You’d be hard pressed to find a more authentic Jamaican soul man than Ken Boothe, most famous for his U.K. number one “Everything I Own,” but the originator of countless foundation reggae classics and essential R&B cover versions that threaten to outshine the originals (“Is It Because I’m Black,” “Nature Planned It“). Originally penned by Boothe in 1968 for his album Mr Rocksteady, this new version of “Let the Water Run Dry” takes a less-is-more approach via the stripped back, acoustic sound of the Inna De Yard All-Stars band and the gorgeous vocal harmonies of the Viceroys.
The song is one part of the larger Soul of Jamaica project, which took place over a four-day mammoth session in August, 2016, at Kiddus I’s terrace house and studio in the hills of Kingston. Brimming with the original essence of Jamaica’s musical culture, the full cast list includes, in addition to Ken Boothe, Cedric Myton from The Congos, Lloyd Parks, Derajah, Var, Kiddus I, Steve Newland, the Viceroys, Kush McAnuff, Winston McAnuff and the Inna De Yard musical stalwarts Robbie Lyn on piano and Winston “BoPee” Bowen on guitar.
The days spent recording were filmed by the photographer and director Bernard Benant with a short film document soon to be released.
By the mid-’90s, R&B music experienced a bit of a renaissance in the form of a subgenre dubbed neo-soul. One of the artists leading this burgeoning movement in R&B was Maxwell. Hailing from the streets of Brooklyn, New York, he spent his late teenage years cultivating his songwriting talent on a Casio keyboard and perfecting his trademark vocal chops by performing in New York City’s club scene and at local venues. After being signed to a recording contract by Columbia Records in 1994, he began to craft the framework for his debut album. Using classic R&B and soul records as a foundation for the album’s creative direction, Maxwell was able to showcase his ethereal abilities as singer-songwriter on the eleven-song offering, as well as partnering with legendary producers and musicians Leon Ware, Melvin Ragin, and Stuart Matthewman, and newcomers Itaal Shur and Hod David. On April 2, 1996, Maxwell’s Urban Hang Suite would be released by Columbia Records, and it spawned four singles, including “…Til the Cops Come Knockin’,” “Ascension (Don’t Ever Wonder),” “Sumthin’ Sumthin’,” and “Suitelady (The Proposal Jam).” For the album’s twentieth anniversary, we spoke with Stuart Matthewman and Itaal Shur about their roles in constructing one of most enduring albums from the ’90s.
When and where did you first meet Maxwell?
Stuart Matthewman: I met Maxwell when he was already recording his debut album. By that time, he had already recorded “…Til the Cops Come Knockin’.” I was sent a demo of that song. I was asked if I wanted to work with a new artist to write and produce on their album. At the time, I was busy doing other things. When I heard “…Til the Cops Come Knockin’,” I said to myself, “What does he need me for?” [laughs] It sounded so fucking amazing. His voice and song were great. During that time, I was in the process of moving apartments, and I was doing a whole bunch of work on other projects. We starting to work on the Sweetback album and different things. A guy named Karl [Vanden Bossche], who was playing percussion for Sade, was doing a session with Maxwell and he contacted me and said, “I’m working with this guy named Maxwell. We’ve done some stuff together and he is really cool and dope. He is an amazing talent. He was asking about you. I think you should reach out to him.” So then I invited Karl over to my place because it was in New York. When he came by, he brought Maxwell with him. That’s how I ended up meeting Maxwell through Karl. We thought that we should get together and write a few songs. We wrote three songs together fairly quickly. We wrote “Welcome,” “Whenever Wherever Whatever,” and “Lonely’s the Only Company.” Then he was recording and doing a lot of overdubs. I hung out with him in the studio and I had my guitar, so I ended up playing on a bunch of other songs that he had written and produced with other people as well. After that, he got Mike Pela involved with the mixing process. Mike worked with Sade since her first album, so he became part of the family. This is how things started for us.
Itaal Shur: I met Maxwell through a mutual friend of ours named Gina Figueroa. We were all around the same music scene in New York City at that time. I was playing keyboards at this club called Giant Step. I was playing keyboards with a DJ and live musicians every Thursday night there. It attracted a lot of people with the same musical interests. Dominique Trenier had been managing me for a while back then.
What was your initial interaction with him during your first meeting with him?
Stuart Matthewman: Well, he came over to my place and we hung out. Maxwell hasn’t really changed after all these years. He was a really funny guy. When I first met him, he was funny, and he is still that way today. He sung for me and then we started working on the three songs I mentioned earlier. The first song we started working on was “Welcome.” It came from this bass line and it had a drum loop. During the first few days, we got together and wrote these songs. We were jumping from one song to another. I was living in Manhattan staying in an apartment in the Flat Iron district.
Itaal Shur: Well, he was obviously really good. [laughs] He was a natural. He had a golden voice and a real sense of who he was as an artist. At the time, he was working at this coffee shop. I remember he did a show at Irving Plaza, and he had a full band backing him. At this point in time, he was still working at the coffee shop. It ended up being a spectacular show. I think he was 19 at the time. I was really impressed after that show. It was obvious that he was talented and was going places very quickly. When I first started working with him, I was living in this little, tiny apartment in Brooklyn. I had a room that was the size of a couch. It was so small. My bed was underneath my keyboards and all my equipment. We wrote seven or eight songs in that room. It was a magical room. When I first met him, we hung out a couple times. After I moved to my apartment in Brooklyn, we began working on what we would become “Ascension (Don’t Ever Wonder).” We were able to write a lot of songs quickly because he could sing so well. He came up with so many things from off the top of his head as a vocalist and songwriter. He also had many good ideas for melody, lyrics, and music. He had a great feel for music. Certain feelings that he had for music was indicative to who he was as a person and artist. We went through a bunch of songs, and I still have them. It definitely wasn’t hard to make music with him. At my apartment, we wrote the songs and programmed some of the beats. I remember we went to another studio to iron out the song before we ended up going to Electric Lady Studios and actually tracking the whole song. These songs we wrote at my apartment were done in a home project studio.
Can you describe the experience of working at Electric Lady Studios during the recording process?
Stuart Matthewman: To be honest, I do most of my stuff from home. I had a little setup at home that I started on. After we finished the demos and preproduction work, we moved to different studios like Electric Lady Studios. He did a bunch of his vocals in Electric Lady Studios. I did overdubs on some of his other songs at Electric Lady. It’s so funny about that studio. It’s just a New York studio that people used because it had a cool vibe and it was a cool studio. I think we did some other things at Chung King Studios as well. I’ve never really bothered with working at a big studio with tape and a big Neve mixing desk. It’s just not the way I work. I work kind of in the box. I know how to get things working with plug-ins. As long as I had a good microphone and preamp to get it into the computer, it makes no difference if I’m in a studio or not. Some people like the idea of using a big mixing desk and going to tape because it helps them get an old school vibe. It doesn’t have that effect on me. Theoretically, it shouldn’t make any difference to the listener. The listener shouldn’t be thinking about how this music was recorded. On Maxwell’s album, listeners were listening to the lyrics, vocals, and the music. They weren’t asking themselves, “I wonder what mixing desk that was mixed on.” No one gives a shit about that as long as the song is performed well and mixed well. [laughs] At this time, I was using a program called Cubase, but then I’d synched it up to Da-88 tape machines. They were little tape machines that you tried to synch up to the computer. This was before you could do all the audio into a computer. With this album, we started out using Da-88 tapes that were made by TASCAM. This is how I recorded him.
Itaal Shur: It was a really good experience. Maxwell was very thorough. He wanted everything to be done as much as possible before we went into the studio, so we wouldn’t be wasting time or money. He didn’t sit around and spend his money because he understood that the money was coming from the label and it was all recoupable. Everything was running on schedule. There was no hanging out and bullshitting. We brought in the MPC and some of the guitars I’d sampled. We had a bass line that was played on a keyboard, but I was able to get Jonathan Maron to play the bass line. At the time, I was in a band with Jonathan called Groove Collective. When he came in to the play the bass line, it changed everything. I played the keyboards and a guitar lick or two that was sampled into the MPC as a repetitive part of the groove. When we got the studio, the arrangement, breaks, stops, and drum beats were all done. It was just about getting the live musicians to come in there to do their parts. Stuart Matthewman came in and played some guitar parts. We had some really good musicians. We did this all in one day. We were well prepared when we finally went into the studio. A lot of the preproduction work was done to make sure we were ready to go once we went to Electric Lady to start working. Our approach was very old school. We did our homework.
You mentioned earlier that you were around to add some music to other songs on the album.
Stuart Matthewman: Yeah. I wasn’t around for some of them when they were first being constructed, but I came in during the period of when they were doing overdubs and vocals. For instance, on the track “Ascension,” there would be a guide vocal and the main track down, then I’d come in to play some guitar on top of it. On other songs, I did the same thing and played my sax on them. I did the little guitar riff at the beginning of “Ascension” and the guitar solo. He had me to play saxophone on a bunch of the songs, too. There were other players on the songs. He brought in this guy named Frederico [Pena] to play keyboards on some of my tracks as well. People were interchanging. I’d play on other people’s tracks and other people would play on mine. There weren’t any egos while we were creating these songs.
Can you name some of the instruments you used in creating the music for the songs on this album?
Stuart Matthewman: On Urban Hang Suite, I used a Fender Telecaster on a few of the tracks or a Gibson Goldtop Les Paul guitar. As far as the programming goes, I used Cubase. I could record my bass into Cubase and chop it and loop it up. Everything was in my computer including drum samples. I used some acoustic classical guitar on “Whenever Wherever Whatever.” I used a wah-wah pedal and a thing called a touch wah, which is like a pedal that gives a sound of a wah-wah without using your foot. It does it automatically. It’s funny because Maxwell ended up having Wah Wah Watson on the album. He was the guitar player for Marvin Gaye; he was a huge influence on me as well.
