LEROY BURGESS ( redbull academy interview pt. 2)

RBMA: »What year was that around?.«

Leroy Burgess: »I left the group in 1977. My contract with Buddah Records was up and we had been together for seven years. I said, ok, time for me to move on. Like I said, I wanted to bop the music a little bit – pick it up. At the time, the bass player of Black Ivory was a very close friend. I called him like my brother. His name is James Calloway. He is a real good bass player. He was playing bass with the group for years. We left together. I left and he left the group as their bass player. We started writing songs, alright? A year and a half went by. We starved. We were like: ‘Oh my god, what’s gonna happen? This is so not happenin’. But we were still writing. We were still trying to come up with stuff and then one moment I got up and did this…«
(plays the chords to “Weekend” on his keyboard)
»James heard me playing it and said: ‘Don’t stop, don’t stop.’ It was like five in the morning, ok? He gets up, he gets his bass and he starts putting a bass line to it. Basically, this became the song ‘Weekend’. Play a little piece of that.«

(music Phreek ‘Weekend’)

»And I show you how the structure is. Come on, crank it up a little bit. Come on, come on.
(plays on the keyboard again.)

»It’s real simple, you know?.«
(imitates the bass line)

»So now, you are setting up that groove again, you go…«

(starts playing the keyboard again)

»It’s easier than you think. The groove is in you, that’s why everybody’s here. Everybody here, every single one of y’all is here because the groove has touched y’all in some way. Music has hit y’all. Probably knocked on your ass, like it did me. You are here to find out more about it, learn more about it. So in your creative period, in your creative structure, you can start to do it. A groove like this is…it sounds nice and it is cool, it really is. But it’s just how we were feeling that day. What was up in that day? We were sick of it, we’d be like: ‘This is the last song I’m ever gonna write.’ And then it becomes this song and ‘boom’, there goes your whole career. It comes from the heart, how you feel.«

RBMA: »What was the artist of that song?.«

Leroy Burgess: »Initially, the group was a studio group called Phreek. Studio groups are pretty much non-existant groups. They are just singers, artists, musicians that a certain producer calls together and makes an album with them. At that time, it was the same producer I had worked with Black Ivory with, Patrick Adams. He had these three girls: Christine Wiltshire, Gena Hatt and Crystal Davis. At least, I think that’s the three of them. They worked on a lot of stuff. Anyway, he had these three girls and said: ‘Put ‘em together, put the song together.’ He had already done most of the album when he heard ‘Weekend’. He loved that song and that’s how it happened. Again, I am going back to Patrick Adams

RBMA: »That track was actually remade again.«

Leroy Burgess: »See now, this is funny. Sometimes, you’re working with an engineer and the engineer on the session, this guy named Bob Blank who had a studio called Blank Tapes, right? When we did the Phreek session, he was the engineer. Years later, after Phreek came out and it was a big hit and all that, he said: ‘If I put this out and produce it, I maybe can get some more money out of this record.’

What he did was, he called Christine, Gena and [Crystal]. Called the same three people who sang it back then, called in some new musicians and did a version which is known as the Class Action version. That’s the name of the group. Non-existing group! There is no group called Class Action! There is no group called Phreek! No actual group. This is just a producer’s concept. Got a piece of Class Action? And it changed up a little bit. He set the groove a little different.«
(music Class Action ‘Weekend’)

RBMA: »And is this actually the Larry Levan mix of the song?«

Leroy Burgess: »Yes, this is the Levan mix.«

RBMA: »Larry Levan from the Paradise Garage.«

Leroy Burgess: »It takes a minute to recognize it as the same song. You get the same guitar line, but now a synthesizer is playing it. Now you have a generation that seven or ten years were moved from the previous generation that heard the original. These guys never heard ‘Weekend’, so this is the first time they hear it and they are boppin’ their heads the same way. And this is, where Disco is becoming more expansive and you are stretching the record.«
(dances in his chair and plays keyboard along to the music.)

»And instead of using it in eleven, he uses the minor chords. But it’s the same thing. «
(music ends/applause)

»A second version of the same song. And I had nothing to do…except for writing the original song, I really had nothing to do with it. Another producer just took this idea, came in with some other musicians and…«

RBMA: »Same singer though.«

Leroy Burgess: »Same singer though…hm, hm!«

RBMA: »How do you feel…«

Leroy Burgess: »I apologize! When I say ‘hm, hm’, the singer Christine Wiltshire, the wonderful person that she is, had a lot of trouble singing that song. Especially initially it took her like, oh Lord, five studios and we had like nine tracks of her to make this one lead vocal. Some of the takes were just absolutely horrific. She was just like: ‘Oh my god, would you please get somebody else’ and so forth and so on.

