…Some people are carpenters, some people are plumbers – I’m a musician. I’m an artist who believes that music speaks to the heart of everyone. When you hear a good song you remember where you were, whom you were with and so on…It represents who you are and your place in time. James ‘D-Train’ Williams
James ‘D-Train’ Williams first came to prominence with his 1981 Dance Chart hit and Club anthem, ‘You’re the One for Me,’ produced in conjunction with his good friend and mentor, keyboardist Hubert Eaves III (formerly of Mtume). For the next seven years he enjoyed further chart recognition with tracks such as ‘Keep On;’ ‘Walk On By;’ ‘Misunderstanding’ as well as albums, ‘In Your Eyes’ and ‘Miracles of the Heart.’ 1988/9 saw him disappear off the music radar, with a brief return in 2001releasing the CD, ‘701 Franklin Avenue.’
Well get ready because the ‘D-Train’ is back!! Thanks to the efforts of UK Soul crooner and now Event Promoter Keni Stevens; in conjunction with sponsors Funky Town Grooves (Specialist in CD re-issues of Soul, Funk, Jazz and Disco); James ‘D-Train’ Williams was flown into the UK to headline a unique Valentines Party in February 2011, billed as ‘Heart & Soul in the City 3.’ Support on the night being Laura Jackson (Cool Million) and Nikki Prince.
Michael ‘The Dood’ Edwards sat down in the green room with the ebullient singer/song-writer and producer prior to his electrifying and high octane stage performance in Jury’s Inn Hotel, Milton Keynes, to get updated on the lost years and what the future holds for James ‘D-Train’ Williams.
The Dood: So, James ‘D-Train’ Williams, it’s a pleasure to meet you.
James “D-Train” Williams: You too.
The Dood: When did you get started in the music business?
James: Well I started in music when I was like six years old. I grew up in the Washington Temple Church of God and Christ. Ronnie Dyson was my choir director. Al Sharpton was my Junior Church Minister. And there were a lot of people that came out of that Church. And so growing up in Church was my mainstay, singing in the choir at High School. My Dad actually did my first recording. I was ten years old and The Jacksons came out with, ‘Going Back to Indiana.’
The Dood: So this was 19…?
JDW: 1969, when they were on the Ed Sullivan Show. It was like a phenomenon! When I saw my sisters kissing the TV set I was like, ‘I wanna do that!!’ So I think that growing up in the music business played its part. Even after High School – Will Downing, who was a good friend of mine…He was captain of the Bowling team and I was captain of the Football team. So he introduced me to Hubert Eaves III.
The Dood: Alright! Let’s back up a little. How did you acquire the nickname, ‘D-Train?’
JDW: Well I got the nickname ‘D-Train’ from playing (American) Football. They gave it to me ‘cause I used to hit guys.
The Dood: And they stayed hit?!
JDW: You know, I was never like an intimidating person. I just left whatever I did on the field – stay on the field. I wasn’t the sort to walk around like the tough guy – nah! I was more like, ‘Let’s do this and make it happen!’ So if I had something to say or something to do, I was going to make it happen on the field. And then as I mentioned, Will (Downing) introduced me to Hubert Eaves in a studio session and we became fast friends and started writing songs together – ‘You’re the One for Me’ and ‘Keep On.’ And it just blossomed.
The Dood: What was Will doing at this time?
JDW: He was still at High School! I was in my first year of College. And he said, ‘Dude, I need you to sing background on this demo. And it was a song called the ‘Real Deal.’ One of the first professional songs that he wrote and Hubert was producing. So I went in the studio and I was singing background behind him and I sang, ‘AWoah-a Woah! AWoah-aWoah!’ And Hubert went, ‘Wait! Wait!’
The Dood: Rewind!
JDW: Yeah! He was like rewind this. And that night he said, ‘Hey man, I would love to work with you.’ So I went to his house and he said, ‘I’ve got this track, can I play it for you?’ I said, ‘Sure!’ And it went (James sings), ‘Do-do-do-do-do-do-do-do-do, I stand up on a cloud and shout out loud, ‘You’re the One for Me!!’ ‘That’s all I got man! That’s all I got! Do you hear anything else?! Do you hear anything else?!’ I said sure! ‘With this new love I’ve found, takes my feet up off the ground…!’ And that whole day we wrote, ‘You’re the One for Me’ and ‘Keep On.’
