THE LOVE TRAIN'S BACK IN TOWN - Eddie Levert talks to SJF about the legendary O'JAYS' one-off London gig in July

Sunday, 15 April 2018 09:02 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

                  altOne of the best-loved vocal groups of the 1970s, the mighty, much-garlanded O'Jays are synonymous, of course,  with the Philadelphia sound, an urbane and sophisticated style of R&B where soul and funk grooves were dressed up in opulent symphonic orchestration. Though they started out way back in 1959, it was in 1972 when the O'Jays joined Gamble & Huff's groundbreaking Philadelphia International label that the trio originally from Canton, Ohio,  hit the big time and became a global force, racking up hit after memorable hit in the shape of 'Backstabbers,' 'Love Train,' 'I Love Music' and many, many more.

Like their contemporaries, The Temptations and Four Tops, the O'Jays have been working consistently during the last six decades and are still going strong today. But unlike those two illustrious groups, who can only boast one founding member each, the O'Jays actually have two charter members on board - Eddie Levert and Walter Williams. Ahead of the trio's forthcoming show in London's West End at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane - where they'll be performing on Sunday 15th July -  SJF's Charles Waring talked to Eddie Levert (on the right of the above picture) about the group's imminent UK trip and their storied career.

Talking to me from his home in sunny Las Vegas, our conversation starts off with Levert asking me about the British weather. He chortles raucously when I tell him he'll probably need to bring an umbrella with him in July. "I love going over there because it's the only place I know that serves beans with breakfast," he laughs. While the prospect of having baked beans with a traditional "full English" palpably excites him, on a more serious note, he remarks that the UK remains a hard market for the O'Jays to crack - and it perplexes him. "We recorded a live album over there back in the '70s, 'The O'Jays Live In London,' which did very well for us, but we've never quite been able to really bust or break into that market," he says ruefully.  "Our popularity there is not as great as it is in other places and other parts of the world. I don't quite understand that because we get a lot of requests from people over there. They say, 'come back to England, come back, we want to see you,' but I'm always disheartened when we get there as the places are not really packed out."

Last Updated on Sunday, 22 April 2018 13:22


MAMA SAID.... The Mamas Gun Interview....

Wednesday, 11 April 2018 18:35 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altUK blue-eyed soul band MAMAS GUN broke out in 2009 with their lovely 'Routes To Riches' long player. From that set, 'Pots Of Gold' remains a classic soft soul ballad. The band are all set to release a new album in May and though busy making preparations for the launch and a mini promotional tour, the five some – leader Andy Platts, alongside Terry Lewis, Chris Boot, Cam Dawson and Dave Oliver met up with SJF to share their excitement. But, of course, first things first – we needed some back ground and band history....

TERRY: We formed back in the days of MySpace in 2007. At the time it provided a great platform for musicians to connect and share their music and that's how we all got to know each other. We borrowed our band name from an Eryka Badu album, because it sounded good. Our original line up was Andy, Dave, Jack, Rex and me -Terry. We got together based on our desire to play Andy's songs and the first album, 'Routes to Riches' was the product of that. We recorded the album on very small budget initially and then we were signed to Decca/Universal and suddenly things felt every exciting and we were able to finish the album in bucket list style, adding a 14 piece string section and dream team mixing by Jack Joseph Puig at Ocean Way in LA and mastering from Bob Ludwig. Sadly our major label ride was cut short when Decca hit financial problems before the album was even released and since then we've been an independent act on our own label Candelion. By the time we were writing our 3rd album Rex was replaced with Cam on bass and then Chris came onboard to replace drummer jack in 2016 and we began work on our 4th. Right now in 2018 we feel we are our strongest musically and personally. Our latest album 'Golden Days' is the album we've always wanted to make but somehow always got diverted into other musical segues.

I believe Andy studied at LIPA (the Liverpool Performing Arts Academy set up by Paul McCartney)... What was that like?

ANDY: LIPA for me was a right-place-right-time situation. Partying hard, experimentation - all pars for the course. The fact that I was doing it with musicians from around the globe only enriched the experience. I spent a lot of time being crap at some stuff and excelling at others. But it all served to sharpen my interest in music making and song writing to the point of obsession. Obsession (self flagellation) is how you get better at things. Well it works for me anyway. The very best thing about LIPA was meeting the woman who became my wife. We've been together 18 years and we're still kids.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 11 April 2018 18:50


THE LAST TEMPTATION! Otis Williams talks about The Temptations' upcoming UK tour with the Four Tops and the group's new album

Monday, 09 April 2018 21:29 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF


The Temptations are a veritable soul music institution. In a storied recording career that stretches back to 1961 and the dawn of Motown Records,  the legendary vocal quintet have witnessed myriad changes in personnel and had many fine singers come through their ranks - including David Ruffin, Eddie Kendricks, and Dennis Edwards,  to name but three - but their one constant and ever-present figure has been co-founder, Otis Williams. He's been the solid rock behind the group that has given them stability and continuity during fifty-seven years of blood, sweat, toil and tears that has yielded a plethora of hit records and heaps of awards and prestigious accolades.

