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William Shatner: The Soundtrack Of My Life

William Shatner - The Blues
(Image credit: Cleopatra Records)

Enterprising screen legend William Shatner may be best known for TV roles in Star Trek, T.J. Hooker and Boston Legal, but he has also recorded a series of thoroughly unique albums under his own name. 

The latest is The Blues, which sees the 89-year-old tackle a bunch of standards with help from a starry cast that includes guitarists Ritchie Blackmore, James Burton, Steve Cropper and Albert Lee. 

Here’s the Captain’s Log of the music part of his life.

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The first music I remember hearing

My dad would come home from work every Saturday afternoon, lie down on the couch and listen to the Metropolitan Opera. And I would listen too. They were great times, because the operatic voice is like an Olympic muscle, having been trained for years and years. And it’s capable of such subtlety and range. It’s a miracle. Music itself is remarkable.


The jazz classic

Jazz is something I loved from an early age. John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme was an important album for me. I’m a white guy from Montreal, and didn’t know that I was loving so much music that stemmed from the blues, like jazz. All those songs emanate from the heart. Even the more playful ones reflect an inner torment.


An inspirational performer

One of the songs on The Blues is I Put A Spell On You. I listened to Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’s original and he was insane and cackling. So I decided to take a leaf from his book and invent this character for the animated video that goes with the song. It takes place in a bar, and this animated version of me is getting drunk while a band plays in the corner. 

Nobody is paying any attention to me. This crazy Shatner character, barely recognisable, is cackling away to this full-bosomed, Shakespearean barmaid: “I put a spell on you and now you’re mine!” It’s a scream. You have to see it to believe it.


The blues singer

BB King has such a guttural, heartfelt, soulful voice. And I loved his ability to be an entertainer for so long. When I was making The Blues, I actually called his daughter to see if there was any information she could give me about him. I wanted to make a documentary on this search for the right blues songs to cover. His daughter said: “You’re a gift from God!” It was very meaningful.


The songwriter

I listen to a lot of radio, and there’s so much music I admire but I can never remember the names of the artists I’m hearing. I have to keep asking friends to tell me! 

My tastes really go back to music theatre and the great music writers. I’m talking about people like Oscar Hammerstein [best known for his music for Hollywood musicals including Oklahoma!, South Pacific and The King And I], but I’m guessing that most people today wouldn’t know who I’m talking about.


The song I wish I'd written

It Was A Very Good Year [recorded by Frank Sinatra, among others]. I recorded a version of that on my first album, The Transformed Man [1968], where I’m reflecting on changes in the stages in life that one goes through. It’s a very special song.


The greatest rock album

I think it has to be Who’s Next. For me it’s all about the way The Who complement each other. I love to hear groups who’ve played together for a long time. It’s like they’re a company of actors who know each other so well and dovetail their performances to fit. And Pete Townshend – that guitar! The screech, the wail, of an electric guitar is unlike anything else.


My game-changing album

I’d been making an album here and there, then Ben Folds asked me to do two songs on an album, called Fear Of Pop: Volume 1 [1998], that became very popular. I ended up on stage with him too. I came on late in the set and we did three or four songs together then left. There were several hundred people in the audience and they carried on clapping for half an hour. But we didn’t have any more material, so when we came back out it was like: “Elvis has left the building!” 

Everyone was screaming and yelling. It was quite a sensation. A few years later I made Has Been with Ben Folds. It was very well-received, and begat these other albums of mine. That’s when I began to think: “How can I do this better?”


The perfect album for my voice

During the making of The Blues, I realised that it was exactly right for me. Billy Gibbons gave me these books to read about the blues and I began to educate myself. I felt very deeply about honouring these songs and doing them in my own way. 

On the first day in the studio, I sat in front of the microphone and suddenly found my voice. It was deep and guttural. The other guys in the studio fell over backwards, clapping their hands and going: “Yes! Yes!”


My autobiographical album

I’ve been recording a new album, based on incidents from my life. For example, I left home after university, packing everything into a little Morris Minor and made my way from Montreal to Toronto. I was crossing a narrow bridge, when an eighteen-wheeler came towards me from the other side. The wind from it almost pushed my little car over the side and into the water. It would’ve been just like I’d never existed. 

So I’ve used it as an image in one of the songs, showing how fate comes at you from time to time, to obliterate you, and how you must struggle against it. The album’s working title is Love, Death And Horses. We’re hoping it’ll be out around Christmas time.

The Blues by William Shatner is out now.