.
[Reitman and Charnin] came to me and said, “OK, we’re going to take the last 15 minutes of the show and you’re going to insult the audience and they’re going to throw insults back at you.”
And I said, “Piece of cake.”
Sometimes guys would get so mad they would rush the stage wanting to fight me.
Jimmy [Steinman], we had already started working together. The Lampoon show, being an understudy for John on the Broadway version, they were paying me $500 a week and I didn’t have to do anything. … They needed a piano player so I got them to hire Jim. We’d go into the colleges and in the afternoon’s we’d work on Bat Out Of Hell. The funny thing was if you were in the musicians union doing that show you got paid more than the actors. To make it equal so I got the same money as Jim, I drove the van. I was the driver of the cast.
Almost every story I’ve read about the making of Bat Out Of Hell talks about all the hurdles you and Steinman had to overcome to get the project off of the ground.
The biggest hurdle, actually, has been occurring for the last 37 years. That hurdle was the fact that the album was sped up a quarter of a tone. From day one everybody expected me to go out and sound like the record, which is impossible. To this day I’m one of the few artists my age – Rod Stewart, Elton, Tom Jones, Jagger, Van Morrison – none of those other artists sing anything in the original key they recorded them in. We still do [the songs] “Bat Out Of Hell,” “Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth,” and “Paradise…” in the same key we did 37 years ago.
I recall seeing full-page ads for Bat Out Of Hell in Rolling Stone a couple of months before the album came out.
Three months before Bat Out Of Hell came out, long before any album would be reviewed that early, Dave Marsh came out with a half-star review [in Rolling Stone]. So everybody followed … “If Rolling Stone didn’t like it, we don’t like it.”
There has only been two albums … that have ever had my picture on the cover. It’s like John Grisham putting his picture on the cover of one of his novels. You wouldn’t do it. The object of the exercise is not for people to think about me or my life but for them to think about themselves and their lives.
If you’ve ever seen any interviews with Michael Caine, and I was shocked when I heard him say this, “When I’m on screen, I don’t want you to see me. I want you to see yourself. I want you to be able to put your feet in my shoes.”
And I thought, “Thank you, Michael, because that is exactly how I think.”
I really enjoyed your work in “Fight Club.”
You’ve heard the old saying from actors, “I can’t watch myself on film?” That’s because they’re playing themselves. It’s like I can’t listen to myself on the telephone. But in any film, I’m gone. If you were to see the reel we put together [for “RockTellz & CockTails], you’ll see the character in “Fight Club,” then you’ll see the character in “Hole In One” where Michelle Williams, is my girlfriend and you’ll see “Focus” with Bill Macy and I’m doing an Arthur Miller character … all the characters are so different. My guitar player, who has never seen most of these movies, he’s helping me edit, and he’s going, “I forget it’s you.” And I’m going, “Thank you. That’s the point.”
Did they give you the entire [“Fight Club”] script? Did you know how the movie ended or did they just give you enough of the script for you to know your character?
I was in England recording with Steinman. I was waiting for [“Fight Club” director] David Fincher to call. I read the script, not to the end, but almost to the end and I went, “Wait a second. Hang on. I missed something.” So I started it over again and read all the way through it. The phone was ringing and I was on the last page. I picked up the phone and he said, “It’s me, it’s David.” And I just started laughing. And he goes, “That’s the same reaction I had when I read the script.”
I’m afraid we’re veering off topic and we need to talk about the Vegas show.
In a sense you are on topic. What we’re doing now is exactly how the Vegas show will run. You don’t know what we’re going to talk about next and you don’t know what is going to happen next. And there are a few things that are totally unexpected that you would never think [would happen] in a million years in a Meat Loaf show. But you have to understand where I come from. I come from Broadway, I come from theatre, I come from rock ’n’ roll, I come from improv. I’ve hosted game shows. I wanted to see what it would be like to be a stand-up comic so I did four nights of stand-up comedy in different clubs in the New York area.
I don’t know how I got on it, I turned down every reality show in the world, and somehow I got on “Celebrity Apprentice” and still don’t know how to this day. I screamed at Gary Busey and there are people that don’t like me that use that against me. They go, “That’s who he really is.” They don’t know me.
Regarding all the ups and downs in your life, such as the obstacles you faced getting Bat Out Of Hell off of the ground –
I did scream at Clive Davis but not in person.
