Interview / Rudy Norman / Back To The Streets

I first heard and fell for Rudy Norman’s 1980 single, Back To The Streets, when DJ friends, such as Lexx and Phil Mison, started to include the track in their mixes. This must have been around 6 or 7 years ago. Its Fender Rhodes and vocal harmonies conjuring warm West Coast climes. Soft Rock, Yacht Rock, call it what you will, there`s no denying its boisterous blue-sky-ed funk, or arguing with its ace axe action. Bill Brewster then comp`d Rudy’s secret smash for Late Night Tales` After Dark Nocturne, and the resulting rise in interest in turn prompted Rudy, in 2016, to dust off the master-tapes and do a repress – allowing mere mortals like myself to secure a mint copy at an affordable price. 

Ubiquity have now licensed Back To The Streets, giving it a new push. The song making its 12” debut, alongside a couple of chunky remixes from Ben Chetwood & Jack Sellen aka the Flying Mojito Brothers. The duo sending echoes of the original through a fresh, pumped-up groove, bubbling in and out of a considerable, contemporary, 4 / 4 kick. The package giving me an excuse to ask Rudy a few questions about the track`s recording and how he feels about its elevation to cult classic status. 

Rudy In The Studio

Rudy in the studio.

Where are you from? 

I was born in Germany and came to the United States in 1953 – specifically to Baltimore, MD. 

Where are you based?

I`m based in Harmans, MD – a suburb of Baltimore, close to Washington, DC.

When did you first get interested in music?

Probably around 1957, `58, when I was 10 or 11 years old. I started buying 45s  – 7″ vinyl records. I would put those records on you know, music by Elvis, Roy Orbison, Buddy Holly, The Miracles & Smokey Robinson, The Everly Brothers, to name a few – and just loved singing along with those records and that’s really the TRUE beginning of my interest, my love. It wasn’t just listening any longer, but becoming part of what I was listening to, a part of the band.

What instruments do you play?

Ha, I only play the guitar and am not that proficient at it.

How long have you been playing, how and when did you start playing?

You see, I am primarily a vocalist and I only started playing guitar seriously about 10 years ago. Here’s the story, I only picked up the guitar so I could accompany myself singing, as it were. I`d always had musicians backing me and figured I needed to learn at least basic guitar, for if and when I didn’t have a band or musicians available. This turned out to be significant, because the ability to play guitar then enabled me to write songs – something I had never done up until then. My first song / release was titled, Lola – not a Kinks cover. 

Did you have any formal training?

No, I haven’t had any formal training on guitar – I probably should have – and no formal instruction on singing, although I did have formal training in

“Voice Over” for doing commercials, narrations and voicing audio books. 

Were you in any bands?

Oh sure, I landed my first gig as lead singer with a band called The Luvs, in around 1967. Other bands included DayBreak, Spike, Left of Center, Cruise, Wavelength and also The Candles – this being a duo and my first outing actually playing guitar in a group. 

Which artists / musicians were you influenced by?

Ahh, there were many and it was early on – with of course Elvis, Buddy Holly, The Everly Brothers, Roy Orbison, Sam Cook, Otis Redding and there were lesser known acts, you could say “one hit wonders” that had an impact on me. Ha, a really good one I remember was by Ray & Bob called Air Travel. Heck, how about The Monotones` The Book of Love? It’s funny I could go on and on but can’t stop without a shout out to Rolling Stones, Spencer Davis, The Beatles, Moody Blues, The Fixx, The Hollies, Super Tramp, Led Zep and Iron Butterfly – and I can say I have new influences as well. All the aforementioned really did shape me musically, as if they were in this large bowl of delicious “musical soup” that I constantly consumed. 

How did the recording of Back To The Streets come about?

