As the female vocalist on Michael Henderson's quintessential quiet-storm favorite, "Take Me I'm Yours," Rena Scott attracted international audiences with her uniquely sultry and powerful brand of singing. Now, she's one of a growing legion of dynamic soul artists taking the independent route, as she urges listeners of “Cool Million's Back for More” to "Come to Me."
Justin Kantor: This is Justin Kantor of Soulmusic.com. I’m talking today with an artist who was affectionately called "Little Aretha" at the start of her career. She went on to tour international stages with the likes of The Crusaders and Michael Henderson. The lady’s name is Rena Scott, and she’s on the phone with us to talk about her hot new track ‘Come To Me,' featured on the new “Cool Million: Back For More” CD from our friends at SedSoul Records. And she’ll also give us the scoop on how she got her start and what she’s been doing on the music scene up until now. So, please welcome the very soulful and talented, Miss Rena Scott. Hi Rena!
Rena Scott: Hi Justin! Nice introduction!
JK: It’s a pleasure to be speaking with you. I have enjoyed your music for a while now, but I honestly didn’t know a lot about you, so I’m looking forward to this conversation and finding out more. What first brought you to my attention again recently was your appearance on the new “Cool Million: Back For More” CD as I mentioned, and you have a blazing Funk monster track on there called ‘Come To Me’. Can you tell me about this song and how it came to be -- the circumstances around that?
RS: Yes. I met Cool Million over Myspace, actually I’ve met quite a few people over Myspace or Facebook and it’s just been really a great networking tool for me for connecting in other countries and to find out that I have fans all over the world, the people have been coming to me, which has been amazing. Actually, the Cool Million project came along, I think he was looking for one more track to put on the CD and they had gotten everybody else, there’s a lot of great people on this CD and I’ll let you name them all, but there’s so many wonderful people on this CD, but when they asked me to be a part of it, I was very happy to do that amongst the group of people that they have, and they sent me this track and I listened to it, it was a Dance track and it was up and it sounded good, made you feel good, and I just wanted to make something positive and just came up with ‘Come To Me When You Need Something’. Everybody can relate to that. Come to me when you need a little understanding.
JK: It’s kind of almost like a little jingle there.
RS: Yeah! (laughs)
JK: I know you’ve done jingle work.
RS: It’s funny, I only had a certain amount of time; they only gave me two weeks to come up with the lyrics and melodies and put the vocals on, but I work well under pressure. I think I work better under pressure than if you give me a long time for a project. Anyway, it worked out, I sent it back to him, put the background vocals on and put my "thang" on it, as I say, and they loved it -- and I was very happy about that.
JK: The gentleman that you refer to is Frank Ryle, is that correct?
JK: I actually just spoke yesterday with the other producer involved, which is Rob Hardt, and he mentioned along the lines of what you were saying, that they were getting along the deadline of the CD and I think he said that you ended up recording the song on New Year’s Eve?
RS: I can’t remember, but I know it was close to it.
JK: Do you find it’s best when you don’t have too much time to think about it?
RS: I do, because you kind of make your mind up. When you have a lot of time, sometimes I can change a song over and over and then sometimes come back to where I just started, from the first melody I had or the first word, but when you give me a deadline, I just seem to get it done.
JK: You have a goal to work towards, I guess.
JK: So you started out as a young kid in Detroit singing in the church, from what I understand, so tell me about those beginning experiences in music and how they influenced your vocal style.
RS: Coming from Detroit, I had such great mentors. Aretha, of course, was my #1 because I just seemed to connect with her, being from Detroit. She’s so soulful! I loved all her music. I started singing about five or six years old and I didn’t know I could sing; it was my parents. There was a lot of domestic violence in my home. I almost had a nervous breakdown at 10 years old from just being scared all the time that something was going to happen to my mother. I was my mother’s keeper, you know? It was instilled in me, apparently through God because it was my release. I would look in the mirror, and I remember church songs when my mother took me to church and I would start singing those songs and I would cry and it would just be my way to connect with God to say, “Lord, please help me with this” so when I was 12 years old, I went to a church where a lot of my family was attending, and it was something in me that said, “I want to be a part of this. I want to sing in that choir and be a part of this” so I joined a church on my own without an adult pushing me; I went alone as a 12-year-old girl and everybody was amazed. It was a Baptist church, and back then we would stay for three services; morning service, afternoon service, and evening service -- and we’d have to sing at all those services. There was a piano in the basement of the church, and in between services we would sit with the choir director and eat Kentucky Fried Chicken together and we’d sing and play around until the next service. So in between services, the choir director was sitting at the piano playing around, and I sat on the bench next to him, and all of a sudden, he was playing a song that one of the girls at church led, and she was a great singer, so I learned that song somehow, the words, and I started singing it and everybody stopped and they said, “Oh my God! You can sing! You can really sing!” and the choir director put me up there that Sunday evening and the church just went wild. They just were screaming and hollering and I was like, “What is going on?” Everybody thought that was something, and one of the choir members enrolled me into a major talent contest at the Fox Theatre in Detroit, and that’s also the theatre where they held all the Motown revues. There were always stars there; always something going on at this theatre. There was this radio station, WCHB, I’ll never forget, in Detroit, this big R&B station that would sponsor this big event every year called the Talent Contest, and they would pick 10 groups or people to be in it. I was 13, she enrolled me in this and I had a little dress made, I’ll never forget: it was a little sparkly and my choir director wrote a song for me called ‘I’m Just A Little Girl Out Here Tryin’ To Do My Thing’ and it was so funny.
