Interviews

SANBORN SPEAKS!

Wednesday, 17 September 2008 07:43 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

SANBORN SPEAKS!

The squealing, blues-drenched, rasp of David Sanborn's alto saxophone is without doubt one of the most immediately recognisable and distinctive sounds in contemporary jazz. He's been plying his trade for five decades now, having begun his career in the ranks of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band in the 1960s. It wasn't until the 1970s, though, that his talent was exposed to a wider audience. That was largely due to a sideman stint with rock icon, David Bowie, who used the saxophonist as a featured instrumentalist on his 1975 album 'Young Americans.' This led to Florida-born Sanborn becoming a recording artist in his own right and embarking on a solo career that to date has witnessed 23 albums. Sanborn's latest opus is 'Here & Gone,' his first offering since 2005's 'Closer.' During a recent promotional visit by Sanborn to London, www.soulandjazzandfunk.com's Charles Waring caught up with the 63-year-old saxophone maestro to talk about his latest recording venture.


What's the story behind your new album, 'Here & Gone'?

I was downloading stuff on to my iPod and ran across an old Hank Crawford record and I just thought wow, that's great music: I'd like to kind of connect to it and the spirit of what that music was. So I just found myself messing around with it and before I knew it I thought it would be nice to go back to that kind of sound - a small horn section of five horns - and that kind of context for myself. I basically play the same way but it depends on the context. You always alter what you play according to the context. I'm the same guy, so whatever context I'm in, it's still me. I don't really have to analyse it too much at the beginning: it's just an instinct that feels right and it feels right, somehow, to be here in this place, whatever this place is. I said well, let me see how far I can take this and see if it will hold up for me.

Did you start the ball rolling by choosing one song and then trying to build the rest of the album from there?

There's always one tune that's the door in. I think it was "What Will I Tell My Heart." It was that quality that I heard in Hank Crawford, who was really the guy who inspired me to play the saxophone. It was that quality that he had of really singing through his horn and of not being afraid to use space: of just letting that space go by and controlling the momentum and the dynamic of the song. Very early on I learned from him, even though I couldn't put it into words, the idea that space is important and it's how you manipulate the space that's really what it is that you're doing.

Like Miles Davis?

Exactly. So all the people I really gravitated to, they were practitioners of that philosophy. So Hank was the first. Hank was my door in.

Was he one of your earliest influences?

Absolutely. He was the first. Hank and 'Fathead' Newman, who was also in the Ray Charles band. Those were the guys and that was the music that pulled me in. I said wow, I want to do this.

There's a very strong Ray Charles influence on the album and of course Ray Charles was a sax player himself.

Oh absolutely! He was amazing saxophone player. He could just overpower whatever limitations he had technically: he was such a powerful musician. He was just amazing and Ray told me once that he was always intimidated by Hank and 'Fathead.' That was so odd to hear that coming from him.

Why did you choose to do the Percy Mayfield song 'Send Me Someone To Love'?

I always loved that tune. I loved the way Ray did that song. Actually Percy was on Ray's label, Tangerine, and Percy was a guy that just told these great stories. I mean how more direct can you get than please send me someone to love? That just cuts through all the bullshit and gets right to the point. And that was always Percy's thing.

You've got three vocalists singing on the album - Sam Moore, Eric Clapton and Joss Stone. How did Joss get to participate?

Well, Joss to me is like an old soul. She has so much wisdom and maturity in her voice. It just seems so obvious to me. You know it's funny as things start to come together, these ideas or people come into your line of sight and it's like yeah, of course, it couldn't be anybody else. Just like with Sam Moore and Eric (Clapton). It was so obvious to me. It's like casting in a way.

Did you pick the song first and think who shall I get to sing it?

Well, that's hard to say.

Is it a bit like the chicken and the egg situation then?

Yeah, I think a little bit. It was a case of I really dig that tune….but then there was also a thought: who is somebody that understands where this shit is at? So if it hadn't been that tune it would have been something else that would have been inappropriate to the situation. Fortunately, it worked out, with the idea for the tune and who the person was to sing it.

You mentioned Eric Clapton. Of course, you've had a working relationship with him for some years now…

For a while now, which I am very grateful for. What can I say about him? He may not be the God, but he certainly is a God.

Phil Ramone produced the album. You and he also worked together many years before…

We go way back. He produced my second album.

What do you like about him as a producer?