The Dood: My stock question when it comes to classic songs is: How did those tunes come to you?
JDW: You know what it is? It’s the energy. Anything for me is energy. Hubert’s energy, my energy and we were like a reflection of each other. So the cool thing was we wanted the song to represent my manliness. It was like, D-Train is a powerful person; we want the music to be powerful! We want to come at you very aggressively. Like the way I did on the football field. Hubert’s a great keyboardist. The only person I can say who comes close to him, for me, other than Jazz artists would be David Frank of The System. It was like Batman and Robin versus Green Hornet and Kato! (Laughs). We’re gonna bash y’all out! We’re gonna take you out on stage!
The Dood: But you worked well off of each other?
JDW: Yeah! As well as one can reflect of somebody spiritually. That carried us through three hit albums – Really five albums, three of them which hit really big. The fourth one and the fifth one were on Columbia records.
The Dood: Namely?
JDW: The fourth album was called ‘Miracles of the Heart’ on Columbia Records where we got signed in 1988. The fifth album was in 1989 called ‘In Your Eyes.’ On ‘Miracles of the Heart’ I wrote a song called, ‘Ice Melts into Rain.’
‘In Your Eyes’ was the hit record that was going up the charts behind Bobby Brown’s, ‘Don’t Be Cruel’ So we were Top Five on the radio play list but it didn’t translate into Billboard sales – Because Columbia was a label that had so many artists. There was Gregory Abbot; D-Train; Mtume and The Isley Brothers.
The Dood: A case of, ‘Who do we push?!’
JDW: ‘Who do we push now?’ And then when Michael Jackson came in, everybody got pushed to the side. And what I learned about the business is, when they don’t push your records, YOU become the tax right off!
The Dood: You’re the fall guy!
JDW: You’re the fall guy! So the executives say we’ll give $175,000…but we’ve got to give Michael (Jackson) $1 million – so his album is coming out now…Then they sweep your record under the rug. And that’s the reason why the record industry is in the state that it is, because you’ve got a lot of greedy people at the top.
The Dood: What changes have you noticed in the industry from when you started out compared to now?
JDW: Oh yes, it’s changed! And thank God I’m still here after thirty years. I’m honoured to be here, because the fact that people want to come and see me…I can’t say it baffles me, because music is something that’s elemental. I’m not a preacher, I’m not a speaker or Orator, but my tool is my music. Some people are carpenters, some people are plumbers – I’m a musician. I’m an artist who believes that music speaks to the heart of everyone. When you hear a good song you remember where you were, who you were with and so on…It represents who you are and your place in time.
The Dood: You can chart your life experiences through the music you were listening to at that time.
The Dood: So tell us about your vocal influences or music influences in general?
JDW: Oh! That’s easy! When I started out, I wanted to be D.J. Rogers, I loved D.J. Rogers! Reverend Timothy Wright – He was our Minister of Music in Church. I have so many great artists – Traunaine Hawkins; Andre Crouch. And then later on I gravitated to my friend Will Downing, he’s always been one of my favourites.
The Dood: Silky voice.
JDW: Oh yes! Luther Vandross; Patti Austin; Chaka khan; Jocelyn Brown… And even on the Pop side, Peter Cox, the lead singer of ‘Go West.’ I love his voice! It’s really an interesting mix.
The Dood: It’s all ‘Good Music!’
JDW: It’s all good music! That’s another thing that contributed to the demise of music in America. I don’t know how it is now, but back then in the UK you only had one Chart. In the eighties it had all music – Country, Pop, R’n’B, Rock, everything – it was all on one chart. In America it was segregated. So it was Pop, Country, R’n’B – what they called Soul back then. Now you’ve four different categories of Black music, you’ve got five different categories of Jazz; you’ve got five different categories of Latin. Because, Mtume showed me a pie (chart) one day – What he did was draw a line in the middle of the pie. Then he said, ‘This half of the pie is Pop music. That’s why when they sign someone like Boy George, they hand him half a million dollars. And when they sign you, they give you sixty-thousand.’
The Dood: So you live in L.A? Where you born there or did you move there?
