Singer, songwriter, and producer Eddie Levert, is known for his prominent, raspy voice and incredible dance moves. As co-founder of the legendary R&B group The O’Jays, Eddie and the group have released several classics over the past five decades that we all can still listen to in 2016. Some of the themes the trio touched on in their songs were love, loss, family, the highs and lows of friendship, and celebrating life. The group’s 1973 single “For The Love of Money” was recently inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. The O’Jays were also inducted into The Official R&B Hall of Fame back in 2013.
Outside of singing and songwriting, Eddie is also an author. He co-wrote the book I Got Your Back: A Father and Son Keep It Real about Love, Fatherhood, Family, and Friendship with his late son Gerald Levert. The book highlights the intimate bond Eddie had with his sons and their musical legacy as vocalists.
Eddie is still touring all over the world with his band-mates. As a solo artist, he released his new record Did I Make You Go Ooh, which still demonstrates his ongoing mission to keep soul music alive. It is imperative for Eddie to continue to write and record songs for the grown and sexy.
Singersroom.com spoke with the R&B icon about his project, Grammy Hall of Fame, his sons, the evolution of soul music and more. Check out our exclusive interview with the one and only Eddie Levert!
Solo Project ‘Did I Make You Go Ooh’, And How Your Wife Raquel Influenced It: Like I tell people all of the time, I use her for my road map to writing songs, so I make her play out the roles of each song. She gets mad at me because I am send her through changes, like I always have to ask her “Do you really love me,” and then Raquel would tell me “I do.” And then I’ll come up with a song like “I Ain’t Going for That.” From Raquel’s relationship with her friends, I’ll come up with an idea or song about gossip. She doesn’t like to gossip, but her friends gossip. Then you’ll come up with another song, “Say It Ain’t So,” or “You Don’t Want My Lovin,” because you ain’t feelin’ me at that time. You just think about what good women are talking when they are not with their man. So this album touches on some of those things. I can never write a song that I couldn’t relate to; I always have to put myself in that position. And that’s how I came up with the title for the album.
The self-titled single has an old school sound to it, and that was my goal. I like the new music that is out today, but I still think there is a marketplace of our kind of music. I still think people like to play a song where people can say, “Baby, that’s our song.” Most of the songs that the younger artists are coming out with, people can’t really say that after listening. You don’t know what they’re saying half of the time.
Being Inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame: I was at home when I heard the news. I found out from Joseph Tarsia, who ran the Sigma Sound Studios in Philadelphia. He’s on the board for the Grammys and so he sent me a post on my Facebook page, stating that we were inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
But my thought process was this…now I have to be honest with you about my reaction: they nominated The O’Jays about four or five times and we haven’t received any Grammys. But they would give the song a Grammy, and not me!? (laughing). It’s terrible because I deserve that Grammy, not the song. I sang the song, that song didn’t sing me. Look, I am happy and I am proud that it happened for a body of work that I was involved in, but I would still like to have the Grammy for myself. I’ll probably be one of those artists who was nominated 15 times and never won. It’s okay though, I’ve won other awards. I didn’t do it for awards, but I would love to have a Grammy.
The Evolution of R&B Music: I’m not one of those people. I think we as a people must evolve, and music must evolve. The younger kids are taking it to a different level; that’s not too say our music is obsolete and it shouldn’t be heard. I think there is a place for these kids which is hip-hop and R&B. See, R&B to me is not perfect, and these kids like to make perfect records now. Everything sounds great, everything is put together nicely, and it shouldn’t be that way. No, that’s not R&B music. R&B music is with emotions and your emotions sometimes show up in the music. But that doesn’t mean it should always sound perfect. Sometimes that hiccup in there gives the music more character. I still think the kids have a place in R&B music, and they should have it, and music should evolve. But I think they should not treat us like outsiders. We are still a part of that structure. The songs that Maurice White did, the songs that Marvin Gaye did, the O’ Jays have done needs to have a place too. I don’t think necessarily we have to be old school or yesterday music, and this is what they play on the radio. We are still doing music, so I think they should incorporate the two sounds.
New School Needs to Learn From Old School: Absolutely, younger artists aren’t learning from other older artists. The mentoring part of it is missing. No one is with them on a day-to-day basis to let them know this is the proper way to do certain things pertaining to music. See nowadays, younger artists don’t take enough time to learn how to play the piano or any other instrument. They don’t know about playing certain keys or chords. They’re like,” I love this part of the record so let me sequence it and make another record.” I think these kids need to put in more time to read, write, and play music themselves. Schools are not helping because they took away a lot of the music programs. They don’t have a place where kids can read and write music. I think we need to address it.
