Legendary R&B singer Eddie Levert of the O’Jays, whose recordings with the group produced twenty-four top ten hits including For the Love of Money, Backstabbers, and Love Train, and gained them induction into The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame this year, has passed on his incredible talent to his son. Gerald Levert hit the music scene in 1985 with the group “Levert”, formed with his brother Sean, who makes a cameo appearance on this tour, and longtime friend Marc Gordon. The group produced six gold albums and a number of top hits including the memorable hit Casanova. In 1991, Gerald went on to a remarkable solo career that has produced numerous top selling albums which include the memorable R&B ballads I’d Give Anything and Baby Hold On To Me, the first song father and son recorded together. The response to this powerful duet was overwhelming. We recently caught up with the elder Levert as father and son tour together.
How’s the tour going?
Excellent. Better than I expected. Better than a lot of people expected. Gerald and I touring together as a duo is like an unknown entity. We only tried it once back about eight years ago. When we tried it the first time, we brought along the O’Jays. We had dancers; we had this great big production. We went around and hung out for about five weeks. We didn’t draw the people we thought we would, but the results and the reviews, and what they thought of the show was most excellent. The “Father & Son” album went platinum. We decided that what we were going to do, we were going to go back out and see if there were really those fans out there that would like to see us. We started off a little slow because we had a few problems getting started because we couldn’t agree on whether we wanted to do it or not. He has his career going and I have my career going. The record companies wanted us to promote our different projects. Overall, I think it was the thing to do for both of our careers.
How important was music growing up in your household?
Music in the household was something my mother was able to do. She loved Hank Ballard and the Midnighters. She loved that song, “Annie Had A Baby”. She put that on and cleaned the whole house. My dad, he was a gospel man, and he had sung gospel music. I’d say it was pretty much a mainstay in the house, not that they said you have to start a career in this. I think the reason that my dad didn’t tell me that is that he had to quit doing his thing to become a mill worker. It wasn’t there in that sense, but it was there as part of everyday living.
What kind of prejudice did you have to put up when your career began?
It hasn’t changed much. People say we’ve come so far in 100 years. It hasn’t changed much in the few years I’ve been on the earth. You still find assholes in every walk of life in every nationality. You deal with it, man. You keep doing your thing, and you don’t get caught up with that. You don’t let you make you like them.
What advice did you give Gerald when he began his career?
That you’ve got to work hard. It’s a hard business, and if you want to be one of the greats and you want to be considered a great one, then you’ve got to work hard. You’ve got to work hard. You’ve got to practice, practice, and practice. You find your little window, and whatever your little window is, you stay within, and become the best you can within your little window – and you’ll be the best.
The two of you are different generations. How did your musical styles clash or meld together?
I’m still learning from him. I hope I’m still teaching him some things. He was very much influential in my writing in the songs that we wrote together on this “Imagination” album that the O’Jays have out now. He was very instrumental in a lot of the riffs that we do, and the melody and the syncopation that the melody takes. I’ve learned a lot of that from him. I think him being around me and my old school sort of keeps him holding onto a lot of old school fans. He’s a true R&B guy.
Did you guys ever clash?
Yes. On this tour we had a clash. He felt like it was not time. He thought we should have a record out, we should have all this and that, and it should be an All-star band with known musicians and all of that. I’m telling him no. What we should do is put together a great show and go out and do it for the people and see if they like me ad you – see if you and me can carry that ball. Let’s see if we can go out and see if they can see a difference in each one of our talents, that we are able to go up there and perform and sing songs without howling through the record – that we can be straight singers and perform a song. And it worked! Thank God for me! Otherwise our relationship might have been on the rocks. (laughs)
Do you do much writing?
Oh yeah. I’m constantly writing. I’ve been just listening to some of my stuff since we’ve been on tour. You forget that you write a lot of things. Then I started listening, and I forget the songs that I’ve written, because I do so much. I’m still very much into it. I’m probably always going to be in it. I’m never going to quit this. I’m never going to retire. I’m not going to do any of those things. I’m just going to fade on out.
What kind of process do you go through when you’re writing?
I think all the lyrics must have a ring of truth. That means you have to dig inside of you, or pry into somebody else’s mind. I ask people heir opinion on relationships. I get their opinion, my opinion, and I think for it to be a real song there must be some part of reality in it. With every song that’s a hit there’s some sort of reality to it. If it’s foolery, then you’ve got a foolish song. That’s what the song portrays. If it’s serious, then it has serious lyrics – or in-between. I think that’s the process I go through.
A lot of your songs deal with relationships. Why do you think that’s a popular topic?