Well, he knows his music for a start. Phil was really there from the beginning of modern recording, along with Tom Dowd and people like that. He understands musicians. Phil is not only a brilliant engineer, but he is also a great musician. He was a child prodigy violinist and he knows music. He was also Quincy Jones's roommate. So he knew Quincy and he started everything. Phil understands…and this may seem like a simple obvious thing…but he understands where to put the microphones and he understands how to make a live record and how to get the right sound out of the instruments. He also knows how to create an atmosphere in the studio that's conducive to spontaneous performance - certainly he seemed like an obvious choice because Phil understood the music and the history and the knowledge of where this music came from. And also he understood the technology, because he's right up-to-date. So he understood how to realise it.

Who did the arrangements on the album?

Gil Goldstein. They were based on Hank Crawford's arrangements - three of the songs - and one of them ('St. Louis Blues') was based on a Gil Evans arrangement. Two of them were based around Quincy Jones arrangements.

How do you approach a song like 'Basin Street Blues,' which belongs to another era and is so well-established in people's minds?

Well, Gil and I have a good relationship. We talked a lot about the music and we worked on the arrangements together. I can't take credit for that. They are really Gil's arrangements. They evolved out of a process of he and I working together. That's actually one of my favourites on the record because I just think he did an amazing job of updating that song in a way that kept the essence of the spirit of what that song's about.

Did you do that live in the studio?

Yes. It's all live in the studio.

On your last three or four albums you've gone back to play in an all-acoustic, live setting haven't you?

Yeah, just because I felt more connected to that process. What I wanted to get was not necessarily perfection but the idea of it and the arc and drama of it.

Tell me about the guitarist Derek Trucks who appears on 'Brother Ray'?

What an extraordinary musician he is. He's got such a great soul, you know, and he commits himself to the song. You don't ever get the feeling that he is anything less than 100 percent engaged in what he's doing. I find him extraordinary. I sat in with the Allman Brothers when they were in New York last year and just got a chance to play with him. You watch him play and he's deep into the music - you know, no distractions. He's just into it and totally fucking focused. And what he does and what comes out is so powerful and so connected to the moment. That's what you want.

You originally recorded 'Brother Ray' for your 1999 album 'Inside.' Why did you choose to revisit that song?

It fit really well with what this record was about. I wanted to have Derek on the record and I thought this would be a good song to revisit and do it a different way in this context, which is where I kind of always heard the song. I did it very differently with Marcus (Miller). It's Marcus's song but this is kind of always how I heard it - a little more earthy.

Label-wise, you've recently moved from Verve to Decca. What was the reason behind that?

Good question, which I don't really know the answer to. My contract with Verve was up and they seemed to be going in another direction that I wasn't going in. Chris Roberts from Decca made an offer. I like Chris a lot: he's passionate about music and he pretty much came to me and said whatever you decide to do, as long as you're committed to doing it I'll back you up. You can't ask more than that. So I was like well, okay, I couldn't put it better myself.

So did they give you carte blanche to do what you want?

Well, yeah, in a way.

Did you have restrictions imposed only by other record companies then?

No. I've been very lucky: right from the beginning I've always had relationships with whatever record company I've been with that allowed me to do pretty much whatever I want. Other people always have opinions and I always listen to them and if they seem valid to me and if they seem to be something that's helpful, I'll certainly take it under consideration. For better or for worse, the records I've done are the records I wanted to do. And as I look back there are some I'd say well, that doesn't really hold up very well…

Are there any records you wished you hadn't made?

No, I can't say that but there are some records…I mean look, every record I've done there are tunes that I think have been more successful and by successful I mean where I actually achieved what I set out to do. And there are other songs where they didn't really become what I originally envisioned. And I can only think of an example where what ended up coming out was exactly what I had intended. It was a tune called 'Snakes' from 'Upfront.' That's exactly how I meant it to sound and exactly how I wanted it to flow. I couldn't have done it better. That was exactly what I intended. Go beyond that, I don't really care what anybody else thought about it - as long as I can do what I set out to do. There are other tunes where they became something else that's not really what I intended. I can't make an objective judgment about a subjective fact. That's the only way I can evaluate any of my stuff.

Looking back over your career, what records are you most proud of?

I should say this one, right? (laughs) I like 'Another Hand,' I like that record.

That had Bill Frisell on it.

