Compliments of…. Sheila E.??!

Me, Sheila E., and Sy Smith in Washington D.C. – 08.30.12

I’m a homebody. Rarely do I EVER say, “You know what? I need to get outta the house and go somewhere.” There’s always too much to do right here. But with my musical sibling, Sy Smith singing background vocals for Sheila E. and her incredible band, I wasn’t about to be caught sitting at home reading the tweets of my people who were there. I wanted to see this show for myself and make sure that I was in the house to support Sy. I took my first trip to the restored and revamped Howard Theatre (ironically the same place where Robert Townsend as Donald “Duck” Matthews took his legendary keytar solo in The Five Heartbeats in 1972….Yes, you read that correctly. In 1972. Sorry, I STILL think that’s hilarious). I walked in and parked myself in the front, stage left and observed as Sheila and her crew brought the damn house down. From the first note, her show was exactly that… a SHOW. If there was a weak link in that band, I didn’t hear it… These kats were ridiculously tight and the added bonus was watching Sy up there murdering right along with them. This musical clinic of a performance went on for almost two hours and left everyone in the spot completely satisfied. Now of course, I told Sy a couple weeks before the show, “Ayo… You’ve gotta introduce me to Sheila when y’all get here.” She saw no problem with my request. When I got to talk with Sy after the show she told me the after party was gonna be at Tap and Parlour over on 11th and U… Bet! I’m there.

I headed over to the spot and even lucked up on an 11th Street parking place only a few yards from where I needed to be. ..Rolled up into Tap and Parlour, immediately got up with Sy and started talking about how dope the show was and how hyped up we were for our then upcoming Labor Day NYC show date at the Blue Note. I then decided it was time for a quick draink (yes, dammit… “DRAINK”), so I walked on over to the bar for a rum & coke and also grabbed a water for Sy….. By the time I made it back over to the rear of the place, Sheila was already over there hanging out. I handed the water over and as soon as Sy could, she introduced the two of us… “Great to finally meet you’s” along with a hug were both exchanged. It was dope because Sy has told me on a few different occasions that she was familiar with who I am because of shows and she and I do and my affiliation with +FE Music. I made it a point to let Sheila know that she gives a helluva performance and that they thoroughly shut the Howard Theatre down without question. Now…. when giving a compliment to someone you look up to and highly respect in your professional field, you never expect for them to return your compliment with a compliment….. or two. So imagine how blown away I was when she said to me…

“You know, I’m really diggin what you and Sy are doing…”

Hold up… What?!! Our live performances?!!?? You know, I’m not exactly sure what the expression on my face did in response to what she said, but I’m sure it was kind of along these lines. In the middle of my humbly thanking her about 48 times, she then hit me with…

“Yeah, I look you guys up on YouTube all the time…”

Done.

Aaaaand from that particular moment, to about 17 or 18 minutes afterward….. You couldn’t tell me shit. I was damn near on the verge of cussing at Ms. Escovedo out of excitement on some, “Sheila E., what the hell you say to me?!!?” …….In a good way though, in a good way!! The best part about it was, her words were truly genuine as she is about as down-to-earth as they come. The worst part about it was…. Where the hell do you take a conversation after that?! I had not a clue… We did end up chatting a little more and taking a picture with Sy (see above) and after I finished my drink, I was pretty much ready to head on outta there and call it a night………… That didn’t end up being the case. Why? Because as her band began to trickle in one by one, Sheila would pull each of them to the side, “Have you met Zo?… He and Sy tour together!” Maaaaan, lookahea… Somebody get another draink because I’m gonna be here for awhile. I got up with the majority of the band, including fellow Michigan native, drummer Chris Coleman, who by the way was kiiiiillin’ on stage! I couldn’t have asked for a better night – smiles, laughs, drainks and toasts consumed the remainder of it.

Believe it or not, as many times as something like this happens…. I’ll still be in disbelief, so don’t mind me and my excitable ass storytelling. This just completely goes to show that you never know who’s listening, watching, and most of all enjoying your music. Man, I love what I do…

One For the Road: Zo! + Sy Smith in Washington D.C. (June 13, 2012)

