Updated: May 12
Canton, Ohio-based R&B group formed in 1958, the O'Jays originally consisted of Eddie Levert, Walter Lee Williams, William Powell, Bobby Massey, and Bill Isles. A few of The O'Jays most notable songs include Back Stabbers, Love Train Put Your Hands Together, For the Love of Money I Love Music, Livin' For The Weekend, Use ta Be My Girl, and others.
Throughout the O'Jays career, they have accomplished at least ten gold albums, nine platinum singles, and ten #1 hits. In 1995, the talented Eric Nolan joined the group and has continued serving as the 3rd member of The O'Jays. Even though he's still an active member of the O'Jays, Eric Nolan is also building an impressive solo career as a technical vocalist, bringing fans that same sound and class of the days when R&B music made you feel something and lifted you.
During this interview, Eric discusses an exciting new project, including a duet with one of our generation's greatest voices, Walter Williams of The O'Jays. In addition to sharing their foundational stories, they told me about their new music. Here's what they said.
GS: Hey guys, how are you doing?
EN: I'm doing fine.
WW: Were fine
GS: Walter, who won the golf game?
WW: I did. (laughter)
GS: I know that's right!
WW: And I begged him to go out there and whip butt! As a matter of fact, I won $40. (laughter)
GS: There you go! Hey, that's lunch. (laughter)
GS: Eric, do you play golf?
EN: Oh no! He took me out there once, and I thought I could go out there and kill um, but it did not happen that way. Although Walter and Eddie bought me golf clubs for Christmas, they didn’t come in handy. (laughter)
GS: When you're playing a golf game on video, you feel you can play until you get out there on an actual golf course and realize you can't. Virtual golf is nothing like the real thing. (laughter)
WW: I agree.
EN: Yes. I thought to myself, “I have to hit this little ball?” Man! I hit that ball, and it landed right in front of my foot.
GS: That’s awesome!
EN: Gina, I rode in the cart the whole time I was there.
GS: One of the biggest reasons I couldn't play golf is that I am terrified of bees. That's enough to keep me off the golf course for life.
WW: Yeah, there's a lot of them out there, especially right now.
GS: Yikes! Well, Eric and I will leave golfing to you, Walter.
WW: Sounds good
GS: Well, gentlemen, thank you both for your time and willingness to speak with me today about your careers and your new project. So, let's dig in.
GS: Eric, what are your daily activities when you are not touring or performing?
EN: I try my best to get out of bed in the morning. Lately, I have been experiencing new pains in my body that have not been present before. Earlier today, I asked Walter if he felt this way when he was my age, and he said, "probably so." Getting out of bed can be difficult because of these newfound pains.
Since I host a radio show, I usually spend my time programming the show, then I make it over and spend time with my grandson. I am still trying to raise him because he needs a father figure. Papa is the father figure. I also enjoy watching sports.
Since I want to be the best I can be for Eddie and Walt, I give them my 120%. I allow The O’Jays music to consume me whenever I am in that space. Because they have been doing this for so long, I know what level this needs to be and stay at.
GS: And Walter, what about you?
WW: My day usually begins with a business call from my accountant. She knows I have "tee time" mostly on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 11:00 a.m.
Around 10:00 a.m. is when I start getting ready to play golf. Today I played the best golf I've played in two weeks. Not only did I have a good day, but I had a good time with the guys. They are all around my age. Some are a little younger, and some are older.
On August 25th, I turned 79 years old, and I experienced the pain that Eric is talking about. (laughs) I can't put a date with it, but the guy that used to teach us to dance told me that after 50, you could expect new pains when you move a certain way or when you lay down a certain way and try to get up. So, I've anticipated that and it's been happening, so I deal with it and keep it moving.
After I've played my golf and I'm back at the house, I'll probably turn on the TV and watch the news first, and then usually I'll go to the NFL channel and see what's happening in football, like, who has the best team, who's mediocre, and who's the worst team. I do this because this is how I plan my bets. I sometimes bet on football with Eric when I can catch him.
EN: (laughs) He only bets on the winning teams.
WW: I’ve learned that those are the teams you should bet with. (laughs)
Then, perhaps later this evening or tonight, I'll order "DoorDash" unless my daughter is cooking something. If not, I'll order enough for the dinner hour, and then I'll order enough for the late night because I stay up late. I usually go to sleep around three or 4:00 a.m. because I'm orientated to stand up late. I get at least 5-6 hours of sleep per night. Then, of course, back to the routine again the next day.
GS: Wow, that's awesome! While at home, it sounds as if you both stay busy. That's great because you're doing the things you love to do. What is your least favorite chore to do around the house? Let's start with you first, Eric.
EN: Washing the dishes. It's weird because as much as I hate washing dishes, I’ve only used my dishwasher maybe three times in nineteen years.
GS: What do you enjoy doing?
EN: My favorite chore is washing clothes. I love washing clothes. I wash clothes at least 3 to 4 times a week. But I hate washing dishes.
