3X Grammy Award-Winning Singer, Steven Russell Harts of Troop Is Spreading His Wings and Flying Way Up to The Top with His New Music! Can you dig it! Steven's kindhearted nature made the interview enjoyable. Not only was he friendly and humorous, but he was also very knowledgeable. In speaking with him, I was able to learn a great deal about his life and even some things I didn't know about him. Growing up, I listened to Troop often. In my youth, I loved their songs such as "Spread My Wings and All I Do Is Think of You." I loved those songs, but I never considered Steven's other talents or the lengths he went to achieve his goals. In this interview, he shares some insight into a life we didn't see. Let's find out what he has to say.
Hi Steven, how's your day going? It's going well, how's yours?
It's wonderful, thank you! Where do you live? I'm in DeSoto, Texas in the Dallas area.
How's the weather out there? It's windy today.
Are there dirt storms where you live? Not in this area, but we get land storms. The weather
can be tricky at times. At times, it can fluctuate from extreme cold to extreme heat.
The wind can be harsh on the sinuses. This is especially true for singers. Oh yes!
I'm delighted to be interviewing you today! Troop was one of my favorite groups growing up, I'm a huge fan. Thank you very much.
My pleasure. OK, let's get into it! Steven, what are your earliest childhood memories of singing? When I was around 7 years old, my grandma bought me my first tape recorder with a microphone. I wanted to be in “The Jackson 5” group and in “Switch” so bad! So, at the age of 12, I gained popularity emulating Michael Jackson in Pasadena, CA. People loved my Michael Jackson routine so much that I became extremely popular. Because of what I experienced when I performed live, I wanted to become a singer. So, I developed my own approach.
Did you have the Michael Jackson jacket with the zippers, dress shoes, and all the accessories that came with that? Of course.
How about the Jerry Curl with slicked-down sides? Yes, I had the Jerry Curl, Bangs, and everything. My mom was scared to death! (laughs)
What impact did the music your mother listened to have on the style of music that you later recorded? Oh, totally! My mom and I lived in a single-family home when I was a kid. Music was medicine in our household. Stevie Wonder, The Isley Brothers, The Commodores, Denice Williams, and Parliament-Funkadelic were among my favorite artists. Howard Hewett, Michael Jackson, O'Brien, Johnny Wilder from Heatwaves, and Kool and The Gang were among my biggest influences. Throughout my life, the music that I listened to helped me develop into who I am today.
Which commonalities between each of those singers drew you to their music? I believe it was just the resonance of love, the intent of the song, and the point of the music. That’s what drew me in. But, most strongly I was attracted by the pure love of music.
What was the point in time when music transitioned away from the 70's soul R&B sound to the style that is heard on the radio today? One of the most talented producers I’ve ever heard in my life and a good friend of mine, Teddy Riley.
See, rap was already using R&B with sampling, but when Teddy Riley came out with the New Jack swing, he opened the door for other producers to come in and expand their creativity. Dallas Austin and Rodney Jerkins are a few of those producers that were a part of that transition. Although I am not saying that this is a bad thing, I am referring to the moment that sparked the transformation of the traditional sound of Soul and R&B into the sound we know today.
Ok, explain. This is how it works, producers emerged that didn't follow the format of the 70s and 80s. For example, If Dallas copies Teddy Riley and another kid comes along, copies Dallas, and creates his own style, then the change begins.
So, the traditional Soul and R&B sound changed when the New Jack Swing came into being. That new sound is what sent R&B and soul music on a different course. Again, I wouldn’t say it’s a bad thing, it's just my opinion of what happened.
That's the point where R&B music became more experimental. As we speak, Roger Troutman comes to mind, and his song "Computer Love." In my opinion, that song was experimental and futuristic. Yes, and because hip hop won't let his sound die, he was way ahead of his time.
At what age did you sign your first professional deal? I signed my first deal as a member of Troop on Tuesday, June 2nd, 1986. I was 15 years old, and I was in the 10th grade.
That must have been an amazing feeling! What a dream come true for a young man! Gina, it was surreal. I couldn't believe it was happening! I thought to myself, my voice is going to be on vinyl records! It was the best and most memorable experience of my life. The best feeling in the world was just being one of the people at the table, signing the agreement that would eventually launch me into stardom.
