WILL DOWNING PIECES MAGICAL MUSICAL MOMENTS TOGETHER
Will Downing: “I compiled a bunch of songs that are necessarily not connected in any way. They were just my thoughts that reflected what I was feeling – a little piece of this, a little piece of that – in a certain groove that I felt. Even lyrically, what I was saying, it didn’t have any connection with the song before or the song after it, so it’s literally just pieces of things that were interesting to me.”
Pieces is the 26th CD from “The Prince of Sophisticated Soul”. His first self-titled album was released 35 years ago, although he had recorded already earlier, as he told me in our interview right after the release of his Chocolate Drops eight years ago - https://www.soulexpress.net/willdowning_chocolatedrops.htm. Recorded at his home studio in New Jersey and released on February the 10th, this 7-piece collection of memorable songs is one of the most entertaining and elegant sets in Mr. Downing’s career.
“So far, the feedback has been really good. Even on the internet there’s so much information that it’s hard to get people to even concentrate on new releases. There’s so much music, so much everything out there. The hard part is to get the word out that there’s new music. But so far, so good. The folks, who have heard it, have responded positively. They really like it, so we’re off to a decent start.”
LOVE ON YOU
The opening song, Love on You, is a mid-tempo, smooth number with a bouncy afro beat. Will: “I wrote it with the guitarist Randy Bowland. It’s our current single that’s out here in America.” Besides Randy, there are Mike Logan Sr. on keys, Al Turner on electric bass, Bashiri Johnson on percussion and - alongside Will – LaJuan Carter on background vocals.
The soft and wistful Early Years is written by Ronald Coleman and this beat-ballad appeared first on Barry White’s album titled The Man in 1978. “Out of all the songs that Barry White has released this is probably the one that people least know. Lyrically it just struck a chord with me. I could relate to it. The industry has changed so much. There are certain ways we used to do things that I really liked, so I long for the early years.”
Besides the musicians above, on this track there are still Brian Dunne on drums, Kevin “Kojo” Prince on congas and Will himself on percussion. Will: “It’s not dramatically different from the original. On his version Barry does a speech at the beginning of the song – as he was known to do – and it’s probably a little slower and not as jazzy as the way I did it. It’s not too much different – but it’s different.”
AUDREY WHEELER DOWNING
Make You Mine is a slow and romantic song, which Will co-wrote with the keyboard player Ken Anderson and the bassist Ronnie Garrett. Will and Ken produced the track, and on guitar there’s this time Rob “Fonkstar” Bacon. On background vocals, along with Will, on this track and a couple of others as well there’s Will’s wife, the beautiful and talented Audrey Wheeler. “Pretty much on every album that I’ve recorded she and my daughter have sung on. If you live here in the house, just call upstairs “hey, come on down, I got some songs that you need to sing on.” She’s done some projects as well, where she needs me to either engineer or sing on as well… That’s how we do things around here.”
A former member of Unlimited Touch in the 1980s, Audrey became an in-demand session singer and released two solo albums, Let It Be Me on Capitol in 1987 and I’m Yours Tonight on Ear Candy in 1991. Among the most successful singles she’s featured on, there are Step by Step by Jeff Lorber in 1985, I Wanna Be Where You Are by Will Clayton in 1989 and This Must Be Heaven by Omar Chandler in 1991.
Still last year she recorded a duet with Brent Carter on the enchanting Here We Go Again, which only prompts a question of Audrey’s possible third solo album in the future. “I’ve tried, I’ve tried and I’ve tried (laughing), but at this point there’s no album. She did a guest vocal just the other day, so she stays busy. She still sings background vocals with Chaka Khan.”
YOU DESERVE BETTER
You Deserve Better is an easily flowing finger-snapper, which Will co-wrote with the guitarist, David P. Stevens. “We connected online as Facebook friends, and then over the summer we actually did music festivals together. When we met, he said ‘hey man, I got this song, it could be a killer. It needs a little bit of tweaking, and I think it could be perfect for you.’ He sent me the track, I added a few changes to it, and I think it now has a nice feel to it. It’s very musical and it has a story to it. If a story is interesting and it has a nice groove to it, I record it. That’s how easy I am with the recording process.” Among players a couple of new names appear on this track: Hubert Eaves IV on bass, Ronnie Foster on keyboards and Janay Barkley on background vocals.