But looking back at your career, do you ever feel as if you’re getting the last laugh on everyone?
No. What happened is what happened. That’s how they felt. That was their opinion. I had a different opinion. Mick Jones was putting together Foreigner. … They asked me to join Foreigner. I did Free For All with Ted Nugent and they were talking about me going on the road with Nugent. At one point they were talking to me about joining REO Speedwagon. At one point at RCA they wanted me to ditch Steinman and have Bill Withers and all these different people write songs for me. I just kept going, “You people are crazy.”
I remember Bill Graham came to see us live one night and after the show he goes, “That was interesting and all these people went completely crazy but you invited 200 guests who knew what was coming. These are all your friends.”
I said, “I don’t have any friends, Bill. I don’t know these people.”
And he goes, “Come on, [they’re] all your friends.” And he walked out. He didn’t believe the reaction we were getting was real, that it was truthful. He thought that we had papered the house with people and told them, “Bill Graham is here. Go crazy.” And that wasn’t the case at all.
I want to ask you about a particular story I’ve heard over the years, that you were yelling at your manager and had literally picked him up and pressed him against a wall when Jim Steinman walked in and said, “Oh, excuse me. I didn’t know you were in a meeting,” and turned around and walked out. Is there any truth to that?
Oh, no. That’s just one of Steinman’s witty comebacks. If it happened it was at the record company and I was having an argument … it wasn’t like a knock-down, dragged out argument, but I was upset when they showed the [“Bat Out Of Hell”] video on “Midnight Special.” Todd Rundgren was hosting and they cut the video before it ended and went to a Clairol commercial. It cut into the slow part – “I’m down at the bottom of a pit in the blazing sun …” and there’s this girl in slow motion waving her hair.
I’m going, “Guys. We finally get a break and get a TV show and this happens.” It didn’t do anything for us. But thanks to my friends John Belushi and Gilda Radner, because they had been my friends for a long time, and because Lorne Michaels had turned us down on “Saturday Night Live” for the whole year, from October of 1977 all through ’78, John and Gilda kept lobbying. John called me and said, “You’re on ‘Saturday Night Live.’” It was the second to last show of the ’78 season. After we did “Saturday Night Live,” that was it. The album broke.
I was yelling at [Columbia Records exec] Steve Popovich. But Popovich had worked his fingers … I mean his fingers were bleeding, he worked so hard. I was upset … It’s like things happen, you get upset. Steinman was in the room. … I can see Steinman coming up with that.
There was a considerable amount of time between the release of “Bat Out Of Hell” and when it finally took off.
Oh, yeah, it was released in October 1977 and “Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad” came after “Saturday Night Live” in May. It started in a radio station. John Sykes who now … runs the world, did run MTV, VH1 … he was the college rep up in Buffalo. There was a DJ by the name of Sandy Beach. After “Saturday Night Live,” this guy out of Buffalo began playing “Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad” because there’s a lyric there, “You’ll never find your gold on a sandy beach.”
There was a whole lot of people responsible [for Bat Out Of Hell’s success]. Us touring, the amount of shows we were doing, the amount of press we were doing. Walter Yetnikoff over at CBS believed in it. He was the president of CBS Records so he was forcing people’s hands. The charts used to be bought and the guy who ran the charts for Billboard for CBS hated us. So we never broke the Top 10 even though by July of ’78, in July, August, September and October, we were selling 700,000 copies a week for four months. We never broke the Top 10 and nobody was even close to us.
You can thank Yetnikoff, you can think Steinman for writing it, you can thank Steve Popovich for being so insistent. You can thank Lou Adler. I said I wanted to shoot videos – I want to shoot “film” because they didn’t call them videos – and they go, “What are you going to do with them?”
So I called up Lou Adler and said, “If I give you something will you run it as an opening to the “Rocky Horror Picture Show?” He goes, “I’m going to say ‘yes’ but I have to see it.” So I sent him “Paradise …” and he called me back and said, “Yeah.”
So that was a trailer to the “Rocky Horror Picture Show” all through the country. So you got Walter Yetnikoff pushing his company, you got Steve Popovich pushing radio stations and you got Lou Adler allowing me to have “Paradise …” in front of [“Rocky Horror’], you got Belushi and Radner getting me on “Saturday Night Live” and you got John Sykes and Sandy Beach … and it finally took off.
