(This interview was originally published November 24, 2013 on the now-retired Kickin' it Old School blog. It is one installment in an incredible series of interviews we are republishing on Rediscover the '80s for posterity and your enjoyment. These are more than just interviews in a way; they are more like '80s timelines or oral histories on their respective subject matters. Please keep in mind the original date because some content could be specific to the time of the interview, though the majority should be timeless and totally rad.)
When the opportunity presents itself to ask a few questions to someone who contributed to the awesomeness of the '80s, I will continue to share those answers with you right here. Again, lucky for me (and hopefully you), I do get to share a little more awesomeness with you.
This time that awesomeness is Steve Dorff. He is a very accomplished songwriter/composer and musician who has had 15 Top 10 hits and songs in nine #1 films over several decades in the industry. He has been nominated for three Grammy Awards and five Emmy Awards. His breakthrough really began with the theme song for the 1978 Clint Eastwood film Every Which Way But Loose followed by his song “I Just Fall In Love Again” by Anne Murray becoming Billboard’s #1 country hit of 1979. You may also recognize the last name as he is the father of actor Stephen Dorff and songwriter Andrew Dorff. As far as the '80s, Dorff co-wrote the Kenny Rogers hit “Through the Years” and is responsible for several TV theme songs including the very popular Growing Pains theme “As Long As We’ve Got Each Other”. Find out a little about creating that hit song, those TV theme songs and more as we get on to some selections from my interview with Steve Dorff...
Q: You co-wrote the 1982 Kenny Rogers hit “Through the Years”. How did you and Marty Panzer come together to write this beautiful song? Did you write it specifically for Kenny Rogers to record/perform?
Steve: The truth is “Through the Years” was written in about 15 minutes while Marty and I were waiting to be called in for dinner at a dinner party at my house. Marty, as he always has, pulled the finished lyric out of an envelope and handed it to me. As I was reading it, the melody just popped into my head. We went to my studio and did a quick cassette recording of it and had dinner! I, as a rule, rarely ever have an artist in mind when I write a song. Ironically, this song was passed on by some heavyweight artists before Kenny landed on it!
Q: Anything else you tell us about the inspiration behind “Through the Years” and how the song came to be?
Steve: No real “inspiration” per se. Just a great marriage between a melody and lyric which is always what you strive for. In this case, Marty’s lyric totally inspired my melody!
“Through the Years” was released in January of 1982 as the fourth single from Kenny Rogers’ Share Your Love album. It spent 2 weeks on top of the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart in March of 1982 and reached #5 on the Country chart. It crossed over to pop and peaked at #13 on the Billboard Hot 100 while spending 11 weeks in the Top 40. It’s gone on to become a popular choice for special occasions and video montages and one of Kenny Rogers’ most popular singles. Here is a video of a performance of "Through the Years" by Kenny Rogers...
Q: Did you have any feeling that “Through the Years” was going to be something special when you first wrote it? What are your feelings about the song now over 30 years later?
Steve: I truly did feel like we had a very special song that, with the right artist and record, could be a big hit. “Through the Years” recently went over the four million performance mark at BMI which I suppose qualifies it as a “standard”. I still love the song, and appreciate it more every day. I recently recorded a version of it myself for my new CD, 'It’s Personal.'
Q: How did you get into writing music for television? When you write a TV theme song, do you write with that show in mind or use any certain process?
Steve: I was in London scoring a motion picture one day when my agent called me and asked if I’d be interested in doing the music for a Television pilot. The show was 'Spenser: For Hire' [which went on to run from 1985-1988] and it was the beginning of my expanded career in Television music. I generally read the script a few times, look at the pilot, meet with the producers or creative team behind the show, and then go home and sit at the piano until something hopefully magical happens!
Q: You co-wrote “As Long as We’ve Got Each Other”, the theme song to Growing Pains. How did you end up working on this particular project? Did you write the song specifically for the show or adapt a previously existing song? What is the back story about how that song was conceived and written? When was it decided that it would be performed by B.J. Thomas? Was it originally written as a duet and/or when was it decided to have Thomas sing it as a duet?
Steve: John Bettis and I were friends and had been writing songs together for a few years when I was asked to look at the pilot episode of Growing Pains. I was asked to write a theme song very quickly and I asked John if he wanted to do it with me as we were scheduled to get together that week to write. I basically told him the story of the show, and he came up with the title “As Long As We’ve Got Each Other” which was very representative of what this sitcom family was all about!
We wrote the 60 second version in about an hour start to finish and played it for the producers the next day. They loved it and actually suggested Frankie Valli to sing it. I had worked with B.J. Thomas several times over the years and thought he was a better fit. B.J. recorded it for the first season and we adapted it as a duet in the second season with Jennifer Warnes. We later wrote a second verse and had a top ten record with B.J. and Dusty Springfield.
Q: Are there any other interesting details you can let us in on from creating this great theme song? What feedback did you get from the network/producers?
Steve: Again, I pretty much let the music write itself from instinct. Hard to explain, but I generally have the musical feel in my head before my hands ever touch the piano. This was a song that John and I just started playing and the words just fell out very quickly. Everyone at the show and ABC network loved the theme which of course is always nice!
Growing Pains ran for seven seasons and 166 episodes from 1985-1992 on ABC. The theme song “As Long As We’ve Got Each Other” was co-written by Steve Dorff and John Bettis. If you didn’t know already, you might also be interested that Bettis is the lyricist for other '80s hits like Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature”, Madonna’s “Crazy For You”, The Pointer Sisters’ “Slow Hand” and Whitney Houston’s Olympic theme “One Moment in Time”. B.J. Thomas performed the theme song solo for the first season, but then as a duet with Jennifer Warnes for seasons 2, 3, 5 and part of 7. For season 4, Thomas performed it as a duet with Dusty Springfield which was also released as a single in 1988. Here is the opening theme for Growing Pains from season 2 featuring "As Long As We've Got Each Other" by B.J. Thomas and Jennifer Warnes...
