Gordon Chambers: Penning Classics

Grammy and ASCAP Award-winning singer/songwriter Gordon Chambers has made a name for himself over the years. Penning some of the most memorable R&B, Soul and classic hits like Anita Baker’s “I Apologize,” Brownstone’s “If You Love Me” and Beyonce’s first solo related project “After All Is Said And Done.” Chambers sat down with Singersroom to talk about songwriting, his most interesting lyrical moment at the barbershop, his upcoming projects including a live album and more.

Singersroom: You have had an amazing journey over the years, writing for Whitney Houston, Anita Baker, Brownstone, Carl Thomas and so many more, how did you get your start?

Gordon Chambers: I got my start in the business with Phyllis Hyman. She passed away in the mid 90s. I met her and she became like a real fairy godmother figure to me, taught me a lot about the business, and introduced me to a producer named Berry Eastmond, who was simultaneously working on Phyllis’ project. When she introduced me (because she was a legendary singer) as a young prodigy of a writer he took an interest in me and started cultivating me as a writer. I ended up collaborating with him for the Anita Baker song “I Apologize” that won the Grammy. It was kind of like being in the right place at the right time, networking and having that mentorship aspect in my career that became a nice catapult to everything.

Singersroom: Would you say that you further honed your craft while at Essence magazine, in terms of having an ear for what the public was looking for in music?

Gordon Chambers: The best thing about being at Essence, because it was a black women’s sort of lifestyle and entertainment magazine, [was that] I would be in a community where those were the kind of people that would listen to my music.

Some of the very same issues that Essence dealt with as a magazine were love, relationships, communication and family. All of those issues were sort of the same things that with me being the kind of songwriter that I am – very substantive and emotional kind of writer – I was able to actually hear in our editorial meetings the kind of medicine that I think a lot of black women were looking for and so that was serendipitous for me.

As a songwriter I ended up starting to write for several black women entertainers like Chaka Khan and Patti Labelle. The message of what Essence was doing and what I as a songwriter was beginning to chart myself out to do was the same message.

Singersroom: When you sit down to write a song are there any words or phrases that you are afraid of using or words you try to avoid?

Gordon Chambers: Yes, I tend not to write Hip Hop, I sort of stay in my lane so to speak. I don’t like to be inauthentic and I like to do what I do well. There are plenty of other writers that do more hip hop/youthful orientated writing better than I do so I let them do that. I tend to stay away from those kinds of only trendy crazes because I do try to write songs that I think are potential classics that can be recorded again and again.

Also I don’t use any profanities.

Njai what I’m trying to do as a songwriter – some of my favorite songs in the world that I most respect as jazz standards like “My Funny Valentine” or “Body and Soul,” those songs have been recorded again and again and make millions of dollars a year in catalog as well as Motown songs. The publishing industry works great for something that is classic and lives on forever and ever so I tend to try to take anything out of the song that I think limits its potential to be a classic.

Singersroom: Where is the funniest place that an idea for a song came to you?

Gordon Chambers: The barbershop. I was literally in the middle of getting a haircut.

I literally stopped the barber and said “please stop” and I guess he thought “what are you doing” because the barbershop was so full. But I had these words… these words came to me so clearly and I had to write them so I said “just excuse me one second.” I found a pen and had to write them down. Those words were a song called “Something More” which Patti Labelle recorded.

I’ve had words come to me in dreams, in the shower, and while driving in the car. There’s been many times they’ve come on the plane but that is the one I remember so vividly because the barber almost cut my face when I was saying “stop, stop right now!”

Gordon Chambers and BabyfaceSingersroom: That is an amazing story, do you carry a pad around with you now for moments like that where you need to write an idea down?

Gordon Chambers: Not really. I’ve written songs on any piece of paper or napkin…whatever. “If You Love Me” (Brownstone) which is also re-recorded on my album “Love Stories,” that’s another funny writing story.

While I was working at Essence I was always late to work, I mean I was horribly late… I could just never get there on time. One morning it was raining really bad and I knew I would have somewhat of a legitimate excuse because the traffic was quite bad. I had some tracks from a producer named Dave Hall and I put the tracks in and for some reason the music sounded kind of melancholy, it reminded me of the rain that was falling. I was stuck in a horrible traffic jam.

I took out a pen and started writing. The first lyric that came to me was “I don’t want to rain on this parade” and I think it was inspired by the rain. That became the first line of “If You Love Me.”

Singersroom: What has been the most fulfilling moment of your career thus far?

Gordon Chambers: I remember going to the Grammy’s. Babyface and his family took me to the Grammy’s with them and dinner and Babyface had won Producer of the Year. As we were about to toast him he said “no, no, no…before we do that I want to congratulate Gordon for writing his first Grammy-winning song.”

I just remember having him salute me on a big night for him. It was very, very meaningful.

It’s been wonderful to see songs performed at events like The Goodwill Games or the Essence Awards.

I remember writing “Missing You” from the film “Set It Off.” It was a very emotional movie and as that song came down the screen I remember sitting near these two young girls and they were very moved by the movie and they were crying and I said you know I wrote this song. They just said “you wrote this song” and then they just reached over and hugged me, I didn’t even know them. They hugged me and hugged me and repeated “he wrote this song.”

I had went to the movie by myself and I enjoy the moments where I see how the songs that I have written have touched people.

Singersroom: Are there any songwriters that you admire or feel that they are doing a great job?

Gordon Chambers: Yeah, I love what Ne-Yo is doing. He writes well for men and writes well for women as well as for himself. He can write ballads and up tempo’s. I think that’s great, he has been a great ambassador for songwriting.

Oh and I love Amy Winehouse, those songs are ridiculously well crafted.

Singersroom: Lastly, at Singersroom we have a motto that reads “I Love R&B,” Why do you love R&B?

Gordon Chambers: I love R&B because everybody loves R&B. The world loves R&B. It’s music for everybody and internationally if you go around the world that’s what everybody wants to sound like.

I went to a Grammy related function and I was kind of early and Annie Lennox was sitting at the table right next to mine. She was by herself and I was by myself too so I just started chatting with her. She was very nice, very talkative, very vulnerable because she was there by herself and her date was late so she said please come sit with me and keep me company. We talked and we talked about this and that and her life in London, singing and everything under the sun.

I said “well Annie who are you listening to these days?”

She said when I do want to listen to music the only one person that really gets me going and gets me inspired is the Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin.

I thought that was amazing. Here she is, Annie Lennox sort of a pop/rock icon in her own right and who does she want to sound like or be like – Aretha! —— By: Interview By Njai Joszor


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