When you were working with Maxwell on this album, did he play any instruments?
Itaal Shur: Well, I heard all the songs from the album because I was hanging out with him a lot. I think I played a couple things on keyboards for “Sumthin’ Sumthin’.” He would share songs with me in their nascent form. Something people don’t know is that Maxwell plays different instruments. From what I remember, he worked more on his demos and put things together from his little home studio. The song I wrote for him I don’t remember him playing on it. We worked out everything that I was playing to a T. He was very hands on. He’d say, “I don’t like that chord. This sounds better here.” He’d pick and choose what sounded the best to him. Maxwell is old school in the sense that he likes to make decisions when he records and not leave things to be interpreted in multiple ways later down the line.
How would you describe the collaboration process and working relationship that existed between you and Maxwell during the making of this album?
Stuart Matthewman: He was very musical. He played a little guitar and keyboards. He knew he didn’t want to be the one playing the instruments. He wanted to be the front man and to surround himself with great musicians. His approach was pretty similar to Sade’s. Sade’s not a guitar or keyboard player, but she has really good taste. Maxwell would pick up on things that I’d be playing and want to use it. He was very much involved with the production of the music. We were confident with the way everything was sounding. Actually, the record company sat on the album for a year. We had the album finished before D’Angelo’s Brown Sugar came out. They put some stuff out in Europe first and worked it like that. It was very frustrating for us because we’d finished the record and wanted it to come out. I think they were trying to figure out how to market it. We recorded the songs for this album in a small room at my place into a laptop, including his vocals, and I mixed it that way in my home, too. He had an amazing voice and amazing control of his voice. He could sing quietly or loudly all the way through his range. Most singers if they’re singing low, they can sing quieter, but if they sing higher, they have to sing louder. Maxwell could effortlessly go through his whole range. It was something I had never come across before. He had an amazing pitch.
Itaal Shur: There was a similar ethos that was happening around that time. All of us were into soul, funk, and classic music. Hip-hop was sampling that stuff, so we wanted to actually play it, but we wanted our sound to fit in on hip-hop radio stations. We made sure that we didn’t play things with too many notes but still sounded live. None of that could have happened without a great singer like Maxwell. We were heavily influenced by Marvin Gaye. I think Marvin is who Maxwell really identified with the most. We would listen to a lot of Marvin Gaye and other classic music like Sade, Kate Bush, Tears for Fears, and Mary Jane Girls. We also listened to Brandy, TLC, and Mary J. Blige. I remember he said one day, “We can’t have that open cymbal from that “Impeach the President” beat.” At that time, it seems like everyone was using that beat. He was working with Peter Mokran, so R. Kelly was a big influence, too. There was just a hodge podge, man. When I was working with Maxwell, I’d put on a beat and start playing something, and he’d say, “Yeah. I like that. Let’s go here with it.” It was about working together in the same room and coming up with a groove that fit the vibe of where we were going. Maxwell was sculpting this record to have a certain sound because he wanted to have that lover man appeal, as opposed to the Lenny Kravitz and Prince’s universal pop thing. He wanted to get his audience first, then he could do whatever he wanted.
Give me some insight into the creation of the songs you co-wrote with him for this album.
Stuart Matthewman: On “Whenever Wherever Whatever,” I started off doing part of the chord sequence in the song, and Maxwell said, “That sounds nice. What is that?” Then, he started singing, and while he was singing, I was changing the chords around what he was singing. We wrote the song together while I was playing an acoustic guitar. We decided to keep it really simple. We added a little bit of a synth piano to it and some strings from the keyboard. There’s a funny story about this song. When we mixed the song, there was a guy from Columbia Records that was going to come down to listen to what we were doing. We spent all day mixing this song with Mike Pela. At the end of it, we thought it sounded so beautiful. It ended up being a single and they put out a video for it. But when we mixed it and the guy from the record company came by to listen to it, we proudly played it for him. At the end of the song, he said, “It sounds great. How far along are you with this recording?” [laughs] We were like, “Oh my God, really?” He thought we were still recording it. I think he expected it to have this big drum sound with synths.
“Welcome” came from a drum beat that I had. It was a drum loop, then I was playing my bass and I came up with a bass line for the track. No one really used a bass with a guitar pick. It was kind of a thing that was done in the ’70s. Musicians didn’t really do that type of thing anymore, so we thought it would be cool to play the bass riff with a guitar pick. And gradually, I added some chords and different sounds. When we went to do overdubs, we ended up getting live percussion on it which always helped if you had a drum loop. We used to do that with Sade as well.
Itaal Shur: On “Ascension (Don’t Ever Wonder),” we were using the MPC and we had some things already programmed into it, but the chorus of the song wasn’t written yet. He had the verses done, and we spent time doing other choruses for this song. At first, the song was called something else totally. Later on, it turned into “Ascension (Don’t Ever Wonder).” This song went through three or four different chorus ideas. He knew that the track had potential, even though it didn’t have a solid chorus. We kept making the track better and better, so that when we went into the studio, he could spend a little more time trying out some choruses on a good microphone. He did a lot of work on his own. There were certain songs that were the influencers of this song. At the time, we were hanging out at the clubs and there were classic soul songs that were the benchmarks that we were looking to update. The main one was “Before I Let Go” by Maze. That song was a big influence on “Ascension (Don’t Ever Wonder”). If you listen to the beginning of “Ascension,” the melodic melisma he does with his voice is very similar to “Before I Let Go.” We weren’t just throwing down a groove and trying stuff. We were old school. We had a song, and we wanted to make sure at bar 32 a drum fill would be there. We worked out the arrangements. Back then, we went into a larger studio to cut the live instruments so we could get a better sound. The majority of the song was already mapped out. It was just a question of filling in the blanks with the live musicians instead of the programmed parts.
Take me through your process of programming the tracks for this album.
Stuart Matthewman: I’ve always used Cubase because I’m not really a keyboard player at all, but I do all my programming with the keyboard. I can’t sit down and play the piano for my family at Christmas. I’ve done film scores and I can write music gradually on a piano or keyboard. When I was playing against the computer, I could see what I was playing and I could change the notes around or tighten things up if I didn’t play it very well. It’s just the way I’ve always worked. With guitar, I’ve always liked to keep things simple. I’d play along with the backing track and I’d do a guitar take all the way through the song. I’ll listen back, and I’ll just choose little bits that I like and move them around the song and maybe repeat them. It’s always been a cut and paste type of thing with me.
Did you guys have a set studio routine for when you were in the studio working?
Stuart Matthewman: We were kind of all over the place. We didn’t have a massive budget, so we would get studio time when we could. I used to do most of my parts in the control room. When I played my sax, I went into the live room. All my guitar and keyboard parts were done in the control room where the engineers sat. I’d have my computer set up. For me, it’s easier to record that way.
Itaal Shur: We would get started in the afternoon, and we worked really fast. There wasn’t a lot of time spent hanging out. We were aiming to get the job done. We went into the studio to work and to make stuff happen. Sometimes, he’d walk in the door and say, “I have a great idea. Let’s start working on it.” He had a complete vision for things he wanted in his career. Mitchell Cohen, an older, middle-aged Jewish guy from the label, gave Maxwell the freedom to be himself. It was a real plus.
Are there any interesting behind-the-scenes stories that happened in the studio while you guys were in the recording process?
Stuart Matthewman: Well, everyone calls Maxwell Max now. But when he first came out, he didn’t like people calling him Max, especially if you didn’t know him. It wasn’t like he was being a superstar or anything like that. It’s weird when you first meet someone and they automatically shorten your name, you know what I mean. I just remember Maxwell was doing some vocals, and we had an assistant engineer who was in the studio just for that day to put his vocals down on tape. While Maxwell was singing, the engineer pressed the talk back and said, “Hey, Max. Max! Let’s do another take.” And there was this long silence. He didn’t say anything, so the engineer pressed the button again and asked, “Hey, Max. Do you want to do another take?” Again, there was silence. So I went over to the engineer and said, “Try saying Maxwell.” The engineer asked again, “Hey, Maxwell. Do you want do another take?” Maxwell answered, “Yeah.” [laughs] He wasn’t being a diva or anything. I think he was a bit irritated.
As you look back twenty years later on the impact this album had on popular culture, what are your feelings about being involved with its construction and its place in history?
Itaal Shur: Maxwell really fought for me to be on this album because I didn’t have a name as a songwriter or producer at that time. He really pushed for me to be involved. We were in the scene but the label wanted big names to be a part of his record. I have to give it to him and thank him for pushing for what he believed in. I will always be grateful. Being a part of this album is something I’ll never forget. Maxwell is one of the best artists from the past twenty years and there is a reason for that because he is not just a great singer but a great entertainer. I think what Maxwell was trying to do was to capture a bit of that Michael Jackson and Prince universal sound with this album. It just made people happy and the music was multigenerational. It was a special time for all of us because we had an outlet for our creative expression which was neo-soul. When we did “Ascension,” I thought it was real music, but I thought it would never be popular. Then it became popular. I was totally surprised by it.
