The 1980s was an amazing decade for action movies and cool soundtracks. The ‘Rocky’ series from Sylvester Stallone would feature a number of a classic hits, a few by AOR band Survivor and a huge hit in a classic scene from Rocky IV – “No Easy Way Out” by American singer/songwriter Robert Tepper. The song propelled Tepper in the charts, and would become his trademark song. Prior to that Tepper had written with the likes of Benny Mardones, and contributed his songwriting skills to other artists, like Pat Benatar. Following a couple of solo albums in the 80s, he hit a rough patch with record labels, and would record a few albums years later. Most recently he has returned to a classic AOR sounding album with some of his most memorable and well produced songs since the mid 80s. “Better Than The Rest” features 11 news songs and will appeal to those that loved those 80s AOR albums, albeit this is nicely up to date. Tepper’s distinctive voice and delivery hasn’t lost anything over the years, the guy still sounds as great as he did 3 decades ago. Better Than The Rest boasts a wide range of tracks that should appeal to anyone looking for a bright upbeat album.
It is available on AOR Heaven. Below Robert answers questions about his lengthy career, and his brand new album!
What sort of music did you perform when you started out in the late 60s — rock, pop, any particular singers, styles, or bands who influenced you back then?
BACK IN THE SIXTIES WE WERE THE LUCKIEST HUMANS ON THE FACE OF THE PLANET – THE STONES, THE BEATLES. I REMEMBER WALKING INTO RECORD STORES AND JUST LOOKING FOR THE FREAKIEST COVER I COULD FIND. IT WAS THE BEGINNING OF THE BRITISH REVOLUTION AND THE BAND I WAS IN WAS COVERING ANYTHING AND EVERYTHING. WE CAME UP PLAYING DOWN THE JERSEY SHORE AND WE WOULD DO “HEY JUDE” AND THE PLACE WOULD GO NUT! BACK THEN THERE WASN’T SUCH A DIVIDE BETWEEN THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF MUSIC. I LOVED ROCK SINGERS ROD STEWART AND “TRUTH”, AND I LOVED THE FOUR TOPS AND THE RADIO PLAYED IT ALL ON THE SAME STATION. OTIS REDDING’S VOICE ALWAYS SLAYED ME. WILSON PICKET, ELVIS – LOVED HIS VOICE.
Can you give me a top 10 [or less] of some of your favorite albums from your younger days?
YOUNGER DAYS TOP TEN RECORDS NO PROBLEM! DON’T REMEMBER ALL THE NAMES BUT I WAS OBSESSED WITH THE BEATLES “WHITE ALBUM” – NO SURPRISE THERE. THE STONES “12 BY 5”, THE LOVIN SPOONFUL “DO YOU BELIEVE IN MAGIC”, THE DOORS “SOFT PARADE”, ALVIN LEE TEN YEARS AFTER, JOHNNY WINTER THE BLACK ALBUM, JIMI HENDRIX “AXIS BOLD AS LOVE”,FIRST BLOOD SWEAT AND TEARS RECORD WITH AL KOOPER SINGING, CROSBY STILLS AND NASH “CARRY ON” ALBUM AND ANY ALBUM WITH OTIS REDDING.
When did you start writing your own songs and how did that evolve into your songs being used by other artists?
WE WROTE A SONG IN A BAND I WAS IN WHEN I WAS 17 CALLED “BLACK IS WHITE”. IT WASN’T VERY GOOD, BUT HEY – EARLY ATTEMPTS. I WAS A SLOW DEVELOPER IN EVERY SENSE OF THE WORD. SOMETHING SNAPPED IN MY BRAIN AS I GOT OLDER IT BECAME EASIER FOR ME TO WRITE. I ALWAYS FEEL LIKE I WRITE THE SONG AND THEN GO BACK AND PICK AT IT. BUT WHEN YOU WRITE WITH OTHER PEOPLE SOMETIMES THEY’RE ALWAYS “I DON’T LIKE THAT OR THAT SUCKED”, DON’T LIKE TO HEAR THAT SOUND IN MY HEAD WHEN SOMETHING IS JUST GETTING STARTED. PABLO AND I WRITE WELL TOGETHER BECAUSE WE LET IT KIND OF FLOW AND SEE WHAT HAPPENS.
