“I told people about D’Angelo three years before he came out! I said there’s this chap coming from America called D’Angelo that’s gonna be doing what me and Omar are doing. And they’re gonna give it to you big budget, watch!” – Don-e
Don-e in his studio at work on his new project
Having been at the forefront of the UK Soul, Funk, Hip-Hop, Jazz movement and it’s various re-inventions and transitions for nearly twenty years and new keenly awaited material in the pipeline, Michael J Edwards thought it was about time UK Vibe paid a visit to the UK’s very own Stevie Wonder/Donny Hathaway – The elusive and creative, multi-instrumentalist, composer, producer and vocalist, ‘Mr Unbreakable’ himself… Don-e.
Michael J Edwards: Respect! Great to link up finally! The last time I saw you, you were supporting Kindred the Family Soul at the Jazz Cafe, London, back in October 2010. Did you have fun?
Don-e: It was great being a part of the Kindred the Family Soul thing. Just getting back out there, because the last Don-e show I did was maybe six months before that. It’s been a while because I’ve been on tour with Grace Jones. Yeah, I was doing a lot of stuff with her so I haven’t had time for the Don-e thing. So when Simon (the promoter) said come down and do Kindred, I was like, ‘Oh yeah man!’ So I did that and it was a really good night. Just to let the audience know that I’m still here, I’m still doing my thing.
Don-e: Live @ the Jazz Cafe, October 2010
Don-e performs with Kindred the Family Soul @ the Jazz Cafe, October 2010
Michael J Edwards: Today UK Vibe would like to get the lowdown on Don-e for all your stalwart fans out there. The Don-e massive want to know what you’ve been up to since your last proper album release, ‘Natural’ back in 2008 on Dome Records?
Don-e: Since then, I’ve been promoting the album really. I’ve done a few things in Europe – you know radio, a couple of showcases here and there. I did a two album deal with Dome Records. The first one was ‘Try This’ which came out two years before ‘Natural’ in 2007. So basically to get my name back out there again, because I’ve been out of the scene for such a long time….I thought I’ve got to let people know I’m still about.
When I met Pete Robinson from Dome Records, he said, ‘You got any music mate?’ and I said, ‘Yep, I’ve got some stuff!’ The next day he rang me up and said, ‘Yep, I wanna sign this!’ ‘How do wanna do it?’ ‘How many albums you got?’ I said I’ve got loads of stuff. We put out the two albums, basically like I said to get my name back out there. We did the promotion thing. On the side, as well as doing that, I was on tour with Grace Jones. Well, that was brilliant because we get to sell our CD’s after her shows and we still get to play at the after party if we want!
Michael J Edwards: Okay! That’s cool!
Don-e: So Grace has been really good. It’s a different cap for me to wear to be in the band and not be up front.
Michael J Edwards: So you were part of the collective?
Don-e: I was part of the collective yeah. Because my mate was the producer of her album, so he rang me up and it was like, ‘Man, I wanna put a band together for Grace, but it’s gotta be tough, it’s gotta be tough!’
Michael J Edwards: And the producer’s name?
Don-e: The producer is called Ivor Guest. He was one of the producers on my first album and he was unknown at the time. But he’s gone on to achieve big success.
Michael J Edwards: So how did you end up with Dome Records having been signed to 4th and Broadway?
Don-e: Yeah, the original stuff came out on 4th and Broadway and I had some problems. The first single, ‘Love Makes the World Go Round,’ great. ‘Peace in the World’ came out, almost great. It came into the charts at number thirty-nine. And then I had a lot of controversy with the record label. Because what they do is buy records into the charts, it’s not necessarily the public that’s going out and getting this stuff.
Sometimes you might see a tune on TV and think, ‘I really don’t like this song!’ But they’re playing it all the time. What it is, is that there’s a big budget behind it and they’re just pushing it, because it’s what they WANT you to hear…At the time, I was that, ‘This is what we WANT you to hear’. So the record label would send people out to buy the CD’s. Basically, the people who were buying my records got caught! And I was in New York doing a photo shoot for my first single, ‘Oh My Gosh!’ and got this call saying they’ve pulled your single out the chart mate, someone’s been buying your records. So they had they had this whole big investigation. At the end of the day I came out the worst for wear.
Michael J Edwards: The Fall Guy?
Don-e: The management just moved on. They went on to manage Gabrielle; they went on to manage Mark Morrison. I was the guinea-pig; they learned what NOT to do. So I had to take a back seat for like eight years! Record shops wouldn’t stock my songs anymore or put them on the shelves. I was like, ‘Oh man, you’re joking, I’m just starting and you’re pulling my stuff already!’ Then you start seeing you’re posters out there becoming really really small. From big billboard to A4 size on the little Island near the traffic light…So they pull everything back.