GS: Awesome! What about you, Walter?
WW: Well, my son lives with me, and basically, he does that. We also have a dishwasher, but we only mess, a couple of knives and forks, and maybe a couple of dishes, but that's only If he cooks, and he does now and then. He's good with the things he knows how to cook.
Whoever taught him how to clean up taught him to clean as he went along. That way, he would not have a large pile of pots and pans to clean up later. However, we tend to eat out a lot.
Like Eric, I love washing clothes, but I don't do dishes; my son does them. My least favorite chore is mopping the kitchen and bathroom floor. Floors have to be cleaned almost daily. Therefore, when I can't get him to do it, I have to do it. But I don't mind.
I love running the vacuum cleaner because you can see where the dirt is as you vacuum the floor. I can see it cleaning up stuff. Also, I like seeing the marks that it leaves on the carpet.
GS: In my childhood, I remember my sister vacuuming and pointing out the spots she missed as I looked at the floor from another angle. (Laughs) Awesome! Tell me, gentlemen, what was your favorite 1970s film? Eric, I'll start with you.
EN: Oh man, "The Mac” was mine. You can put that in capital letters! (laughs)
GS: My husband has a collection of original photos from many of the blaxploitation films of the 70s.
EN: Yeah, I know every scene and everything about "The Mac.” Ooh, wee! (laughs) Later on, I even got a chance to meet Max Julien when he was promoting Thomasina & Bushrod with Vonetta McGee. But, that was my favorite 70’s film.
GS: Walter, what about you?
WW: 70s, I'm not a big movie buff, so I don't know what movies came out in the 70s. I don't go to the movies very often. In fact, I was shocked and amazed when I did go to the movies around a year ago and noticed that they upgraded how to order drinks and get food. Back then, it was about popcorn; today, it’s about a chicken sandwich, rum, and Coke.
EN: And they bring it to you. (laughs)
WW: Yeah, and they bring it to you. (laughs)
EN: And they have recliner chairs.
GS: Yes, and people are even bringing seven pieces down comforter sets with matching euro pillows, bed skirts, hypoallergenic mattress protectors, the 1970’s fuzzy plush throw rug, and lava lamp to the movie theatres! Just kidding, but you get my point. (laughs)
EN: Yeah, and you can be out of $150.00 easily.
WW: Yeah, absolutely. But I'm a Spielberg guy. I'll try to get to the theater to see anything he does, past or present. I’ll catch it while it’s hot. That’s how I learned about how things have changed, what you could order, and how good it is now. (laughs)
GS: Ok, since we're going back down memory lane, let's camp out there for a bit longer. Eric, in your opinion, who wore the best Jheri curl the best?
EN: Back then, Howard Hewett. He had the perfect Jheri curl because it was low at the top and hung down just right.
GS: Walter, who had the best Afro?
WW: Probably Richard Pryor. He had a nice, neat Afro, but I thought Nick Ashford had the best Jheri Curl.
EN: Oh yeah! It’s a toss-up between Howard Hewett and Nick Ashford, but to piggyback off what Walt said, I thought Pam Grier had the best Afro ever!
GS: Oh yes! She had an amazing Afro! Loved it!
EN: Yeah, Pam and Angela Davis, their afros were the best!
WW: They were perfect!
GS: Definitely! In your youth, who were your celebrity crushes? Eric?
EN: It's still the same thing, Pam Grier. I also had a crush on Deborah Ann Morgan in “Monkey Hustle. She had a perfect afro.
WW: Jet magazine, every week. (Laughs) I couldn't wait to see the centerfold girls on the beauty page. Sean Levert and I would race to them to take them out and put them on the wall. (laughs)
GS: Oh yeah, I remember that! Hilarious! (laughs) Gentlemen, what was your favorite chick magnet outfit during your teenage years?
EN: I used to have a pair of grey double-knit bell bottoms. They had 3 or 4 buttons on the front and 3 or 4 on the sides. The complete the look, I wore a gray ruffled shirt, a pink bow tie, and gray shoes with pink shoestrings.
GS: Were they platforms?
EN: They were platforms, baby!
EN: They had everything except for the fish in them. (laughs)
WW: I saw some with fish in them. (laughs)
EN: I know you did! (laughs)
GS: Walter, did you have the kind of platforms that had the fish in them?
WW: No, I didn't, but I had a friend who lived in Dallas. She had some. My favorite outfit was a walking suit with two pieces: pants and a jacket. They were easy, especially in the summer. You could wear a men's white sleeveless T-shirt and a jacket with an oversized floppy collar. That's the type of look that I felt looked good on me.
The pants were bell bottoms and didn’t have a belt loop. And, because the waistband was elastic, they fit perfectly. I still like bell bottoms.
GS: Trends and styles are known to resurface. Though bellbottoms were popular with men and women in the 1970s, most women embrace them today, not men. Why do you believe that is the case, Walter?