Yeah, Bill Frisell. After that, I like a good portion of 'Upfront.' I like a good portion of 'Closer' and 'Time Again.'

I love your version on there of the old Mel Tormé tune 'Coming Home Baby.'

Oh, that was Herbie Mann. That was the first time I heard it. Did Mel Tormé do that song?

Yeah, he had a hit with it in 1962.

Really? No kidding!

There's a great groove to that tune.

I always liked that and I tried to get that same vibe on it. I also liked 'Senor Blues' on 'Closer.' Those are tunes where I did what I set out to do. 'Coming Home Baby' is kind of like that too. That's what I meant to do.

I first became aware of you as a saxophone player when I bought the David Bowie record 'Young Americans' in 1975. What was it like working with Bowie?

I enjoyed working with Bowie. I really learned about presentation, 'cos there was as much theatre and thought about the performance as there was about the music and he didn't skimp on either one of those. It was full on. Thinking about my experience with him and a lot of people that I worked with I was just really impressed with how hard they all worked and how committed they were to what they were doing. Not that it should be any different but these people are hard workers. Like Stevie Wonder. Every day at the sound check he would have a new song. Every fucking day he had a new song. And Bowie was always involved with changing and writing stuff.

You went on tour with Bowie as well?

I was on tour with Bowie, yeah. I went on tour when he was touring the States behind the 'Diamond Dogs' record. So we did that one. It was a huge set, a giant set. I forget who designed the set but Jules Fisher did the lighting. It was a big production. The next time I went on tour was behind 'Young Americans.' There was no set. There was nothing on stage but just a big ramp, but it was all white and the music was completely different. We did that album in Philadelphia, at Philadelphia International - Gamble & Huff's studio.

Sigma Sound?

Sigma Sound, yeah. The band was Andy Newmark on drums, Willie Weeks on bass and Carlos Alomar on rhythm guitar, with Mike Garson on piano. And he (Bowie) basically said to me, 'you're like the lead guitar so you play the fills and play the solos.' So I did that function and was all over that record. I think that's where I got a lot of exposure - certainly in the pop world. He was very generous with me and I'm grateful for that. It was funny because at the same time I was working with him, I was working with (arranger) Gil Evans.

Quite a contrast of styles then.

Yeah, but not really, because it was all great music and it was all about the sound - the textures and the colours. One of my memories from that time was I played with Bowie at Madison Square Garden and I got on a plane that night - an overnight flight to Italy - and then got on a smaller plane to Perugia and played the next night with Gil Evans. So that was kind of what my life was, doing both of those things, and to me it was all great because I was doing so many interesting things.

Had you contemplated doing a solo career at that point?

Not really - and then It just seemed to be, well, I want to have a little more control over the context of what I play. And that's what it was for me: it was just a matter of well, I just want to set the agenda a little bit. I was doing okay as a sideman and I was making a living doing it. I wasn't really in the recording studios at all. The only people I recorded with were people that I was on the road with.

You recorded with James Brown in the early '70s. What was that experience like?

The time I spent with him in the studio wasn't very much but he was very cordial. I got into that situation because of David Matthews, who was his arranger at that time.

Were you a fan of Maceo Parker, who played with James?

A huge fan of Maceo Parker - and still am! He's an extraordinary musician.

What's been the highlight of your career?

Today (laughs). I don't know. I'll let you know when it happens (laughs). I mean I've had great moments but you know it's hard for me to single out one. What I just recounted to you was a great memory. Another one is when (saxophonist) Benny Carter was getting a lifetime achievement award from the Grammys. He asked me to come play with him. So it was he and I plus a bass player named Major Holly and Louis Bellson on drums. We played 'Just Friends.' That was a great moment. I also had a television show back in the early '90s called Night Music and I got to have different people on it, like my heroes. I got Hank Crawford on that show, David 'Fathead' Newman, Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Rollins and I got a chance to play with all these people. That was great, I really enjoyed that.

This is probably a difficult question to answer but who is the greatest musician you've ever played with?

I don't rate people like that - this is the best or this is the second-best. They all have great qualities. I played with many great musicians - Sonny Rollins, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, David Bowie, Stevie Wonder, Gil Evans and Joni Mitchell. Everybody has greatness and even people whose names are not as well known as these, are great.

Recently, I was surprised find you appear on Guru's new 'Jazzamatazz' record.

Yeah I did that.

What was that experience like?

