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Soul Express Interview

By Barry Towler

Full Circle

Soul Express talks with Curt Jones on how he has turned 360 degrees.

Soul Express: It's great to have this chance to speak to you about the new album. It's one of my current favourites and one of the strongest albums I have heard in a very long time. I’d like to draw a line backwards if I may to see how you came to this album and the journey that got you here. Who, or what, was the inspiration for your entry into the music world and?

Curt: As a child I had a lot of influence from my mother's side. My Grandfather was a big band leader of the Davenport Blue Rhythm Band, and he also had his own radio station. Earl Hines was in my Grandfather's band. His daughter, my aunt, Penny Davenport, was also an influence. She was with Motown from the start. She used to rehearse in the basement. It was an amazing time! The Spinners used to come around – I remember them singing “That's What Girls Are Made For” in our back yard! My Aunt actually started out under the Tri-Phi records label and she was good friends with Harvey Fuqua. He would come around. In fact, I met up with him again 10 years ago, and he showed me what he was doing musically with his computer. I went on and took guitar lessons for a year or so but I got into school and girls, but I started Junior High School I saw a stage band playing and was impressed with the guitar player.

Soul Express: Were your family supportive of you and what sort of encouragement did you receive?

Curt: I got a lot of support. It is deeply embedded in my family so it made perfect sense for them all to embrace it. I was very fortunate. Some of my friends had talent but their families were not so supportive. I guess that like most other things, water finds its own level.

Soul Express: You must have some favourite artists. What is it about these artists that you admire? What is it about them that grabbed you?

Curt: Marvin Gaye is my main source of inspiration. He had... I don't know... something special. His sound, tone and voice was truly distinctive. In fact, he had a variety of voices. He was also inspirational to me because he was one of the earliest artists who recorded himself. He did his own backgrounds and harmonies. There was a marriage between what he wrote and what he performed. There's something about Marvin so special. If I have a bad day, his music lifts me up out of a bad mood. So, I have a special connection. Its the same thing with Sly Stone. So unique, so distinctive and special. My, the list has so Dad was into Jazz... Ray Charles, Lionel Hampton, Sonny Stitt, Ella Fitzgerald, Kenny Burrell... when we were doing Déjà I took my Dad to see Kenny Burrell. I guess it was kinda payback. Saying thanks. It was special.

Soul Express: How did the hook-up with Slave come about?

Curt: Slave...My Aunt, Penny Davenport became the manager of my band. She took us under her wing. Groomed us. In doing so, she came into contact with a lot of people. She brought down Steve Washington and this is where we met up. He started coming down, and was listening to us, giving us pointers and helping us. Steve told me he had a band. You see, before Slave started up he was out on the road with the Ohio Players because his uncle was a member but had had an accident. He had lost his front teeth and so couldn't play the trumpet! Steve hooked me up with Atlantic. There was a lot of paperwork and the contract had to be finalised. I knew that I was going to hear an album mix on reel to reel and I hoped that it would be good. Even if it wasn't I decided to be supportive. Well... the first track was “Slide”!!! Sixteen bars in and I was blown away!!! The record came out, and it was making a big noise. My band was out on the road with the Average White Band. Steve came to watch my band, and he brought a lot of Slave's equipment with him so here I was playing with their logo and equipment everywhere. It was great! From there on I was under his wing. Well, as for my band – Symphonic Express, then Starchild – Starleana Young was part of that. We came to a fork in the road. I stayed with my band for another year. Star joined, and our third album, “Concept” was when Steve Arrington joined. The next year our band broke up. I took a couple of jobs, one was where I was cleaning the bank up. I had access to the phone, so I called Steve Washington and was invited to go and see him. Star was there, and I was taken in. We talked about solo projects and Steve Washington let me start writing. We were working on a solo concept for me. I worked on the “Just A Touch Of Love” album. This was a strong album.

Soul Express: What was it like working within Slave? With so many members how did the process of song crafting work?

Curt: Steve Arrington and me clicked and came together. He was developing his vocals at the time, and I was developing my writing. We just all worked well together.

Soul Express: In the early 1980s you broke away and teamed up with Starleana Young to form Aurra. What was the impulse to strike out with this move, and how did you hook up with Starleana?

Curt: Aurra...we were under the same production wing of Slave. Just like the situation with Parliament and Funkadelic. We kinda branched out. It was between the “Just A Touch Of Love” album and “Stone Jam” that we worked on the first Aurra album. I asked about a duet with Star and there it was; natural progress.

Soul Express: With all the hits Aurra had, especially here in the UK in the mid 1980s, what was the reason behind the name change to Deja? What was it like at this time?

