■ The singer-songwriter, 66, on his music needing a drugs warning, karate and music for making babies
I’m not sure whether to address you as Mr Bolton, Lord Boltron or The Boltmeister…
They are all Bolton-friendly. You can call me Michael.
A concert of songs from your album, A Symphony Of Hits, is to be broadcast on Radio 2. After 50 years in the business, what does it feel like to stand on stage and sing?
It will always be special. I was signed to Epic when I was 15 and thought, ‘Looks like I made it.’ Eighteen years later I had my first hit. That was like a long trek way out in the desert without water. If you’re fortunate enough to continue, as I have been, you look back very gratefully. I still have the same love and passion.
Was your early songwriting as a child an escape from the pain of your parents’ divorce?
It’s fair to say that. Music is a cathartic instrument for expressing things that you don’t want to confront, about finding something that feels good about your life when there’s hardship around. I lived with my mother after the divorce. There was a closet that was big enough for me to bring my guitar in and it shut me off from the world. There was nothing to distract me from writing and singing.
I’m fascinated by the time you spent in Greenwich Village as a boy, getting stoned and begging…
That was my rite of passage. My brother told me about the great artists like Bob Dylan who were appearing in these restaurants and clubs in the Village. I had a girl, I won’t call her a girlfriend because she was much older, who considered me her sidekick. That was part of the allure of the place — living with this beautiful woman I was in love with but I could never say anything about it.
As a teenager, you’d roll joints the size of Cuban cigars and listen to music in your bedroom. Do you recommend that as a way to enjoy your new album?
Well, I don’t have any disclaimer on the CD: ‘If you’re listening while under the influence of cannabis, turn the bass down a little bit as you may find it creates heart palpitations.’
You should rename the album A Symphony Of Bong Hits…
A Symphony Of Stoners — then you have the alliteration.
You made a film for Netflix — Michael Bolton’s Big Sexy Valentine’s Special. I say this with love, it’s one of the weirdest things I’ve seen.
That’s exactly what my daughter said. I had made the Captain Jack Sparrow video with the Lonely Island comedy guys and it was, like, amazingly successful, with 200million views. So I had great confidence and trust in making the Netflix special.
The premise of the show is it’s a telethon in which you have to use your sexy singing to encourage couples to conceive 75,000 children. In real life, the number of kids conceived to your music must be higher…
I think you’re right. It always makes me a little embarrassed when someone’s telling me their child was conceived to the fourth song on the first side of the album. That’s a little more responsibility than I need.
I hear you are deeply into neoclassical poetry and ancient philosophy. Is that true?
Because I left school to sign a record deal, my education became literature I would read and study for myself. My favourite poet is Alexander Pope. He was deformed and I think his ability to write was heightened by that.
You’re also into karate…
I started at a dojo in New Haven, Connecticut. Bree Belford, one of my best friends, got his black belt there. He became a doctor and doesn’t really practice karate now, unless I’m in town and we start fighting in an elevator. The last time this happened, Bree’s arm was the colour of eggplant from blocking my kicks and his wife was very upset.
You sound like Inspector Clouseau and Cato.
When we shared an apartment, you had to tiptoe into the kitchen because at any time someone could be waiting behind a door to kick you in the ribs.
You’ve sold more than 65 million records but for many years you struggled to have a hit. Why didn’t you give up?
Trying to raise a family of five and not wanting to scare the kids about where dinner was coming from was an intense pressure. It was frightening, overwhelming and excruciating at times. But I didn’t have a Plan B.
Friday Night Is Music Night: Michael Bolton will be broadcast on BBC Radio 2 and BBC Sounds at 8pm tomorrow