Nat Adderley Jr. and Marcus Miller talk about the album on its thirtieth anniversary
By the mid-’80s, Luther Vandross had become a model of consistency by producing high quality, timeless quiet storm recordings. By 1986’s Give Me the Reason, he was on the verge of breaking new ground by expanding his listening audience and establishing himself as the premiere male voice in R&B music. After spending years perfecting his vocal craft as an in-demand background vocalist for Chic, David Bowie, Roberta Flack, Chaka Khan, Barbra Streisand, among many others, as well as singing commercial jingles and experiencing moderate success as lead vocalist for his group Luther and then popular recording act Change, he made the decision to spread his wings as a solo artist. While performing with the aforementioned artists, Vandross spent his own monies to fund his original demo tape that he shopped around to various labels in New York City. A year later in 1981, he finally secured a record deal with Epic Records. Shortly thereafter, he released his debut album, Never Too Much, and it became an immediate success on the Billboard music charts. During this juncture, he fortified a lasting musical kinship with legendary musicians Nat Adderley Jr. and Marcus Miller. This union proved to be a winning formula. As a result, their hot streak continued to permeate throughout Vandross’s next three albums: Forever, for Always, for Love (1982), Busy Body (1983), and The Night I Fell in Love (1985). On September 19, 1986, Give Me the Reason was released by Epic Records, and it became an instant smash. The album spawned four singles, including his second number one hit: “Stop to Love,” “Give Me the Reason,” “There’s Nothing Better Than Love,” and “I Really Didn’t Mean It.” For the album’s thirtieth anniversary, we spoke with the men behind the magic, Nat Adderley Jr. and Marcus Miller, about constructing this masterpiece.
When and where did you first meet Luther Vandross?
Nat Adderley Jr.: I’m glad you’re asking me this because everyone says we went to high school together. That’s because it says it on Wikipedia, but it’s not true. When I was in high school, I joined a group. I went to high school in Harlem, New York, at the High School of Music & Art. I joined the group that was based out of the Apollo Theater. They were called Listen My Brother. It was a group that consisted of ten to twelve singers and a four piece band. We wrote and performed music that Black political and socially conscious folk were writing back then. They were protest songs and love songs. If you’ve heard of the group, the Voices of East Harlem, we were out at the same time they were. We were basically the same kind of group. They were a little more well-known than we were, though. So Luther was in that group, and that’s how I met him by joining the group Listen My Brother. We were the first group on the first episode of Sesame Street. You can go back in the files to find the group on there. You can see me on the keyboards and a young, teenaged Luther Vandross was one of the lead singers. He was singing “Count to 20” and the “ABC” song. That’s how we met. After that, he called me to do a record and then another record. We ended up doing a few things before I even started working with him on his album, Never Too Much. No one knew that Never Too Much was going to hit the way it did, but the rest is history. I graduated from high school in 1973, and I met him in 1971.
Marcus Miller: Luther and I met years before making Give Me the Reason. We were both studio musicians in New York City. He was one of the top studio background singers in New York, so that meant whoever needed background vocals for their recordings, they would call him and he would put together a group of background singers, and they would come to the studio to listen to an artist’s song and work out cool background vocals. It put the final touches on someone’s record. He did this for so many people such as: Chic, David Bowie, Bette Midler, and all sorts of people. I was a studio bass player, so that meant I went from studio to studio playing on sessions for records and commercials. We would see each other and pass by each other in various studios. Usually, the rhythm section would record first for about two to three hours. As we were leaving, we’d see the background singers coming in to get ready to add their vocals to whatever we recorded. Roberta Flack was doing gigs on the weekends, and during the week, she would rehearse. Her bass player couldn’t make one of the rehearsals, and Luther suggested to Roberta that they should call me. So I came to the rehearsal, and Roberta ended up offering me the gig. Luther and I ended up on Roberta Flack’s gig together, which meant that, while we were doing all those sessions during the week, on the weekends we would fly out to wherever Roberta had gigs and we’d perform with her. This is when we really got tight. This was around 1979 and 1980.
Soon after that, Luther decided that he wasn’t satisfied with being a top background singer. He decided he wanted to try to become an artist. He asked me and a couple of other musicians in Roberta’s band if we would play on his demo. So we did and that demo ended up being the first four tracks for Never Too Much. Eventually, Luther got a record deal and we completed his record Never Too Much. It became an instant success. It catapulted him into stardom. One day after that album came out, Clive Davis called Luther and said, “I read that you’re a really big fan of Aretha Franklin. Would you be interested in producing her? She hasn’t had a big hit in a few years. We think it would be a good match.” Luther jumped at the chance. He called me and said, “Hey. I have the opportunity to produce Aretha Franklin. Let’s write a song together.” So I put a little track together for him and he wrote the lyrics to it. The song was called “Jump to It.” It became a hit for Aretha. It was the first hit she had in years. This began me and Luther’s songwriting relationship. We ended up writing songs for Luther’s next album, Forever, for Always, for Love. We wrote “Bad Boy,” “You’re the Sweetest One,” and a few more songs. On the next album, Busy Body, we wrote “For the Sweetness of Your Love” and a couple more songs. On the next album, The Night I Fell in Love, we wrote “It’s Over Now,” “’Til My Baby Comes Home,” and couple of others. All of that brought us to Give Me the Reason.
You made reference to some of the material you worked on with Luther Vandross prior to Never Too Much. Can you describe what those years were like for you guys when you were coming up in the music industry?
Nat Adderley Jr.: Before he became a solo artist, he was working with his group called Luther. It was a group of five singers, but he was doing the writing and he was the lead singer. He did two records with that group. One of those songs was a moderate hit in Atlanta and other places. It was called “The Second Time Around.” He called me when I was in New Haven, Connecticut in college as a freshman to come down to Philly to record his song, so I got on a plane and we did that record, but nothing happened with it. About three years later, he called me again and asked me come back to Philly to record with him again to work on his second album. Of course, I did that one. After that, he really got into doing jingles, and he started to do well in New York. Then, he wrote the song that ended up in The Wiz. It was called “Everybody Rejoice.” To be as young as he was back then, that was quite an achievement. He had a song on Broadway for however long that show ran, but that was pretty good for someone in their early twenties. So he was able to collect the money, and he was doing session work as a singer. Pretty soon, he had enough money to do what he wanted to do. By this time, I was living in Houston, Texas and he called me again. He said, “I’m ready to go back in the studio to do another record.” And this time he had really good money to do what he wanted to do and to make the music just right. This record became Never Too Much. A little before the Never Too Much album, Luther was also recording with a group called Change. He was their lead singer. I think this helped him too because people didn’t really know his name, but they knew his voice.
Being that this is also the thirty-fifth anniversary of his Never Too Much album, what was it like knowing him for ten years and working on that particular album?
Nat Adderley Jr.: It seemed like he was willing to do whatever he needed to do to make this album successful. He called in Paul Riser to do the arrangements. He flew me in from Texas three times to work with him on the record. The first time he flew me in was to work on four records. About three months later, he called me up to do two more records. I was certainly willing to do it, and I don’t remember arguing with him about anything. I remember that second time is when we recorded “Never Too Much” and “Sugar and Spice (I Found Me a Girl).” The last time he flew me up to New York was to do one last song. I said to him, “Luther, you’ve really lost your mind now. You don’t need to fly me up from Texas to come and play.” [laughs] I wasn’t even doing the arrangement on that song. On the other songs, I was doing the rhythm arrangements on those records. On that last song, Luther said, “I have the charts already. I just need for you to come and play this song for me.” I thought he was crazy, but he insisted. [laughs] He said, “I’ve already bought your plane ticket. You’re coming up here and doing this.” I said, “Okay.” And sure enough that one song I came up just to play piano on for him was “A House Is Not a Home.” So I guess it was important enough. [laughs] This was a seminal record. When we were working on this album, he didn’t have his record deal with Epic Records yet. He was paying to record this album out of his own pocket. He finished this record, and he was turned down by several record companies. I know they’re kicking themselves now whoever they were, but he didn’t get his record deal until the summer of 1981 after he recorded the songs for the album. He went and shopped it around and was able to get his record deal. Our first recording session happened in February. The next one happened in April, and our last session was in May when we recorded “A House Is Not a Home.” He didn’t get his record deal until July of 1981.
Can you talk about how difficult it was for him to secure a record deal? He was funding the cost for his demos on his own because he couldn’t get a record deal from any label. Most people think that once he opened his mouth and started singing, record labels were running to sign him but it wasn’t like that at all.
Marcus Miller: Well, we’re talking about 1979 and 1980. In the R&B world at that time, the groups were really big like Earth, Wind & Fire, Lakeside, and groups like that. As you said, Luther was taking the four songs that we recorded as demos to different record companies and they were asking him, “Okay. What is your hook? Do you have a group? What is your gimmick?” He replied, “My gimmick is that I can sing.” For some reason during that era, it wasn’t enough for a lot of these record execs. So it took him at least a year of banging around and going to these different places trying to get a deal. He finally got a deal from a gentleman named Larkin Arnold. Larkin was an executive at Epic Records; he was a great music executive. He told Luther, “Look. I’m going to let you do this. I’m going to take a chance on you.” Many of the A&R guys that Luther visited with earlier suggested that he team up with a producer. Somebody who could shape his music to make it more appealing to the audience of that day. But Luther was very steadfast and adamant that he wanted to do his music his way.
So he turned down all those suggestions, rather than get a record deal and have to change the music he heard in his head, he chose to go to another record company and bang around New York City to see who would give him a shot. Larkin Arnold gave him the shot and that’s when we finished his debut record. Larkin and Luther had a great relationship. Larkin was very honest, so he would tell him what he thought about his songs. I remember Luther called me back in to play the bass on one of the songs we recorded. It needed more energy. Larkin really believed in Luther. This was the beginning of Luther’s career. Although the record execs didn’t quite know whether Luther would have the appeal or not, when “Never Too Much” hit the airwaves, the public loved it. We heard it all day, every day on the radio. When the public heard “A House is Not a Home,” that was it. He was cemented as one of the premiere R&B singers of his day.
Going into the making of Give Me the Reason, he was coming off a highly successful album, The Night I Fell in Love, which was released the year before. What was the overall approach in coming up with song ideas for this album?