JDW: I moved there recently in August and I’m starting life over again – the second time around. I was married for thirty-three years and now divorced. So you know I’m looking forward to the future. I’m in the middle stages of my life at forty-nine years old. So I’m really happy to be here, I’m really happy to be doing what I’m doing and I’m grateful to God for every second, because life is measured in the seconds that take your breath away. And every time I see a crowd that comes out to see me, or people like yourself, It’s moments like these that you feel appreciated, when you feel loved, and you feel like you can give that love back to people and that appreciation. That’s what makes it worth living. So that way, when you die that can be your mission statement, because you only get one chance to make a first impression. That’s the reality of what it is, and my Mum told me, ‘Always be a first class version of yourself, instead of a second rate version of somebody else.
And that’s why I’ve written songs with Hubert, and we’ve written songs that our Mother’s could listen to and our parents could listen too. And got to give Hubert the props! I wanna send a shout to him and Will Downing, because either one of those I wouldn’t be sitting here with you now. Those guys were big influences on my life and on my career. Will and I are great friends and his wife Audrey Wheeler, I love her to death.
The Dood: The last album you released was when?
JDW: In 1988, and that was on Columbia Records. What happened was in the middle of that album Hubert was really strong because his brother Kenny was dying of Aids and his Mother was in the next room…dying of Cancer!
The Dood: Whoa!
JDW: So he was flying back and forth from New York to Minneapolis when we had a break. So seeing his family like that was tough. So we would take breaks when writing to let him get his second wind. That’s when I got to see his intestinal fortitude. And a lot of my musicianship, the way I approach song writing and putting keyboards and sounds together were learnt by watching him. Hubert is a master! He is one of the unheralded masters.
The Dood: What’s he doing nowadays?
JDW: He is now the assistant minister of music at the Christian Cultural Centre in Brooklyn, New York, under Pastor A.R Bernard. They have twenty-five thousand members every Sunday…It’s one of the Mega Churches in Brooklyn. They have television and radio stations built into the Church! There are two restaurants in the Church. Salt & Pepa goes to his church; Little Anthony and the Imperials; Gloria Gaynor; Curtis Martin from the (New York) Jets – And all these people come every Sunday.
The Dood: That sounds like a Congregation!! So what with your career between 1988 and now?
JDW: Well after my 1988 album, music started changing in 1989 and ’90. New Jack Swing was introduced by Teddy Riley, so my records kind of fell by the wayside and I didn’t want to New Jack, it just wasn’t me. So I was blessed and fortunate that God always has a Ram in the bush for me and I was introduced to the jingle business by a good friend of mine Bill Eden. And I did television and radio commercials for the next eighteen years as well as doing films and singing background vocals behind some of the top artists in America like Cher on the ‘Believe’ album; Bette Midler; Luther Vandross; Will Downing…So I’ve worked with a bunch of people.
Then the jingle business came to an end. The Unions went on strike for nine months – it was bad! And when the singers came back, nobody was working. So after that, I was like, ‘What am I gonna do now? Do I go back and record?’ And blessed and fortunate again, a friend of mine DJ Stone walks up to me in New York and says, ‘Listen, I’m getting ready to work for this satellite radio station called Serious Satellite Radio. Would you like to be on the air?’ I said, ‘Sure!’ He said, ‘Okay, I’ll give you your own show.’
The Dood: So we’re looking at what year?
JDW: This happened around 2001. And so I trained and I stayed with them for seven years until 2008. Then they did the merger with XM and it like, ‘Sorry you gotta go!’ XM brings in their people – You know how mergers go. So now I’m back to doing what I do best, singing and touring and having fun! Because you what it is? You never know where you’re going until you know where come from. At forty-nine years of age, you come into a situation with wisdom. Whereas when you were twenty-years old, you were just looking to find out who was the cutest girl in the audience. Now you say to yourself, ‘I’m going up to my room, I’ve got to get rest, you know.
The Dood: It’s the old saying of, ‘If you had the wisdom of your grandparents when you are twenty-one, you’d be a millionaire by the time you’re thirty.’
JDW: Right! That’s very true. Your mind is always moving…Russell Simmons put out a book called, ‘Super Rich.’ And people thought the book was about how he made his money. And Russell Simmons said, ‘No, it’s about how to be rich spiritually!’ Because when you’re happy inside, then the outside blossoms! When your spirit is right, everything in the world is right because even if the evil things around you present themselves – if your spirit is strong you can interject your thoughts into the world.
