“I was recording “Do you Really Want My Love” which was in The Beverly Hills Cop movie and Soundtrack which I won my Grammy for. The album to date has done over 40million world wide. It’s my biggest record to date. As Stevie was in the country recording and performing some dates, I asked him if he’d play drums on it. It was the first time that he was ever going to do a drum session for anybody, so I was more than chuffed.” – Junior Giscombe
Photo: Courtesy of David S. James
In Part One Junior spoke about his early career, the impact his song and video for ‘Mama Used To Say’ had on Michael Jackson as well as his own musical influences. In Part Two Junior talks about how he inspired Teddy Riley to create New Jack Swing (Swing Beat), his involvement with Heavy D & The Boyz, his copious writing and producing credits, the secret as to the longevity of his career and how, with the current success of The British Collective, he intends to be pumping out quality feel good vibes for many years to come.
Michael J Edwards: What was it like working with Stevie Wonder who also has a distinctive vocal.
Junior Giscombe: Stevie was great! I was recording “Do you Really Want My Love” which was in The Beverly Hills Cop movie and Soundtrack which I won my Grammy for. The album to date has done over 40million world wide. It’s my biggest record to date. As Stevie was in the country recording and performing some dates, I asked him if he’d play drums on it. It was the first time that he was ever going to do a drum session for anybody, so I was more than chuffed. He came in and started playing drums and I do a lick in ‘Do You Really Want My Love’ that is a Stevie Wonder lick. So he’s playing drums and he hears the lick and he falls back off of the drums stool and starts laughing… He’s killing himself laughing! We rushed into the drum booth picked him up, he was still laughing, then he says, “Hey Junior you stole that lick from me I got it from Clyde McPhatter he heard it from Johnny Ace, Johnny heard it from so and so, a real history lesson which I’ve never forgotten. The breakdown on the lick….:-)
What he was showing me was nothing is original. What makes it original is when you put your twist on it. It’s what you do with it that makes it stand out from the rest. There’s another track I did on the first album called, ‘Is This Love’. ‘Little Brother’ used it on a track called, ‘That Ain’t Love’. I looked it up and saw that it had done very well, then I read some of the comments people where making. When I first heard this tune, I thought it was Stevie Wonder, because of the way that the song moves and the fervour of the song. So people were saying that ‘Do You Really Want My Love’ was sounding more like Michael Jackson; people then turned around and said that on ‘Mama Used To Say’ you sound like Stevie Wonder. Then people listened to ‘Oh Louise’ and said you sound like so and so… It was, because nobody wanted to take on board that you actually had your own style. You couldn’t be English and have your own style. If you were English you had to be a derivative of someone else.
Junior & Stevie Wonder
Stevie (Wonder) came over and went on a TV programme, and he said, “The one artist in Britain that has something quite different going on is Junior!” The person interviewing him didn’t even want to talk about it, he went straight on, because they were looking for something white, something that had an R&B leaning to it…Junior wasn’t marketable, Junior didn’t smile all the time, Junior went into politics etc.
Michael J Edwards: You came back strong in 1990 with an album entitled ‘Stand Strong’ one of my favourite sets, giving big props to the underground circuit and chock full of powerful lyrics and beats throughout. You re-released it in 1992 under the title ‘Renewal’. Why do you think that album didn’t reach its full potential, given the critical acclaim it received?
Junior Giscombe: With the ‘Stand Strong’ album I can’t really say that it was the record company’s fault, as it was they who wanted to repackage the album and come with it again. They put out ‘Morning Will Come’; I was away I was in America and when I came back I remember being picked up at the airport and the first song I heard on the radio was ‘Morning Will Come’. The last tune I heard on the radio when I got out of the car was ‘Morning Will Come’! (Laughs) On every single pirate station you would hear ‘Morning Will Come’. Every Club or Rave that you went to you would hear ‘Morning Will Come’. If anything that was a calling card for the album. I think what happened was the record company released ‘Somebody’ first because of my time working with Arif Mardin. And because I hadn’t put an album out for a couple of years by that time, instead of actually putting it out as the new Junior record, they put it out as Junior produced by Arif Mardin.