Actually, the very same bassist Hubert Eaves IV co-wrote and co-produced with Will the next song, a punchy toe-tapper named Dammit I Want You. In the liner notes it says that this song is “seemingly Bobby Womack inspired.” Will: “I think what the writer was probably trying to say was it kind of has that southern soul feel to it. There are a couple of guitar licks that might remind you of Bobby Womack, like on If You Think You’re Lonely Now and Across 110th Street, something like that.”
Among the musicians, who haven’t played on preceding tracks, you can spot John “Lil John” Roberts on drums, Darren Daughtry on guitar and most remarkably on background vocals Chris Walker and Conesha Monét Owens, both well-known singers/songwriters/musicians in their own right, too.
Poetically you could describe the next song as a small whirl that hits you in a gentle breeze. This captivating and smooth number named Kinda Guy was released as a taster already late last year. “The feedback was really good. It was actually one of those things, where I hadn’t had any music out and we just wanted let people know that there was something coming, so we released it.”
New names that crop up on this particular track include Bob Baldwin and West Byrd on keyboards and two Mikes – Mike White and Mike Logan Jr. – on drums. “The feel of this song is really good. It was something that I wrote with Mike Logan Jr., who also plays drums sometimes in my band. His father plays keyboards in my band, so it’s a family affair, when you see me live. Mike Logan Jr. is thirty something, and he just brings the youthful feel to the writing process and recording process. It’s always good to find out what young folks are listening to and what they sing. I wrote one song with him on the last album as well, The Warmth of You. He’s a very talented young man. He writes, plays drums and keyboards.”
Conesha Monét Owens co-wrote with Will and Mike Logan Sr. the concluding song titled What I Gotta Do, which is the most danceable track on the set. “It was actually inspired by Bernard
Wright’s Who Do You Love. If you listen to that song, you hear some similarities. Bernard Wright had just passed away, so it was like a tribute to him. Musically I’ve always loved that amazing song over the years. It’s a feelgood song.” Bernard was a jazz & funk keyboardist and vocalist, and his biggest hit - # 6 Black hit in 1985 - was Who Do You Love. He was hit by a car last year and perished at the age of 58.
Will himself had to go through a tragedy recently, when his daughter, Aron Siobhan, passed away on January the 11th at the age of 31. “They found her unconscious in her home in Phoenix, Arizona. She lived alone. One thing that this Covid thing did for a lot of people was that the isolation worked well for some, and some people did not cope well with it; and she was one of those people.”
THE WIND DOWN
Apart from constantly creating new music, Will Downing is also engaged in hosting a weekly radio show called The Wind Down (https://dcradio.gov/programming/the-wind-down/). “Believe it or not, I have been doing Wind Down since 2008. When I got sick back in 2006-07, I wanted people to be able to know that I was still around. I was still doing stuff, but I didn’t have enough strength to go on tour, so I started doing a weekly radio show just to let people hear my voice and know that I’m still alive.” Will was at that point diagnosed with a muscular disease called polymyositis.
“Now you can hear The Wind Down everywhere, all over the globe. I try to play both classics, and new music, upcoming artists. It’s an outlet that they don’t seem to get these days from radio stations. Radio stations don’t play a lot of new music. They play the same songs all over and over again. These young artists send me their music and - if it’s good enough – I play it.”
In terms of live shows – tours and gigs - after the pandemic things are looking good again. “We have a pretty nice tour schedule. We’re back to work. Adult music or classic soul is back on the rise again. In America there are probably four or five tours out now that basically cater to an adult audience.” Here Will lists Anita Baker, Jill Scott, New Edition, Tank, Ledisi, Kem and Keith Sweat. “It just lets you know that the real r&b and real soul music are back. Also, most of our shows are pretty much sold out.” In his shows Will is normally backed by eight pieces.
RELAXING AND ROMANTIC PIECES
If at any point your life turns too hectic, you can put on Will’s Pieces for a tranquillizing moment and – if possible – with the one, who is very close to you. “Thank you for
everybody, who have picked it up and listened to it. There’ll be Pieces, part 2 as well. I’m actually working on it. We don’t do things the way we used to do. We used to release records and then you wouldn’t hear from us for three or four years, until we released something else. That’s not the case anymore. If you don’t have new music out like every six to eight months, it’s like you don’t even exist. As long as the creative juices are flowing and you feel up to releasing new music and you have something to say and keep it interesting and competitive, you just got to keep going.”