By Darlene Donloe
Eddie Levert has been in the music game for several decades, but he still has that thing. You know that thing. That thing that has fans clamoring to get near him. That thing that happens when he takes the stage and begins to make women swoon and make men wish they had just a fraction of his magnetism. That thing that makes his fans buy CDs and tickets to his and The O’Jays concerts to hear that gravelly, sensuous voice that has made him an enviable, veteran performer. Yes, Eddie Levert has that thing!
He doesn’t sing, but he can sang!
When it comes to filling lyrics with as much emotion as they can hold, no one does it better than Eddie Levert.
The lead singer of the legendary R&B group, The O’Jays, Levert, who hasn’t slowed down one bit, is currently in Los Angeles for some solo performances in support of his new solo project called Did I May You Go Ooh!. The first single off the CD is Let It Go, a song he wrote with his son, Gerald, who died in 2006.
He’s been holding on to the song – waiting for the right time to release it because, to him, it’s just that special.
O’Jays fans have no reason to worry. Levert has not left the group. He is just spreading his wings and showcasing the vocal prowess that has made him a music industry favorite.
This weekend he’s in Los Angeles to perform Saturday, April 22, at KJLH’s 16th Annual Women’s Health Expo at the Los Angeles Convention Center and to play at the famous Maverick’s Flat on Sunday in support of his latest CD.
He looks really dapper today in a green room at the Los Angeles Convention Center – awaiting his appearance at the KJLH Women’s Health Expo. There is only a hint of aging in his salt and pepper beard. His face is still smooth and tight and there is still a twinkle in his eyes. He’s nattily dressed in beige slacks, a white shirt and camel sports coat. He’s fully present when he greets his fans. He looks everyone in the eye, gives firm handshakes and long, genuine hugs.
I talked to Eddie Levert about his career, his new CD and his upcoming show.
DD: Your thoughts on the death of Prince.
EL: It was so bizarre. Hearing about him and the plane stop in Moline, immediately when I heard that for some reason that feeling of dread came over me. When they got back home, what I don’t understand about it is – you make a stop 48 minutes from your destination. What happened when you got home? You didn’t call a doctor or go to hospital? He ended up alone. How did that happen? All these people you pay and you’re at home alone? Prince had an emergency stop. If I’m feeling like that I’m going to contact my doctor. Someone of this magnitude, the doctor is going to come to the house. When he passed, he was alone. Where are all these people that you’re paying? Where are they when you are in dire straits?
DD: Did you know Prince?
EL: I didn’t know him that well. Only met him once. We (The O’Jays) were on tour with Patti Labelle and we were in Atlanta. I had my grandkids with me. When they saw him they were in awe. He was a little guy. I don’t think he came to see The O’Jays. I don’t think his focus was to see The O’Jays. He came to see Patti. We were headlining the show. He showed up before we went on. My grandkids were like, ‘Grandfather would you ask him if we can get an autograph.’ Well, I know he’s a Gemini. I’m a Gemini. I understand how we get when we’re in a crowd. We have all this other stuff going on. When I came up to him, I acknowledged who he was. He acknowledged who I was. I said, ‘My grandkids are excited and would like to get an autograph. He looked at me and said, ‘I would rather not.’ I think he was in that zone. I get in that zone, too. When I’m focused on what I’m doing. I don’t see nobody. I understood that, but my grandkids didn’t understand.
DD: This year has been tough regarding artists passing away.
EL: You always have to make time for yourselves. You’re subject to everything everybody else is subject to including death and taxes and illnesses. Death doesn’t care who you are. When I heard about Prince I didn’t know him well, but I shed a tear. I’ve lost so many friends this year – Natalie (Cole), Leon Haywood, Maurice White and more. I’ll wake up one day and there will be another one gone. It makes me start looking over my shoulder. Where am I in this scheme of things? What do I do to solidify what I am and who I am. I don’t want people to misunderstand why I do what I do. The reason I’m doing this is to send a message that we’re all in this thing together. If we don’t try to help one – we’ll all be lost.
DD: Why do you continue to make music?
EL: I’m not the second coming for music. I don’t put myself on a pedestal. I do this because I enjoy this. I do it because I have something to say to the people - whether you’re red, black or brown. That’s why you make songs like Love Train, Backstabbers and Family Reunion. You are trying to convey a message to the people.