JK: Was it like a Bluesy kind of song?
RS: Yeah, and it was up. I made it to the finals and I was one of 10 out of more than 500 who tried out. That was my first even outside of church.
JK: So it wasn’t something that you consciously thought about, entering the contest, just by luck someone said, “We need to get you into this.”
RS: Yeah, they just enrolled me and then told me (laughs). They said, “You’re gonna go to that contest” and I said, “Okay” so I did and I didn’t win, but I was 2nd, and it was just a major experience, being on a major stage like that with superstars -- because I remember, they always used to have a superstar group from Motown to be the guest stars, and it was the Temptations. You cannot imagine, a 13 year old girl, and they had hit after hit at that time and all the original guys: David Ruffin, Eddie Kendricks, and they were at their height. That was my first experience being at something outside of church and being in secular music. At that point, my mother realized I could sing, and decided that she was going to manage me. My Mom was a nurse back then so her schedule was very busy, so when she saw I could sing, she was like, “Oooh! We may have something here!” (laughs)
JK: She saw the audience’s reaction, I guess, and realized you had it goin’ on.
RS: Yeah, she picked up on it and started calling club owners all around Detroit to get me some gigs and the word got out and I started opening up for major groups: The Temptations, The Four Tops, The Originals. I can’t even remember all the people that I started opening up for, just a bunch of people, and they would all take me under their arms and give me advice. My Mom would be there with me, because I’m 13 or 14 years old at this point and singing in nightclubs, so she went with me and started managing me, and from there I got a record deal when I turned 15 from a local management company called Up Tight Productions, and it was on Black Rock Records.
JK: Was it also on Grand Junction?
RS: Yeah, it changed names because things started to happen and the company got a distribution deal from Epic, and these were 45 singles at the time.
JK: I’m actually holding them right now.
RS: (laughs) One was ‘I Just Can’t Forget That Boy’, the other one was ‘Testify’, ‘I Finally Found A Love’ that Barrett Strong produced for me with Epic and ‘Set Me Free,’ and they called me Little Rena Scott.
JK: Don’t forget ‘La-Te-Da’.
RS: You know what, I did! I forgot about a lot of these songs until I started talking to people on the Internet from different countries and I have to say, the UK has got to be one of my #1 fan-base countries; they just give me so much support and love, and I have to thank them so much, because they seem to be the first ones to pick up on playing the record or reviewing it or just really loving the stuff. I just thought those songs were just washed away, because at that time there was no Internet and you didn’t know a lot of times, what your fan base was, but I have to say, they go back and get these records from when you first started, and a lot of times when I do these interviews, they know more about me than I remember. It’s amazing! They can tell me everything about who produced it and what year it was released (laughs).
JK: When you mentioned Barrett Strong, I remembered La-Te-Da, because I know that he produced that one as well.
RS: Yes he did. Barrett Strong co-produced for many years with Norman Whitfield for many, many great songs out of Motown and one was ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’. That was such a great song, they probably never had to write another one. (laughs)
JK: Was there a talent scout from Epic that came from Detroit, or how did it happen?
RS: No, this was a local production company that was looking for talent, and I was just out there so much at this point, my name was always on the radio for these clubs, these show clubs that always did commercials, so my name would be on the radio 24/7 along with my records playing. You have to remember, I was a freshman in high school so it was am wild moment for me. To be a freshman in high school, going to a new high school, having a new record out and people knowing my name and that whole thing, it just evolved from there.
JK: Do you have any particular memories of your very first recording sessions?
RS: You can imagine, this was my first time in a recording studio and they used to have these elaborate recording studios, because back in that day, they did live strings and horns. It wasn’t a bunch of sounds from a synthesizer, it was the real deal and I can remember working with different producers and the way that they would try to get different sounds and emotions from me, and it was reel-to-reel in those days, and that’s really funny and that’s telling my age (laughs). It’s really interesting working with different producers, because some things, you don’t know that you can do outside of singing in church, so you did it with professionals who had a track record of making hit records. That was just a great privilege. Along my career, I’ve been blessed to work with some really great musicians. After the records came out, the singles, I waited a long time to get a full record back then, so what happened was, I eventually met up with Aretha and her brother heard about me through another pastor, because her brother was a reverend, and he was also her manager. He was connected with the Gospel field as well as the R&B field, as to what was going on in there, and she gave him a demo of me, and her brother’s name was Cecil Franklin and he started to manage me, but he was so involved in Aretha’s career that not a whole lot happened for me, but what did happen is that Aretha, something happened to one of her background singers and they were getting ready to travel to Carnegie Hall in New York and to California to record an album, and he asked me if I wanted to do it and I just jumped up and down and said, “Oh my gosh, are you kidding me?” When I was in Aretha’s presence, I was just mesmerized or hypnotized!