It was fun. They asked me to do that and they sent me the track and I said okay, that's interesting I'll do that. I also played on a record by a group called Ween.

Is your listening taste quite eclectic then?

Yes, very eclectic. The first thing that gets me is the sound. And then the content later - the genre means nothing to me. It's all about the sound of the record.

What was the first record you ever bought?

The first record I ever bought? Gosh! At my age, that's going back a long way (laughs). Well, the first record I remember buying was 'Honky Tonk' by Bill Doggett. But I also remember I was in what they call in America a 5 and 10 cents store, called Woolworths, and I bought an album called 'Rock and Roll,' and it was older rhythm and blues groups like The Orioles, and there was a group - I don't remember their name - but they were singing a song called 'Cherry Pie.' And I thought, oh that's great. I also remember buying Fats Domino records.

Were you drawn to R&B?

Yes I think I was, because that was kind of new, at least to me. My parents had a lot of records in the house: Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Benny Goodman, so I heard that music from when I was a little kid. The first records I remember buying were those records. I also remember buying a Jimmy Dorsey record called 'So Rare.' So I ended up buying saxophone players and then records by Little Richard and Chuck Berry - they were great records.

You started out in the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, didn't you?

That was my first professional show business gig.

How was that as an experience?

It was great. Paul was very generous to me. He gave me a lot of space to play. What was great about that band was that they had a lot of jazz musicians - actually, the drummer got me the gig, Philip Wilson, who was an old buddy of mine from St. Louis. In '67 I was out in San Francisco visiting friends and I ran into him on the street and he said I'm playing down at the Fillmore Ballroom with Butterfield - why don't you come down. I went down there, heard them and met the guys and then went down to LA. I was hanging around the studio and they asked me to play on the record and after that I joined the band. I conned my way into the band.

You played at Woodstock with them didn't you?

Yeah, I was at Woodstock.

How was that?

It was great but at that time I certainly didn't think of it as in any way historic - it was just another gig.

(As told to Charles Waring)

'Here & Now' is out now on Decca.

 

DAUGHTER OF AN OLD MASTER : A PORTRAIT OF LALAH HATHAWAY Part Two

Wednesday, 20 August 2008 06:10 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

DAUGHTER OF AN OLD MASTER : A PORTRAIT OF LALAH HATHAWAY   Part Two


As promised, here's the second part of www.soulandjazzandfunk.com's recent interview with US soul singer, LALAH HATHAWAY.


What was it like growing up in the Hathaway household?

Pretty regular. My mother really wanted it to be regular. She really made it normal. I didn't realise seriously what kind of impact my father had on the world until I was almost in college. Since all my family did music - I was a student of music from the time I was very small - it just seemed to be normal to me. That's what we all did and so in that way there was nothing really extraordinary about it - it just happened to be what we did.

What about your influences early on in your musical life?

I grew up in the time when the radio was so splendid but it's changed a lot in the States. I really grew up listening to a lot of different stuff for a kid who was eight, ten, twelve years old growing up in Chicago. I had Chaka (Khan), Elton John, The Beatles and The Bar-Kays and Earth Wind & Fire; also Patti Labelle and Jimi Hendrix; and rock bands like Steely Dan, Asia, Journey, Foreigner and Genesis.

Pretty eclectic then.

Absolutely! There was so much on the radio to grab onto and it really informed who I am as a musician.

Do you play an instrument at all?

I play piano.

Is that how you write most of your songs?

It is. A lot of times I get a track or I may have a melody in my head and I can ask someone to help me make the best voicing, but I play well enough to know that I don't play well.

I'm sure you're modest.

Well, maybe, but I play well enough to know that I need to continue practising.

Did you always want to be a singer or did you have any other ambitions as a youngster?

Well, I've always wanted to be in the creative arts field. From a very young age I remember telling my mother I wanted to be a magician. And my mother said: 'no, no, no, baby - you want to be a musician.' But I said 'no, I want to do magic.' I wanted to be a magician and I also wanted to be a dancer. Ultimately I always wanted to do something involved with music and it never even was a question of not doing it. It never came up as 'this is what I'll do now.' It was just always the thing that I had done. I went to performance arts high school and I took piano lessons as a kid and played recitals and that kind of thing. I went to the Berkeley College of Music (in Boston) and so I've always been a student of music in some way or another.

Has it been difficult following in your father's footsteps given the acclaim that his music has received?