Photo: Courtesy of David S. James
What was happening at the time producers were beginning to become the main name. So what they did was try to dress Junior up. It was Arif Mardin who produced it, so we had terrible fights. My whole thing was that I hadn’t put a record out for maybe two to three years, so I didn’t want to put my first record out after so long centred on the fact it was produced by Arif. I needed to get Junior back out there! Arif was doing Scritti Politti. We (Me & Arif) had developed a sound with ‘Somebody’ and he had then gone on to produce Script Politti and became huge using the same sound. So again, you are doing things that are new and innovative; your record company can’t hear you and can’t get to it. Who you’re working with understands what you’re doing. It was the same thing with Simon Law when we did ‘Morning Will Come’.
Michael J Edwards: On the topic of ‘Morning Will Come’ how did that track evolve in the first instance?
Junior Giscombe: That was me, and Simon Law. Simon and I got together and for ‘Morning Will Come’, he pretty much had a beat and I had an idea and we came together with the writing. I’d written the lyric for it; Simon asked if he could write some lyrics for it also. And we just put the two lyrics together, because we were saying the same thing just using different words. That track again was another one in terms of from writing to completing the actual song itself. Regarding the writing if it took us an hour, it took us a long time. It didn’t even take us that long to write, it was one of those that just came together. In terms of the actual recording of it, I couldn’t get to sing it in the way that I wanted to sing it; for some reason or another I couldn’t get the right vibe. So we went to two different studios and the second studio we went to for some reason or another the clarity in the headphones was spot on. They put on the tune and it was only me and the engineer, so I did the whole tracking one pass. So what you hear is what I was feeling that day and I just dropped it. ‘Mama Used To Say’ was the same.
Michael J Edwards: How did you and do you feel about the success of Chanté Moore’s ‘Love’s Taken Over’ also produced by Simon Law?
Junior Giscombe: Even now people still think that ‘Morning Will Come’ is a cover; they don’t understand that she came after me.
Michael J Edwards: It’s also a beautiful tune in its own right?
Junior Giscombe: Don’t get me wrong, I love that tune, I love Chanté because I know Chanté. I love her as a person; she’s a lovely, lovely person. When we did ‘Morning Will Come’ and it was released I remember listening to Choice FM and the DJ saying Jr came out with ‘Morning Will Come’ after Chanté Moore. I rang him and put the record straight on air that it was disrespectful to always be viewed from your own as not being as talented as those from America. All it does is continue to perpetuate the myth that we could never make anything as good as what comes from America. Today’s American artists can’t wait to team up with British artists” start back with “The problem is”.
I remember going into a studio called ‘Electric Lady’ and I met up with Lenny White the drummer. So Lenny and I were in the studio and then he said to me, “You do realise that it was ‘Oh Louise’ that started the New Jack Swing?!” So I turned around and I said, “Thanks!” Because he’s been in and around music for many years; so I was like, “Thanks a lot man!” I was really playing it down. He was like, “No don’t play it down man! It’s for real; ask Teddy (Riley). So I get to see Teddy and Teddy says, “If it wasn’t for ‘Oh Louise’ there would be no Swing Beat. It was ‘Oh Louise’ that made me say, “Hey you can do that! He’s taken it Pop, we’re going straight Street with it.”
So, you realise that as I said to you before, you’re trying to do something that’s individual to you; so in terms of being able to stay around, by making the music that I make and by people getting a chance to hear it they’re taking it and making successes from it. And off the basis of that success everybody turns around and says, “Oh, Teddy’s incredible! Oh, so and so is incredible!” You realise that what you’re doing is you’re actually affecting the marketplace by the music you actually put out there. So off the basis of that it becomes even more fun and exciting because you know that you don’t have to make a record that sounds like what’s in the charts. All you have to do is just make a good record and if they play it, then all you have to do is watch so-and-so, look over here, look over there and you’ll see it.
Michael J Edwards: What are your views on young people looking for success via programs such as the X- Factor?