A lot of heavy hitters in your corner.
Yeah. Any artist who ever claims they do it by themselves is full of you know what. There’s no way. I was partly responsible. I was working my ass off but so was Jim, so was the band. I had so many people working hard and you got to give credit where credit is due.
When Hollywood makes the Meat Loaf story, who should play you?
They did it already, it wasn’t very good. It was a TV movie [“Meat Loaf: To Hell and Back” starring W. Earl Brown]. The person who was originally going to do it and was cast to do it was Jack Black. Black had just done a movie where he played a gun dealer and he sold a gun to Bruce Willis and Willis shot him in a field. We were ready to shoot with Jack Black and they postponed the shoot. And the next film Jack took off. Ever since that point, Black has always said, “When it comes time to do the Tenacious D movie, I’m going to have Meat Loaf play my father.”
So everybody kept going, “Are you going to play his father?” And I said, “I’ll play his father if Jack calls me on the phone.”
So one Sunday morning I’m at my house, the phone rings, I pick it up and he goes, “It’s me, Jack.” He doesn’t say, “Jack Black,” he just says, “Jack.” And I’m sitting there going, “Well … Hi.” You know how you get on the phone and you’re going, “OK. I don’t know who the hell I’m talking to but I’m going to be friendly because he’s really friendly.”
He says, “I’m calling you because I heard you wanted me to call you.” And I’m going, “Who in the hell am I talking to?”
Finally he mentions that he wants me to play his father and I went, “Oh, my God. It’s Jack Black.” I went, “Jack! How are you?” Then it was a different conversation.
He said, “I want you to play my dad.” Then he goes, “I want you to sing this song.” … And I said, “If I sing a song, you’re going to have to come and do a duet with me on an album.” And he said, “Deal.”
So when we did the album with [producer] Rob Cavallo, Hang Cool Teddy Bear, Jack and I did a duet together.
But the great story was [John King of the Dust Brothers] was producing the [Tenacious D’s The Pick Of Destiny] album. I was going to a football draft in Las Vegas. And they said, “Just stop by and we’ll just do a quick reference vocal.” So I walked in and literally did that vocal that’s in that movie for seven minutes. I said, “OK, this is just a reference and I’m going to come back and do it again, right?” [They said] “Oh, yeah.” It never happened. That was literally a seven minute vocal.
Compiling all these memories for the Las Vegas show, do you see any moments that might have been missed opportunities?
No. I don’t believe in that. Sometimes you make mistakes. Sometimes you do things where you go, “Oh, God, I can’t believe I did that.” There are moments that I’m totally embarrassed over but it happened. One was the thing over Gary Busey but that was some creative editing. If you go online and watch it really close you’ll see near the end of the clip I go to a bag and I pull out a can of paint and throw it to Gary. And what I said to Gary was, “Here’s your f**kin’ paints, Gary.” And he goes, “Ohhh… Thank you.” And then I yelled at him. But they did creative editing. They kept cutting things he said … you can see his mouth move, he was saying things back to me, but they cut it out. I had slept for two and a half hours. What had gone on the night before and all that morning was … that was the final straw that broke the camel’s back. And I can be firey.
Shortly after speaking with Meat Loaf, producer Adam Steck got on the phone with Pollstar. Although the conversation began with the same question we asked Meat Loaf, the chat quickly took off in a different direction.
How do you shoehorn a career that spans half a decade into 90 minutes?
Meat Loaf has seen 47 years in the business – television, movies, rock star. He has so many stories to tell and so many different questions that he can answer that the show will be different every night. We’ll still have the same songs, but the Q&A and storytelling will be different. Which will be great because the hardcore Meat Loaf fans will experience a different show every night.
What’s on tap for the fans?
We’re looking at a full-blown, rock ’n’ roll arena show crammed into a 1,350-seat theatre. It’s going to be a balls-to-the-walls rock show with tons of bells and whistles but then it’s all of a sudden going to become “Inside The Actors Studio,” breaking the fourth wall with the audience. It’s not just an artist sitting on a stool with a spotlight and microphone. It’s a full-blown rock show.
Is the band backing him in Las Vegas the same group he tours with or are you adding musicians for the production?
He’s got his Neverland Express band he’s been touring with. He calls them the “best band in rock ’n’ roll” and I agree with him, they’re fantastic. There will be two backup singers when there is usually one. There is going to be, not to give it away, a lot of specialty acts. A little dose of Vegas in there.