Michael J Edwards: What time did all this go down?
Don-e: About 1993/1994
Michael J Edwards: You released two albums during that time?
Don-e: I did ‘Unbreakable’ and then I had ‘Changing Seasons.’ But Island (Records) wouldn’t drop me!
Michael J Edwards: They wouldn’t let you go?
Don-e: They wouldn’t let me go! I wanted to go to Sony…But they just wouldn’t let me go. So I spent maybe four years or more on Island getting lesser advanced each year.
Michael J Edwards: Were you still putting music in the can at this point?
Don-e: Well, while this was going on I was doing a lot of writing. At the time I was naive. I thought if I keep writing and I write some good stuff, they’ll put it out — which is wrong. When they shelve you, they SHELVE you, not matter what you’re doing! You could be doing the greatest stuff…but you just got to deal with that and take it. So I thought okay, I’ve got to wait for these people that are in power right now to die out or change jobs. All the people that grew up listening to my music have become record company executives now.
Michael J Edwards: Right! Okay!
Don-e: They were like, ‘We remember you man, your stuff was dope man!’‘What’s going on?’ People like Pete Robinson from Dome (Records) and all those pioneers who have always been supportive and always loved proper Soul music, you know what I mean? They would always back it. For me it made sense going with a label like Dome.
Michael J Edwards: That’s what I wanted to ask about in more detail. Independent labels versus the majors?
Don-e: For me they KNOW Soul music! Dome is a great label, but independents can only get you so far depending on the budget they have and how much collateral there is. But for a home for a Soul artist, i’d always recommend Dome. If you’re UK based doing good Soul music and trying to get out there and need a little push, Dome is good!
Michael J Edwards: I want to go back a little and talk about your early years. How old were you when you first got the music bug?
Don-e: That started from church. I grew up in church, the Son of a preacher man.
Michael J Edwards: So it was a given?
Don-e: Yeah! I grew up in front of a drum kit. I used to sit there in front of the drum kit and watch the drummer. And when he used to get off it, I used to go and hit it – Boof! Boof! Boof! I was mesmerised by the drum kit. I wanted a glittery red one. My Dad played the guitar. He basically came home with different parts of the guitar — so the neck one day, the back the next day, the strings the next day…the whole thing. And we put it together, we put this guitar together and we sat there…He started to show me some chords and I started to learn the guitar.
Michael J Edwards: So your self taught on that instrument?
Don-e: I can play by ear. I used to sit and listen to the radio and copy the songs. My Dad could play but he can’t play all the chords. I’d say, ‘Dad Dad, you’re missing a chord here, you’re supposed to use this one.’
Michael J Edwards: You took it to the next level? So what was the first instrument you learned to play proper?
Don-e: The first instrument I played was the drums. I’d say I’m a drummer first. More than anything else, I’m a drummer.
Michael J Edwards: Okay! Interesting!
Don-e: Then the guitar started. And once you learn the guitar, its pretty simple to learn the bass because it’s just single notes instead of all the strings. So that was cool. And from that I learned the keyboard when I was about ten. Because I was like fascinated with Stevie wonder and how he could play this keyboard better than a man who could see. So I used to sit in a room with the lights off and play the keyboard.
Michael J Edwards: Right!
Don-e: My Mum was like, ‘Can we get the lights up in here?’ I was like, ‘But if Stevie Wonder can do it!
Michael J Edwards: You learned how to locate ‘Middle C’?
Don-e: Once you know where it is your set. And I used to play in the dark and teach myself and learn little chords. Plus i’d go to my cousins’ house and they’ll have tunes. Because our house was quite religious, so certain records weren’t played in our house.
Michael J Edwards: Secular records?
Don-e: Yeah! So I went to my cousins’ house, so i’d sit there and listen and say, ‘Wow I love that!’ I would learn the chords and get a little tape and go home with it. I basically taught myself like that.
Michael J Edwards: Did you ever get caught listening to the tapes or records?
Don-e: Yeah, I got caught listening Elvis Presley one time, and my Dad came in and smashed the record. ‘Me don’t want no devil business in here!’(Don-e imitates his father’s voice) He came in the room and Screech! He picked up the vinyl, snapped it and put it in the bin! I’ll never forget it! I’ll NEVER forget it!
Michael J Edwards: You must have bawled your eyes out?
Don-e: Oh my days! Up to now you know, I’m gonna tell him!
Michael J Edwards: There must have been a good reason?
Don-e: Yeah, there must have been a good reason.
Michael J Edwards: You kept your focus and purpose in mind though?
