photo by: Alex Logaiski http://alexlogaiski.com/
By: Gina Carey
PUBLISHED: 00:24 EDT, 1 October 2020
tell me a little bit about how you got started in the music business
While at Music and Arts high school…I met some friends and we would all sing together. During that time, there used to be a newspaper called “Backstage and Showtime”. This newspaper would come out once a week. Singers and musicians alike would wait at the newsstand to pick up a copy in the hopes of finding work. I met other singers who shared the same interest and we all began auditioning. I auditioned for “The Crystals”, a doo-wop style group. (The Crystals were an American female vocal group based in New York City, considered one of the defining acts of the girl group era in the first half of the 1960s.) Reference (https://www.allmusic.com/artist/the-crystals-mn0000138332/biography ) They were famously known for a song called the “Da do Ron Ron”. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v-qqi7-Q19k “Darlene Love” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darlene_Love sang the lead vocal for a song called He’s a Rebel and the rest of the group sang the backgrounds. Dolores "Dee Dee" Kenniebrew, (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dolores_%22Dee_Dee%22_Kenniebrew) who was an original “Crystal”, had taken over the “Crystals touring. Dee Dee auditioned me, and that was my first time leaving the country.
I had somebody read my cards the summer before getting that gig and they said, “you're going to cross water. I'm like, “yeah yeah, sure” I was like, give me my $10 back. But sure enough, before the year ended, I went to Holland with Dee Dee. So, that was my first gig. That’s how I got started.
OK so tell me about the most memorable experience in your career?
Meeting “Luther Vandross” and auditioning for him (Luther Ronzoni Vandross Jr. was an American singer, songwriter, and record producer.) https://luthervandross.com/ is one of the most memorable for me. I never met him before I'd heard his voice on a project called “Change”, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-3K-G8zhajk and “Glow of Love”. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-3K-G8zhajk I just was in love with his voice! Because there were no social media back then, I just heard his voice through radio. Once I heard “Never Too Much” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uv7y6PKEYms on the radio, I was like, the voice! The voice!
“Tawatha Agee” (She was the lead singer from the soul/R&B band, Mtume, whose soulful lead voice that was featured on the 1983 R&B hit, "Juicy Fruit") https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tawatha_Agee was singing with “Mtume”, and they had a song out called “Juicy Fruit”. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MucY5wRYByU The song was considered a bit risqué back then. It's kind of funny when I think about all the “Rapp music” that’s out now in comparison. So, Tawatha was working for Luther as one of his background singers, but when “ Juicy Fruit” hit, they decided to tour. So, she went on tour with “Mtume”, and her position opened. That’s how I got in.
I came down to the audition, walked into the room and he saw me first. When I walked in, he was sitting behind a piano with a little container of fried chicken. I fell in love with him immediately because I loved my food! I was just like, “Right on! I wanted to ask him for some! I didn’t even know the man, but I wanted to get all up in his food! He was so warm and fuzzy and very serious as well. He was extremely focused and wasn't about wasting time. He asked me to sing a bunch of different things. Something high, something low, somethings loud, something's changing vowels within a particular word. He wanted me to do all of these little things to see if I could do it, listen, and take direction.
So, after harmonizing with the other singers, “Luther” said to me, if you can dance, you got this gig… I was like “really”! I was so excited! I just fell in love with him. He was a great teacher.
Who are some of the artists that you have performed with thus far in your career?
As far as touring and live shows, I’ve performed with The Crystals, The Marvelettes, Luther Vandross, Chaka Khan, The Rolling Stones, Tina Turner, NIN(9-inch nails), and Sting. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lisa_Fischer The rest of the people I’ve worked with were more one off live shows and session work. Not tours or shows. http://lisafischermusic.com/about/
Editors Remarks: “Lisa Fischer has a very extensive musical work history, visit her website to see her complete bio.” Quotes, Gina Carey, Editor.
What was the most challenging moment of your career?
I think my most challenging moments were probably at two points. The first one was deciding to leave “Elektra” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elektra_Records to sign to a new record company. That was challenging because my management was able to get me released from Elektra so that I could sign with the new company, the new company changed their mind at the last minute. So I was released and then left with no deal. That was challenging.
