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Covering a Blondie flip side with Circle of Friends, plus Jeff Scott Soto

Circle of Friends executive producer Bruce Mee and vocalist Jeff Scott Soto discuss their new albums with Warren Kurtz in the latest edition of Fabulous Flip Sides.
Soto main

Escape Music’s The Garden by the entourage Circle of Friends features a variety of strong vocalists and stellar musicians, covering Blondie, ABBA and more, and offering new compositions including opener “Little Piece of Heaven” sung by Doro and featuring Joel Hoekstra on guitar.

Frontiers Music has released Complicated by Jeff Scott Soto, known for his powerful vocals with Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Sons of Apollo, Talisman, and more.

   

PART ONE – CIRCLE OF FRIENDS PRODUCER BRUCE MEE

Soto Circle

GOLDMINE: In addition to being England’s Fireworks magazine publisher and editor, you now can add executive producer to your titles. Congratulations on The Garden and thank you for the variety of new and cover songs.

BRUCE MEE: Thank you. I was concerned on what people may think of having four cover versions on one album of thirteen songs, but these songs all meant something to me growing up. 

GM: It is a good mix. Let’s begin with a Blondie song you covered. In 1977 I saw Blondie live and met them. The following year their third album Parallel Lines was released and at the record store where I was working, we would play side one of the album all the time. In 1979, when “Heart of Glass” was released as a single, we then flipped the album over to feature that song on side two which began with “11:59.” I think that Ellinor Asp does a wonderful job on this new version, very true to the original.

BM: Parallel Lines was my introduction to Blondie. I must have been fifteen, and I didn’t know that they had originally been a punk band. “11:59” was my favorite track on the album. Parallel Lines was my big introduction to rock, and I have been a rock fan ever since then. Khalil Turk from Escape Records suggested Ellinor Asp from the Swedish group Hellinor to sing this this song and she totally captured what we were looking for with a similar punk attitude as Deborah Harry.  

Soto flip side

Blondie

Fabulous Flip Side: 11:59

A side: Heart of Glass

Billboard Top 100 debut: February 17, 1979

Peak position: 1

Chrysalis CHS 2295 

“Khalil Turk from Escape Records suggested Ellinor Asp from the Swedish group Hellinor and she totally captured what we were looking for with a similar punk attitude as Deborah Harry.” – Bruce Mee, Circle of Friends executive producer

GM: Another cover that I enjoy is “Knowing Me, Knowing You,” the ABBA single that followed “Dancing Queen” from their Arrival album that I would play when I was in college.

BM: That is the album that introduced me to ABBA. My cousin bought it for me for Christmas. I fell in love with it. For years I had thought that “Knowing Me, Knowing You” would be great with more of a rock treatment.

GM: I was so pleased that the whispering part of the song was included, which I was hoping to hear.

BM: When I first got the demo back, it wasn’t on there and I asked, “Where’s the whispering? Where’s the call back? It is essential to the song.” So, Robin Beck added the whispering echo, like the ABBA original, and we all loved it.

“Robin Beck added the whispering echo, like the ABBA original, and we all loved it.” - Bruce Mee, Circle of Friends executive producer

GM: Each December here in Florida, my wife Donna and I see Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Jeff Scott Soto is our favorite male vocalist in the entourage. He is so powerful, and he sounds great here on “Bad Blood.”

BM: Jeff is a longtime friend of mine. When I used to run the Firefest music festival from 2005 through 2013 and Jeff and his band would perform.

Promotional photo from Escape Music

Promotional photo from Escape Music

GM: Speaking about Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Joel Hoekstra’s guitar is stellar on “Take My Love to Heart,” sung by Jaime Kyle.

BM: Joel is someone who Khalil has worked with over the years and Jaime Kyle has been a personal friend of his for thirty years. I wanted to extend the length of this song from a demo I recorded decades ago, and Khalil suggested that Joel would be perfect. Joel did a wonderful job and is the perfect rock star with his big hair and big smile.

GM: He really is and is such a nice guy as well. “Time Has Come,” sung by Cheri Lyn, has a Pat Benatar-type sound. Cheri told me, “I love ‘Time Has Come.’ What a great job Bruce did with The Garden. I am probably the least known name on the album and therefore I feel even more blessed that Bruce gave me this chance.”

BM: Cheri is a personal friend of mine. She used to write reviews for my Fireworks magazine when she lived in London. She was a big blues fan and a blues artist. She has a wonderful voice. Her voice on that song is just perfect. 

“I am probably the least known name on the album and therefore I feel even more blessed that Bruce gave me this chance.”– Cheri Lyn, Circle of Friends

GM: Probably my favorite song is “When He’s Gone.” Gabrielle de Val does a wonderful job. She told me, “From the first moment I heard ‘When He’s Gone’ I knew it was made for me. 'When He’s Gone’ is a passionate song with a dramatic touch that hooked me instantly and I’ve really enjoyed performing it.” It has a Journey-like keyboard opening.