At 76, Otis Williams has no inclination to hang up his microphone just yet. "As long as I can keep doing the dance steps, I'll keep going," he laughs, though, sadly, you feel that the time when the curtain comes down on his career is drawing ever closer. But for the moment, though, The Temptations are still a viable and going concern and are set to bring their unique vocal magic and stupendous back catalogue to the UK this coming November when they co-headline a joint eight-concert tour with fellow Motown legends, the Four Tops. The two groups, who have enjoyed a long but friendly rivalry, have been touring together for many years now and enjoy the camaraderie of being together on the road. "We've been doing this for about four decades so it's like old hat to us," laughs softly-spoken Otis. "They travel on their own bus and we travel on our bus and then we get to the gig," he says, describing the two groups' on-the-road routine. "We laugh and talk and enjoy one another's company, and then we go and do the show and then go to the hotel and rest up and then go on the bus to the next gig. So we're like pedestrians - we just work and take care of what we do." 

Last Updated on Wednesday, 11 April 2018 15:35


Never judge an album by its covers - ace ventriloquist Meshell Ndegeocello unmasked

Friday, 06 April 2018 14:21 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

   alt"People have a lot of preconceived notions about me. Most people think I'm tall... and angry," laughs Meshell Ndegeocello, "but I'm like a lamb." A fiercely individualistic bass-playing singer-songwriter and deep thinker,  whose work, with its themes that focus on racial identity, sexual politics, and the transfiguring power of love, among many other things, has sometimes caused provocation, Meshell knows what it's like to be misunderstood. She agrees that there is a disconnect between the person her fans think they know from listening intently to her music and who she truly is. She admits to falling into that trap herself when she was younger in relation to Prince. "I love his music. Seeing him as a child inspired me to play music," she says, though confesses when she actually got to meet her idol, there was a feeling of profound disappointment on her part. She doesn't elaborate on what passed between them but sums up her experience by saying diplomatically, "I agree wholeheartedly with people who tell you never meet your heroes."

Coincidentally, Prince just happens to be one of the songwriters whose work is featured on Meshell's twelfth and latest album,  'Ventriloquism.' It's a wonderful tribute to vintage 1980s R&B that finds Meshell putting her own distinctive stamp on songs by artists that range from Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam ('Take Me Home') and Janet Jackson ('Funny How Time Flies') to TLC ('Waterfalls'), George Clinton ('Atomic Dog'), and The System ('Don't Disturb This Groove'). Explaining the thinking behind the record, Meshell says: "We made the record about a year ago and it was a very tumultuous period. I had a parent who passed away and another band member lost two parents. There was just a lot going on."

Last Updated on Friday, 06 April 2018 18:59


BASS IS THE PLACE - CHRISTIAN McBRIDE brings his big band to the UK in May

Monday, 02 April 2018 12:25 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

     altThe ubiquitous Christian McBride is still relatively young - he'll be 46 in May - but in terms of the amount of recording sessions he's contributed to, he's a true veteran, having played on several hundred  albums during a career that stretches back to 1991. That might be a drop in the ocean compared with fellow jazz bassist, Ron Carter - who has made the Guinness Book Of Records for appearing on over two thousand recordings - but McBride's achievement is impressive none-the-less. But he is the first to admit that Carter's amazing feat is unassailable. "I don't know if that's even possible anymore (to do that) just because the recording world doesn't exist the way it used to," he laughs when I ask him, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, if his ultimate aim is to overtake Carter. "I caught the tail end of the recording scene. At one point, throughout the '90s, I was probably averaging about 20 albums per year, which was not that many compared to what most people were doing in the '50s and '60s. I think for my generation it was a lot, but I'm not nearly doing that kind of studio work anymore."

The reason for that situation, he explains, is the way that music industry has changed due to technology, which has resulted in the closure of many of New York's big, professional studios. "Just about 5 or 6 months ago, Avatar, one of the largest studios in New York closed," he reveals. "Who can imagine New York City without a major recording studio? There's a lot of small studios still active but a lot of people are recording at home doing projects on the fly."

But while some things change - and for the worse, perhaps - other things that are declared dead and gone in the music industry have a knack of being resurrected. Take vinyl LPs, for example. Who'd have thought they would have made such a big comeback?  Another - but smaller - case in point is the jazz big band, which first dominated popular music in the swing age of the 1930s but has been in terminal decline ever since. But it hasn't shuffled off its mortal coil just yet. Christian McBride is one of just a handful of musicians keeping big band jazz off death row. In 2010, he put together a large ensemble and released the album, 'The Good Feeling,' a year later. Last year, in 2017, he followed it up with a second big band, album,  'Bringin' It.' Needless to say, both albums grabbed a Grammy award. Those living in the UK who have yet to witness McBride's seventeen-piece ensemble up-close will get the opportunity this May when the bassist brings his band to the Cheltenham Jazz Festival.

Last Updated on Monday, 02 April 2018 15:30


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