The other was deciding to choose my path vs. continuing to sing backgrounds for The Rolling Stones. That was a very emotional and challenging decision.
You know, after you've known people for a long time they feel like family. Yes, it was an extremely hard decision and a scary one. I was like, “OK, your gonna do this right. I think those were my most challenging moments.
Was there ever a time in your career where you feel like throwing in the towel?
Yes, doing the second record for “Elektra”. I never finished the second record. I guess in my mind, I was just a singer. I love to sing with any combination. With choirs, groups, duets, solos, and backgrounds. Just whatever! For me, as long as I was singing, I was happy. I had that “New York City”, survival, independent, and working mentality. The thought of being a solo artist just so scary and unsure. I was very thankful for everything that was happening, even the success of the Grammy, but other things were happening underneath with sound scan and how they were calculating record sales and how they were shipping records. Then “Elektra” merged with 2 other labels to become WEA ( Warner, Elektra, and Atlantic. ( Elektra Entertainment Group is a division of Atlantic Records Group, a business unit of Warner Music Group, the largest privately held music company in the world. Both maintain their headquarters at 75 Rockefeller Plaza in New York City. Elektra is comprised of several labels, including Asylum, EastWest, and the flagship Elektra imprint. Elektra has recorded such legendary artists as the Doors, the Eagles, Joni Mitchell, Linda Ronstadt, and Jackson Browne. In more recent years, Elektra's roster of artists has included Metallica, Tracy Chapman, Phish, and Bjork) Ref: http://www.fundinguniverse.com/company-histories/elektra-entertainment-group-history/ . https://www.discogs.com/label/43315-WEA-Records-Ltd They joined together and then dropped a bunch of artists. They were starting to consolidate. At that point, things were starting to get ugly.
I guess I wasn't looking at it 10 or 20 years down the road. As a 30 something-year-old woman, my focus was only on tomorrow or the current year that I was living in. So, I didn't have the foresight to see how the whole record business was so different from when I first got into the game of making records. So, I don't want to say disappointing, but it was a lesson. I realized that making a second record would be difficult but the record company was lovely in trying to help me figure it all out. I guess I was just trying to still maintain my financial independence and not exclusively depend on the record company for an income. It just didn't feel right to me. It wasn't normal for me.
So, instead of trying to look for another deal, I was hurt. I think more than hurt. I was frustrated and confused because I didn't understand why? In fact, I was so hurt, that I blocked out the name of the company that changed their mind. I can't remember them. I could call my old manager and he would tell me, but I don’t want to know. I've done a great job of just blocking that out. I was like what? I asked myself, am I too old or what is it? I felt that way because a lot of the artists were younger. I think it was my age but I didn't know. But yes, I was so hurt that I said to myself, “I think I'll just go back to singing backgrounds.” It's what I could trust. It’s what sustained me. It's what I know, and I don't have to stress over the drama. So I went back to singing backgrounds and loved it. I still do.
When “20 Feet From Stardom” https://www.imdb.com/title/tt2396566/ (20 Feet from Stardom is a 2013 American documentary film directed by documentary filmmaker Morgan Neville and was produced by Gil Friesen, a music industry executive whose curiosity to know more about the lives of background singers inspired the making of the film. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/20_Feet_from_Stardom) came out, it was an opportunity for me to look back at my life and go humm, let’s take a closer look at this now. I had to look at it from a different perspective now that the times have totally changed. I said to myself, now you don't have the pressure. You're not with the record company any longer. Nobody’s telling you what to sing, how to sing, or what to say. You can just sort of follow your heart and surround yourself with people that have similar mindsets and see what happens.
You see, I believe each person has their own path that they have to choose to follow. And having the freedom to choose is the beauty of it right? So, I think you learn your lessons better when you choose the road you're going to travel. The weight of it is different. You can always blame someone else when someone else tells you what to do. You can say, “but you promised”! But, it's different when you say, “you know, I'm just gonna follow my spirit, my gut, the whispers and the voices inside. Whatever that is for each person, and see what life has in store for me. It's different for each person. If I won the lottery, I wouldn't have to worry about XY and Z or buy XY&Z and I could live my life like XY&Z. But as far as what you give out to the world, I think that knowing what that is, and being free enough to be allowed to do that, is a gift.