I GOT A COUPLE OF CUTS LIKE PAT BENATAR “LA BEL AGE” -. LEFT OVER FROM THE “NO EASY WAY” RECORD AND “INTO THE NIGHT” BY USHER – LOVE THAT ONE. BENNY MARDONES KNEW THE PRODUCER AND THEY STARTED WORKING ON IT.
You probably get asked this quite a bit – but what is the story with Stallone contacting you and wanting to use “No Easy Way Out” in Rocky 4 ?
I DO GET ASKED THAT QUESTION QUITE A BIT BUT NO WORRIES I GOT YOU. SLY’S RELATIONSHIP WAS WITH MY FIRST LABEL THE SCOTTI BROS. HE WASN’T’ TALKING TO ME ABOUT WHAT HE NEEDED. THEY MUST HAVE HAD A MEETING AND SLY HEARD MY ALBUM AND THAT STARTED THE BALL MOVING. HE ABSOLUTELY LIKED THAT SONG AND DID IT A TREMENDOUS AMOUNT OF JUSTICE IN THE MOVIE.
That scene in Rocky 4 with No Easy Way Out playing is such a huge, memorable scene – what was your initial response to see it when the movie came out?
OKAY, SO HERE WE ARE MY SECOND WIFE AND I GOING TO THE PREMIER OF “ROCKY FOUR” IN WESTWOOD CALIFORNIA. I WAS PRETTY GREEN ABOUT ALL THE HOOPLA GOING ON FOR A MAJOR HOLLYWOOD MOVIE.
SO I WAS A LITTLE STAR STRUCK BY IT ALL. AND WHEN THE SONG PLAYED UP ON THE SCREEN I WAS LIKE – ‘DAMN’ – THAT WAS POWERFUL. AND I GUESS IT WAS BECAUSE IT STILL SEEMS TO MOVE PEOPLE A GREAT DEAL.
Stallone also used Angel Of The City in ‘Cobra’ . Have [had] you been approached to submit anything to any of his [or other movies] since then?
I HAVE NOT BEEN APPROACHED BY ANYONE FOR ANY OF HIS PROJECTS SINCE COBRA BUT I WILL SAY THIS THAT I THOUGHT “BETTER THAN THE REST” WOULD HAVE WORKED NICELY IN THE NEW ‘CREED’, AND I GAVE IT A SHOT AND TRIED TO CONTACT SOME PEOPLE ABOUT IT BUT THEY WERE MOSTLY USING R & B AND RAP MUSIC IN THE SOUND TRACK. OH WELL.
Following 2 solo albums you ran into legal issues with your label [!?] and then joined Psych rockers Iron Butterfly. How did that all come about?
WELL THE IRON BUTTERFLY THING TURNED INTO A ROBERT TEPPER ALBUM. BECAUSE THE GUY WHO WAS FINANCING THE PROJECT FORGOT ONE KEY ELEMENT – TO GET CLEARANCE TO USE THE NAME IRON BUTTERFLY. IT WAS THE TIME I THINK IN THE MID NINETIES WHEN A LOT OF BANDS WERE FILLING IN THE MISSING PIECES AND COMING OUT WITH NEW VERSIONS OF BANDS. THEY WERE LOOKING FOR A SINGER AND A WRITER SO I FIT THE BILL PRETTY GOOD. AND THERE WERE SOME GOOD SONGS ON THAT RECORD. WE WERE SUPPOSED TO DO IT ALL. BUT THE GUY BEHIND IT ALL COULD NOT GET HIS SHIT TOGETHER.
What do you recall of those IB period – fave songs, types of shows, etc..? Play any new material during this period?
IT’S FUNNY BECAUSE IT NEVER TRULY GOT OFF THE GROUND. THERE WERE NO SHOWS PERSAE AND THE RECORD TURNED INTO A SOLO THING FOR ME. BUT THE MANAGEMENT WAS A MESS AND PEOPLE IN THE PROJECT WERE A MESS, I TRIED I DID. SHOWED UP AND TRIED TO MAKE A GOOD ALBUM.
You’ve got back in to performing and recording more over the past decade, and in Better Than The Rest really brings you back to a solid upbeat, bright pop rock sound that you were more known for in the 80s.What lead to this album – recording and direction?
