It's difficult to discuss 80's soul without taking a serious look at the classic contributions Meli'sa Morgan has made. In the fine company of Kashif, Freddie Jackson, and Alyson Williams, the Queens native transcended the lines of R&B from quiet-storm ballads to dancefloor-driven, funk romps. Now, she brings her upbeat, soulful flavor full-circle with "Sweet Baby," from Cool Million's 'Back for More' CD.
Justin Kantor: This is Justin Kantor of Soulmusic.com. Today I am delighted to be speaking with a lady who has given us an ongoing supply of soulful schooling these last couple of decades. Starting out in the clubs, she taught us how to keep us in touch ‘Body to Body’ before kicking it up into ‘High Fashion’ mode, and shortly thereafter, she took matters into her own hands with a soulful plea to ‘Do Me Baby’ and a reminder that 'Love Changes,' so don’t get caught up in a ‘Fool’s Paradise’. That was just the tip of the iceberg, and now Meli’sa is at it again with a new song on the Cool Million CD Back For More. Please welcome, the lady with a 'Deeper Love,' Miss Meli’sa Morgan.
JK: How are you?
MM: Well, that was really nice!
JK: Well-deserved. How are you doing these days? What have you been up to?
MM: I’m doing really, really good. I’ve been exploring some different things in the industry, writing songs and getting songs placed in movies and stuff like that. That’s been really interesting. I have a song in the Tyler Perry movie I Can Do Bad All By Myself.
JK: What song is that?
MM: It’s called ‘A Good Woman Down’, Mary J’s song, co-written by me. That was really nice to get it on the CD and then have it in the movie as well. In January, I think the DVD had sold 1.5 million in its first week.
JK: That’s a real coo!
MM: That was amazing. Now I’m going to have a platinum DVD.
JK: It’s funny, because this is the second time that something you’ve kind of written has been done by the Queen of Hip Hop Soul, because back in the 90’s, when Jay-Z did ‘Can’t Knock The Hustle’ with Mary J, they were incorporating a song that you wrote with ‘Fool’s Paradise’.
MM: Yes, that was a wonderful thing. I thank them every time, because when I get those checks (laughs) I am very appreciative and humbled to those guys for doing that song, and I got to do a remix with Jay-Z, but every time he’s in concert or on TV or something, he makes sure that he does that song, and Mary does too, so I’m blessed that they do that.
JK: It’s interesting that you mentioned that, because I believe the original recording you did, they changed up the lyrics a little bit, and as you mentioned, there was a remix where you sang the original lyrics, right?
MM: Yeah, it worked out really great and I’m hoping to do more stuff with them in the future, God willing.
JK: So you got the song placed in a blockbuster movie, and anything else in particular, as far as movie placements that you’ve been working on?
MM: Yes, well I’m in the new Floguing movie and I’m doing the interview with Wolfgang and we have a song ‘All In The Name of Love’ and that’s going to be in the independent film as well.
JK: What is the name of the movie?
MM: It’s called Floguing. It’s the new thing from Vogueing, now they do it with the flags and everything.
JK: So it’s an updated Vogue dance style?
MM: Yes, and Wolfgang did the first independent movie about the Vogueing, and now he’s doing the film about Floguing, and I have a song in it.
JK: You’re doing quite an extensive selection of types of movies there.
MM: Yeah! I Can Do Bad All By Myself and Flogueing. What can I say?
JK: Speaking of that, you’re involved in something very different now -- which is actually what brought about the interview -- with the Cool Million project, Back For More. You have a delicious new song on there called ‘Sweet Baby’ that has been making the rounds and getting a good response. Can you tell me who approached you to do this project and how that song came together?
MM: Actually, Frank from Cool Million approached me first, and he actually approached me on Myspace -- which, you never think those things work, but they really do. He found me on Myspace and we started talking, and then he emailed me the song, and I wrote some lyrics to it, and we arranged that when Rob, who was the actual producer came into town, that I would go into the studio with him and do the song, and that’s how it came about. It’s a wonderful thing, and I think I might be over in Germany real soon doing a concert, and I’m going to incorporate the song into the show.
JK: That will be awesome. I know a lot of people will be looking forward to that, and a lot of people here will be wishing they could be over there seeing it. Hopefully it makes its way here to some degree, although I know it’s a challenge with that style of music when it comes to the Old School flavor, at least when it comes to here, but at least that’s a starting point over there in Germany.
MM: Yes, and it’s really nice to see that around the world, people appreciate my music in different ways. It’s a really wonderful thing. It’s a true test of time. I’m really humbled.
JK: Did you actually record it in New York then, your vocal?
MM: Yes, I recorded it in New York and I think they’re doing remixes and more remixes.
