Grammy Nominated & Soul Train Music Award Winner, "Keith Washington is" Kissing You & Telling All!
Updated: May 4, 2022
Keith Washington has achieved a number of milestones within the industry from nominations for Grammy awards to winning a Soul Train Music Award, an achievement few artists have ever been able to accomplish in the music and film business. A string of hit songs followed by an appearance in the television drama series Martin also ratified his undisputed success. It is safe to say that Keith Washington is an all-round talented individual, who is determined to reach even more than he has ever thought possible. The privilege I had of speaking with this amazing talent led me to share with you some of what he shared with me about his life and career.
It’s so good to speak with you! I’m a personal fan of your music! I think you are a phenomenal vocalist.
Thank you very much!
Keith, are you still living in Detroit? No, I’ve lived in LA for quite some time and just recently relocated to Las Vegas about four years ago. I still go home to visit my family in Detroit.
So how did it all begin for you? I am one of three boys and three girls. My sister, “Elaine”, who is passed away now, heard me singing in my room and told my mother when she came home from work. So, my mom told my aunt who was involved in the music business and was connected to various TV shows & nightclubs in Detroit.
Because of my aunts’ connections in the music industry, this opened the door for me to begin performing around Detroit around the age of 6. At that young age, I became world recognized. I appeared on TV shows in Canada, “Swingin Time” and I opened for lots of major acts that performed at “The 20 Grand” in Detroit like, “Brenda Russell”. That went on for a while. From that point on, my name began circulating around Detroit.
When I was around 9 years old, I remember my uncle coming to our house and having a conversation with my mom about going over to Motown. At that time, “Berry Gordon” wanted to have a meeting regarding me. But the meeting didn’t happen because my mom had bipolar and at that time her condition began to worsen. So, because my mother was always involved in my career, he didn’t want to take me without her. So, because of this, they decided to cancel the meeting. Consequently, it never happened. So, when I became a teenager, I became a part of a local group in Detroit.
Tell me about your teenage years? When I was around 16 years old, I went to live with my aunt and uncle. A few of the original members from group “The Dramatics” were her neighbors. My aunt’s house set on the corner. On the left side of her house about three doors down there lived,” Lenny Mayes” and on the right side of us was “Ron Banks”.
They went to school with my family. I went to “Persian High School”. So, my uncle and aunt kind of knew them, so as you can imagine, to meet the “Dramatics” at such a young age, was an exciting experience because “L.J Reynolds (LJ) was one of my heroes.
One day, while walking down the street, I ran into,” Lenny Mayes”. We struck up a conversation, they heard me sing and they really gravitated to me. This is what led me to going on tour with “The Dramatics.” I wasn't part of the Dramatics, but I was part of a team. I was part of the band. For example, in the middle of their show, they would have me come up and sing. They would feature me. That was the first time I ever sang in front of 6000 people. It was amazing!
Did you have stage fright? No, I didn’t have stage fright. I was past that point. At that point, I was accustomed to being on the stage I was used to it. So, I ended up touring with them for quite some time.
How old were you when you left Detroit? I was about 20 years old when I left Detroit. I met my wife, “Marsha Jenkins” around age 23. We then moved to Charlotte, NC. I never imagined that living in Charlotte, NC would be the very place that my success as a songwriter would begin. You never know where your success is going to happen. We moved there because she had to relocate. She worked for the airlines, got promoted, became an agent, and stopped flying.
How did you become successful in Charlotte? I ran into a few producers, Sonny More, Greg Shelton and other great producers like Paul Lawrence. Paul Lawrence was one of the producers for “Freddie Jackson”. That's when Freddie came out with, Rock with Me” and all those other hits. Paul Lawrence was one of the producers of that album.
How did you meet Paul Lawrence? Sonny Moore was a friend of mine, and he knew Paul Laurence. See, when I met Sonny in Charlotte, we started talking because we both had production studios in our homes. So, he and I started writing together and one day he called me and told me that Paul Laurence wanted us to write a song for Freddie. So, I wrote “Hey lover” by “Freddie Jackson”. It ended up becoming a huge record for him. That was my first wow! That was my first royalty check signing with ASCAP. It’s the best feeling in the world to get paid for what you love doing. I said to myself, now I am an official songwriter. My name was behind one of the biggest R&B singers of that time. I was very excited about that!
Because my wife worked for the airline, I was able to fly for free. So, I would fly back and forth from Carolina to Los Angeles taking meetings and so on. It was amazing because before my wife and I got married.
Tell me a bit about Don Davis? Don Davis was like my godfather. He owned a studio called “United Sounds Recording Studio” and owned the first independent bank in Detroit.