BM: Gabrielle has been a friend of mine for ten years. The work she did exceeded my expectations. I am also the executive producer of a solo album of her music called Kiss in a Dragon Night, coming out later this year. 

“‘When He’s Gone’ is a passionate song with a dramatic touch that hooked me instantly” – Gabrielle de Val, Circle of Friends

GM: Speaking of albums, Tanya Rizkala pointed me to a new album from her group Epic called Starlight. It ends with a song sung in French, “Mais Lui” which is a wonderful finale. Tanya does a great job with “Love is Enough,” which includes twin lead guitars reminding me of “Jesus is Just Alright.” Tanya told me, “I’m thankful for Mikael Rosengren writing this. 'Love is Tough’ is a wonderfully realistic and sincere love song that has moved me and many beyond words and has become an anthem. Thanks to Khalil and Bruce for welcoming me to be part of Circle of Friends and choosing the absolute right song for my timbre, vocals and range.

BM: Khalil had suggested her for the project. She almost sounds like a female version of Ronnie James Dio. She has that Rainbow-like sound with her massive voice that blows me away and Rainbow is my all-time favorite band.

“‘Love is Tough’ is a wonderfully realistic and sincere love song that has moved me and many beyond words and has become an anthem.” – Tanya Rizkala, Circle of Friends

GM: Donna loves Bon Jovi. “Truth or Dare” is the Bon Jovi song of this album, with Karen Fell on vocals.

BM: When that came back to me, and I heard the “You Give Love a Bad Name” opening I initially thought it was too similar, but it works, and Karen did a great job delivering the song.

GM: You dedicate The Garden to your mother Margaret, who passed away from cancer in 2020 and I offer my condolences to you.

BM: Thank you. My mother and I had a very close bond. We did a lot of things together. I was born in London and grew up in Scotland. I had to dive into something to take my mind off of her passing and wanted to do something for her. It came out even better than I expected. Getting Doro and the others to agree to sing on my album took it to the next level.

GM: The album ends with a song that was in the Top 40 when Donna and I had our first date in 1976, “Don’t Fear the Reaper,” which is a very fun way to end the collection, with Robin McAuley singing lead on this one.

BM: I had wanted to do a version of this for the past thirty years. You have made my month by knowing how much you like the album. You understand exactly what I am trying to do. You love the songs and the female vocals. I am so thankful that you like it so much. 

Promotional photo from Escape Music

Promotional photo from Escape Music

  

PART TWO - JEFF SCOTT SOTO

Soto Complicated

GM: Congratulations on Complicated. It is in my Top 10 of the year so far, but before we get to that, let’s talk about the song “Bad Blood” that you recorded with Circle of Friends, reminding me of Toto.

JEFF SCOTT SOTO: I have known Bruce Mee and Khalil Turk for many years, so I was pleased to be on their Circle of One session. I have done many things with Bruce for his magazine and concert festival. Khalil at Escape Music and I have been really good friends from afar for many years, but most of my work is with Frontiers Music. Bruce and Khalil are really good guys and are passionate about their music. They are absolute musicologists and I value their opinions. We are the nerds that used to read the words on every album cover, liner and every interview. We know every detail about our favorite artists. 

GM: That definitely sounds like our Goldmine writers and readers. Moving on to Complicated, “Home Again” is a fast-driving song with Fabrizio Sgattoni’s guitar coming through nicely.

JSS: He is a rock guitar monster. I trusted Alessandro Del Vecchio as the producer to write the music, choose the musicians and guide both this album and our prior album Wide Awake (In My Dreamland). I gave him full reign. I am usually very hands on with production, but I have learned that I can entrust that chore to Alessandro, and he will never let me down. He is an incredible writer and visualist. He had a guitar friend in Italy who he thought was good but didn’t realize how good he was until he saw him at a gig in 2019 and he said that he had to get him on an album he was working on, which was Wide Awake (In My Dreamland). This time around I requested Fabrizio due to the work he did with us on the prior album. 

GM: “New Horizon” is one of the fast-paced songs, reminding me of Deep Purple’s 1970s fast songs and Sweet’s “Set Me Free.” It is wonderfully powerful.

JSS: Thanks. The overall synopsis of my career’s music genres has been so European based since I started with Yngwie Malmsteen almost forty years ago. A lot of what I have done is based on working with overseas players. There is an absolute difference on how Europeans and even South Americans write compared to the typical American approach to rock music. I was so influenced by European music. It is cool to be able to also draw from the bands I loved growing up in America from Journey to Styx to Foreigner but then I add the European influence of Deep Purple, Thin Lizzy and all the bands who were really big overseas and it makes for a nice blend, where sometimes I sound more international than domestic. 

GM: Let’s shift to something with more of an American sound, a Sammy Hagar-era Van Halen keyboard and guitar combination on the title tune “Complicated.”

