Phone interview recorded January 20, 2012
On the strength of “I Want to Thank You” and quiet-storm classics like “If You Play Your Cards Right,” Alicia Myers developed a devoted following in the early 1980’s. Legal battles prevented her from seeing her career all the way through at the time, although she did land a top-five R&B hit with “You Get the Best from Me (Say, Say, Say).” After two decades away from the business, Alicia talks about what she’s learned from the challenges, and the refreshing new material she’s written for PEACE OF MIND. She also shares stories behind the gems contained on SoulMusic.com Records’ new reissue, ALICIA/ALICIA AGAIN.
Justin Kantor: Hi, this is Justin Kantor, and you’re listening to my 2012 interview with Alicia Myers, the one-and-only soul songstress known the world over for her powerful delivery of the classic “I Want to Thank You.” SoulMusic.com Records is about to release her first two albums on one CD, ALICIA, and ALICIA AGAIN; furthermore, Alicia has just released her first new album in over two decades with PEACE OF MIND. Enjoy.
Alicia Myers: Hi Justin, how are you?
JK: I’m doing good, how about you?
AM: I’m fine.
JK: From what I’ve read, you are from a family of nine.
AM: From a family of nine, yes. I’m number six in that order. Actually it’s a blended family. My father had three children, and his wife had passed. He and my mother met, and they had six more. He brought three to the marriage. So that’s how the nine became one big Brady Bunch.
JK: So there’s the expression “eight is enough.” So how about nine?
AM: Nine is even better. Nine is enough, absolutely.
JK: Not that you could compare it to other upbringings, but do you remember things specifically about that? Were you with all other eight siblings some of the time, or what was it like just being in a big household like that?
AM: Wow, that’s an interesting question. No one’s asked that one. It was interesting, to say the least. I remember there being groups: the three older ones, of course, and then my mom and dad had three— my older brothers Lawrence and Jackie and myself. Then there was the next set of three: my brother Aaron and two sisters.
I remember there being groups of children, and there was always the older ones where you’d get the hand-me-downs. But there was always something going on. Of course, there would be something going on in the home, musically or chore-wise, or someone getting in trouble for something, or ridiculed for something … it was always busy. In hindsight, it was all wonderful, but when you’re going through it it’s like, “I wish I was an only child.”
JK: Oh yeah, you want the other extreme.
AM: Yeah, it’s an extreme thing. So yeah, but it was fun. I remember it, for the most part, being fun.
JK: So would the three groups compete against one another?
AM: We would get most of that type of activity from the boys—we used to do competitive things with the male species.
JK: The girls against the boys, okay.
AM: Right. Guys are always competing, whether it was fighting over clothes, or “You wore my shirt!”—little, dumb stuff like that. So, usually those problems with the boys fighting, the sibling rivalry kind of thing. Mom and Dad would always make sure you love your brother, that you don’t fight, but…
JK: Yeah, I know. It’s always the boys’ fault, right?
AM: Of course. Always. But as far as myself and my sisters: My half-sister—which my parents never allowed us to say half-sisters and brothers-- we were all just one big family ... a blended family, we say today. But my half-sister and I--we were eleven years apart, so there couldn’t be any sibling rivalry there.
JK: So she was eleven years older, right? Was she like a role model to you, I guess?
AM: Yes … more so a role model on what not to do [laughs].
JK: All right. Well, that’s fair enough. It happens sometimes.
AM: Yeah, we had these nine personalities; but what brought us together was the music. We would always be listening to Motown, or the older siblings would always bring in the latest records--that type of household.
JK: That’s great. Were your parents musically inclined, or how did music enter the picture?
AM: My parents were not really musically inclined. My father tickled the keyboards a little bit, but that was never a profession of his. In my family, on my mom’s side, we had some singers—mostly choir singers, church singers; no one used their gift for the secular world. I had uncles that played keyboards or the piano a little bit, but nothing to the magnitude of going to a label.
JK: So tell me, what do you think made you decide to start a career in music— and how did you go about starting it?
AM: I would have to give it to my family: they just loved music in the household. My parents would always buy the music— that’s how we learned about the Ella Fitzgerald’s and the Errol Garner’s and the Wes Montgomery’s. They always brought music into the home, this beautiful music, and we just latched onto it. So when it came time for their children to show interest in music, we would get into talent shows and things of that nature. While we were in school we would join talent shows.
And then my brother Jackie—he’s about four years older than I am—I joined him in a talent show at one of the local schools, the Martin Luther King High School in Detroit, and that’s pretty much where it really began. We won first place. I was only nine or 10 years old then. And I really had to be pushed to do that because I really didn’t think I could sing; I didn’t know I was doing anything special. All of my siblings and I--we always sang around the house … sang along with The Supremes and The Temptations, and whatever else we were playing. I didn’t think I was doing anything different from any other sibling. And then they were like, “No, you’ve got to sing with your brother in the talent show.” I was like, “No, I don’t! I don’t wanna do that.”
JK: You weren’t feeling it.
AM: I was not feeling like I was doing anything special, and not getting in front of all those people, singing. To cut to the chase, I was up there singing, and we won first place singing Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell’s “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing.”
JK: Oh, wow. Good choice. A real crowd-pleaser.
AM: It was. And I was up there … I was terrified, but I did it.
JK: So was it like, from that moment, did it completely change you to say, “I want to do this”? Or did it still take some coaxing for you to really want to do it?
AM: It still took some pushing, because I was feeling like, “Eh, I don’t know …” I was so nervous. I’m ten years old. I had never been groomed, or gone to any school or anything like that to learn the etiquette of performing onstage. It’s all natural, even when you see me today. So I was like, “I don’t know…”
But I wanted to do it—a part of me wanted to do it, and a part of me couldn’t get over the shyness and the nervousness and anxiety I would feel. But once I was up there, I just learned to block it out and sing. I had gotten so I would just close my eyes … I’d come up with all these little things that I could do to block out the audience. The more I did that, the more shows would come locally, and I would just be performing. I then formed a girl group and my brother formed a band and it just eventually grew out of that.
JK: What was the group called?