WW: I believe it's because they began exaggerating them too much. They started calling them elephant Bell bottoms. They became huge, and the pants started to look like "Zoot Suits," big suits!
GS: That's Hilarious! Both of you gentlemen have turned out to be amazing men. Taken from the words of many, " it takes a village to raise a child." Within that context, what is one of the most impactful words of wisdom you have received from a loved one?
EN: Just because they are your blood doesn't make them your family.
WW: My grandmother told me a couple of them, and I didn't understand them when she told me, but I do now. It’s about taking care of yourself and not depending on others. She said, “you got to learn to root hog or die a poor pig. (laughs)
WW: As I got older and figured it out, I learned that hogs root for a living. They dig up plants with their snouts. They know which ones to dig up. There are a lot of plants, fruits, and veggies that grow underground, like potatoes and carrots. So, when she said, if you don't learn how to root (dig in and get your own), "you'll starve to death. That's what it means to "root hog or die a poor pig.
A second example she shared with me was regarding lending money to people and not receiving repayment. She said, “a cow needs her tail for more than one summer to keep the flies off her behind.” (laughs)
WW: That's a good one! In other words, if you loan money to people who don't pay it back, they will need you again.
GS: That's right.
EN: Walter always told me, "You don't have to chase them for your money because you bought them for cheap. Now they can't come back to you.
WW: That's right.
EN: That's what Walter told me.
WW: I learned all that from my grandmother. She was the smartest woman in the world.
EN: And Gina, I always felt like Walter was the most intelligent man I ever met. I tell him that all the time.
EN: He laughs every time I tell him, just like he’s doing now.
WW: Yep. (laughs) Gina, when I was 16 years old, I was offered my first recording contract with King Records, but my dad would sign it. A guy by the name of Syd Nathan signed us on the spot.
My dad wouldn't sign it. He told me it was a dream because he was a frustrated singer himself. He wanted me to come to his job at Republic Steel, where he ran the crane, and he said his foreman would give me a job. When my grandmother found out about that, she hit the ceiling!
She told him, my baby isn't going to no boundary! Then she told him to shut up! (laughs)
GS: I like your grandmother.
WW: I do too, she said; opportunity knocks one time. Be ready.
GS: Wow, that's awesome!
WW: 62 years later, this career is still going.
GS: Wow! What a blessing! I'm so glad your grandmother stood up on your behalf. She saw something special in you, and I'm happy she did because if you didn't have her in your life to step in and intervene, we would not have gotten to hear all the great music that we love by the O'Jays. So, while we're moving into the topic of music, let's dig into the story of how The O’Jays came into being. Walter, tell me your story.
WW: For me, living in Canton, OH. We had a park named Cook Park across the street and down the road. As Eddie and I and some of the guys in the neighborhood or Eddie's brothers would be singing and harmonizing, we used to pass this grocery store owned by some Greek people with the last name Gervasi.
So, one day, when we passed the store, one of the brothers came out and said that he was a songwriter, and he heard us singing all the time, and he wanted to know if we could sing some of his songs. We told him, yeah, and then we got together.
We started rehearsing at their store. He then took us to Cincinnati to King Records, and Syd Nathan, who ran King Records then, signed us on the spot. Again, I almost didn't make it because my dad wouldn't sign my contract, but my grandmother signed It. The product that we sang for Syd Nathan, he recorded it on that day.
GS: Wow! He was not playing around!
WW: No. He called two people that worked there, Reed and Glover. The one that played the piano figured out the chord changes in those songs that we sang for them and wrote them down. Then he got a Four-piece band, piano, drums, guitar, and bass, and we recorded them on the spot.
A few months later, the songs came out, and a few disc jockeys in Cleveland, one named "Eddie O'Jay," the other Ken Hawkins, and another named Will Rudd, started playing the records. That resulted in us playing at the Call & Post Ballroom and a lot of sock hops. At a sock hop, the kids are not allowed to wear their shoes on the gymnasium floor; therefore, they dance in their socks.
Because Eddie O'Jay took a personal interest in us, he started getting us dates in Pittsburgh with Sir Walter Raleigh, who ran WAMO Radio in Pittsburgh.
WAMO had sister stations in Buffalo, NY., and they were WUFO &WJMO, and because of this, he would get us dates in Buffalo. Then he took us to Berry Gordy in Detroit.
We didn't sign the deal because we didn't like it, but we did sign with Barry Gordy's ex-wife, Thelma Gordy. At the time, she had her own label. So, we did a song called "Ball and Chain," and then we left.
We didn't like the name, The Mascots, that Syd Nathan had given us, so Eddie O'Jay told them to call us “The O'Jay Boys” for the time being and that we'll think of something and we'll get back to him with the final name for the group."
So, while I was at home one day, I heard the DJ say on the radio, here's a new one by The O'Jay’s, and I perked up! It was what we recorded in Detroit for Thelma Gordy on her label. And that's when the ball started rolling.
