For more than four decades, Legendary R&B/Soul crooner LENNY WILLIAMS has been making quality music that continues to stand the test of time. Possessing one of the most distinctive voices in contemporary music with classics such as "Cause I Love You", "Choosing You", "Midnight Girl", "Since I Met You", "You Got Me Running" to name just a few. I caught up with the Oakland native to discuss his new project entitled Fine, his longevity in music, thoughts on the current state of R&B, song sampling and much more...
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TERRANCE: First, congratulations on the release of your new album Fine.
LENNY WILLIAMS: Thank you very much. I appreciate it.
TERRANCE: Talk about the writing and recording process for this project.
LENNY WILLIAMS: Well, when I started working on this album, I started working with Levi Seacer. He was the guitar player in The New Power Generation band with Prince and so he played with Prince for about 10 to 12 years. It's pretty interesting because he lived in a city close to Oakland, California called Richmond and I knew his mom and aunts and as a matter of fact, his aunt Dorothy Morrison sang the lead on the song "O' Happy Day" for The Edwin Hawkins Singers. I got a chance to meet him and we just started writing and got busy doing that and then my other friend Derek 'D.O.A.' Allen called me and wanted me to do a couple of little Gospel projects for his Pastor and so I did those. He was like, I got a couple of songs that I'll produce for you for nothing and so he gave those to me and we wrote those new songs and here I am, I have a CD right here. My keyboard player and guitar player and band wrote a song and then I recorded a song with my son. We put it together, took some pictures and put it out.
TERRANCE: Which song would you say was the most challenging during the recording process?
LENNY WILLIAMS: I would probably say the song "Say So" and that's my first single also. The reason I say that was because I was introduced to a young writer down in South Carolina and so I had to go down there where he was. It's really interesting, because I went to Wilder's fight in Las Vegas and I was supposed to fly out the next Morning to go down to the Carolina to record and then they say, I don't have a ticket for you, and I'm like, I paid for a ticket. I discovered that my travel agent actually booked a ticket for the next year and I was like, oh wow, and so had to get it all changed and I couldn't get down there and so I wound up going home. I went down there the following week and so I landed and he picked me up and we went straight to the studio and stayed in there all day long. The next Morning six o'clock, I was heading back home, so that was kind of jet-setting and just kind of getting it all in, because I had a busy schedule and that was before the virus, so I was doing two or three shows a week and so I wanted to get it done in the early part of the week, so that I could give my voice time to rest for the weekend. So that was the most challenging one.
TERRANCE: What inspired that song?
LENNY WILLIAMS: I didn't write that one, but just from the lyrical content and speaking with the songwriter Samuel Sanders who wrote it, it's just a situation where you have a relationship and then it kind of cools off and everybody's trying to evaluate where the relationship is and then he's realizing that I really miss this person and I miss talking to them and I want to make it happen, but I'm only one-half of the equation, so he's telling her how he feels and how he's got to get the relationship back, but he's got to get her "Say So". She has to say, yeah I'm in, you know? So it's kind of a general persuasion to the person that you love to, let's work on this relationship and get it to a place where we're both satisfied with it and l want to let you know how much I want it really bad, but I need you to buy in and say so that it's gonna happen.
TERRANCE: One song on the album that speaks the most to you in your journey thus far.
LENNY WILLIAMS: I would probably say the song "Fine", because when I met Levi and he said, well let's get together and write, and so we picked a day to go write and so I go over to the studio and he's got a microphone set up and he said, I want to interview you. So, he interviewed me for a couple of hours and then he said, we would get together in a couple of days from now. I'm over here thinking I'm about to do some writing, I had the guitar and paper. Then he called me back and said, I got an idea and we should write a song called "Fine", because in my interviewing you, it seem like your life is fine, you know? You've been married over 40 years and you got the same relationship. You ride around in your nice Jaguar and you got money in the bank. Your kids are all grown and you don't have anybody in jail or on drugs or anything like that, so really you're doing fine. So we wrote that song and I think that song is kind of autobiographical. It speaks to my life and so I think that song is the one that I would pick.
TERRANCE: There's a song on the album called "Grateful" and with that being said, what are you most grateful for?
LENNY WILLIAMS: I actually wrote that song with Thomas Shelby who is one of the Shelby brothers out of Dayton, Ohio. One of them was in the group Dynasty and the other one was in the group Lakeside and they wrote a lot of songs for SOLAR Records. He moved out here to California close to me and so we went in the studio and did that. We were basically thinking about the ladies in our lives; our wives and how much we are grateful for them. This musician journey is not the easiest journey sometimes, especially if you've been in it for a long time like we have. There are ups and downs, twists and turns. We are speaking about being grateful for the women in our lives who've been there and supported us emotionally and spiritually.
TERRANCE: What do you hope listeners take away from the experience of this album?
