There’s a lot of truth in the adage, 'what goes around comes around'. Soul Icon, Bobby Womack once sang, “Nobody Loves You When You’re Down And Out”. However, with an induction into the ‘Rock’n’Roll Hall Of Fame’ and now a tribute album (“Facts Of Life – The Soul Of Bobby Womack”) by young soul crooner, Calvin Richardson, it seems like the world has fallen back in love with Womack. Calvin Richardson talks to Jeff Lorez about his decision to pay homage to one of his musical heroes.
Jeff Lorez: The Poet I and The Poet II were two of my favourite albums growing up. It’s not like anyone can sing Bobby Womack songs. That’s a daunting prospect for any vocalist, and I think you did a great job.
Calvin: Thank You, Thank You. Well, you know I’ve been a longtime fan of Bobby’s as well, so I grew up hearing Bobby, and listening to Bobby, so when I approached the records, it’s not like I was a stranger to his style. On my first album, I wasn’t entrenched so much, but to take on the whole album, basically I just listened to it, picked the songs that I wanted to use that were my personal favourites from those albums, and you know I never sang them, I didn’t rehearse them at all, and once I got in the studio, man I just went off the ones that I studied off him, that I got inside of him, you know?
JL: His phrasing is very uniqueand you managed to pull that off really well.
CR: Yeah man, I definitely tried to pay close attention to him, to his phrasing, and even the way he accents certain things, where he put his growls, and you know, just how he delivered a song man, and the whole message and the story, man. I didn’t’t try to get away from that I didn’t want to get too comfortable to the point that I could take away from what it was, you know, change the vibe of it, so I just stayed as close to it as I could, and that’s what it came out to be, man.
JL: How did you decide on these songs? There’s a lot of material. You could have picked tons of different Bobby Womack Songs.
CR: Some of them were definitely songs that were just my favourite songs from Bobby Womack, like ‘Across 110th Street’, ‘Woman’s Gotta Have It’, ‘That’s The Way I Feel About Cha’, ‘Harry Hippie’, those are songs that just came to my mind. If I do a Bobby Womack album, I’m definitely going to do those ones. The others, I just basically pulled out my old Bobby Womack collection and just listened for a few days, and picked out songs that maybe everyone wasn’t so familiar with, like ‘American Dream’ and those type of songs, and ‘Daylight’ and stuff like that. That was my process. I mean, I like him, I’m really fond of him, and I figured, ‘Let’s get all the songs I like’.
JL: It’s interesting, because a lot of younger singers from your generation, I guess their influence or singing style wouldn’t lend themselves to cover a Bobby Womack song, and they’re probably from more the kind of Stevie Wonder style of singing. You know, the gospel Stevie Wonder style. You hear a lot of older people who are influenced by Bobby Womack, but not a lot of younger people. When you were growing up, what type of musical influence did you get, because you seem to have a lot more older soul influences than people your age normally would.
CR: Oh, definitely. I grew up singing in church, back in the gospel groups and stuff like that, so back down south, Bobby Womack, Sam Cooke, and Al Green; that was what I heard. If I wasn’t in the gospel circuit, then I was in a different setting where those were just the types of things that I heard. I heard of Michael Jackson and famous people like that, and Stevie Wonder as well, but you know, I grew up singing in church, in a gospel quartet, and that’s a little bit different than your contemporary gospel these days, when that’s what you do on a constant basis. I just developed that type of style.
JL: How did you come to write Charlie Wilson’s ‘There Goes My Baby’? It’s a huge hit, and it’s interesting that you were a writer on that.
CR: Oh yeah, I performed it as well, but when I was on Hollywood Records in 2004 or 2005. Babyface was the executive producer on that, and me and Babyface actually wrote that song. I recorded it and we never really used it, but I put it up on my Myspace page, and somebody had downloaded it over in the UK a few years ago, and the bigger stations got onto it, and that song did really well for me in the UK. We never did release it in the States, because the album never came out when I left Hollywood Records. It was basically masters that I was sitting on, and one of the guys that played the music for us, he played it for Charlie Wilson, and Charlie loved it and ultimately recorded it and put it on his album, and it took him to #1 over here.
JL: Yeah, for a long while.
CR: Yeah, for a long time. Something like 17 weeks, which is really good.
JL: How did that feel to you, having a song that you wrote do so well, so long after you wrote it and recorded it?
CR: To me, it was no surprise. I mean, when we wrote the song, I knew what that song was. I knew what it would do. It was no surprise to me, man. It was gratifying in a way. Just to see what I thought was true; that the record could be a successful record out in the market. I felt good about it, you know?
JL: How did Charlie’s vocal interpretation differ from yours?
CR: Not much. Charlie, I mean, he’s Charlie Wilson. I take my hat off to him. I don’t think it differed that much. He pretty much stuck to what I did right down to the adlibs. I’d say 90% of the adlibs, Charlie can’t do, but you know, I got a lot of respect for him, man. I was happy with it. If anybody was going to do the record, I would have picked Charlie.
