Sunday March 7th, 2004
New CD's this past week:
None to report
Music news stories this week:
O'Jays Say They Are Not Fans Of “Lost” Album
Original O'Jays vocalists Eddie Levert and Walter Williams are speaking
out against a soon-to-be-released collection of old songs that's being
promoted as the group's "lost album." Advertising for the April 6th
release of Together We Are One claims the album includes recently
re-discovered tracks recorded with legendary Philly Soul producers Kenny
Gamble & Leon Huff, and completed with Levert and Williams' help. However,
in an interview with Billboard, both Levert and Williams say they did not
reunite in the studio with Gamble & Huff to complete the project. Levert
said, "There was no new collaboration between us and has been none in
recent years. These songs stem from the '70s into the '80s. Canned songs
that didn't make an album. I can't deny that it's me and Walter, but it's
dated stuff." Williams added, "They asked us to be involved after the
fact, so we declined. I haven't heard the updated material. These songs
were rejects -- not good enough then and not good enough now."
Meanwhile the O’Jays have signed with Mathew Knowles' Sony Music-
distributed Music World Music (MWM) label.
Stephanie Mills' R&B Past Haunts Her, New Album “Born For This” On The Way
A string of hits in the '80s and early '90s qualify her as an R&B icon.
But what made Stephanie Mills a household name then is working against her
Mills is a still-vital artist ignored by major labels. Why? Because the
money-making potential for her type of music -- in this case, urban AC
(adult contemporary) -- has been pegged as nil.
With such exceptions as Gerald Levert (Elektra) and recent multiple-Grammy
Award winner Luther Vandross (J Records), other "old-school"
contemporaries have opted to take the independent route to stay in the
Mills is no different. But she has funded the project herself, without the
benefit of major national distribution.
"It's a struggle when you don't have a big machine behind you," the New
Jersey-based singer says. "I'm doing this on sheer will, faith and my
experience in the business. I didn't set out to do this on my own; it just
happened. But I believe in this."
Mills initially met with some major-label executives when she began
recording her new R&B album -- her first in 13 years. But "they said this
kind of music just isn't going to sell, and radio wouldn't play a
Stephanie Mills song now," the singer recalls.
So as the recording progressed and no takers came to the table, Mills
adopted a do-it-yourself approach. The result is the 10-track "Born for
This!" on her own label, JM Records.
Calling the experience "educational," Mills quickly learned a few things.
For example, although she knows a lot of songwriters and producers, some
of those she wanted to use were expensive and she could not afford to hire
them. With the help of her attorney Ed Wood, who represents up-and-coming
producers, she enlisted the services of Flavahood Productions, the Dream
Team, BeBe Winans and Gordon Chambers.
She and her stylist, Leonard Bridges, designed the album package, while
another colleague, Brent Whiting, helped her develop the
About four months ago, New York-based independent promoter Mike Halley
began working lead single "Can't Let Him Go" to urban AC stations. And
Mills herself even made phone calls to radio stations to talk about the
record on morning shows and mailed out copies of the single.
"It's really been a roll-up-your-sleeves effort," Mills observes. "You
definitely have to use some creative thinking."
It was Mills' creative artistry at age 15 that won her the starring role
as Dorothy in the Broadway show "The Wiz." She later signed with 20th
Century, scoring her first top 10 R&B hit in 1979 with "What Cha Gonna Do
With My Lovin'." From there she segued to Casablanca and then MCA, where
she recorded five No. 1 R&B singles, including "I Feel Good All Over" and
For the week ended Feb. 20, "Can't Let Him Go" was No. 39 on the Airplay
Monitor Adult R&B chart. An-as-yet-unnamed second single is waiting in the
wings. The album itself will be released in the second week of March.
Unconcerned with national distribution at this point, Mills will sell the
$12.99 album through her Web site and at concerts.
Halley, who worked with Mills when they were both at MCA, says the first
single has "done what it was supposed to do: get her name out there. It's
a good effort for an indie starting out.
"We've taken a guerrilla attack on the adult marketplace, working each
market one by one. Her history shows she has a base. With the right record
and today's digital possibilities, you can't lose. And once you see her
perform, that's the selling point," Halley says.
