*If you know nothing about vocalist Will Downing then you know nothing about R&B music. Downing’s been a staple of contemporary R&B and jazz for 25 years and his smooth vocal styling has been among the best in the game in that span as well.
In the past he has teamed up with greats such as Rachelle Farrell on “Nothing Has Ever Felt Like This” (1994) and Gerald Albright on “Pleasure of the Night” (1998). Now, Downing speaks with EURweb’s Lee Bailey about his most recent offering and about creating grown and sexy music that all responsible listeners can get their groove on to. The set of eight songs is appropriately titled Euphoria.
“I’m excited about this new project. It’s slightly different from what I’ve been doing over the years. It’s a little bit more musical. I think I’ve injected a little bit more of the jazz element into it. Quite a bit of it was live in studio,” said Downing. “I’m really proud of it. I’ve taken seven songs. Most of which the average fan wouldn’t know.”
Following a trend that many contemporary R&B greats such as Babyface have taken in recent years, Downing’s new album is comprised mostly of remakes. However, there’s nothing rehashed about these selections. Reimagined would be a better term.
“I’ve done a song by an artist name Ray LaMontagne It’s a song called ‘You Can Bring Me Flowers.’ I heard it one day, I was listening to the radio in L.A. The song came on and basically he ripped off the song All Blues. It’s got this great little hook to it. So I said ‘Well, I’m going to take it back’. So, I did an interpretation of this song ‘You Bring Me Flowers’,” said Downing. “I took that song and ‘Will Downing-ized it’ and I also did one by Lou Rawls. No one seemed to have heard this song. It’s a song called ‘If I Was a Magician.’ This song I heard at jazz station WBGL in New Jersey. It’s a fantastic song by Lou Rawls that I thought I could do something with.”
Recreating a song by Grammy Award-winning artist Ray LaMontagne, is only the tip of a very deep creative iceberg for Will.
“I did Teddy Pendergrass ‘Turn Out the Lights’, I do Stevie Wonder’s ‘Too High,’ Hall and Oates ‘She’s Gone’ and also I did one song in Portuguese, which I had never done. There’s eight songs altogether. Seven remakes and one original. The original is a song called ‘Heaven in Your Eyes’. It’s written by myself and a gentleman named Chris “Big Dog” Davis,” he continued. “I listen to a lot of radio and sometimes I just hear songs and they just hit me. If I sing it to myself for the majority of the day then I’m rearranging it in my mind and I’m hearing myself do it. I feel like I can bring something new to the song. It’s not that I’m trying to beat them, it’s just my interpretation of the song. When I hear something and it sticks with me I go with it. The way I’m hearing it in my mind tells me who I’m going to call to work with.”
Throughout his illustrious career, Downing’s voice has been compared to that of the late crooner Luther Vandross. Will told EURweb that, while he does agree there are some similarities between the two, they are superficial at best.
“That’s been there for many years. I was a fan and I was a student. I think you’re always going to hear that. You’re always going to hear those sensibilities. The people that I work with sometimes say ‘Hey man. Why don’t we do it like this? You know, like Luther would do?’ So, automatically, the music starts to take those twists and turns. I have my own sound at this point. The similarities tend to stop at slight vocal inflections and slight tone inflections. Musically, he went more or less R&B pop. Me, I’m R&B and some form of jazz. That’s where the fork in the road kind of splits the two of us.”
Chances are, many reading this piece haven’t heard Will Downing on the radio recently. However, that absence from the airwaves isn’t because of a lack of quality, but of the politics inherent to being a veteran in the game.
“This is project number 17 and I have been doing the same thing, the same way for 25 years. People always say ‘Well, I don’t know whether to put you on this category or that category’ and that’s cool in one regard, but I think radio was starting to get to the point where they were saying ‘Well, we’re not going to play your type of R&B because that age demo is fading away.’ So, I can’t go backwards and chase what these kids are doing out there. That’s not going to help. So, I said ‘Let’s just do a straight up adult record and make it musical. You know, do what we really enjoy doing.”
You can click on the link below to get a taste of a grown and sexy sound that is 25 years in the making. And, oh yes, Will Downing’s latest and greatest, Euphoria, will be will available for purchase at your favorite music store or online retailer (Amazon, iTunes, eBay and others) tomorrow, Tuesday, March 25.