Add two liberal helpings of individual magic, stir gently, bring to the boil and serve funking hot! Roy Ayers and Wayne Henderson divulge their joint recipe for success...
WITH a spirit of collaboration and a sense of togetherness bringing more and more creative people to work on projects with each other, it should come as no surprise to learn that one of the latest 'hook-ups' (if we may use the expression) involves two musicians whose track records make them truly giants in the world of music.
Both Roy Ayers and Wayne Henderson have contributed a great deal to fusing many different forms of music in the last few years. Roy's background working with top musicians like Herbie Mann prepared him for a career which has catapulted him into the upper echelons with albums like "Everybody Loves The Sunshine", "Vibrations", "Let's Do It" and "Lifeline" (which brought forth the smash, "Running Away" a perennial disco favorite to this day).
The latest in succession is "You Send Me" and it has already made sufficient inroads to suggest that it will certainly be Roy's first gold album, as well as crossing his music over to a wider public.
Since departing The Crusaders a couple of years back (he was one of the founders of the group), Wayne Henderson has shown his skills in the studio by expressing his own talent on two albums (one for ABC, one for Polydor for whom he has now signed) as well as developing a whole stable of acts through his At-Home Productions.
As well as nurturing the talents of people like Side Effect, Ronnie Laws, David Oliver and Pleasure, Wayne has now become involved with other acts. New albums by Esther Phillips, Narada Michael Walden and Willie Bobo were all produced under his aegis.
So imagine combining the two extraordinary talents of these gentlemen and the result should be dynamite!
"The album's called "Step Into My Life", reports Mr Ayers, holding court in the offices of Polydor Records in New York, "and it was a really great experience for both of us. You see, we have basically the same approach to producing and the sound that came out was fresh, it was a fusion because all the elements were in there together. And, man, it was strange because it's like we were almost psychic with each other!
"That probably has a lot to do with the fact that our roots are basically geared in the same place so that produced an instant rapport. We used some really strong musicians — couple of the guys from Pleasure, Chano O'Ferral on percussion, people like that — and the combination of the vibes and the sax, the interplay, was incredible. What is so important to remember is that in all studio situations, things don't always work out so well. That's what made it such a beautiful experience."
Speaking next morning, Wayne Henderson re-iterates the same basic sentiments. "It was a very rewarding experience for me because Roy is an excellent player, which made things so easy when making the album. He executes his work phenomenally and he has a tremendous lyrical sense, quick wit and seems to almost pull things out of the air. His energy, the way he gets things done quickly — both elements were very much in tune with me and the way I work.
"I learned from all my years with The Crusaders how to get things done rapidly and how to get exactly what you want. What's so beautiful about it too," reflects Wayne, "is that we both remember when Roy used to come to listen to The Crusaders when we first moved to L.A. from Texas — we were all young cats then. He had his own little ensemble then and he was developing. So my reaction was really joyful because the project we did together was like back home in the sense that we've always had a mutual admiration for each other's work."
Certainly, the reaction from those who've heard the album suggests that it is truly a strong blend of two formidable musical talents and credit must go to Polydor's astute a&r folk for coming up with the whole concept. It seems that both gentlemen were so pleased with the results that they're already talking about another album together later in the year.
CURRENTLY enjoying a goodly measure of success with his newest album, "You Send Me", Roy Ayers seems to be finally coming into his own. We make that statement without reservation because this multi-talented gentleman has been gradually building his reputation and audience with each new album over the last three years or so and the last couple of albums ("Lifeline" and "Let's Do It") almost catapulted Roy to that coveted gold album status. He feels confident that this new project will do the trick.
"I guess I should really dedicate the album to the late, great Sam Cooke because he has proven such an inspiration to so many vocalists of today," he notes, commenting on the title track which features vocals by Carla Vaughan along with Mr. Ayers himself. Indeed, Roy's recent albums have reflected a growing move towards more singing by the man himself, although he's quick to point out that it's by no means at the expense of his vibe-playing which has truly put him in the forefront of contemporary musicians of the day.