HB Barnum came into play because Eddie O'Jay was his friend, so he sent us to California to get with HB. When we got with him, it took us to another level. We recorded some stuff on HB's label, “Little Star.” Eddie and I wrote a song called “Lonely Drifter” that happened in the beach areas in the South.
From that, Imperial Records became interested in us. Bob Skaff ran Imperial Records and his brother, Bill Skaff, ran Liberty Records. Imperial Records was a subsidiary of Liberty Records, so they wanted to record us. And they did.
Aaron Neville sent a demo song that Allen Toussaint wrote called “Lipstick Traces (On a cigarette).” In fact, Allen Toussaint became a prominent writer. And this song became a Top 40 smash. Bob Eubanks and Mike Martindale played it while they were on the radio. Before they became TV personalities and game show hosts, they worked as disc jockeys.
Casey" Kasem also played our song. He was a well-known DJ located in Los Angeles, California. So, it became a big record. At that time, we lived in Los Angeles. Afterward, we were invited back East for a massive tour where we played at many theaters. We played at The Royal in Baltimore, The Howard in DC, The Uptown in Philly, The Regal in Chicago, and the Apollo in New York.
By working in these workhouses where they held three shows a day during the weekdays and four and five shows during Fridays, Saturdays, and sometimes Sundays, especially if it was a hot show, and most of them were, that's where we got our work ethics.
We got our training from Charles "Honi" Coles, a tap dancer and actor. His dance partner, Charles "Cholly" Akins, later became our choreographer. They tapped together, and they were known as Coles & Akins. They were fantastic tap dancers! "Cholly" Akins did all the Motown acts and would do side jobs every now and then.
So, he worked with the O'Jays on his own time for years. We were probably with the old man for a good 25/30 years. He taught us everything we know about stage and stage presence. He was the ingredient the O'Jays needed to become a top act.
He told us, "What I'm going to teach you is what's going to keep you in the business. He said, "I'm going to teach you a great act," meaning, hit records, come and go. They may last a year or two, but then they will die out." He said, "What I'm going to teach you will last you a lifetime," and he was right.
He said, "when people come to see your performance, no matter who's on the show with you, when they leave, going home, going to dinner or wherever they're going, I want them to be talking about you. So, to me, he was the best teacher in the world.
Initially, I didn’t like him, but I learned to love him dearly because he was the truth. That ingredient was Cholly Atkins. We finally got good writers and producers, Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff. Eddie LeVert and Walt Williams made the third ingredient.
We sang the songs that they wrote and produced. We were their messengers, and Cholly Atkins staged it. He put us on stage with the best possibility to leave out of there with people talking about us. That sums it up.
GS: That's a beautiful story, and I graciously thank you for your journey with me.
WW: You’re welcome.
GS: So, Eric, I’ll ask you the same question, how did you get started in this business, and how did you become the 3rd member of the O’jays?
EN: Well, I will try to condense my story as best as possible. I began singing at the age of 4. I have always loved singing. My favorite artist was James Brown. In fact, I was so infatuated with him that I would step up on the chair to get to the table and do the dances as James Brown did. I used to tear that table up doing the James Brown and the splits! My mother would get frustrated at me for scratching up her table. I would get whooping for that. I never could figure out how my mother knew it was because I was never there when she got home from work. I just loved to dance!
As a child, we were poor. So, my mother would take me to the bars so that I could help bring money into our home by doing "the James Brown" and singing his songs. People would throw money on the ground when they saw me. My mother would pick it up, go to the store and buy beans for us to eat. That's where my love for music began.
When I saw 10-year-old Michael Jackson doing what he did, I also felt like I could do it. So, I tried to emulate him. Watching him gave me the desire to put together a singing group. So that's what I set out to do.
When I was in 8th grade, there was a set of twin boys that some people used to talk about and tease because they were not what most people would consider aesthetically attractive. So, they performed in a talent show over the weekend, and when I returned to school that Monday, they were the most popular kids! All the girls wanted them!
So, I thought, if singing can get me girls, I need to sing! So, I put a singing group together. For me, it wasn't about making money or anything like that. I just wanted to get girls. Also, I knew that I could do a better job than them. So that's what I did. I formed a group called the Deltones while I was in 8th grade.
As I became older, I was forced to take my singing career more seriously because it became my survival tool. I had bills to pay.
“The Deltones” became extremely popular in the Cleveland area. Because we were so popular, people had high expectations of us. They thought we were going to be the next O'jays.
GS: So, you met someone that became like a brother to you. Can you tell me about that?
EN: Yes, I met Gerald Levert. He’s Eddie Levert’s son from the O'jays. I met him when I was about 21 or 22 years old. Gerald was a few years younger than me. He just fell in love with our singing group and thought that my group, The Deltones, would make it big. At the time, Gerald Levert was about 15 or 16 years old. So, we became good friends. Because he thought we were about to make it, he told me, “Whoever makes it first, we will help the other get through the door.” Gerald thought that I would be the one to help open the doors for him.