JK: I heard a couple of them online already, a 12-inch mix of it, which is really nice, and I believe that Eugene Wilde, who is also featured on the CD, who I spoke with the other day, he said there was another remixer who had done your song as well.
MM: Tommy Moulton?
JK: Oh was it Tom Moulton? That’s pretty cool. That’s legendary. Have you heard any of the other tracks by the other artists on the CD yet?
MM: No I haven’t. I’ve been busy running around, working and I have two homes that I’m dealing with in New York and South Carolina and I’ve been busy with that, but I’m hoping that they will send me a copy, because I asked them to send me a copy of the completed CD and they promised that they would.
JK: I spoke the other day with Peggi Blu, and she said that you were the reason that she decided to get involved with it. When she heard your name was involved with it, she said that Meli’sa doesn’t do just anything, that it has to be high caliber, so that’s what made her know that it was a good project to be involved with.
MM: That’s wonderful! I’ve missed her twice then, because last year in Las Vegas we did an Old School Party show and when I came in, she had already gone, she had done her stint a couple of days before. I thought, “I hope to meet her one day!”
JK: Actually, the way I met both of you originally was through the Sugar Bar in New York.
MM: Oh yes, the Sugar Bar, Nick & Val’s place.
JK: I used to do the Open Mic there, and I always remember, I met her there once, but I always remember you hosting it and being such a gracious woman, not only in your appreciation of me, but also how you treated all the aspiring vocalists who came there. You made it such a warm atmosphere.
MM: Oh thank you! That’s what it’s about, I mean we want to continue to do what we do and develop and become better artists, but it’s also about helping and lending a hand and pulling up the new artists that are coming.
JK: You’ve done so many styles throughout your career, for instance the sound that you’re doing now with ‘Sweet Baby’ is a bit different than the style you explored on your last solo album, “I Remember”, back in 2005. Do you have a preference for what type of groove you like to do, or what kind of songs that you most like to sing?
MM: Not really. As long as the music is good, I just like to explore different vocal avenues. I want something that’s going to challenge me to be different, because no matter what, once you get into who and what you are as a vocal stylist, that’s going to be in there, but you want to branch out and show that you can go beyond that. That’s the thing that singing behind the Chaka Kahn’s and working with Melba Moore and people like that, that I always try to strive for in my new music, is not to be redundant in my style; give them a little bit of my style so they know it’s me, but try to give them a little something so they can say, “Oh, that’s different. I didn’t know that she could go there.” I always try to do that.
JK: You went to the prestigious Julliard School of the Performing Arts, and I would imagine that maybe some of your appreciation for different vocal styles came out of that experience. What exactly did you study there, and how would you describe the experience?
MM: It’s a really eye-opening experience for someone that’s in R&B, because Julliard is a Classical training, but I studied music theory, and it was really strange to me, because I had already been doing clubs, and working all around New York, so my genre of music in R&B, I was starting to have my little expertise about that, and it would be really weird to go into class and be asked questions, and think you know it, because you’re trying to relate it to R&B, and it would be totally wrong. The structure of music is an A-B-C-D situation, and it has to be that way no matter what. You can’t vary from what the structure of music is. What you can do is change the style when you do it, but a C is a C is a C. You can’t say, “That’s a C Sharp, because…” No, it’s not because, it’s a C, and if you said C Sharp, you’re wrong. That was an awakening, but it helped me to get relative pitch.
JK: I was going to say, when you were explaining that, I thought, because I went to Berklee College of Music and I had to take the theory classes as well, and one thing, even though I guess I knew in the back of my mind, what surprised me when I went to New York and I started doing those open mic’s like Sugar Bar, is everything is by ear, and you’re doing a lot of improvisation, but like you said, when you’re learning theory, it’s a matter of reading and doing things note-by-note and not really deviating from the specific chord structure.
MM: There’s no deviation. It is what it is, and that’s history to them. You cannot change that. You either know it, or you don’t know it. In knowing it, it does help you so that when you go into an improvisational setting, you can improv to a certain degree.
JK: You know what to do to make it sound right.
MM: You know what to do to a certain degree, but then you get to the point where you can’t improvise past that, because no matter what, when it comes to music, it makes it wrong.
JK: In a band setting especially, when you’re working with a lot of different musicians, maybe things can get lost if it deviates too much.
MM: My thing is, it’s the music first, and my vocals wrap around the music. That’s what I do. I’m like a good sandwich. Music is the meat, and I’m the one that says, “Okay, let’s put a little mayonnaise on it, some mustard, cheese and rye bread.” I’m the thing that wraps around the meat.
JK: So you’re like the dressing?
MM: Yeah, it’s always about the music. If the meat is no good, the dressing don’t make no difference.
