Aretha Franklin

Bruce Sudano Talks Donna Summer, Touring With the Zombies & Broadway

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Bruce Sudano performs during SXSW 2016 in Austin, Texas.

When Bruce Sudano and wife Donna Summer's youngest daughter Amanda graduated from college, Summer recommended he do one thing: "She said, 'You’ve put you on the side for a number of years,'" he remembered. "'It's time for you to be you now.'"

Since Summer's untimely passing on May 17, 2012, Sudano -- who managed his late wife’s career and co-wrote such Summer hits as "Bad Girls" -- has continued to record new music and tour in the U.S. and Europe. He made his South by Southwest debut earlier this year and is now back on the road with a solo gig at Live At Drew's in Ringwood, New Jersey, on Friday (May 13) and another on May 19 at New York's Rockwood Music Hall. Sudano's also teaming up with legendary British rockers the Zombies for five dates beginning May 14 at Montgomery College in Rockville, Maryland, and concluding May 27 at City Winery in Nashville.

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In the meantime, daughters Amanda and Brooklyn, as well as granddaughter Vienna, are also carrying on the Summer-Sudano creative tradition. Brooklyn is an actress whose credits include television’s My Wife and Kids and CSI and will appear in NBC’s forthcoming series Taken. Amanda and husband Abner Ramirez comprise the folk, blues and pop duo Johnnyswim. And granddaughter Vienna has been selected as a singer-songwriter for ReverbNation’s artist incubator program Connect.

Deep-rooted music fans will recall that Sudano co-founded the late '60s pop-rock band Alive N Kickin’, which scored a top 10 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 with “Tighter, Tighter.” As a member of the late ‘70s band Brooklyn Dreams -- during which time he met Summer -- Sudano enjoyed a top 5 hit with “Heaven Knows,” a duet featuring Summer and Sudano’s bandmate Joe Esposito. Since then, songs he’s penned became hits for Dolly Parton (“Starting Over Again”) and Michael and Jermaine Jackson (“Tell Me I’m Not Dreamin’”).

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Sudano has since recorded a series of well-received solo albums, including 2004’s Rainy Day Soul and 2009’s Life and the Romantic. His most recent sets, 2014’s With Angels on a Carousel and 2015’s The Burbank Sessions (featuring lead single “One Beautiful Life”) address surviving the loss of a loved one and finding love again, respectively. 

“I lost my mother several weeks before Donna,” recalled Sudano, who is negotiating a new publishing deal and will have one of his songs featured in an upcoming Fed Ex commercial. “It was a crazy deal. This life that we live: you try and understand. But all we can do is trust God and keep living. That’s my motto.”

Billboard: How challenging has it been for you these last few years?

Sudano: When Donna was finally gone, I was like, “Well, I’ve been on the road my whole life, so now it’s time to actually put myself out there by myself.” To promote the Angels CD, I put the Candyman Band together and started doing shows. That’s kind of the evolution. The challenge always was for it to be my voice without having the crutch of great singers that I’ve always been blessed to be around. But I love it. It’s honest, real, entertaining and challenging all at the same time. Little doors of all my history have kind of opened up along the way. I’m portraying real-life emotions and my own personal truths that are relatable to everybody, using elements of blues, jazz, rock and roll and soul.

What led to your opening for the Zombies?

We have the same agency. Actually, the summer before last we did a bunch of shows together for the first time. It’s a very simpatico kind of arrangement. It’s a good hang and a good musical fit. Last fall I toured Europe with the younger rock band Hollis Brown, which is also with the same agency. Hopefully this fall, we’ll be going back to Europe again together. At a lot of the places I’ve been playing with the Zombies and Hollis Brown, the audiences seem to have a strong appreciation of the past and of real music. Even as EDM and that whole world flourishes, there’s a ground swell of live music happening.

What’s your take on today’s music business?

The record business will never be what it was in its heyday. I certainly think there’s a bit of karma going on. I’ve said for a long time that I felt the record business was pigs and took advantage of a lot of people and a lot of situations. But it’s also a resilient business. Music is essential to human nature, so it’s going to survive. Although it may never be what it was, It’s finding its footing again. There’s more equalization that has to happen between artists, the companies, publishers, songwriters. That’s all still shifting sand but it will figure itself out over time.

Down the line, can fans expect to hear previously unreleased Summer recordings?

Yes. There’s also a Broadway play in the works -- based on Donna’s music -- that was announced last week. I will be one of the producers along with Dodger Theatricals, the people who did Jersey Boys on Broadway.

What would Summer say right now about you being you?  

She always had more confidence in me than I had in myself. So I think she would be happy and very proud of her children and grandchildren, encouraging us to carry on just the way we are.