One For the Road: Zo! + Sy Smith in Atlanta (May 5, 2012)

Photo by Angie Keilhauer

I’ma tell you som’n straight outta the gate… See Smeet (Sy Smith) and I were happy as hell to have even arrived in Atlanta on our correct flight being as though we almost missed our 3pm plane leaving from LaGuardia in NYC…………….. *sigh* I took a cab, she was picked up late, etc., etc., Long story. But once we DID land at Atlanta’s Hartsfield Airport, I was informed that all of the tables for our show the next night were sold out. Now that’s the type of news you like to receive upon arrival to a city that you’re about to play. We got off the plane, rented our cars and rolled the hell out. I dropped my stuff off in my newly checked in hotel room and then stepped right back out so that I could hit up Moods Music in Little Five Points to go and holla at my man and owner of the store, Darryl Harris. Walked up in that mug and saw that +FE Music was a bit deep in there, which is what I like to see… I got caught up a little bit on my CD collection (I am STILL way behind on newer stuff), which I knew would happen because I can never go into Moods without dropping all my damn money in that place…

+FE Music… Stocked up in Moods Music

After leaving Moods, my only focus was to take my hungry ass on a mission to find the nearest Zaxby’s. Normally when I’m traveling in the south, I’ll make it a point to hit up either Waffle House or Zaxby’s. Now, for those of y’all who aren’t familiar with Zaxby’s and their Chicken Finger Plate, this used to be my CRACK while in college at Western Kentucky Univ., the joint changes lives man. Funny thing was, when I finally tracked one down, ordered my usual and sat down to eat… I got to about the third chicken finger, started stalling a bit and thought to myself, “How in the HELL did I used to eat so much of this back then?!??!!!” 33 is NOT the new 21. My body is smarter and has been spoiled with better food… It now has an unhealthy food quota. Honestly, I was just ready to go to sleep after that. Instead, I stopped off at Kroger to grab a few SmartWaters on the way to rehearsal to meet up with Sy, guitarist Brandon Thomas, and drummer Quinton Robinson. We ran through the entire set, Brandon and I linked up on chords and the entire crew synced up changes, breaks, vamps, etc…. Even after ending rehearsal at midnight, I still deemed it necessary to keep going and meet some friends at Gladys Knight’s Chicken and Waffles spot directly up the street from my hotel on Peachtree…. and I did have the sweet potato cheesecake, which was damn RIDICULOUS (I ate it entirely too quickly to take a picture of it…. Sorry).

I decided that I would use the day of the show to finally catch up on some much needed REST. My plan was, well… to do absolutely NOTHING until soundcheck. But first, I found a Jimmy John’s that was relatively close to the hotel and as I walked in, I encountered a man already inside the store attempting to purchase 24 bottled waters, ok that’s already weird………BEST of all, trying to “negotiate” a wholesale price for them. From what I understand, I think they have places like Costco and Sam’s Club for that… No negotiations required. Anyway, I got my food and took it back to the room…………. And fell out for some hours.

Soundcheck was at 6pm, so I headed up the way to Apache and met up with Sy who was already in front of the venue ready to go. Oddly enough, the soundman was there about 10 minutes later (I say oddly enough because this rarely happens). So wait… The soundman was on time? The weather was excellent? AND the chef who was already there let us know where we could park for free and for how long?……Atlanta seemed to be treating us pretty well so far. We went in, set up, did our line check real quick and headed back to the hotel to get ready for the show. While back in the room, I began receiving texts saying that there was a nice sized line out in front of the venue waiting to get in… that was GREAT news. PLUS, the fact that we knew that we had a nice surprise set up for the show…. The brotha Anthony David was set to perform our version of Barry White’s “Playing Your Game, Baby” (from …just visiting three). This was gonna be dope for a couple of reasons: 1. AD and I had not met face-to-face yet. We had worked together, conversed on the phone a few times, reached out to each other via text… but never met in person. 2. We had never performed this song live before in ANY city. The crazy thing is, we weren’t even gonna do the joint!! I hit up AD a couple weeks prior to the show to see if he was gonna be in town so we could get up for a drink or meet up in the studio or something. I was just happy that we were gonna be in the same city at the same time for ONCE. But the Monday before the show he sent me a text… “Wait, did you want me to do the cover at your show?” …And I basically told him not to worry about it because I hadn’t asked kats to learn it and I wasn’t gonna ask him to perform it if the joint wasn’t ready. But AD asked me for the song parts and talked about lining them up in Abelton Live and performing it that way. So I was thinking… “Oh damn, he WANTS to do the joint!!” Sheeeeeeiiiit, in THAT case…!! I hopped on de text to Sy and was like, “Ayo, what’s up with Anthony David doing the Barry White joint for Saturday?”   ………..Sy: “HELL to the YEAH!” ….And there it was. I hit Brandon up and sent him the song to learn and we were then good to go for the show…