Still a major concert draw, Mills recently appeared with the Whispers and
the O'Jays in Atlantic City, N.J., and Al Green during Valentine's Day
weekend in Washington, D.C.
Industry sources estimate that indie album projects can run between
$50,000 and $100,000 for recording and the same amount for marketing,
including a Web site. Mills declines to say what she has spent. She is
more concerned with seeing the project through.
"The hardest part is staying focused, keeping it rolling," the singer
says. "There are so many naysayers out there. You have to have tunnel
vision, or you'll get sidetracked by others' opinions. If I believed what
I've been told, I wouldn't have come this far."
Anita Baker Signs With Blue Note
After months of speculation it's official now, Anita Baker has signed a
deal with Blue Note Records to produce at least two albums, and expects to
release her first project before the end of the year.
"I'm so excited," the singer said in an interview on Wednesday with the
Associated Press. "I do see that there is a demand for what I do, and my
fans are still there."
Baker contacted the head of Blue Note Records, Bruce Lundvall, about
recording a jazz album and he was interested in a jazz album, but also an
R&B album from her as well.
"She is one of the great artists, no question about it," Lundvall told the
AP. "There's not another voice out there like hers, it's instantly
The melodic alto whose soul-stirring voice recalls greats like Sarah
Vaughn, became one of R&B's top artists in the late '80s and early '90s
with hits like "Sweet Love," "Rapture" and "Giving You the Best That I
But she dropped off the music scene nearly a decade ago after releasing
the album "Rhythm of Love" in 1994. At the time, the married melody maker
had two young sons (now 10 and 11 years old), a mother suffering from
Alzheimer's, and a father dying of bone cancer.
Baker's father died in 1998; her mother died in 2000. After her mother's
death, she felt she could focus on her music career.
"It was almost like I was given permission when she passed."
Baker began touring, but she doubted whether people would buy CDs of her
smooth, adult R&B in today's marketplace. But she has been surprised by
the response to her return.
"I didn't know that anybody would give a hoot," she laughed. "I'm
Gerald Back With Levert
The son of O'Jays founder Eddie LeVert, Gerald had a lot of pressure on
him when he made decided to become a vocalist. His fine vocal technique
was heard for the first time on the 1985 debut album by LeVert, which also
consisted of his brother Shawn LeVert and their friend, Marc Gordon.
By the time 1988's "Just Coolin'" had become a major US success, Gerald
had already taken time off from the parent group to produce a number of
artists with Marc, including Stephanie Mills, James Ingram, Miki Howard,
the O'Jays and Troop. He also wrote "Whatever It Takes" for Anita Baker's
platinum-selling 1990 set, Compositions. Throw in LSG, production work for
the late great Barry White and a his most recent sets on EastWest Records,
and you'll find that Gerald has succeeded in making a brand name out of
his own talents.
But times change. We wander from home in search of ourselves, but
sometimes we're drawn back with a vengeance. Recently Gerald LeVert was
drawn back in a most unexpected manner, an impromptu performance with
LeVert at LA's Universal Amphitheater.
"We got back together, we came out at Universal and the crowd went crazy,"
said the enthused singer. "Now we're going back in the studio. We're going
to record some stuff and have some fun," Gerald said. "We've talked about
it and now we're basically going to solidify it. It's just like old times.
We hadn't done this in a while."
Gerald says that the performance was so spontaneous that before they knew
it, the guys were literally back on stage, just like back in the day.
"We call Shawn the coordinator," said Gerald when asked how the trio
stayed in touch. "He kept everybody in touch and I ran into Mark again
after years and years. So, Shawn picked up Marc, we came to the show and
we did our thing."
"The last time we performed together was around 94, 95. It's been about 10
years. We did that with no practice or talking about it. So, what do we
have to lose writing some songs together after old times. I've done my
thing and will continue to do my thing. I never thought we'd get back
together to do our thing."
You look at most successful groups and realize they all have a common
denominator, they all break up. LeVert was no different, as we now know.
"We had our differences," said Gerald. "We didn't agree on a number of
things musically. Now that we're older we have a better idea about what
we'd like to sing about. I know I've been through some things, Marc has
and Shawn has as well. We're grown. We understand things better and we
know each other. I'm going to be Gerald LeVert, I'm going to do my thing
and I have my thing with my father. He has the O'Jays and I have LeVert.