JK: She’s the Queen.
RS: I just watched her and stared at her, but anyway to get to that point, to have the opportunity first, which I had never been to New York or California, and you know a singer or an aspiring artist, those are two places you really want to be, so of course I said yes, and we went to New York and you can only imagine, I had never done any major venues like that, just show clubs except that one time I did at the Fox Theatre, so when we got to New York I was just in awe. She had a conductor and we had gowns to wear, and looking out at Carnegie hall thinking, “I’m here! I’m in New York, and not only that, I’m with my idol!” How good could it be? It’s like a dream. When I got up to sing with her, I was just in awe, with the lights and the full orchestra, looking out at the people. And she took us to her home, and she had an elevator in her house and I had never known anybody with an elevator in their house, and every floor belonged to somebody -- one of her sons or whoever, and she had the top floor, and she actually cooked for us and then when we went to California. That was a whole other thing; we stayed on Sunset Strip. Can you only imagine? I’ve never been to California and I’m here on Sunset Strip and I’m thinking, “Wow! It can’t get much better than this” but I knew at that time that I was born to sing, that this was my passion and part of my journey. It was just meant to be. I enjoyed that immensely, did some more concerts with her and went into the studio with her, and I can’t even remember the album, but it was during the 'Sparkle' time, when she had the song out for the movie, ‘Giving Him Something He Can Feel’; it was just after that. I even got a chance to see her work with Jerry Wexler. We came back and after that, Michael Henderson was looking for a girl to sing with him. These are Detroiters, Michael Henderson and Aretha, so he heard about me, had me meet with him and we went into the studio right after that and did ‘Take Me I’m Yours’. We did the first take, we looked at each other while we were singing, and that was the first time I sang a duet with somebody recording but also just actually him on one side and me on the other, we’re looking back and forth at each other, recording it at the same time. It was the first take, I’ll never forget, and it went to #3 on the R&B Billboard charts; the biggest record Michael Henderson has ever had. At the time, I didn’t know it was the biggest one, but, in turn, we ended up going on the road, and it was off Michael’s 'In The Night Time' album. We started touring all over America with Natalie Cole, Ashford & Simpson, just everybody and it would be stadium crowds, and you can’t imagine the love they gave me, because we kind of do it where Michael would be doing his thing and then I’d start singing offstage, we’d do this slow song, I think it was a Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway song, ‘The Closer I Get To You,’ and I start singing it from behind the curtain and they’d just hear my voice, and I’d come onstage and meet with Michael all sexy and all, and then we’d break into ‘Take Me I’m Yours’ and the audience would go crazy! So from that, I ended up getting offered a record deal from Buddha Records, and just after that Arista approached me, but I had already signed with Buddha Records. At that time, they had Gladys Knight, Phyllis Hyman, Michael Henderson, and some other people, and they signed me. I was their new girl and I was so excited. Oh my gosh! I can’t forget this, on my birthday they took me up to the president’s office and they had a cake and all these hors d’oeurves and we celebrated my birthday and I thought, “I’m going to be a star! This is it! I have arrived!” but then Buddha ended up going bankrupt. They had some sort of suit going with Gladys Knight over the movie 'Claudine.' They backed that movie, and something happened between her husband and they ended up suing. But actually, the record was done by Mtume and Reggie Lucas.
JK: I wanted to talk to you about that, because especially with this Cool Million project you’re doing now, I know that Mtume and Lucas have been a big influence on the producers Rob Hardt and Frank Ryle, and that record that you’re talking about, ‘Come On Inside’ had some of their really great productions on it like "The Grass Ain’t Greener" and "We Can Make it Better." So what was it like working with them?
RS: They were wonderful. Being that the record label was in New York, I was back and forth from New York to Detroit all the time, learned how to get around New York myself, but they were just fantastic. They took me out to eat all these different foods, and we broke bread together, we talked so we could get to know each other during that period, because I think we had to record it in a week. It wasn’t a whole lot of time that I had to really learn the songs they had already written for me, so when we went in, they were some of the best that I’ve ever worked with; they just know how to talk to you and get the best out of you. Paul Riser did my strings, and he used to do movie projects and was doing all the great Motown records. I was very excited, because that was during the Disco time where Disco was changing, and I had half-Disco and half ballads and things like that, and Disco was changing from more singing to more instrumental, and I felt like I got caught in that, along with Buddha going bankrupt, and again the Internet was not around, so I had no idea what happened to these songs at that point. I just went on my merry way and thought, “All these things I did in the past, it’s good, it’s all part of the experience but nobody will ever know about it. Lo and behold.”
JK: You did some other session work at that time. I was reading that you had done some work with The Dramatics on a songs they had called ‘Stop Your Weeping’.