Sy Smith + Zo! at Blues Alley – 06.13.12
Photo by Lauren Persons

Ever since we booked these two shows to play at Washington D.C.’s Blues Alley back in mid-April, I guess it’s pretty safe to say that I automatically got hyped up about the date. As a matter of fact, I think the last time I was THAT amped up for a show was in February when Sy and I played Privé Deux back home in Detroit… And the time before that? Well… when I was in Detroit on Mother’s Day 2011 with The Foreign Exchange, the show where my home gave me damn near a two-minute long ovation that had a brovah holding his eyes wide open and blinking to keep from dropping tears on stage… Yeah THAT one. You kinda see the pattern here? There’s just something undeniable about playing a touring or a major show in your hometown and/or your place of current residence. It is already certain that the energy will be at a higher level for your performance, so naturally, I almost have to monitor my adrenaline rushes and keep them under close surveillance as I used to have to for big games during my baseball playing days. I even hit Sy up not too long after the show was booked… “Maaaaan, I think I’ma have to suit it up for this one.” And speaking of that, allow me to let you in on a little something in case you didn’t know… Grown folks JUMP at the chance to dress up for some shit. The reason? We are rarely presented with a proper “dress up” occasion. And I’m not talking about some silly ass “color scheme” party where you’re limited to one or two colors to choose from. The next thing you know you’re posing in front of airbrushed backgrounds of champagne bottles for a picture that you’re rushing to post onto your “too much info offering” Facebook page. I’m talking about an all-out “damn, I’ve NEVER seen you look THAT good before!!” event. For example, ask a grown ass man the last time he wore a suit (outside of church and work) and I guarantee he’ll be able to tell you the exact date AND occasion. With all of that being said, when I pulled out my black suit to press and get ready for the show, I pulled a food receipt from my pocket from none other than… Blues Alley. The only other time I had ever been was to play keys for a New Year’s Prince tribute that YahZarah was doing to bring in 2011. So uhhh, I guess it had been a long time since my grown ass had been suited up too. We used to do it regularly when touring with The Foreign Exchange while promoting their album Leave It All Behind. We all looked great on stage, but carrying all of those clothes around on the road got to be a PROBLEM. Baggage fees and overpacking remained our arch enemies on the Leave It All Behind tour… Let’s just say we found close allies in T-shirts and jeans.

Zach Cutler, Biscuit Bynum, Sy Smith & I set to rehearse – 06.12.12

Anyway, as I recover from going way off track… Musician-wise, Sy and I already knew who we wanted to use on the show. We had to have Zach Cutler on that guitar and Chris “Biscuit” Bynum on drums. Zach is a super-talented, technically skilled kat who is a rhythm master that will find that pocket and play in it all night. PLUS, he knows our set like the back of his hand being as though this was his third show with us (he joined us in both NYC and Houston last month). Biscuit is pretty much the drummer who is highest in demand ’round D.C. I met him while playing a gig together back in April of 2006 and have hit him up for more than a few gigs since then, including that Leave It All Behind tour I mentioned previously. Once the two of them locked the date in, we knew that we only needed to rehearse together one good time and the remainder would be good to go… and that’s exactly what happened. We all got together, knocked out a tight rehearsal in my studio and got it together for showtime the following day.

Soundcheck at Blues Alley was at 4:30p… I was so hyped up, I was aiming to be at the spot at 4pm just so I could get there, load in, find a decent parking space (like most, I DESPISE parking in and around Georgetown) and properly prepare for our show. To begin with, I ALMOST walked out of the house without my freshly pressed black suit and shirts (one for the 8pm show and one for the 10pm). Next, the fact that it is always an adventure driving to the Georgetown area just added to the fun. My GPS got cussed out thoroughly for 1.) Leading me to a closed road, and 2.) Attempting to direct me down a one-way street… the WRONG way. My road rage was in the red by the time I pulled in to Blues Alley… But all existing anger took a backseat when I drove directly under this…….

Photo by Lauren Persons

*takes a deep breath*

*looks up at the sign again*

*smiles*

Well, they left off the “!”, but I’ll take it… At least they didn’t spell my name with a damn “e” at the end. Seeing that marquee put me right back on track on what I was there to be focused on… Putting on two helluva shows. I walked into the venue and saw that Sy had already been in there… Hell, she was probably just as pumped up as I was. As I set everything of mine up, Zach walked in. Our soundman, Melvin Prince wasn’t too far behind him. Sy came in not too long afterward and quickly set up her rig…….. while Biscuit, to no one’s surprise turned out to be the last man of the crew through the Blues Alley door. We hit a solid check and I walked up the block to 31st St. with Zach and Bis to get some kabob-e joojeh a/k/a chicken kabobs before the show. I wasn’t worried about any pre-show  ‘itis” symptoms showing up as I was entirely too wound up. Sy and I were told by Frank Sheffield (the show’s booker and organizer) that the 8pm room was pretty much sold out. Upon hearing that news, I FELT like going downstairs and hopping on the mic with an enthusiastic, “I AM VERY HAPPY TO BE HERE!!” © Prince Akeem.   …….But after evaluating that option a bit further, I decided against it and continued to get dressed for the first show.

