Raymond Jones joined Chic, playing keyboards, at age 19. He worked with them from 1978 to 1981. After he left Chic he has worked with, among others Nona Hendryx, Talking Heads, Chaka Khan and Jeffrey Osborne. He's produced Stephanie Mills and Angela Bofill, written music for 5 of Spike Lee's movies, 'Clockers' and 'Mo Better Blues' being two. He's also written songs for Whitney Houston and Patti Labelle to name a few. In the late eighties he and former Chic lead singer Norma Jean Wright teamed up for their State of Art project and released the album 'Community' in 1991. The group disbanded in 1993. Raymond released his first solo album 'Acts Of Love' in 1997. He took a position as music director of the 'Keenen Ivory Wayans' talk show on Fox from 1997-98. In '99 he subsequently released his second solo album 'Naked Soul'.Now, Raymond Jones is preparing to release a new album. On it he's collaborating with new and old friends. Besides His regular west coast based band, bassist Del Atkins, guitarist Fred Clark, drummer Tony Moore and vocalist Ms Alexx Daye. He's collaborating with Norma Jean Wright and with guest vocalists Eric Gable, Lori Perry and Zachary Pugh. Guest musicians include flautist Art Webb, trumpeter Leslie Drayton, trombonist Stephen Baxter (Gap Band), flautist/saxophonist Fernando Harkless (War), saxophonist Andre Roberson (Maxwell) among others.
Can I ask you how it came to be that you teamed up with Norma Jean on the State of Art 'Community' album?
We were never really apart. We've created music together for years so the State of Art project was a natural extension of what we were doing. In fact, Norma is singing on one of the songs on my new CD. The song was supposed to go on the second State of Art record that never happened. But I knew she had to sing it.
Do you have a title and release date for your new album?
CD is titled INTIMATE. It will be released 11/20/01
Which song is Norma Jean singing on?
Song is titled 'DANCE'. Its a story about seeing an old friend and wanting to dance, but there is a wife involved and the intentions need to be explained. Norma is wailing on this one.
Norma Jean mentioned to me that you two are reworking an old State of Art song, 'You Lift Me Up' as a dance record. Are you two doing the remixes or somebody else?
When can we expect the release? And on which label?
Answer to both questions: I don't know.
Can we expect more dance-remixes of your work in the future?
Are you asking about me and Norma together? If so, our plans to work together are very fluid. If there is something one of us is involved in that we think the other would be interested in, we discuss it and try to make it happen. So, the short answer to your question is, Most Likely. If you are asking about dance remixes in general of any of my work, the answer would be yes. There will be dance mixes of two songs from the INTIMATE CD released on vinyl in the US and UK along with a cut from the Naked Soul album. That song is titled: WHY DID YOU LIE and features Portia Griffin on vocals.
You've worked a lot with Spike Lee, are you involved with any of his future projects?
This past summer as I was trying to mix INTIMATE, I was doing pre-production with Spike on the film version of the play RENT. I was to be musical director for the project and we were to involve Terrance Blanchard. Justin Timberlake, Taye Diggs, Audra McDowell, Marc Anthony were all attached to the project. But alas, Miramax pulled the plug a week before we were to begin production.
Spike Lee directed two music videos for your State of Art project with Norma Jean, 'Beating Heart' & 'Laughing At The Years,' do you know if those are available for viewing or purchase anywhere?
I saw a video for sale at half.com once. It was not supposed to be sold but WTF!
You've been active in almost all roles as a musician, from a studio musician playing back-up for others to producing, writing and engineering to being out in front as a solo artist, as well as being music director for a TV-show and making movie music. Which role do you feel most comfortable with and which has brought you the most development artistically?
Doing my own music. All those other things were done with the idea in mind that I would be able to share my musical vision with the world one day. Now with the Internet, and low cost means of producing high quality product, that dream is becoming reality. The most gratifying thing is when I get to perform in front of an audience, and they respond to the work. I thank the audiences as much as they tell me they enjoy the music.
You've mentioned in your bio that Tony Thompson introduced you to Nile & Bernard, how did you get to know Tony Thompson?
In a little disco band in Queens, called Ecstasy, Passion and Pain. By the time we worked in the band, Barbara Roy had left the band, but Connie (I forget her last name-but I'm sure you will know it) had joined the group which still had original members in it. Tony had played with us after he'd worked with Labelle. I guess he liked what I was doing as he asked me to play a gig with Nile and Bernard. Nile's guitar playing was so unique, I remember looking at his left hand on the neck of the guitar the whole night. Once they'd gotten the deal with Atlantic Records and needed to perform, I was contacted. I was not their first choice. That would have been Rob Sabino. He played on the original stuff (I believe) and was unable to join Nile and Bernard. So I guess I was lucky that Rob was unavailable.
Was it Connie Harvey? :-) (in Ecstasy, Passion and Pain) (enclosing pix of her)
Yes its Connie Harvey. She looks great! I knew you'd know!
I liked that you termed them 'a little' (*LOL*) disco band. Particularly when we're talkin' legends. I mean 'Touch & Go' was before your time with them, but that hit has them forever inscribed in the disco pantheon.