GS: How did the two of you meet?
EN: Cleveland has a huge festival every year called the "Glenville Heritage Festival." We were the headliners.
GS: Are they still holding it every year?
EN: Yes, it's a yearly festival. We were the headliners, and it was probably about 38 to 40 thousand people in attendance. It was the biggest festival in Cleveland. People waited every year to attend this massive event.
Because Gerald knew how popular this festival was, they wanted to be a part of this show. He was the opening act. Before Gerald put together the band, "Levert," he was a solo artist. His brother Sean played drums, and Mark, the other vocalist, played keyboards.
In Cleveland, The Deltones were like The Beatles because the audience would go crazy when we hit the stage! People were fainting, screaming, and trying to mob us! So, after seeing that, Gerald wanted to know who I was. From that point on, Gerald and I became very close friends. In fact, we became so close that we became like brothers. I used to spend the night over at his house quite frequently. They lived in a mansion. While at their home, I witnessed Eddie writing songs.
GS: What happened to The Deltones?
EN: It turned out that Gerald's group became the group that made it. I did everything that I could to stay above water. I was struggling in the business. I then moved to Dayton, Ohio, but I still had a difficult time. I tried everything to make it! The beautiful thing is that Gerald never forgot about me. He knew that I was struggling to stay in the business, so when an opportunity presented itself for me to be in the O'jays, he told his father about me. Eddie gave me a chance to audition, and I made the cut!
GS: What style of music did the Deltones sing?
EN: R&B and soul. Everything we did, even our style, was similar to that of the O'jays. We thought we would be the next O'jays if they fell off. Of course, they did not.
GS: Were you ever concerned that the fans would not accept you as a member of the O'jays because you were so young?
EN: That's a great question. I'm going to answer it in two ways.
I didn't have time to think about being intimidated, what the band was going to think, or who was going to accept me or not. All I knew was that I was poor and broke.
EN: Because of my admiration for singing and the fact that they were my idols, they could have gotten me for free. That's all I knew. I didn't even think about the other stuff. They didn't consider me a part of the group until two years after I auditioned. They didn't even acknowledge me as being one of the O'jays. The only thing that was true to me was that I was singing with my idols, I went out on the road with the O’jays, and Gerald and I were still good friends. Pretty much, that was it.
Now, I will say this. When I finally got the chance to be on stage with Walter Williams and Eddie Levert (the original Lead singers of the O'jays), I couldn't believe how the women were acting over these so-called “older guys.” Sometimes, while performing on the stage with them, I would have to catch myself because I would be watching the show as if I were an onlooker from the crowd.
Then Eddie or Walter would nudge me and say, “hey, sing! You're a part of the group!” I would get so caught up in the moment that I would forget that I was a member of the group and became a fan. I was watching them as if I was watching their show!
As I mentioned earlier, I didn't even have the chance to think about it. And to be completely honest with you. After 25 years of performing with the O'jays, it’s only been the last eight years since I've started sitting down in the group and enjoying the fruits of my contributions. Because everything moved so fast, I didn't get a chance to soak up and savor the moments thoroughly.
Until this day, I don't accept the fanfare for the O'jays, because the work was completed before I arrived. My primary responsibility to the group was to keep it at a level where they could continue to sustain and entertain. The house was built before I arrived. Because they worked so hard to build their brand before I arrived, I don't feel comfortable taking credit for something already done.
After 25 years, I'm still overwhelmingly grateful to have the opportunity to perform with two legends. I mean, real legends! I'm talking about the type of legends that have paved the way for so many other pop bands that are well-known today. These guys showed us that you could succeed in this business if you stay at it.
I've been blessed to be able to perform with not only one, but two legends, and they’re living today. I don't take that for granted. I'm still in awe, and I'm blessed beyond measure.
GS: Eric, what have you learned from Walter by spending time with him?
EN: To me, Walter was like the unsung hero. I felt as though he was the one that did everything right! He was always my blueprint. So, when I got with him, I started studying him more. I used to ask Walt many questions, and he would give me gems. He gave me stuff that could take me through life. And like his grandmother poured it into him, he poured it into me.
I'm not just saying this because Walt is on the phone. This is how I live. It has nothing to do with this interview; it's about you asking me this question. It just so happens that he's on the interview with me, but we've had these conversations. It's nothing new because he knows he has done that for me. He knows that he has told me different things.
Now, Walt loves Cadillacs. With that being said, one of the worst pieces of advice he's given me was what he told me when I told him I was going to buy a Cadillac. We had just gotten off a tour, and I had a bunch of money in my pocket. I had about 36,000 or so.
So, Walt asked me what I was going to do with all that money. I told him that I was going to get myself a Cadillac and that I was headed to the Cadillac dealership. He said, "Yeah, that's nice, but if you ever drive a Mercedes-Benz, you'll never go back to a Cadillac again! I listened to him and bought the Mercedes-Benz, and they took all my money! (laughs)
EN: Miss Gina, I didn't have any more money. I couldn't believe I had listened to him! After I test-drove that Mercedes, I said, give me that! (laughs)
EN: You know what they said, Miss Gina?