WELL I JUST FELT THAT THERE HAD BEEN OVER A TWENTY YEAR BREAK SINCE I DID A TRUE AOR ALBUM. AND TO BE HONEST I DIDN’T FEEL INSPIRED TO MAKE THAT KIND OF RECORD. I WAS WRITING THE WHOLE TIME PRODUCING AND ENGINEERING BUT NOT PUTTING MUCH STUFF OUT. AND THEN I DID “NEW LIFE STORY”, WHICH WAS MORE ACOUSTIC DRIVEN. WELL THAT GOT ME TO SPAIN WHERE I MET PABLO PADILLLA.
YOU GOT TO REMEMBER THE WORLD WAS NOW A VERY DIFFERENT PLACE.
I STARTED HEARING FROM THE FANS ON SOCIAL MEDIA ‘WE LOVE IT WHEN YOU ROCK’. PABLO AND I ASKED THE QUESTION ‘HOW CAN WE MAKE A FRESH SOUNDING AOR RECORD?’ – THAT WAS THE GOAL. WE SPENT ABOUT A YEAR PURSUING IT AND I THINK WE ACHIEVED THE GOAL FOR THE MOST PART.
Through the live clips I’ve seen and the new album – you still have the passion to make and perform great music. What is your drive at this stage of your career/life to get out there perform and create ?
I FEEL LIKE I NEVER DID ENOUGH OF WHAT I SET OUT TO DO ALL THOSE YEARS AGO. I FELT LIKE MY VOICE WAS HOLDING UP AND I REALLY ENJOYED DOING SHOWS AGAIN. I FELT LIKE MY WRITING IN MANY WAYS WAS BETTER NOW. AND PABLO AND I KNEW THE KIND OF RECORD WE WANTED TO MAKE.
Can you talk a bit about how the songs were written and put together between yourself and Pablo Padilla?
THE SONGS WERE WRITTEN IN A SERIES OF SESSIONS WHERE PABLO AND I WOULD GET TOGETHER ONCE, MAYBE TWICE A WEEK AND START WRITING. THIS PART OF THE RECORD ALL SEEMED SO EFFORTLESS, AND WE ENJOYED IT SO MUCH. SOMETIMES WE WOULD WRITE EVERYTHING IN A NIGHT AND IT WAS ALL SO SATISFYING.THERE MIGHT EVEN BE AN EARLY VOCAL ON ONE OR TWO TRACKS.
There’s a good mix of upbeat pop numbers, and a couple of ballads included on Better Than The Rest – can you tell me a bit about that song, and a bit of some of the other tracks that stand out like My Yesterday, Testimony, Time Just This Time[?]
THE STANDOUTS FOR ME ARE FIRST “BETTER THAN THE REST” – WHEN WE FINISHED THIS SONG WE HAD LIKE A REALLY GOOD RUFF OF IT AND PABLO WAS PLAYING IT FOR PEOPLE AND THEY SAID HEY THIS IS REALLY KIND OF COOL. SO WITH THE GOOD FEEDBACK IT GAVE US STRENGTH TO KEEP GOING. NEXT WOULD BE FOR ME “TIME JUST THIS TIME” – IT FELT LIKE IT FELL OUT OF THE SKY, I LOVED IT IMMEDIATELY, AND IT JUST FELT SPECIAL. AND TOWARDS THE END I WOULD SAY ”MY YESTERDAY” – I LIKE THE PERFORMANCES ON IT AND I REALLY LIKE THE MIX.
What other tracks are you most happy with? Any anecdotes or insight to personal faves?
AS FAR AS FAVE SONGS ALWAYS “KNOCKING ON THE WRONG DOOR” WAS COOL. FOR ONCE IN MY LIFE I WAS SO PISSED OFF BECAUSE SOMETHING HAD HAPPENED TO THE LEAD VOX ON IT AND I HAD TO REDO IT. I WASN’T HAPPY.
THE ONES I TALKED ABOUT ARE PROBABLY MY FAVES. ”WHY DOES OVER” WAS ALWAYS IN FIRST PLACE FOR ME AS THE SONG THAT WOULD START THE RECORD BECAUSE I LOVE THAT BEGINNING HOW THE GUITARS GET ALL COOL UP IN THERE.
THE RECORD TOOK ABOUT A YEAR. WE ASKED THE QUESTION OF OURSELVES ‘WHAT IF AOR MUSIC NEVER LEFT THE MAIN STREAM WHAT WOULD THE ENERGY FEEL LIKE TODAY?’ IN SOME WAYS I FEEL THIS IS A GREAT FOLLOW UP TO NO EASY. IT’S STRONG AND DIRECT AND EMOTIONAL.
KJJ, Nov, ’19