Published on April 14th, 2015 | by AlexandreG.0
Lost 80’s review: Blackjack
The 80’s were a really interesting decade for music. The disco fad and backlash was over and record companies were achieving success in every genre. AC/DC, Ozzy and Def Leppard ruled the hard rock category. Journey and Foreigner released albums that became the definition of classic rock. Madonna, Janet Jackson, Lionel Richie, and Whitney Houston ruled the pop charts and the airwaves. Soundtracks from Miami Vice, Flashdance and Dirty Dancing achieved great success and were iconic representations of the 80’s club scene. And of course Michael Jackson released one of the biggest selling albums of all time, Thriller.
However it was also the decade that gave us the “hair bands” like Poison, Tiffany, and of course Milli Vanilli.
Record companies at the time were flush with cash and signed and incredible number of acts in hopes of stumbling upon the next big thing. One of those acts was Blackjack.
Despite their talent, Blackjack was doomed to failure due to a number of factors; the main one being that the band was just too much of the 80’s corporate rock.
The first part of the formula was a one word band name. Ideally the name should invoke an emotion or an action. By taking on the name of blackjack, the most popular casino game in the world, it appears that the band was looking for a cross between action and striking it rich.
The second part of the formula was a powerful lead singer. Blackjack was undoubtedly on the mark here, but while their singer had the power and the range, they never seemed to find the right songs that would showcase his talent and appeal to the rock audience.
The third part was “the look”; looking back it seems that in order to be a successful rock star in the 80’s required long hair and a perm.
Blackjack was sort of a cross between the corporate rock sounds of Journey and the hair-metal bands like Poison and Warrant.
Blackjack managed to stay together for just two albums, a self-title 1979 release and 1980’s Worlds Apart. The band had a small national tour in early 1980 opening for a number of acts ranging from Peter Frampton to the Marshall Tucker Band.
The label execs that signed Blackjack can’t be faulted for the bands lack of success. The band members on their own were unquestionably talented and with just a bit of luck, they could have been the next Journey.
Blackjack’s vocalist was the standout star of the group; unfortunately Hard Rock was just not his forte. His name was Michael Bolotin. Bolotin later changed his name to Michael Bolton and became one of the best known pop vocalists of the last two decades.
Listening to Without Your Love, and Love Me Tonight you get numerous glimpses into the power of Bolton’s voice but the songs lack the punch and the hooks necessary to be major hits. Blackjack’s best shot at success was probably their cover of the Supremes’ My World is Empty Without You for their second album, but by that time most of the band had decided to call it a day.
The other members of the band would never achieve the name recognition or the star status of Bolton but were more than capable musicians.
Guitarist Bruce Kulick, who had toured with Meat Loaf, played on Billy Squire’s debut album and with The Good Rats. He played guitar for Bolton on the singer’s 1983 self-titled album before joining Kiss in 1984.
Bass player Jimmy Haslip went on the join the Yellowjackets and drummer Sandy Gennaro joined the Pat Travers band.
The bands lack of success at the time can be chalked up to several factors.
One is the expectations of record companies at the time. With artists routinely selling four million and even ten million copies of an album, Blackjack’s initial sales of 100,000 were seen as a failure.
Record companies at the time expected instant success; they also changed executives on a regular basis. Mediocre sales and new label management, meant the band was for all intents and purposes dead by the time their second album was released.
The other two factors, which were fairly major, was the lack of a powerhouse songwriter or a song writing team within the band and the right producer. Artists in 1980’s were expected to write their own material, and their original material was just not strong enough to break through. Although the band worked with Tom Dowd and Eddie Offord, two of the most successful producers of the 80’s, neither could find the perfect combination that showcased Bolton’s vocal abilities with a catchy powerful backing track.
However the release of Worlds Apart would not spell the final chapter in Blackjack’s short history.
Record label PolyGram, in hopes of capitalizing a bit off of Bolton’s fame, re-released both albums on one CD in 1990. Lemon Records would do the same in Europe in 2006. The Japanese market has a long history of re-releasing all types of American music, including relatively obscures artists such as Blackjack. A 2-for-1 package was released in 1996 in Japan, and both albums were re-released individually in 2013.
Somewhat surprisingly, Blackjack has found a following in America among rap musicians. Jay-Z sampled Stay from the second album for his song The Dream in 2002. Kanye West’s Never Let Me Down features a section of Maybe It’s the Power of Love that West re-recorded.