"I used to sing before I ever really got into playing the vibes. Slowly, I've gotten back into it intelligently, I think, rather than just making an abrupt change. People seem to be responding well — for instance, people really dug a track on the last album, "You Came Into My Life" which was some mellow singing! Plus, I must confess right here and now: I've always had a secret fear of beating myself to death on the vibes!"
We should add at this juncture that Mr Ayers obviously has an abundance of talent in another area — as a comedian (hence the witty remarks throughout our conversation) and this is an area that he says he will definitely pursue at some juncture.
Indeed, Roy's future plans are somewhat wide-range. His desire to express his comedic ambitions, for instance, is just a part of a master plan — he says he'll begin including some humor in future stage performances — "which involves surpassing Stevie Wonder in sales in a six-year program we've put together!"
He quickly adds that his reasoning is no personal reflection on Stevie but purely based on business strategy and as if to verify that, he relates the story of how he went to see the musical "The Wiz" with Stevie a few weeks back.
"Originally, Stevie was going to bring just a couple of people and his entourage ended up at twelve in all! He kept asking me what was happening on stage and I'd tell him things like "The Lion just did doo-doo on stage!' and so forth!
"Then I told him that if he didn't include one of my songs on his next album, he'd be sentenced to sleeping with one eye open! Needless to say, he cracked up at that too!"
Such is My Ayers' zany humor and he notes that he doesn't want to "hurt anyone, just shock people in a gentle way". As an afterthought in regard to that master plan for surpassing Mr Wonder sales-wise, he adds: "I won't mind if we miss a few million on the way!"
Certainly, Roy is on his way to expending and cultivating new listeners. He makes reference to his last album and one of the cuts, "Freaky Deaky"; "I know it freaked people out and people dug it. But the song itself doesn't mean anything and it's just about doing something that tunes in with the people.
"I'm a firm believer in what Kenny Gamble says about the message in the music. I believe you have to grab people's attention with a groove and then you can bring them to what it is you'd like to convey, message-wise."
Perhaps one of the problems Roy has encountered thus far is that his music hasn't completely gotten across to the crossover audiences so that his valid message is not being heard by quite as many different people as he'd like.
"I think it's extremely important that a pop department he employed here at Polydor and a new program must be devised to remedy the situation. It's starting to happen but as always, it's slow. It's like my albums always come so close to gold — 400,000 and they'll zoom up the charts and stop.
"But I'm not a bitter artist and I know we have to persevere to get there. After all, there are always going to be obstacles and you've got to deal with that. You can do several things when you encounter a problem: go through it, go round it or retreat! But I don't deal with that retreating part!"
Yet another area that could well place Roy even further along the way career-wise is the distribution of his records overseas.
"We could definitely be selling more records abroad. Fortunately, we began to pick up with "Running Away" in Europe but there are some markets that still don't release any of the albums. Unfortunately, I must say that despite our recommendations and requests, the company have not been supportive in this area and sure, I'd love to go overseas once we can garner that kind of support."
Outside of his own work and the newly-completed album with Wayne Henderson, Roy has been busy with some other projects. "I'm completing the second Ubiquity Starbooty album for Elektra Records and they'll still continue to accompany me on the road and on records. Then, they'll be going out on the road seperately in January. It won't be a problem for me to find other musicians — in fact, I've already got in my mind exactly who I want to work with."
On top of the Ubiquity album Roy's been working on albums with Carla Vaughan and Merry Clayton "although I don't want to end up with a lot of projects and nothing completed — there's no necessity to overdo it."
The genial gent's closing thoughts centered on two specific subjects: "I think it's about time we had a Top 1,000 chart, then music would be less categorized. Oh and if there were more people like Stevie Wonder, the world would be a better place to live in!"
Well, no one's arguing with that but let's add that the same would be true if there were more folk like Roy. One thing's for sure, it would certainly be a zanier place to live in!
