The O'Jays still going after 5 decades of music
Sunday, August 5, 2012
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — For more than 50 years, Eddie Levert and Walter Williams have been bringing classic R&B melodies to fans of the O'Jays in the only way that they know how — with style, finesse and a signature sound that now draws multi-generational audiences to their shows.
On Sunday, the group — which also includes Eric Nolan Grant — joins Patti LaBelle, Kenny "Babyface" Edmunds and Maze, featuring Frankie Beverly, for a performance at the New Orleans Arena as part of the Summer Festival Tour.
Williams, in an interview with The Associated Press, encouraged fans to come out and hear some of their classics, including "For the Love of Money," ''Use Ta Be My Girl," ''Family Reunion" and "I Love Music."
"This one is special," Williams said of the tour. "You might not get a chance to see this one again."
The O'Jays also are celebrating the 40th anniversary of the 1972 release of the "Backstabbers" album, described by some as the "pinnacle of Philly soul music." Though four decades old, both Levert and Williams said the album, which also sparked the hit "Love Train," and its lyrics remain significant.
The award-winning soul music songwriting duo of Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff wrote the bulk of their music in the group's most recognizable hits.
"The messages were on point then and still on point in the 1990s and 2000s and now 2012," Levert said. "That's the most incredible part. In doing music with them, everything they were saying was relevant and in your face. That people can still relate only says to me that people really don't change that much."
Williams said their songs' lyrics can sometimes be deemed controversial, yet in the controversy "they touch everyone's lives."
"I think that's why it (the music) never gets old," he said. "People still need to get on a 'Love Train' and get back to love. We're certainly not seeing that today. 'For the Love of Money,' and what money makes you do, 'Backstabbers' it's all still relevant today.
"The people loved them then and responded to them and we're blessed because they still love them now."
Though older — Eddie turned 70 in June, Walter will be 69 later this month — both men said touring and live concerts continue to give them a thrill.
"I still get a kick out of it," Levert said, chuckling. "I still enjoy seeing the crowd react to what I do and it's gratifying to know that people like what you do. We're also seeing younger generations gravitating toward our music. You know we've covered three generations — grandmother, daughter and granddaughter — and it's great to see these young kids groove to our music.
"It makes our mission worthwhile and the journey great."
Williams said he transforms into a different person when he goes on stage. "That's when my alter ego hits," he said laughing. "I still feed off their energy — the more excited they get the more excited I get."
In addition to touring, both Levert and Williams have launched solo projects.
Levert's "I Still Have It," is his first solo release outside of the group.
"You won't hear a new sound from me," he said of the project. "I'm still doing what I'm used to, what comes naturally to me and what I like to do."
The first single, "Last Man Standing," he said was what resulted after the transition he went through following the unexpected deaths of his sons — Sean and Gerald. "It was how I tried to heal myself. Other songs touch on family life and my relationship with my wife. All and all, I think it's a great piece of work. If you listen to it for three days, just give me three days, and I got you," he said with a laugh.
Williams' project is a release of a solo album he launched as a test run two years ago called "Exposed."
"It basically is songs I couldn't do with the O'Jays like standards," he said. "Bill Withers' 'Ain't No Sunshine,' classic songs by Frank Sinatra and Nat Cole. I recorded two more songs, Stevie Wonders' 'Overjoyed,' and an old Mills Brothers' song called 'Smack Dab in the Middle and we re-released it under a new title, 'Get Your Feet Off my Cadillac.'"
Williams described the release as a "romantic" album. "There are only one or two up tempo songs on it so if you're about dancing, this is probably not the one. But it's the kind of album that you put on when you come home from work, pour yourself a glass a wine with your significant other, look at each other and then things happen," he said. "If you know what I mean."
Meanwhile, the group is preparing to work on an anthology album.
"We just have to find the time," Levert said. "Time between touring and personal appearances. You know it's a process to write and produce a project and a very time-consuming thing. We have to dig deep into ourselves and get in a place where you can put that to music. That's not always an easy thing to do."