DD: I heard you talk about your son, Gerald Levert on KJLH.
EL: When Gerald passed away, he had a house full of people at his mansion. A gang of people including nephews and bodyguards and still, all of those people being there, he died alone. No one was there to hear his last gasp or see him struggle. All they heard was a thump and then they went to the door and he didn’t answer. They let it go.
DD: Lets talk about your solo project that you’re releasing. Why these songs?
EL: So my first CD was really on a whim because I was listening to the radio and listening to all these kids doing their new music. I said let me go in the studio. I called the CD The Last Man Standing. I thought to myself, let me show these kids I can go into the studio and show them how I can cut a whole album with just a rhythm track. No horns and no string section. Just me and some background singers and I can make something good happen.
DD: Tell me about “I Let Go,” the last song you wrote with Gerald.
EL: The reason we wrote that song is because he was going to marry a young lady and for some reason or another the relationship turned bad. She went one way and he went another. He never got over that. We were sitting in a studio one night and I was starting work on a CD. It was this song. I didn’t put it on my first CD, I saved it for this one. It was close to me. It was a treasure. I was saving it. I hoarded it. I hoarded this song. It explains that relationship and how he had to know it was not going to work out or come back to him. I helped him write it because I’m old enough to understand that. That’s why we called it, I Let Go.
DD: So, it was a rude awakening?
EL: The music business has changed so much. I didn’t realize that it’s hard to get them to play your songs on the radio. I didn’t realize you have to have a certain quality of control before they would even give you a listen to. When I came up all you had to do was sing and play it and you got a hit record. I decided I had to redeem myself. This CD is sort of redemption for taking the business so lightly. For Ego-ing. That’s what I call it. I was ego trippin’ like that and not putting my best foot forward. This is the CD that I call the redemption of Eddie Levert.
DD: What do you think of today’s music?
EL: They need to go a little bit deeper. The only people doing meaningful things. are some of the rappers. They are saying something. The radio isn’t playing anybody of my era who was doing music that was good. Today these kids, the only thing that is really selling and what they think is great is ‘slap it up and twist it around and let me have sex with it.’ It’s all sexual. There is nothing that says, what do we do, how do we remedy the world? How do we help to save out people. They don’t even talk about everyday life.
DD: Name some artists you like today.
EL: I really like R Kelly. Beyonce, I love her. I love Jennifer Hudson. I love Fantasia, I love Ledisi. I love Chrisette Michele and I love Jazmine Sullivan. They are all women. I like Eric Benet. I like Tyrese. But the girls are doing it. Where are the guys? The girls are kicking ass. They are doing it. They are beating the guys.
DD: What can fans expect from you at Maverick’s Flat?
EL: You’re going to hear a few songs from new CD and some songs by the O’Jays. I’m going to do some stuff with Gerald. I just came up with this. I’m not going to do Prince songs. I did a song called Last Man Standing. I’m going to dedicate that song and that song called, Already Missing You to all of my friends – people that I’ve known and who have passed on.
DD: Did I Make You Go Ooh! is the name of your CD. Tell me about it.
EL: It’s a sexual thing. When you listen to the whole thing you’ll see I just wanted to do some great music. When you listen to the whole thing, I want you to say, ‘Oooh, that was good.’ That’s why I call it, Did I Make You Go Ooh!.
DD: If you could change one thing about your industry, what would it be?
EL: I think I would go to the heart of it and change the way they program radio. Radio should be more diverse than it is. Don’t just have rap and R&B. We’re going to have pop and rock n roll. When I came up radio played everything and everybody from Frank Sinatra, Aretha Franklin, Little Richard and The Beatles. We heard everybody. They played a variety of music. You had a lot of things to pick from.
DD: How do you measure your success and the success of a CD?
EL: It used to be if you sold 500,000 copies you got a gold record. If you sold a million, you had a platinum record. Now, if you sell 50,000 copies you’re doing good. If you sell 100,000 copies, you’re doing excellent. If you go anywhere over that, you’re over the top. The level of success has dropped instead of going higher.
Maverick’s Flat Presents The Legend Eddie Levert, 4225 Crenshaw Blvd., Los Angeles; 7 p.m., Sun., April 24; $25-$40; email@example.com.