JK: What kind of dressing would you describe yourself as, then?
MM: Me? I’m honey mustard (laughs)!
JK: That’s savory, and it’s a very nice selection, and it shows. I think it was Rob Hardt, or it might have been Frank Ryle said, is what drew you to them to recruit you for this project was some of your earlier recordings, with Shades of Love and High Fashion and you mentioned a minute ago, that when you went to Julliard, you were already kind of starting out doing club work, so what can you tell me about the beginnings of your career, and especially starting with Shades of Love? ‘Keep In Touch (Body To Body)’ was a very big club record back in the 80’s and what can you tell me about how that came about and your involvement in the whole scheme of things?
MM: What really happened with ‘Body To Body’ was, my friend Don Hamilton, I used to do background sessions with him and a young lady named Cookie Watkins, and they would call me and say, “Come in! We have a session” and one day he had a session with Patrick Adams for this song ‘Keep In Touch (Body To Body)’ and back in those days you made like $50 (laughs) for singing background, but I was still in high school, so I’ll take the $50! I went in and we were doing the background for it, and I got hungry and you can’t really eat too much, and Don went and got me an apple, so in between doing the backgrounds, I was chomping on this apple, and Patrick Adams said, “Could you please stop chomping on that apple?” and I said, “Could you please hurry up? I’m hungry!” He was like, “You got a little attitude about you” and I was like, “You got a little attitude about you!” He was like, “Since you got so much attitude Miss Thing, do you want to sing the lead vocal?” I was like, “How much more are you gonna pay me?” and he said “$50 more dollars” so I was like, “Okay.” It was really like that, and he said, “Let me see how much attitude you got singing this song” and I was like, “Hurry up, because I want to finish this apple before it turns brown!” It was really that kind of session; we were going back and forth like that. Once we got into the song and I started singing, he was like, “Can you go a little higher?” and I was like, “I can go higher, but is this gonna take too much longer?” It really went like that for the whole session until it was done, and he was like, “You were amazing!” and I was like, “That’s nice, but can I get my money and finish my apple, because I’m hungry!” Who knew that three weeks later it was going to be on the radio?
JK: Wow! That’s quite a colourful story there. You took a tense situation, and I guess speaking your mind paid off. He gave you a challenge right up your alley.
MM: Yes he did, and I never worked with him again. I saw him a couple of times, and we always talked about how that came about, and this crazy music business, how something like that can produce a hit song like that. I haven’t seen him in a while, but I hope he’s doing well and I thank him for that.
JK: Even with that song, it had a renaissance of House mixes in the 90’s, I believe.
MM: That song has gone #1 twice! It’s amazing.
JK: Wasn’t it first released on the small Scorpgemi label?
MM: Yes, and they wanted me to come in and do it with a group of girls. Because it was Shades of Love, it had to be a group, and that’s another story in itself, because I went in and tried to rehearse with them, and the girls couldn’t sing! They had the look, but they couldn’t sing. It would be an insult to me and to the people that would come and see me, to be with you guys. First of all, y’all didn’t sing the backgrounds, I did, and to have you come in and undermine what we put into it was an insult, so I decided not to go with the group that the record company wanted me to go with, and I got Don and Cookie Watkins and we went out and did gigs, and it turned into a big thing, like threats if we went and did this gig they were gonna come and beat us up, because this is not what the record company wanted, but sometimes you have to branch out and get a lawyer and a good bodyguard and say, “Let’s Go”.
JK: I know it was in the same year I believe, that you ended up becoming a part of High Fashion with two other serious vocalists, Alyson Williams and Eric McClintock, so how did you find yourself in that situation?
MM: Oh, that was with Petrus. That situation was at the time Change and all those groups had come from Europe, and he had all this money and he was producing these groups, and actually I went with Timmy Allen the bass player to something, and Petrus who was the producer at the time, he met me and said, “Oh, so you’re a singer? You want to sing?” (laughs) “Can you really sing?” Who is this character?
JK: He was from Italy?
MM: Yes! “You want to sing?” (laughs) I was like, “Get out of my face with that foolishness!” Once again, it was the same kind of thing. “How does she talk to me like this? She cannot talk to me like this!” It was that same kind of banter again. “If you can sing, then you come to the studio!” I was like, “Okay, I’ll come to the studio, but you still can’t talk to me like that!” (laughs) It was really one of those things, and we became best friends. We did High Fashion, and I told him my thing was to do a solo career. “You’re not ready for a solo career” he said, and I was like, “I gotta go.”
JK: The big hit was ‘Feelin' Lucky Lately’ and you were doing backgrounds on that one, right?