Nat Adderley Jr.:Give Me the Reason was the first record that Luther had where he experienced crossover success. We went in the studio each time to create good music. When you have the record company behind you and the budget, there’s no reason to give every record your all. Luther wanted everything top-notch. We weren’t accepting anything less, so I don’t think we did anything different for Give Me the Reason than we did with the other records before it. I think the time was right. I think folks were at their creative peak and that’s why the record came together the way it did. “So Amazing” was on this album because he already recorded it with Dionne Warwick. The record came out and it wasn’t a big hit, so he wanted to get more mileage from his song. This is why it is on the album. “Anyone Who Had a Heart” was on there; it’s one of my favorite tracks that we ever did. We didn’t go into the studio saying we were going to make a classic album. We simply tried our best. Everything seemed to click with us on this record. We chose the best songs out of the ones we had written together, and we wanted to choose the best album cover for him.
Marcus Miller: Between Never Too Much and Give Me the Reason, Luther did a song for a movie called Ruthless People. They asked Luther to write a song for this movie. He got together with his accompanist and arranger, Nat Adderley Jr. They had been playing together since they were teenagers. They wrote “Give Me the Reason” for the movie. If I’m correct, I believe “Give Me the Reason” came out before the album and it was a hit already. “Give Me the Reason” had a little bit of an up-tempo pop, rock feel to it. Luther and Nat believed this was an area that they could exploit because not many R&B singers were exploring it, so they came up with “Stop to Love.” It was up-tempo and faster than much of the R&B music of that day. It had a rock guitar sound on it. It really set that album up for success. It gave it a unique sound. In terms of the sound and direction for the album, we were just continuing from The Night I Fell in Love. The Night I Fell in Love was an album where Luther decided he wanted to take the band out of New York City to record the album.
Luther was using musicians from our community. Musicians in our community in New York were all studio musicians. Many of us would be coming in from doing music for commercials, and we’d be rushing in to be on time for Luther’s session. At the end of his session, we’d have to get out of there to make our next session because we were doing sessions all day long. Luther wanted more focus from the musicians than he was getting. Not that we were doing bad, but he thought it would be cool to get the musicians to concentrate on the music he was doing. So he flew everyone down to an island in the Caribbean called Montserrat. Montserrat had a studio there. It was called AIR Studios. It was built by George Martin, who had been the producer for The Beatles. It was a beautiful Caribbean island where we would stay at a pool bungalow, and then we would go to the studio and hang out there all day just working on music. The Night I Fell in Love was the first time Luther did that. In his opinion, it worked so well that we did it again to cut the tracks for Give Me the Reason. Everybody was relaxed, focused, and in a good mood when we were recording this album.
What was the methodology for constructing songs before entering the studio?
Nat Adderley Jr.: Well, we would’ve written the song and worked out the song arrangement before going in the studio. I would do the arrangement, and we would get together and go through it from top to bottom and sing it and make sure everything was in the right key and change whatever details we’d figured out. The normal thing would be that most of the time we were never together in the studio, only sometimes. It depended on the song because some songs were different than others. Some songs we did live in the studio where we had live musicians playing. We’d turn the tape on and we’d play, then there were some songs done with a machine. I did way more live stuff than anybody, but some things were supposed to be done by machine. “Stop to Love” was a drum program, but with “So Amazing,” we went into the studio and played that live. It depended on the song whether it was going to be done live or by machine. If it was done live, he would be in the studio singing it live, and we were ready to keep whatever came out great. When he was singing along, we could hear his vocals in our ears and it helped us to play the right things. The stuff that was on the drum machine, we would prepare it before he arrived at the studio. As I said before, we would be together beforehand to make sure we were all on the same page. Those were the two different approaches we would take depending on what type of song it was.
Could you elaborate more on your preproduction techniques and collaboration process?
Nat Adderley Jr.: With pop and R&B, the music always comes first. It’s about having that catchy groove and melody. Ninety-five times out of one hundred it’s about getting the right music and melody first, then you figure out what lyrics go with that and you see where it takes you and you write the song on top of it. That wasn’t just with us, but that’s with any pop act. I think anyone else would tell you the same thing. So our process was I would do most of the music first and give it to him, then he would write the lyrics. After that, we’d get together and together we would finish both the music and lyrics. If it was something that I was arranging, he’d send me the song or tell me what the song was and we’d figure out the key, then I would sit down and figure out the arrangement. All I can say is I was willing to change it from the original more than anybody else, and that would be for a cover tune. Also, I arranged his songs for him. An example would be “So Amazing.” I would do the arrangement, then we would meet in the studio and lay it down. I’d have the guitar part and drum part written down or whatever the arrangement required, and I’d bring it in that day and that would be the first time he’d hear it. It was always cool. He would sing along, and we’d start recording the song. Anything else is getting into the details of how to do an arrangement. It would be too long for this interview. [laughs]
What was your typical studio routine while you were recording this album?
Nat Adderley Jr.: Oftentimes, we would be separated. He would be at Minot Sound downstairs, and he would be setting up things or preparing with Marcus [Miller]. I would be upstairs recording and preparing my tracks to finish to get them ready so he could sing on them. And then I would take them to him. He would book the studio for five days each week for six weeks, and he would do a lock out, meaning that he had the studio for twenty-four hours. Sometimes, he wouldn’t have anything to do, so I would use the time if I needed it to work on a track for him. Most of the work I did without him. When it was time for him to sing on the track for real, other than singing along with us while recording it, I wasn’t there. For the tracks, he wasn’t there, and for his vocals, he didn’t need me. Sometimes, he’d call me on the phone to ask me a question and I could always answer it. He’d hang up and go on to finish the track and put down all his background vocals. His background vocals are still something you don’t hear to this day. You don’t hear background vocal arranging like Luther Vandross’s to this day. There was nothing like it then, and surely not now. He had not only the best singers, but the best singers who had the quality he wanted. That’s why he was so good at it. He knew how to assign parts for certain singers.
Cissy Houston sang the top on quite a few of the records. He used her voice exactly like he heard it. He had Paulette McWilliams who had a wide range of vocal ability, but he used her on the bottom. She had such a strong and consistent bottom. She was always right in the center of the pitch. She was the perfect background singer. He would have the guys singing above her. That was his sound. He paid close attention to phrasing and pitch. He would do a take that sounded great to you and me, then he’d say, “We need another one. Cindy, just make your note a little sharper. Not that it was out of tune, but bring your pitch up a little bit. It will sound better.” And she was the type of singer to be able do it. Most singers aren’t able to do that, but she was able to do it. He’d say, “That’s perfect!” He had the musical understanding, attention to detail, and the willingness to use hip chords to give the singers great notes to sing that were just above the understanding of most background arrangers. He had the best background vocals and that is why. One of his best gifts was the ability to write a great hook. I’m saying that because many times the hook was in the backgrounds. The background singers were singing the melody and he would be riffing around it. He was always willing to go wherever he had to go. It wasn’t about the money. He went wherever he had to go to get the best soloists. We used to fly Kirk Whalum in. Actually, I introduced him to Kirk Whalum. He fell in love with Kirk. He used to say, “Kirk plays the horns like I sing.” From that point on, Kirk did all the saxophone solos on Luther’s records. Luther had no problems in getting the best. He was willing to spend whatever he had to in order to be a successful artist. He strived for perfection.
Marcus Miller: In Montserrat, there would be a start time in the morning. Luther didn’t have to worry about the musicians having other things to do in the morning there. In New York, the routine would be that we’d play on commercials for Burger King, Ford trucks, or whatever, and that was our bread and butter. We’d get residuals as long as the commercial ran on the air, so that was kind of our base for making the money we made. Then, later on in the day, Luther would start his sessions around noon. In Montserrat, we’d start at ten o’clock in the morning. We’d start with the rhythm section. These were the days where we’d cut the record with a band. We’d put up microphones and we’d cut the record. There were a lot of singers even then who would wait. They’d let the rhythm section record the music and then they’d go into the studio alone and overdub their vocals. At that time, Luther was old school. He would sing his vocals in the vocal booth as we were recording. It was just a testament to how good of a singer he was because he sang with such precision that he didn’t have to wait until the ballad was finished or focus on his vocals and say, “Hold on. Rewind the tape. Let me try that again.” He didn’t need to do that. He just sang the vocal straight down with us and it changed the music. For instance, if I was playing the bass and Luther put more accent on what he was singing, the music had a little bit more interaction and liveliness to it. You had a sense that the musicians were all playing together to support Luther’s vocals.
In the studio, we’d do one, two, or three takes maybe. Usually, that’s what it took. There were a couple songs where he’d say, “I’m really trying to get this sound. Let’s try it again.” So we’d take a lunch break and come back and record it again. We’d usually record until dinner time. We’d take a dinner break and we’d come back, and Luther would say, “Look. I want to add a secondary guitar line.” So we would put some overdubs or synthesizers on there to sweeten the track up a little bit. That is generally how our days would go when we were recording this album. After Montserrat, we flew back to New York and continued to finish the record. So that meant Luther would add background vocals. For the songs I was working on, I’d add synthesizers and stuff to make sure that the record was complete. We added a guy named Paulinho da Costa, who is a great percussionist. We asked him to add some flavor to some of the tracks. The first half of the process was recording with the band. It was a real social thing. Everyone was having a good time. The second half of the process was us going in there figuring out the final elements of what the record needed to make it complete. The final stage was to mix the record and make sure all the instruments were clear and we could hear it the right way. Luther was very serious about his background vocals. A lot of people would just call a background arranger and slap some vocals on a song. Because Luther was a background vocalist for so many years, he really took a lot of time on them. He called the exact singers that he thought had the tonal quality he needed for these particular songs. It was amazing to watch him work on the background vocals. Anybody who visited the studio was so surprised that he worked so diligently on the background vocals. When you’re listening to the songs, you can tell that the background vocals sound great. This was an interesting aspect of his recording process. Typically, at the beginning of the day, I’d play the demo as everyone walked in the door, so they could get the feeling of the track before we started working on it.