By 1979 I pretty much needed a break from performing in cover bands. I was bored and frustrated and decided during that break that I needed to try and do something new professionally. This was how it came about in a nutshell – my desire to move forward and progress musically. To do so back then I needed two songs – to cut a record – a single – that would suit me vocally and be FM radio friendly. The first song I picked was Elton John`s Harmony from the 1973 album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. I loved that track and felt I could do good job with it. Now I needed a song for side B of the 45…enter Back To The Streets, which was not yet realized. The plan was now to find a second song, a studio, a band and a producer.

Where were the sessions held?

All of the sessions were at Sheffield Recording Studio in Phoenix, MD. A 24 track studio, and one of the best on the East Coast where artists like Pat Benatar, Paul Simon and REM have recorded. 

Who else was involved – musicians, producers, engineers?

Friend, songwriter and talented local musician Russ Steele had a band who were quite at home in a recording studio, so, care of Russ, I had a band! I found a producer after listening and sifting through the credits on a pile of 45s that had been recorded & produced at Sheffield – Doug “D.H.” Arthur. It so happened that Russ had a raw cassette demo of a song he`d written, Back To The Streets. The producer and I listened and really liked it – so, my 2nd song….Found! Although not involved in the sessions or musical part of the record I have to mention the artist who did the cover art for my record jacket. This was a local Baltimore graphic artist, Gary Yealdhall. I described what I wanted and he came thru with a great piece of art for me. He did this in pencil / stipple effect. I feel it is a significant part of the package. 

Rudy Norman Back To The Streets Art

How long did the sessions take?

The sessions took place over a 2 week period in mid-February, 1980. Usually starting early afternoon, and running into early evening. The producer, engineer and I did spend extra time in the studio, which proved to be such an important element of “Streets”. After all tracks were recorded and mostly mixed Doug and I played around with isolating tracks to listen to them separately, specifically the Fender Rhodes, my vocals, and background vocal tracks. We loved the sound of just those tracks and decided to “cut and splice” and put them at the front and so that became the intro for “Streets”. It created such an outstanding vibe to the track. The intro mix no doubt helped Back To The Streets achieve some cult status for sure – it`s such a unique sound. The sessions were engineered by Bill Mueller.

Is New Day Records your label? If so how easy was it to press and release the record on your own?

Yes “New Day’ is my label, and actually it was quite easy to press and get the record out to a few local record shops. I don’t remember or have any recollection of where the records were pressed. Pretty much it was the same steps and process as today – locate a pressing plant, deliver tapes  / files, hand them a check and we were good to go. In 2016, I repressed and reissued the record. This time I sent digital files vs. analog tape. My original tracks were on 24 track analog tape and needed to to be revived – to do so the tape had to be “**cooked” in order to get the tracks usable to transfer to digital. Yeah, the tape was actually put in an oven at about 120 degrees for several hours.

Was the record a success at the time of release? Did it pick up any local or national radio play?

No, the record was not a success as far as sales and airplay go – although the A-side, Harmony, got some airplay on a local AM radio station. Back To The Streets did not get airplay, because at the time it was Harmony that was being pushed. This was my decision because I figured that a recognizable / familiar song had a better chance of getting rotation. It wasn’t until a year later in 1981 when Back To The Streets got some recognition and airplay. I`d entered “Streets” – by The Rudy Norman Band – into a competition run by local FM radio station WKTK-105. The sung won, and was selected to be included on a compilation LP, called Maryland Music 81 – it was part of this “Big America Music Contest”. Ya know the cool thing was that “Streets” was pressed as the opening song on Side 1 – so I guess a few people got to her it. Ha, you can find the album on different sites, including Discogs I believe. I still have 2 copies of it. 

Rudy Norman Maryland Music 81

Did you do any live shows?

Unfortunately the opportunity wasn’t there to follow up with live shows. OK, maybe it wasn’t that simple, you see I didn’t have a manager or my own band – Russ Steeles’ band were hired guns and really had no room on their schedule to back me. Plus I didn’t have the material to do any performances other than those 2 songs. Any other material would’ve been covers and I didn’t want to go there again. 