AM: The girl group was a trio called The Mildtones. My brother’s group was The Mood Mystics.
JK: A lot of M’s.
AM: Right … something about that M, can’t get away from it. So that worked for three years, we were busy performing around. And that’s when Al Hudson and his family—they weren’t our family, but our parents grew up together. But initially, Al Hudson came to the family to say, “Hey, I want to hear Alicia sing. I hear she and Jackie have their group, their band and everything. I want to see what she’s talking about. Maybe we can hook her up with these people.” And so he heard us sing and he liked it. He took us to his people, his people at the time being Al Perkins, who was the manager and production person for One Way. They were then known as Al Hudson and the—
JK: Soul Partners?
AM: Yeah. So he had taken us there to Al Perkins, and he said, “Well, they’re too young.” I was probably 15 by then, and the girls were 16 and 17. We were stairsteps—so he said, “Bring them back; they’re too young. Wait ‘til they’re 18.” And by that time, we had this band--we weren’t together anymore. I had joined One Way by then. Al and the Soul Partners became One Way. And I went back to Perkins Music with them, and toured and recorded with One Way for three years, from ’77 to ’80. He said, “You have a girl in the group now. She just can’t join you and not have anything to do. You’ve got to put her on your singles.” So they put me in the studio, and I did some adlibs and overdubs on “How Do You Do," an uptempo, funky song.
JK: So was there anything in particular that you remember learning from the experience, the time you had performing with Al Hudson and One Way—recording, touring, the whole thing? Anything that you took from that as particularly memorable?
AM: Oh, absolutely. I learned so much from performing with the guys. If anything, I just had a good dosage of the stage presence that Al Hudson had. I learned a lot from watching him, and him showing me different things to do onstage. We would do a routine, and I felt better than I did as far as just being a solo artist, out there just being me. When I was with the group, it was me and the guys: we were doing the routines and the harmonies, and singing together. And the way Al Hudson handled the stage was just awesome. So, I just picked up bits and pieces from what he did and what they did as a group—Al Hudson, Dave Roberson and Kevin McCord.
So, I learned from them how to have a better stage presence and deliverance in our shows. They gave me confidence. I didn’t have this confidence initially with my family: “You can sing.” I said, “I’m not doing anything different than the other siblings.” But I was. I didn’t think that I was, but I was, so joining a group further gave me the confidence to say, “Alicia, you can sing. Come on; let’s do this.” So I learned a lot from those guys. It was fun being with them. Of course, being in self-contained groups as the only girl, you’re going to have your ups and downs. But the ups far outweighed the downs.
JK: When you mentioned that you got that confidence from being in the group, and it was easier than just being a solo artist, how did it come to be? Because it wasn’t too long before you did branch out on your own and record your debut solo album, ALICIA. What transpired to make that decision?
AM: Well, even though, when I had first started with my brother doing duets, and then the three ladies, The Mildtones--we were singing. But after we did the band, I was doing solo projects. I would open up for The Dramatics and other groups around the city. I was 17 or 18 years old, just out of high school.
I had some solo experience before that with Soul Partners, and then, after leaving them, I had honed my solo skills from being with the group— learning how to sing solo and the stage presence. So by the time I left the group it was pretty much natural; everything was falling in place. It was a far cry from when I started, and was afraid to get up in front of an audience.
JK: So you had become really confident as a solo performer onstage, and I guess in the studio, as well, from the work you did with Al Hudson?
AM: Yes, in the studio as well, absolutely--can’t forget about that. Things were so rushed in the studio. And when you’re young, as I was then, you’re recording and you’re doing these things and doing the work, but at the same time it’s more fun than work. We were enjoying putting the music down, enjoying the gifts that we had. We knew we had gifts to the magnitude they’d last—here we are, 30 years later. No one could really plan that.
JK: Having the chance to use those gifts and express yourself through them, that must be great.
AM: Yeah. When you’re a kid you’re having fun; you go in the studio and you do this music and people like it? You’re like, “Wow … okay, let’s do more.”
JK: There is a reissue coming out of your first two solo albums on CD. There’s a few of the songs, starting with the first album, ALICIA, that certainly, even though, maybe at the time they weren’t chart-topping hits, have become real classics and songs that resonate with a lot of soul music lovers worldwide. I wanted to clarify, and I don’t know if you remember, the actual first single that was put out on you was “Don’t Stop What You’re Doin’,” right?
AM: Actually it was “Reservation for One."
JK: Oh, I thought that was the second one! That’s interesting.
AM: Actually, it could have been the flip side back then. I don’t know how old you are.
JK: Well, I collect 45’s, so I know what you mean when you talk about flip sides. I can’t remember what song they put on the flip of “Reservation for One,” but I did see that. But it’s interesting that you tell me that now, because that’s actually a song that was written by an outside team, whereas I believe most of the material on your first album was written by Kevin McCord.
AM: Right, yes. In house.
JK: And that’s interesting, because—you can correct me if I’m wrong—I don’t think that’s one of the ones that tends to be played as much nowadays, compared to “If You Play Your Cards Right.”
AM: Right. No one remembers “Reservation for One.” They’re like, “Alicia, you did what?”
JK: That’s fitting, I guess, because you were going solo, so you had a reservation for one. Was that song something that you chose, or was that brought to you by the record company?
AM: I probably never would have chosen that song for myself. I liked it, but I was 20-something at that time. And even though I was in my twenties I always had this voice that was so heavy or low, or I don’t know what it is, but it’s my voice. And even as a child this was how I sounded, so everybody figures, “You need to sing ballads.” So I was in my twenties and they’re picking “Reservation for One,” and I’m like, “But I really want to sing “You Can Do It” and “How Do You Do”!
JK: Interesting; you really did get portrayed as a balladeer.
AM: Yes, because I’ve always had a mature voice, even as a kid. My uncles and relatives--they used to tease me—they would say things to me just to hear me talk so they could tease me, because I had this deep voice.
JK: But isn’t that surprising, though, since you had so much success with “You Can Do It,” and “Music”? What do you think was the thinking behind that, since you had the success with the uptempo’s, to suddenly go in this ballad-heavy direction?