JSS: Absolutely. For the most part, a lot of this album was derived with the intention of bringing forth the element of Talisman, the band who were a massive part of my career, so I have tapped into that influence. The album is a nod to those years that I spent with that band.

GM: “Love is the Revolution” has great harmonies and the sitar sound at the beginning is so enjoyable.

JSS: I remember getting the demo for that and thought immediately that the sitar was a great way to start the song and what a beautiful instrument to use to set the tone. It also set the image for what I was going to write about. When I heard it, my natural reaction was thinking of a peaceful, loving harmony, as The Beatles used that instrument to harness their messages of peace, love and harmony. From that, I wanted to continue that feeling lyrically. I went with an “All You Need is Love” message with “Love is the Revolution,” as a part two theme to “All You Need is Love.” 

I went with an “All You Need is Love” message with “Love is the Revolution,” as a part two theme to “All You Need is Love.” – Jeff Scott Soto

GM: You do flash the peace sign early in the video, like Ringo. My wife Donna’s favorite song on the album is the piano driven power ballad “Until I See You Again.”

JSS: The ladies love the ballads. I love writing songs with double meanings. I want the listener to question what the song is about. This one came come across about a relationship between two people, but to me this is really a pandemic inspired song with life on hold with nothing being normal until I see you again. It can be considered a relationship song, but in my mind, it is about missing the crowds and fans. 

“The ladies love the ballads. I love writing songs with double meanings. I want the listener to question what the song is about.” – Jeff Scott Soto

 

GM: Speaking about the pandemic, my favorite song is the powerful “Don’t Look Back” about “time to reassess” and “missing that human touch.”

JSS: Thanks. Exactly. I spent a lot of complicated days with that theme in mind. A lot of people don’t want to hear about that anymore, and I get it. The beauty is when I write a lyric it can be applied to one topic or go toward something else, hopefully making my songs universal in appeal.

The beauty is when I write a lyric it can be applied to one topic or go toward something else, hopefully making my songs universal in appeal. – Jeff Scott Soto

GM: Now, let’s go back to last year’s The Duets Collection – Volume 1, where you redid some of your older songs. “Coming Home” with Journey’s Deen Castronovo is a perfect fit for this pandemic era.

JSS: Definitely. Even the video we made reflected that. That was originally from an album I did with Neal Schon and Deen as the band Soul SirkUS. When I went to redo it, I didn’t need Deen on drums again, I needed Deen on vocals. That song was always my homage to Steve Perry and is probably the only song on the Soul SirkUS album that has that Journey flair to it. I wanted people to hear how much Journey means to me as a singer-songwriter and as an artist growing up, how important Journey was to me.

GM: Watching Deen in the video, it is just amazing how he captures the vocal notes.

JSS: When you speak with Deen, he has a gravelly voice but when he sings that goes away and he is amazing. I was able to hear him sing lead every night when I was touring with Journey, and it was such a pleasure being in the same band with him from summer of 2006 through summer of 2007 when I was singing lead on most songs. I love this guy with every fiber of my being. I had a great time seeing them this spring. It was emotional and exciting. I hadn’t seen the band live since we parted ways fifteen years ago. It was nice to relive that beautiful memory of being part of that group. It was great to see them continuing and flourishing the way they are. 

GM: Donna and I also enjoyed seeing them in Orlando in April, at the same venue where we see you with Trans-Siberian Orchestra each December. It is so fun to watch you perform “This Christmas Day.”

JSS: Thank you so much. I was so pleased when they gave that song to me when Tommy Farese left the organization. It was really scary in the beginning for anybody to take on his songs because anyone could complain that it wasn’t the same singer. It took me quite a few years to make it my own but keep the flavor of what Tommy put into that song. I cherished his version, but we have two different voices. I wanted to make sure the fans and the TSO personnel were happy with the way I was interpreting those songs. It is such a joy to sing them every year. I still get goosebumps performing “This Christmas Day” because I know in the middle section, when I drop my jacket, I get to become me. It is like Clark Kent is gone and Superman is on stage, ha ha.

GM: We wait for that moment. We know it is coming and it is so much fun.

JSS: I don’t want things to become stale so I want to find something where I can burst out of the song and not lose the bombastic element. I have been doing the same schtick for so long, I have got to find something new but equally appealing. Guitarist Al Pitrelli is one of my best friends and is the one who brought me into TSO. I have known Al for over three decades now and he has told me, “As long as I am here, so are you.”

GM: Speaking of decades, congratulations to you and Elena on your first decade wedding anniversary.

JSS: Thank you. I know you and Donna have us beat by many decades, which says a lot these days. Thank you both for enjoying Complicated and letting me know. I need to hear that when I’m doing new music today. I know some artists rest on their laurels, but I always want to put new music out because I feel there is always something left to say, so it is important to hear positive feedback from you and your wife. Thank you very much. 

Related Links:

Escape Music Circle of Friends

Frontiers Music Jeff Scott Soto

jeffscottsoto.com

Goldmine Fabulous Flip Sides now in its eighth year

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