The 8pm show began with Sy and I being led through the occupied tables of people in the dimly lit room via flashlight. We were introduced and jumped right into “Nights Over Egypt”. Normally, with a sit-down crowd you really don’t know what to expect, but this group of folks were VERY responsive and into what was happening on stage. There was one group right in front of me who I acknowledged during the show because they had no problem letting us know where they stood on things…

Sy: “I’m living in LA now”… Table up front: *SCREAM!! CHEER!!!!*

Sy: “Y’all know Zo is outta Detroit…”  …Table up front: *SCREAM!! CHEER!!!!*

Me: “Weren’t y’all just yelling for LA? Maaan, y’all cheer for EVERYTHING!!”

They cheered for everything AND they knew every word to damn near every song we played too and THAT was dope. I can’t describe how great it feels to see folks come out to the shows who love being a part of what you love to do. Hats off to the “Table up front.” The second show was no different… Of course we were a bit more loose not only on the mic, but performance-wise as well and our 10pm crowd took to it extremely well. Overall, folks came out to have fun, party, and laugh with us – Even when we managed to crack a few jokes on some of their favorite artists. The fact that Blues Alley provided that baby grand on stage for us to utilize just made things even more interesting during out set. I took first crack at it during our performance of “Driving” and “Greater Than the Sun.” When it was Sy’s turn to tickle the baby grand ivories, I hopped on the bass guitar for her song “Stand Alone.” Most folks don’t even know that I play the bass… Well shit, there are still plenty who think I sing. So those types of “switch ups” are necessary sometimes on stage so that your people can literally see what you can do – plus, it’s always a nice change of pace within the set.

The love we received after both performances was unbelievable. The fact that we were praised by our elders who were in the crowd was a flattering experience and always is when it does happen. Both of us had family in the audience who ALL left with the widest of proud grins on their faces, which made the performances even that much more special. Sy AND I left the venue on much more of a high than when we both arrived for sound check. Shall I dare say that these two shows surpassed our Atlanta show as our best yet? ….Why yes I shall.

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Zo! Featured on HUR Voices – SiriusXM Ch. 141

I took myself down to Howard University’s campus on Tuesday and did a pre-recorded interview with host Bobby Gailes for a SiriusXM program on channel 141 – HUR Voices. The interview was for the half-hour segment they do entitled “New Artist Feature” where they shine the spotlight on new or widely unheard artists. The interview is set to run on these dates and times…

Thursday May 31 – 12p EST

Saturday June 2 – 11a EST

Tuesday June 4 – 9:30a EST

Be sure to tune in as I’ll be running my mouth about a few things in my life and they’ll be running a few joints from SunStorm

TheCouchSessions.com’s Coverage of the Axel F. One Year Anniversary Party

Source: TheCouchSessions.com • Author: Marcus K. Dowling

For many urban blacks, the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States signified the epitome of crossover achievement. The infusion of culturally inclusive African-American style into mainstream popular culture feels like the harbinger of a brand new time. You remember this era’s precedent, a moment best defined by German producer Harold Faltermeyer’s handling of a minor key synth progression making Eddie Murphy into an iconic film legend. Add in some body rolling and questionable fashion choices from 30 years ago? The spotlights of the past meet the floodlights of the present here. Axel F is not just a showcase of music, but possibly one of America’s most ultimate showcases of the universal crossover potential of African-American excellence.

Ex-Washington Post journalist and now full-time deejay Rhome “DJ Stylus” Anderson refers to the party as “a mix of ‘lazer boogie,’ ‘Jheri curl funk’ and ‘champagne soul.’” It’s a celebration of the storm of post-disco crossover R & B, Detroit techno and the Minneapolis sound’s early 80s takeover. Kevin Saunderson, Juan Atkins and Derrick May’s down tempo electro funk was a staple of so many pop radio crossover hits of the era. Furthermore, you can’t tell the story of the 80s without Teena Marie, Prince, Morris Day, Jimmy Jam or Terry Lewis. Stylus continues, “I was hanging out one day with (fellow Axel F resident deejays) Jahsonic and Adrian Loving, and we realized that there were so many classic R & B jams that nobody really played out anymore. We wanted to change that, and for the past year I think we have.”

Read the complete article here

Zo! + N’Dambi @ The Black Cat in Washington D.C. – Friday, December 10th


On Friday December 10th, I’ll be presenting my latest release, SunStorm LIVE along with my band, vocalists Kenny Wesley, Deborah Bond, and my brovah from anothah, Phonte. This will take place at the Black Cat in Washington D.C. opening for Dallas-bred vocalist, N’Dambi. I hope to see a lot of you all there as this will be a helluva show…!!