GS: What did they say?
EN: They said give me all your money! I had nothing left for the Gator man, the diamond man, or the suit man! I didn't have anything left! I gave it all to Mercedes. (laughs)
GS: And repairing that car is another beast to slay.
EN: Yes! I remember when Ed and Walt used to tell me stories about their Rolls- Royce and how much the hubcap costs when they lose one. Woo!
GS: (laughs) I love all The O'Jay's music! Not only were the vocals phenomenal, but the lyrical content was filled with love and lessons, which is one of the reasons I was drawn to your music. Why do you think most young people's music spews hatred and aggression today? As Marvin Gaye said, "What's going on?"
EN: There are two answers to that question. It has a lot to do with a person's upbringing. A person who respects their elders, fellow man or woman won't say or write certain things in their lyrics.
Once you have learned about love, relationships, and how to treat people properly, you will not write disrespectful lyrics. You only can write about what you feel and how you want to express it. If you don't know or haven't been taught, you can only go by what you hear and see now. Sometimes that may be through the influence of social media, the streets, or whoever else is raising you.
And if you call a woman the "B" word and they respond to it like it's their middle name, then you'll feel like it's alright to sing that type of music. You need a solid foundation at home to know what's cool and what's not.
My pet peeve with that is that there are so many other words one can use instead of the negative ones they use in their music. It's hard for me to understand why people aren't finding these words. So, it trickles down from how you're raised and taught.
Now, the second part to that answer is, if the radio didn't play it, they would stop doing it. I don't understand how you feel like you can go into a studio, write and record lyrics, and say inappropriate words, and they bleep it out on the radio. What's crazy is that some platforms play the song with cuss words. On my radio show, I won't play songs with cuss words. I'll tell them in a heartbeat, "if you send me a record with any cursing, I won't play it on my radio show. I'm just not going to do it. I heard the O'Jays and The Temptations and so many other artists do it forever without using curse words.
I remember when the O’Jays did "Work on Me." All they said was, work on me and come on and rub my back, and they thought that that was risqué. Mind you; they didn't say any cuss words in those lyrics. Nevertheless, they wouldn't play it. Walter, would they play it?
WW: No. They would not play it.
EN: Although the lyrics didn't contain one curse word, they wouldn't play it. And if the radio wouldn't play it, they wouldn't promote it. That's my answer.
GS: What about you, Walter? What is your take on it?
WW: I think he nailed it. All of this starts in the home. It has a lot to do with the way we raise our children. Primarily, there are a lot of children raising children. When little Johnny acts like a dummy in school, they send him home, and if you follow him, a dummy will open the door for him and let him in.
WW: That is how I feel about it. Over the last 20-30 years, I have observed how the effects of childhood upbringing, drugs, and crime became evident in their music. There is no passion or respect in what they say today, as opposed to how we sang music and how I was taught to write songs during my generation.
The way I was brought up, and the way I was taught to write a song, was to write complementary things about a lady and complimentary things about a woman you may have fallen in love with just on-site. It wasn't about knocking boots. To me, the way to explain it has become different. I guess I'm old school if that wasn't the right way to do it.
The lyrics and how the song was written started to change. Musically, there are not a lot of chord changes any longer. It's primarily vamped, and different things run across the vamp. This is the sound that is popular today.
We were taught that women respond to complimentary songs. Also, people react to educational songs. If you put it to a beat and rhythm, and they can sing and dance to it, you'll give the people what they want.
This is why our songs "Give The People What They Want" and "For The Love of Money" were no jokes because they were designed to educate people. Just like "Love Train," it was all about love, and that's basically what the Bible speaks of. So that's the education our writers, producers, and generation received, which is why the people accepted The O'Jays. We were all about positivity, love, and loving one another.
GS: I agree wholeheartedly, and we all love that about The O'Jays! Speaking of great lyrics and vocal performance, let's talk about your new song, Give Her Your Love," that you Gentlemen have out that everyone is raving about! By the way, I love it! Let's talk about it. Eric?
EN: Miss Gina, when the idea of this song came about, this song was tailor-made for Walter and me. I said tailor-made because when I first started doing this song, after playing ball, I was talking to this guy in the locker room, and he was telling me how he was going through a lot of problems with this girl. He told me how he did this and that for her, including paying bills and taking her out to dinner but regardless of what he did, they kept having problems.
I wanted to help him understand that it's not what you do for a woman but how you do it. You can't buy her love. I explained to him that if she loves you, then she needs to feel loved by you. I tried to break it down for this young cat because I consider myself an OG.
Well, I went to the studio and told "Jayshawn Champion," my partner, that I wanted to do a song about a young man asking an older man what to do when he can't get things together with his girl. Now Jayshawn, a phenomenal songwriter, kept coming up with these great lyrics. He was nailing it!