Have you ever had the experience of gigging locally before moving to the next level in your career?
I did have experiences like. For example, most of them would be at the local bars In “The Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, and Harlem”. Just different neighborhoods. You get together with your local friends who have a local band and sing the top 20 songs for about 3 hours for around $20. Or maybe you would make around $5 the entire night, but it was so much fun to be with other beautiful crazy free musicians who are all trying to find their way. There was a lesson through each song we did. Learning the audience, learning how to deal with drunk people, and just learning your way. I learned about all of the social Maneuvering that you have to do to survive and how to work well with people. You also learn how to share your gift in a way that's going to be meaningful on some level. In the church, I would always sing in the choir. That was fun for me. I enjoyed all the different voice parts, that was just fun! Actually, it was more than fun, it was nourishing.
At that time I also did some minor studio work. I recall after doing a couple of gigs, someone would say, “ I have a home studio! Why don't you come down to my studio in my basement and work on a demo”? I'll give you $50 or $100 or whatever. But, all of those situations helped to frame me on how you move forward. A lot of times they would just hire me if they wanted to have three voices. Or they would say, “can you do the next part”? Sometimes they couldn't afford to have more than one singer so, they would pay me to do all the parts. My love for doing different parts was like a musical math project in my brain. Whenever I got the chance to sing lead, which in my opinion I wasn't very good at but, I knew I had something. I didn't quite know what that something was but, I had a yearning that wanted to be released. I had to let loose so that I could find my voice and find my way of expressing myself. So, every demo I did was my way towards that.
Tell Me about your experience from a woman’s point of view in the music business?
We’re human being’s 1st and then were divided into different sexes. And what we do with that, is we try to maneuver through life in a way that's comfortable for us to be halfway sane. I guess I'm a baby boomer. I was born in the late 50s in 1958 and that was a time where children were seen and not heard. My mother was very shy. She was a young mother and back then, women had their place.
During that time, the attention that you would get would usually be because of your appearance. It was something to be desired, coveted, and or appreciated depending on who the man was who wanted your attention and or affection.
So, a lot of that behavior, when you're dealing with business, can get very grey and fuzzy. It gets fuzzy even when you're trying to sell yourself as an artist because you want to be loved and appreciated for what you do. It’s always lovely when you get complimented on your appearance but, there comes a point that it gets uncomfortable. That's when you as a person and every experience that you had prior that molded you into the person that you are, that's when you start to learn who you are. if you don’t identify your weaknesses and where you need to develop your strengths, you will end up hitting your head up against that same wall every single time.
When I was younger, I didn't know how to protect myself against people who had very ugly intentions. So, you get bruised and you learn that. “ I don't want to feel like that ever again”. I don't want to feel like I'm less than and I don't want to feel like I'm a piece of meat. I don't want to feel like garbage and I don't want to feel like whatever I felt. And when you feel it, that's when you know. And you say, oh no! I don't want to do that again.
I had to figure out how to be my fun sensual self without getting burned. At the same time, men are allowed to be who they are. We accept them or not. And women should be free to be who they wish to be. At any given moment and no means no and to claim all that. In the developing stages, when you're in the heat of being this hot sexy thing, it’s a lot more difficult to maneuver because the heat is on. But, when I reached my late 40s and late 50s and now 60’s, the heat has cooled. So now I feel beautiful on a deeper level because I feel more expanded. I feel more expanded on a level of knowingness. There are so few things in life you can count on and truly feel secure about but, I can truly say that at this point in my life, I feel much better about myself as a person better in the sense that I feel stronger. I feel that it's ok to love and defend myself, that I'm worth that.
Who are your greatest musical influences?
Wow, I guess when I was coming up, Motown. All the Motown and Atlantic Records artists. Dionne Warwick, Diana Ross, The Supremes, Luther, The Sweet Inspirations with Cissy Houston, Marvin Gaye, Chaka Khan, Phyllis Hymen, Minnie Ripperton, Johnny Mathis, Nina Simone, Morgana King, Michael Kiwanuka, Laura Mvula, Sampha, and there’s another young woman named “Maro”, an artist I recently discovered which I think is amazing, Becca Stevens, and lately, I've been listening to “Burna Boy, really love his music and rhythms and just how he looks at music, Beyoncé, I love her, absolutely love Luther Vandross forever! Also, Leontyne Price, Curtis Mayfield, Roberta Flack, classical and world music. I just love it all! I just love good music!
