When Irish singer Andrew Strong talks about his musical influences, he rattles off a list that reads like a Who's Who of American soul music: James Brown, Otis Redding, Ray Charles and Wilson Pickett. But ask him about the person who had the biggest impact on his career and the answer is much closer to home: It's his musician father, Rob Strong.
"He taught me how to play guitar, bass and piano," notes the husky-voiced, 17-year-old Strong, who makes his acting debut as lead Deco Cuffe in Alan Parker's "The Commitments." "I look up to him a lot. He's like a big brother."
Strong, who grew up in Dublin and joined his first band when he was 11, also credits his father with introducing him to soul music: "I heard him sing 'Dock of the Bay' one night with his band and knew right then that I wanted to start singing that kind of music."
Strong's jump from singer to film star was purely accidental. Before filming, director Parker hired a band of local musicians--including Strong--to perform many of the soul standards that eventually made it into the movie. One day, while singing "Mustang Sally," Strong was told to take a break and leave the room. "I thought I blew it," he confesses. A few minutes later, he was called back in and introduced to Parker, who handed him a script and a role in the film.
Although he's never acted before, Strong says it was the singing that made him nervous, partly because the vocals were done live, unlike most movies, in which actors sing to pre-recorded music. "The acting was quite easy," he claims, "but there was a lot of pressure with the singing. If I couldn't get a phrase right, I would worry about it all night."
And what's next for Strong? He recently signed a record deal with MCA Records and will start work on a solo album in November. But it will be strictly all his own material. "I don't want to get tagged as a singer who only does cover versions of old songs," he says. "That kind of career doesn't interest me."