RS: That was funny because from Detroit again, The Dramatics, one of the top groups anywhere anytime, and they were good friends of mine, and LJ the lead singer asked me, “We have this song. Will you cry on it?” and I’m thinking, “Okay” and I did, so every time I heard that song on the radio, I would say, “Oh my gosh! That is me crying!” (laughs) It was one of the craziest things I had ever did, but it worked! It helped, and it worked for them.
JK: I was going to say, I don’t know why you didn’t have a section on your resume that said "Crying." (laughs)
RS: It’s just something I never thought about putting on my resume, to tell you the truth. I worked a lot with them, we did some shows together when I worked with Aretha, with The Dramatics, and they actually asked me to come back onstage after I played with Aretha and do the crying on that song, and I actually did it! I can’t believe I did it! It was freezing! I’ll never forget, we all had coats on out there. Anyway, after that, I didn’t know what happened to this project, and I felt like I had done everything that I could possibly do in Detroit. By that time, Motown was leaving to L.A., and I had sung at about every club you could imagine around Detroit and the outskirts, and I just felt like it was time for me to do something else to move on to another level, and I just needed that opportunity. The opportunity came when a gentleman from Las Vegas was looking for a girl to sing with him in his Vegas show, and I had been back and forth from California to New York with prospective projects and things that didn’t pan out, so what I did was, when I got offered that gig, it was a gig at Landmark Hotel in Las Vegas, and he was headlining. Of course, they’ve torn it down since then, but he was headlining and wanted me to do duets and backgrounds for him, and that was my way of getting to the West Coast.
JK: Who was the gentleman that you’re referring to?
RS: His name was Freddie Empire, and he had a show that he would do five nights a week over at the Landmark, so that enabled me to get on the West Coast. My goal was really to get a record deal on the West Coast, so I gave a week’s notice, I left my apartment, closed it down, I left my car, I left all my furniture, and I told my Mom, “Keep it until you hear from me” and at that point, I ended up working with him for about two months and then an opportunity came along for me to be the lead singer with a group at Caesar’s Palace with a wonderful group, so I left Freddie Empire and went to do my own thing with an incredible group: singers, players, we had a great show.
JK: What was the name of the show you did?
RS: It was in Cleopatra’s Barge, so it was more in the lounge area, but we would perform five nights a week, three or four shows a night. Oh, it was crazy! I think it was 9:30 until 4:30 in the morning.
JK: What kinds of things were you doing in that show?
RS: All kinds of popular songs, Pop songs, Dance songs, ballads, I remember we used to do the Lionel Richie/Diana Ross Song ‘Endless Love’ and every popular song from that time that you can think of. Imagine three or four shows a night, different songs every set.
JK: Was it singing straight through, or did you do other things in the show?
RS: We had breaks. We’d do our thing for an hour and a half and then have a 15- or 20- minute break, come back and do another show and it went like that all night.
JK: So you weren’t running off the stage croaking from losing your voice from singing too much?
RS: No, the good thing was, a lot of it, the guys could sing so we could do duets, so it wasn’t always just one thing, it was a combination of things that people enjoyed.
JK: So you could trade off so it’s not all on you?
RS: Yes, it was not all on me the whole night. Anyway, so then I started talking to a record label, trying to get to L.A., I actually met my husband at Caesar’s Palace singing, didn’t know he’d be my husband at the time, because I was not looking for a husband, I was looking for a record deal (laughs). God knows what you need, because I was wild and crazy. I’m telling you, I was wild and crazy.
JK: How long were you doing that show in Las Vegas?
RS: Two months, and I actually closed right after New Year’s Eve, so you can imagine, it was my first New Year’s Eve in Las Vegas, and being in Caesar’s Palace and being right there in the midst of it, I had never seen anything like it. People were lined up out the door and around the corner and everywhere. That was just a great experience, but it was time for me to leave Vegas. I had done what I was supposed to do there, and it was time for me to get something more lasting; a record deal. So, I knew lot of people in California, especially a lot of people had left Detroit to go to California in the music business, so there was a ton of them out here way before I came out, and I made some connections with friends and I had some cousins out here and I ended up staying with each one of them for a period of time, and again I met my husband at that time, but he ended up moving me from Las Vegas in his motor home to California, and staying there with friends and family, and eventually we planned our wedding. In the midst of all that, I got to California and I got a great attorney who was representing The Crusaders and George Duke and everybody in the business, and he sort of just took me under his wing. His name was Martin Cohen, and he’s passed now, but he was one of the great entertainment attorneys here in California, and he took me under his wing and started letting other people hear about me. The Crusaders was looking for a new female to sing, because Randy Crawford had just left.
JK: She just did that one song with them, "Street Life."