Q: What are your sentiments regarding “As Long As We’ve Got Each Other” now over 28 years later? What are your feelings regarding the Growing Pains television series in general?
Steve: It’s funny, that with all the hits I’ve had, when I play the 'Growing Pains' theme, people go crazy and know all the words and tune… and it’s all ages which is pretty astonishing and shows the incredible power of Television. B.J. gets the same reaction at his shows. The show itself was one of those great once-in-a-lifetime “everything comes together” moments. I’m still friends with Alan Thicke and several of the creative staff that worked with me on the show for eight seasons.
Q: You also co-wrote “Room Enough for Two”, the theme song for My Sister Sam, again with John Bettis. What can you tell us about creating that song? How did Kim Carnes end up performing it
Steve: Because of the great success we were having at Warner Television which produced a lot of the shows I worked on, I was asked to meet with the very talented Diane English who created 'My Sister Sam' and later Murphy Brown. John and I were on a nice roll so we created the themes for both of these shows. Kim Carnes had done a lot of demos for me back in the early years and we were good friends so I asked her if she’d like to sing it and happily she said yes.
My Sister Sam starred Pam Dawber and the late Rebecca Schaeffer ran for just 2 seasons and 44 episodes from 1986-1988 on CBS. Dorff ended up winning a BMI TV Music Award in 1987 for his work on this series. Here is the opening theme for My Sister Sam featuring "Room Enough for Two" performed by Kim Carnes...
Q: Then you co-wrote “Doin’ It the Best I Can”, the theme song for Just the Ten of Us which was a spin-off of Growing Pains. What can you tell us about creating that song? How did Bill Medley end up performing it? It does add a lot when artists like Carnes and Medley sing on the songs.
Steve: I think to a large degree the fact that I was able to bring bona fide recording stars to sing TV themes helped John and me to get the gigs. My background was in making records and the time was right to merge great artists with pop culture songs as TV themes. Bill Medley was another great artist that I had been lucky enough to have worked with before and we were lucky enough to get him to do “Doin’ It The Best I Can”.
Just the Ten of Us ran for 3 seasons and 47 episodes from 1988-1990 on ABC. Here is the opening theme featuring "Doin' it the Best I Can" performed by Bill Medley...
Q: It seems almost no effort goes into TV theme songs today. What are your feelings regarding TV theme songs in the '80s (and before) compared to what they are today? Other than your own of course, do you have a favorite TV theme song from '80s television?
Steve: There really are no themes or songs anymore. At some point, the networks and advertisers decided it was more valuable to have less program time and more advertising time, so the theme song was the expendable sacrifice. I did a few themes but was asked to do them in 12-15 seconds which is obviously not enough time to really develop anything song-wise. I think my all-time favorite theme is Dave Grusin’s "St. Elsewhere."
To me, TV theme songs can bring back wonderful nostalgic memories as quickly as anything. In addition to Dorff, I have had the honor of interviews with Stephen Geyer who co-wrote “Believe It or Not” for The Greatest American Hero, Rik Howard who co-wrote and performed “Together” for Silver Spoons, Tom Scott who co-wrote “Without Us” for Family Ties and Gloria Loring who co-wrote and performed the theme for The Facts of Life.
Q: You also co-wrote some underrated 80s duets like “Take Good Care of My Heart” by Whitney Houston & Jermaine Jackson as well as “Double or Nothing” by Kenny Loggins & Gladys Knight. What can you share with us about creating those duets and working with those artists?
Steve: I was actually quite disappointed when Jermaine first told me he was dueting with a “new artist from New Jersey”. I was hoping it was either going to be Aretha or Dionne as this was his first album for Clive Davis and Arista. 20 million records later, I’m so glad it was Whitney! I learned a valuable lesson that you never know who the next “Whitney Houston” is going to be. “Double or Nothing” was a song I wrote with Paul Williams that found its way to the 'Rocky IV' soundtrack and Gladys and Kenny did a very nice job on it.
Q: Please tell us a little about where your incredible music career has taken you since the '80s. What are some of your proudest professional accomplishments?
Steve: Wow, what a question! I think above everything else and the individual project or song successes I’ve been fortunate to have had, I’m most proud that I can still say I’m writing great songs, working with both great new and legacy artists, and staying very much relevant in an ever-changing music business. This is a very tough and competitive business to have even one song recorded in a career, let alone a #1 hit song. I’ve been blessed to have had a great longevity having worked with some of the greatest artists of this or any generation.
Q: What else is Steve Dorff up to nowadays? Musically and otherwise? What can we expect in the future? Any remaining ambitions or regrets?
Steve: I am thankfully still very busy writing and producing for a number of great projects. I’m currently working on a duet with Barbra Streisand and Blake Shelton for her new album due out next year, as well as album projects for new artists Maiko Horisawa and Dominic Mantuano. I also have two musicals making their way to the Broadway stage next year, 'Josephine' (The Josephine Baker Story) and 'Lunch.' No regrets, but a remaining ambition? Hoping to one day join my friends in the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame.
I am so honored that Steve was able to take some time to answer some questions so I could share them with you here. To find out more about him and keep up with everything he has going on, please be sure to visit his official SteveDorff.com website. I want to take this occasion to again thank Steve Dorff for his contributions to '80s pop culture through his songwriting and, even more, for going back to the '80s with us here for a little while as well.