In person interview conducted October 1977 at Roy's apartment/office on the upper westside of Manhattan
IN AMONGST that unending list of people who've been patiently waiting in the wings for that catapult into the realms of superstardom is a gentleman whose musical talent and creativity single him out, put him towards the head of the line of folk waiting for mass acceptance.
As the song goes, it's just a matter of time and with each subsequent new album, Roy and his Ubiquity pick up new fans as well as holding on to the faithful followers who've been digging his music over the last decade.
One would imagine that such a situation, coupled with the excellent reviews and energetic response that his concerts and in-person appearances generate, would leave the said gentleman in a state of frustration.
Which just goes to show you how wrong you could be, as we discovered whilst rapping with Mr. Ayers at his Manhattan office-apartment — which looks somewhat like "Blues & Soul's" offices back in 1969-70, with records vying with typewriters and telephones for a piece of the space!
An obvious indication that Mr. Ayers is a very busy man, whether he's at home or on the road and there's definitely an air of energy around the man, which leads you to wonder when he ever gets any rest — read on, if you wanna know!
"Yes, I do think there could be greater sales activity with my albums," Roy contends, "but at the same time, I'm in a unique situation because my albums sell consistently on a particular level.
"Although I haven't had a gold album, I usually sell around 250,000 with each album and two a year makes the total around the mark you'd need to get a gold album. And, as I say, we maintain the level unlike some artists who may get a gold album but have the instant problem of trying to maintain that — which sometimes affects their creativity.
"Sure, I want one because it offers a sense of accomplishment and achievement and everybody wants that."
Roy has been with Polydor Records since 1970 and although many folk would claim that the reason he hasn't broken wide open is down to the inexperience of that company in the field of marketing black music, Roy maintains a positive stance towards the label.
"It's true that up until now, the company hasn't been geared towards heavy promotion within the black market but they've just hired a new r&b promotion direction, Mr. Matt Parsons, who used to be over at Capitol for a few years, where he helped build their r&b roster with acts like Natalie Cole, Tavares and The Sylvers. I have a lot of faith and confidence that the company is getting seriously involved in marketing their black product.
"It's like James Brown: there's a man who should always be on top because his contribution towards the music is immeasurable. And certainly, some of the things he's achieved have rubbed off on me."
Roy maintains a strong belief "that if you continue to strive, believe in yourself and your music, all the results will come out in a positive manner. It's never guaranteed but the most you can do, is your best. With the cohesive effort that all parties are making and provided I come through with strong product, there's no reason why we shouldn't see some major changes happening at Polydor which should help my career further."
In the meantime, in between performing and recording his own albums, Mr. Ayers has been busy in the studios with a couple of people.
"Well, I just did an album on the group Ramp, which came out on ABC. I first saw them in Cincinatti, when we were appearing on a show there and I was very impressed. So I called Otis Smith over at ABC and told him about them, and we went ahead and did the album. I guess he trusted my judgement — and I think the outcome is going to be overwhelmingly successful because the group is very good.
"Most of the material was written by Edwin Birdsong (a close collaborator of Roy's as well as being his co-manager), Bill Allen and myself— and I'm very happy with the end result.
"Then there's Merry Clayton, I grew up in Los Angeles with Merry and Edwin and Billy Preston, a whole lot of folks. She called me up when her contract with Ode Records was up and we talked about working — and cut an album right here in New York. The material is really good and I'm sure you'll find it will be released any time soon.
"I'm also planning to do some things with Dee Dee Bridgewater, who just did some roadwork with us. I've known Dee Dee (who, for the benfit of British readers, had a starring role in the famous "Wiz" musical on Broadway) for quite a few years and she sang on some of my early albums. I'm getting into production because I think there is need for good producers and good production and I think that we qualify.
"Does it ever interfere with my own work? Well, naturally, there are going to be times when there's a lot happening but I thrive on energy. You could say that I'm ambidextrous in mind!"
Which leads you to wonder when Roy does get to rest, since his itinerary keeps him, constantly performing across the country.
"Good question!" he laughs. "I do take time to just go to sleep! But you do have to guard against fatigue, that's the only thing. But I stay active and I don't think there's too much chance of me slowing down because I don't want to," he contends.
"I do want to take my music to a higher level, a higher plateau and I do want to continue to be involved with all the activities that I'm into now — being on the road, producing other people, as well as dealing with my own music."
Roy's predictions for future direction reveal that he thinks "that I'll get more into the visual thing. I like what Parliament, Earth, Wind & Fire and Kiss do because it's uniquely original in each case. And I want to have that kind of act.
"You can expect our music to space out more, although it will always maintain that warmth and beauty that's been there all the time, that was instilled in me when I was younger."
For every artist these days that magical world 'crossover' is bound to come up, too.
"Yes, crossover is important but not as important as me sustaining myself and building what we have been working on. Longevity is the key and although economically, crossover situations can definitely be beneficial, I want to maintain the consistency we've enjoyed with the music and our audiences recently."
And on a closing note, Roy has something to say about the way artists aren't given the proper recognition.
"Some people are just never given the credit until they die. People like Chuck Berry, Little Richard — these are legendary people. No, I'm not mad about it because that's just how it is, but I do want to be aware of the facts.
"You see, we're greatly controlled by what I call the "Force" (lovers of the movie, "Star Wars", please note!) and that controls money, everything. I believe in it 100%!" indicates Roy, whilst at the same time making it clear that excessive riches are not his aim in life.
"Sure, I want to be comfortable, but you see even in order to that, you've got to deal with the "Force". I should say that it works on both a negative and positive level so it really depends on where you're coming from as to how you use it." Some heavy food for thought for those interested in the philosophies of having and not having, right?
One thing is for sure: Mr. Roy Ayers and his talented friends in Ubiquity have a great deal of good things going for them, including most definitely, an abundance of creativity and talent.
About the Writer
David Nathan is the founder and CEO of SoulMusic.com and began his writing career in 1965; beginning in 1967, he was a regular contributor to Blues & Soul magazine in London before relocating to the U.S. in 1975 where he served as U.S. editor for the publication for several decades and began being known as 'The British Ambassador Of Soul.' From 1988 to 2004, he wrote prolifically for Billboard, has penned bios, produced and written liner notes for box sets and reissue CDs for over a thousand projects. He returned to London in 2009 where he has helped create SoulMusic.com Records as a leading reissue label.