Did Luther come up with his own melodies and harmonies for the songs on this album or was it a collaborative effort?
Nat Adderley Jr.: I would say it was a combined effort, but Luther wrote some of his songs on his own early on in his career. After a while, he stopped writing by himself. He always co-wrote. He wrote “Never Too Much” and most of that album by himself. He wrote “So Amazing” by himself and some other songs. By his fourth solo record, he started co-writing everything. When he was co-writing, the music always came first. On some occasions, he already had part of the music, and he’d come to me and say, “Nat, I got this great idea. I think I like this. Can you keep on taking it further? I don’t have any words yet or anything, but check this out.” Still the music came first. I can only speak on the songs we wrote together. Marcus [Miller] would send him a bunch of tracks and Luther would choose his favorite ones and write the melodies on top. Did Marcus help with those melodies sometimes? I’m sure he did. Sometimes I would send him melodies and sometimes I would not. Sometimes I would send him half of the melody to get us going and other times not, or send him the whole thing. It varied. Whatever I sent to him, he would finish it. He would write all the lyrics, then he’d write all the melody or part of the melody, or he’d change the melody because he never stuck to what I sent him, but the idea was there. By the time he finished things, the melody may be altered, but it was some semblance of what I sent him, then that would be the song. The rest would be arrangements. This process took place way before the background vocals were conceived. Each song had its own life. All songs come together differently.
Marcus Miller: The way Luther and I did songs was I had a little studio in my apartment in New York. I would put together rhythm tracks. Imagine a record with no vocals. That’s what it sounded like. I’d put together a rhythm section track where I’d play the drums, guitar, bass, and keyboards, and I’d put it on a cassette tape. I’d send Luther a tape of seven things. He’d call me up and say, “Man, number two and number five, now that’s what I’m talking about.” [laughs] I’d laugh because I could never remember what order I put the songs in. So I’d have him play me the songs over the phone. When he’d play me the songs on the phone, usually he would be in his car driving around. He did a lot of his work in the car. He’d play me the track and then he would start singing the ideas that were coming to him as he was listening to the track. He’d say, “I’ll call you back.” Over the next week, he’d call me back and sing to me his ideas. It was incredible. If you could imagine just sitting there on the phone listening to Luther sing to this music that you sent to him. He asked me, “What do you think about it going this way or that way?” I’d reply, “Both versions sound good to me. I think we should go with the second one.” We’d have a good time. So by the time we arrived at the studio, we had a good sense of what the song was going to be. I’d write out the music for the musicians based on the demo track I made. And of course, Luther had his vocals ready to go and we’d cut the track. I think the process was similar for Luther and Nat, although Nat would send Luther tracks, but many times they would get together because Nat played the piano and he would sit there with Luther and play the track he came up with. Also, Luther would write songs on the piano, then he would ask Nat if he could arrange them for him to make it sound like a finished product. Nat would hook him up, so I know they did songs that way, too. For Luther and me, I would send him tracks. I lived two blocks away from Luther in Manhattan, so I would just run these tapes to him all the time. So it was pretty cool. Luther would make adjustments in the studio to the harmonies or how many times we went into a certain section.
When you were in the studio with Luther and the other musicians, where were you all positioned?
Marcus Miller: If you imagine that big studio room that everybody records in, imagine the musicians sitting in a semi-circle, so that we could all see each other. If you looked through the little door just off from the big room, there was a glass that you could see Luther. He stood separately so that he didn’t end up with a lot of drums bleeding through his microphone because that would’ve compromised the clarity of his voice. So he needed to be separate from everyone else, but there was a window where we could see him. Imagine us in a semi-circle playing with our headphones on so we could hear the music clearly. It was a very visual situation. I could see the drummer and many times it would be Yogi Horton. I could see his hands and his feet. Being the bass player, I always wanted to lock in with Yogi so that we were really tight. I wanted to use my ears and eyes to make sure I was right on point with him. Doc Powell would be playing guitar right across from me. Nat Adderley Jr. would be on acoustic piano. We didn’t have a lot of equipment that you could see because they would put the amps in separate rooms for the same reason they put Luther in a separate room, so that the guitar sound wasn’t bleeding into the bass sound. So when they mixed it, they would have clean instruments that they could mix together. It helped to make the record sound clearer. We would be sitting in chairs with music stands in front of us. We would be reading music when we were cutting the tracks. It was basically set up like that.
How important was the engineer, Ray Bardani, to capturing the music for this album?
Marcus Miller: He was part of our team. I’d been working with Ray on David Sanborn records that I’d been producing. When Luther told me he needed an engineer, I introduced him to Ray. Ray knew Luther’s sound and he knew what he was looking for. So when we started cutting the records, Ray would say, “Wait. Wait. Wait. I want to get the bass drum right.” So he would run out there and reposition the microphone. During the mixing stage, we wanted to make sure all the instruments were clear and doing what they were supposed to be doing in the music. Luther said to Ray, “Turn up the bass. I need more bass. I need it to be more chunky and soulful.” I remember Luther saying to him, “I need the bass drum to sound different.” Ray replied, “What do you mean? What kind of different?” Luther responded, “I want it to sound like my refrigerator door closing.” [laughs] Ray would twist knobs and EQ the bass drum so it would sound like a refrigerator door closing. Luther knew how to describe what he wanted. He was very good at that. It was one of his talents.
What was it like working with Nat Adderley Jr. on this album?
Marcus Miller: Nat Adderley Jr. was one of the most important elements of Luther’s sound. They’d been playing together since they were teenagers. They used to do the Apollo talent shows as teenagers. As a matter of fact, the Apollo, in addition to doing the talent shows, they had a youth musical development program there, where kids would go after school to work on their music. Nat, Luther, and Fonzi Thornton were all in that Apollo program. So Luther and Nat had known each other for a long time. Nat just knew the chords on the piano to play that set Luther up perfectly. He was a great arranger of orchestral instruments. He did some great things on Luther’s earlier records. He would use different string arrangements. He used to work with a guy named Paul Riser. He was a great Motown arranger. He used to use a guy named Leon Pendarvis as well. He was a great string and woodwind arranger. Luther was really loyal to his musical family. If he thought you had a talent, he wanted to use it. The first arrangement I noticed that Nat did was on “Superstar.” If you listen to the strings and woodwinds on “Superstar,” they’re just tremendous. This is when we realized that Nat could really do string arrangements. So he was just an integral part to Luther’s sound.
Let’s delve into the making of some of the songs on this album.
Nat Adderley Jr.: Well, “Give Me the Reason” was written for the previous album, but we didn’t like the way it came out, so it didn’t come out on The Night I Fell in Love album. I remember that I was still living in Houston at the time, and I sent him a three song demo. It contained “Wait for Love,” “Other Side of the World,” and “Give Me the Reason.” Luther said, “Oh, Nat. This is the best demo that you’ve ever sent to me.” I sent him these songs at the same time. The songs didn’t have titles yet. I just sent him the music for the songs. This was before they had melodies, too. The music for “Give Me the Reason” didn’t make that record, so it made the next one. We figured out what was wrong with how we were approaching it. I didn’t write a thousand things like Marcus [Miller] did. Marcus had more to send to him. Luther used to tell me he wanted more from me, but I don’t write like that. When it was time for Luther to do a record, Marcus would send him ten tracks, and I would send him three. [laughs] We didn’t do too many takes. We never did more than six to eight takes on a song when we were recording.
I heard a bass line on pop radio from a White act. All songs have something that may inspire you to create something of your own. I would say something on pop radio inspired me to create “Give Me the Reason.” We were trying to sell records. Luther wanted his music to be accessible, hip, and musical. At the time, I would be studious by listening to pop radio and other R&B acts. I was listening to the radio to try to stay current and know what direction the sound was going in. “Give Me the Reason” was a reflection of trying to stay with current trends back then. I remember recording the bass line for this song at Minot Sound Studios in New York.
“Stop to Love” was created due to the success of “Give Me the Reason.” “Stop the Love” is the same concept as “Give Me the Reason.” The bass line on “Stop to Love” is very similar to “Give Me the Reason.” Usually, when an artist gets a big hit, you want to try to follow it up with something that sounds like the hit. So that’s what “Stop to Love” was for Luther. We were trying to follow it up with something that would be a big hit also because it would somehow remind folks of “Give Me the Reason.” We did it one other time on Luther’s first album. After the success of “Never Too Much,” we recorded “Better Love.” “Better Love” was our attempt to sound like “Never Too Much.” I remember creating the drum program for this song at AIR studios in Montserrat.
Marcus Miller: “See Me” was a song that I put a little track together for at home. It didn’t have any vocals on it. It was just the track. I sent it to Luther with a few other songs. Luther said, “I like this one, man. It sounds like “The Night I Fell in Love” part two. He wrote the lyrics. We used a drum machine on that one which was new for us. On the Night I Fell in Love, was the first time we used electronic drums. It’s funny because we thought “See Me” was cool, but we didn’t think it was a smash. A year later, I remember Luther calling me from London, UK, and he said, “Man, I just played Wembley Arena. I’m going to play tomorrow night also. Marcus, you won’t believe what’s the number one smash here.” I replied, “What?” He responded, “See Me.” I said, “See Me is a hit over there.” He replied, “Man, it’s incredible. You wouldn’t believe it.” So it took us by surprise that the song was so big over there.