AM: I’d roll with the punches, pretty much. I just figured, “Okay, this is new to me. I haven’t been on this level. Its new solo stuff, so okay, ‘Reservation for One’ it is. I’ll sing it.” Whatever I do, I try to do my best at it. I try not to feel that I know everything, or know what’s best for me, because it helps to listen and learn. As long as you live, you learn. So when you think back to people like Sammy Davis Jr., for instance, he never wanted to sing “The Candy Man,” but that’s what you remember.
JK: Well since we’re talking about ballads, “If You Play Your Cards Right” is a song that definitely became a favourite for a lot of people, even though it wasn’t a single, and even with groups and artists in the ‘90s and the new millennium covering it, like Brownstone and Syleena Johnson. So what are your thoughts on that song? What do you think it is about that song and/or your performance on it that has made it have such a long-lasting impact?
AM: That song, as in most of the songs that I sing, they’re just raw. They’re just raw, and I don’t know any other way to put it.
JK: That’s a good way to put it.
AM: Yeah. They’d give me a song, “Okay, this is how I want the melody to go.” Kevin McCord and I were working pretty closely at the time, so he would give me his melody—because he sings and plays bass—so he’d give me the melody and say, “On this part you can just adlib and set up the track, or whatever.” So that’s what I did. I had the gist of a song, “If You Play Your Cards Right,” and I would just sing the verses, and then when it came to the adlib, even at that time I was known as the adlib queen—because I would just carry it on out, and sing whatever on the track. Because I’m thinking, “Hey, you can always take it out of the mix.”
JK: So, you’re thinking ahead … you’ve got the ideas flowing; you might as well see how they come out, right?
AM: Exactly. We were just filling up some space, I’m just up in the studio singing and feeling and vibing with the song, and they ended up keeping it, and that’s what you hear today: the raw, pretty much uncut version of “If You Play Your Cards Right.” Because some people felt like, “Alicia’s music sounds like demos.” Well, people like ’em.
JK: I think it was fitting, though, because the lyrics were very down to earth. So maybe that’s part of the lasting appeal of it was because, that rawness really conveys the lyrics better than if you had polished it up too much.
AM: Right. I don’t use a lot of polish on my sound, because that’s just how I sound. It’s like trying to disguise your voice; well, how can I disguise my voice? It’s eventually going to come out as what it truly is.
JK: It is what it is, yes. Another one, “We Can’t Stay in Bed Forever,” was actually co-written by Vee Allen, another singer that I really like.
AM: Yes, Vee Allen. Awesome lyricist. I arranged that song. Someone else mentioned that song to me earlier last week and they said, “You know what, Alicia? I like all your music, but there is one song that I really like.” And I was like, “What?” And this is a guy. And he says, ‘We Can’t Stay in Bed Forever.’ I was like, “Really? You know that song?”
JK: So that was really gratifying for you to hear, I’m sure.
AM: It was, because it surprises me when people say things like that. They mention the older music, and I’m like, “Wow. The more I put out new music, the more I hear about the older music.” But I’m not complaining.
JK: And even though I know you didn’t write it, I would imagine that was a song with a message you appreciate, especially when someone of the opposite sex would say “That’s one of my favorites.” Particularly for that time, it was kind of different. One of the lines that stood out to me was when you sing, “There’s much more to me than my sexuality.” That made it a standout.
AM: A standout, yeah, and Vee Allen was that type of a writer. There was also another song that came up, “Better Woman or Bigger Fool.” She wrote that one, and they were like, “Better Woman or Bigger Fool”? I’m like, “Oh, my goodness.” All those songs I didn’t like performing—“Better Woman or Bigger Fool,” “We Can’t Stay in Bed Forever”—because I thought they were just so old.
AM: I was in my twenties, and I’m thinking, “Oh okay, I’ll sing them.” Because my voice is old—or older than—
JK: Right, because you felt like they made you seem like an older person by singing them.
AM: Exactly. And that’s probably why, when people see me today they go, “You were wonderful!” They’re probably thinking I’m 70 or something.
JK: No, no ... you could tell when you look at your album covers that you weren’t older. But maybe back then, because people didn’t always see the artist as much, they might have thought you were older. But if they saw you, I don’t think they would think that.
AM: Especially in my case, because I didn’t get a lot of exposure in between the years. But my true diehard fans--they know.
JK: And of course we have to talk about your first solo album, also, was what debuted “I Want to Thank You.” But that song has a very interesting history, because it wasn’t even released as a single until a couple of years later. Can you shed some light on the history of that song?
AM: “I Want to Thank You” was one of those sleeper songs. I don’t know what happened; but you put your music out there and you were thinking one thing and the fans are saying, “Oh no, we want this one.” And that was “I Want to Thank You.” I think it was on the other side of ... might’ve been “Don’t Stop.”
JK: It seemed to me, even before you put out the I FOOLED YOU THIS TIME album, it was on the B-side of something before it came out as an A-side. I don’t know if you heard that Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” was the B-side of, ironically, a song called “Substitute.” And the DJs kept playing and playing it. Because it just wouldn’t go away, because people related to that song and it became the massive—
AM: Exactly. You are so right, Justin, because that’s what happened: the DJs pretty much broke that song. The record label was doing some other song. They were not on “I Want to Thank You”; that I do know. And then the clubs were on it. They were pushing it, and certain names … they escape me now, but basically in New York--that were just “I Want to Thank You,” “I Want to Thank You,”“I Want to Thank You,” all in the clubs.
JK: I wonder if it was like Larry Levan or …
AM: Larry Levan, thank you.
JK: The DJ, yeah. I think I’ve heard his name associated with pushing that song. That’s why I said that.
AM: I would love to meet him; I don’t even know if he’s with us anymore.
JK: Oh no, he passed away a long time ago, unfortunately. He’s kind of legendary. I think he did that with a lot of records, so that’s nice to know that he played a role in that song.
AM: Yes, he did. And they were all over it. So the record company kept bringing it out: I think for two or three albums, that song made each album. I was like, “Wow, they can’t get enough of it.” Once they found out there was a genre for it, they kept putting it on every album, pretty much, and now you’re still hearing it today; two, three generations later they’re singing “I Want to Thank You.”