We went back over to Apache Café and made our way through a nice crowd who were waiting patiently for us despite the fact that it was Cinco de Mayo and there was the Mayweather-Cotto fight scheduled that night. The chef who took our food orders at the end of soundcheck “cooked up some marvelous shit” (© Raekwon) for us… A brotha had some baked salmon atop of some steamed and seasoned spinach alongside a pillow of mashed poe-tay-toes – ‘Twas quite appetizing. You see, I had to used the word “atop” when describing a meal  that was so eloquently tasty… Soon after we ate, Anthony David came on through the green room and we FINALLY met and got to chop it up for a bit before the show… This time around, the host (Pearl) was completely on point giving a thorough and accurate introduction, which is always appreciated. We walked back through the crowd and applause and got started. Now when I tell y’all that the musical chemistry on stage was on 10 the ENTIRE night….. Maaaaaan, lookahea. Brandon was camped OUT in that pocket. I would turn around and look at him and he would be in a ZONE – concentrating on rhythm riffs that weren’t overpowering the music, soloing when he needed to and locked in so ridiculously that his playing helped you put that “extra nod” in your head nod. Quinton was setting the tone on the kit, that dude was going IN and it gave everyone on stage a boost to where it was almost like, “Oh, you’re gonna play THAT?! Well shit, what you know about THIS then?!” Musical competition at its finest a/k/a Everyone making everyone else play and sound better on stage.

Once we ended the set and finished on up, Apache Café applauded loudly and gave us a helluva standing ovation, which in most cases is always a little crazy to take in because it’s an ultimate show of appreciation after a performance and I’ll never forget it. We came off stage and I got to kick it with one of my homeboys that I grew up with from 2nd grade on, also DJ Jon Doe of Prophetix, Carmen Rodgers who came through after the show to see us, and I finally got to meet a kat who I have been communicating with off and on for damn near 11 years, Count Bass-D. And he introduced me to Dionne Farris who was also at the show… DOPE. Kats chatted it up until it was damn near time for the spot to close down… We walked out of Apache Café in full agreement that this was not only our BEST show, but our SMOOTHEST show in terms of travel, soundcheck, treatment by the staff at the venue, accommodations, performance, etc… UNTIL…………..

I got to my rental car that I parked in a small side parking lot for $3.50 and damn if that mug didn’t have a BOOT on it. Maaaaan, I have NEVER had a boot on a car before… So immediately got pissed because I PAID FOR PARKING via Parkmobile. Now, Parkmobile is an app you can download on your phone for free and it allows you to set up an account where you can pay for parking via your credit card. I actually love the app because it keeps you from having to keep a ton of change in your car for meters, but that night… somebody was on some BS. Sy was waiting in her car for me and I hopped in her passenger seat and called the 800 number that was stuck on my window, gave them the information they needed and they said the person who booted the car would be dispatched immediately – He’ll be there in about 20 minutes. Sheeeeeeiiiiiit. I hung the phone up and dude was pulling up.

I got outta Sy’s car and said, “Y’all don’t honor Parkmobile payments?!”

He said, “Is that how you paid?… Man, don’t tell me you just paid it like a half hour ago!”

Me: “Nah man, I paid at like 9:30p!”

I proceeded to show him a text AND an email that I received with the date, time and license plate no. proving that I paid the parking fee. Dude saw this and took the boot off. I made sure I was good to go without paying anything and I got in the car and headed back to the hotel… The adventures of life on the road are never-ending, I swear… but even that situation was resolved extremely quickly. So thank you Atlanta for a helluva night on May 5th…!!!

Studio Campfire Stories: “Playing Your Game, Baby” (feat. Anthony David)