It's like a franchise. As black people we don't get together enough to try
to make things happen and I think the older you get the smarter you get
regarding this album. The O'Jays are about to get back together as a group
and even if we record a bunch a songs and don't drop an album we can just
give the O'Jays some songs you know what I'm saying?"
Gerald LeVert is contemplating a return to the days of his career's youth
as he and his former partners in songs reunite, but he says that his
primary focus is to become the best male crooner he possibly can. Though
he is obviously his father's son in every sense of the word, Gerald says
he emulates the smooth, suave mannerisms of Luther Vandross.
"I learned a lot from my dad, but I've also learned a lot from Luther
Vandross. I watched Luther and I learned a whole lot. I learned how to pace
myself. I learned that you don't have party and tire everybody out, you can
talk to the crowd. Things like gestures that he does. I learned a lot from him
regarding how he conducts his business and the like.
"You know, I had heard a lot of things about Luther before I met him about
him being hard to deal with and how he's this and that, but he's about his
business. Being on stage you've gotta be about your business, he is and
that's how come he demands the dollars that he does."
Alicia Keys Hoping To Turn Her Diaries Into Full-Fledged Book
Alicia Keys would like to transform her diary entries into a full-fledged
book, but there's trouble brewing behind the scenes.
Two literary agents are vying for the right to represent the singer's
publishing deal, with one claiming the deal has already been made, causing
uncertainty about whether her book would actually hit shelves as planned
or could be tied up in possible litigation.
Keys first made the rounds to shop her book with literary agent Noah
Lukeman, who took a series of meetings with New York publishers earlier
this year and then conducted an auction, with Bantam reportedly coming out
on top with a bid of $1.15 million. But in an unusual move, a second
agent, David Vigliano, started telling publishers that he represented the
rights to the singer's journal. He's since been conducting his own set of
publisher meetings, as if the book had never been sold.
"The situation is simple," Lukeman said. "I was fully authorized by
Alicia's management company to represent this book. I did so, and brought
them a substantial offer. ... They suddenly, without cause, decided not to
honor their commitment to me. Apparently, they are now engaging someone
else to be the agent, presumably to try to find more money."
But how much money can Keys realistically expect from the book? Not much
more, said publishers who took meetings with the singer's respective
agents, neither of whom provided a written proposal from the singer,
beyond the diary she's been keeping since she was 14 (sections of which
can be read at www.aliciakeys.net).
"I can't see her getting a lot more money," said one publishing source who
took a meeting during the second go-round. "Anyone can say they want to do
a book, and people will take meetings because it's Alicia Keys, but how
will it work? She hasn't lived long enough for a memoir or a history. She
doesn't have a plethora of literary ideas to flesh out."
"There's no material," said another publishing source who took a meeting
during the first go-round. "She said her inspiration was coming from [Nick
Bantock's] 'Griffin & Sabine' books, but how do you do that? She said she
wanted to be like Jewel, although have writing that's more personal and
not just poetry."
For his part, Vigliano said, "I'm really not interested in discussing Noah
Lukeman or his ideas about whether he was representing Alicia." Keys'
publicist and Bantam Books didn't return calls for comment.
Teena Marie 'Still' a
Not a bad birthday present for someone who turns 48 this week: Teena Marie
returns to Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks after an absence of almost 13
Her "Still in Love" (featuring Baby) is the first title on the Cash Money Classics
imprint to appear on this survey and is Teena Marie's first chart entry since the
spring of 1991, when "Just Us Two" peaked at No. 42.
With "Still in Love" opening at No. 70, Teena Marie's chart span stretches to 24
years, nine months and three weeks, counting back to the debut of "I'm a Sucker
for Your Love" in May 1979. Her biggest R&B hit to date is "Ooo La La La,"
which was No. 1 on that chart for one week in April 1988.
If "Still in Love" can find its way to the Billboard Hot 100, it will be Teena Marie's
first appearance on that tally in 16 years, since "Ooo La La La" peaked at No. 85.
"Lovergirl," which reached No. 4 in 1985, remains Teena Marie's biggest Hot 100 hit.