No, no. It's weird - it's one of those things where I'd have to go back and do it again the other way to know but I've never ever seen who my father was as a shadow hanging over me - I've always seen him as a light and I'm quite comfortable to be in that light. For me it's been a blessing and for people to be able to walk up and say 'oh I loved your dad so much,' I'm happy to be able to take that on for them and for him. So it's a good thing.

What's your favourite memory of your dad?

You know, I don't have a lot of memories of my dad because he died when I was ten years old. My fondest memories have really become the people around the world telling me how much they really loved him and how much he affected their lives and to be able to hear these stories because I'm the closest that they'll ever get to get to him. Those are now my really fond memories about my dad, particularly being at Stax and having people tell me amazing stories about him. So those are my memories.

Do you remember the first record you bought?

The first record I ever owned was the soundtrack to 'Jesus Christ Superstar.' I loved that record. I loved that movie. I love Carl Anderson. Yes, that was my first record - back in the days when they were still records.

What do you prefer: vinyl or CD?

I love vinyl. It's kind of troublesome but I remember the experience of opening 'Jesus Christ Superstar' and looking at all the pictures from the musical. It was like having a book. And I do feel bad for kids nowadays….like something happened with my booklet for 'Self Portrait' because of the way that Universal ship the music out nowadays, they don't ship the booklets. And that is frustrating for me as hell because I put a lot of time into that for people to see it as part of the art of the record and so in a way, particularly in the United States where we have a lot of piracy going on, your average kid today never even gets to touch music.

That's true. It's not a physical thing anymore is it…

It's not a physical thing. They don't even buy it now - it just appears in their I-Pods for free.

How do you feel as a musician about that situation?

I don't have a problem with people having access to music - that's not my problem. I think it's a deeper thing in that people feel so entitled to it. People don't understand when you buy a record off a guy in the street or you just download it that basically it's reaching into my pocket because this is how I make my living. More than that, there's a certain sense of entitlement that comes along with that that I'm not real comfortable with - that they think they're just entitled to it but as a music lover, it's just so sad to me that people will never - this new generation - touch music in the way that I was able to do. Music is like a living, breathing entity in my life and it has meant so much to me that I can't imagine not ever having that experience.

I think what you said about the 'Jesus Christ Superstar' album was right. In those days you could actually read the lyrics. By contrast, today you can hardly decipher anything because the print is so small.

The print on my record is made so you can see it because I am blind as a bat. So I've made it so me and my mum can open that thing up and read it easily. The lyrics are so important. And we don't live in an era anymore where people say who played on this? Not a lot of American journalists asked who played on the record. That's because they're not interested in the musicians.

By the way, looking at your front cover. Where was that shot? It looks like a diner.

It's a diner here in L.A. called Ray's Diner. I think Elton John actually did a cover there as well after I did mine. My concept was that this was sort of my self portrait - I wanted to have just regular, natural looking pictures of me in an environment that you might actually find me in.

Is it one of the places you normally hang out?

Yeah, it's just a diner. When you're able to look through the whole package, it will make a lot more sense. I hope to have it up on my web site within a week or so.

Talking about your website, have you found that has an artist it gives a greater sense of communication between you and the people actually buying and listening to your music?

Absolutely, 100 percent. And I've re-done my web site recently so that it now has a TV station and it's really cool. I mean I'm in there every day. I know a lot of the people who are there. Since we put it up, June 3rd, we've had like 130,000 hits from unique visitors. There are a lot of people from your part of the world and a lot of people from all over the world. A lot of artists come and it's a great resource for music. It gets a lot of people who really love music in a serious way.

You collaborated with Joe Sample a few years ago on an album. Have you ever thought of doing a jazz album by yourself?

Absolutely. That's definitely one of the records I want to make. I want to make a very traditional kind of jazz album. I also want to make a very traditional kind of Christmas record, which is orchestrated with strings. I really enjoyed Shirley Horn's 'Here's To Life' record and I met Johnny Mandel (arranger on 'Here's To Life') a few months ago. I begged him to help me do some strings for a record. He's just so visual. To be able to do a Christmas record that will live forever would be quite an accomplishment. I think possibly the next project is a live record but I'm not sure. I don't even know what's on my schedule for tomorrow.

Do you have your own band?

