Success in music is often fleeting, and seldom allows repeating. Yet, as Jeff Scott hits the big five-oh, the age when many people feel midlife pressure to reinvent themselves, he has decided to go back for his future. He’s rekindling a once-promising musical career after a nearly 20-year intermission.
With the release of his 13-song CD Begin Again, Royal Oak native Scott, who came within a breath pause of 1980s stardom as a solo singer-songwriter and as front man of the Detroit six-piece band The Big Picture, is attempting to climb the pop-music mountain again, with the mature perspective only life experience can bring. “It’s amazing to have this opportunity,” he says. “It’s like I’m with Billy Crystal in City Slickers. I got a do-over.”
Scott spent 21 years at Campbell-Ewald Advertising in Warren, rising to president and managing partner of the agency. But he began singing and writing songs at age 8, and led a nine-piece band with full horn section by high school. “Two years before I left [the agency], I realized there was something missing from my life,” Scott says, “and it took me a while to figure out it was music, which I had walked away from.”
His memories should have been good ones. After graduating from the University of Michigan, he won WNIC-FM’s contest to find metro Detroit’s best singer. The original recording resulting from his victory, “Show a Little Faith,” topped the station’s request lists for months. That led to an appearance on Star Search, a solo LP release and the opportunity to perform alongside the likes of Earl Klugh and Ortheia Barnes. With singer-songwriter Duane Allen Harlick, Scott went on to form The Big Picture, winning the national Marlboro Music Talent Roundup and being featured on such stages as the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.
“We were this close,” Scott says. “We were signed to a management company in L.A. I got two reactions from record companies: ‘We like you, we hate the band,’ ‘We love the band, we hate you.’ The frustration of that experience led me to quit the business. I couldn’t stomach it.”
The push to Begin Again happened a little over a year ago at a Troy restaurant, when Scott sat in to sing with a friend, Jennifer Christiansen. “Mark Heckert, who was backing her up, walked over during a break and said, ‘We don’t know each other, but anyone who can sing like you and not be doing it for real is an idiot,’ ” Scott says. “I’m indebted to him for kicking me in the butt.” Heckert co-produced the CD, which also served as the conduit for Scott and lead guitarist Harlick to collaborate again after not speaking in the 17 years since The Big Picture disbanded.
Now Scott employs his rich, enveloping baritone in Nashville as well as Detroit, frequently performing at the Bluebird Café and shopping songs to country producers. “Working as a songwriter is as fascinating to me as recording on my own,” he says. “I’m a writer. Always have been.”
Scott was scheduled to perform on Feb. 28 in the Metro Room at the Oxford Inn, Royal Oak. For information, or to hear excerpts from Begin Again, visit jeffscottmusic.com.