Don-e: My Mum took me to piano lessons with Mrs Pike.
Michael J Edwards: Mrs. Pike: I can see her with the ruler now.
Don-e: Oh man! I used to hate it!
Michael J Edwards: Tough love right? Down the road you’re grateful for it.
Don-e: Then I had guitar lessons with Tony Skinner.
Michael J Edwards: So we’re fast-forwarding to when now?
Don-e: I was around thirteen, secondary school time, LWR (London Weekday Radio) time.
Michael J Edwards: You were living where then?
Don-e: was in Brixton. I left Brixton when I was sixteen and went to West London. So the time I’m telling you about is the secondary school days. While I was there, there was a teacher at my school, who was my next door neighbour as well. He was the head of Maths and he lived next door. It was a nightmare man! But, this guy was cool, because he had a love for music as well.
Don-e in his Studio
So he was the head of Maths but played guitar at home. He had a little studio in his house, so during the six week holiday he used to let me come in his house and use his studio. Rather than be out on the road with the youths, I was in his studio. That was when ‘Sign of The Times’ was out.
Michael J Edwards: Prince?
Don-e: Prince and all that kinda stuff was out. It was just going in and working out how to stack vocals. Plus at school we had a four track, so I was learning how to bounce vocals, trying to get the harmonies. I was doing that when I was thirteen/fourteen. Plus on the other side of that I was in a Steel band from like ten years old. They were called ‘The Lambeth Community Youth Steel Orchestra’ aka LCYS. We used to play all over. Outside Brixton station at Christmas. We played for Lady Diana; we were on Good Morning Britain.
Michael J Edwards: So you play pan?
Don-e: I was a drummer in the rhythm section. We toured, we went to Italy; we went to France. I was touring from when I was like eleven or twelve.
Michael J Edwards: Wow! You grew up fast?
Don-e: Exactly! I grew up quick! I’ve been to Prague, I’ve been to Spain, I’ve been to Italy – Music has taken me everywhere you know what I mean. I just play my music and I get to go to all these places! In ’86 I left South London and the same Maths teacher (neighbour) had a friend Harry who had a band called, ‘Compared to What’ and they were looking for a keyboard player. ‘Compared to What’ I think was an Aretha Franklin song. He loved the title of that track so he called his band it.
Michael J Edwards: What was their genre?
Don-e: It was kinda Rock, but I just wanted to play. I don’t care, I play anything and I play with anyone. So we joined his group, ‘Compared to What,’ and we started doing little shows and pub gigs around South London. The lead singer went to school with a guy called Sean Oliver. Sean Oliver was a big producer in West London, he wrote ‘Wishing Well’ for Terence Trent D’arby. He was looking for a band to back two new singers called Ola and Montana who were signed to Virgin. So we came up to West London. This was ’86, met the girls; we jammed; they loved us. The lead singer of our band wasn’t happy because now he’s gonna be just in a band, backing these two girls. But I was like, ‘This was our way in! These people are signed to a record label’.
Don-e contemplates his next big tune.
Michael J Edwards: Look at the bigger picture.
Don-e: Yeah. So I started hanging out in West London a lot in Portobello Road, that’s where the label was. Met a guy called David Betridge and that was my introduction to the record labels and the type of people that worked in it. I was ‘Little Donny’ back then and Sean Oliver took me under his wing.
Michael J Edwards: So what’s your real name – Donald Evans?
Don-e: It’s Donald McClain…I was just Donald until I came to West London and everyone started calling me Donny….Because I like Donny Hathaway as well. To them it was cooler than saying Donald I suppose and the name stuck. So this was in ’86 and we joined a band and started doing shows around the West End. We played at The Wag, Cafe de Paris. I was doing this when I was sixteen /seventeen. This little kid walking around the West End meeting all these people; getting to know the door men. So I was like, ‘If I come here tomorrow without the band, can I come and rave it?’ They were like, ‘Yeah man!’ So I was this young kid walking into these clubs and raving at sixteen and seventeen.
Michael J Edwards: No pass needed?
Don-e: No pass, because they were like he’s cool.
Michael J Edwards: They looked after you. They had your back?
Don-e: They had your back, everything man — no one could trouble me! Ahh! It was the best times man! That’s when I really got into Funk, George Clinton. I grew up on it, but I didn’t really start dancing to it, raving to it until I was like seventeen/eighteen – James Brown and the JB’s.
Michael J Edwards: Fred Wesley?
Don-e: Oh man, Fred Wesley, it was crazy man! We used to dance all night. I used to be out Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and every night was different. Monday night was James Brown and Funk; Tuesday was Hip Hop and R’n’B; Wednesday was House and Hip Hop. This was all in the same club or the same block. It was either Cafe de Paris or The Wag and I just used to rotate. It was crazy!