Not now. Now everybody wants to speak for the world. But if you know about the O’Jays, that’s how we got in the business. We came in speaking for the world with our “Love Trains”, with our “For the Love of Money”, with the “Backstabbers” and all of that – that’s how. “Survival”, “The Year 2000”. That’s how we started our career. “The Rich Get Richer” – those kind of songs. That’s how we started off. I think there’s a lot to be said about social commentary. But as you grow in life, and you learn one thing, it comes down to the love of your brother and the love of yourself. And that’s what it comes down to.
Do you find it easier to write in 2005 than you did in 1965?
Yeah, because I think my understanding of what I’m writing about is better.
Did you give Gerald any tips?
No. I think he’s pretty well grounded. Before I would do anything to help him on a physical nature as far as his career, before I would venture out of my house with any of his tapes under my arms I made sure he was writing a great song. And to this day he’s still writing a great song.
What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in the music industry?
I think we’re settling for mediocre stuff now, where the mark was so high before like with the Beatles, and that kind of stuff. There’s no one doing those kind of songs that’s taken the world by storm. Yeah, you get a run for maybe a week or so – three weeks at the top. Maybe every now and then a song will come along and maybe stay there for ten weeks. But then all of a sudden it doesn’t take the whole world. It takes one part of the world, and I think that’s because we separated music. You’ve got adult contemporary, you’ve got rhythmic, you’ve got R&B, you’ve got rock and roll. At one time it was just music, man.
Do you think a lot of it has to do with the way the record labels are run these days? In the old days Motown worked and developed artists, where now Motown is pretty much in name only.
That’s right. That’s the part that the record companies have taken. They’re no longer in artist development. They don’t even spend money there any more. If the artist doesn’t try to develop himself, he’s just out there. The record companies, it stopped being a personal thing, and became a record business. And that’s what it is. That’s why they separated the music, so they can focus in on one ethnic group. Music used to didn’t focus in on one aspect. It focused in on everybody, and consequentially you sold a lot more records than they were declaring back in the day. You sold a lot more records, but now they’re counting them. But they’ve cut your market space down to a minimum.
Do you think it’s the record label or commercial radio?
I think it’s commercial radio. It’s the state of radio, because radio is really dictating what’s being heard. And those guys that own those stations, like the Clear Channels are making the people they want to make. Those are the people you constantly hear – the Ashanti’s the Britney Spears, the Aguileras, and the boy bands. Every now and then you’re going to hear a U2 or an O’Jays,or anyone of that caliber on those stations. Plus it becomes so very contrived man, that it’s so obvious that they want to separate things and make it where they are getting the bigger numbers, and we’re getting the shaft.
Do you have a favorite song you like to perform?
I like them all, and I can do them well. (laughs) But not really; I like them all.
Do you have a particular song, group or artist you like listening to?
I listen to everybody. I think you owe that to yourself as being a music lover. You need to listen to everybody and every type of music. That’s when it comes down to it’s all the same, that you can believe that you like it or not.
Do you like listening to yourself and one of your songs on the radio?
(groans) That’s the most awful thing that I have to do. (laughs) It didn’t used to be like that. Ad I think it was ego. But I think you need to listen to yourself, so your ego doesn’t come out. It’ll humble you. (laughs)
What’s the best part of doing the tour that you’re on now?
Being out there with my son. We’re having a ball. We’re having emotional moments. We have funny moments, and a lot of it – the conversation between songs is 75 percent ad-libbed. We don’t really rehearse what we’re going to say, and we just say a lot of things. You know how sometimes kids and their parents can get with one another. And you have those moments where you want to say, “You can’t say that! I’m your father!” (laughs)
Would you say this may be one of the most fulfilling tours that you’ve done?
Yeah. It’s more relaxed, not as intense. When I do the O’Jays, it’s a very intense gig, because we have quite a big of choreography we have to do, a certain amount of cues we have to feed off of that we give to one another to let each other know when we have to do it. You can’t really relax at that gig. You have to stay on top of it. You have to have your spiel written out for it. You’ve got to remember what the spiel is, and what your subject matter is. And you have cues where the songs stop at a certain part. A lot of the things we do here the cues are just naturally what we feel, and we cue them and we go into the next move. There’s a lot of signaling going on in this, but I like it that way because you have control over how long you do something.
What are your plans after the tour?
We’re going to finish some stuff we’ve already started. I’ve started off doing a blues album with my son. We’ve been working on this album it seems like forever. We needed to do some more original stuff so we can get it placed, because most record companies want to get some catalog stuff that they can use for themselves. We’re trying to write some original stuff for it because I did a lot of covers in the blues area. I like the blues, and I think my voice is suitable to it. We found out that’s where I should be. We tried to do the softer things, and all of that, but I’m just a rough house guy, and I sing rough. I have to find the music that can take this voice. (laughs)
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