MM: Right. He said, “You do backgrounds now. You’re not ready to be a lead singer”
JK: You did have a song on there that you did sing leads, and you even had a part in writing it if I’m not mistaken. I just thought it was fabulous, which is ‘You’re A Winner’. How did you get that in there?
MM: I threatened to quit, so he had to give me something. He said, “If you can write, then you put some lyrics to this. Make her happy.” It was really that kind of thing. “She’s so difficult! Make her happy”.
JK: So every step of the way, you were meeting with a different challenge.
MM: Yes! (laughs)
JK: That song, I don’t know what degree of success it had individually, but I know when it was released in Europe as a single, it definitely had a very distinctive flavour to it. Did you guys actually go out and promote the record, you and Alyson and Eric, or did you strictly record it in the studio and it was done?
MM: We did some shows with Patti LaBelle, and then I did some stuff with B. B. & Q Band; that was Petrus’ group too. He really wanted to make me happy and be in control, so when there was a tour and High Fashion wasn’t busy, he put me on that tour so I could make money. Deep in my heart, I wanted to do my own thing, so after that, I said, “I love you very much, but I gotta see if I can make it happen for myself and if you don’t believe in me enough, then this situation is never going to work.”
JK: You didn’t end up doing the second album with them, I know. A few years passed, and you started doing backgrounds. Did you work with Chaka at some point?
JK: So you’d been doing these one-off dance projects, and then how did you make that foray into working with someone of Chaka’s caliber?
MM: Actually, it was Vesta Williams who got me that gig. She had come to see me, I was a regular as you know at a club called The Cellar in New York City, and her and Chaka came one night. Everybody would come through there; The Isley Brothers, you know everybody would come. Vesta got hired to go out on like a year-and-a-half tour with The Commodores, and Chaka was like, “Yeah, you can go, but you’re not going to leave me hanging. You’re gonna find me somebody that can take your place, and Vesta said, “What about the girl that we saw the other night at The Cellar?” and Chaka said, “I don’t care who you get as long as she’s as good as you or better” and her and Chaka and her musical director Lesette Wilson, one of my writing partners for life, came back down to The Cellar and saw me and Vesta said, “Girl, we’re gonna call you tomorrow, because I’m leaving and you’re gonna take this gig with Chaka and get her off my back.” I was like, “Chaka Khan? You gotta be kidding! She won’t call me” and the next day they called me and said, “You need to be in the city.” She was living on Riverside Drive. I’ll never forget it. They said, “You need to be on Riverside Drive” and they gave me the address and I came and I was so nervous, and she had just done Channel 4 News or something, and she walked into the building and Lesette said, “This is Meli’sa Morgan and she’s taking Vesta’s place” and she looked me up and down and she got in the elevator and said, “Get in the elevator” so I got in the elevator and she said, “Who is she? What’s that name?” and I said, “I’m Meli’sa Morgan” and she said, “Forget about that. Can you sing, bitch?” I was like, “Yeah, I can sing” and she said, “Well, that’s all I need to know, if you can sing” and we’ve been friends ever since.
JK: You didn’t get into any argument with her, I presume.
MM: No, No. You don’t argue with Chaka. She might get her sneakers on and get to fighting (laugh). I have so much love for her. I was making outfits at the time and I made a couple outfits for her during the tour. It was a really beautiful time in my life, working with her.
JK: Do you remember what tour that was on, when you were working with her?
MM: The “Ain’t Nobody” Tour.
JK: That was popular with Rufus. Was Rufus touring when you did that?
MM: Remember she had broke up with them after that, so this was just Tony Maiden that came out with us.
JK: Where exactly did you tour with her?
MM: All over. I didn’t do Europe, but we did the whole States. It was wonderful. I think the last show was at Brooklyn College or something. It was really a wonderful time.
JK: Was it from doing High Fashion that you ended up having your solo album on Capitol, or was that a coincidence?
MM: No, after I left Chaka, Kashif asked me to go on tour with him, and he featured me on his new CD, and he had just signed with Hush Productions for management, and being out on tour with him and being a featured artist, they saw me and we opened up for Gladys Knight on Broadway, and that was our last gig with him, and the management company Charles and Bo and all of them came and they saw the show and came backstage and said, “It’s time for you to do your own thing, Meli’sa. Are you ready to do your own solo project?” and I was like, “I’ve been ready!” Having the relationship with Lesette at that time, we were writing and I was like, “I’ve got songs, I’ve got ideas, I’ve got style, I’ve been ready” so they said, “Come to the office on Monday” and we’re gonna sign you with a production deal with Capitol” so that’s how that came about.
JK: It’s interesting how things come around, because High Fashion was on Capitol as well, just a few years earlier.