Being 15 years old, going back to your high school peers and letting them know that you just signed a major record deal, how did They respond? Because we started the group in 1984 and performed in every talent show from 1984 until 1988 when we graduated, our peers were familiar with our talent. Usually, it wasn't a big deal until talent show time. The good thing is that we had lots of support from our peers, both male and female. I would say that we were quite popular.
Although everyone liked us, after experiencing one disappointment after the other, people began to doubt that we were going to make it. But we kept our friends updated on our progress. There were times when we would go to school and deliver good news, but then bad news would follow.
Because of the shiftiness, we decided to focus on the journey. Things didn't get real until people saw us on BET on the Donnie Simpson show. This happened one weekend shy of graduation. Our peers were like what? (laughs)
What grade were you in at that time? We started in the 9th grade and by the time we were on the Donnie Simpson show, we were in the 12th
Did you guys perform at your graduation? No, I graduated on a Thursday and was on tour by Saturday. Unfortunately, my high school friends never got the chance to relish that moment because we were out of there!
No Disneyland, no prom? No. I was the last one to graduate. By the time our record was released, we were out of school. I think the reaction came later. When we came back from touring, our friends would say, you guys really hit!
Yes, you guys were successful from the beginning. Yes, we had a number one album out of the box. It was crazy!
How did it feel to be on the top of the Billboard charts and win Grammys? As a member of Troop, it was amazing! Before we were signed, I was writing and producing. I landed a song on the Whispers album, and it went gold before Troops did.
Sounds to me like you enjoyed writing. Yes, I knew writing was going to be a big part of what I did because I really admired Babyface and Gerald Levert. It was my dream to become a writer. So, I continued writing and producing for Troop until people began to take notice of what I did. As a result, I was placed on other artist projects. Then, I became a writer in a production company called The Underdogs where we wrote and sold close to 100 million records as a production team.
Well, congratulations! Thank you
You’re welcome! That's how I got all my Grammys.
Can you tell me about that? Yes, my first Grammy was from Jennifer Hudson's album and my second Grammy was from Chris Brown’s album, a song called, Take You Down.” The third Grammy was from Chris Brown’s, Fame and Fortune album.
Absolutely outstanding! Thank you very much. Yes, it has been a fascinating journey for me. An incredible feeling of accomplishment arises from accomplishing the things that are a part of my purpose in life! It's a true blessing that I have been given the opportunity to live out my dream, even though nothing comes without adversity, and I'm thankful and appreciative of the opportunity that I have had.
It is the fact that you had a plan for reaching your full potential in your youth that separates you from so many artists. From the very beginning, it was clear to you that you were not just going to be a singer, but also a writer. That was, in my opinion, a wise decision because artists who don't obtain other means of financial security, as soon as their contracts expire, often drift away into obscurity. Did you desire to be a part of a group, or did you wish to be a solo artist? While I was open to being a part of a group, my primary goal was to become a solo artist. While I was with the group, I never reverted to a solo mentality.
In hindsight, do you feel as though you made the right decision? You know, I can't argue with my journey. However, if I had to do it again, I would have paid more attention to certain opportunities that would have created additional career advancement opportunities for me personally. Just like Lionel Richie and so many others. Unfortunately, I allowed great opportunities to pass me by. If I was able to go back in time, I would have made a different decision. Overall, I'm OK with it.
Where did the name a troop come from? The name Troop came from a dance they did in the 80s called, The Troop.
Oh yes, I remember that dance! I used to do it. (laughs) Yeah. The original name of the group was The Guys. This is the name under which we signed the recording contract. However, there was a group named Guy who had a two-week drop date before us. Consequently, we had to change our name at the last minute. Out of nowhere, I suggested that we just be "Troop". Everyone agreed that the idea was dope. It happened that fast.
What was the band's name before you signed? In high school, we went under the name, “Five of the kind” but, we changed our name to the guys when we signed our record deal.
One of my all-time favorite songs from Troop is, “All I Do Is Think of You.” Tell me who hit the high note? Which one?
At the beginning of the song. The note went all the way up to the top of Mount Everest. (laughs) That was me yelling. That’s so funny.
When you hit that high note, were you a one-take Jake, or did you have to hit it several times before you nailed it? Because I wanted to sing it like Michael Jackson, I'm sure I did it several times. Chuckii Booker said, Steve, that's as good as it will get, bro. That's you, and you're not going to be Mike. (laughs)
Steven, that note will go down in history as being one of the best high notes ever hit in the 80s! That high note could not have been more perfect than what it was. That was a historical, iconic high note! That is funny! (laughs) Thank you so much.