JK: And, of course, that’s another one that several people covered, with Robin S. ...
AM: Yes, yes, my new friend. We met during the taping of the Mo’Nique Show.
JK: I saw you guys were on that together; that’s pretty cool.
AM: Even Patti LaBelle at Sheryl Lee Ralph’s event every year--she was there, and she told me, “Alicia, I sang your song, “I Want to Thank You”; and she recorded it with DMX.
JK: I didn’t know that.
AM: Everybody’s got a story of that song. Bobby Brown and Whitney Houston—that was their wedding dance song. It’s just wonderful; it’s taken on a life of its own. Like I told Mo’Nique on her show, it’s keeping me working.
JK: That’s awesome. Is there something specific about it that you think makes it so universal?
AM: Oh, absolutely—the first line: “I want to thank you, heavenly Father, for shining your light on me." If you feel so neglected or left out, whether it’s in personal relationships or just in life’s struggles, in general—“Lord, you’ve forgotten about me”—those that are spiritually connected, however. When you speak those words like that, it’s a universal comment; it’s a universal sentence: “I want to thank you, heavenly Father.”
For whatever the reason is: for healing me—in my case, of breast cancer—in other instances, for bringing this particular man in my life, or in a guy’s case a particular woman in my life … I thank you for whatever it is. It doesn’t have to be limited to whatever the song is saying about the person. “You’ve blessed me with this man; you’ve sent me someone who loves me and not just my body.” So that universal message is not just for then, but obviously for all time and all generations. Young kids should know this. Your body is the Lord’s temple, so respect it as such. You want someone to love you, not just for your body, or not for your body; you want someone that loves YOU.
JK: Right, right. The whole you.
AM: Exactly, the whole you. I’ve heard people say that the lyrics saved their life. I remember a gentleman coming to one of my shows backstage, and his wife was not with him at the time, but he told me that my song “I Want to Thank You” saved her life. And I’m like, “How do I say thank you?” I feel like I don’t know what to say when someone tells me that. So people have their own stories about that song. Like I said, it’s taken on a life of its own. I just thank God that that happened for you. He just uses my voice as a vessel to touch those hearts and minds and spirits like that, because Alicia … I’m just trying to stay on the right note.
JK: That song was written by Kevin McCord, right?
AM: Yes, it was. He wrote great songs for me. We’re not in touch now like we used to be, but he was a great writer for me during that time—everything has its season. And now we have Tim Jones and Dave Conley producing my latest album, PEACE OF MIND. So you don’t want to get stuck in a rut. Of course, some people say if it’s not broke don’t fix it; but sometimes you also need to just branch out and see what other writers or what other people you can work with, and connect with musically.
JK: It’s also interesting when you talk about working with different people—on the ALICIA AGAIN album which is also a part of the new CD reissue, you worked largely with your brother who you mentioned earlier, Jackie Myers; he wrote a lot of those songs. The opening song on there, which is one of my favorites of yours, reminds me of what we’re talking about, and that’s the song called “Keep God in Your Life.”
AM: Oh, thank you—one of my favorites.
JK: I think that was one that he wrote, if I’m correct.
AM: Yes, he pretty much produced that album … didn’t get a lot of play here, whatever happened. There are still people that purchased it, and that remember it. And you’re mentioning “Keep God in Your Life”: I performed in Lyon, France, this year and this was one of the songs they were yelling out: “Alicia, ‘Keep God in Your Life’!” Oh my goodness, I was so shocked. I didn’t have it prepared. I was like, “Who’s gonna ask for something from the second album?” It happens all the time, but when they ask for “I Found Love at a Disco” or “Keep God in Your Life,” these songs that my brother wrote—they were my band at the time—it’s like, “Wow, they know THAT?”
My brother Jackie now, he’s a music minister at our family’s church. And then he teaches music, so I’m actually currently … there’s something else that I used to do. I’ve never said this in an interview before, but back when I just started with The Mildtones, and singing with the three girls and all, I used to play drums.
JK: Oh wow, that’s awesome.
AM: I’m only saying it now because on my next album project, that’s what I’m working on.
JK: You don’t hear that a lot—a combination of drummer and vocalist.
AM: Other than Karen Carpenter, who used to do it.
JK: Oh, that’s true. You’re right—we forget about that.
AM: So, I’m going to do a couple of songs. I don’t know about the whole album, but I’ll do one or two songs where I’ll play all the music, not just the drums. I’ll play the drums, keyboards … those are the instruments I used to play around on during band rehearsals and things, back in the day as a teenager. So I said, “You know what? I’m just going to go for what’s in my spirit to do.” I’m going to get on the drums, and play at least one or two compositions where I do all the singing and play all the instruments.” So, that’s what my brother is working with me on now, today, for the next album.
JK: That’s awesome. Do you think you’ll do that onstage, too? Will you be drumming and singing at the same time?
AM: That’s the other part.
JK: Because that’s hard—I’ve seen a few people do it, but that’s a lot to carry off, isn’t it?
AM: It’s a lot to carry out, and I do it would probably be on the drums and it would be very brief [laughs].
JK: If you look at it one way, I guess “I Want to Thank You” is not too fast a song, so you could start with that one, maybe, since it’s your universal song. It’s something to think about, because that would be really cool and unique; you definitely don’t see that very much.
AM: Yeah. You know what? I can do these things—why not put the fun back in my career? I’ve gone through a lot. Like a lot of other artists, we’re cheated, or not getting royalties. I’m no exception. So I’m like, “Okay, I want to put the fun back into my career.” So I’m going to play the instruments on one or two songs, and I’ll do the singing, of course … and take all the seriousness out.
JK: So, when you did that album with your brother, was that something that was easy to do? I just wondered, since you had been with Al Hudson and you were working with Kevin McCord. Was it something where you just said, “I want to bring in my brother,” and they said, “Okay, do it”? Or was that hard to do?