LENNY WILLIAMS: Well, there's 15 songs on the album. We got some Jazz music and we got some baby making music. I have a song with my sons on there called "Take It From Here". The music is alive and well in the Williams household and we're continuing to write and try to be innovative and come up with new music and just hope people will enjoy it and appreciate it.
TERRANCE: To what do you attribute your longevity to in the music business?
LENNY WILLIAMS: Well, there's stubbornness. You just don't want to lose (laughs). I basically attribute my longevity to God for giving me the backbone to just persevere and keep my eyes on the prize and having the desire to get up everyday and to tackle all of the issues. It's a daunting task and it's not easy. Showbusiness in general whether it's movies or singing or playing an instrument to make a successful life and maintaining that in this business is not an easy proposition. So I mean, it takes some talent and it takes some stubbornness on the artists part, to just say, hey I'm just not gonna be defeated and I'm just gonna stick this out. That's what I've done and here I am.
TERRANCE: Your music has been sampled by everyone from Kanye West, Scarface, Lil Wayne to Young Jeezy. What are your thoughts on that?
LENNY WILLIAMS: It's a blessing to me that they are sampling the music and I love it, you know? A lot of people look at rappers and they say, well these guys aren't creative because they just don't come with something totally brand new and out of the box and I disagree with that because I've got friends of mine that have gone to Berklee School of Music and Juilliard and some of the great music schools and the one's over in Europe and when they get out there, the first thing they want to do is get an old Bach piece and redo it or Beethoven and redo it. Most say, well this guy is the greatest violinist walking around and he's gonna go back and do Beethoven and Bach and you name it. So, what's the difference between the rappers saying, hey I want to go and sample Marvin Gaye or I want to sample Lenny Williams. That's what makes it a classic song. I wrote "Cause I Love You" in 1974 and it came out in 1978 and then here's Kanye West and Twista or Scarface or whoever redoing it. There are shows and festivals where there are kids 8, 9 and 10 years old that are singing this song that was out before their mothers were born or maybe out even before their grandmothers were born and that's what makes it a classic song, because of people going back and sampling these records and coming out with their own interpretation of the song. And on top of that, for the artist who wrote and published it, you got some income. So here I am in my 70's, I got grandkids I'm sending to College, because I took care of my business. That's part of it too, taking care of the business aspect of it, so that when people do sample and re-record your music, you can benefit from the lucrative side of the business.
TERRANCE: What are your thoughts on the current state of R&B music?
LENNY WILLIAMS: Well, a lot of people think R&B music is fading away and the kids aren't coming up with anything, but I think you have some really clever young writers and singers like Anthony Hamilton and H.E.R. who play instruments. I think the current state of R&B is in good hands and in a good place, really. There are times we may scoff a little at the lyrical content of some of the modern songs, but I guess we're living in an era where there's no censorship. It's really interesting because I went to Google to look up sexually explicit lyrics and if you go way back to when they first started making records, I used to always wonder as a kid when I would listen to blues, they would always say, "rock me baby, rock me baby' or 'I'm going to Kansas City' and I would say, what's so bad about that? There's nothing bad about that and then I went back and I Googled explicit blues lyrics and I'm telling you, some of that stuff would put some of the stuff they put in rap music to shame. So that's pretty interesting and I think music is in good hands.
TERRANCE: Thus far, what has been your greatest career moment?
LENNY WILLIAMS: That's difficult because I've had some great moments. Aretha Franklin called me up and wanted me to come sing at her private party. She wanted me to sing a song that I did that wasn't even a hit called "Driftin'" and I'm like, really? So that was great, you know? Another one is when I got sampled by Kanye West & Twista on "Overnight Celebrity" and getting two checks for $94,000 a piece and so that was a big moment. It wasn't about the money, but the fact that, Wow! I started my publishing company. I owned my copyrights and I just held on to them and here it is 35 to 40 years later and I'm foolin' around making $300,000 to $400,000 off of songs that I wrote. But I think one of the greatest moments I can say is when there was this gathering called the HAL Awards [Heroes And Legends Awards] through Motown and what they do is they honor people and so they had honored me one time and then the next year they called me back and wanted me to sing and so I sang and after it was over and as I was walking out, Berry Gordy came up to me and shook my hand and says, you're great and I want to thank you. You know to me, for Berry Gordy to critique me just blew me away because when you think about all of the great talent that he brought to the world and so I think that's one of the greatest moments of my career.
TERRANCE: Any final words you would like to share with longtime fans as well as new one's?
LENNY WILLIAMS: I just want everyone to know that I really appreciate the support of buying the Records, CD's and calling up to the radio stations and asking if they could play the records. I appreciate everyone for spending their hard earned money to buy tickets and coming out to the shows and things like that. I want them to know I really appreciate that and the support I've gotten over the decades and I don't take it for granted at all.
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