JL: How was the creative collaboration with Babyface for that record? On some levels, it seems like an odd pairing, because you’re more of a real sort of soul singer, and a bit more gritty, and Babyface is a lot smoother and slicker, so it’s an interesting collaboration. How was that?
CR: It worked well. Babyface, he is much smoother in his style of singing, but he’s a great writer as well, and writing is my thing too, so for us to come together and creatively put our ideas together, I went in and recorded it, and basically we did some writing sitting at the table, but I do most of my writing when I’m on the microphone. I just sing what I feel, and what seems to flow, and both of us, there was a pretty good balance. We have a lot more songs. I’d say at least six more songs that are just as good. So, it was a great experience for me.
JL: That’s awesome. Did he do the track first, and then you came up with something, or did he do the track and a hook, and then you came up with it, or who wrote what on that song?
CR: Babyface, he came up with the track. He has a team of producers, so they came up with the music for it, and I came into the session and he had an idea for the hook. He had the first piece, ‘There goes my baby’. He had that. Then I jumped in, and we finished the hook out, and all of that stuff, and I got on the mic and laid it down, recorded it, and after that, we wrote a little bit for the first verse, and then I basically just got on the microphone and freestyled it on down.
JL: In the music business, you’re pretty well known in the R&B world and the Soul world as a great singer but as a recording artist, I know you had the record out on Universal, and you were saying that Hollywood didn’t work out. How frustrating was it for you, dealing with one label and then another label, knowing that you had this talent, and you were known in the industry as being something special?
CR: It was very frustrating at times. From one label to the next label, you know they all had one common thing that tied them all together. Every time I went from one label to the next, no matter where it was, or how much bigger it was than the other one, none of them really seemed to know what to do with what I was doing. The support that I needed to get the album to the people, the support wasn’t there. It was very frustrating. Everybody has certain expectations when you’re in this music business, and not even just of yourself, but other people, that the industry puts on you as an artist. Otherwise, it looks as though you failed. You know what I mean?
JL: I understand. How did you deal with that mentally, and as a career, how did you say ‘Okay, well I can’t rely on the labels. What am I going to do as an artist? How am I going to bring in an income, how am I going to support myself, and how am I going to deal with this on a mental level?’
CR: I came to the conclusion that I just had to keep doing what I had to do, because of the simple fact that I wasn’t really interested in changing my style to try to follow behind what was going on with anybody else. That was not even really an option, so I just came to the conclusion that I need to keep doing what I’m doing, and every time it seems like, if I leave one label, there was always something else there waiting for me. It might not have been exactly what I wanted, but there was always a vehicle to get the music out there. Basically, I just came to the conclusion that when I go out and perform, that’s my opportunity to get out in front of those folks, and I got one shot to get ‘em, for them to buy into what I’m doing, so it came down to the presentation. It made me work harder, and to become a better artist, a better presenter of what I had to offer, basically.
JL: I notice you live in L.A. now. What do you do in L.A.? What’s the day-to-day life of Calvin?
CR: Actually, I moved back from L.A. a few years ago, so I’m in North Carolina now, but I have my own label now, and we partnered up with Shanachie to put this, not just this, but the album before this, called ‘When Love Comes’, I partnered up with them to put the album out, and this album is a partnership between my company, NuMo Records and Shanachie, so every day I’m in the office down here, I’m in the studio every day, and we just basically try to work every day, mapping out a plan, what the next move is to keep everything going, and continue to broaden my audience out there.
JL: What is the next move for you, Calvin?
CR: After this album drops, I will continue touring, and I have a new album that I need to get in the studio to finish. It’s a Christmas album, and you know we put a couple songs online last year, and we sold a few of those, but it was incomplete. This year I’m going to finish it, so I’ll have ‘A Soulful Christmas with Calvin Richardson’. That’s the title of the album. It’s like me doing my rendition of Christmas Carols. I’ll definitely do that, and I have a new album that I’m going to drop again next year. Every year, my goal is to drop an album. Every year.
JL: Since ‘There Goes My Baby’, your big hit, have you had more interest from publishers, in terms of your writing?
CR: Definitely. Definitely. You know, I have a lot of other people that I’m writing stuff for now, so definitely a publishing deal would be a great thing, but I’m not really looking for that right now. I’m just continuing to work. I have a lot of material that I’ve written, and I’m constantly in the studio recording and creating songs on a daily basis. When the time is right, definitely, a publishing deal will be a sweet thing.
JL: Talking about the labels, and how people didn’t know what to do with you and things like that, what were some of the more ridiculous things that you heard from record labels about you as an artist, and what they wanted for you?
CR: The sad thing is, they never really had an idea of what to do with me. Really. That’s the crazy thing about it, because they would say the radio stations say my record doesn’t necessarily fit the format, for the mainstream format, and all of that stuff. They never really had a plan. They never really knew what to do, like they put me on tour with Nelly one time. Me and Nelly became great friends during the course of that, but it was Nelly, St Lunatics, and I think he had the Ying Yang Twins on that tour. It was all hip-hop. I was out there with Nelly, with a band, performing my music before Nelly came on. It was crazy. Every night was crazy, because it’s a straight hip-hop crowd, you know?
