A truly multi-faceted musician, Peter Himmelman is an Emmy-nominated TV composer, an acclaimed creator of children's music and a critically lauded rock troubadour.
After getting his first electric guitar - a red Fender Duo Sonic - when he was 12, Himmelman soon started a rock band and began writing songs. During his high school years, he would venture over to North Minneapolis to play R&B with a circle of musicians that included future soul singing star Alexander O'Neal. In twelfth grade, he also became the guitarist (and one of only two whites) in Shangoya, an otherwise all-Trinidadian reggae/calypso band.
Leaving high school early, Himmelman used the pseudonym Sussman Lawrence and got hired as a cast member of Twin Cities, teen-geared TV show Steamroller. Besides doing comedy bits, he also got Shangoya to perform on the program. His new band - a new wave group that later assumed the Sussman Lawrence moniker performed for the first time on that show as well.
Sussman Lawrence's 1980 debut Hail To The Modern Hero! came about as a direct result of Himmelman's quick-witted father. "To make a record in Minneapolis in those days," Himmelman recounts, " you had to be especially talented or have access to a large trust fund." After the band's Steamroller appearance, Peter's Dad called the studio where the band had been cutting some demos and pretended to be a "very enthusiastic" Chicago record executive. "The next day," Himmelman relates, "the studio owner called saying that he was "suddenly eager" to press a single." After mentioning the Chicago label's "interest," Himmelman himself was able to persuade the studio owner to pony up for an entire album. The group went on to make one more record, 1984's well-received double album Pop City, but their road to success was derailed when Himmelman's father passed away.
Mourning his dad's death, Himmelman collected a set of new songs that he felt wouldn't fit with the band's tongue in cheek image. The title track and centerpiece of Peter's first solo offering was a song called, "This Father's Day" - which Peter had written and recorded on a simple tape deck in the basement of his parent's home. It would be the last Father's Day he would ever celebrate with his dad. "The song created such a potent bond between my father and me...he carried that cassette around in his breast pocket until he died. In 1985, Himmelman released This Father's Day, which Rolling Stone called "stunning." MTV even started playing the video for the song "Eleventh Confession" in regular rotation, and Island Records wound up signing Himmelman and reissuing the album. He released two more albums on Island before moving to Epic Records.
His work has consistently earned critical accolades. J.D. Considine, in the Rolling Stone Album Guide, called 1989's Synesthesia "a delight", awarding it with four stars. Time Magazine heralded Himmelman as one of "the New Troubadours" upon the release of his Epic debut From Strength to Strength, asserting that he writes "songs with the same emphatic edge and aesthetic urgency that impelled the Lost Generation to write novels." In its Unstoppable Forces review, No Depression marveled how "Himmelman strips his music to its essence, tapping into a primal inspiration, investing melodies that have the sing-song simplicity of Buddy Holly or the Beatles with the yearning of a spiritual quest."
Himmelman is also known for his raucous, unpredictable stage shows. USA Today has hailed him as "one of rock's most wildly imaginative performers." Among Himmelman's personal favorite concerts was one in Chicago where he led several hundred audience-goers to a restaurant Says Himmelman, "On one hand it was a bit of a joke, but there was this strangely comforting sense of community being formed that evening." At a show in Aspen he pulled everyone out of the club and onto a mountainside to enjoy the rest of his performance -under a moonlit Colorado sky. "The club owners were furious," Himmelman confesses, "because people left without paying their drink tabs." However, the good publicity this incident received forced the club to ask him back. "The ticket price to my show doesn't guarantee a field-trip, but I always strive to reach a place where time is suspended for me." Himmelman admits.
During the '90s, Himmelman, (now living in Los Angeles, married with four children) expanded his musical horizons to scoring a number of television shows and films, including the Disney series Bug Juice , NBC's American Embassy and the Touchstone film Crossing The Bridge. In 2002, he earned an Emmy nomination for his work on Judging Amy, a show he has scored since 1999. He is currently scoring the show Bones on Fox and the new ABC hit, Men In Trees. Exploring different musical opportunities has long intrigued Himmelman. While living in New York in the early '80s, he wrote music Swatch watches, Jordache jeans, and runway music for top fashion designer Issey Miyake. He's also done national PSAs for drug awareness and written a series of songs for a teddy bear that's currently being used to aid autistic children and rape victims.
Children's music is another field that Himmelman has delved into with considerable success. He has made three children's albums: My Best Friend Is A Salamander (1997), My Fabulous Plum (2000) and My Lemonade Stand (2004), with Both Plum and Salamander being recognized with a Parents' Choice Award and the Family Channel Seal Of Quality. Himmelman finds children's music "a vast and liberating universe of possibility," although noting that his kid's songs and his rock songs "come from very distinct places."
For Imperfect World, which he self-produced in his own studio, Himmelman favored writing songs on the electric guitar instead of an acoustic. He also handled all of the guitar parts this time around; something, he admits, "I'm quite proud of."
Forming the core unit with Himmelman for these sessions were bassist, and frequent collaborator, Sheldon Gomberg (Beck, Rickie Lee Jones, Ryan Adams) and drummer Pete Thomas from Elvis Costello's band, the Attractions "Pete's playing was so loud and precise it made me laugh in the irrepressible manner of a child again." Also lending a hand were Jeff Young (Jackson Browne, Sting, Donald Fagan) on the Hammond B-3 and former Balancing act guitarist Willie Aron - also known for his work with Victoria Williams and Phoebe Snow- on backing vocals.
"Sometimes I wrestle with the question of why make a record at all these days?" Is it the desire to reach out to other people - to share my blessings with the world - blah blah blah? Or is it so my wife will continue to find me sexy?
Himmelman plans to tour to support Imperfect World. Other future projects for the ever-busy Himmelman include another children's album and a television pilot he's been working on with a producer from Judging Amy.