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.
Himmelman‘s new solo album, Imperfect World (Majestic Recordings), offers a searing set of songs wrapped up in rock ‘n’ roll but delving deeper into the soul of man than most rockers would attempt. The album’s genesis came with a burst of creativity that arose last summer around the Jewish fast day of Tisha B’av. According to Himmelman, “Going without food or water for 25 hours will tend to put you into a different frame of mind.” Influencing this record too was the recent death of his younger sister in a car accident. Imperfect World poignantly explores this loss and subsequently grapples with the very notion of “purpose” in a seemingly arbitrary universe.
Music has been an integral part of Peter Himmelman‘s life since he was a kid growing up in the Minneapolis suburb of St. Louis Park. “I heard a lot of good music coming from behind my older sibling’s doors,” the artist recalls. His family helped form his nascent musical influences. At one time his father owned an 8-track music store and would bring home Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin tapes; his mother’s eclectic musical tastes ran to Ahmad Jamal and Thelonious Monk, while his uncle introduced him to John Lee Hooker’s Endless Boogie, which the young Himmelman played over and over again.
After getting his first electric guitar – a red Fender Duo Sonic – when he was 12, Peter 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 on the 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. 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,” Peter 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, Peter 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 his 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 parents’ home. It would be the last Father’s Day he would ever celebrate with his Dad. In 1985, Himmelman released This Father’s Day, which Rolling Stone called “stunning.” Island Records wound up signing Himmelman and reissuing the album. Himmelman released two more albums on Island before moving to Epic Records.
During the ’90s, Himmelman 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. 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 Peter 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 plans to tour to support Imperfect World. Other future projects for him include another children’s album and a television pilot he’s been working on with a producer from Judging Amy.
Peter Himmelman lives in Los Angeles with his wife and four children.