So you’re going to have some Vegas glitz in the show?
A little bit but the way he brings it in is very, very clever. … You’re going to have to see the show to know what I’m talking about. It’s not your typical contortionist, this that or the other, but elements of the crazy Vegas variety acts will be involved somehow, someway.
Your press announcements refer to the show as “RockTellz & CockTails Present Meat Loaf.” Is this going to be an ongoing brand that will eventually include different artists?
It’s a brand that I created. I’m always looking for unique acts to bring to Vegas. I’ve got six resident shows, we toured most of them. The last interesting show I brought to town was Mike Tyson’s one-man show [that] I created, produced and went to Broadway.
So that gave me a little inspiration for what else I could do that’s unique that fans cannot see normally. [It] gave me the idea of “RockTellz & CockTails” – stripped-down legacy artists doing storytelling and being “Inside The Actors Studio” with their hits.
Meat Loaf is the first artist in this series. He’s doing six-weeks, 18 shows. We have several other artists we’re talking to, not only in the rock genre but also pop and country. So there will be PopTellz, CountryTellz, we’ll even do an R&BTellz.
And all these shows will feature artists with lengthy careers?
First of all, the demo in Vegas that has discretionary income to spend, besides the nightclub going, are the baby boomers. The criteria is definitely a long history, a lot of hits. Bat Out Of Hell is the fourth best-selling album of all time. Plus he has a very storied career in television, movies – “Rocky Horror Picture Show” to “Fight Club” to “Spice World.” So we look at artists that have stories to tell. Interesting stories.
One of the first artists I talked to was Vince Neal who lives in Vegas. Vince came to my Mike Tyson show and we talked about him and Tommy Lee or him and Nikki Sixx doing [Mötley Crüe autobiography] “The Dirt: Confessions of the World’s Most Notorious Rock Band” live, which we thought would be great. Those guys have some stories to tell. But Motley Crue had its residency and things didn’t work out.
To answer your question long-windedly, [we’re looking for] artists that have stories to tell that have a lot of hits. That can normally sell a lot of tickets … The idea is to see the artist in an environment you normally wouldn’t see them in – an intimate stage.
Meat Loaf was one of several artists on my list. When he finally agreed to do [the show] it was the right place and the right time for him. Most of these artists, these legacy artists, they’re sick of doing the bus, the truck and the big schlep. They want to sit in Vegas and have the mountain come to Mohammad. So it was perfect timing for [Meat Loaf] because he just finished a European tour. … He’s perfect [for this].
So getting Meat Loaf onboard wasn’t a hard sell?
No. He had actually done a “Storyteller’s” tour back in the day when John Sykes did it with VH1 in the mid-1990s. I mentioned that to him and he’s like, “I can totally do it but I don’t want it to be that. I want it to be that mixed with “Inside The Actors Studio” mixed with a full-blown rock show so the true fans can get a dose of everything.”
They’re going to get “Paradise By The Dashboard Light” in their face. They’re going to get “Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad.” They’re going to get everything.
Will there be a DVD?
Yeah, we’re going to be filming it. There’s obviously some TV interest but we like to control the destiny of it. We’re going to do a five-camera shoot, mix it up and have a DVD to sell on Palladia, sell it at shows, or whatever.
Will there be anyone serving as host or as an onstage presence to lead Meat Loaf through the Q&A?
We talked about that and Meat Loaf is like, “I can demand command of the room myself. I can be a politician. I can take someone’s question and the next thing you know, turn it into whatever answer I want to give.”
He’s going to control the entire thing. We’ll have helpers in the audience with the microphone but as far as picking out the questions, it’s all him.
What would you like to tell the world about “RockTellz & CockTails” that people might not be aware?
I think I’d like to communicate that it’s not Meat Loaf sitting on a stool with a spotlight. It’s nothing like you’re going to expect and people are going to be blown away. That’s probably the easiest and simplest way to say that.
“Rocktellz & Cocktails Presents Meat Loaf” at the Planet Hollywood Showroom inside the Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino in Las Vegas takes place Sept. 26, 28, Oct. 1, 3, 5, 8, 10, 12, 15, 17, 19, 22, 24, 26, 29, 31, Nov. 2 & 5. Please visit RockTellz.com for more information.