I do. I have a great band. It changes a bit in the summertime because a lot of the guys are great players and they go off to play with other people - like one of my backing singers is out with Chaka Khan right now. My bass player is out with Rihanna. Bobby Sparks plays keys for me and he is usually with Marcus (Miller) at some point during the year. Erroll Cooney, who plays guitar for me, is with Stevie Wonder for the summer. They get busy quick.

What's the Los Angeles music scene like?

I don't think there really is one. There's a lot of good musicians here but there's not really a scene because it's hard to get around here. There's a lot of driving, so it's hard to really make those kinds of connections.

(as told to Charles Waring)

'SELF PORTRAIT' is out now on Stax Records.

 

DAUGHTER OF AN OLD MASTER: A PORTRAIT OF LALAH HATHAWAY

Friday, 08 August 2008 04:33 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

DAUGHTER OF AN OLD MASTER: A PORTRAIT OF LALAH HATHAWAY


LALAH HATHAWAY, the eldest daughter of legendary '70s soul legend, Donny Hathaway, has a new album, 'Self Portrait,' due out in the UK this month (read the review of it on our reviews pages). To coincide with the release of her debut CD for Stax Records, the Los Angeles-based singer/songwriter recently talked about her life and music with www.soulandjazzandfunk.com's own Charles Waring. In this, the first of two interview features with Lalah, the singer discusses her new album (a second feature in which Lalah talks about her father, family and the music business, will follow later).


How did you get to sign with Stax Records?

Well, you hear these wonderful stories about how people get signed but in my case a guy who was actually working at Virgin Records when I was there joined Stax and called me and said 'we're revitalising the record label and we'd like to sign you.' So I said yes.

It's a label with a lot of history attached to it.

Absolutely. It's a name synonymous with the concept of soul music, so it was an honour. Growing up here in the United States and listening to soul music, you can't deny the house that Stax built. So to be associated with people like Carla Thomas, Mavis Staples, Isaac Hayes, Booker T and Otis Redding - names that really define what soul music is and who are really contemporaries and peers of my father - it's very exciting.

What can you tell me about your new album, 'Self Portrait'?

I'm very excited about it. It's probably my most personal piece of work. It's really about the fact that I've been in the music business for a long time now and I'm just sort of reaching almost the beginning of what I can do - as an artist, as a producer and as a writer. So it feels like a record that in my mind I wasn't sure what it was going to be but as I was creating it, it started coming into the frame. It's definitely a record that is the soundtrack of the music of my life over the last couple of years since the last record. So it's a very honest and vulnerable depiction of my life set to music.

I believe Rahsaan Patterson is on the album.

He's a friend of mine and a very talented guy. He actually co-wrote and sang on the single with me, which is 'Let Go.'

Who else is playing on the album?

We have Michael White, the drummer; Melvin Davis, a great bass player; and Tim Carmen, an organist/pianist who played with Eric Clapton. They are the rhythm section on a couple of tunes. I also have Erroll Cooney playing guitar on the record with Lenny Castro playing percussion on most or all of the record. Marcus Miller appears on 'Learning To Swim' playing fretless (bass).

Of course, you've had quite an association with Marcus over the years.

Absolutely. We're very good friends. He takes good care of me. It's a really tight little record. Proper R&B records in the States tend to get spread out but this record is pretty focused. It wasn't really about the musicians or producers. It was about getting the song and having a good and consistent sound throughout the whole record.

Although you've given the album a theme by using the title 'Self Portrait,' the songs do seem interlinked together musically.

Right, that is why I'm really proud of it. It really feels like a real, complete body of work as opposed to what sort of happens a lot of times which is people bring songs and you write to tracks and then you collaborate with the writer. A lot of times the records can be kind of disjointed and this record for me is very connected, very cohesive and it kind of tells a story about me from beginning to end, which is why I called it 'Self Portrait.' Unlike some of my other records, I was involved in other things besides the music - like the sequencing of the record to tell that story: also, the way that the artwork appears because that's my concept as well. Everything about the record is really what I wished and hoped for so I'm really excited about it.

So how does this new CD stand in relation to the other albums that you've done?

I really love all my records - they are all my little children. This one feels more complete somehow - maybe because it's still fresh in my mind. It was a quick kind of front-to-back record, which doesn't normally happen. I got signed and I got the record started and then got it finished in about six months.

Did you have songs already prepared or did you just write material from scratch?