It’s like every time I go on stage my thoughts go out and I become a vessel. My mother always said, ‘When you open up your mouth to sing, I don’t care if you’re in a club or in a bar, wherever you’re at, you know where you came from. And if you know where you come from, you know where you’re going to.’ She said, ‘Your gift will make room for you. You’ll stand before Princes and Kings when you sing, but don’t become something that you’re not because you’re in front of them. Always be yourself.’
The Dood: Don’t front!
JDW: Yeah, don’t front and don’t try to put on airs, because that’s not who you are. I always crack jokes and I’m always laughing, because that’s who I am!
The Dood: So we’ll know if a James ‘D-Train’ Williams impersonator entered the room?
JDW: Would you believe they have a James ‘D-Train’ Williams impersonator on Facebook! And there’s a group called ‘D-Train’ in Germany – A Rock group. They’ve never been to Brooklyn! I’m not worried about it, if they want to call themselves ‘D-Train,’ it’s cool.
The Dood: Are there any mini D-Train’s coming through?
JDW: I have five kids. My oldest son speaks Japanese and he works for Horizon. He and my middle son James are putting an internet business company together. My youngest son Jorell is a master musician. He’s an Opera Singer and speaks five different languages one…He was on Broadway when I left New York. So he’s going to audition for the Metropolitan Opera next month (March 2011). I hope he gets the gig, because that’s a lifetime gig – they can’t fire you from it. And my oldest daughter is in school studying Law and my youngest daughter’s in High School.
The Dood: So you’re a proud man?
JDW: I’m proud of all my children, every last one of them. Children are a gift from God man and you always want to take care of that gift and nurture it at every point of their life.
The Dood: We’ve discussed the past and the present. What do you see for the future?
JDW: Right now I’m putting together a whole business plan because I want to return to the music industry. Not so much as an artist, but I need to really incorporate the brand ‘D-Train.’ After doing it for thirty years, I want to become a brand. Put your name and the music in different areas outside the music industry as ‘D-Train.’ Once you become a brand, then after thirty years you have enough people that will follow you into that brand. It’s like Jay-Z and Puff Daddy (P-Diddy) and all of them.
The Dood: What about taking on protégé’s?
JDW: I have a few in mind but right now I’m working on my new CD out in L.A with a Japanese producer called Sugi Hiroshi. We have like fourteen songs done and I’m very excited about it.
The Dood: What’s the name of the CD?
JDW: I don’t have a name for it yet! (Laughs) I wish I did but I don’t.
The Dood: Where are you recording it?
JDW: We’re recording it all in L.A – West Hollywood.
The Dood: How did you make the link with Sugi?
JDW: I knew Sugi when he lived in New York, he was a producer that had a label called Sound Men On Wax.
The Dood: So you’re coming back with the James ‘D-Train’ style?
JDW: I’m going back to ‘D-Train.’ I’m bringing ‘D-Train’ back baby!!
The Dood: Can you give us a little sample of one of the tunes on the new album? And just give us one quick sample of classic you’re the one for me, that we’re gonna hear tonight.
JDW: Thank you!
The Dood: What advice would you give any young aspiring artists in the music business today?
JDW: Don’t solicit record companies, because the record companies are greedy and there gonna keep all your masters and everything. I would record your album or your CD or whatever, put it out on YouTube – Because one of the things I’ve learned is when you give something away for free and people want you, they’re gonna come to where you are. Just like when you put out a hit record on YouTube – Columbia are gonna come looking for you; Arista are gonna come looking for you. So when you give it away FREE. It will come back to you and bountiful.
The Dood: Thanks for your wise words and thanks for your time.
JDW: You got it man!
Michael J Edwards
http://www.funkytowngrooves.com/ (Specialist in CD Re-issue of Classic Soul, Funk, Jazz and Disco)
D-Train (a.k.a You’re The One for Me, Prelude 1982)
Music (Prelude 1983)
Something’s On Your Mind (Prelude 1984)
You’re The One for Me (Re-release, Prelude 1985)
Solo: James ‘D-Train’ Williams:
Miracles Of The Heart (Columbia 1986)
In Your Eyes (Columbia 1988)
701 Franklin Avenue (Diesel Music 2001)
Walk On By
You’re The One for Me
Keep Giving Me Love
Something’s On Your Mind
Just Another Night (Without Your Love)
You’re the One for Me (Remix)