Don-e takes time out from mastering his new album
And that’s where I got another injection of creativity. What makes people dance? I used to sit there and wonder why all of a sudden everybody was running for the dance floor! What is in this song that’s made everybody go to the dance floor? What’s going on? I used to break it down in the studio. I’d hear a song…
Michael J Edwards: Then Strip it down?
Don-e ….I’d strip it down and say right, ‘They used that drum; they’ve used this kick; they’re playing the bass on the one or no, the bass comes in on the two and that makes everybody go nuts!’ It was things like that you just kinda suss out. Sean eventually said, ‘You’ve got to leave this band because the girls had gone as far as they could go and you’ve got to get on with your own stuff.’ Because I had played him some of the stuff I was doing, so he said, ‘Do your own stuff.’ He had a real go at me one night and I was like, ‘Why you going so crazy?’ And he piped up, ‘You gotta do your own stuff all right! Leave the band; you’ve got to get serious!’ I was like, ‘Alright mate I’m doing it!’ The next week he was DEAD! The next week he died!
Michael J Edwards: He was sent on a mission.
Don-e: The next week this brother was gone! And he was twenty-five.
Michael J Edwards: NO WAY!
Don-e: Yeah, twenty-five.
Michael J Edwards: Was it an accident or illness?
Don-e: Sickle-cell. He had an attack and never recovered. Then after he passed, I sat there and thought, Wow! Then all the stuff he was telling me started coming back, how I’ve really got to just focus. They didn’t want me to leave the band. Everything kinda fell apart, he (Sean) was like the King Pin and when he passed we lost direction. So I thought let me just concentrate on writing songs and then ‘Unbreakable’ was born.
Michael J Edwards: I was going to ask you about that as a separate entity, but as you’ve mentioned it. The single ‘Unbreakable’ from the album of the same name brought you big time recognition. Similar to Omar’s ‘There’s Nothing Like This’ it’s become your signature tune. How did ‘Unbreakable’ come to be, what sparked its inception?
Don-e: Well, I had a break up. I was seeing someone from The Wag days ’86, ’87,’88,’89, I was seeing someone. Stuff happened and their Mum was sending them to America. So that song was basically me saying, ‘Let’s make it unbreakable, let’s stay together, we can make this work sort of thing’. But that started when I wrote to The Fine Young Cannibals producer. I had a session with him because I was getting put in with different people to do different writing sessions. I sat there with this guy and just made this beat, ‘Boom-pitah-boom-pitah-tsh tsh-boom-pitah-boom.’ I was sitting there listening to this beat for ages. I remember, I just took that home and I just had the backing track. Then all of a sudden I sang, ‘And I’ve made my mind up…’ It just came out and the song just got written. I mean I’ve heard people say it before but the song literally wrote itself!
Michael J Edwards: The same thing happened with Reuben Wilson when he wrote, ‘Got to Get Your Own’ Its like your hand is moving but the words just flow through. Its like you’re a vessel
Don-e: I said it to my mate, I said, ‘Bruv, its like I’m a channel you know!’ I’ve actually looked at my hand one time! Do you know how many times I’ve looked at my hand and thought, ‘Rasse, What’s going on?’ And it’s just coming! One moment you’d be dry and can’t think of anything — blank! Then all of a sudden you can hear it! You can see it! I don’t ever think it’s me. Yeah, it’s coming through me and I know when it’s wrong but not all of it’s coming from me man – It’s definitely a higher power! Definitely! Definitely! Even when I play the keyboard, people go, ‘What was that you just played?’ I’m like ‘I dunno, I just play it!’ My fingers move but it’s just there, I don’t know how it happens! That’s me, it’s really weird!
Michael J Edwards: That being the case, you must have learned to keep the record button on more often than not?
Don-e: Yeah, that’s what I’ve learned to do now. I was always trying to remember what I had just played or sung. In fact as regards my singing, I started making before I started singing.
Michael J Edwards: That was my next question. You have a unique and distinctive singing voice, which is great for such a competitive market. People can put any record on, doesn’t matter if it’s new release and automatically recognise Don-e’s voice. How did you cultivate that singing style?