MAKING his mark as one of the hottest producers around today is a gentleman whose career as one of the mainstays with The Crusaders (themselves a legendary institution) brought enthusiastic praise and accolades from fans and critics for many years.
When Wayne Henderson decided to leave the group a few years ago, it was with several thoughts in mind. He turned his attention to recording as an artist himself and producing other acts. His initial entry as an artist was with ABC on the album "Big Daddy's Place" but it's his debut for Polydor, "Living Off A Dream" which has caught the public's attention.
"I see nothing but greatness coming up for me as an artist," he confides. "Both those albums gave me a whole new freedom that I had never experienced before. With all due respect to The Crusaders who will always be good friends, they played one particular way and I felt the need to get more into other areas musically, I needed to expand.
"The freedom that producing my own albums brought, gave me a clear mind. It enabled me to work with new, outside writers which in turn also increased my own writing ability.
"I worked in the studio in a different way than I'd ever worked before: for instance, I doubled up a couple of times on different cuts to give a fuller sound, using different harmonies, things like that. And then, too, I got the opportunity to work with a lot of good, young musicians."
Wayne isn't content either just recording his own albums. "We're putting together a special road show which will go out under the name of my production company, At-Home. We're called the show "At Home on the Road" and it will feature, beside myself, people like Bobby Lyle who has a new album on Capitol ("New Warrior") which I produced alongside other guys like Raul Battista, Ronnie Laws and the group, Side Effect, all of whom come under the aegis of At-Home.
"The way the show is constructed, we'll be relating particularly back to that twenties' era because we feel that's a very valid period in time that people will enjoy seeing re-created in part — that whole big band feel. We'll be including some standards alongside the more comptemprary material. Our first date will be in L.A. and we'll be doing some more, depending on our schedules in the studio."
Of course, Wayne's in-studio commitments may prevent him doing too much on the road. He recently completed albums on Esther Phillips, Michael Walden and Willie Bobo.
"Working with Esther was a true joy. She has always reminded me so much of Billie Holiday and Dinah Washington but no one seems to have captured that rawness and put it with contemporary music and material that fitted her style. But I think we really captured her this time.
"And Michael's album (for Atlantic) brought a kind of reconstruction to his music which I think people will really dig. Willie's been around some time now and the album we did for Columbia is really jumping with a lot of energy."
On top of all that, Wayne's been working with some new talent. "I've got an album on a reed player, Hilary Schmidt, for CBS and then, we worked with a group from Accra, Ghana named Sweet Talks. I really expected that one to be an authentic African kind of thing, so imagine my surprise when they said they wanted to do an a&b album! But it worked out really well so I'm very happy with the project."
Wayne notes that he's been speaking with David Soul, of the "Starsky & Hutch" TV show about the possibility of collaborating on an album and he also has albums upcoming on Ronnie Laws ("Flame"), Side Effect and a new David Oliver album for Mercury, as well as a new Polydor album for himself.
We wondered how, with all these commitments; Wayne manages to fit everything in! "I just make the time to do it all!" he laughs. "After all the years in the business, I've learned that you've got to just jump in there and do it.
"Before I really start producing, I looked at all the barriers in the industry and I noticed that of all the record companies, not one has a musician at its head. Now, I always had waited for someone else to do that — some creative musician to start his own company, but no one did it. So I decided that I'd do that myself!
"And that's what At-Home Productions is all about", building a musicians' company because out motto is "all good music starts At Home".
"We like to work with fresh, new talent because it's exciting, a challenge. Sure, I like to produce other established acts, but it's just as rewarding watching a career develop with someone you've worked with from the outset."
Wayne sums up his whole philosophy simply: "It's about enjoying making music and making money, that's half the battle. And it's about exploring new avenues, musically. We don't want people to put us into one particular bag because we want our music to be 'super fusion' music. It's just music for human beings everywhere!"
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.