Music is pretty funny….. Scratch that. Music is hilarious – Particularly when it comes to its creation. I’d like to consider myself a free thinker when it comes to making music mostly because it eliminates any boundaries, but also because music can be so unpredictable… ALL the time. Being that this is the last SCS for …just visiting three, it’s only right that this one is probably the most interesting. So with that being said, I will begin the story by saying that “Playing Your Game, Baby” was chosen and re-created for none other than one of my favorite emcees of all-time (in my “Top 5” EASILY)… Tariq Trotter a/k/a Black Thought. Rewind back to 2009 when Phonte was working with The Roots on the How I Got Over album… He gave me a call after the work was finished and told me how big of a fan Black Thought was of our Zo! & Tigallo Love the 80’s album AND said that he was wanting to get on something in the future… I damn near dropped the phone. All I could manage to do or say was the brilliant, “WORD?!” But yeah, I was ready to run laps around Maryland… YES, the state. So, about a year or so later at the Roots Picnic in June of 2010, I was there with The Foreign Exchange relaxing, taking part in some good food and helluva jokes before going on stage to perform. Well, the next you know, Black Thought walked up to our table. We met and talked just a little bit after Phonte introduced everybody and after telling him that I was a huge fan he said, “I’ve gotta get up on one of your joints…”  *insert silence here* I was pretty proud of myself at the way I played it off… Because I FELT like saying, “OH SHIT! LET’S WORK TOMORROW THEN!!” …..But, I didn’t. We exchanged info and kept it moving…………. And I was hyped up about it, hell I can’t lie. Been listening to this brotha since ’93/’94 I had a right to be…!! Since SunStorm was already completed and manufactured by that time, the question then became, “Ok, HOW should we work? What would be the best situation?” 

Fast forward to the top of 2011….. …just visiting three was in the middle of production and Phonte put Black Thought’s name out there as someone we should work with on the album. BET! Let’s do that!! Phonte hit him up, he said he was down… It was looking great. The only issue was…. What the hell song are we gonna have him sing?!?!!! A month went by……….. Two months………. We would go back to the conversation every now and then to see if there were ANY new ideas. There were a couple of joints in mind including one by uhh…. J.B. (not James Brown). Finally, a week or so after that conversation.. Phonte and I got back on the phone to decide once and for all what Tariq would be singing. Once again, I went to my trusty laptop and started scrolling through my iTunes selections. To be honest with you, I cannot remember who suggested Barry White… But I do remember picking the song “Playing Your Game, Baby” out directly from my iTunes library. From that, Phonte gave me the, “I’m wit that” and we moved forward in sending it and the lyrics through to Thought… In the meantime, I went in the studio to attempt to recreate this damn masterpiece of a song. Let me tell y’all something… The bond that me and “Playing Your Game, Baby” have formed over the years going all the way back to my days as a child is unbreakable. When Black Moon sampled it for the “I Got Cha Opin (Remix)” in ’94, I LOVED the joint. I even felt it when Ill Al Skratch used it for “Where My Homiez?” It’s just something about the big orchestration over that simplistic GROOVE. And one thing that I never realized until Anthony David and I talked about it later on was how simple Barry’s writing and vocals were. There was ONE vocal track, no adlibs, no harmonies… Not saying that this formula works all the time, but for this song it was a perfect compliment to what was going on musically.

Being that this song is another one of my personal favorites, I took great pride in wanting to do it correctly and do it some justice. I knew that the first things I thought about when someone talks about “Playing Your Game, Baby” are how crispy and pronounced the drums are and that simple but nasty and well-placed bassline. So that’s what I recorded first… I made sure the drums that I programmed were close to the original and I played the hi-hat out live. Once that was laid, I grabbed the bass guitar and and recorded it keeping it close to the original but adding a couple of my own licks here and there. The rhodes piece followed and then…. The strings. Man, man, MAN. That was a piece that would make or break the song. If the strings weren’t right, I would have scrapped the entire song without hesitation. BUT, they actually met my own skeptic ass approval and that particular draft was sent over to Black Thought to record to. Soon after we sent the music off, the horns were added. When I heard those horns on the track for the first time, I damn near turned my own computer over. They sounded GREAT!!! Now, we ran into trouble at this point because the brotha Tariq Trotter is BUSY AS ALL HELL. I don’t know if the dude ever stops going… He’s on constantly on the road and appearing on the Jimmy Fallon Show with The Roots, in the studio recording, popping up at spots performing internationally…. With that type of schedule, I was patient and understanding. If he couldn’t record it, not a problem at all – There will be time to work on something else in the future, I was definitely sure of that. But as we inched closer to the end of production for the album and its deadline, we had to figure something out. Who out here is gonna sing…. No, no, no… who out here is gonna SAING Barry White?! I mentioned Anthony David one time… Phonte and I talked about it briefly and let it sit for about a week or more. Finally, Phonte hit up A.D. and put him on alert… “Ayo, we may need you to come through and knock this Barry White joint out for the new album, you down to do it just in case?” He said he was down… So the music and the lyrics were sent to him. If I remember correctly, I think he was on the road doing some shows on the East Coast when he received the files. He said that once he got back home, he’d take care of it. Aaaaand just a few days later, I had an email with a file labeled “Playing Your Game AD Vox” ready to be downloaded. I damn near jumped outta my seat because these vocals were the LAST things needed for the album. I downloaded it and quickly played it in iTunes… I wasn’t patient enough to listen through the minute and a half long instrumental piece in the beginning, I scrolled right to the vocals and waited………… As SOON as I heard that first bar I said to myself… but outloud, “Maaaaan THIS dude is WHYLIN!” Ok, ok, ok…. He’s got the verse part down. NOW, let’s see what it’s lookin’ like when this hook comes in when Barry raises his voice and really let’s the girl know what’s on his mind…. *the hook comes and I hear Anthony David say* “Ya PLAYIN’ A GAAAAAME!!! IT’S SO PLAAAAAIN!!” And then the END of the hook when he hit the, “Nobody but YOOOOOUUUUUUUU AAAAAND MEEEEEEEE!!” ….Maaaaaaaaaaan, you would have thought a Detroit team had won a World Championship the way I was acting after hearing that – because without even hearing the rest of the song, I knew he had nailed it. To have come through in such a huge way, the respect I already HAD for the brotha tripled… And to this day, he and I have never even met face-to-face. Crazy, right?