But you know, I was persisting, Patrick was persisting and Bob was persisting in getting that final vocal. We just had to use this line from one track and the other line from track two. That’s production. Fortunately, we had enough tracks to do that. That was just why I was so …as I heard the name Christine, but don’t worry about that.«

RBMA: »I guess, just one of the things you mentioned the other day, when you were sitting here with some of the participants informally, listening to one of your songs, was the sort of tension you can build musically with changes and using the Jazz chords. You sort of talked about it a little bit previously.«

Leroy Burgess: »Right, right….«

RBMA: »What emotions are linked to certain…«

Leroy Burgess: »Now, that’s too broad of a question. Big question!«

RBMA: »Use some sort of example or something of how you would….«

Leroy Burgess: »Tension, huh?!«

RBMA: »Tension.«

Leroy Burgess: »Like I said, you set the groove and the groove is, where all the tension is let out. It’s like groove, ok? I don’t want to say groove too many times…«

»What I would try to do is to infuse tension into the song. So that it goes somewhere. It doesn’t just stay on a groove. You notice how a lot of Hip Hop records or some of the dance records now, stay on this one groove for like eight minutes or something like that That never really changes, never really goes anywhere and I’m like: ‘Ok, I’m really getting tired of listening to this.’ You know, it sounded nice for the first four minutes and then you are into minute nine and it still sounds the same. So, that’s why you add tension. Let’s see. I’m thinking of a great song for tension. This song is great for tension…«
(plays keyboard)

»That’s great. That’s a great little part. But how do you take it somewhere else?«
(plays the theme to Black Ivory ‘Mainline’ on the keyboard)

»So you build tension and let it go, you build tension and let it go. The song is called ‘Mainline’. Play a little bit of it.«

RBMA: »These songs, these tracks with a full orchestra…you actually have people in your family who are very accomplished as far as arranging and producing [is concerned]. I wonder, if you could mention your uncle and his influence on you at this point in your career?«

Leroy Burgess: »Ok. My uncle’s name is Thom Bell. And he is a very, very famous producer and arranger. He is my mother’s first cousin. But because he is in my mother’s age range, I called him my uncle. I don’t call him my cousin, I call him my uncle. He was a big influence on me during the times I could catch him at the family picnic.«

RBMA: »He was doing such records as in Philadelphia with Gamble and Huff.«

Leroy Burgess: »And everything for the Spinners, everything for the Delfonics, everything for The Stylistics. Did quite a few records with Deniece Williams, couple of records on Johnny Mathis. He was big time, you know what I’m sayin’? I always liked his style of music. Because again, he would do something unusual to make you listen to it. So, I always appreciated his style. And then second early, in addition to Thom Bell being part of my family, we found out later on… we just found this out in ’96 that the Bell brothers, Robert, Kevin and Ronald, the Bell brothers, are my first cousins from the Bell side of the family.

And these are the guys you might know as Kool & The Gang. Kool is the bass player as Robert Bell, Ronnie is the sax player and Kevin is the keyboard player. So, we found out later on that they are actually family. But check this out. Before I came out with Black Ivory, when I was fifteen or something like that, my manager decided to, you know, expose the group. Now, he was friends with a guy named Gene Redd who was the manager of Kool & The Gang. And at the time, Kool & The Gang didn’t have their own band, I mean, they didn’t have any singers.

So, they let Black Ivory come on stage with two songs, you know, just let us sing ‘Love On A Two Way Street’ and Sly Stone’s ‘Everybody Is A Star’ and kind of premiered the group. But during this time, I had no idea that these guys were actually my cousins! I found out much, much later. I knew their name was Bell, but I was like: ‘There are Bells all over the world.’ It’s only later on that my mum went to a Bell family picnic in North Jersey and they were there! She was like: “Do you know that Kool & The Gang are your cousins?” And I was: “They are?” But those are those kind of connections and those are family connections.«

RBMA: »I mean, you always had people in your family that you were collaborating with, right? You always had a team of people around you.«

Leroy Burgess: »Not always.«

RBMA: »There is a couple of important people…«

Leroy Burgess: »Like I said, I called James Calloway my brother because he’s been the musician I’ve been with most of the time. I mean he came on in Black Ivory after the second year. And I always liked his style. We got tight right away. So, that is my brother. Years later, after Black Ivory, I have met up with my cousin, another cousin, Sonny Davenport. If you own any of my records, you might have seen the names Leroy Burgess, James Calloway and Sonny Davenport. S

onny was just starting. He had been playing Gospel and stuff like that, but he wasn’t really doing commercial music. He wanted to try it and by this time I needed his help. So, Sonny came into the group. And he is the family member. The first of my main cousins and stuff like that. Ultimately later on, it became my sister joining the group for a minute and more of my family members came in.«

RBMA: »These are some of your groups under your synonyms we were talking about.«

Leroy Burgess: »Right. The non-Leroy Burgess groups. Just to give you an example, one of the groups was a group, a studio group. Everybody got that? Studio groups, not real groups! Ok? This was a studio group called Convertion. It consisted of myself, Sonny, James, my sister Renée, a young lady named Dorothy Terrell, my cousin Leo on percussion. We began to develop a sound as a rhythm band. One of the first tracks was a tune called ‘Let’s Do It’.«

