Michael Bolton really likes to sing

Singer-songwriter Michael Bolton. CBS News

(CBS News) With a big birthday coming up, Michael Bolton is looking back on his career -- and sharing more details about his life. This morning he talks with Martha Teichner . . . For The Record:

If one hears the name Michael Bolton, there's a good chance you'll think the hair.

On his way to selling 53 million singles and albums, to winning two Grammys, to reaching music superstardom, his trademarks were that voice, singing love songs, and the hair.

"It became my look," Bolton said. "Not exaggerating, there was probably a good $50 million to $100 million in marketing that was spent on establishing my appearance."

How he came to cut his hair is just one of the stories he tells in his memoir, out Tuesday.

"It was traumatic, yeah, it was really traumatic, it really was," he said. "It was like a part of my childhood and my rebellion and everything I went through to wear long hair."

Singer-songwriter Michael Bolton.
CBS News

Born Michael Bolotin in New Haven, Conn., in 1953, his rebellion was pretty dramatic. After his parents' difficult divorce, he lost himself in music, and dropped out -- literally -- at the age of 14.

He didn't go to high school. Instead, he hitchhiked to California with a band, then became a hippie, singing for change in Greenwich Village.

"I was in love with music, the one primary, consistent element throughout it all was this first passion that I was born with and that I held onto," he said.

He signed a record deal at 15 (or rather, his mother had to sign it for him) . . . the first of six over the next 18 years, that all failed to turn him into the rock star he wanted to be.

Bolton was broke, with a wife and three daughters, facing eviction.

"There were times in Connecticut when I would gig, if it snowed the clubs would close, and you'd get a phone call from the agent, who said, 'Sorry, but Friday night's off.' And it doesn't do you any good to say, you know, 'Yeah, but we have to eat. I gotta feed my family.'"

What finally saved him were commercials. Bolton did dozens of them through the mid-1980s. He called it "shaking the money tree."

At the same time, other performers -- Cher, Barbra Streisand, Kiss among them -- began recording the songs he was writing on the side.

"How Am I Supposed to Live Without You," a number one hit for Laura Branigan in 1983, was life-changing for Michael Bolton.

Columbia, Bolton's record label, gave him a piece of advice: Forget rock and roll, sing your own songs. Don't give them to everybody else to turn into hits.

The result is all over the walls of his basement . . . gold and platinum.

"Time, Love, and Tenderness" sold over 14 million, worldwide. A bittersweet blockbuster, because on it is this song, "Love Is a Wonderful Thing." Michael Bolton spent 14 years in court fighting and ultimately losing copyright infringement lawsuits brought by the rhythm and blues group, the Isley Brothers, whose song by the same name he swears to this day he had never even heard.

"What I have to live with is a piece of me torn away from me," Bolton said, "and a lot of, a sense of betrayal, and a loss of faith is probably the worst part of it. But, you know what? Things happen."

And he's written or co-written other songs -- more than 220 of them. "Basically, I just mess around until I see something start to happen that I like," he said.

His collaborators have included Lady Gaga ("Murder My Heart") and Bob Dylan ("Steel Bars").

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