He was also involved in the dramatics career. When I was around 19/20 years old, he allowed me to go down to his recording studio and write songs. He had producers down there working and writing with me.
Well, one time, while I was in the studio, a bunch of people came in to listen to me while I was recording. One of the people there was one of Ed McMahon's daughters from the hit TV show, “Star Search”. Don rented them a big room for their auditions. They were looking for talent. So, they came in there while I was recording me to do star search, but I was not interested. The reason for my apprehension was that I felt that they had favorites. Plus, the guy who had been on there for a while, who was always winning, they wanted me to go up against him. I felt as though there was favoritism.
I wasn't insecure of about my ability to sing and perform well. I knew I was well equipped and prepared; it was just that I just felt as though there was favoritism. I felt that I will be fighting and losing battle. You know, the politics. But they convinced me to do it. So, I did.
At that time, I hadn't written any songs for Freddie Jackson or anything. So, Dan Davis suggested that we would sing in original song called “You Are My Life.” He wanted me to open with that song and then the second song would be a well-known pop song. He said that I will kill them with this song! There wasn't any question that I There wasn't any question that I could have out sung that man. The only problem was that, in general, people relate more to songs they are familiar with. I remember repeatedly telling Don, “They don't know “You Are My Life”, they don't know that song. He felt that it would be a good idea because my delivery of that song was so point on. He felt that I sang that song very well.
The judges must have relatability to the song as well, and I felt that we would not win because of that. I suggested that we do a song that they (the audience and judges) knew first. Then we could add a couple other songs in then include that song somewhere along the way as I’m winning.
Unfortunately, I ended up performing the original song first. The audience loved it! So much so that they gave me a standing ovation! So much so that they gave me a standing ovation! But somehow, I still did not feel comfortable. turns out that my feeling was accurate because one of the judges gave me a half a point. she told me that it's no question that I was good and that I was a star, reason that she gave me a half a point was because, they didn’t recognize the song.
The guy that had been on there for a while, sang a bunch of “Sam Cooke” songs. These are songs that people recognize. But at the end of the day, it turned out to be a good thing because it gave me lots of exposure. That was a great part of my life.
Thank you for sharing that experience. How did your career progress from there? Well, I got married in Charlotte. Also, Charlotte was the place where I wrote the song for Freddie Jackson. But I would fly back and forth to LA to network, meet people and get exposure. Eventually we moved to LA permanently. Amid that, I was signed to a little label that was distributed by a A&M records. “John McClain”, who was the executive producer for Janet Jackson's and so many other careers, he was the A&R director over at A&M records. John was friends with the owners of Calista Records. “Calista Records” was an independent label distributed by A&M Records. So, I was signed to that label at that time.
We had a great working relationship. I knew the three guys well. I believe they treated me a lot different than they treated the other acts because I knew people they knew. As we would say, street people.
However, despite of that close knit relationship, still one of them had an issue with me. He made a comment to somebody expressing his dissatisfaction in me for one reason or the other. He wanted me to comply with what he wanted me to do, and if I didn't do it, he threatened to shelf me. They had a satellite company in the front and a record label also. I doubt if they knew much about the record business at that time.
So, when I heard that, I met with John McClain and told him that, “I wanted to be free from the production deal I had with “Calista.” I gave him the choice to either sign me directly or I would leave.
John would always tell me that he wanted me to sign directly. But he also said that everything would have to be worked out first. His plan was as follows…. as soon as “Jeffrey Osborne” leaves and goes over to Clive Davis label, then I could sign with them directly.
What happened was, there was an international marketing for A&R meeting in London. “Herb Albert” the owner of A&M records was also there. So, John played “Control “by “Janet Jackson and my song, “kissing you.” At that time, both songs were only demos. He played “kissing You” three or four times because they love the song that much.
So, when they came back into the United States, John told me that “Herb Albert” was going to give me a call me upon his return. Herb Albert did call me. He set up a meeting with me and A&R records. I let him know how unhappy I was with the label that I was distributed by. I told him that I wanted to sign directly with them. See, they didn't want to lose me because of the response they got regarding me internationally. So, Herb Albert told me that he wanted me to meet a friend of his. He told me he was a manager. He told me that he was on the road with one of his clients but as soon as he got back in town, he wanted me to meet him. So, when he came back in town, he did introduce me to him and his name was, “Sherwin Bash.” Sherwin did become my manager. Unfortunately, he passed away in 2016. Sherwin's massive catalog of actors and artist that he's represented over the years is extremely impressive. He was a heavyweight. He told me that there was no question that “kissing You” was going to be a huge song for me.