Junior Giscombe: I work with new artist and I sit down with them a lot of the time they can all do the acrobatics, they can sing and do the runs and everything is great. Then I listen and I say, ‘That’s wonderful. Now sing me the melody to that song?” And they’re like, “What!” And I say, “The actual notes are being sung; hit them, without doing any of your fancy vocal gymnastics.” And he said, “But it’s not going to sound right man!” So I told him, “But the song was written hitting those notes and everybody likes it when you hit those notes. When you don’t hit those notes and show that you can do these wonderful things with your voice, remember people were doing that twenty/thirty years ago, so you’re not impressing me! If you want to impress me, sing the song! I’m impressed by you singing the song.” If you can’t sing the song, then it’s a case of ‘next’.
Photo: Courtesy of David S. James
There are three or four million black American singers who would knock you off your perch… So try to find what it is about you that works. Let’s start by knowing the ABCD’s as the notation, don’t give me ABDC, and go back to A and then come back to C just because you can – do that when you go live if you want to show off… While you’re in the studio nail the song so they the public can whistle it – Something that makes common sense. The average person on the street wouldn’t know 8 bars from 16 bars and most rappers/singers coming into the industry without a trained ear wouldn’t know whether they’re actually singing or rapping to a backing track which is in tune as they are not musicians but great programmers, the two are very different. I don’t know them, I don’t knock them, but what I’m looking at is for people to do things that are realistic.
Michael J Edwards: Many people are familiar with Junior the singer, but maybe not fully aware of the plethora of songs you have produced and for other artists. Can you please enlighten us?
Junior Giscombe: Producing and writing is what I do a lot of from the beginning.
Michael J Edwards: Who are some of the acts you have written and produced for in the past?
Junior Giscombe: It covers the whole spectrum and ranges from The Lighthouse Family, Sheena Easton, Maxi Priest. You go Warren G (Do You See What I See) – He took the riff from ‘Mama Used To Say’, Philip Bailey, Heavy D and The Boyz also used Mamma in “Is it Good To You” so did Easy E’s group ‘Bones Thugs and Harmony’ with “Thuggish, Ruggish Bone”. I wrote ‘1234 Get With The Wicked’ which was used in the film ‘Adulthood’.
Michael J Edwards: So other artists naturally gravitate towards you because of your past history?
Junior Giscombe: You’re always going to get a call a long the way as what you do has an effect on people, so there is always that potential for your union to be successful.
Michael J Edwards: You recorded a few more albums in the 80s including ‘Sophisticated Street’ and ‘Acquired Taste’. What was that period like?
Junior Giscombe: ‘Sophisticated Street’ was a good album. By the time I released my third album, ‘Acquired Taste’ I had realised by that time that what I did was exactly that, it was an acquired taste. It wasn’t a record you would put on to dance to; Junior wasn’t making that kind of record. You’re either into what Junior was doing, which was an acquired taste or you’d view Junior as not being on point. But without you knowing it you’re buying junior records and that was the beauty of it.
Michael J Edwards: What advice would you give to up-and-coming aspiring artists looking to make inroads in the music industry?
Junior Giscombe: If you are fortunate enough to be signed to a record company, and I say that just because of the fact that they have a mechanism for you. They will put your record out there, it will get into shops, it will get exposure via the Internet and it will be all over the place. I think the difference is today, first and foremost I think with anybody coming into to business they need to start by: 1) If you going to be a songwriter, learn to write songs, not what’s going on today, learn how to write proper songs. Go back and look at various things that went before, look at how well they did, look at the sales that they generated. Look at those things; it’s a business now so you can’t come in half-cocked with it, you’ve got to come in with an understanding.
Photo: Courtesy of David S. James
I watch a lot of the kids today and they come in doing what they’re doing from a rap perspective, but none of them have been successful outside of the UK, and none of them understand that if they don’t gain success outside of UK they won’t be able to continue to do what they’re doing. I would say whatever they do is to try to push for their record company to release their records in other countries. If you’re signed to a major label ensure that you push for the record to be released in other countries. It’s not as easy as just releasing it because you’re signed to MCA UK; that doesn’t mean MCA Germany are going to put it out or MCA in Italy or MCA France are going to put out. You’ve got to be talking to Island Records or Universal Records etc in all these countries; you’re continually looking to put your records out Worldwide. iTunes is great for that because once you’re on iTunes you’ve got a worldwide market.
