LIVING IN the footsteps is a problem which daunts performers from time to time when they come from a successful musical family — we all know the fate that seems to befall ladies like DeDe Warwicke and Erma Franklin. Well, some folk would say that the same problem affects Syreeta — only in this case, it's because she was married to Stevie Wonder and it would be true to say that he has been something of a mentor for the lady.
But Syreeta is determined that she's gonna make it and show the world what she's all about, which should prove conclusively that she doesn't need that oft-bandied tag "ex-Mrs. Wonder".
On that subject itself, she simply says "that's what I am and there's no point in my making a big thing about it. So far, my relationship with Stevie has had no adverse effect on my career whatsoever — in fact, it's been of immense assistance — all that Steve has done for me has helped me to get everything together."
Not so long ago, Syreeta's second album for Motown was released both in the States and in the U.K. and so far, reaction has been very encouraging.
"Yes, it seems to be picking up airplay on both the East and West coasts and the sales are very encouraging. Personally, I'm very happy with the album and I like to think that some of the great amount of concern taken over its production comes over. There was so much happy feeling expressed in its making — so much love and I felt that I was far more involved in this set than in the first one."
The first Syreeta album was a pretty outstanding collection and it never seemed to receive the kind of recognition it deserves. The lady herself agrees.
"I don't know why, but the company never really got behind that first album, although I think it's better than the new one. I really feel that the company may find one day that they'll re-release it because it has so many strong tunes on it. But right now, Motown is really pushing behind the latest album and I guess it does have the commercial edge of the two.''
Syreeta's career has, in some ways, been rather an erratic affair hitherto and she's the first to admit it — but there is a definite change occuring right now and the charming young lady took time out to explain some of the reasons for the long silence.
"Well, there are quite a few reasons. Firstly, I wasn't being handled properly from a management point of view. I'd never had anyone really fighting for me because Motown had had total control over my affairs before. But now I've got a guy named Barry Perrelman, who's really on my side and he's doing so much to help me. I should also say that Berry Gordy has also taken a strong personal interest in getting my career off the ground and of course, that's a great boost. But there are other reasons.
"Previously, there were some personal things which I wanted to clear out and sort out and that's been accomplished to some extent now. And one of the things that helped me get myself together was a trip I took to Ethiopia for about three months. I'd been thinking of doing it for some time and then I heard of a course in the subject which I've been studying — the science of creative intelligence.
"The studies involved Eastern cultures and transcendental meditation and I must say that undoubtedly, I learnt a great deal from my time there. Most important of all, I felt a strong calming influence on me as a person and I'm sure that this has all helped me get myself together. It was a totally new experience and is aimed to help you grow — you absorb all the ideas and flavours that the different Eastern cultures display."
The kind of thing that seems to have kept Syreeta from really making it up until now is the time lag between the first album and the new one but she commented:
"That delay was good in some ways because it meant more was put into the sessions. As I said, I was far more involved in the total production and you must remember that Steve's accident held things up for a time. He certainly wrote some of the songs with me in mind but as you'll see, we wrote a large percentage together. There seems to have been a lot of interest in several of the tracks — we've got "I'm Goin' Left" coming out as a single and the last one ("Come And Get This Stuff") did fairly well. I guess it was a commercial choice, although personally I feel that the one you're doing there, "Spinnin' & Spinnin' " has the edge. That's one of my favourites.
"Another track that seems to have caused a lot of comment is "Heavy Day". No, it's not autobiographical and I guess I got the idea from that Carpenters' song "Superstar" — the theme is similar in a way. Although I'm satisfied with the album, I still don't think we've reached the ultimate in what I'm striving for. Steve is hoping to start on some new sessions with me within the next few weeks for the third album and I like to think that with each new set we do, we get better."
Yet another important aspect of the lady's career which has never been touched upon is the area of live gigs. In fact, she confessed, she's never really undertaken any major tours except with Stevie Wonder. "At last, what with the new management and the general activity surrounding my recording career, I feel I'm ready to go out on the road for the first time. In fact, I'm really excited at the prospect of going out there and I feel that I'm a much stronger individual now, so I'll be able to cope with working live.
"Previously, I'd felt unsure but I seem to have gained far more confidence as a person and I hope that will reflect in my performances. We're going to be undertaking a tour shortly which will involve trips to all the major cities across the country — New York, Chicago, L.A., Philadelphia, Boston — it's going to be really pretty extensive. I'll have my own five or six piece band and I'm really looking forward to it all
"We hope that maybe we'll be able to get over to Europe later in the year — I really dug it there when I went over with Steve. There seems to be a far more relaxed, cool atmosphere in Europe and maybe if the record takes off, we'll be able to get there even sooner."
After the unfortunate delays which seem to have prevented Syreeta from really achieving the kind of recognition her talent so obviously deserves, the time seems right for the lovely lady to finally break through. She exudes a good deal of positive enthusiasm and natural confidence which can only ensure that the future is bright.
We look forward to hearing from Syreeta with far more frequency in the future because she has the kind of talent that cannot remain dormant for too long.
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.