RS: Right, but that one song was very popular here in America as well as Europe. Oh man, songs like that will last forever. That’s why I like writing songs like that, they’ll just last forever. I love Randy Crawford, and. of course. Phyllis Hyman was one of my favorite singers, on Buddha of course, and Gladys Knight way back, again my mentors were Aretha, Gladys Knight, Patti LaBelle, Mavis Staples, Barbra Streisand, you know those were the people I geared myself around, so anyway I get to California after Vegas, and I get this gig with the Crusaders. I’ve always talked about Europe, I wanted to go to Europe and sing, and my opportunity came, because they were getting ready to go on a European tour and an American tour, and we went to so many wonderful countries, wound up doing the Montreaux Jazz Festival, which I found out was a big thing every year and all the greats would come, and I tell you when we performed at some of these outdoor festivals with George Benson, Dizzy Gillespie, I got a chance to really sit down and talk with him, he was telling me about when Black musicians first came to Europe, how they treated them and this whole thing, and just a gas; an incredible journey with The Crusaders. There were 40-50,000 screaming people at some of these concerts, and I would find out that many of them didn’t speak English, but they knew the words to the songs and would be so excited. I just fell in love with Europe. I’m thinking, “I’ve got to come back here and do my own thing one day,” and I’m hoping that will be soon, because I haven’t really been back since then.
JK: I know you did a soundtrack song for a French film called 'Der Boss.' You did a song called "Hold Up."
RS: Oh yes, I skipped a few things when I was talking. I was thinking about Ronnie McNeir. I did a duet with him before I actually did the duet with Michael, so I’ll go back. I did that when I was around 18, then Aretha came, then it was Ronnie McNeir, I did that duet called ‘A Different Kind of Love’, never knew what happened with that, what it did, and then the Michael Henderson song came, so I’m gonna move forward now, so now I’m touring all around Europe with The Crusaders, 11 guys and one girl, me travelling all around the world.
JK: Were you just singing on ‘Street Life’ or were you incorporated into other songs?
RS: That was it! I was doing the one song. We ended up finished with that and ended up, through my attorney again, Martin Cohen, there was a record label called Sedona Records that was looking for female artists, so now I’m into my second full album called ‘Love Zone.’
JK: You also the remake of "Do That To Me One More Time," which did pretty well for you.
RS: Exactly, and I had a chance to meet them, he took me to the television studio to meet them, because Bob Barker had a studio over there where they were recording.
JK: You mean Captain & Tennille?
RS: Yeah, I had a chance to meet them. That was really great.
JK: That was kind of a surprising choice to do in groove-ballad style, but it did really well.
RS: Yeah, well it wasn’t my idea, it was actually the president of the company’s idea, and it did work well. I think it charted #50 or something on the Billboard Charts.
JK: I remember that. Was that a startup label, Sedona, or what was the story behind that?
RS: Again, I’m with this label and I’m their main female artist and they’re excited, and here we go again, and we’re charting, I’m on my second or third single, I had a video out called "I Could Use A Kiss" off that CD, and so all of a sudden, the company that was distributing the CD went bankrupt, so here I am again! I’m thinking, “This can’t be!” I thought this was really going to happen for me, and then that happens. I don’t know what happened to it. The Internet wasn’t really going, but thank goodness for that Internet, because down the road, all these things caught up with me, and people know who I am. So here I go into the second full CD and then that happens, and then it’s a long time after that. I’m doing commercial jingles to survive, and I’m doing all the hotel chains.
JK: Tell me about your songwriting, because that somewhere along the way became an important part of the picture for you, right?
RS: It really did, because after singing so many other writers and producers’ songs, and a lot of times I wouldn’t feel like it was really me, it was their idea of what I should sound like, a lot of times I just wasn’t very pleased with what I sounded like or the way it came out.
JK: I really liked one of the songs you co-wrote on 'Love Zone,' which is "I Choose You," but on a couple of the other songs, it seemed to me that the production was patterned after other popular songs of the time.
RS: Yeah, and that happened all the time. It was like, “I want you to sound like this” and they were always trying to put me in some little box and every time to me, when you’re not doing you, people can tell. I’m grateful, because I see people do like a lot of the music I’ve done, and what happened was after this particular record label had failed, again it was many years until I got a record deal, so my husband is in construction and I had actually signed with another label, and they wanted to take everything and we said, “No," and then a second label, same deal, and I started writing and thought, “My writing is going to put me up where I need to be. Being a singer is good, but if you can write your own songs, and that was when people really started writing their own songs, and the record labels started paying notice, because a lot of times, they wouldn’t give you the chance to write your own material, they wanted somebody who was a mega-hit player, but a lot of times you couldn’t afford to bring those producers or writers in. I felt that I needed to write so I could really express who I was inside, because I felt like I really had something to say, so along this journey I started writing different songs with different people and always connected with keyboard players for some reason, because that’s my favorite instrument.
JK: Do you play?
RS: Oh, I wish. I played at it for many years, but I’m gonna go back to it because I just love it. I would always hook up with different piano players at different stages in my life and write songs. This time, I met a gentleman named Lloyd Tolbert, and it’s so funny because he is from California and it just happened to be an engineer from Detroit, Bernie, and he engineered for anybody and everybody who had major hits from Detroit.
JK: Was that Bernie Grundman?
