Those who know me and my preferred musical tastes are fully aware of how much love the music catalog of the great Leon Sylvers III. As a kid, there were two albums that I would run REPEATEDLY… Shalamar’s “Three For Love” and “Friends” where Mr. Sylvers was the producer on both. Matter of fact, I used to love anything on that Solar Records label ….Why? Because not only was there some great music being released through them, but I used to get a kick out of how dope the vinyl label looked as it was spinning around on the turntable. That alone would fascinate me for at least a song or two… Once I got older, picked up the bass guitar and revisited some of these songs that I grew up with I noticed that the basslines within Leon Sylvers’ production work were pretty challenging. The bass is so noticeable that instead of playing a supportive role, it’s damn near carrying the entire tune. When I found out that he was also the one playing these lines?!… I got SUPER inspired. So much so that his work was added to my “go to” list in regards to shedding on the bass (Jamerson’s work, some disco jams, and various mid and up-tempo 70’s/80’s songs are my other “go tos”). So one day I was messing around on the bass and kinda thought to myself, “I don’t even have an uptempo ‘jheri curl jam’ in my catalog… It would at least be FUN to try and construct one.”
“We Are On The Move” began on the bass… It was actually the only song on ManMade that I wrote on the bass guitar. I wanted the bassline to move, be playful….but remain funky – I wanted it to “carry” the record. A good number of uptempo records from the late 70’s/early 80’s have very memorable basslines and I wanted this one to be no different… PLUS, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to show off my bass playing a little bit. A lot of folks aren’t aware that I play anything outside of the keys. ……Soooooo with that being said, I wanted to make sure to add in a guitar part in there as well. What it ended up becoming was 30 seconds of me playing two instruments that most of my listeners don’t even know I play… bass and guitar. Once the keys roll up into the first chord, that’s a clear indication of jheri curl juice beginning to be flung freely from that “yellow bottle” saturated moistness of a hairdo a/k/a …the official start of the party.
The original instrumental for this joint was titled “Eighty Three” as in the year 1983 for obvious reasons. The music for the joint literally took me back to that particular era. I can remember playing this one for everybody in The Foreign Exchange live collective at my house the night before we hit the Capital Jazz Fest stage last year and from their reactions to the just the music, I could tell that I had something pretty special on my hands. Once the crew and I returned hom from that early/mid June 2012 +FE run, Phonte and I got to work. Phonte was sent the instrumental and immediately sent me a vocal referenced version back. We had ideas…. We had HUGE ideas. And they seemed to come through for this one piece by piece….
First of all, I think I let out a clear, “OH SHIT!!” when I heard Gwen Bunn hit that “Get ready!!” on the hook because I didn’t tell Phonte exactly where I pulled inspiration from to create the music, yet he wrote an almost Shalamar-inspired hook for it providing me with further evidence as to why we work so well in that studio. We had a couple of challenges in getting a lead vocalist, that is until we turned to the brotha Eric Roberson. Now as busy as Erro remains with EVERYTHING, he always seems to have time for our music and it’s a blessing to have a kat that talented in your corner – especially since I was a fan of his before we started working together. Now he has appeared on my last THREE albums (ManMade, …just visiting three & SunStorm). Phonte hit Erro up with the reference and he turned it around in less than a week… I mean, the dude is a PROFESSIONAL and I love working with him for that very reason. He simply gets the music, walks in a studio, murders it, sends it back to you, and keeps it moving like nothing ever happened…. But right before the final lead vocal was done on it, Phonte said, “Ive got an idea for the ending… just give me a minute.” …..Ok, bet. Now, I admit I can be a bit impatient sometimes. So I created an ending of my own…. One that has a few percussion instruments on it and once the song is completely over, it breaks off into a SECOND part… and that was cool. But one morning at about 6am, I got one of those, “G MUTHAFUCKIN MAIL” texts from Phonte and I already KNEW what the deal was. I opened the email and there was a new version of the song. I played it through and didn’t notice anything different…..UNTIL
*chiiiiiimes* into……. *conga playing*
“Wait…… Hol’lup. Who?……. What the f…… YOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!”
Phonte had gotten Brevan Hampden to add some live percussion playing at the end of the song and it took on a whole new LIFE. I think I played that shit about 25 times in a row that morning. From there, I added a synth line and rhodes key chops at the very end of it so that the joint would in the words of Phonte, “go out in a blaze of glory”. We wanted the listener to be PARTYING by the end of the song. And then to hear Sy Smith, Erro and Phonte go back and forth as if all three of them are on stage together clowning out…. maaaaan, that was a treat for me. And when Erro says, “Come on, come ON, Come OWN, COME OWWWN!!!!” …That’s when the stage is set for a full out “dance as if you could give a damn about ANYthing else in your life right now.” Brotha was tryna bring some MJ to the table on this joint… We hear you brotha Erro, we hear you.
2012 has been another helluva year. I got to do some traveling and play shows in LA, NYC, DC, Chicago, Detroit, Nashville, St. Louis, Bethesda, MD, Greensboro, NC, Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, Columbia MD, Boston, Virginia Beach, Raleigh, Vienna, VA, Memphis, Indianapolis, San Francisco, and Phoenix …..and Durham, NC for this coming New Year’s Eve. I completed my first year as a full-time musician after the school I taught music at closed last year – I was then able to continue teaching by conducting individual piano lessons and workshop to groups of young ones. I began endorsing Moog Music, received another standing ovation during a performance back home in Detroit, and got the bulk of the recording finished for my newest albumManMade. Sy Smith and I did some touring this year playing big solo shows at DC’s Blues Alley and NYC’s Blue Note and received big performance props from Sheila E while I was back on the road with The Foreign Exchange who wrapped up performances for an album we have been touring for two years, Authenticity. I hit my ten-year anniversary of releasing music as well. Outside of all that, it was a fairly quiet twelve months……….
…Looking forward to 2013. Enjoy the photos!!
Me and Phonte laying VERY early recordings for ‘ManMade’ (Jan. 2012)
The LA crowd • Photo by Kris Perry (Jan. 2012)
Looks like I liked something I heard • Photo by Kris Perry (Jan. 2012)
Sy and I on the keys • Photo by Kris Perry (Jan. 2012)
Zo! + Sy Smith • Photo by Marcel Friday (Jan. 2012)
Sy in deep concentration • Photo by Marcel Friday (Jan. 2012)
Enjoying myself… • Photo by Marcel Friday (Jan. 2012)
Me in LA • Photo by Marcel Friday (Jan. 2012)
Keyboard duet featuring Zo! + Sy Smith • Photo by Marcel Friday (Jan. 2012)
Group picture after the LA show • Photo by Kris Perry (Jan. 2012)
Miki Howard, Me and Sy Smith in LA • Photo by Kris Perry (Jan. 2012)