JK: You came out in such a big way, and with ‘Do Me Baby’, and doing a song from Prince’s catalog, and you had Paul Lawrence doing the producing on that particular song, so what was it like, and was it different than what you expected when you actually released the single and made your official solo debut?
MM: ‘Do Me Baby’ wasn’t my choice, it was the President Don Grierson at the time, of Capitol Records, he had put a hold on that song for two years or something, and his comment to himself was that the next R&B singer that I sign, that’s gonna be their single, because it’s a hit song. I had no choice whatsoever in that matter. He was going to make that a #1 song no matter what, and I just happened to be the next R&B singer who could sing, that sang the song. It was very interesting, because it went from being a hired person to being a person in charge. There’s no if’s ands or but’s about it, you cannot, someone with my personality and talent, take a backseat to where your career is going, because you’re going to have that hit, and then you’re gonna get lost in the sauce. It catapulted me into the whole political part of the real industry quickly, but it was a nice ride, and the thing about it is, with your first hit, that’s why they call it a ride, because you’re on it and you don’t even realize what’s happening until the second time around.
JK: It’s interesting, because you did accomplish something of a feat, I think for that time for a female artist in that on both of your first two albums, you did quite a lot of producing and writing, and even on some of your biggest hits like we mentioned earlier, “Fool’s Paradise”, and then there was “Do You Still Love Me”, which was one of the songs that people instantly think of when they think of you. I’m curious, what did you have to do in order to attain that role of producer, especially? Do you have any memories of that?
MM: Well what we had to do, me and Lesette, we had to bring in better music than anybody else, and that’s what we did because people were submitting songs, it wasn’t that they didn’t have songs, what started happening is that they didn’t have the songs that could fit my style. If you remember during that time, the singers were lighter singers. Unless you were an Aretha Franklin or a Gladys Knight, you weren’t getting those hard-hitting type of songs. It just so happens that while we were writing those Aretha Franklin type of songs, people were bringing in bubble gum songs because they just wanted the little hits and after recording “Do Me Baby”, I couldn’t go in and do a sheepish type of song, because that would have never worked. We started writing these songs, but then who knew that across the way in California, Miki Howard was fighting the same fight. I needed to have the songs where I could belt out my vocal ability, so then it became like a movement and when “Do Me Baby” and Miki came out with her thing, we had all these powerful singers in the 80’s that were coming out with these great songs so it worked out for everybody. Now, I still work with Miki and even Cherrelle, she was coming out at that time, and we’re all friends now. We’ve been friends for years now and we always talk about that struggle.
JK: Have you done any actual writing or producing with Miki or Cherrelle? You mentioned that you work with Miki still.
MM: No, I haven’t. I’d love to write a song for Miki. That would be the ultimate. As a matter of fact, I’m going to call her and talk about that.
JK: I always have a special place in my heart for the “Good Love” album, and when it comes to songs that you produced and/or wrote, I would have to say that one of my favorites is ‘Just For Your Touch’.
MM: Oh, yeah.
JK: That was just a beautiful song, and there’s also “I’ll Love No More’”.
MM: You know what, ‘I’ll Love No More’, Whitney loves that song. Every time I sing it, she starts singing that chorus. I will say, “That’s my song! You need to re-record it Whitney” (laughs). Re-record it if you love it so much.
JK: It was one of those songs, both of those actually, that would have made really great singles as well.
MM: Very touching songs. You’re going through things in your life, relationships, and then you’re also changing in your career, you’re making a whole lifestyle change, so it’s a very trying time. Love lost, love gained, you know.
JK: You and Lesette did some outside work, because I remember that you did some production for Genobia Jeter.
MM: Yeah, she had sang background on “Do You Still Love Me” and I love her voice.
JK: I didn’t realize she sang background on that.
MM: She also sang background on “Still In Love”. I love her voice, and she loved my writing. That was a very touch-and-go situation because that song was written for her, but Freddie Jackson came over and he heard it and wanted it. We really had to make a decision, because we could have had a #1 hit with him on his second CD, but because we had promised it to her first, it was the right thing to do. We lost out on the success of it, but she did a wonderful job. We did the right thing for her.
JK: I remember seeing her perform that on Soul Train and the song had a really nice feel to it. It’s very mellow, but it’s really special. You mentioned that you had toured with Kashif prior to getting your deal, so I guess that was how the collaboration ended up coming about when you did your second album and you teamed up for the now classic remake of ‘Love Changes’. How was that song chosen? I know that Mother’s Finest had done it in the late 70’s, I believe. How did you choose that song?