On “There’s Nothing Better Than Love,” Luther was watching Saturday Night Live. Gregory Hines was the special guest on Saturday Night Live and he was singing. Gregory was an old school performer. Everybody knew him as a great dancer. But back in the day, you had to be able to sing, dance, and act. You had to be a complete entertainer. So Gregory Hines was singing on the show, and Luther called me up and said, “Man, I just heard Gregory Hines. He sounds great. He has a beautiful vocal quality. I’d like to produce him.” I said, “Really?” He replied, “Yeah.” He recorded his Saturday Night Live performance. I heard it. His other keyboard player, Skip Anderson, sent him a track that sounded really cool. Luther said, “Skip sent me this track. I’m going to write something for me and Gregory to do as a duet.” This was the beginning of “There’s Nothing Better Than Love.” We cut the track, but I was still interested in hearing what Luther was going to be able to produce on Gregory. Luther hooked him up. Luther spent a lot of time with him saying, “I want you to sing this line exactly like this.” He was this way with many of his singers. [laughs]
“I Really Didn’t Mean It” was a funky track. I never had any official responsibilities with Luther because we used to just work. But I felt like one of my responsibilities was to make sure Luther had tracks on his album that could be played on the radio during the day time. His ballads were his forte, but they would come on in the evenings. I didn’t want him disappearing during the day. [laughs] So when you hear tracks like “It’s Over Now” and “’Til My Baby Comes Home,” those are my contributions of helping to keep Luther on the radio all day long. This track sounds like something you would hear on the radio in 1986. He could really sing up-tempo songs, too. He was really proud of it.
In addition to the Aretha Franklin project that Luther got to produce after the success of his Never Too Much album, they offered him to produce Dionne Warwick which he did a couple years before his Give Me the Reason album. The Dionne Warwick album, How Many Times Can We Say Goodbye, wasn’t as big of a smash as Luther thought it would be. In particular, there was this song called “So Amazing” that was just a beautiful song. Dionne sang it beautifully, but it didn’t catch on for whatever reason, so Luther wanted to record the song again for his album. We were already familiar with it because we recorded it a couple years earlier. Just to hear him sing it was a whole other thing because he wrote it. When you hear a song sung by the person who wrote it, especially when someone has a beautiful voice like Luther did, it’s something magical. This is one of my favorite all-time songs by Luther.
There was a sleeper on this album called “Anyone Who Had a Heart.” This was a song that was also done by Dionne Warwick. She recorded this song back in the 1960s. You could tell that Luther always loved Dionne Warwick. He loved the arrangements that Burt Bacharach and Hal David did for her. It was just cool that there were two songs on this album that were connected to Dionne Warwick. The way he sung the song was just beautiful. I still listen to it all the time. Nat Adderley Jr. did the arrangement on this song as well. They really slowed it down. Luther was not afraid of slow tempos. He was really into taking his time. By Give Me the Reason, he understood who he was as an artist. Some of the things I used to hear him say was, “I don’t need to compete with any other singers. Other singers sing hard, high, and with a lot of riffs. That’s not me. That’s not my thing. I’m just going to style these people to death.” I asked him, “What do you mean by styling them to death?” He replied, “I just know what I do. I have a certain way of approaching music, and I’m going to really immerse myself in my own style and give people one-hundred percent of me.” And you can hear it on “So Amazing” and the rest of these songs on this album.
As you look back thirty years later on the significance and impact the album has made on popular culture, what are your feelings about being involved in the making of it?
Nat Adderley Jr.: I’m just really proud and blessed to have been part of the whole thing. When we did Never Too Much, he asked me to be his musical director on the road. I said, “Yes.” We figured I’d do it for two or three years, but neither one of us knew that it was going to be a lifelong thing. I stayed with him until he died. As a matter of fact, I was never under contract. Every year he’d call me and there were no guarantees. I never promised him I’d be there, and he never promised me that he’d call. But every year when it was time for him to go on the road, he’d call me. This is how we did things. At that time, we were really jamming. There is a shelf life for most artists, but we by far surpassed the shelf life. Most artists are around for three to five years and you never hear from them again. And not mention all the one-hit wonders. We had a great twenty-three year run, and we’re talking about our seventh year when this album was released. We went in to do our best every single time and at some point it clicked. From Never Too Much on, I feel honored and blessed to have been a part of it all. Luther, Marcus Miller, and I had a real musical connection. We saw stuff the same way. We thought of things in the same way. When we came together, we really learned about each other and fed off each other. The three of us made the best team. I don’t know what I would’ve been doing in life if it wasn’t for this partnership. It was a moment in time full of many great memories. I still cherish them.
Marcus Miller: I’m very proud to have had a role in this album. I’m very proud of the musicians. We really came into our stride by then. We knew Luther’s sound and what we needed to do in order to get his sound. There is no greater feeling in the world than walking down the street in New York City and hearing a Luther song blasting in the street. Just to remember that it was only a few months ago that we were cutting that track. It was just an incredible feeling. Give Me the Reason is a great album. His whole body of work is just incredible. I think Give Me the Reason opened up Luther to a wider audience. He was selling two million records each time. He had two million R&B fans, but with “Stop to Love,” that put him on pop radio, and he was pleased with that. I was proud to hear him on the pop radio stations of that day. I can remember everything we’ve been talking about. I remember looking across at the musicians while we were cutting the tracks. I can remember that Luther was just funny as heck. He was always making jokes and how light the atmosphere was while we were making the records. It was one of the most enjoyable experiences of my life working with him. We had the A team in there, and we were ready to go.
Over the summer, legendary New York City spinner Danny Krivit played an epic set celebrating his forty-five years of DJing. Filled with soulful dance classics and sprinkled throughout with clever asides (Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five”!), the performance was notable in the fact that it was comprised entirely of 7-inch singles. Forty-five years, 45RPM, get it? The full list of what he played (along with images of the diminutive records themselves) can be found on Danny’s website, but for those who want to get a closer look, he’ll be reprising the occasion on Thursday. Tickets are available here.
As a special treat for Wax Poetics readers, Danny has dropped us a want-list of rare 7-inches that he doesn’t have. Here’s ten that you won’t be hearing on Thursday, unless you bring a copy for Mr. K!
Drummer/producer Pat Van Dyke has teamed up with Open Crates for the first release of their new 7-inch series Re:Crates, which will all be cover versions.
The A-side is a cover of Bob James’s classic jazz-fusion break record “Nautilus,” and the flip is the lesser-known Bee-Gees cut “Love You Inside Out.”
“A month after the release of Technicolor HI-FI (Cotter Records 2013), I went into the studio with bassist Josh David Barrett (Q-Tip; the Wailers) and [keyboardist] Dave Stolarz to record covers of these two classic tunes,” says Van Dyke, continuing, “something I’d always wanted to do. I teamed up with Jersey City’s Open Crates for this release to kick off their Re:Crates series of vinyl releases. Melinda Camille lent her unique vocals to the B-side while DJ Mentplus is featured on both tracks. Bryan Beninghove, Ted Chubb, and Peter Lin laid down the horn parts to finish things off.”
By the mid-’80s, Larry Blackmon, Tomi Jenkins, and Nathan Leftenant—collectively known as Cameo—had demonstrated their musical versatility and acumen on a multitude of recordings since the beginning of their careers in the late ’70s. After being discovered by the founder of Casablanca Records, Neil Bogart, the then fourteen man ensemble signed their first recording contract in 1976. A year later, Chocolate City Records, a subsidiary of Casablanca Records, released the collective’s debut album, Cardiac Arrest, and they achieved their first hit record, “Rigor Mortis.” While achieving moderate success throughout the rest of the decade with their next three albums: We All Know Who We Are (1977), Ugly Ego (1978), and Secret Omen (1979), they ushered in the ’80s with a funk-laden ferocity that carried them to unparalleled heights. By 1981, the group downsized from ten members to five members and relocated to Atlanta, Georgia. Two years later, they began to control their own affairs when the group’s co-founder, Larry Blackmon, formed the record label Atlanta Artists, a subsidiary of Mercury Records. During this juncture, they were experimenting and tinkering with their overall sound, reduced their group by two more members, and released a series of albums: Cameosis (1980), Feel Me (1980), Knights of the Sound Table (1981), Alligator Woman (1982), Style (1983), She’s Strange (1984), and Single Life (1985). This string of consecutive successful albums, laid the foundation for the group to deliver an album for the ages. On September 9, 1986, Word Up! was released by Atlanta Artists and it became their first multiplatinum-selling smash. The album spawned three memorable singles, including their second number one hit: “Word Up!,” “Candy,” and “Back and Forth.” For the album’s thirtieth anniversary, we spoke with cofounding member Tomi Jenkins and engineer Henry Falco about crafting this classic album.
What is the story behind the forming of the group?
Tomi Jenkins: Larry [Blackmon] disbanded his group East Coast in New York. I grew up in New Jersey and Larry grew up in Harlem. I met him a year after I graduated from high school and that was in 1973. I was a dating girl who was singing in a group, and I happened to be in Queens, NY at a club where they were performing at. The band had a manager, and we were talking one night. He asked me what I did, and I told him that I was a singer and a writer. He said, “Okay. I know a guy who is looking to start another group. His group just ended their relationship. Would you mind if I introduce you to him?” I replied, “No, of course not.” I was about eighteen years old at the time. Shortly after that meeting, and I remember it was Memorial Day weekend, Larry came to the club and we met. We started talking and that was it. The New York City Players were formed at that point. He retained Gregory Johnson on keyboards from the other group and some other members. We started doing our club dates up and down the East Coast and in the Midwest. We were driving in cars and vans doing the whole circuit. They don’t do that anymore. It is a thing of the past for groups.