Who would you like to perform with, dead or alive?
Ella Fitzgerald! Yeah, just the color of her voice I just would be curious to hear the vibration sound between us.
Shrimp scampi and brown rice
I am King (Beyoncé film)
Last Songs listened too?
Maro (if I leave) & Rema (Iron Man)
Favorite vacation spot?
Palm Desert, CA
Favorite Covid-19 Chill out outfit?
T-Shirts & oversized pants
Favorite Covid-19 Snack?
Susan’s sugar-free almond cookies
How has COVID Affected your career plans?
It not only affected my career, but it shook me to the core. During shut down in New York, when we truly had to be inside, I was literally afraid to cross my threshold. I was afraid to get the mail, I was afraid to go to the doctor, I was afraid to do the laundry. The air was my enemy, my possible enemy. I was pretty freaked out. So, I stayed in a lot and did a lot of thinking. And in that time, I started to understand more why people decide to leave this earth. Because you get to a point where you say what’s the point? What is the purpose of my life? And who am I? What am I if I'm not singing? So, you kind of go through all of that along with mourning not being able to be with people, new people, and the people that you know. So, I experienced a lot of emotions all at once. Lots of fear and mourning. It truly has impacted how we move forward. But, once you get to the bottom of that emotion to the point where it scares you, you have to decide whether or not you're going to survive it. So, once you decide that you're going to survive the storm, you must then brush yourself off and you say, “OK, I know I still want to be here. I know I love life and I'm gonna figure out a way to make this work”. So, this is the gift that it gives you is time to think.
photo by: Alex Logaiski http://alexlogaiski.com/
So when I looked at everything that was going on through a different perspective, I began to think to myself, there's a lot of things that I didn't have time for before COVID so let me look at that. Let me learn how to use a digital audio work station. Let me figure out what type of microphones are going to work best for me in my small studio apartment. I thought to myself, let me figure out how to use “Logic Pro”. Or what other exotic beautiful melodies I can hear from around the world that will make me feel connected. What tools can I use to help me write new music? how do I grow? When this is over, how can I be a lotus in the mud and come out of this with my pedals blooming? How do I do that? So in that way, I guess COVID has been sort of a gift if there is such a thing.
I feel like it replaces the death and the morning of what was and gives me hope for what can be. I also make time to connect with my other single friends and talk about what we're going through. We talk about how do we grow and love ourselves through this. It's been really beautiful to be able to zoom in with other singers and creative people and to stay open to what the universe Is trying to teach us at this time.
I believe the earth is not really through with us right now. Is a good time to just take inventory and see what it means to be adrift. But overall, it's been good. There are things that I still can't see clearly and I don't know what's gonna happen a year or two from now. I mean I could be living in my car. I don't know. But, if that is the case then so be it. I just want to be like water. I want to be me, fluid. I will not let the confines of what I think to be or what I used to think drive me crazy. I must be open to this new existence because there are so many ways to exist. The only thing that needs to change is my mind.
Tell me about your current/ future projects? Is there anything you're about to give birth too?
I feel like I'm about four months pregnant. I think it's still incubating. You know, the creator is just amazing! I say creator because everyone has a different view about what that is called but or if it even exists at all for some. For me it does and I'm sitting here thinking that I feel so insecure about writing because I never took a formal course. I was going through Instagram and I see one of my favorite artists her name is “Victory Boyd´ http://victoryboyd.com/. That's another one of my favorite singers that I have to mention. She's an amazing singer-songwriter from Detroit I think she's about 25 right now but when I first heard her music, she was about 22 or 23 years old. Well, she has a song called “The Broken Instrument” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YugVF84VDbQ And this song brought me to my knees. The story of the three-song cycle is there was an instrument, that had broken and was discarded and thrown in the garbage can. I don't want to say any more about it but once you hear the three songs cycle it just makes sense. Just a beautiful piece of work… the whole album is great!