AM: Well no, that was exactly how it went. I was like, “Well, I’m not with One Way”—at the time, they wanted to use One Way as my band as a solo artist. I was like, “Well no, if I’m going to break away I’ll just go ahead and do my own band.” My brother had his absolutely fabulous band from North Carolina that he brought up with him. He was playing with the Chairmen of the Board at the time. He said, “I want to help my sister; she has an album coming out. Do you guys want to come along?” He brought about three or four musicians, and that’s the musicians you hear on the ALICIA AGAIN album.
JK: One of them is actually a guy I’ve talked to a couple times, who played on a lot of other people’s records: Bruce Nazarian, the guitarist.
AM: Love Bruce. Yes, he’s everywhere.
JK: And I think it was, maybe, your writing debut, or at least for your own albums: you wrote a song with your brother called “Do Your Kind of Dance”?
AM: Oh yeah, we wrote that together. You see, this again was the type of music that I wanted to do but other people were like, “No, we want you to sing those ballads.” And I just thought, “Oh gosh, that’s so boring.” “If You Play Your Cards Right” was a different type of ballad, so I got into that one. But the other types of ballads, you know ... you’ve got to take the bitter with the sweet, or whatever it is in the industry, and in life.
JK: My favorite on that album--one of my favorites of yours is “Car Trouble,” because I thought that was so cool that you’re singing about that. Because that’s something that most everybody can relate to at some point in life, but you never hear a whole song about it—especially at the end when you were doing the dialogue about “Last week it was the carburetor; this week it’s the ignition.”
AM: Oh my goodness, Justin, you got to be kidding. Nobody ever said that, Justin—nobody ever said that.
JK: I’m not kidding you, because I love the upbeat stuff like that, too, and I just thought, “This is so cool—she’s not singing just a love song about …” And then you’ve got the sound effects.
AM: “Car Trouble” is like, what do they say—the pink elephant in the room? We’re gonna act like that song isn’t on the album.
JK: I really love it. I’m sure there’s other people out there that do, too. Maybe they’re just not bringing it up when they talk with you.
AM: Thank you; I had so much fun doing it. And what it is was--my brother talked me into doing it. I said, “Jackie, people don’t know me like you know me.’ He thought that I have this little loopy, quirky side. But I take my singing seriously. So, the public doesn’t know me like that, Jackie—they’re not going to take to ‘Car Trouble’ like that.” He said, “Oh, they’ll love it; they’re going to love you. They want to see the human side. They don’t always want to see the celebrity side.” He talked me into doing “Car Trouble,” and here’s Justin, 30 years later, saying he likes it. No one says they like “Car Trouble.”
JK: No, I really do—that’s just the kind of thing I like, because you’re talking about something stressful, but it’s an upbeat song. I just thought it was fun. And like I said, the whole lyrics he wrote and everything was cool, but when you did the dialogue at the end, I just thought that was really neat, because that was unexpected, too.
AM: Oh my goodness, my daughters tease me about that today: “Oh, not a flat/ain’t no jack.” Oh my goodness, that was too funny. That album, I tell you, is getting more recognition from overseas than here. I don’t know what it was, whether it was too soon of a switch in producers. I think they were still used to the sound of the first album. When we came out with ALICIA AGAIN, it was a different group of musicians, song concepts and all. They were like, “I don’t know about this.” And the first single from that album was “I’m So Lonely.”
So, I think, maybe they weren’t done with the first album. I think that really, once they felt they had discovered “I Want to Thank You,” it was like, “Well, let’s see what other things are on here, and here she is with another album—it sounds nothing like the first.”
JK: Were they satisfied enough that they said, “We’re going to keep recording albums,” or was there pressure to do something different?
AM: No, I never felt pressure. The contract was four. I did the four albums and I didn’t renew; I was not getting along so well with the Perk’s Music gang over there. Again, I’m still fighting to get royalties.
JK: I had read that there were some contract disputes, but I didn’t know what it was, specifically.
AM: And it goes on and on and on … like goodness, I did the stuff—just pay me what I’m entitled to! I’m not asking for what’s yours.
JK: So in other words, were you signed to a production company, Perks Music? You weren’t signed to MCA?
AM: That’s what happened. I was with the middle man.
JK: The third-party deals, as I like to say.
AM: Exactly. And not knowing, in my twenties, what I was signing, I’m figuring, “Well, fine, “because I don’t really understand it. But it’s got to be better than what I’m going through.” You’re raised in the hood and you’re dealing with hood issues—I was a single mom at the time. It was clearly not a meeting of the minds, a mutual understanding, or a satisfactory agreement. So I’m paying for it today, because I still don’t get royalties that I’m fighting for. So, that was pretty much the straw that broke the camel’s back.
JK: Because, when I look back at your progression of albums, I know that you wanted to go on to other things, which we’ll talk about in a minute. But that’s why it was so interesting to me: I know when they first came out they weren’t that big; but then you really started to take off when “I Want to Thank You” hit, when you put it on the I FOOLED YOU THIS TIME album. And then especially, as you mentioned earlier, the I APPRECIATE album—because you had a really big hit with “You Get the Best of Me,” and even “Appreciation.” And then it was like you were just gone for a really long time.
AM: Like I fell off the earth or something, I know.
JK: As soon as you hit really big it was like, “Where is she?”
AM: Yes, that’s right. I just tried to make ends meet—you do what you do. The record label doesn’t care. They’ve gotten theirs ... and yours, too, in my case. They got mine, too. So it’s just the ugly side of the industry that no one wants to deal with. But you have to, because if they can keep you onstage with the lights-camera-action frame of mind, then you don’t focus on your money.
That’s pretty much how I fell between the cracks. I had to go to school; I went to school. I had to get a job—I went to computer school and all of that. So yeah, I’m not too good to go to school and to work, and that’s what I had to do.
JK: Because you had mentioned that you had the four-album deal, was there anything in particular that stopped you from, if you wanted to, going with another company to continue to record at that point?
AM: People, I think, put what they call venom out on you: they’re tainting your situation where no one wants to really touch you. They figure it’s going to be more trouble than it’s worth: “Why bother with her? She’s in her thirties now. We can get these 19- and 20-year-old girls who have beautiful voices. So why bother? Let that stuff settle.” So I didn’t get signed. I never got picked up, so I had to do independent things, and that’s fine. It’s okay. It is what it is.