Don-e: The vocal style? I grew up on Stevie (Wonder); I grew up on Marvin (Gaye); Dennis Brown; Sugar Minot; Gregory Isaacs and Bob Marley. So it’s a fusion of all of those really. I kinda started mimicking them. As a youth growing up I was trying to imitate Eek-A-Mouse or Horace Andy. You try to work out how to drop it like these people and somewhere in there I just found ME. Somewhere in there I found me because I didn’t want to sound like I was Stevie Wonder and I didn’t want to sound like I was Michael Jackson. I was influenced by Stevie, I loved what he did; I love what Mike did; I love what Al Green does; I love Sugar Minot too and I love Bob Marley. So it’s putting them all in a pot and mixing them up to see what you come out with.
Michael J Edwards: Distilling them into your sound?
Don-e: Its like you said, being unique so when people put on a record they can say, ‘Oh right, that’s Don-e!’ ‘Cause you can tell when you put on a Marvin Gaye tune that it’s Marvin Gaye. Like I said, it’s not me its God. I used to sing and my sister used to say, ‘Shut up man, you can’t sing!’ That gave me the drive to do it! And then one day she said, ‘You know what bruv that sounds wicked!’ So I said, ‘I’m alright now yeah!’ And she said, ‘Yeah man, do your thing bruv, do your thing!’ So my sister usually hears them (the songs) first.
Michael J Edwards: She’s you’re sounding board?
Don-e: I’d say, ‘Bev, listen to this?’ So she listens to it first and says, ‘Yeah, that’s a goer or that’s not a goer!’ She’d give me some good advice.
Michael J Edwards: So what is your creative process when it comes to writing and composing?
Don-e: For me I might get a line or a lyric or someone will say something and I think, ‘God that’s a song!’ Or someone would be going through something around me and that situation is a song. Or I usually write about things which I find real crazy. Like I write about things that are gonna happen to me…Its like I’m writing future stuff, its like whoa! Because I wrote this tune, ‘The Writing’s on the Wall’ on my ‘Natural’ album, with Keisha Buchanon from the ‘Sugababes,’ who I did a duet with. And I remember it was the same situation, the words were just coming man — the words were just coming! And then I lived that same song maybe a year later, I was going through that same thing. My mate heard it and he was like, ‘D, this is me and my woman right now…the writing’s on the wall but we don’t want to recognise it!’ It’s putting that feeling into words for everybody to understand and identify with. Sometimes I might hear a beat in my heard.
Michael J Edwards: Like the tune ‘So Cold’ with D’Angelo. How did that collaboration come about?
Don-e: With ‘So Cold’ I was writing a bunch of songs, I was signed to Cheeba (Record Label) with Stewart Zender from Jamiroquai. This is another crazy story. Anyway, we were signed to D’Angelo label writing bits and bobs…Then I came home one night and I had these chords going round in my head. This D’Angelo thing or sound we had been doing from time. Before D’Angelo even existed! I used to say to people, ‘Imagine if you took Al Green chords and mixed it with Hip Hop! Can you imagine what that would sound like?’ That’s the future.
So that is what I was trying to do in the studio. And when I was in New York doing the first album, Kedah Massimo came into the session, because I was working with Daddy-O from ‘Stetsasonic’ on their vocals. And he said, ‘Oh man we got a guy just like you man, he’s name is D’Angelo man, but he ain’t gonna be ready for another couple of years but he’s doing exactly this man!
Michael J Edwards: Is this before he had his hit with ‘Brown Sugar?’
Don-e: I told people about D’Angelo three years before he came out! I said there’s this chap coming from America called D’Angelo that’s gonna be doing what me and Omar are doing. And they’re gonna give it to you big budget, watch!
Michael J Edwards: You guys were too far ahead of your time!
Don-e: Yeah, and then he came out. Anyway, going back to the ‘So Cold’ thing, I had this rhythm going and I was on his (D’Angelo’s) label, it’s coming out in America. We were doing it WAY before him as well. So I said, ‘You know what, let me bust one of my rhythms’, because basically it was MY shit! That’s my style. So I sang, ‘So c-c-c-cold, cold, cold, cold!’ That was just going around and around and around.
What was funny…he was in London doing an awards show and he came into the studio and was listening to it going round on the loop. And he was like, ‘Just leave it man!’ I was like, ‘Just like that!’ He said, ‘Yeah, just leave it!’ All it was was straight chorus, all it was was the chorus going round and round and round. And we were sitting there burning greens and smoking. The place was just smoked out! And he was like, ‘Yo man, just leave it like this!’ I said, ‘Man, I’ve got to write some versus, we’ve got to do this and that. And then Stewart (Zender) heard it and he was like, ‘Let’s change the drums a bit, let’s add a little this!’ he basically niced up what I had. Then D’Angelo put some extra Rhodes on it. It was perfect man! Even the fade out…just takes you!
Michael J Edwards: Pure niceness?!
Don-e: Yeah! I’m really grateful for that!
Michael J Edwards: So he was cool to work with?
