Alfa Anderson formerly of the iconic funk soul band Chic who brought the music world legendary hits such as “Le Freak”, “Good Times”, “Everybody Dance” to name a few, has returned with new music “When Luther Sings” in tribute to longtime friend Luther Vandross. I caught up with Alfa Anderson to discuss the music, Luther, her earlier years with Chic. Her album From My Heart is out now.
Terrance - First can you share with me a little backstory on how you got involved with Chic?
Alfa Anderson - Luther Vandross is the reason I became involved with Chic. He was a much sought after New York session singer and would call me to do some of those sessions with him. I'll never forget the day I received the call to do a session for a new group his friend Nile Rodgers had formed with partner Bernard Edwards. I was excited about the possibility until he said, "It's disco music." I thought I was losing my hearing. "Disco! Are you for real? We aren't disco artists, we are R&B artists." Come on, he urged. It'll be fun. Not only was it fun, it was the turning point in my career. I went to the studio expecting to hear a very formulaic four on the floor track. What I heard was Dance, Dance, Dance and it was perfection. I was not the only person who shared doubts that day. Before the session began, Bernard Edwards pulled Nile to the side and asked "are you sure these are the singers we want on these tracks." Nile reassured him that it would be fine. Was it ever! Luther, Norma Jean Wright, David Lasley, Robin Clark, Diva Gray, Nile Rodgers, Bernard Edwards and I sang background on that first album. When it came time for Chic to go on tour, they asked Luther and me to go out and provide tour support. When Norma Jean left the group to pursue a solo career, they asked me to stay on and join Luci Martin. It was the best decision I could have made. And it all happened because of my friend Luther Vandross.
Terrance - What has been the biggest highlight thus far in your 40 year career?
Alfa Anderson - The biggest highlight for me thus far is that many of the classic songs on which I sang are still being played somewhere in the world everyday. Who knew that Le Freak or Good Times would stand the test of time? These songs continue to be introduced to a new generation of fans in movie soundtracks and television commercials. That's pretty awesome!
Terrance - You mention the classic songs being introduced to a new generation of fans, what’s your honest take on Chic sampled heavily in the Hip Hop, R&B and Pop world?
Alfa Anderson - I love that the younger generation is embracing the work that we did. They are taking what we did and interpreting it their way. I love it all from Sugarhill Gang's use of the track from Good Times for Rapper's Delight (1979) to Luther Vandross' sample of My Forbidden Lover on Shine (2006) to LA by The Game feat. Snoop Dogg, will.i.am and Fergie (2015).
Terrance - What were going through you guys minds during the creation of the critically acclaimed Risqué album?
Alfa Anderson - Everything about Risqué; the music, the lyrics, the arrangements, the vocals make this one of my favorite Chic albums. We were really in the zone vocally. Fonzi Thornton, Michelle Cobbs, Luci Martin and I perfected the Chic vocal style on Good Times and My Forbidden Lover. The phrasing of those syncopated rhythms worked so well with the music. Above all, we had fun and you can hear that. A Warm Summer Night was sensuous. The strings and the tap dancing on My Feet Keep Dancing were cutting edge. The ballads suited Luci and me perfectly. And oh, that cover!
Terrance - It’s interesting Chic has been nominated for induction in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame eleven times why do you think the band haven’t been nominated yet?
Alfa Anderson - That's hard to say. This year they inducted Nile Rodgers for his work as a producer. Maybe one day the group will be inducted. It will happen if it's meant to be.
Terrance - Getting back to Luther, you released a new single “When Luther Sings” talk about that.
Alfa Anderson - I wanted to offer a public thank you to the man who started it all for me. The song is autobiographical and it came to me so clearly I just had to share it with the world.
Terrance - People have their opinion or theory about Luther what’s one misperception you could clear up?
Alfa Anderson - Some people might have called him difficult. He wasn't. Luther was a perfectionist. He knew what he wanted and would accept nothing less. At the end of the day, it was his name on the marquee, his reputation, his career and his fans. He loved and respected his fans. He always wanted to make sure that when you bought a ticket to see him, you got your money's worth. He would say on stage, "we don't mess with your ticket money." And we didn't.
Terrance - What’s the most fond memory or advice from Luther you will always cherish?
Alfa Anderson - Believe in yourself. If you like what you're doing, others will like it too because the honesty will come through and connect with people. This sentiment is expressed in a lyric from the song When Luther Sings.
Terrance - Talk to me about your solo debut album From My Heart and what sparked that interest.
Alfa Anderson - I have received so much love, support and encouragement from family, friends and fans that I wanted to show my appreciation. At first, I was hesitant but last year I started writing. I didn't realize how much I had bottled up inside of me until I did that. The melodies and lyrics flowed effortlessly. It's as if this project was meant to be because I finally followed my heart.
Terrance - From the beginning to now how has the process changed being a recording artist?
Alfa Anderson - The process has changed significantly. Some of it for the better. The technological advances are incredible and make it a lot easier. You can sing something and then fly it into other places. You can add all kinds of effects. I did some of that, but I am an analog girl at heart. I started writing songs the old fashioned way by just singing the melodies and lyrics into a recorder. Then I took my songs to arranger/producer Bert Price, who helped me turn them into demos. Finally, we produced the tracks. A lot of what you'll hear on From My Heart are vocals that I sang straight through like we used to do. No stopping and starting again. We went for the feel. If a performance felt good, we kept it.
Terrance - Is there anything you’d like to add not discussed?
Alfa Anderson - For the past two years, I have been working with former Chic vocalists Luci Martin and Norma Jean Wright. “Perfectly Chic” is another tribute song on the From My Heart album and it rocks!