We had an opportunity to record a song for a Broadway songwriter who had a disco song back then called “Find My Way.” Through Harold, our manager, we were able to record the song. After we recorded it, Neil Bogart from Casablanca Records heard it and loved it. On the strength of that song, he signed us to a record deal. I think that song was in Thank God It’s Friday along with “Rigor Mortis,” which was another song we recorded on our first album. We weren’t a disco band, but we played in a lot of clubs back in the day in New York. We played in a lot of gay clubs. One gay club, in particular, called Better Days is a place where we played very well. We played cover songs and stuff like that, so we always had a great live show. This is how we were signed by Casablanca Records, then we went to Cecil Holmes who formed another record label within Casablanca Records called Chocolate City Records. Cecil signed us as his first act for the label. This is when we started doing all the funky stuff. We started becoming a funk band. This is how the group was formed. From the first album, Cardiac Arrest, on to the last, it was history.
When did the group decide to change your name from New York City Players to Cameo?
Tomi Jenkins: When we were signing our record deal, we wanted to change our name. We wanted to call ourselves the Players instead of the New York City Players, but the Ohio Players were burning up the charts at that time, so that was the conflict. We couldn’t use that name anymore. So we were in Toronto one day doing a show at a club, and we were rolling down the street and saw a billboard for Cameo cigarettes. We were like, “Cameo, well that’s nice.” Then we started thinking about using Cameo Appearance because everyone in the group would have a cameo appearance. We’d have guys in the group who would be strong individually. We also thought about using Cameo Brooch like the jewelry because a brooch is finely crafted, and we thought of ourselves as a group of finely crafted men and musicians. So we had a couple of metaphors and taglines to Cameo. We settled on Cameo because it was one word and it was easy to say.
During the early years of your group, can you describe the process of finding your signature sound?
Tomi Jenkins: Well, the guys in the group came from different musical backgrounds. I was a singer and a writer. My heroes were Marvin Gaye; Stevie Wonder; Earth, Wind & Fire; Maurice White; Sting and the Police. They were my influences. My mother and dad always played Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Duke Ellington, and all the jazz greats. My mother was a great singer, too. This is how I developed my style by listening to these greats. Later on, I would also listen to Steely Dan. We had a wide variety of musical influences. Larry was a great drummer, so he had his own style. Many of the other guys in the group did as well. I was from New Jersey, but everyone else in the group was from New York, so we would rehearse in New York. This was after we were signed. After we got signed, we went on a worldwide tour with Parliament Funkadelic and The Bar-Kays. This was when the Mothership Connection came out for them. It was amazing. We were opening for them every night. Imagine being on the road with the kings of funk at that time. During that year, we became so good that we wound up switching places with The Bar-Kays. [laughs] When we would come in from the road, our bus would pull right up to the rehearsal home on 34th Street. We’d go right into the studio. We did a lot of our writing on the road on our tour bus. It was a very cool process because we were all together. This was before there were studios in a bus. We would have our mini tape players, and we would mouth beats into it or bass lines. This is how I came up with the bass lines for “Word Up!,” “Single Life,” “Flirt,” and “Candy.” How I came up with the ideas for those songs was, I would be mouthing the bass lines into a mini cassette recorder. Then, I’d take them to Larry, and we’d work out the rest of the song. We’d put down the guitars, keyboards, bass, and drums, then we’d play it live in the studio.
How did you become involved on this project?
Henry Falco: Well, at the time, Cameo was working on their album, Single Life, at Quad City Recording Studios. I did a couple of sessions with them on that album. They had another assistant engineer at the time. There were about four or five popular engineers there. I was working with my people, and they had another guy named Tommy. All the artists were very particular about their assistant engineers because the assistant engineer was always there in the studio. So they had this guy named Tommy that they loved, but Tommy wanted to produce another project and it was conflicting with Word Up! I’d done one session with them before. One of the engineers there named Matt Kasha was someone I worked with a ton. So I replaced Tommy, and I ended up doing many things and all of us became close.
Coming off the group’s previous successful album, Single Life, what was the group’s mindset in crafting this album?
Tomi Jenkins: We definitely wanted to take it to the next level. “Single Life” was a great song, and I think “Word Up!” was a great extension of that song. Songs like “Attack Me with Your Love” were defining the Cameo sound at that point. Everything after Word Up! were derivatives. I don’t think they were our best work at all. I think we may have reached our peak at Word Up! We had a couple of great songs like “Emotional Violence,” but we had a few missteps when we were trying to recreate that “Word Up!” and “Candy” magic. We were really at our creative peak during this time. We were striving for the same goals. It was a very exciting time. When we were creating these songs, we didn’t know how effective they would be on the radio or in the marketplace. As a matter of fact, after we recorded the album, we wanted “Word Up!” to be the first single. The record label didn’t agree with us; they wanted to release a different single which is not uncommon. There was an English gentleman from Polydor Records in the U.K. that told the record executives in the States, “If you don’t release ‘Word Up!’ you’re stupid.” [laughs] Apparently, the English gentleman was right. It turned out to be the biggest song we had. It has influenced many other records. What’s interesting about Word Up! is, we recorded our first album in 1977 and ten years later, “Word Up!” came. Our influences ranged from Santana, Grand Funk Railroad, and Earth, Wind & Fire was a big deal for us, not only musically but spiritually. We always had that rock edge to our stuff anyways. There were always guitars, keyboards, horns and brass instruments were very important to our sound.
So we were not unlike many of the groups at that time. Over the course of time, we were able to develop our own sound based on what we collectively imagined. Our sound developed to become the Cameo sound. We couldn’t help but to absorb the sounds and vibrations we came in contact with over the years. Sooner or later, our creative consciousness expanded, and we were doing our music and standing on our own. We were always quirky. Word Up! was a call to party. I thought “Word Up!” was an unlikely hit and “Candy” even more so because the bass line was so quirky and different that I didn’t know if people would get it. The combination of the vocal styling, the arrangement, and what the song was talking about turned it into a phenomenon. “Word Up!” and “Candy” solidified our place in music history.
During the making of this album, what was the group’s collaborative approach when you were inside and outside the studio creating music for these seven songs?
Tomi Jenkins: It was fantastic because we had a singer named Willie Morris who had that gritty, Southern voice, which was a great counterpoint to Larry, Charlie [Singleton], and my voice in the studio. We were excited to be doing what we loved to do. We had the backing of the record label. We didn’t have to worry about any money. We were able to have a great time. The only thing we had to concentrate on was making music. Several years ago, I found the original yellow pad that I wrote the lyrics on for “Candy.” All those years just floated away, and I was right back in the mood when I was writing the lyrics for that track. I wrote the song from a bass line that I mouthed into a mini tape recorder. When I took it to Larry, he said, “Man, that is the shit right there! We gotta do something with that.” The same thing happened with “Word Up!” Larry was playing the drums when I came up with the bass line for “Word Up!” He was right on it. Mike Burnett was playing the bass then, too. It was just amazing. We had a tight group of guys. We were in sync. When a band is in sync and rolling, people can tell. I think the reason why everything flowed so well was that everyone was happy and in a good place mentally. We felt great. How we came up with the title for Word Up! is a funny story. Back in the day in New York, people used to say “word” to each other. One day, we were in London doing an interview at the BBC. We were rolling through the gates at the BBC and the fans were all out there by the gates. They were yelling at us, “Cameo! Word Up!” We didn’t know they knew the expression “word” and then we said, “That’s it! Word Up!” Larry and I looked at each other and said, “That’s it.” We were in the studio writing the song at that time. We were wondering what to call that record. We knew we wanted to make it contemporary and current. At that time, we wanted to say word and something else. When we were in London and heard this one guy say, “Word up!,” that’s all we needed to hear. We continued to write the song. We had the beat, the groove, and everything else. It was really amazing. Cameo has always been on the edge of rock and funk.
Henry Falco: There are a number of positive stories from this record. We worked on “Word Up!” during our first week in the studio together, then we never worked on it again until the end. The clap sound in the song is something we spent days and days and days making. We were putting microphones on different floors, and we were clapping five floors down. We had a thousand different sounds until that one particular thing came together. It was amazing. This record was a really big deal. At Quad, we worked on a lot of big records. This one was a big deal. Single Life did well on the charts, so they had a lot of people coming by, and I was constantly getting people off the floor because there were too many people in there. They worked their asses off, though. To this day, when people tell me they want to be successful, I use Cameo as an example. They really wanted success, and they didn’t sleep ever. As engineers, we worked a lot, but these guys didn’t go home. [laughs] It was unbelievable. They worked really hard. Larry [Blackmon] was very particular about everything. On the day I did vocals, we punched one word for like three hours. It was the word the. [laughs] One of my friends heard it in the hallway for hours. This experience taught me how to do vocals. This is how we did the drums, bass, and everything. I learned a lot from them. It was good times. This record was particularly fun. Every day they booked the studio from twelve o’clock to eight o’clock. It was perfect. They were really nice guys and everyone got along. When you make a record, you get close to people, so it was really cool.
The song “Word Up!” wasn’t even called “Word Up!” yet. It was called “What’s the Word” forever. That was name of it on the track sheets. Like I said before, we only worked on it during that first week in the studio, then we worked on everything else. The other hits: “Candy” and “Back and Forth” were songs we did during our last two weeks in the studio. Most of the album was recorded, and all of a sudden, they came in with three more songs and two of them were “Candy” and “Back and Forth.” We did them so fast. The song “Don’t Be Lonely” is a song where they asked me to program the drums on it. This was some of the first MAC based drum stuff. It was completely computerized. We were hooking up cables everywhere. I learned so much about MIDI and MIDI was new at that time. Sammy [Merendino] had the first MAC and he had samples on it. We would sit there for hours making snare and kick sounds. It was never-ending. We had a Mitsubishi thirty-two-track digital recorder with a reel tape that was an hour long. The whole album was on it, and we couldn’t make backups because there wasn’t another Mitsubishi. By the end of the album, I was kind of petrified that we might lose something. With analog reel there is only twelve to fifteen minutes of recording, so you could be changing tapes all day. By using the Mitsubishi, we could go from song to song without changing reels. It was amazing. It was a really good machine. It weighed 6,000 tons but it was awesome.