(music Convertion ‘Let’s Do It‘)

(Leroy stands up, plays along the tune on the keyboard and starts singing)

Cool record, right? .«
(audience cheers)

RBMA: »That is one of the ultimate roller-skate type of jams back in the day.«

Leroy Burgess: »Rollerskate! I used to fall a lot.«

RBMA: »It would be interesting to know, when you were creating these songs, what was the process like? Who was in charge?«

Leroy Burgess: »This is funny. This is a cool story. When we did ‘Let’s Do It’, like I said, we had gone to the studio. Everybody was just hanging out and we had begun to do another song. Greg Carmichael was the producer and he called us in to play music for actually another song. We did it so fast that we ended up with all that studio time left.

And he was like ‘Do whatever y’all want with it.’ By this time we were all smoked up and hungry, right? So we send out for some cheeseburgers, bacon cheeseburgers, fries and sodas. Now, while we’re waiting for the food to come, we go to the studio and start something up. Again I came up with (plays the theme of ‘Let’s Do It’). Now, immediately, James come in and starts playing with me…playing the bass with me!«

»And before we know, Sonny comes in and he is playing along, too. The group started being hit so hard that we forgot about the food, the bacon cheeseburgers and all of that came and got freezin’ cold because we got to this groove and couldn’t stop. We ended up doing the whole thing in…like an evening.«

RBMA: »Is that how all this records became, just with a riff from a piano? Or did you also start with other elements first?.«

Leroy Burgess: »They started different ways. You know, sometimes Sonny would come with an idea or drum pattern. And you know that I might start singing on top of that and then an idea would come out of that. Or James would start coming with a bass line and Sonny would play on it or I would play on it.

Songs come from all different places. The energies that bring good music and good creative songs in, they are all over the place (waves his hands) and in the air. You are thinking of something and your mind is clear and all of a sudden something hits you and it is a melody or something. You know, it just stays in your mind and you hum along with yourself. So it comes from everywhere. But the process with that was just…something hit us.«

RBMA: »What is with these records having those interesting changes, turnarounds and chords? You can only really do these things, if you have some training, basically?«

Leroy Burgess: »That is very true.«

RBMA: »If someone is inspired to add all those different elements in their music, what do you think is the best thing for them to get started in the right direction?«

Leroy Burgess: »I’ve looked at the schools in the last few days and it was really cool hanging with you guys, watching what you guys are doing and the stuff that you’re doing. I would recommend to each and every one of you to learn an instrument. Those of you who are creative and want to expand your songs and expand your musicality, it’s a good idea to know one of them! So that some of your songwriting can actually be instrument-based, ok?

These days everything is what? Computers, right? Computers, sequencing, sampling, stuff like that, right? And a lot of that is actually not going to the source of how you feel for music. The source of how you feel for music is when you get up (stands up) and take a shower and you’re singing. That’s how you feel, alright? That’s because your voice is an instrument, alright? And if you’re inspired to write songs or to produce records, it’s a good idea to learn how to play something! Because my history is prior to these technology existing…it were instruments. Acoustic piano and acoustic bass.

Stuff like that. If you want to make a song, you had to get on it (plays on the piano) and play. For me, it made me feel good that I could play. It takes a while. It takes a while! You have to stick with this. You got to learn scales and you got to learn chords and you got to learn different chords. But after you learned it all or you learned as much as you can, you will be surprised, what it will do for you. I will give you an example. This is a complex Jazz change, right here. (plays on the piano). Those are complex chords, you know what I’m sayin’? I’ll do that one more time (plays on the piano). Now, you wouldn’t think that this would go into a dance record.«

RBMA: »Sounds like some old Jazz trio, right?«

Leroy Burgess: »Yes, it sounds like some old jazzy ‘shoobeedoobee, shoobeedoobee’, it sounds like somebody is going ready to go and do that. Me, being a rebel and being wild and being crazy, I’m like: ‘Okay, let’s take that change and throw a beat behind it, right? And throw a groove into it, in the middle of it, and see what we’ve got! And they were like: ‘Oh no, that is much too jazzy!’ (plays on the piano) ‘Where is Solomon? Where is Ella? Where are they? Where is Anita Baker?’«
(audience laughing)

»We found a young lady named Fonda Rae. And after we did this stuff with a beat, it ended up like this.«
(music Fonda Rae ‘Over Like A Fat Rat’)

»We’re gonna go a little through this tune.«
(Leroy plays keyboard on top )

»Just a little simple. You know, here is this guy don’t playing guitar, he is just playing blue notes.«
(Leroy mimics the bass player )

»And it works!«
(music Fonda Rae ‘Over Like A Fat Rat’)

»You remember what I said about the tension? So, you get the tension. Take that down«

click below to listen

LOGG – You’ve Got That Something


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