This particular piece felt like a movie for my ears and my soul. I just played it over and over again because of how she treated the track, painted the music, and told her story. It's all about the message in the story and her message was just beautiful. You see, it was a couple of years ago when I heard this song. I was going through Instagram trying to hang on for dear life and noticed that she was giving a songwriting course. Then I thought, this is the answer to my prayer! This is what I needed but didn't realize I needed it! So long story short, I'm taking a course from her now. It's a virtual course called “The heart of expression”. It is so nourishing on so many levels. I've learned that there are so many ways to write. She comes from a sacred place in her knowledge and experience. The way that she shares it is truly a blessing.
Because of this course, I'm praying that I will be able to write the record that I've been wanting to write All my life. So, we'll see what happens. That’s why I say I'm four months pregnant. I pray that I will continue well after the course is over and that I will practice every single day. It's such a beautiful thing that it doesn't feel like practice, it feels like playing with your soul. It feels like you're bouncing on a balloon and you're just letting out the air and you're just flying. Kind of like you're holding on and you're just trying to remember it all. It's such a beautiful experience. So, I'm hoping after all that, I'll be able to record something from my home, release that to the world and see what happens.
I just completed something for “The National Endowment for the arts https://www.arts.gov/news/2020/virtual-concert-celebrates-2020-nea-jazz-masters-august-20-2020. It was a Virtual tribute concert Honoring 4 wonderful jazz musicians. The honorees were Dorthaan Kirk https://www.arts.gov/video/nea-jazz-masters-tribute-dorthaan-kirk, Bobby McFerrin, http://bobbymcferrin.com/ Roscoe Mitchell https://www.ecmrecords.com/artists/1435045892/roscoe-mitchell, and Reggie Workman, https://www.discogs.com/artist/135874-Reggie-Workman hosted by SFJAZZ Founder & Executive Artistic Director Randall Kline. The NEA Jazz Master event was hosted by Dee Dee Bridgewater https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dee_Dee_Bridgewater and the musical director was, “Terri Lyne Carrington”, https://www.berklee.edu/people/terri-lyne-carrington who is an amazing drummer, musician, producer, and artist. So, I was able to be involved from home in this beautiful honoring of these people. The whole process was beautiful! I guess it was the closest thing to doing the show. You can see the “The NEA Jazz Master Virtual tribute concert” on Youtube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YxCa4UK7rKg
Do you have any habits before preparation for performances?
Pre-work, no cheese or dairy. I drink plenty of water the night before. Absolutely no drinking alcohol or peppermint tea, it dries my throat out. I also stay away from green tea and anything with caffeine in it, including decaffeinated. That stuff dries me up! I can’t have it. I make sure I get lots of sleep the night before any performance. For shows, I need to be quiet. I like to have at least two hours of quiet before any show. I don’t want any questions, interruptions, or any of that, I just want to be alone so that I can find my groove, listen to music and figure out what it is I'm going to do. I also like to take that time to do my vocal warmups and get my face in hair going. I don't wear that much makeup anymore, I just kind of like the look of my own skin. I drink lots of water I make sure I eat an hour or two before I sing. And I just really tried to stay calm I don't like to be upset about anything before I go on stage. I try to keep my phone at a minimum I try not to let in certain energies that will upset My groove. That's about it.
What advice would you give for up-and-coming artists?
Don't be afraid to Defend the child within you because you're emotionally vulnerable and you have to stay vulnerable to touch the hearts of the people who come to listen. The little Angel that's in all of us needs to be protected. And, it's ok to fiercely protect that energy that's within you And speak up even if you're not accustomed to screaming you can still speak on it. There's a way to say things so that people will know you mean what you say and you say what you mean and, that's OK. It’s actually what people need so that they know how to treat you.
The second one is to be compensated for what you do. A lot of times, though it is a gift, It is also a service, and it is our livelihood. Therefore, I think that it’s all right to be compensated for that. You need to be able to pay your bills and not worry. This way, you can continue to be worry-free enough so that you can create. Also, be open. I think that all those things need to work in concert with each other.
Last, to be kind to people even when they're not being kind to you. Remember, you can always step away from the table when you don't like was being served. If you focus on negative energy, It lingers and becomes a burden too heavy to carry. So, I think lightness and kindness is a beautiful thing to have.
Interviewed by: Gina Carey