*Eddie Levert was still recuperating from the Christmas and New Year holidays when we spoke. A Las Vegas resident, Eddie entertained family over the holidays. Relaxing and preparing for his concert in New York, Eddie is looking forward to his engagement with fellow O’Jays, Walter Williams and Eric Nolan Grant, at Lehman Center for the Performing Arts, located at 250 Bedford Park Boulevard West, in the Bronx, on Saturday, January 14th at 8:00 p.m.
The O’Jays started their career in Canton, Ohio in the late 1950s and came to epitomize the Philly sound with their rich harmonies and contemporary funk. “Love Train,” “Backstabbers,” “Use Ta Be My Girl” and “For the Love of Money,” are included within their 24 Top Ten hits, earning the group ten gold albums, nine platinum and ten #1 hits.
“New York is one of my favorite places. New York is a 24 hour place just like Las Vegas,” said the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee.
All three O’Jays are putting out individual solo recordings. Walter Williams released his CD Exposed. Eddie and Eric are in the final stages of their solo CDs. “”My project is called “Eddie Levert: I Still Have It” remarked Eddie. “There is a song entitled Last Man Standing. This will be my first shot at a solo outside the O’Jays. I hope my fans will give me a chance and at least listen to it. This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Even though I tried to reinvent myself while doing my album, it’s difficult not to sound like an O’Jay. I just can’t help it. I pretty much stayed within my ballpark. The Cd contains songs that have a spirit of its own” claimed the 2009 BET Lifetime Achievement Award and the 2011 Trumpet Lifetime Achievement Award winner.
Since the loss of his two sons, Eddie has immersed himself in family. “My CD title came about when a 9 year old family member took a photo of me. She superimposed my face over the face of a white baby. Although, it was funny, I told her not to show anyone the picture because it would embarrass me. Now, whenever I do something she doesn’t like, she will get that picture, wave it at me and say “I Still Have It.” So, I thought ‘I Still Have It’ would make a good title for my album” explained Levert. “It’s taken me 3 years to complete the project. I am rather proud of it however, since I wrote and produced it with the help of a few talented people. I still appreciate the art of creating music from the bottom to the top. I like doing it natural, doing it raw with no cut and no chaser.
Eddie Levert is satisfied with his life. “I have to say that this is the happiest time of my life. I tried to infuse that in the songs I wrote. It’s really my story and talks about the happy place I am at with the person I am with. In fact, my opening song is called “Lonely.” That song came about because my wife, Rachelle, went with her friend Donna Joiner Richardson, to climb to the top of Mt Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, one of the highest mountains in Africa. Few people do that and succeed. My wife did. After having climbed to the top, they later went to a region where they ran into a tribe of monkeys. My wife called me to tell me she was in a jungle area surrounded by monkeys. It made me realize how far she was away from me and if anything happened to her, how helpless I would be to try to get to her. That is when the song came to me. It conveys how lonely it is when my wife is not with me. She makes me want to be a better person and get in touch with both my heart and mind.”
Eddie talked about how he started off in music. “It was my younger and older brother, Walter Williams and me initially. We began by singing in the church. We did not know what we were doing, we just had good voices. From there we started auditioning. We auditioned for Decca Records but got our first deal with King Records,” said the soul singer.
The group decided to go to California where they worked with H.B. Barnum singing pop. In New York, they worked with DJ Eddie O’Jay, later adopting his name as the group name. “We also worked with Rocky G and George Curr and became ballad singers. Later we hung out with the beach crowd and became beach singers. This made for a diverse fan base. It was when we went to Detroit and recorded with Thelma Gordy that we started hanging out with the likes of the Four Tops, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, Edwin Starr and Wilson Pickett. We were all struggling at the time,” recalled Eddie.
When the O’Jays recorded the music of Gamble & Huff, they really took off. Eventually they started to write their own music and in 1997, Levert, Williams and the O’Jays’ newest member Eric Nolan Grant, released Love You to Tears. The O’Jays signed with MCA where they released For the Love, receiving their fourth GRAMMY nomination. In 2003, they appeared in the film “The Fighting Temptations” starring Cuba Gooding, Jr. and Beyoncé Knowles. You can catch my radio show with Eddie on Topically Yours, at Blakeradio.com, Rainbow Soul.
The O’Jays are currently doing spot engagements while planning a national summer retirement tour which according to Mr. Levert, will be their last tour. Thus, he advises folks to catch them now before they retire. For tickets to their Saturday, January 14th concert at Lehman Center call 718.960.8833 or go on line at www.Lehmancenter.org.
Deardra Shuler is a well published journalist who has profiled celebrities and written about people of note for many years. In addition to her column at EURweb.com, she is the host of her radio show “Topically Yours” on BlakeRadio.com and has shows featured on NPR via Initiative Radio. Ms. Shuler is featured in several papers. Her international column in Sweden,”Music Pastures” is available at http://soulinterviews.com. Interested parties can acquire info regarding Deardra through Writspirit.com, tagged.com, facebook and google.