Don-e: Totally cool man! There’s not many artist that I’ve met that I didn’t really like…Some people have a bad day though.
Michael J Edwards: Staying with duets, you also did a couple of songs with female vocalist Deni Hines, most notably the track ‘Delicious.’ Nice lady?
Don-e: Deni was cool yeah!
Michael J Edwards: Where’s she from?
Don-e: Deni’s from Australia…I met her in a club, I met her in Subterranean! I came into the club and all my mates were there, I was playing later. And they were like, ‘D, have you seen that girl with the dreads in here man…? There’s a black chick with dreads. She’s cute man! I think she’s foreign or something!’ So we walked around and stopped somewhere and then we like, ‘Oh there she is!’ So she looked over our way and I looked over her way and I thought, ‘Mmm! She looks pretty approachable?’ Me being me, i found myself over there and we started talking and she said, ‘Oh hi I’m Deni Hines!’ (Broad Aussie accent) I was like, ‘Where are you from?!’ She says, ‘I’m Australian!’ I said, ‘You’re joking!’ I’d never seen a dread from Australia before. So we got talking; exchanged numbers; hooked up; did some music. And she was like, ‘I wanna do a duet with you man! I’m with Mushroom records and da da da!’. Then she found an old song, it was a Quincy (Jones) song. And the song was called ‘Delicious’. She played me this song and I was like, ‘Okay!’ She said, ‘I wanna do a version of this one!’. I said, ‘Okay, but I’m gonna do it more live, because the way they did it was quite programmed, the original was quite programmed. So I said, ‘Let’s see if we can get a more organic feel.’ So ‘Delicious’ was born and then I did a bunch of remixes with her.
Michael J Edwards: Where is she now?
Don-e: She is in Australia – I spoke to her about two or three days ago. Deni’s cool, we’re like Skype buddies, so she’s always on my Skype, she pops up. So there’s more music to come in the future.
Michael J Edwards: Oh right! Looking forward to that definitely! Now I understand Ms Beverley Knight is your cousin. Have you written anything for her and did you recognise her talent early on?
Don-e: Every Christmas we’d get together, a big family get together.
Michael J Edwards: And sing Gospel tunes no doubt!
Don-e: Oh Yeah! Gospel tunes got a work out! When everyone went into one room, me and Bev would sneak back into another room and we’d do a Whitney Houston tune! (Laughs) So I would play the keys and she would sing. She had an amazing voice! She was amazing from then, even as a little girl.
Michael J Edwards: Who’s older?
Don-e: I’m older; I’m like four years older. She’s was amazing! Both her and her sister – Her sister can SING! Her sister is amazing! But she is a Church girl, so she doesn’t want to get involved….There was this one guy who inspired me at Church, a guy called Joel Grant. Joel Grant man, this guy could play everything to a high standard, like EVERYTHING! He got on the bass, he’d sound like Stanley Clarke, he got on the keys he’d be Herbie (Hancock). I was like, ‘How are you doing this bruv!’ And he didn’t want anything to do with the music industry, got into computers and went out to live in America; had a family and that’s it! He just added me on Facebook the other day and I was like, ‘Wow! Look at that!’
Michael J Edwards: So back to Beverley?
Don-e: Yeah, me and Beverley were rolling from well before. I did a track on her second album called, ‘Something Good.’ We both wrote it. We’re still close.
Michael J Edwards: On your debut album release you worked with some renowned UK Funk and Jazz artist such as Light of the World and guitarist Ronny Jordan. Good memories?
Don-e: We interviewed a whole bunch of musicians and I was just trying to get the best I could get. Because at the time, I couldn’t get anyone to play the Funk like I wanted it played. I could hear it and I know how it’s supposed to go, but it was finding the players! So I went through a whole bunch, but I found a nice selection of people. Some great musicians and Ronny Jordan was one of them. He did a year with me maybe two. Afterwards he left and blew up with ‘So What?’ He was with the same management. Because when my stuff started to go pear shaped, they just jumped on Ronny’s and said, ‘Come on Ronny, let’s do this song!’ Then Gabrielle came down. I remember them putting the CD on the table and playing this tune, ‘Dreams’ (Don-e sings the opening bars)
Michael J Edwards: I’ve got a white label copy!
Don-e: It was on a cassette and I said, ‘Oh! That’s that tune, it’s big on the underground.’ My management didn’t know anything and they were like, ‘Do you reckon we should sign it?’ I was like, ‘This tune?! They keep playing it on the radio, you gotta sign it!’ They said, ‘The girl that just came in here with the eye patch?’ I said, ‘Yeah! Sign that!’ And the rest is history. So we even played the part of an A&R rep at the time! Then they brought Mark Morrison down and they played me ‘Crazy’ (Don-e sings the hook, Crazy!) I said, ‘That’s a hit!’ And they were banging it out in the clubs. It was a no brainer man!