JL: How was that for you?
CR: For me, it was an experience. I love to perform for people. I love the stage. I’m grateful for my mom pointing me in that direction. It’s a career thing. I love every opportunity, and I do everything I can to get on the stage. It was good. It was different, because it wasn’t my audience. It wasn’t who I should have been marketed to. That clearly said that they didn’t have a marketing strategy. Nelly was going out, and they paid Nelly several hundred thousand dollars just to put me on that tour. It was crazy. It was ridiculous.
JL: Did you make your money back?
CR: The label put that money out there, so I think they made their money back (laughs). I was out there on a promo tour, so I wasn’t getting paid to do that. What was hoped to come from that was to set up record sales. That happened when I released “2:35 PM”, and now with that album, I think we just recently went gold. It was recently certified gold, so that’s three full years out in the market. Like I said, it wasn’t to my core, my pure fan base that I needed to be going to, you know what I mean?
JL: Sure. Is all your family back in North Carolina?
CR: Yeah, most of my family is in North Carolina and South Carolina.
JL: What do you think, from your personality, do you get from your mother and father? What do you get from each of your parents, personality-wise?
CR: My dad was really outgoing. He was a people-person. He dealt with a lot of people. My mom, she’s a little more private, and quiet. My mom is very humble, and I think I got that from her. Her demeanor. She’s cool, calm, collected, you never see her get into a fight about anything, and she has an amazing ability to deal with adversity; things that would bring a lot of people down. I’ve seen her deal with a lot of things, you know? Her strength, I definitely have that, and my outgoingness, and never saying never, that comes from my dad.
Because of the fact that they (the labels) never seemed to know what to do with me, or me feeling so opposite from them on what was going on, to the point where it never really made me not want to deal with the situation, it always kept me in search of the right situation. I was always hoping, maybe this is going to be the one, maybe they are going to do the right thing. Every label would tell me the same thing, basically, like how much of a priority I am once I’ve signed up, or before I signed the deal with them, how much of a top priority my record would be for them, and the different things that they were going to do. You know me, I was a recording artist, early in the game, and had high hopes and stuff.
After a while, I came to the reality that it’s just not my path. My path is to continue doing what I’m doing. I’ve got to get out here and touch the people for real, you know? I’ve got to keep going, keep putting the music out there, and hope for the day that people will get a chance to hear it, and appreciate it, and I’ll get mine. That’s what it turned out to be, so I just stopped expecting the label to do anything, and I thought, like on this last album, I started my label, and I started funding my own things, you know paying for my vehicles, and getting my own staff together to get out there and do things.
The labels make you promises every day, but the number they keep, it’s very low. I realized that I am a product to them, and that’s what they do. Their goal is to sell records. It’s all about numbers. My goal is to make good music for people. Soul music will never die, you know what I mean?
JL: Right. Is there anything you want to tell me about that I haven’t asked you?
CR: I don’t know if there’s anything, other than all that I said, that I might have left out. I have my own label now. NuMo Records is my record label, and NuMo stands for the New Motown. I had to do it the hard way, like they used to do it back in the day, like you got to get out on the road. We have an 8-passenger van that I bought, and we go from Charlotte, North Carolina to Little Rock, Arkansas to Texarkana, Texas to New Orleans or wherever. It doesn’t matter. We get out there and we do it for real. Every mile, I’m not looking for a plane ride or anything like that. I make it as simple as possible.
Sometimes we can’t make it everywhere, but my goal is to make it possible for people to experience what real soul music is like. Sometimes when you’re dealing with promoters, if you don’t have the big numbers in the record sales, or you’re not Beyonce’, or you’re not doing those kind of numbers, they don’t really want to foot the bill. They don’t really want to pay you what it calls for. Sometimes you got to take one for the cause. Take it for the team. I’m a real go-getter when it comes to that.
JL: Are you coming to New York anytime soon?
CR: I’ll be in Connecticut. I’m doing a white party up there. I think it’s the 29th of August. I don’t know if I have anything at this moment in New York, but we’re definitely working on something. I’ll be able to get through New York probably late January or something like that.
JL: Has Bobby Womack heard the album, or have you spoken to him about it?
CR: I haven’t spoke to Bobby about it as yet, so I don’t even know that he has heard the album or anything like that, but my wish is that he will get it, and I know that he will get it, and when he does get it, my hope is that he will be happy with what I did. That’s my bottom line, you know?
JL: Well Calvin, thanks a lot for the time. Good luck with this record. I really wish you the best, and hopefully I’ll see you in New York sometime.
CR: Okay, thanks a lot.
JL: Take care.
About the Writer
Jeff Lorez has enjoyed a long and varied career in the music business. As a journalist he has written for a slew of publications and web sites including, Blues & Soul, Billboard, Yahoo.com and the Daily Telegraph and as a music publisher he has been involved in recent chart topping hits by Alexis Jordan and Cher Lloyd.