As I mentioned earlier, I changed a few lyrics, but it wasn't much. The only changes I made were to a few small parts. I told him the song would be dope if I could get Walter on it. Walter's voice is jazzier. Considering that his vocals have such a jazzy feel, I was confident that our voices would complement one another. After all, Walt's style influenced my own.
Here's the funny part. Walter doesn't sing with anybody but Eddie. That's the partner he knows, and that's what he does. The only other person he ever sang with was Beyoncé, which was contractual because we did something in the "Fighting Temptation" movie. The contracts stipulated that we had to do certain songs and stuff like that. But as far as singing with another male, Walter doesn't do songs with anyone other than The O'Jays. That's who he is.
So, naturally, I was apprehensive about asking him, but I was like, ok, this is my dude, so I'm going to go for it. He will have to tell me no, and then if he does, I'll figure out a plan B.
The great thing about Walter is that I only asked him once, and he only answered me once. I asked him, and he said, "OK, when do you want to cut it?" That's all he said. When we told him the time and date, he showed up on that date and time with his Popeye's chicken. (laughs)
EN: Miss Gina, He came up there and sang that record down! He sang that record about four or five times, and then when he finished, he said, "y'all got anything else you want me to do?" He said, "make sure you got it because whatever you need, I want to ensure you got it.
EN: Jayshawn has produced everybody, but when it came to Walt, he just let him go. He didn't really produce Walt because Walt really produced himself.
EN: I was like, are you going to produce him or what?
EN: Jayshawn said, man, how can you produce a legend? He's doing everything! I can't give him anything to do because he's doing it all. So, I told him, I know what you can do; when he leaves, I'm going back in because Walt beat me up badly on my song. Really bad! (laughs)
EN: I had to go back and re-record. I thought I had it until Walt came in and did what he did. Before Walt recorded his part, I said to myself, yeah, he's going to have to match this, but after he did his part, I said, Naw, I need to match that! (laughs)
GS: Eric, did you let Walter come in and drop the mic on you? (laughs)
EN: Yeah, he did, Miss Gina. He came over there and dropped the mic, and then when he finished, he said, "anything else y'all need me to do?" (laughs)
GS: That's hilarious! I cannot! You go, Walt! You have to show the young folks what time it is! (laughs)
EN: Jayshawn and I were staring at each other with mouths open, like, there's more? (laughs)
WW: The song inspired me; it was cute, and I liked what it said. The music didn't take a lot of imagination. You go in there and sing it, and then where there are places, you can adlib and put some extra stuff in; I did that, and they accepted it. So, that was it for me.
EN: And that was the beauty of that song. Half of the battle was won because Walter liked the music. Because Walt is a technician, he'll sit down and listen to every word, read it, and then write it out.
Once he knows the story, he projects that in the song. One of the things that I learned from him, and Eddie, is how to project in a song and know what the lyrics are about and what they're saying.
So, this is a bucket list item for me. Just being able to sing a song with my mentor is like singing with my dad. I fulfilled that dream with this song. That's why it's over-the-top special for me.
WW: The song had a positive message, and I liked where it was coming from. The song has great lyrics, like when it says, “when you don't know what happened and you're trying to talk to her, and she's snapping.” I think that's an outstanding line. Then he says, “give her your love, and I'll bet she'll give it back to you.”
GS: That’s beautiful, Walter. Those are great lyrics. I'm so glad we still have good music out there to combat some of the music that is not celebrating love. Eric, did you have live musicianship on this track?
EN: Yes, everything is live.
GS: Is the song available on all digital platforms?
EN: Yes, everyone you can think of.
GS: This single is a part of a collective project, am I correct?
EN: Right. "Eric Nolan Features." There will be about five or six songs on the EP. This song with Walter and me kicks off this album. There are a few others I'll be working with, such as Glenn Jones, Will Downing, Conya Doss, and LeLee from SWV. In the meantime, having this first release with Walter Williams, a legend, will serve as a blueprint for the type of music you'll hear on the album. I wanted to include songs on this project with clean lyrics that were not boring. All my music is clean. That's important to me.
EN: I knew that having Walter's voice on this song would give it the stamp that would solidify that this is what you should be doing. He comes from that era when Kenneth Gamble and Leon A. Huff wrote lyrics. They were the messengers and the people that set the standard of what was and wasn't cool. Additionally, I have daughters, and I don't want them to hear that stuff coming out of my mouth.
GS: Without a doubt. Do you plan to release a music video for the single?
EN: Yes, we are working on it, and it will be out soon.
GS: Awesome! I can't wait to see it! Walter, is there a new O'Jays album coming out?
WW: I would like to see one more album. The last one we did a couple of years ago, "The Last Word, " was a little bit too political. Betty Wright wrote the single, but it didn't get airplay. Again. This was likely due to the song's political content.