I think with this song being one of the more familiar selections on the album along with the fact that it vamped out a little longer at the end musically, it was the perfect closing track. As I said at the beginning, music is totally unpredictable, but I’m extremely happy with how things turned out in the long run as I couldn’t have asked for better performances. I can’t wait to get up with everyone again for the next album….


Zo! – …just visiting three (2011) | FREE DOWNLOAD + Full Credits

Zo!
…just visiting three
FREE DOWNLOAD

**Click the song titles to read the stories behind the making of each**
01. Black Cow featuring Phonte Sy Smith
Lead Vocal by Phonte
Background Vocals by Sy Smith & Phonte
All Instruments by Zo!
Guitar by Chris Boerner
Trumpet by Stan Graham
Trombone by Andrew Kleindienst
Saxophone by Matt Douglas

02. Let It Go featuring Nicholas Ryan Gant
Lead Vocal by Nicholas Ryan Gant
Background Vocals by Nicholas Ryan Gant & Phonte
All Instruments by Zo!

03. Driving featuring Sy Smith
Lead Vocal by Sy Smith
Background Vocals by Sy Smith & Phonte
All Instruments by Zo!
Flute by Claudia Hayden

04.Marzipan featuring Eric Roberson & Phonte
Lead Vocal by Eric Roberson
Background Vocals by Phonte
All Instruments by Zo!
Guitar by Chris Boerner
Trumpet by Stan Graham

05. Everything She Wants featuring Phonte
All Vocals by Phonte
All Instruments by Zo!

06. Same Ole Love featuring Jeanne Jolly
Lead Vocal by Jeanne Jolly
Background Vocals by Jeanne Jolly and Phonte
All Instruments by Zo!
Acoustic Guitar by Chris Boerner
Pedal Steel by Allyn Love

07. Playing Your Game, Baby featuring Anthony David
Lead Vocal by Anthony David
All Instruments by Zo!
Trumpet by Stan Graham
Trombone by Andrew Kleindienst
Saxophone by Matt Douglas

Produced by Zo! and Phonte for Chapter 3hree, Verse 5ive Music, LLC/The Foreign Exchange Music, LLC
Recorded and Mixed by Zo! at East Wing Studios, Silver Spring, MD and by Phonte at The Peanut Gallery, Raleigh, NC

Additional Recording and Mixing by Chris Boerner at The Burlap Palace, Raleigh, NC
Mastering by Soiree Records
Cover Photography by Keith Estep of Keith Estep Photography


…just visiting three: THE ORIGINALS

01. Black Cow
Written by Walter Becker and Donald Fagen
Originally Performed by Steely Dan
From the Album “Aja” (ABC, 1977) 

02. Let It Go
Written by John Lang, Richard Page, and Steve George
Originally Performed by Pages
From the Album “Pages” (Epic, 1978)

03. Driving
Written by Ben Watt
Originally Performed by Everything But The Girl
From the Album “The Language Of Life” (Atlantic, 1990)

04. Marzipan
Written and Originally Performed by Eric Tagg
From the Album “Dreamwalkin'” (EMI, 1982)

05. Everything She Wants
Written by George Michael
Originally Performed by Wham!
From the Album “Make It Big” (CBS, 1985)

06. Same Ole Love
Written by Marilyn McLeod and Darryl K. Roberts
Originally Performed by Anita Baker
From the Album “Rapture” (Elektra, 1986)

07. Playing Your Game, Baby
Written and Originally Performed by Barry White
From the Album “Barry White Sings For Someone You Love” (20th Century, 1977)

© 2011 Chapter 3hree, Verse 5ive Music, LLC/The Foreign Exchange Music, LLC