What’s Causing R&B to Transition?: I think it is a combination of demographics and radio. They believe the demographics that were buying my group’s records are no longer important. But how do you think these kids are getting the money to buy the records. These people will buy records if you give them something that they like or can relate to now. It is the demographics. I remember when The O’Jays released “Love Train,” we went to Coors (the beer company) and asked them can they sponsor the tour we were going on at the time. And you know what they told me? “This is not the market we are targeting. We will give you beer, but we’re not going to sponsor the tour.” They use demographics to let you know that they are not going to do certain things. I think it is a way for corporations to gain control. Also, we don’t have mom and pops store anymore. We don’t have places where you can go and just listen to songs for hours at a record store. You have to go to Best Buy, and they are not allowing you to do that (laughing).
R&B music is our culture. R&B music is black culture, and if we don’t cultivate it and keep it in a place where it evolves, it will continue to stagnate. Country music has their own music and stations. It doesn’t matter how old you are, we’re going to play your music. We’re going to play Carrie Underwood, we’re going to play Keith Urban or Johnny Nash. I think the same thing should be applied to R&B music.
If His Son Gerald An His Group ‘Levert’ Received Enough Recognition: No, they didn’t! And that’s one of the biggest problems that my son had with the business. He felt like he was writing meaningful songs but they would never play it. And when he was 30, they were already calling him old school.
Soul Train Awards’ Soul Cypher with Lalah Hathaway, K-Ci Hailey, & Chrisette Michele: They called me up and said Erykah Badu requested me to be a part of the Soul Cypher. Now my first thought was what am I going to do with all of these young kids? They are going to run all over me (laughing). Then I thought about how am I going to look with Chrisette Michele, Lalah Hathaway, and K-Ci. Now how do I come in and stand in my own lane? I don’t want it to look like I’m trying to be something that I am not. When I heard the music, I was like I have this record, “Did I Make You Go Ooh,” and I think I can sing this at the cypher and make it work. And I think it worked for me because they didn’t cast me out. I was trying to show that I can adjust to what’s going on and I can take my music, put it into your genre, and make it work. I was very proud of myself, but I was unsure. I kept asking my wife, “How was I?”
It wasn’t like, “look at this old man, take him out!” or nothing like that, at all. I think it was a great thing.
Wife, Raquel: He was just himself. He was like “Should I do this, should I do that?” and I told him to just be you.
Favorite R&B Artists Today: I like R. Kelly, John Legend, Beyonce, Mary J. Blige. I’m not into a thing where it all has to be perfect. I think Jill Scott is really great, and she is taking it to the next level. She is trying to get in the zone where Aretha Franklin is and handles her business. It comes off good. I like Bruno Mars, and I like what he does. I think he brought old school and funk in his music. I think without that old school and funky flavor, I don’t think he would be quite as successful he is now.
Favorite O’Jays Records to Perform: One of my favorite O’Jays records is “Backstabbers.” I love the message and the music that goes with it. I also like “She Used to Be My Girl.” There’s a lot of them that I like, but my favorites are “Cry Together,” ‘Let Me Make Love to You,” and “Love Train.” I love “Love Train” because it was a five-minute song that was made up in the studio. The song was not a song until we got in there to complete the record. The record is still going strong, and it’s played everywhere. It amazes me now that when they hear the song, they act like the song is out right now. I see older people (I mean people older than me) dancing to this record. There was a guy, and he had to be in his 80’s. We were up in Boston, and this old man jumped up and danced to “Love Train.” I was always impressed with how our music brings people together.
What Makes The O’Jays Legends: I think it’s those songs. I think it’s the messages in our songs. We were able to go into people’s homes and into their families with “Family Reunion.” We were able to go into their bedrooms with “Cry Together” and “Let Me Make Love to You.” Anytime you can get that close to people with your music, you’re very much into their lives. I think once you start affecting their lives, then that makes you a legend.
Upcoming Projects for The O’Jays: We are getting ready to go in the studio and record another O’Jays album with Ron Fair, who did our Emotionally Yours album. We would probably spend this year recording The O’Jays album, but in the meantime, we all are doing individual projects.