MM: I went to his house just to say ‘Hello’, and he was always in the studio doing something, and ‘Do Me Baby’ was a success by then, so I just went to say Hi to him, because he didn’t get to write on “Do Me Baby” and everybody knows that he’s a prolific producer and songwriter, and he said, “I’m doing a Mother’s Finest song on my next CD, “Love Changes”. Come in the car, I want you to hear it!” At that time, he was driving a Bentley, and we went into the Bentley and I was listening to the song, singing along and I was like, “I used to love this song! Oh man!” and the production was so phat! I started singing in the Bentley, and he had one eyebrow up by that time and said, “Why don’t we do it together?” (laughs)
JK: The power of suggestion.
MM: I felt so bad, because he didn’t get to do something on my first CD.
JK: You lose touch because so much is going on.
MM: Yeah, and so he said, “Why don’t you say something to Charles?” and I said, “I’m sure they won’t mind” and at that point he grabbed the tape and went into the studio and kicked everybody out. “Me & Meli’sa are gonna do this as a duet. Everybody out!”
JK: So you did it right then and there?
JK: That’s interesting, because that ended up being more associated with you guys than with the original.
MM: Yeah, it was. I know Mary and Jamie Foxx did it again, and I met Jamie and said, “How could you do that to me? (laughs)” and he said, “I didn’t know you then, we just went with Mary. I didn’t know, but he said, “I love your version. If I had known, we would have went with you.” It stood the test of time, and every time I do that song, the audience just loves it.
JK: What was it like, working with all those people that you worked with during that time? We mentioned Kashif, Paul Lawrence, and obviously you were in the company of other greats like Freddie Jackson, Melba Moore, especially a lot of the Orpheus artists, but it just seemed like there was a really distinctive sound happening. Aside from the business side, where there any particular memories as far as when you were performing at that time?
MM: It was always good, especially with me and Freddie. When we went on tour together and performed, we had such a camaraderie. We’d sleep during the day and maybe get up and go to the mall, but Freddie calls me Ma, and he’s like, “Where’s Ma? Did she eat?” and I’m like, “Where’s Freddie? What’s he doing? What are you wearing tonight?” It was always a real nice, peaceful atmosphere as far as that was concerned, because we became friends, and when you have a friendship, that’s when the whole bond forms together, but that’s when the political stuff starts. I don’t know if you know too much about this industry, but the record companies don’t want their artists getting too close, because then everybody starts talking and everybody gets amongst one another and all of a sudden we’re all against the record company. They try to throw daggers in having too close of a friendship when you’re their top artists. They couldn’t stop that, and over the years, it really has been the thing that has gotten us through.
JK: It’s important to have that foundation, when you feel like things are falling apart you can go back to that as your rock.
MM: Yeah, and there are people who have tried to break that up, and things happen but if it’s true, sooner or later it comes full-circle.
JK: You also did one of my favorites with “Here Comes The Night” with Carl Sturken and Evan Rogers. Do you remember anything about that experience, working on that song?
MM: Not really, because I think what happened, they did come in and do some stuff, but I might have been a little uncomfortable with them and I wound up having Lesette come in and really produce me. I remembered they had started it and it wasn’t working for me, so what we said was, “You can have the credit, but you really can’t produce me” so we wound up having Lesette come in as a ghost producer, to actually produce my vocals. They really didn’t produce my vocals.
JK: The personalities clashed?
MM: No, it wasn’t that, it was just I liked the song but where they were trying to lead me vocally wasn’t going to work for me. I needed somebody in the studio that understood my style at that time and where I needed to go with the song. They got the credit, but they didn’t produce me, it was really Lesette.
JK: She’s very talented, obviously.
MM: Yeah, sometimes you have to do that because you don’t want to be arguing with people. Here, take the money, take the credit, y’all are worried about things that I’m not worried about. I’m worried about my style and where the song needs to go for Meli’sa Morgan. You’re worried about things that have nothing to do with me, money and producers. Who cares? That’s never important to me. I just got a call the other day to do something for a rapper, and I’m not worried about the money, I want to hear the song. What difference does it make about the money if I can’t do anything with the song?
JK: You have your reputation and your legacy to consider.
MM: Yeah. It’s always been about the quality of the music to me. We still gotta eat and stuff like that, and then I get to fighting about the money (laughs). We can do that after I know I’ve got something that’s worth fighting for.
JK: One of your albums that kind of got lost in the shuffle but had some real nice stuff on it was the “Lady In Me” album, which you produced with Attala Zane Giles. What do you remember about that album? There was sort of an extended break between the “Good Love” album and that one it seemed. Was there something in particular that happened that caused you to take a break?
MM: I was departing from Hush with the whole production thing, and coming to my own light as a producer and artist and not coming under their wing, because they weren’t giving me enough freedom. That was when I broke off from them and signed directly with Capitol and then Capitol wanted me to produce the album in Los Angeles, so that’s how that came about.