We ended up using some stuff that I did have and I ended up reworking some stuff that I had but I really went into the record trying to figure out a way to a complete album of original material with no covers - because I tend to do a lot of covers. So I wanted to make a complete record of original material just to see if I could.

'One More' is quite different from the other tracks on the set. It has a hip-hop vibe.

Kind of. I don't know if you'd call it hip-hop. I don't know what it is. I like to work with people that are going to bring me something different or new or really exceptional. Terrace Martin, who co-wrote that track, does a lot of work with people like Snoop Dogg so I think it's interesting for people to hear because they're not used to hearing me singing over beats and that kind of stuff.
I don't really feel like beats and music are mutually exclusive. I have always felt that any of the R&B songs that I've heard - whether from Faith Evans, Mary J. Blige or Aaliyah (especially the songs she did with Timbaland, which I thought were so great) - I always felt I could do something like that and that would be fun to do. I still have aspirations to do something like that - I'd love to work with The Neptunes or with Timbaland. I listen to all this kind of music and as a musician it is my aim to do as much music as I can. I would never limit myself to one style or one set of beats.

What plans do you have after this album? What sort of record would you like to make in the future?

You know, there are a lot of records I want to make. The one that I'm kind of starting to meditate on and focus on is a live record. I really want to make live record.

Really? Why is that?

I wanted to make a live record since 1992 and nobody at a record company thought that it was a feasible idea and then, of course, Jill Scott made one and then Erykah Badu made one. Now everyone knows that it's a hip thing to do, so hopefully, it will be nice to go play all over the world and put all that together and make a live record.

(as told to Charles Waring)

'SELF PORTRAIT' is released by Concord Records in the UK on August 18th.

Look out for the second part of our LALAH HATHAWAY interview soon at www.soulandjazzandfunk.com

 

HOWARD SPEAKS ...

Saturday, 21 June 2008 07:00 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

HOWARD SPEAKS ...

Long-time UK soul favourite, HOWARD HEWETT is currently re-promoting his last album - the wonderful 'If Only…' which will be reissued with some new mixes on the key cuts. Though busy in the studio, HOWARD found time to speak with www.soulandjazzandfunk.com and we began by asking him what he learned from his time with SHALAMAR that was useful to him in his solo career…
I believe one of the most important lessons I learned from the group and brought into my solo career is humility. The fact that we are not in this alone. No matter how great you believe you are, we need each other…a good team…a good support system to help navigate you through this experience we call life.

After Shalamar, you were signed to Elektra and enjoyed some success - but maybe not as much as you, the label and your talent deserved - did that frustrate you?
You know, I've always been "the glass is half full" kind of person. There were frustrations early on with the lack of Elektra's ability to capitalize on things that had been accomplished while I was with the group. But then you realize that, especially when doing a project, the most important thing is to do your best. I believe that as long as you stay diligent and work to perfect all that you do, you'll end up where you're supposed to be.

How do you think your solo career has evolved since the Elektra days?
I would hope that the differences between the early solo projects and the ones now would be depth…growth. We're always learning…experiencing different things in life, forming philosophies, and discarding some. We observe different things that effect us in so many different ways…loves…love losses…triumphs…disappointments…and I have a great job that allows me…encourages me to write about these things. Express things that some may find hard to express. Maybe bring clarity to things that may not be too clear to someone…and to myself.

In the UK, certainly, your 'It's Time' is considered something of a soul masterpiece - what can you tell us about that album?
The "It's Time" project was such a special, progressive project for me. It was the first independent project away from the Major Record Company politics - away from the A&R Departments…the Suits…Bean Counters and so on. I was fortunate with my previous projects on Elektra to have major creative input and control…but with "It's Time" I had total, complete creative control. And Monty Seward and I had an amazing time piecing it together.

Your latest album is 'If Only..' - how did that one come about?
When I finished the "It's Time" project, the recording industry was in a crazy state. This was around '94 or so. Hip Hop was getting stronger…Rap was still going strong and showed no signs of slowing down. Even my audience was enamoured with it…which was understandable…it was something new, exciting. So that was cool. I saw it as an opportunity for me connect back with my audience. I wasn't interested in the recording atmosphere. I'm not that "Fast Food" type of writer…I have to feel what I'm writing…what I'm writing for. So I went back out on the road. In the course of that time I recorded a complete Inspirational project called "The Journey" and did a lot of outside projects for friends of mine, but it was just a couple of years ago that I felt the urge to get back in the studio for my own R&B project. I had a concept floating around in my head about relationships…about the importance of asking questions in your relationship. I was calling the concept "Enough". Brandon Howard, Miki Howard's son, who I've known since he was 5 or 6 years old, brought the perfect track…I finished the lyrics and melody…George Duke and I produced the song and I was off!! It felt great getting back to creating. Ralph Johnson, one of the original members of EWF, who's been a good friend since I was about 20 years old, approached me about some people that were interested and serious about putting a deal together for a recording company that I could partner with - not only as an artist, but as an owner. We met with Mike Reynolds and Mike Nason of Groove Records and after some time we decided that we wanted to be in business together. I found a home for "If Only."