By the time they began recording Single Life, it was only Tomi [Jenkins], Nathan [Leftenant], and Larry in the group. They had a former group member, Charlie Singleton, to come in and play guitar. They had the Brecker brothers, Michael and Randy, to come in and play sax. That was the only session I missed during the recording of the album. To this day, I regret it. I was on a vacation at the time. They played on three or four songs, and they played such amazing stuff. Tomi was such a nice guy. He was always smiling, and he worked his fucking ass off. Larry was intense and a really great guy. When the engineer, Larry, and I would be in the room working, it was such a blast. Larry worked his ass off, too. Up until that point, I hadn’t worked with anyone that deserved the fame they got. These guys worked so hard for it. I really respected those guys.
Who led the charge in coming up with the melodies, harmonies, and arrangements for the songs on this album?
Tomi Jenkins: Larry was very influential in doing the arranging of the songs. All of us contributed vocal arrangements and melodies. A lot changed when we went into the studio to work on “Word Up!” When I brought the song to the fellas, we started dissecting it and working on it and building it up and tearing it away. This was our process. Larry was trying to figure out what to do with it. He pretty much wrote the song. The one good thing about our group at that time was that we were involved in most aspects. Nathan and Arnett [Leftenant] were great arrangers for the horn section. Larry contributed in the horn arrangements as well. We were a good group of guys that spread the talent around. When a group has talented cats, you have to let them do their thing. This is what we did.
Henry Falco: Larry was king. He was very meticulous. Larry was one of the first people that I truly believed knew how he wanted to translate the music from his head into actual sounds. He really had something in his head that he was trying to get to. It was fun to watch. He was dedicated. A lot of the material was worked out before they came into the studio. The drum programming and drum and bass sounds are what took forever to complete. Tomi sang a lot in the studio. If you listen to the record, there is not much on it. It’s pretty sparse. Larry was pretty much in charge of people playing. Nathan would have keyboard ideas, but they worked a lot of their stuff out before they came into the studio. By the time they got into the studio, it was getting more of their stuff down.
What was the group’s set studio routine?
Tomi Jenkins: We would arrive at the studio at twelve o’clock in the afternoon and try to leave by eight or nine o’clock in the evening. We would work for at least eight or nine hours in the studio every day. This routine gave us a chance to sleep and rest. Sometimes, we would come in at four or five o’clock in the evening and go until one or two o’clock in the morning. It varied. We wanted to have that continuity. Some guys would come in earlier to work on different parts, but it would give us time. First, we would work on the music. While members of the group would work on music, Larry and I would be somewhere else working on lyrics, and Nathan, Arnett, and Jeryl Bright would be working on the horn section and horn parts for a record. Everything was organized because time was money. We didn’t want to waste any time in the studio. Even though it was the record label’s money, we still didn’t want to waste any time.
What were some of the instruments you used in coming up with the sounds for the songs?
Tomi Jenkins: Back then, we were just starting to experiment with electronic drums and different sounds. There were the classic sounds in the Neve board. We had the standard twenty-four and forty-eight tracks. Larry was a big advocate for creating and changing sound which is why our production was in your face. It wasn’t necessarily the equipment that we used, but what we did with the equipment that was available to us. “Word Up!” was a unique song because of the sound from the snare drum. It received attention from a lot of people. We were doing a Radio One interview, and a well-known singer called in and asked us, “How did y’all come up with that snare sound?” We answered, “Well, it’s not really a snare sound. It’s not even a snare. It’s some hand claps and other elements in there that we piled on top of each other.” That sound became ubiquitous on commercials and TV shows. When you heard that “Word Up!” snare drum sound, you knew where it came from because nothing was like it prior to it. Larry was the architect of our sound, and we loved it.
What was it like recording the album in Quad City Recording Studios?
Henry Falco: Quad City Recording Studios wasn’t famous for being the most beautiful studio in the world, but it sounded unbelievable and that was the only thing they cared about. It was pretty chill. Quad built itself up from being an eight-track recording studio to one of the biggest in the world. The owner of the studio was a computer nerd, and he could build anything and make the studio work. We recorded the album in Studio A which was on the eighth floor. This is where we tracked and mixed some of it. It had an SSL 4000 console and it had forty-eight channels. It had the latest reverbs. Studio A was the biggest room at Quad. It was thirty feet by thirty feet. The control room was really nice. It was the best sounding room at Quad. While they were there, they built two more studios. Cameo helped Quad to become famous. Larry got a really good deal from Quad. I couldn’t believe the deal he got at Quad. That’s why they really moved in. There was more than one session where they didn’t show up, but it was usually because they passed out. They’d go to the studio then to dance class at night then they would go schmooze all night long then they would wake up in the morning at six o’clock to do yoga. Literally, I would just shake my head when they’d come into the studio because they would sleep for like an hour. This happened for months. I was amazed by that.
In the credits for the album, I noticed that a young Bernard Wright received credit for playing keyboards. How was he brought on to contribute to this album?
Tomi Jenkins: What can I say about Nard, man? I love that brother. He’s one of the most eccentric cats you want to know. I don’t like tossing the word genius around, but he is a genius. He is a beautiful cat. Not too many can come into the Cameo thing and hang with us. Not too many people can do that but Bernard Wright did it. We’ve had a few guys that came into our situation who didn’t come up with us that got it. We left him alone. When I heard “Funkin’ for Jamaica,” I said, “Okay. That’s the dude right there.” [laughs]
Can you talk about the making of “Back and Forth” from this album?
Tomi Jenkins: “Back and Forth” was a song that came to us from Kevin Kendrick. Kevin was a keyboard player, and he was with the Dazz Band earlier in his career. He was from Indianapolis, and he grew up with Babyface and all those cats. Kevin was a genius. He was one of those guys that can play anything: jazz, classical, and anything. His feel was amazing. All of us contributed to the lyrics for this song. We’d get in a room to do the music, then we’d sit down and bounce lyrics off one another. Once we had the theme together, we would decide where things went within the song structure. We would add and subtract. On this song, we wanted to talk about the complications of being in a relationship. The groove was a keyboard bass. There was no bass guitar on there. It was keyboard based.
Were there any interesting behind-the-scenes stories during the making of the album?
Henry Falco: I remember Levar Burton coming by the studio. I was setting up for one of the sessions, and he told Larry that there was going to be a new Star Trek show and he was going to be on it. I was a Star Trek freak, so I thought to myself that this is why I got into the music business for that type of information. I felt like I was the luckiest guy on earth because I was getting top line information from the people I was working with. We recorded everything at Quad City Recording Studios. We mixed the record in other studios, but the majority of the recording was done at Quad. All the information from the record was a on a floppy disk. The SSL console had a floppy disk drive. On that floppy disk, I had everything on it such as where the song started, the cues, notes, and everything. I said, “Larry, you’re going to another studio. I’m not going to another studio. I don’t know that studio.” He replied, “Hank, you’re going. Okay.” He was the only person who has ever called me Hank. But I knew where everything was at Quad. So the first studio we went to mix “Word Up!” at, I handed the floppy disk to the assistant engineer, and he was nervous because I was coming as Cameo’s assistant engineer. I told him to relax and to make a copy of the floppy disk. I gave it to him and he erased everything on the floppy disk. The engineer walked in the room ten seconds later. I said, “Dave, if you need anything on this tape, ask me. Don’t ask Larry. Don’t even mention anything about the SSL.” Larry would’ve flipped out if he found out. Technically, I wrote down a lot of things on track sheets and other stuff, so it took me days of retyping everything, but I got most of it back so I didn’t have to mention it. One day, when we were all hanging out, I told them about it way after I fixed everything. I told them about it to make them laugh and it worked. [laughs] No harm was done in the end, but I was a total wreck during that recording session. It was a nightmare losing those time codes and cues.
As you look back thirty years later on the significance of this recording, how do you feel about the impact the record has made on popular culture?
Tomi Jenkins: Thirty years later when we play “Candy” or “Word Up!” the place goes crazy, so it shows how much of an impact we’ve made with these songs. We didn’t want to be in the business to do one record. We wanted to make it our career and to make money. The first day with this band I made $100. When we were the New York City Players, I was making $25 per day, but I was doing what I loved to do. It was amazing. I didn’t know how long it would last. There was a point during the early days where I had to stop. This was right before “Rigor Mortis” came out. The record was done and the album was finished. We went back to our jobs. [laughs] Larry worked as a tailor in a clothing store. I was working in pharmaceuticals. One day I was driving down the street, and I heard “Rigor Mortis” on the radio. Frankie Crocker played it as a World Premiere. He had his radio show, and when you heard World Premiere, it was something that no one had heard before. So I was driving in my car and I heard him say “World Premiere.” I heard this first couple of lines in our song, and I said, “Oh no!” I pulled my car over on the side of the road, and I started laughing. The first time you hear your song on the radio is a memory you’ll never forget. At that point, everything became crystal clear to me. This is what I was meant to do.
What we all had in common was the music. We had respect for each other’s talent and creativity. Larry and I were great songwriters together. We vibed well in creating the songs we did together. If the song wasn’t good enough, we wouldn’t do it. Each member had mutual respect for each other and that transcended anything else. It’s always been about the music. When I reflect on the history of our group and this album, specifically, it can’t be taken lightly. I’m standing here still taking the stage with essentially the same cats I’ve been doing this with for the past thirty-five to forty years. That’s pretty amazing and a real blessing.
Henry Falco: I was honored to work them on it. I loved working with the group. I had some of my best times at Quad with them. The fact the album became famous and a classic was the icing on the cake. It was such an honor. It was a great record.