He rode his bike from his Hewlett Harbor home to Green Acres Mall, in Valley Stream, and bought records at Sam Goody’s produced by rock ’n’ roll legend Phil Spector, and others that featured the classical music of Richard Wagner.
Jim Steinman blended those two diverse styles in his work, culminating in the songs he wrote for Meat Loaf’s classic “Bat Out of Hell” album, produced by Todd Rundgren.
His dislike of math was documented in the Hewlett High School class of 1965 yearbook. “Likes anything but math” was the line by his picture, but Steinman took the 12 known musical notes and made them add up to hit songs for Air Supply, Celine Dion and Bonnie Tyler as well.
James Richard Steinman died of kidney failure on April 19, a brother, Bill Steinman, told the Associated Press. He was 73. Steinman was born on Nov. 1, 1947, in New York City.
“I went to school with Jimmy from second [grade] through high school and if you saw a photo of Jimmy as a student he had a crew cut,” Woodsburgh resident Michael Kerr wrote in an email. “He was in advanced classes, he was very smart, he didn’t participate in any sports activities and he was known as a book worm. I remember whenever we were asked to spend time doing research at the library, all of us would figure out a way to avoid going, Jimmy made it a priority to go early and finish his work on time.”
As a freshman at Hewlett High, Robert “Skip” Spiro formed a 12-piece jazz band, and needed a piano player. “Jimmy was an excellent piano player, just a brilliant musician,” said Spiro, who also grew up in Hewlett Harbor and attended school with Steinman.
Graduating in the same high school class, the musicians went their separate ways. Steinman, Spiro said, was more into classical music, and left the jazz band, and they went to different colleges, though in the same town: Spiro at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and Steinman at Amherst College.
Spiro continued playing with a jazz group in college, and recalled that Steinman assembled what Spiro called a “very exciting powerhouse rock group” that performed original songs in the Amherst area. “I was not surprised that he was successful,” Spiro said. “He always worked very hard.”
Steinman’s creativity led him to write the book, music and lyrics for a musical called “The Dream Engine” as a college senior, to fulfill an independent study requirement. In the early 1970s, he was involved with the show “More Than You Deserve,” performed at the Joseph Papp Public Theater in Manhattan. The musical had an anti-Vietnam play and its cast included one Michael Lee Aday, who came to be known as Meat Loaf.
“This was a show destined not to win awards,” said Ron Blanco, who played bass in the show’s band, noting that it featured rubber heads rolling across the stage to illustrate the war’s atrocities. “Jim was a kind, regular, nice guy, mild, very patient. Him and Meat Loaf hit it off. And as we saw, the rest is history.”
Ron Alexenburg was senior vice president and general manager of Epic Records, then a division of CBS Records Group, when Steinman brought him “Bat Out of Hell.” “It was a work of brilliance,” Alexenburg said. “When he called. I told him this powerful album blew out the lights.” He was referring to a blackout in New York City in July 1977 that shut down the city for nearly two days.
“He saw each song on ‘Bat’ as a motorcycle ride that would ratchet up the frenzy from beginning to end,” Joe Stefko, the drummer on the album, said of Steinman. Released in 1977, “Bat Out of Hell” was a meteoric success, with nearly every song — including “Paradise by the Dashboard Light,” “All Revved Up with No Place to Go” and “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad” — becoming rock radio staples. The record sold more than 50 million copies worldwide.
Air Supply’s “Making Love Out of Nothing at All,” Dion’s “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now” and Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart” were all written by Steinman. “Jim was a tremendous songwriter,” Alexenburg said, describing him as “brilliant.”
Steinman also wrote music for movies and television. In 2003, he was executive producer of the MTV television film “Wuthering Heights.” He reunited with Meat Loaf for 2016’s “Braver Than We Are,” produced by Paul Crook. A year later, “Bat Out of Hell The Musical” opened in the Manchester Opera House.
“I first heard the name Jim Steinman from my Hewlett High School buddy Doug Dilg just before we started ‘Saturday Night Live,’” Woodmere native and comedy writer Alan Zweibel posted on Facebook. “Doug’s older brother, Larry, and [Jim] were friends. “Then, all the Meat Loaf stuff happened. And I got to meet him years later. We had HHS in common and reminisced, and our intermittent conversations went forward from there over the years. A gentleman and an artist of boundless talent. One of our high school’s greatest contributors to the culture.”