What artists have influenced you in your career?
There have been so many musical influences in my lifetime. When I was a kid I went through my Stevie Wonder stage, then there was the Marvin Gaye stage…Donnie Hathaway. I remember one of the most vivid influences was when I first heard "There's A Riot Going On" by Sly Stone…you know how something happens in your life and for the rest of your life you remember where you were. I was sitting in my car in the parking lot of my high school at lunch time, with some of my band members. We had this band called "Lyfe" - there were about seven of us and four of us went to the same school. Somebody brought the 8 track of Sly's new release…I put it the car player…and we where blown away!! The arrangements…the new technique of plucking the bass that Larry Graham was introducing…the horns, the funk!!! It was amazing!!! It changed our whole concept, our whole way of approaching our musical goals.

And what about the future - what are your plans?
My immediate future plans are to go out and support the "If Only" project….and I'm looking forward to getting over to the UK to perform the material for everyone there. I enjoy myself when I hang out over there. I always have a great time.

 

 

SOUL SPEAKING...

Sunday, 30 March 2008 07:02 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

SOUL SPEAKING...


As previously reported in www.soulandjazzandfunk.com, the ever-amiable MICHAEL McDONALD has brand new album on the horizon. With the title 'Soulspeak', it's the ex- DOOBIE BROTHERS front man's follow up to his two CDs of Motown covers and those who like cover versions will be delighted to know that on the new set there's covers-a-plenty again. www.soulandjazzandfunk.com recently linked up with the jet-lagged MICHAEL who explained to us why he's gone down the covers path again…
I had some trepidation about doing more Motown covers but I knew that that was what Universal wanted. Anyway, this time I decided to compromise and open the door a little to a wider range of covers, and, of course, we added some originals to give it all a different aspect.
There is a wide range on the album - I mean by Bob Marley's 'Redemption Song' , Stevie Wonder's 'Living For The City' and Van Morrison's 'Into The Mystic' - why did you choose those particular songs?
Well, we were looking for some kind of theme without really naming it and the songs we picked - maybe subliminally - all had some kind of deeper meaning. Like Bob Marley's Redemption Song' - that one talks about us seeking our salvation in someone or something, and how we could even spend our whole life just doing that. That's what sets us apart from other animals. These are all songs that speak to us… and that's the common thread. The three new songs, too, have a degree of spirituality, I think.
Were you daunted or overawed in tackling songs associated with iconic singers like Ray Charles and Van Morrison?
Yes - I always do but part of the point of doing something like this is throwing yourself against the wall and taking on the challenge of trying to do something a little different with things that are so familiar.
Maybe the least known song on the set is Tyrone Davis's 'Baby Can I Change My Mind' - why did you choose that one?
I always loved that song and we've often played it live. It has the quality of a familiar handshake and I love Tyrone Davis too - he's a big favourite.
Who else then would you call a favourite or even an influence?
I have many… Ray Charles of course was a big influence on my style along with Marvin Gaye. But I guess I'm not the only person who's ever said that.
But what exactly is 'your style'… would you describe your music as 'blue-eyed soul'?
It's hard to say. I think it's a form of soul music - that's the music I grew up with. Yet, I've played rock and roll over the years with many bands. But I wouldn't like to pigeon-hole myself into any category.
And what about the future record-wise. Are you planning another covers album?
I'm sure the next album for me won't be a covers album. I think I've pushed that envelope to the limit. I think it's time I made a concerted effort with some new stuff. I'd love to get together again with people like Tommy Simms and do some fresh writing.

MICHAEL McDONALD'S 'SOULSPEAK' is out now on Universal. Find a full review on our 'REVIEWS' pages. MICHAEL will be touring the UK in June

 

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