While all that was going on I was just writing. It was hard, because I had already been out and now I was trying to get back in and the doors were being closed – Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam! Because it was so recent to all the stuff that had happened to me I had to go away. Someone actually said, ‘You know what D, you’re gonna have to go away for a couple of years’. I was like, ‘Really!’
Michael J Edwards: Did you consider changing your name?
Don-e: I thought of that as well, or coming back as a band. But I thought no, I know what I need to do.
Michael J Edwards: So the new Don-e material, how long has it been in the pipeline? What’s the name of the album and what will be the first single release?
Don-e: I’m still in the process of writing the new Don-e album. I’ve been writing it over let’s say two or three years. Basically, I had a lot of songs left over from ‘Natural,’ so I’ve just added a couple to those.
Michael J Edwards: So is it going to be a double album?
Don-e: Well what I wanna do is try and put two albums out this year if I can. I’ve got enough material to do that now. I’m trying to catch up with Omar, he’s like got seven albums out now! There is no working title at the moment, it’s just a whole bunch of tunes…Even up to last night I was sitting here deciding which ones are goers and which ones stay on the shelf.
Michael J Edwards: Where do you record it?
Don-e: Right here! You don’t need much to record a song anymore. Before I had to go to the studio with two or three people, one to operate the computer, one to set up the mike’s and keys…It was crazy! I’ve also learned to stop going out! To stop raving!
Michael J Edwards: Self Discipline?
Don-e: I said, ‘Right! Let me run this programme. You can do it all on your own. You don’t need anybody anymore! And I just learned to do it!
Michael J Edwards: Keep the costs down?
Don-e: Yeah! Keep the costs down. So now, most of the time, I’m sitting in the studio on my jack.
Michael J Edwards: So when it says Drums by; Keyboards by etc, that’s all Don-e?
Don-e: I was fascinated by Prince, his ‘Sign of The Times’ album and Stevie. I used to think, ‘How did they play everything? I don’t get it!’ ‘How did play the drums and then the bass and do the vocals at the same time?’ But once you work out the whole process of ‘four track’ and tracking vocals; its brilliant man!
Michael J Edwards: So it was a revelation for you?
Don-e: Yeah! And I thought, ‘Wow! That’s great man!’ Because you’ve got a certain feel…The way you play the guitar is gonna be different if you get a guy to come and play it for you. Basically the sound you create is quite unique to you. Its like your finger print, because you’re playing everything, which is how you get that sound. But I find my music is different if I get another musician to play something that I can play but it’s their interpretation. All of a sudden it feels like everyone else’s music. It doesn’t feel like its mine!
Don-e chilling out in his studio
Michael J Edwards: It was great at the Jazz Cafe where you just sat at the keyboard and gradually created a tune in stages. The audience were transfixed!
Don-e: Live @ the Jazz Cafe, October 2010
Don-e: That’s a good way of showing the audience the recording process and how it works and how much fun it is!
Michael J Edwards: Any notable collaboration’s on the new album?
Don-e: Well on the last album I had so many collaborations, I’m thinking not to do so many this time. But saying that I spoke to Don Blackman and Don Blackman might come and do something. Albums have to have a storyline – Something to keep the listeners attention and keep them excited.
Michael J Edwards: That’s quite interesting!
Don-e: I’ve been talking to Lee Ryan the lead singer of ‘Blue’. There’s also the rapper Ty. I love Ty! So Ty’s gonna come in and do something. So I’m just figuring out which tracks to go with. What I want to do is a track with everybody on it! I want to get me, Omar, Noel (Mckoy), Roachford etc, all of us. That would be good, just a UK guys tune.
Michael J Edwards: So you got to seek out people like Keni Stevens; Junior Giscombe; Sinclair and Rick Clarke.
Don-e: Rick Clarke! He’s my boy man! I tour with him regularly.
Michael J Edwards: So you go way back?
Don-e: Me and Rick!!!You gotta remember Rick’s Bajan, I’m half Bajan! So he does a thing called ‘London Elite.’ He takes everyone out to the St Lucia Jazz Festival every May. He’s been doing it for I don’t know how years. He charters a plane; puts them all on it; takes them all out there; party hard and then does shows out there. Plus his wife has a hairdressing salon which does the hair for all the weather girls and all the girls you see reading the news on TV.
Michael J Edwards: So what new Don-e sounds can we expect this year?
