Michael Bolton's Hard-Rocking Hair Band Black Jack
Though Michael Bolton began his recording career in 1968 at the age of 15 when his band, the Nomads, were signed to Epic Records, their singles stiffed and he spent most of the Seventies trying (and failing) to make it as a solo singer under his real name, Michael Bolotin. Encouraged by Steve Weiss, a legendary attorney who worked with Led Zeppelin and Bad Company, he set about putting together a new group. "Steve thought my new band should follow the pop-rock track taken by Foreigner and Journey," Bolton wrote in his 2013 memoir, The Soul of It All. In 1978 he tapped Bruce Kulick, a guitarist who had just completed a recent tour with Meat Loaf promoting Bat Out of Hell. The pair began writing songs together, and recruited drummer Sandy Gennaro and bassist Jimmy Haslip. With Weiss as their manager, they signed to Polydor Records under the name Blackjack.
Impressed by their hard-driving songs and Bolton's rock-radio–friendly rasp, the label had high hopes for the outfit and paired them with super-producer Tom Dowd (who had worked with Eric Clapton, the Allman Brothers, Rod Stewart, the Eagles, Diana Ross and Otis Redding, among many others) at Miami's Criteria Studios. Despite his astonishing track record, Dowd didn't exactly see eye to eye with the band, and asked them to "take a little edge" off their sound. "He wanted us to turn down Bruce's amp, declaring, 'What do you think this is, Kiss?'" Bolton wrote in his memoir. "That was the sound Bruce was looking for and would fully realize several years later, when he became the lead guitarist for Kiss."
The union was not a fruitful one. Blackjack's self-titled 1979 debut only reached Number 127 on Billboard. Lead single "Without Your Love" floundered at Number 62, despite the help of an early music video showing a permed Bolton & Co. lip-syncing atop a skyscraper. Lackluster sales compelled the label to put their resources elsewhere, and the band spent much of the next year earning money by opening for other artists, including Peter Frampton and the Marshall Tucker Band. Reviewers (including one in Florida's Lakeville Ledger) praised "the torchy vocals of frizzy-headed Michael Bolotin," but the band never caught on. When their sophomore album, 1980's Worlds Apart, was met with nearly total indifference, Blackjack folded.
Before embarking on his second, and far more successful, venture as a solo artist, Bolton may have attempted to join another band: Black Sabbath. According to Tony Iommi's memoir, Bolton auditioned to fill the role recently vacated by Ronnie James Dio: "We had a million tapes sent in from different singers and most of them were horrible. One of them was from Michael Bolton. I didn't know him at the time. We had Michael come in and we had him sing 'Heaven and Hell,' 'War Pigs,' and 'Neon Knights.' He was quite good, but he wasn't exactly what we were looking for then." Bolton, however, insists that this was just a rock myth. "We opened up for Ozzy Osbourne and really hard bands. But that rumor about me auditioning for Black Sabbath was only a rumor," he said in 2014. "I don't know how on earth it started."