RS: No, he’s spectacular in his own light. He actually mastered my new CD for me, but this was another gentleman who engineered for everybody as well, and told Lloyd about me for some reason, because we hadn’t talked for years actually, and he knew I was out in California and told Lloyd about me and said, “You and Rena really need to hook up and do some songwriting.” Let me go back a little bit, and during this whole process of back and forth in California, I ended up writing with Skip Scarborough, and Skip Scarborough wrote mega-hits for LTD, Anita Baker, The Emotions and everybody, and we co-wrote some songs and one of those songs ended up being on 'Love Zone,' but the producer ended up changing it so much that it didn’t sound like the original version to me and I wasn’t happy about that.
JK: I noticed one of them you wrote with a guy named Kevin Toney.
RS: Yes. He did a song on there too, and Skip Scarborough and I wrote a song too. Kevin Toney is an incredible Jazz musician, but he and I wrote like a dance song, but like I said, it’s all part of the journey. Again, hooking up with people who could take it from the original form up until where it needed to be, because I didn’t have those things available to me, but they did, you know, studios and things.
JK: They had the resources.
RS: Yeah, the resources. So I did that song with him, and that album ended up I thought, going down the drain and then a long time after, my husband said, “Let’s do it ourselves.” I’m scared to death thinking, “There’s no way in the world I can run a record label by myself.” I know some things, but I don’t think I know that much! I started learning a lot of things, he invested in me and we ended up recording ‘Let Me Love You’ and the first thing that happened with this CD was, Lloyd had sent out to try to get some movie work and producers came to us and they liked "Let Me Love You" and they thought it was perfect for the movie, and the movie was called 'Love and Action in Chicago' with Courtney Vance, Ed Asner, Kathleen Turner, Regina King, and so they ended up using that song twice in the movie and that was a great break, because up to this day, I’m still getting royalties from other places in the world where I had no idea they were playing my music: South Africa, Israel, the UK of course, and so many other countries. I thought, “Wow! Amazing!” Also my music from this last CD, 'A Love Thang,' is in South Africa and places, and this is fantastic! With the Internet, and Myspace and CD Baby and Facebook and all these places have really let me know that people know who I am, and it’s just been amazing to come full circle now, when I hear from all these people from all over the world who say, “I love your music! I just listened to 'Rock Me Down' or 'A Love Thang'”. I’m just humbled and so, after we did this movie situation with this CD, 'Let Me Love You,' I ended up getting a distribution company, a marketing company out of Chicago, KES Distribution, they distribute the record, we got it all over America in record stores, we marketed it and ended up travelling across the highways and byways, to city after city, each day somewhere different, doing morning shows for NBC or CBS or Fox TV, they’d put me on and let me do my single, they’d interview me, I went to the record stores, talked to the managers and the people in the record stores, and I went all over the place. I didn’t know you were on the East Coast. I thought you were in the UK! I did Video Soul when Donnie Simpson was doing it..
JK: Were you interviewed on there?
RS: Yes, and Donnie was from Detroit too, you know, so we had history.
JK: I wish I could have seen that, because actually a friend had taped me the "I Could Use A Kiss" video that was aired on BET, so I knew it was on there, but I didn’t know that you had made an appearance on there.
RS: It was a gas to see Donnie on there after all those years, and I just recently reconnected with him after not having seen him on Video Soul via Facebook! That’s how I found out that he retired! Anyway, we go with this record, and the first thing that happened is, we get this movie situation on the soundtrack, and then the next thing happens, I’m getting marketing, distribution, I hired a PR firm out of California to hook up all the movies and the personal appearances. We did everything, and ended up on a small budget compared to majors, but we hooked right up with them, we released the CD first and then re-released it with two videos on the other side, so it’s the first independent label to do a dual disc, which has two of my videos on DVD on one side, and my songs on the other side. We ended up charting on the second single, "Remember," which went to #5 on the R&B Hip Hop single sales, went over to the R&B charts and crossed over to the Pop charts at #17. Then we went out with the third single "A Love Thang" and we charted #1 for 2 weeks on the R&B Hip Hop single sales for Billboard, and it crossed over into the Pop charts; we were really blessed. Even now, it’s been about four or five years since we released that CD, I’m still getting some licensing projects from it. Microsoft Corporation just got a license from me, so that to me inspires me to write too, because it’s like they always say, writers make more than singers do, because their songs go on to the next artist and the next artist and that kind of inspires me, too.
JK: And the royalties are better, too.
RS: Yeah! You get paid a little quicker.
JK: There’s not as much shadiness, it seems. There was a song you wrote called "Driftin’ On A Dream," for Wilton Felder.
RS: I actually wrote that with Skip Scarborough when I was on tour with The Crusaders, so in between me being on the road with The Crusaders, Skip and I would get together, we went into the studio to sing it, and I think I’m going to put in on one of my CDs. It was one of those songs where I found myself in California in some place I had longed to be, had tried to make my career really broaden and make it a success, and we did the vocal and they ended up where Wilton wanted to do the melody on his sax and he released it on one of his CD’s. Linda Hopkins, I don’t know if you know Linda Hopkins, she’s one of the great Gospel Jazz singers, and I was doing the clubs in West Hollywood when she lived near there and used to go there all the time, she was a good friend of mine and she threw this party and Anita came, because we used to sing at some of the same clubs in Detroit together before she became famous.