JK: I don’t know if you want to address it or not, but I’ll just ask, since you mentioned it: was that how some of the crazy rumors that started going around about you started? Because I know you were battling with your health and everything when you were away, but I remember at different times reading crazy things like … in Sister, Sister. It was saying you had a dispute with your manager, and they were saying, “Alicia Myers shot her manager, and she’s in jail”—
AM: Oh, my God. If it wasn’t so downright ugly, it’d be hilarious. It’d be a good joke. I was in a hotel some years ago. We were checking in, and in the distance, I heard a young lady—I think she was working with the staff—I heard her say, “That’s Alicia Myers; that’s the one that killed her manager.” I went, “Oh, my God! Okay…” I was like, “I just have to ignore that. It was just really weird. I was like, “People really believe that. It really got out like that.” No one ever apologized to me, or made amends.
JK: I know. It’s almost like someone, because you had been out of the limelight so long, they just decided, “Oh, well, they haven’t heard anything else, so we’ll just say this.” And it starts going around, and before you know it people are saying …
AM: Yeah, it’s … what do you call it? The urban legend. I have never been in jail for anything. It was a very sad time, and I don’t know, to this day, who killed Al Perkins, but it’s so sad that they would just throw my name out there. And again, I think these are tactics to keep your mind off your money. Because, at the time, before he passed, I was in court pursuing my royalties. So, they were probably just so angry with me that they said something to the wrong person or whoever it was to get it out there, and it was an ugly joke.
JK: I didn’t know that whole history—I didn’t know that he had been murdered, so I guess what you’re saying--someone just took that connection and exploited it.
AM: Yeah, it was just really ugly. I have to laugh when I hear it, because someone who says that, it’s like, “Wow, where have they been?” No one believes that stuff. But that was very ugly. And to this day I haven’t heard if they have said who did it; I don’t know who it is--and I’m still not getting royalties. That I do know.
JK: It’s such a shame, and it’s a shame that it’s a pretty common thing.
AM: Yeah, ugly. That’s the ugly side of the industry, and that’s why a lot of people don’t want their children in the entertainment industry. They’re like, “No, just go be a lawyer, a doctor, a maid or whatever … but entertainment? I don’t know.” It’s not user-friendly.
JK: It’s like the art sometimes can get lost in the business, which is a shame, because they’re so opposite—the art and the business, it seems.
AM: Right. If we could, as artists, that’s all we would do all day is make music. Just give me my music and my keyboard and my drums, and I’m good; but we’ve got to talk about percentages and points and “Okay, you take this, that and the other …” It’s like, “Okay, I’m tired.”
JK: Because I remember, when you mentioned that Jet article, I read how you had said sometimes it came down to peace of mind—which is the name of the new album, interestingly. But, just knowing how gifted you are musically, and thinking that, obviously, that must be a big part of you, when you did go on to medical school, I believe, and then to some of the other fields that you’ve worked in, I was wondering—because peace of mind, that’s a really important thing to people—was it a struggle for you at any point when you weren’t being able to do your music? For you, piritually or internally? Or was it just so bad that you said, “No, it’s not even worth it to try to do it for a while”?
AM: Things just dried up. I knew things were really ugly when I was in court, and I got some type of a settlement that is not even worthy to mention. It was like, “I’m going to have to go to work and just forget about it. I’m not too proud to work.” But the funny thing about that is, when you go to work or to school, people look at you and go, “Are you Alicia Myers, the singer?” “Yes.” And they actually say, “You don’t belong here. Why are you here?” “I’m here for the same reason you’re here.” I know people don’t mean any harm.
JK: But it’s hard when you’re hearing it, right? Or at least when people first said that to you?
AM: Right. They don’t mean harm, but they just let me know that they admired me for the music that I did.
JK: It’s interesting, because in one way, you mentioned how you grew up, as you put it, being from the hood, that you were knowing what it was like to make ends meet. So, I guess when you did have to go through this time of being out of the industry and working, you knew what you had to do, whereas some people, I think, if they didn’t struggle before or something, they might be like, “Well, what do I do?” They might just be flat on their faces or something.
AM: I often say it too—I was at that very place. And I know that it’s not just me; I’m not the only one. A lot of artists may not speak on it, but I know I’m not the only one, and I’m not the first one it’s happened to, and I’m sure I won’t be the last. Artists today, I think they get it easy—they really do. The artists that opened the door for me, and then the artists that I’ve opened doors for—it seems to get easier as time goes on. Wow, they get really paid … and you think back at the Nancy Wilson’s and all the other legends that don’t really get the recognition … it’s a different time, I understand, but wow—they opened doors for me.
I opened doors for a few people, I guess; but I’m still trying to collect while they’re collecting mine and yours, too. So whether they’re representing you or whatever it is, some of us get so cheated, Justin. It’s like wow … I gotta do something.
JK: So tell me about the PEACE OF MIND CD. What made this the right time to record a new CD?
AM: I was busy doing work overseas, and I figured, “If things aren’t working that great over here, then they seem to listen to the music there,” and I was going over there doing shows in Lille, France, and then in Lyon. So my promoter there had used a gentleman, Tim Jones, from England, to do some of my tracks. He said, “Alicia, I really think you and Tim would do very well together. He should do your next album.” And I procrastinated, and every time I would speak to him he was like, “Alicia, did you talk to Tim?” “Oh, no … not yet.” So it kind of went like that. And then I went to Lyon this past June, 2011, and he said, “Alicia, you talk to Tim?” I was like, “Yeah …”
JK: Kinda, not really.
AM: Right, it went a bit like that, because I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to do anything. Then I’m thinking, “Well, why not? Why not?” And so, long story short, I ended up going to record in Bath, England … west of London. And that’s the project we came up with. And it was like recording the first time—it was just so fun.
He doesn’t have this extravagant studio; he has his own home studio—and who would know it when they’re listening to the album? I was up there with Tim and Dave Conley. I had a wonderful time recording those songs that I think the positive attitude came across in the tracks. A lot of people hear it and they’re like, “You’re album is so much fun, you can do aerobics to it.”