I’m coming from the perspective of putting records out that make you want to come out and see Junior live. Today we’re in a marketplace where records do not sell anywhere like they used to. But the audience is there to buy, especially the more mature consumers; they buy because they still love that music. If you’re a kid coming in, your way to get truly exposed is through You Tube right now and making sure that once you’re up there you’re firing it out to everybody. It’s proven that it’s become a great medium to be able to sell records and promote an act. Whether or not the act is ready to back it up regarding their natural talent is a different matter. So if you’re young and you’re coming in don’t come from the perspective of “I want to sound like what’s happening…” You want to come in from the perspective of “I want it to sound like what they WILL play going forward and I want it to sound like me.
When we did the ‘Mama Used To Say’ nobody was doing clashing guitars. Then afterwards Living Colour came through, Roachford came through on CBS Records as well as Lenny Kravitz. They all came through using The Stevie Wonder principal. I recorded ‘Come On Over’ which also had a rock feel to it. Again the journalists couldn’t get it, couldn’t pigeon hole it so would always bring colour into play. But that was always in England, it was never anywhere else in the world. It was only in England that they would always use the colour thing as a basis to say that you can’t make that kind of music. So then I took off and I went and worked with Phil Lynott from Thin Lizzy. We did four demo songs together for his solo album. The record company couldn’t see it working, to them he was Rock and I was Pop/R&B/Soul…hahaha, so stupid. They didn’t fully grasp the fact that music has no boundaries. Listen to James Brown and Pavarotti singing ‘It’s a Man World’ you see two great artists collaborating on the other’s song, pure art. Working with Phil was poetry.
Michael J Edwards: So there’s something to be said for the maxim: ‘Observe the masses and do the opposite’?
Junior Giscombe: Indeed. However each artist’s journey is inextricably linked to those who came before. If Junior didn’t get signed as a solo artist and become successful, Don-e and Omar wouldn’t have got signed; you can’t separate it. So, you had that whole thing going on in the eighties and then you had your Soul II Soul and then things pretty much went dead. Then gradually the new generation started coming through like Chipmunk, Kano and Tinie Tempah. And I suppose Dizzy Rascal was the leading pioneer or torch bearer for that generation. But what they don’t talk about but they should talk about is what came before them to make it possible for them to come through – before Linx, myself and Imagination, there were hardly any black artists first generation born in the UK on British TV.
Photo: Courtesy of David S. James
Those two bands changed the face of music. Because of their look a lot of people were Side-tracked as to their musical credentials, but the actual music you could not fault. And that’s the key; if you’re a kid the key is to make ‘good’ music. Yes the look is important, yes what you say is important, yes the way you conduct yourself is important, but the most important thing is your music. Because if you’re not coming up with the goods in your music I don’t care how good-looking you are, or how well you sing, you will not be making records, because somebody else will come along. As a new artist you’ve got to ask yourself, “Some of the guys I used to listen to back in the day are no longer around, but Junior is still on the scene and I saw him at a gig last week. This is thirty years on! What did he do that makes him stay around for thirty years?”
Photo: Courtesy of David S. James
Michael J Edwards: Michael J Edwards: Can you please bring us up-to-date with what’s happening with your latest and I guess most rewarding project to date, The British Collective, which is a collaboration of yourself, Noel McKoy, Omar, Don-e and Leee John. The new single, ‘Love Me Tonight’ is currently receiving heavy rotation on radio stations UK and Europe wide?
Junior Giscombe: The British Collective is a project that the five members have been working on for the last three years; it’s been a joy in part and a pain in others, but it’s done and will be with you all very soon. It’s title “The British Collective Volume One….. The British Renaissance” as we feel that’s what we’re standing on the verge of. Our first live date is at The Grenada Music Festival in April with further live dates in the UK and Europe to follow. Were all very excited about playing live together and moved by the reaction to “Love Me Tonight” as we looked at our own history and heritage to move our British R&B forward into 2016 and beyond.
Michael J Edwards: Thank you for your time Junior. I, along with a plethora of stalwart fans and ‘good’ music lovers, await the release of ‘The British Collective Vol 1…The British Renaissance!’
Michael J Edwards