JK: You had a few songs featured recently on a few independent compilations, one with an L.A. label called Trans Phat, on which you had a nice tune called "In This Life" and then another one out of the UK on a label called Lola Waxx where you did another cool number called "You Keep Trippin," so tell me how those opportunities came about and your thoughts on those songs.
RS: Well, the first one that came along was from Lola Waxx and I talked to a gentleman named Al Karim who was heading this label, a new label, and he had heard my music and was looking for about 14 or 15 girls to do a Soul compilation; he’s out of the UK. He asked me if I would do it, and I thought it would be a great way to continue my name to be out there and also what’s great about these Soul Compilations is that you cross fanbases, where someone might be a fan of someone else, but they still get a chance to hear my song and so then you just crossed fan-bases. Being that the UK is one of the best markets for me, where people were just receptive to my music anyway, I feel like I had nothing to lose, and decided to do it. What he did was, he took one of the songs from the 'Let Me Love You' CD, and we remixed it, Lloyd Tolbert and I, with a new mix on it, and he put that on there. Then, the second one came long when he decided to do an independent Soul Divas 2 and he asked me back, maybe one of a couple girls who were asked back from the first album because he had different girls that the first album, and again, why not? He took one of the songs from my new CD coming out in the next couple of months, and my new CD is called 'Take Me Away,' but this particular single is called "You Keep Trippin'." I wrote this song about someone who at first, her man was all wonderful and treating her all marvelous and did all kinds of wonderful things for her, and all of a sudden, he wants to start getting jealous and crazy, so as much as she loves him, she’s saying to him, “You’re just not the same person I knew before and I love you, but I can’t stay with you because You Keep Trippin”.
JK: Cut it off.
RS: (laughs) I gotta let you go! He took that and put it on, and that was a way for me to get some feelers out on how people were feeling about this new material from my new CD. The reaction has been great.
JK: What about "In This Life’?
RS: Okay, so "In This Life" came third with Armand Tulumello and he’s just an incredible person first of all, but an incredible writer and producer, and all around great person. I hope I’m pronouncing his name right. I love you, Armand! (laughs) I met him from the Lola Waxx project. He did some work for Lola Waxx as well, did some music for Lola Waxx, and Lola Waxx actually decided that they wanted to put us together to do something, so I met him and we just clicked right off the bat.
JK: He’s out of L.A.?
RS: He’s out of LA. He was looking for some artists to do a compilation with, and he mixed female and male on his. So I ended up doing the track with him called "In This Life," and I’ve got one mix with him and I’ve got another mix on my new CD that’s a whole different vibe. We wanted to do them different, so I did "In This Life" and I wanted to do something inspiring that’s not just a man/woman relationship, which I love doing because we all can relate, but I wanted to do something inspiring, because of the times, the turmoil and the things that are going on right now, to let people know that there is hope I wrote, “In this life, there will be troubles, there will be strife, but if you hold on you can make it” so that’s where that came from. The fourth compilation, so that we bring you up to date was the Cool Million project on SedSoul Records. Cool Million asked me a while ago, actually before I decided to do the Lola Waxx compilations, but I had said, “Not at the time” because I thought my new CD was going to be coming out a lot earlier. Well, we ended up putting the CD release off because all these compilations came about, and we felt -- when I said we I meant my husband and I, he’s my business partner, and we run the label. Well, I run it everyday, but he’s my business partner so I really don’t make any major decisions without him -- because he is straight-up. He will tell you what he feels. If my makeup is not right, he’ll say, “Your makeup is not right” or “Your hair is not right” (laughs). He tells me and I respect him for that. He doesn't bite his tongue. So, the compilation came along at this point and I thought it was a good time because the other three are still playing over there in Europe, but this is a good time to keep my name going. He has some wonderful people working on this project, and again they sent me this track, gave me two weeks to write and sing it, arrange the vocals and send it back, and here we are with "Come To Me." It’s a good Dance track.
JK: I was curious which artists you were familiar with, or they caught your attention.
RS: I love Meli’sa. I’ve always loved her music and I didn’t know what happened with her either, and now I hear that she is just taking Europe by storm, which is what I want to do. I’m looking for a good international booking agent or agents to book me all around everywhere, because my fanbase has just become worldwide and just a great fanbase, and people haven’t seen me perform in so long, and that’s of the things I have a passion for; I love to perform. I’ve been doing it since I was 12 years old, and I used to sing in three different church choirs and as a matter of fact, I just joined a new church here by where I live, and I’m singing every Sunday. They bring me up there and I say, “What are we gonna sing today?” (laughs) So that’s where a lot of my inspiration came from, and my sound is from the Gospel Church background.
JK: There’s also Peggi Blu on the CD and Eugene Wilde, Yvonne Gage -- who I think is from Chicag, actually. And Leroy Burgess who was the voice of Black Ivory back in the day, and Dee Dee Wilde are some of the other artists, so you’re definitely in some good company. What hopes do you have for this project? Is there anything in particular that you would like to see come out of it?