JK: That’s awesome. So when this started did you have a theme in mind, or how did it go with actually writing and coming up with the songs?
AM: Tim would send me tracks. I would pretty much listen to the tracks, and feel where it was flowing. It had the old-school yet new vibe about it, so I honed in on songs that had a combination thing: a little bit of the One Way sound—and a little bit of today’s sound in the way I was singing, lyrically. So basically, I just picked those tracks that I felt I would be able to have a good vibe in writing to them.
I would get the songs and say, “Tim, I’m writing these lyrics. You know I do contemporary gospel”—which I am leaning more towards singing gospel anyway—I said, “Do you have a problem with me using your tracks and writing gospel lyrics?” He said, “No. Do whatever you feel.” And so that’s what I did. I’m my worst critic, so I listen to it now, and I’m like, “I should have said this; I should have sung it this way.” There’s a thin line between perfection and—
JK: That’s very true. How did Dave Conley come into it, because you mentioned him, and he’s someone who’s done a lot of great music that I love, as far as producing—aside from being in Surface, he’s produced for a lot of people I love. So how did he come into the picture?
AM: Yes, Dave Conley was awesome. I didn’t know him prior to working with him on my project, but he and Tim--they knew each other and had worked together. So Tim said, “I know this guy, Dave Conley.” And I was like, “I don’t know him … I’m not sure. I already know your music; I’m working with you. Don’t you know how to work the boards yourself? Can’t you do that, Tim? Do you have to bring in someone else?” So Tim was like, “But Alicia, he’s really good. He’ll be really helpful; he’s worked with me on projects.” He really gave him all the thumbs-up; so I was like, “Okay…” reluctantly.
And I got there and I met Dave and he was just a beautiful person, spiritually. I hone in and thrive on a person’s spirit when I’m around them. You don’t want to be around someone who’s wishy-washy: one minute they’re up and ready to roll, and the next minute you don’t even know them. Even keel.
Tim and Dave Conley and I— it was a match made in heaven. Because sometimes I get tired in the studio; I still want to sing lyrically, but sometimes I get fried with what track I’m on. I’m like, “I’m tired.” Dave was there to keep me on track, so how could I not have him around? I’m glad he came. So he was good with the harmonies, he did a lot. He and Tim and I were just fabulous together.
Tim knows how to work his equipment, of course. A lot of people, you go in the studio with them and just hope that they bring out the ideas and things that you hear and things you want in your music. Between Tim and Dave, we did it. I did those vocals in four days.
JK: I saw that the album was recorded in just one month— “Recorded in Bath, UK, September 2011.” So I got the impression it came together rather quickly.
AM: It was solid, though. A lot of energy was flowing in that studio, and a lot of fun—we had a lot of laughs. There was no tension or anything … not that I had ever really worked under those conditions, but I know that it can happen. But that was not the case with these gentlemen. I can’t thank them enough. I can’t thank Tim enough for suggesting to bring David, because he definitely was a necessary component.
JK: I remember he produced some of the late Gwen Guthrie’s stuff in the ‘80s, and even for Aretha Franklin, he did one of her songs. I think another name that I saw on there, that wrote with you, was Steve Holmes?
AM: Oh my goodness, yes—I met him there. And some of the tracks that I thought were Tim’s actually were tracks that Tim and Steve had written. We called him Holmesy [laughs]—he has that English accent, so ... Holmesy--he wrote one of my favorite songs on the CD. “Journey” is one of my favorites, and “Fancy Dancer.” Genuine people, and that’s what I want around me. I don’t want anybody that’s head-tripping—just people who are even keel, down to earth and easy to work with and not funny-acting, and we can do this project. And that’s what we were blessed to have.
It was a fun project, so we’re just looking forward to putting a tour together, and getting out there overseas or wherever we have to go, wherever it leads us, and doing some shows.
JK: One of the songs that stood out to me, a song that I think people will really like a lot, is “Weekend.”
AM: My mom loves “Weekend.”
JK: There’s one line, in particular, where you said, “Maybe I’ll go to a club,” and then you said something like, “Or I’ll take a cruise on a yacht.” So, when you wrote that song—just taking that song, as an example, to figure out how you write—is that just what you do on the weekend, typically? Or how did you come up with that song?
AM: Well, if it’s not what I do, it’s probably what I would like to do—or what others do. Sometimes as a writer, you don’t always write from your life or your perspective. You’re writing from the world’s perspective sometimes, or someone else’s perspective. There are people that go on cruises at the weekend … they’re looking forward to going on a cruise, or to try a new club. So I was trying to write down every—not every aspect of things to do on a weekend, but some little things that people get into.
JK: I think that’s why I liked it, because you get that sense that people from different demographics can relate to it—you don’t have to be one certain age or one certain color —or from a certain city or something.
AM: Yeah, different walks of life, even different scenes. It would have been a longer song if I’d covered every single thing you could do on the weekend.
JK: So there you go, you have to do a remix called “The Long Weekend.”
AM: “Weekend, Part II.”
JK: “The Three Day Weekend Remix” or something.
AM: Yeah, and this is how it is—people are looking forward to the weekend. So Tim--some of the tracks he sent to me had titles on them. He said, “You can keep the titles or not; they’re just there, placeholders on the computer. So when I saw that one and heard the track, I said, “I want to leave it like you had it, and just write around the title.” So that’s what I did, and that’s what you have.
JK: Another song that stood out to me, more on the slow side, is “Stay.”
AM: Oh, yeah, that’s one of my favorites, too.
JK: I liked it even just for the line where you said, “You don’t need your cell phone,” because these days people have their cell phones like a part of their body, almost, a lot of times.
AM: How could we ever do without the cell phone, Justin? How could we ever do without them?
JK: With that kind of line in it, what made that relevant to that song? What were you going for when you wrote “Stay”?
AM: That’s the same thing Tim was asking me. The music kind of dictates, and then I pray a lot. I do everything with God; I do everything in prayer—I pray first, and then I do what he gifted me to do. I never gave myself a lot of credit, as far as songwriting in the beginning, but more so now I do.