JK: You had a single off of there, which was really nice called ‘Don’t You Know’. Were you involved in writing that one?
MM: Uh huh, and ‘Can You Give Me What I Want’. That was my L.A. period. Nothing against L.A., but I’m not an L.A. girl. I have nothing against them, but after that whole experience, I made a promise to myself that, I love the music that they make out of there, but I’m just not an L.A. girl. I’m a New York person. I don’t think like, “It’ll be better in the morning.” No, it might not if we don’t fix it tonight. I’m very real, very New York, let’s get to the grind, let’s do this. L.A. is very, “Oh, we’ll get to it tomorrow” and I really made a promise to myself, not for nothing, if it happens then I will go with the flow, but I made a promise to myself that if I had to make the decision, I would always record in New York.
JK: I moved to L.A. for a year after I was in New York, and it was probably the hardest adjustment I ever had to make in my life. I just had no idea of the shock I was in for culture-wise, and just how things are done or not done.
MM: I’m very feminine in my ways, but I’m not a fluff girl, I gotta keep it real.
JK: You were born in Queens, right?
JK: You’ve pretty much been there most of the time, I would guess.
MM: Well, I lived in Manhattan, but I moved back to Queens, and bought a co-op and now I’m between Queens and South Carolina. We just came back to my roots and kept it real.
JK: You did that on the “Still In Love” album, on which you worked with Bernard Belle.
MM: Yeah, and that was nice working with Ruben, because he has the same type of passion for music. That was a nice experience. His passion was bigger than the rope that they gave him to do what he needed to do. You’ve got that passion, but they have to pull you back a little bit. Sometimes it’s frustrating.
JK: You were still on the radio, with the remake of Al Green’s ‘Still In Love With You’ and ‘Through The Tears’ but maybe what you’re saying is they weren’t giving him the funds to do what he needed to do.
MM: Yeah, like, "We’re not sure." He wasn’t able to do what he wanted to do with his Pendulum Record Company because they kept pulling the strings, so to speak. That was very frustrating for him and myself. He knew what he had, but everybody’s got to believe in order to make it that hit.
JK: You mentioned the previous reasons for leaving Hush Productions, so what made you sign back on with them when you did your last album, “I Remember”?
MM: They believed in me. I’m to the point in this business now, that I could sign with somebody else or whatever, but if you don’t believe in me and my talent, then we’re wasting our time. I knew that they believed in me and they believed in the structure of what it takes to get a hit. The problem with them is that they didn’t have enough money for all of their beliefs, but definitely got it on the radio; it was played across the country.
JK: And you were on the R&B charts with “Back Together Again”.
MM: Yeah, but they didn’t have enough money to move it on the charts the way it needed to be moved. It was literally a thing of just running out of money, because in order to get a #1 record now, you need money.
JK: Very true. They seemed to push it as much as they could, because you had three singles out there.
MM: Yes, but you need marketing. It’s not like it was anymore. There aren’t any record stores, so you need a whole different campaign to sell CD’s now. You need all sorts of avenues, and they came back in the game with, “We’re gonna do it, but we’re gonna do it the old way.”
JK: The old school way.
MM: With the Internet and everything, it just didn’t work. Their heart was 100% in it and I give them that, but you need to come up to the millennium and still have that passion in your heart.
JK: And still have that plan, as you were saying before.
MM: Yes, and that’s where we’re at now is, “Oh, you can sign with so-and-so and Shanachie is interested and this one is interested” and I’m glad that these people are interested in signing me, but I have to find a person that believes in me and also has the money that’s needed to promote a Meli’sa Morgan record and if we don’t have those two factors, as much as I would love to have something out there, it’s not time yet. God has always led me to the right situation at the right time for me, and that’s the path that I’m on.
JK: Would you say that the songs on the last album that you did, was that a good representation of you?
MM: It really was at that time. I’m somewhere different than I was three or four years ago. Now I’m somewhere different, and I have something else vocally and musically to express, but at that time, it was the Meli’sa; it was the me of that time.
JK: How would you describe the Meli’sa of today, where you’re at musically and what you want to express?
MM: I can’t describe it. It’s just gonna have to manifest through the music, but it’s a different me. I’m in a different place. I have watched in this industry, people who have been on the tippy-top first of all, they couldn’t go any higher, but they new that they were never gonna fall and I have seen them fall down to the dirt, baby. I’m in a very humble place that I’ve been able to maintain and sustain, so that’s who I am now. I’m a survivor, and I’ve got a story to tell about that, that I think people want to hear. That’s where I’m at. I can’t express style-wise and vocally how the music is going to be, but it’s stronger and it’s different.
JK: When you say you have a story to tell, is that an indication that we might see some type of thematic show, or musical work about your life experiences so far?
