Interview conducted in person at Peabo's penthouse apartment on Peachtree Street in Atlanta in December 1978
With his debut album for Capitol, already certified as gold, Mr. Peabo Bryson is truly "reaching for the sky". His newest album, "Crosswinds" looks set to emulate its predecessor's success. Peabo expressed some of his feelings about it amongst other things...
"I'VE learned a great deal about this business and I'm still learning. Sure, I had to take the knocks and experience can sometimes be a terrible and hard way to learn but it's what's necessary to make you aware of what's going on in the industry."
So speaks Mr. Peabo Bryson, a young gentleman whose career is definitely on the ascent, if the reaction to his first Capitol album is anything to go by.
"The company really thought the album, "Reaching For The Sky" had peaked but after I went out there with my show, it started to pick up again. You see, we went out live to kill! We wanted to get to the audiences. But, no, I didn't quite think it would do as well as it did. I just knew I had done my part to make it happen to the best of my ability and after that, it was out of my hands.
"Naturally, I was ecstatic when it did hit gold and I had already perceived from the people's reactions to us on stage that something big was about to happen! My attitude to the album, I guess, had a lot to do with it: I never listened to it after we finished it.
"I'm not one of those people who relish and roll around in their own glory. That possibly made me a little sceptical that the album would take off like it did but I'm more than thankful that it did."
Those who may not be too familiar with Peabo's background should know that he's originally from Greenville, South Carolina. He was always around and into music during his high school and around 1968, teamed up with Moses Dillard and The Tex-Town Display. He stayed with the outfit until around 1973 and during that time, met Eddie Briscoe from Bang Records, a gentleman Peabo credits with having really been an instrumental force in his career.
"Eddie showed me that I could write, that I could do a lot of things myself. And that's basically been the key to my development. I've believed in my own ability and I've managed not to compromise creatively."
Peabo recalls that, once he realised that he wanted to strike out on his own, he continuously "bugged at the folks at Bang to let me record an album. It was a heavy investment for anyone to make but I guess I just stayed on their case sufficiently!"
The result was Peabo's debut album on Bang which he still maintains "contains the best songs I've written to date. I believe there are five exceptional songs on that album including "I Can Make It Better" which is a song which we performed on the road.
"In fact, I guess Capitol must feel pretty strongly about the album too since they recently purchased it from Bang. I guess they will re-release it at some point in the future and sure, whenever they do, I'll re-introduce some of those songs into my stage act."
After the period with Bang, which helped to at least introduce Peabo's name to record buyers in some areas of the States, he was contacted by Larkin Arnold, then at Capitol Records who spotted in him a tremendous creative ability and signed him shortly thereafter.
The success of his debut album has naturally led to immediate reaction on the newest set, "Crosswinds". Peabo comments on the set: "I think it's just in my nature to go against the grain, accept the challenges that come along. There are still people who aren't really aware of what I can do so I'm constantly showing people that given the freedom I can come through with what they want, without compromising myself creatively.
"Having the first album on Capitol turn gold certainly added some pressure but I intended that this album showed more dimensions to me and I think it's done that. I think it's truly positive, it reflects more and more about me, what I'm about.
"Take songs like "Point Of View" and "She's A Woman", they're kinda different from what people may expect from me. But so far, the reaction from everyone seems to be positive. I've had some folks say they like six songs but not two — but believe me, I don't feel bad about that! Most folks only like one or two cuts on an album these days!"
On this album, Peabo worked with veteran producer/arranger Johnny Pate. "I needed Johnny's input as a sounding board, I needed his objective viewpoint and his experience — and he's a beautiful person so working with him was just fine. He was helpful all the way down the line although to begin with, he just couldn't understand me!
"I mean, what happened was that I'd play something on the piano just to give the musicians a guide on a particular part but I wouldn't sing anything — and Johnny's used to hearing someone sing whatever they want as well. But he was great — he helped with working on some intros and endings for some of the songs and he's like me, he likes to break the rules! For instance, for the first time, we used all the guys from my band in the studio and we even had a couple of people doing background who'd never done that before!"
Peabo may 'break rules' but there's no doubt that the end result hardly gives any clue to that — the album is currently zooming up all the charts and seems to have received almost immediate response from everyone.
"I think what's really important about this album is that I'm developing. I'm constantly learning, each new album seems to reflect more and more for me. Gradually, I'm discovering my own personal formula as a producer so that I'll be able to work with other acts at some point in time, when we can actually find the time to do that!"
Anyone who listens to Peabo's music can hardly fail to see that love and its many ups and downs is a constant theme.
"Well, there are several things to say about that. Firstly, I'm concerned with pleasing people and giving them something they can and will relate to. In my writing and when I record, I'm aware that I have to aim and direct myself towards public acceptance to an extent so I do that with music that they will dig — because I zero in on the things that people are digging in the marketplace — whilst at the same time making it music that I also dig myself.
"I'm fortunate in that people accept me doing ballads and they want to hear something about things that you've been through as the artist because it somehow seems to cushion a lot of things for people to know that they're not the only ones having to deal with a particular situation, for instance.
Peabo further expounds that "I'm not afraid of being vulnerable. There's nothing wrong with admitting that you've loved and lost, that you've been hurt, felt pain. The most important thing is that you survive and that's something to be proud of. You'll find my songs deal with all aspects of those situations: the good, the bad and the ugly.
"In my songs, I can be the victim or the victimiser, I can go through times when I feel good about an emotional experience or situation and then I can feel bad. You see, I'm basically a reflective person and I try to keep myself open to life. I can only write about truth and reality, what I've seen, what I've experienced and I don't think there's anything wrong with that kind of vulnerability because people like to deal with what's real and they can usually sense when your songs reflect a genuine feeling you've had or experienced."
When Mr. Bryson reflects on his career in general and its present upward movement, he has this to say: "I always acknowledge the presence of God in everything I do. After all, that is the source for all the creativity. And He is the only power greater than anything, so I don't look at other people in awe, I realise that I can do all the things that the Creator has given me the ability to do.
"The way I look on that whole being in the number one spot thing is simple: you can only ever be there for a quick minute — there's always going to be somebody else coming along. So you keep your feet on the ground, don't get overawed by your acceptance and most of all, you continue to learn about humility. In fact, that's something that should increase with any success: your ability to be humble and realise that there is a source you must acknowledge for whatever happens."
Peabo notes: "For me, being an artist is not a personal quest. It's not about the material things — I would never have traded places with Howard Hughes! Sure, you want some things for your family and you do a few things for yourself but to me, it's about remaining the same person, just growing and learning."
There is no doubt that Mr. Bryson is truly headed for the top. What makes it so refreshing and rewarding is to see success coming to a young man whose obvious motivation is sincere and genuine, whose love of life is paramount and whose talents match his positive goals and attitudes.
With his head and heart in the right place, Peabo Bryson can hardly fail to captivate people everywhere with his music.
About the Writer
David Nathan is the founder and CEO of SoulMusic.com and began his writing career in 1965; beginning in 1967, he was a regular contributor to Blues & Soul magazine in London before relocating to the U.S. in 1975 where he served as U.S. editor for the publication for several decades and began being known as 'The British Ambassador Of Soul.' From 1988 to 2004, he wrote prolifically for Billboard, has penned bios, produced and written liner notes for box sets and reissue CDs for over a thousand projects. He returned to London in 2009 where he has helped create SoulMusic.com Records as a leading reissue label.