RS: Yeah, I would like to do a promotional tour over in Europe and especially in the UK, and go around and talk to people, meet people and hopefully it will be a segue for me to get out there and promote my new CD in a couple of months. I just want to go all through Europe and perform and promote to my fans and meet the other artists on the project and see if we can come up with something. It would be nice to do a little concert tour with a lot of these people who are on the CD. It’s just been my journey, it’s been tough, it’s been up and down but it’s a lesson, and I know this is what I’m supposed to do and also there’s another passion that I have, because of the problems I had with domestic violence in my home with my Mom and Dad, it having such a profound affect on my life, I have found myself representing and being an advocate against domestic violence and so I want to use my music to get the word out there, as well, and work with some foundations to try to help women and children try to get their lives back in order where they can be free and not afraid, and have a chance to start over, because a lot of those things weren’t available to my Mom when I was going through that. So that’s a passion of mine and I want to do that through my music. I want to write a book, because there’s a lot to say. I found out later on in life, that my father, who I thought was my father, wasn’t really my father. That’s a whole story in itself, that I’m biracial; I’m half-black and half-white and some things came about but I’m going to talk about that in my book. I’d like to write a book about all of these things, the domestic violence, the singing, how all that came about out of the church, and finding out I was biracial and being an advocate now against domestic violence.
JK: So you have a lot of positive things on your plate that you can help pass on.
RS: And the procedures that I went through trying to find this person and sending DNA samples across the country and the world, and so I still don’t know; maybe one day I’ll find him. Anyway, I do want to tell people where they can get my music.
JK: Go ahead.
RS: And also my website. Please come and talk to me, say hello, let me know what songs you like and where you heard it so I can talk to you. I love people; I’m a people person and I’m able to do that through my music. My website is www.renascott.net and they can also fine me at www.myspace.com/renascott , www.facebook.com/singerrena.scott and what else? CD Baby, go buy my records at CD Baby at www.cdbaby.com/cd/renascott and you can find all of my music that I’ve done on CD Baby. Just go in and search Rena Scott. You’ll find all these new songs on there as well, and I know that SedSoul and the other labels have put out the stuff through iTunes as well.
JK: And Amazon too, I think.
RS: Amazon, yes and a few other sites as well.
JK: I think CD Baby is great for independent artists.
RS: I love CD Baby, because they have really helped independent singers and musicians to help get their music out there where other avenues are not open to you like major radio, because it’s so political; it’s very political here in America. I have found that a lot of people remember me, but here in America, the DJ’s have gone on to play my music and I am so appreciative that people support me in this country. I’ve got so much love for this country, and again, I have people from elementary school, junior high school, high school, bands that play with me, people that have gotten back into me, people that I thought I would never see again in my life or didn’t remember, you know? So please talk to me, come to me, I’d love to hear from you and I hope you guys enjoy this music. I love making it, it’s a passion for me.
JK: I’m really glad that we got to talk and I definitely learned a lot about you. It adds a new dimension for when I’m listening from now on, because I’ve really been enjoying "Come to Me" since I got it, and of course the other recordings we talked about. I’m looking forward to a new album coming in a couple of months hopefully, and I also wanted to say that you did an impressive job with the videos that you made from your last album, which are on YouTube.
RS: Yes, if you go to Youtube, you can see al the videos. Some people put on Youtube stuff I didn’t know was there. They took the 45’s and said, “We’re here with Rena Scott”.
JK: Oh is that ‘Make It Better’?
JK: I know. I saw that one on there. It was like Phatassfunk.
RS: I couldn’t believe that. It was too funny! So people, if you want to laugh or if you just want to see the history of Rena Scott, go to Youtube and search Rena Scott. There’s a lot of stuff on there you can see. I saw 90,000 people who had tuned into ‘Take Me, I’m Yours’ if you can believe that. Try to find "Remember." It’s the best video I’ve done thus far. We put a lot of money into that one! (laughs)
JK: That was a nice one, it was where you were outside by the window and everything.
RS: We were in Sacramento, doing that in front of the courthouse.
JK: I think it was the ‘I Know It’s Right’ video where you had the male guest star and you were playing out the scenario of the song.
RS: That was my house I was going into.
JK: It was a nice house, so that’s good!
RS: That was fun!
JK: It shows that you don’t necessarily have a massive budget to do a really entertaining and fun video.
RS: Right. That was our first one, so we did that on a budget but those guys worked well, and then we did the second one in Technicolor, like the movie studios used to use, but we did movie quality stuff. All those videos are on the Internet and on my website at renascott.net and you can see all four videos on my website, and the bios and the music, and all these things that I’ve done. Listen Justin, you have been absolutely wonderful.
JK: Oh, thank you, Rena.
RS: Thank you so very much for asking me to do this, and I just want to give love to my fans and my friends and family, and I’m going to keep on making great music as long as they want to hear it, so God Bless everybody and God Bless America. Much love to you and many blessings.
JK: Same to you.
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.