Wednesday, February 27, 2008

James Whitney

This week, I was turned onto to the talents of James Whitney via his album Let's Fall In Love.
Here is James Whitney's bio:

What's love got to do with it? Everything, according to James Whitney, Soul singer extraordinaire and was one of the childhood lead singers of the Whitney Family musical group. It was the love songs of the early fifties that captured James' feelings so much that he had to express those feelings by singing and writing love songs himself. At age 4, James was in the background with his mother who was hanging clothes and singing Good Night Irene when James started singing harmony to his Mother's lead. His Mother was amazed not only that he could sing, but that he had the "musical ears" to hear and sing harmony to any song that he heard.

"I used to press my ear against the families big ole Brown wood cabinet radio, listening to the music with no distraction from the outside world…the Bass rumbling through my body…my soul…until one of my parents would pull me away…"Boy, you gonna go deaf if you don't move back! but I knew better. I was learning from all those songs…" As he grew older, James was possessed by the desire to express himself through song…first by singing and then by writing his own original materials.

A friend and contemporary of Stevie Wonder, (whom he met through his sister, Mary Lee Whitney who sang background on many of Stevie's biggest hits) James remembers having singing contests with him…short bursts of vocalizations of runs, trills, vocal exercises etc. with each of them conceding that the other was really good! Another contemporary was Marvin Gaye, with whom James shared creating a music sound track for the movie Chrome and Hot Leather. James' early musical influences were Bobby Blue Bland, Frankie Lymon, Little Willie John and a non-descript Sanctified Church that he would hear on Sundays through the fence of one of his early homes.
By age 12 James had put together his own singing group, the Parakeets who sang at High School and College dances. By age 16 the group had worked at nearly all the Nightclubs in the Oregon area. James attended College in Oregon and afterwards, moved to Los Angeles. By then he had trained all his sister Mary and the guys in the singing group, the Monterays. Then the rest of the family followed him to LA, and formed a singing group know as the Whitney Family. Together, James and his two sisters toured the "Chittlin Circuit" in LA which included the still operating California Club on Martin Luther King Blvd, the 54 Ballroom, Marty's on The Hill, The Persian Room, The Black Orchid, Pandora's Box, a host of other now closed clubs and finally John Daniel's Maverick's Flat, a landmark music venue on Crenshaw Blvd in South Central LA. At that time Maverick's was a hot bed of young, up and coming talent…talent like Jodie Watley and Howard Hewitt of the group Shalamar, Bobby Womack, Bobby Taylor (who had the young Jimmy Hendrix in his group as well as then pianist, now comedian Tommy Chong), to name a few.

James blended well into this environment and made many friends. Among them was Charlie Wilson of The Gap Band. Like Stevie, Charlie would challenge James to vocal contests, leaving both singers smiling because they had found someone of equal talent. Next James formed the singing group The Seven Souls who followed the same Club circuit as the Whitney Family had. Driven by the same passion that formed his songs and his singing, James found himself with a wife and two young children. The responsibilities of Fatherhood and husband, made him set his dreams of rising to the top of the Entertainment world to the side while he chased regular employment.
Doing stints at Bugle Boy Clothier as Warehouse Manager, Perma Plaque, which makes statues and other award objects for the Academy Awards and other award shows, and as the owner of his own car detailing business, most of his time was spent chasing dollars…but in any spare time he could arrange, James was taking advantage of any opportunity to sing that he could find, though many were non-paying gigs. Finally James was able to find some work that was at least music related. He took a position as Musical Director at the University of Sound Arts in Hollywood. There he taught Production and Singing as well as other music related classes. This location and position put him in the middle of the then burgeoning West Coast Music Industry, and began to afford him many opportunities to meet many of the Industries top players. Before long James was heard by the top people at both RCA and Capital Records.

It was during these years that James wrote several songs with and/or for some of the top names in the business. For Michel Jackson he wrote Goodness Knows, Disco Kids and Sweet Music. He had a similar situation with Stevie Wonder, writing two songs with Stevie. James also wrote As long As There's You for the group Main Ingredient, featuring Cuba Gooding Sr. James arranged background vocals for the group Quiet Riot and opened for Santana, Tower of Power, and Canned Heat to name a few. Before now I would have to say "unfortunately for us, these songs were never released". But today, we will get to hear most of them as they are included on James soon to be available first album, Lets Fall In Love.

"Today's music scene represents 25 to 30 years without music being included in the Public Education system nation wide. Without the understanding of music or how to play it being taught to the kids, they have come up with what we hear today…but even they agree, its not music you want to woo a girl with…or dance close with someone too…with someone you love. For that you need "Old School" and that's what I specialize in. "Old School" was about love…and caring, family, heartache, and like Mohammed Ali, getting back up after being knocked down…about keeping on keeping on…not letting the hard knocks of life keep you down or make you bitter. It was about hope for a better tomorrow, being spoken out in the lyrics of songs…being felt in the strings section even as we danced to the beats of the Bass and Drums…
In 1989, James found himself in London, England. Hitting the ground running, James played nearly all the Pubs and bars in and around London for 6 months. One day, while traveling through Scotland, he spied a sign announcing a Country and Western concert. Curious, he stopped by and was flabbergasted to find 500 to 600 people of all ages, from children to Grandparents dressed in Cowboy outfits, dancing the two-step! He stayed around for the day and was so inspired by the music that he went home and wrote four Country Western songs in the next few days. Shortly thereafter he was able to land a gig at the world famous Caesar's, a 3000 seat venue which had four bars inside and a double platform 150 foot stage. James performed there two shows a day, four days a week for over a year.

But missing his children and the American music scene, James returned home. Once here, he decided to put his attention on helping some of the younger talents make it big in the industry. But after spending three years and over $50,000.00 dollars producing ten different female singers (one a runner up on American Idol) James realized that most of the ten were looking for the short cut to fame…and were not willing to do the work necessary to become professionals.
Feeling more than a little disappointed, James was talking with several of the top studio musicians whom had worked on the production of the songs he had prepared for the girls…musicians like James Gadson (drums), Melvin Dunlap (bass), Clarence McDonald (piano), Ed Green, Bernie Blackman (guitar)(all by the way, players on Justin Timberlake's hot CD Future Sex/Love Sounds, which is currently at the top of the charts)…it was Bernie Blackman who suggested that James do the tunes himself…and re-launch his career. And the rest, we will all be saying soon, is history!

"I lived my life for music…music and my kids. I'm know in Europe…Now I'm ready to let the whole world hear me…on my first album…Lets Fall In Love"
Please drop over to his website to listen to his album and you can also purchase the CD directly from him.

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