The song talked about being above the law, referring to, you know who. They control things, so they did not play it. It didn't get the kind of exposure the label wanted, so it didn't happen. But, I would like to do one more with Gamble and Huff and their staff of writers if they are still in the business. I don't know how they feel about it, so that's something that we will have to explore.
EN: To add to what Walt is saying, I've had a conversation with Huff, and he wants to do the last O'Jays album. He thought that would be a great idea. Because I have yet to speak directly to Gamble about this issue, I don't know his thoughts on the matter. Walter has more of a direct line to Gamble. But, as far as Huff is concerned, he would love to do it.
GS: Excellent, I would love to see that happen, and I'm sure many of your fans would agree. So, are you touring now?
WW: Yes, we're touring right now as we speak. On the 17th of this month, we will perform in Canton, Ohio, and other locations. What happened to us is that Eddie caught COVID and ended up with COVID pneumonia.
GS: Oh no!
WW: On his birthday, June 16th, he was in the hospital, so he's trying to recover.
GS: My husband and I will keep him in our prayers, and all of you guys.
WW: Thank you. I had COVID pneumonia almost three years ago before they developed a vaccine, and I almost died. I was in a coma for a week and 1/2.
GS: Are you kidding me? Oh no!
WW: No, I was on a ventilator for a week and 1/2. They even gave me my last rites.
GS: But God said not so! The doctors don't have the last say, nor do they hold your life in their hands; God does!
WW: Yes, that's right.
GS: I praise God that the Lord brought you through that.
WW: Yes! I say it every day, every day, because prayer works! They prayed for me. They called me and told me after I came out of that coma that they were praying for me, and that's what got me through it because I was in bad shape. At the house, I went into a coma.
I'm diabetic and have to take a shot every day, so I don't even know when I went to the hospital. I was in there for a week and 1/2 before I regained consciousness.
EN: So, I know what Eddie is going through with that COVID pneumonia. He will be weak for a long time and have to work like crazy to get back in show shape where he can hold those notes, belt them out, and have enough stamina.
Eric and I are doing choreography now. I didn't ever think I'd see those days again, but we're doing it, selling out, and having a ball on the stage.
GS: Through these trying times, we all must keep our faith in Christ, knowing that He will see us through every trial and tribulation that comes our way. Again, my husband and I will keep Eddie and your families in our prayers. Because Eddie is a part of your family, what affects one affects all of you. Just know that God is faithful, and He will see all of you through this.
WW: Thank you.
EN: Thank you.
GS: It's my pleasure. Lastly, I would appreciate any words of wisdom you can share with our readers that would inspire and encourage them. Let's start with you, Walter.
WW: my words of wisdom would be that love is the key. If we can do that, we will be fine. Your first love should be God, then family, and then yourself. You must love everyone with whom you come in contact. That's all I know.
EN: Walt said it best. We have to learn to love each other. That doesn't mean that you have to like or agree with what someone is doing, but what you do have to do is you have to respect what they're doing.
If you love your fellow man, you will at least respect him because everybody is not for everybody, that's why they have so many different cars to choose from. It's because there are so many different personalities. Some people like Kia's, some like BMWs, and some prefer a monster truck. That's why there are so many shoes because people like a variety of shoes, so if that's the case, we have to understand that everything isn't for everybody. But, what you and everybody should have in common is respect and love for your fellow man.
We can't change the world, but maybe somebody will read this and understand it. I’ll will never understand how a man could take another man's life. I just don't get it. There is never a justifiable reason to take another man's life. No matter what you feel he has done to you, there is no justification for it. I understand self-defense, but I don't know how you could take another man's life. So, Walt said it best. Love is the key.
WW: Love is powerful and won't let you stray. It will make you stay right in that lane. You show, tell, and prove it to people by doing it. Doing that diverts people from any destructive path they may consider going down. Love is so powerful that it will stop the negativity. When you express it, you give it.
GS: It has been an absolute honor to have the opportunity to speak with you today, gentlemen. My gratitude goes beyond words. Time is a precious commodity; thus, I thank you for taking time out of your busy schedules, even while on tour, to pour into the lives of our readers and be a blessing by sharing your beautiful words of wisdom. Thanks for sharing your life with us so we can learn from what you've experienced and about what you're doing today and the beautiful music you continue to make. Your music is incredible because you put out positive and uplifting music, and that's something that should be applauded.
As you continue your journeys, I pray that God will continue to bless you. As you face this difficult time, I pray that the Lord will keep you and your family safe and protected. I pray that God will bless the works of your hands, done according to his will and that He will bless your travels wherever you go. Please know that I am incredibly proud of you and all that you have achieved throughout your lives. As men of distinction, I am grateful for your music lyrics and commitment to being positive role models.
Thank you for showing our young men that real men still exist. Again, I would like to express my gratitude. My heart is full of gratitude and honor.
WW: Thank you so much. Well said!
GS: Thank you.
EN: Thank you.
GS: My pleasure.
All Eric Nolan and Walter Williams photos are courtesy of Eric Nolan and Walter Williams
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