He had a meeting with the same guy who introduced him to me. He went in and said, “here's the deal guys, I need $50,000 into his account immediately.” He wanted it within 10 days, and if that doesn’t happen, he would take full ownership. That's what he told everyone in the meeting, including Herb Albert. They told him that they wanted to work it out with me, but they were waiting for “Jeffrey Osborne” to go over to Arista Records. They were going to let Jeffrey go. they said as soon as Jeffrey is over at,” Arista” then we will work it out. He was not happy about that. He was a shrewd, but he was business.
Shortly after that, my new manager suggested that we and get out of that deal. I was apprehensive because heard that filing bankruptcy can ruin your life. He asked me, did I have credit now? I told him that I didn't. Then he said, “in that case, I didn’t have anything to worry about.” He then went on to say that he would show me the difference between having money in the bank and not having money in the bank.
So, we did file bankruptcy. It was a type of bankruptcy that you can list things that you wanted to file for. So, we got out of that deal. Shortly after that, he practically had every major record label’s contract on the table waiting for me to decide which one I wanted to go with.
What about Clive Davis? Was he interested in signing you? The only person that did not offer me a deal but wanted me over there was, “Clive Davis.” The two of them had known each other for quite some time, for years. These guys were the hot CEOs of these companies like my manager. They were not the A&R people. He told me that Clive was interested but, he did not want to get in a rat race. So, I took it upon myself to call Clive directly, but he told me that he did not want to get in a rat race with my manager, Sherwin. I couldn't believe I was talking to Clive Davis! It is crazy how life is. You never know what will happen in your life. What was funny was that I when I was on the phone with Clive, I was saying “Yeah Clive, yeah.” I was playing it cool. But, in the back of my mind, I was like, wow! I'm really talking to Clive Davis! This is amazing! I'm really talking to Clive Davis! This is amazing! So, I accepted what Clive said to me. I told him that I would have my manager reach out to him.
What was your next move? Who won the bidding war? Who did you end up signing with? Well, Benny Medina, who was an A&R director at Warner Brothers, was a very good friend of mine. In fact, the TV series that, “Will Smith” played called, “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.” That was his true-life story. He was the guy that they wrote the story around. Will Smith represented him, and the family represented the family that he grew up in. That was the Gordy family, as in the “Berry Gordy” (Founder, Motown Records).
But going back to Benny. Because he knew that I had gotten out of my previous contract, he wanted to sign me directly to “Warner Brothers.” “Warner Brothers” was one of the many contracts that was on the table. But “Quincy Jones” was interested in me also.
Now, before all that happened, I signed with “Elektra Records.” Although I was grateful for the opportunity, I didn't feel as though that was my resting place. At the time, “Anita Baker” was over there. She was one of Sherwin's clients. As a matter of fact, “Keith Sweat” was also on that label.
The A&R person, his name was “Raoul Roach.” So, I met Raoul over there. Before he became the A&R person at “Electra”, he was Quincy Jones driver. Because my manager (Sherwin) and was good friends with the CEO of Electra, “Bob Krasnow”, we ended up signing a $4 million dollar record deal with them. I was probably one of the first new and unknown artist to come aboard. Generally, it's difficult for an emerging artist to sign such a big deal but, that just goes to show you the power of powerful people.
So, my first CD was supposed to come out on Electra. Well, what happened was, Raoul received a phone call regarding “Quincy Jones” wanting him to come over to “Quest Records.” Quincy wanted him to be his A&R person over there. So, Raoul informed him that he was just finishing my record. I encouraged Raoul to go over there, and I assured him that I would be fine. After he leaves, a new person comes in name “Tommy” from “Sony Records” to replace Raoul’s position.
“Bob krasnow” let him hear the album. Tommy tells Bob, “It’s OK. You'll be lucky if you get your money back.” So, his statement put doubt in Bob's mind. weeks later, Raoul calls in to check on me. He asked Bob about the progress of my album. He told him that it was coming along very well but, he wanted to know why he asked? Raoul said, “Quincy is interested”. Bob said, “I'm sure he would be.” Then he asked Raoul to have Quincy call him.
Quincy had already heard the album and loved it! So, Raoul told Quincy what Bob said. So, we kept everything quiet because that's what Quincy Jones wanted to do. So, Quincy, did call him. Meanwhile, during all this, my friend, Benny Medina found out that “Electra Records” dropped me before the record was released. So, Benny asked me to come over to Warner Brothers. Now, keep in mind, Quest Records is distributed through warner brothers. So, my manager thought it would be a good idea to go to sign directly to Warner Brothers and then to Quincy as well. He felt as though we could get both labels. In the end, I wind up signing with Quincy. unfortunately, that kind of damage my relationship with Benny Medina. Because of that, we didn't speak for a while. So basically, that's how my professional recording career began.