MM: Yeah, I’ve always been comfortable with it, because I’ve always worked and never had to complain, Thank God, with my writing. I know I’m in a place that, as long as I’m smart, then I’m always going to be taken care of. I’m not afraid of that anymore, like “Am I going to be able to live and make money” you know, I drive a nice BMW, I have two homes, and I’m not afraid of that anymore; I don’t have to write with an insecure feeling of being taken care of. If I don’t do it this way, then the record company is not going to ,you know, “What am I going to do because I need to make this money?” I’m not there anymore.
JK: What kinds of performances are you doing now? Are there any particular gigs that you’ve been doing lately?
MM: I opened for Frankie Beverly and Maze, so that was really nice for me, I’m doing the Tom Joyner Fantastic Voyage Cruise this year, I’ve done fundraisers for lupus and things like that.
JK: I saw that you did one for the Gay Men of African Descent.
MM: Yes, but the next time I come out with a CD, it’s definitely going to be about Meli’sa’s show. It’s not going to be releasing just to have a record out and touring with so-and-so. No, Meli’sa is going to tour and let somebody open for me. So, we’re there and we’re working on it, and God is good that I have a really nice, loyal following. I just want to continue to do them proud. I always say, the thing that works is usually the first thing, and if you can continue to have that, you can continue to have success so we’re going to go back to the roots a little bit.
JK: Are you still doing the Meli’sa Morgan Foundation?
MM: Yes, we are still doing that. I’m trying to do more stuff with that. I crochet blankets and stuff, and we’re trying to raise money for the educational excellence and enter my blankets in the little quilt festivals in South Carolina and stuff. I’m doing different things and finding the new me now.
JK: What made you decide on South Carolina, to have a second home there?
MM: Actually, the house was left to me. In one year, my grandmother, my uncle and my father all passed away and the house that my grandmother lived in was left to me, and I decided to renovate it rather than sell it. That’s been happening for the last five years, and we just opened the house up last Thanksgiving. It’s wonderful! Now I’m getting ready to put a pool in the backyard and little by little, step by step and brick by brick.
JK: A nice place to have a family atmosphere away from the city, right?
MM: Yes, it is. It’s a straight drive down 95, and I just love it. When I get down there, it’s the quaint South (laughs).
JK: I think it’s great, the work that you’ve done with your charity, because I know when Hurricane Katrina happened, you did a lot.
MM: We just did a shoe drive for Haiti; I’m part of that. We did a shoe drive with a gentleman in Baltimore, and we had over 5,000 shoes for the women. It was great to be a part of that, and we’re working on some other things to give to women. I always think about women in those situations living in tents like, “Do they have lotion and the things that they need as a woman?” So, we’re going to do something, probably in the summer, to get those things to them as well.
JK: Are there any other artists that you listen to nowadays, whether they’re new ones or old ones, whose work you particularly admire?
MM: I love what Beyonce is doing, and I know that she’s over-popularized and all that, but she’s got a core about her that she knows her direction, and that’s admirable. As far as music with the females, I listen to Gospel music, I love Dorinda Clark and people like that. I listen to males a lot. I love the new Jaheim, I still love the music of R. Kelly even though his subjects sometimes get a little too sexual for me, but his music is always right on point. I admire little things in each artist that I appreciate.
JK: Didn’t you go to an acting school at some point?
MM: Uh huh.
JK: Is that something that you’d like to pursue more? I think it was the Lee Strasberg Institute.
MM: Yeah, I pursued that, and I did do a pilot for a reality series called Cougars: NYC that they’re still shopping and I’m interested now in doing some webisodes on my website, so we’re working on that. We'll see how that goes; that’s a tough cookie. Hopefully if it’s meant to be, I’ll be able to crack that open and it leads to a couple of things. It’s about older women who date younger men.
JK: So you do all these thing: singing, writing, producing, acting and running your charity. Is there any of them that you consider yourself first and foremost in the line of work that you do?
MM: Oh yeah, the singing and the writing and producing. Everything else, you know, is a chain link. Something’s gotta hold it together and the singing and the writing and producing is what holds everything else together. JK: You’ve done a stellar job of it so far, and I’m looking forward to what the next thing will be, and in the meantime, I’m just glad that you have a new record out with ‘Sweet Baby’, because it’s good to have your voice out there on something that’s fresh and kind of different, but like you said, it kind of goes back to the first thing in a way; it has that kind of feel to it as well. You kind of get the best of both worlds.
MM: Thank you so much! I’ve enjoyed the interview!
About the Writer
Justin Kantor is a freelance music journalist with published works in Wax Poetics and the All-Music Guide. A graduate of Berklee College of Music's Business and Management program, he regularly writes liner notes for reissue labels.