Don-e: I’ve got a track called ‘Find You,’ which will be part of an EP coming out in March/April. We’ve got the mixes pretty much done already. That will give them something to hold until the album drops later in the year.
Michael J Edwards: Who would you like to work with in the future?
Don-e: I was present at a session with Stevie (Wonder). That was one of the best days of my life man! I didn’t wash my hands for a while! I shook his hand and then I had to lead him by the hand to the toilet down a corridor. He grabbed my hand for some reason. Because the corridor was quite narrow he couldn’t hold my elbow. I was like, ‘Wow! I’m holding Stevie Wonder’s hand!’ We had this deep conversation about music, women, everything…LIFE! This guy is cool! And when he went in the room and he started to make the song, Ah man! It was like, ‘Wow! What are you doing?’ And when he started to sing it was AMAZING!
I was like, ‘You ain’t even heard this stuff on record!’ ‘You ain’t gonna here this on no vinyl bruv!’ This was just my man in the studio just wringing it out. And he’ll be doing things where everybody would be in awe! And he was like, ‘Na! Na! Na! Let’s do that one more time.’ I was thinking, ‘You can’t do no better than that!’ And for me to be actually sitting there in the room with someone like that! I was like, ‘I think I’m actually supposed to be doing this!’ Because you get days when you think I’m not too sure, because it’s so hard; and the struggle; and the UK pressure; and all the red tape; getting your music in the right club and all that sort of thing. But being in and around Stevie like that in that situation with Omar as well was like, ‘Woah! This is raw! He was basically writing the song, ‘I’m Feeling You’ for Omar’s album. They did a duet together.
Michael J Edwards: Omar once told me that ‘The Secret Life of Plants’ is his favourite Stevie Wonder album.
Don-e: Prince! I’d like to work with Prince – Prince is wicked! I’d like to work with Quincy as well. Quincy Jones is heavy man – Wow! I love Timberland. Timberland is dope! Timberland is SICK! Oh! Man! He’s just flex man! I like it man – I like his flex man, as far producing goes.
Michael J Edwards: What about the music you were playing before the interview. Mos Def etc?
Don-e: Mos is my mate! Mos is my boy! I love Mos, Mos is wicked! You can’t front with Mos or Talib Kweli. Common – I love Common. I listen to a lot of Hip Hop actually. I grew up in the eighties. I grew up on Hip Hop.
Michael J Edwards: Proper Hip Hop!
Don-e: I was RUN DMC’d out! I had my ‘adidas’ KRS 1 & BDP; I was there man! Kool Moe Dee; Johnson Crew; Kango Kid – I was into it man! Kurtis Blow, LL Cool J. I there from the beginning! The lino on the floor with the gloves and the ghetto blaster and we were poppin!
Michael J Edwards: What’s the track suit they wore? Tacchini!
Don-e: Sergio Tacchini! Yeah I was there. So I kinda listened to a lot of Hip Hop in my car and used that same inspiration or mentality in my music.
Michael J Edwards: You brought that Hip Hop ‘attitude’ into your music?
Don-e: That ‘attitude’ yeah. Because growing up I always used to find that all the Soul singers were a bit too soft. A bit too sweet mate…That’s really Jerry Curlish!
Michael J Edwards: Well, the UK Soul always had that edge to it though?
Don-e: We’ve got the West Indian heritage in us innit, so there’s always that and whatever else we’ve got going on. We’re in Europe, so our influences are different and how we hear it.
Michael J Edwards: What artist, UK or otherwise should we look out for in the future?
Don-e: There’s a kid called Bluey Robinson from London. You should check him out. He’s got a good voice man. Wicked voice! Also there’s Nadine Charles. Yeah, she’s dope! A lot of the stuff that they pump out I really don’t like it! A lot of the stuff they’re putting on mainstream radio, the manufactured stuff, please — spare me!
Michael J Edwards: Finally, what words of advice would you give young aspiring artist aka the X-Factor and Britain’s Got Talent generation?
Don-e: No matter what year it is or whatever is going on, you’ve always got to stick to your dreams. Focus! I’ve always been ‘See It, Go get It!’ That’s how I am! (laughs) Put yourself in a position to get noticed. Just focus on what you want to do and try and make positive moves. Everyone’s gonna make some negative moves in their life but try and make most of moves positive. And then it will all happen for you – Definitely?
Michael J Edwards: Thanks for the insight into Don-e’s world and your time.
Don-e and Michael J Edwards
Find You (EP Out 28th April 2011)
Unbreakable (4th & Broadway July1992)
Changing Seasons (4th&Broadway August 1995)
Try This (Dome Records, October 2005)
Natural (Dome Records, October 2008)