10Qs with Cidny Bullens

October is LGBT month and Factory Portland will be highlighting Maine-connected LGBTQ artists for the week of October 28th.

This two-time Grammy nominee’s 38 year career has taken Cidny from singing back-up with Elton John and singing lead vocals on the “Grease” movie soundtrack– to having eight critically acclaimed solo albums, including the award winning “Somewhere Between Heaven and Earth”, “Neverland”, “dream #29” and most recently “Howling Trains and Barking Dogs”. Guests on the albums include friends Bonnie Raitt, Lucinda Williams, Steve Earle, Bryan Adams, Emmylou Harris, Delbert McClinton, and Sir Elton. In the 1990’s, Cidny co-wrote songs in Nashville producing several charting singles. Cid also wrote the musical “Islands” honoring the island of North Haven, Maine, which was performed on Broadway in NYC and in Portland at the Merrill Auditorium in the fall of 2001. Cidny continues a solo career, is one-third of super-group The Refugees with Wendy Waldman and Deborah Holland, and is now writing a one person show.

Cidny Bullens
photos by Joanne Berman

Where were you born?
Boston, MA

What brought you to Portland?
Been coming to Maine my whole life. My grandmother grew up in Portland and they had a house in Kennebunkport where we spent our summers. We also had relatives on Chebeague Island and would go there a lot too. So I always wanted to live here one day. But it was summer of 1990 on North Haven when we decided to move from Connecticut to Portland. We bought a house right then and only went back to Connecticut to pack up! As a side note: My ex Dan Crewe then called our good friend Bob Ludwig, who wanted to partner with Dan in a new mastering studio. Bob was living in NYC at the time. Dan was afraid that our move to Maine would end their plans, but Bob’s mother lived Down East so Bob was thrilled about coming up here. And that’s how Gateway Mastering got started.

Do you have a day job, and if so, what is it?
I moved to Los Angeles in mid-1974 and luckily had some incredible breaks within the first year of arriving there. I met legendary songwriter/producer Bob Crewe (discovered the Four Seasons, Mitch Ryder, and more. Think “Jersey Boys”) and became his gofer/protege, spending every waking minute in the studio and watching him write songs (I was there when he wrote “Lady Marmalade”). I also used to hang out at Cherokee Studios in Hollywood, getting coffee for and hobnobbing with clients like Ringo Starr, Rod Stewart, and Dr. John. I ended up singing backup on Rod Stewart’s “Sailing” album, Gene Clark’s (The Byrds) “No Other” and others. My biggest break was crashing a Rocket Record’s press party, at Cherokee, for Neil Sedaka. Elton John started Rocket Records and was there. I met him that night and got hired on the spot to sing backup on his tour. Two days later, I was in his band and on the road. I sang with Elton on three tours and on the “Blue Moves” album. I also sang the back up vocals on “Don’t Go Breakin’ My Heart”. My next big break was getting asked to sing on the “Grease” movie soundtrack in 1977. I was just hired (thanks to Bob Crewe) to sing background vocals. But once I got into the studio, they asked me to sing lead on three songs, “Freddy My Love”, “Raining on Prom Night” and “Mooning”. I still get people bringing their “Grease” LPs to gigs for me to sign. I made my first solo album in 1978 “Desire Wire” and was nominated for a Grammy for my single “Survivor”. That’s the crux of the early part of my career. I got married in 1979, decided to step out of the business and have kids. It would be ten years till my next album “Cindy Bullens” (1989), then ten years after that (1999) before “Somewhere Between Heaven and Earth” which was written and recorded after the death of my 11 year old daughter Jessie. I did spend the early ’90s commuting to Nashville on a regular basis to co-write songs with some incredible writers. That experience was invaluable and led to several charting Country songs for me, and basically re-generated my career as an artist. Not to mention making me a much better songwriter and musician! I still consider Nashville my second home. With “Somewhere Between Heaven and Earth” I started touring again and making records. CDs “Neverland”, “dream #29”, “Howling Trains and Barking Dogs” followed. In 2007, I started a trio with Wendy Waldman and Deborah Holland, The Refugees. We recorded two albums and toured until the middle of this year. I’m now writing some new songs and will hopefully record some time in 2014. I am also working on (slowly) a one person show.

What was your most memorable gig?
There have been a few! But when someone asks, I think the first one that comes to mind is playing Dodger Stadium with Elton John in 1975. Magical! The second one: Elton John, Shaeffer Stadium (Foxboro) on July 4, 1976-the Bicentennial (flying over in a helicoptor looking down at 80,000 people before playing then being introduced to a hometown crowd by Elton). Of my own solo career–ah, so many! Early career? Paradise Boston 1979 or Palladium in Hollywood, CA opening for the Ramones in 1979. Later, maybe Charlotte, NC in 2002. Very special! The last time my father saw me perform. Then there’s always Australia, Germany, Holland, France, Italy, England, Ireland, Scotland, and many shows for bereaved parents around the country. So many incredible experiences!

What was your worst gig?
Well, two. Worst audience: Wheeling, WV 1979 opening for Styx. Worst mishape: 1989 opening for Joe Cocker in Hollywood, FL- my pants disintegrating as I do a jump-split!

What album or artist has most influenced you as a musician?
Too many to count.

What’s the one piece of musical equipment you can’t live without?
My guitars.

Any advice for a musician starting out?
Honestly? Hope for the best (meaning: work your butt off practicing, learning, preparing, and creating your own opportunities) and expect the worst (meaning: You better have fun because anything can happen but chances are slim!)

What are you listening to at the moment?
My friend Deborah Holland’s new album “Vancouver”. Also, Steve Earle’s new one, Avett Brothers, Civil Wars, Lumineers, Sirius Outlaw Country.

What was the best concert/musical performance you’ve attended?
You’re kidding, right? I’ve been ON stage with so many of my idols from Elton to Bonnie Raitt! It’s hard to get better than that vantage point. But I guess the FIRST concert I ever attended. The Rolling Stones VERY FIRST American apprearance in Lynn, MA in 1965. (And there’s a whole other story to that too!)

You can find out more about Cidny at cidnybullens.com, on Twitter, and Facebook.

Stephen Quirk
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