By darlene c donloe
For decades Jonathan Butler has been entertaining with his vibrant vocals and luscious guitar licks.
By now everyone knows his story. In South Africa in 1968 he won a talent contest that brought him a $25-a-week job with a musical troupe that toured South Africa, Libya and Zaire. By age 13, Butler was a local pop star whose covers of Please Stay and I Love How You Love Me became pan-African hits. In 1984, he moved to London, where he recorded his first album, Introducing Jonathan Butler, which came out in 1986. He first came to the attention of Americans when he debuted as the opening act for Whitney Houston, playing for huge stadium crowds. A jazz guitarist and melodic pop singer, Butler’s first self-titled album, Jonathan Butler, was a two-record set that featured the singles Lies and Holding On. That was his launching pad. Since then, Butler’s popularity and success has only grown.
His itinerary for the year is already full. He has several cruises, jazz concerts, his foundation, a trip to South Africa and he plans to host yet another South African safari. In 2013, he did something he has always wanted to do, he released his first Christmas album titled, Merry Christmas To You.
On the outside looking in, one would think the popular singer/songwriter/guitarist has it all.
Personally, for Butler, he never allowed himself to feel that way.
Like everyone else in the world, Butler was dealing with personal issues. He had doubts and insecurities just like the rest of the world. Who knew?
Although he was happy with his career, he could never admit it publicly because he didn’t want to look or seem arrogant.
Thank goodness with time comes maturity.
Today Butler is confident. He’s happy. He’s on top of the world. He’s living his dream and he doesn’t mind letting the world know.
So much so, that he recently released a CD titled, Living My Dream, to express his gratitude for a life and career beyond anything he could ever have imagined.
And, at 52, he’s unapologetic!
I caught up with Butler recently to talk about his life, his career and his latest CD.
DD: Why did it take years for you to be able to use the term 'Living My Dream'?
JB: We all get to a place where we have to take stock of our lives. I certainly was going through transitions in my life. I felt like I was living my dream. I started thinking about the lyrics. It became a declaration of sorts. I’m recognizing that I am. God has blessed me. I can help my family in South Africa. I’ve been making music for so long. It’s a dream come true. In declaring, I hesitated. I didn’t want it to come out as conceited or being egotistical or prideful. Now I’m coming from a place of celebration of my life. Being a family man is all I care about. This is my declaration.
DD: Why did you record this CD at the House of Blues Studio? Was there some significance?
JB: No significance, but I enjoyed it. A friend of mine worked out of it. It was warm and real.
DD: George Duke worked on this project with you. Talk about George Duke and what he meant to you.
JB: George will always remain an inspiration and a big brother to me. He’s somebody I depended on in L.A. He always opened doors for me. The friendship I shared with him was incredible until the very last minute. We connected on the last days. The days I spent with him writing, we actually spent talking about the stuff he endured. I was encouraged.
DD: Talk to me about the song you two wrote. What was the process? How long did it take to write?
JB: It took 20 minutes to write because we were so connected to each other. It was about transparency and vulnerability. George would come to the studio to record and made it more significant and important. He left his studio to come to this studio to partake in the process.
DD: I understand that Marcus Miller was also in the mix.
JB: Marcus Miller and I wrote a song together. He stayed and listened to what George [Duke] and I wrote. It was a very moving time for me. I didn’t know he was sick. I knew he lost some weight. I was also close to his wife. Her death was shocking. George’s passing was shocking. We all have our issues and things we have to endure.
DD: Tell me about Heart and Soul.
JB: That took 20 minutes to write. I had tears rolling down your cheek.
DD: Why the tears?
JB: The lyrics and melody are deep. It’s one of those songs you stumble across. You look at your life. These are stories that people have. These are things we want to say to each other. I did a lot of co-writing. This is the song that was picked up. It talks about things men and women want to say to each other. Things that affect me. We argue, fuss and fight. It takes work to understand what each other needs. It’s about a healthy relationship. Sometimes you hit a bump in the road.
DD: When doing a new CD, how do you decide whom to bring into the project. You have Marcus and George.
JB: I not only have Marcus [Miller] and George [Duke]. I also brought in other musicians to make an organic album. I opened up the pool. I opened up the writing pool. It was time for me to reach out to people like Bob James, Lee Ritenour, Marcus and George. It really worked.
DD: Talk about your foundation.
JB: I launched a foundation in South Africa, focusing on music and art education as an intervention for substance abuse.
DD: How is it going?
JB: It’s going well. It’s our second year. I’m launching one in Cape Town, my hometown. I’m creating a model for a Jonathan Butler after school program. It’s not just about music. Some of these kids are smart. We want to facilitate these kids not just musically. There is going to be a big launch in Cape Town. We initially launched in Johannesburg. There is so much work to do. I will do it for the rest of my life.