Out here in Los Angeles, there is not much reverence for disco bands/music. I've tended to downplay some things in my career because sometimes people don't know the historical value of some of the things I've been involved with (i.e. I co-wrote a song with Adele Bertei that was a dance hit called Build Me A Bridge-produced by Thomas Dolby).
How do you feel about the whole disco thing today, I mean you've worked with several great disco acts.
In the case of Chic, I didn't think of it as "disco" music. It may have been played in discos but it was just contemporary music of the time in my mind. We played on tours with Cameo, Con Funk Shun, Kool and the Gang and a bunch of other live bands. It wasn't this great divide between bands. We just didn't wear the same clothes ;-) We did shows with Curtis Blow and we incorporated parts of Rapper's Delight into our performance of Good Times. It was just music.
BTW we never did any shows with the Village People or Donna Summer, but we were in Brazil at the same time as the Village People and were staying at the same hotel as them in Sao Paolo.
Nelson George (Billboard Music critic) says in his book 'The Death Of Rhythm & Blues' that disco sounded the demise of R&B music. Do you feel he's right or wrong? After all disco's success created it's own damocles sword (the disco sucks movement) by flooding the market with bad songs.
In any genre of music, there is good creative stuff and then there is the derivative stuff (like Disco Duck, and the like). But I just think that the music was just indicative of the times. People wanted to have a good time and dance. People used to dance to jazz then rhythm and blues and "disco" and then hip-hop and house and techno musics ( I know I am leaving out various genres, but you get my point). These styles evolve and combine with one another. The reason P-Diddy uses old dance records as samples is because they were good songs that people get a good feeling from when they hear them (and that he can't create otherwise). He just builds new rhythms/rhymes on top of that and adds to the continuum. So in answer to your question (the long way around the block), styles and times changed. No one thing "killed" any genre of music. They still all exist don't they? The Bee Gees are still singing 'Night Fever' in their concerts. Al Green is still singing 'Love and Happiness' (when he's not in church).
In what way (if any) do you feel that your work with Chic have influenced you musically?
I learned how to run a band from Bernard Edwards. Chic inspired me to do what I believe in, as everything has its time and an audience will find what you do, if you are true to your musical vision. Nile and Bernard never sold out. They never did anything they didn't believe in. They truly had a direction that was strong yet commercial. But they didn't have to compromise to have that.
My only problem with them was purely selfish. Because they were both playing stringed instruments, we hardly played anything in keys that had a bunch of flat notes (i.e. Bb minor or Db major) but I get to do that stuff now and torture my musicians. ;-)
Do you have any memories of those days that you'd like to share with us?
Meeting with Diana Ross backstage at a show and her complimenting my performance was cool. Hearing WE ARE FAMILY for the first time after it had been mixed while we were on tour in Europe. We played that song over and over (much to the roadie's chagrin) until we arrived in San Remo Italy (where we saw Tina Turner in the hotel lobby-late 70's before the comeback, she looked regal even then). When we were recording it in the studio, the groove had such a feel, you knew it was something special. I remember Brian Eno checking out studios was watching us work in Power Station. I wanted to be a big ole fan and say hello but we were working, and Nile and Bernard were not impressed.
I remember running into Springsteen (who was working on THE RIVER) in the Power Station lounge area. He was a cool cat. I remember coming off stage in San Diego CA (after a really good show) at one of those "Kool Jazz Fests" that didn't have any jazz in 'em and being approached by one of the members of Kool and the Gang. They wanted to hire me to work with them. I was so flattered. I was walking on a cloud (but I didn't hardly tell anyone until now). You see, they were one of my favorite bands in the late 60's and early 70's. I remember calling Bernard after hearing the Power Station Group song (Some Like it Hot) on the radio and telling him he had the loudest record on the radio! I remember more than I can type right now...
You've stated (in your bio) that you feel that R&B have gone a bit stale, and that innovation is mostly being done in the hip hop, dance and jazz genre's. What do you feel is wrong with the R&B of today and what can be improved?
Use live musicians. Don't cut and paste everything in the computer to create the arrangements. Let cats put some feeling in the music. I had a conversation with one of my friends about the use of live musicians on some of the tracks I hear. I said that the musician was probably done in the studio in about 15 minutes as there isn't a lot of music being played. But I don't know if we are training people to appreciate the craft of musicianship in players and singers. In reference to singers, I think there are two types of singers. One sings with the music. The other sings at the music. I think you get what I mean.
I'm not a musician, but to a regular listeners ears, most R&B artists sound exactly the same nowadays. It's like back in the day, when you were looking for the producer credit on the back covers, and found Nile Rodgers & Bernard Edwards you knew you'd like the record. But now it's like all R&B artists use the same producer, the sound is the same.
I do like Timbaland as a producer. I'd like to see him work with a really strong singer (new or established) and create something as strong as his collaboration with Petey Pablo (Raise Up). Not in that same direction, but equally powerful.
Thank you for this interview. And to all readers be sure to pick up a copy of Raymond's new album 'Intimate.' To judge by his previous releases it promises to be fabulous!