Curt: Our first album that came out under the name Déjà, it was still recorded as Aurra. By this time we weren't working with Steve Washington. Our label, Virgin, suggested a new name and said they would support it. They suggested this to keep any possible contractual problems out of the picture. They supported us, and it wasn't a hard thing to swallow. It really was a smooth transition. The record company put out stickers on our records with “formerly known as Aurra” on them. I don't feel we reached our full potential. Star and I parted ways. My next partner was Mysti Day. We both worked with Teddy Riley. They wanted us to work with Jam and Lewis but they were very, very busy as you can imagine. By this period, Monté Moir had just stopped working with them. It was our A&R man, Mick Clarke, who drove us. He was excellent. He really, really did his job. If anyone epitomised everything an excellent A&R man should be he was every bit of that. Mick had great creativity and vision It was Mick that paired me and Star with Monte Moir. We went to Minneapolis in July 1986. We had a chat and started putting things together. We've stayed friends ever since.

Soul Express: We heard no more from Déjà from the early 1990s. Why did the music stop?

Curt: Things slowed down. I wanted a solo album. I got married and had kids, I also had a production company and a couple of artists. I was trying to get them going. I did start writing songs and at this point in time I switched from recording analogue to digital. “Is It” was the first track of the album. My wife and I divorced in 2000 and I moved out and put music on hold. I had no inspiration for a while. I was gigging with a corporate band. However, I gave up the day job and started writing.

Soul Express: The new album is one of the most solidly consistent I have heard in a very long time. Was this a project that you worked on and planned for a long time?

Curt: I knew that “Is It” was the first track of my album. I had some older songs such as “Seasons” which I recut in digital. This song was inspired by a friend I was seeing from London. I was in love, she went away, and this is where the song came from. The song came from an honest place. When I started writing again, I came back with a lot of vigour. The momentum was there and it was hard to stop! It was becoming easier and easier. “Long Distance Love” came out of this You remember I did “Kensington Lady” with Aurra and “Dreamer” with Déjà, and this reggae element was a throwback to this.

Soul Express: Does the title of the album, “360 Degrees” mean anything special to you?

Curt: Well, originally it was going to be called “Full Circle”. It was about me and my wife parting ways and my wishing her well. It is also about coming back to making music, and for all the right reasons too. I don't have to worry about what a marketing man might say. It's my song and it's my rules!

Soul Express: As an establish artist what is your view on the music business at the moment? Some look towards the like of Pop Idol and state that the scene has never been better. How do you view this?

Curt: Today the scene is... so sad. I believe that you get better as an artist as you get older. You accrue experience and this is reflected in your music. Many artists that have been around a long time are making their best music ever. They stick with it. They are what I call “lifers”. Today if you are 25 then you are too old. The companies have a certain dynamic they work with, and if you don't fit into this dynamic then they don't want you. My son is into rap he also appreciates old school music. He hears it from me, but many other youngsters, they don't get to hear it. They don't know about the musical legacy. When I was young I had musical influences. They had something to say. You has Earth, Wind & Fire with “Stand” and “That's The Way Of The World”. There is no such message today. Back then these people made you realise how special their gift was and that there was positive messages in their music collaboration. I don't know what they're saying now.

Soul Express: Leon Ware told me that he was talking with a friend back in 1988 at the time when Motown was sold to Boston Ventures. He remembers his friend saying that this was it, that the floodgates were going to open and the smaller companies were going to be swallowed up.

Curt: That was very perceptive. In the very late 1980s I was at the Headquarters of CBS. While I was there they were changing some signs over on the doors. We saw the A&R sign changed to “Product Management”. I remember us saying at the time that things were changing, and not for the better. Please don't get me wrong. Music has to change, but things today are simply regurgitated. If music is good then it will reach a lot of people and will find its level. In the '90s it felt like no-one wanted the music. I realised this. I started up again because I saw what was happening, and I wanted to do something. This emancipated me. This is my record, my rules. I fully embrace digital music and downloading. It is important that artists like me do what we are doing, as we are pioneers! In 2006, for the first time, downloaded music surpassed record stores. This is telling us something. This is gonna get bigger, and when it does we will get bigger with it. The digital revolution has the power to emancipate real artists. We're at an interesting stage, and although CDs are still a big part of it, I am going to watch how it goes.

Soul Express: You visited the UK back in 1986 at the Southport Weekender. Do you ever envisage any visits to perform in the UK and Europe in the future?

Curt:It takes a lot of financial muscle to tour, a lot of financial support is needed. It takes money to make money sometimes. I would love to, and I'll have to see what the future brings.

Soul Express: Can we expect to have more music in the future?

Curt: I am recording songs for my second album. I have just finished recording a ballad that is 8½ minutes long. No way would a marketing man let me do that!!! See, it's my album, and my rules. This way the listeners are actually receiving what I want to record. Later today I am off to L.A. To work with Sue Ann Carwell who has a new record. I've been sending her stuff. It's a cross between her stuff and my stuff. Some of it is very contemporary. I'm in the process of getting stuff done. I guess we're now nailing down the second half of her album.

Soul Express: This is all exciting news! Thank you so much for your time today – I hope that the new album does as well as it deserves to.

Read the review of Curt Jones' solo CD here

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