With “Stay,” when I heard that track it had a jazzy sound and I was like, “Is he trying to get me to sing jazz? What is this song telling me?” What I do is I hum melodies to the tracks. If some melody sticks with me, then I turn those melodies into lyrics. So that’s what happened: I sang different melodies to that track and said, “Okay, I like those notes and the sound of that chord.” So I wrote words around that, and the harmony I simply picked up from what was on track already—the keyboards were doing the chords like that, so I did the voices with it.
JK: Oh, nice. So tell me about the title track of the album, “Peace of Mind,” because that’s the closing number on the CD and it’s a very poignant kind of song, just from the outset. You sing of “Sitting here wondering where this world’s heading, and hoping that the time will come for peace.” So was that the same process for writing that one, or was there anything unique about the inspiration or the creation of that song?
AM: “Peace of Mind” is totally different. I had written that song back in the ‘80s. I just thought this was an opportunity to present it. For some reason, I just felt like this is where I’m going to put it, and I don’t want any drums on it. They’re like, “What do you mean you don’t want drums on it? You’ve got to.” “No, I don’t. I just want it to be a peaceful, quiet song.”
And because, again, I’m a perfectionist and an obsessionist, I could have spent more time on that song if it was up to me. And even though it was written in the ‘80s, lyrically, musically I was looking for another direction that I couldn’t quite articulate to Tim and Conley.
At the same time, it sounds great. And the song was very personal, because you’re thinking about the world as a whole—where I was in my life, at that time, I guess is where those lyrics came from, other than, obviously, the spiritual aspect—but yeah, you’re thinking about where the world’s heading, when is there going to be peace? You’re afraid to turn on the news or you’re going through your own issues in your life. Turmoil in the world.
So, those words were born out of just life—from Genesis to Revelation, just life. You’ve got to have peace of mind—just calm down and get to God. And it’s about love, and that’s why “United We Stand,” another song, is the opening song on PEACE OF MIND. If we stand together united, we can accomplish more; but if we’re going in different directions—this group over here, that group there—there’s division all over the world. If we stand united, we can accomplish more. We’re all sisters and brothers. So there’s that thread that weaves all through the album about being together and having love for one another. Finding peace and helping one another.
JK: So was titling the CD PEACE OF MIND something you had to think about much?
AM: Not really. I think it was appropriate, because I had peace of mind when I was recording it. I figured, “I have a song called “Peace of Mind.” I think I want to throw it on the album. I’m going to put it on there and let it close it out.” And it was just perfect. I had fun recording it. I had fun working with the people I worked with.
And I remember telling Tim, at the time, because we were going to initially record it in New York--I said, “Tim, I don’t know. I’m feeling like I need a change of scenery or something. I’ll come there. I’ll do it in England—I think I’ll feel better doing it there.” Because I was already back and forth in New York, so there was nothing fresh for me. So, going to England was what worked, and it was a beautiful project all the way around. And I was able to label it PEACE OF MIND because of that.
JK: So, it gave you a new space, creatively, to work in.
AM: Yeah, something creatively and people that I really didn’t know throughout my lifetime. You know people for a lot of years, and they’re the only ones you trust sometimes Well, Tim and Dave Conley, I didn’t know throughout my lifetime. I just met them through word of mouth, or whatever. But like I say, you walk out on faith, and here we are today, talking to Justin K.
JK: I like the Justin K. nomer, so it’s funny that you call me that. Ever since I was a little boy I’d say, “I’m Justin K.” I guess before, you always did your recording either in New York, L.A., Detroit, pretty much?
AM: Exactly. Mostly in Detroit, and then do remixes or overdubs in L.A. or New York. So I’d never recorded overseas: “Tim, I’d like to do it over there.” And it worked—I needed something different, and you’ve got to go with what your heart tells you to do. My heart was telling me, “Don’t do it in New York; go over there and do it.”
JK: Do you have any specific hopes with regards to this album, as far as the results that you’d like to see from it on any level?
AM: Well, yes; I’d absolutely like for people to know that I’m still around, and I’m still trying to do it. We have not got the distribution yet, but we’re working on it. It’s an independent project; we worked from no budget--we didn’t have a label budget or anything like that—a major label. So I’m just hoping that it’ll get heard by the masses even here in the States—so they’ll know I’m not done. I’m still here.
JK: Still standing.
AM: I’m still standing, thank you. So I keep doing it. If I have to get a job in-between that’s what I’ll do, but I still want to sing. And hey, like I told you, I’m even going to play drums. It’s good to know that I still do have a fanbase, even overseas. It’s worth it for the fans that are out there saying, “We don’t care if you sing “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” Just sing something … give us something new.” So that’s what this is about.
My daughter helps me out with the new Twitters and stuff like that; these things I have to get acclimated to. And people are asking, “Well, when are you going to have something new out?” I have something new out, so she has to Tweet them and say, “She has a song out; you can check it out on iTunes or check it out on YouTube.” So we still have some work to do in distributing it and getting it heard, and, hopefully, doing some shows overseas, putting a tour together, whether it be a promotional tour or however. We’re just ready to go with it.
JK: It does take time, I think, to get the word out these days when you’re doing it independently, just because there’s so much when you go online—it’s massive. But I think, if you get it out to the right people, you definitely can have a successful project. And it’s a good project—it’s solid songs; lyrically and vocally, you sound great.
AM: Thank you so much, Justin. I appreciate that. And there are always going to be the naysayers or critics that are always going to say something, but for the most part, we don’t have many, or very few of them that say, “Oh, she sounds like a demo.” But again, I just think it works for me … that sound works for me. If you feel like that, it still works. If people are still listening to “If You Play Your Cards Right” and “I Want to Thank You”—and those were demos, pretty much—I’m like, “Okay, I’m still on target then, if that’s the case. Thank you.”
JK: Well, thank you so much, it’s great. I really loved talking with you.
AM: Thank you so much. It’s been a pleasure.
JK: You’re welcome. And have a great weekend, and we’ll talk soon, all right?
AM: Thank you, dear.
JK: Okay, you too. Bye.
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.