Why did you only ever make and release the one single?

You know, it may have been a different story if back then there platforms like “Go Fund Me” etc. I guess what I’m saying obviously is that the money it took to put my project together needed to garner actual profit for it to go on. Again, I didn’t have any connections with musicians that had original material other than Russ – although I did use another one of his songs, All Night Long, I wrote different lyrics, reworked it instrumentally and called it, Molly Ringwald – I’ve Seen All Your Movies. This ended up a finished project on cassette and I performed the song live in my duo The Candles. So there it is….making a short story long or vice versa. A follow-up just didn’t happen. 

What did you do next?

I kept promoting the best I could – seeing some success, getting “Streets” on the WKTK album, gave me a little push. I did get to do a local TV interview which was fun and I also sent my record and bio to the nationally broadcast John Davidson show. He was an actor, an entertainer, in the `80s, I received a very nice rejection letter…ha, how nice can they be? 

Did you / do you continue to play music? 

Yea I did continue to play – probably within the next year, around 1982-83, I joined the band Cruise as their lead singer – this lasted a year or two then I had the opportunity to become a part of Wavelength,  a band that did originals and cover material. This came apart at the seams in 1987, but for the next couple years I was in and out of different bands. I picked up the guitar did some solo gigs and a couple duo things and knocked around a while not doing that much musically. I never called it quits, and still continue to play and write music.

Fast forward a few years and I`ve written a few songs, recorded them and released them on iTunes and other outlets. I released Lola back in 2011, and followed up in 2015 with an E.P. consisting of 5 songs – 3 originals and 2 covers  – titled Thursday. How did I come up with that name? you ask….for lack of a better title – I picked the day of the week I was born. In 2017 I released another original Elemental (Closing Doors),  and the same year joined the group, Left Of Center – which lasted for 2 years. Currently I have 5 or 6 original songs in different phases of completion – from a 1 minute acoustic version to a somewhat more complete demo. All waiting to be heard.

How and when did you discover that Back To The Streets was being played by a new generation of DJs –  all over the world?

I discovered the track had picked up some interest, through a phone message, but I didn’t know that it was being played by DJs. It was a call from a record outlet in Austin, Texas, dealing in hard to find, classic, obscure and cult type releases. They asked if I was the artist Rudy Norman who did Back To The Streets? Well indeed I was he and immediately got back to them. Their interest was in buying any original vinyl I had. I did have a few hundred 45s left and sold them part of my remaining collection. This started a domino effect – I started researching and found DJs doing their own mixes of the song on the internet everywhere. The biggest surprise was finding and hearing it being included in several DJs playlists – sets of on AOR Disco. Wow! that was an exciting discovery. Learning that DJs were spinning it in European dance clubs too – this was definitely a momentous time, it took a while to really soak in. WHAT!!! have I arrived? 

Flying Mojito Bros Pikes 04

The Flying Mojito Bros, poolside at Pikes, Ibiza. 

The story continues to this day, with other artists licensing the track – most recently the Flying Mojito Bros and Ubiquity Records, who’ve taken Back To The Streets into the future with their outstanding remix. I also need to say thank you to The Numero Group, for keeping “Streets” relevant by including it in their compilation release Seafaring Strangers. 

Rudy Norman Seafaring Strangers

How did / does it feel to have all this renewed interest?

There’s nothing like it – absolutely amazing. Lots of emotions wrapped up in this, so proud, rewarded and extremely gratified to say the least. To have something you dreamed of doing and then doing it and 30 years later seeing it become recognized worldwide….hey, having this dropped in your lap right out of the blue, well my friend it’s pretty damn cool! 

Rudy Norman Today

Rudy Norman today.

You can order a copy of Rudy Norman’s Back To The Streets, complete with those Flying Mojito Bros “Refritos”, direct from Ubiquity. 

Rudy Norman Remix Art

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