Would you mind telling me what it is like going on tour and having to hit that high note over and over again? Yeah, sometimes I would have the recording play and I'd sing along with it. Trust me, I’m not trying to kill myself. I just play it off and let it do what it does. So yes, it is challenging, especially due to my age and the fact that I'm not singing as frequently as I did when I was a lot younger.
What about dancing and singing? The challenge of dancing and singing simultaneously has always been difficult. Nevertheless, all I can say is this - I aim to perform to my best ability at the moment.
Was your experience in the music industry what you thought it would be? In my experience, it was much different than what I thought it would be. This is partly because I was not well-versed in the business aspects of the music industry, and I didn't know how certain relationships worked. Consequently, I began making decisions that were detrimental to my career. That threw me off course from my original objective.
Everything was going well. Back-to-back, I had the top 10 records. I chose what videos we should do and everything. Not staying in my lane became problematic. I dropped the baton. Those decisions created a quick experience for my music business career.
The music business was exactly what I wanted it to be; it just didn't last as long as I wanted it to. But, being onstage and having number one records above Michael Jackson and Babyface, you can't beat that. Now, I will say this, regarding people loving you, crying, loving your songs, and screaming your name, it was exactly what I wanted it to be. That was a fantastic experience. I would have liked it to last a little bit longer.
Upon entering your professional career, did you ever promise yourself that if you made it, there was something that you would just not going to do for fame? Yeah, it was drugs. Growing up, I saw many people around me smoking marijuana, like my mom and uncles. We thought that was drugs back then. Even though it wasn't like cocaine or alcohol, by seeing that, I had no interest in Indulging in those types of practices.
So, when I got into the music business, I knew that if I had to get into a Jacuzzi or do certain drugs or stuff to be a specific thing in the music business, I learned early on that I wouldn't be one of those people. I would not be successful if it took all that because I was not going to do it. I told myself, I'm not getting into the Jacuzzi, and I'm not doing cocaine. I don't need drugs to be high, you know, uh?
Absolutely! Additionally, I wasn't going to be having babies everywhere. Those were the things that I knew I was not going to do.
Just like we called our parents music, old school, young people are calling music from our generation old school. Does that bother you? Well, I take it in stride because even though I feel like I'm 30, I do realize I'm that old-school guy now. It's hard to believe, but I'm 52 years old. In my opinion, I still haven't seen a group today that has touched Troop. So, when you say old school, I'm waiting for someone to make me old! (laughs) Do you know what I mean? (laughs) (laughs) it seems like it's going to be a young boxer to come and retire me. (laughs) But in all seriousness, I take it in stride. (laughs) I hope that the young people were influenced by what I did. But no, it doesn't bother me.
I'm twice as talented as I was when I gave the world the first pieces of myself as a kid. I just wished my people wouldn't have counted us out so early. I wish they would have also given us the Al Green and Ronald Isley try. Music gets better with time. It doesn't get worse. As a songwriter who writes many songs and hits for many artists, I would have wanted the opportunity to express Steven outside of Troop. I would have loved to get my Lionel Richie on, do my own thing as a writer, and have hit records of my expression. What was missing for me was that I didn't get a Steve Russell shot. This is why I just released my new single, "So Close." I thought I would at least give it a shot before I retire.
You've composed music for film also. Tell me about that?
Before working with the underdogs, I got my first producer score from Vassal Benford. "Jade" is an R&B group that he produced. I worked on Dreamgirls and Shark Tale with The Underdogs. Due to my enjoyment of working in film, I created my own production company, Black Box.
Now, I'm an independent film producer and director with my own production company, and I love it. It's another form of creation.
Writers don't get paid by Spotify in all the places that billionaires do off our music, so my survival is based on me using my talents the best way I can. Shooting film is another opportunity to expose my music through film and venture into another lane of creativity I've always admired.
What is the name of one of your projects? The TV series that I have out right now on Amazon is called "Day One's." It's an 8-episode series like Boyz in Hood.
What's the synopsis? It's about two black males who grew up together, from small kids to young men who have fallen victim to society and are a menace to themselves and their communities. After suffering childhood traumas, Lunch Money and Stone must confront the fact that they are responsible for their reality and change it fast before it's too late. The other one is called Tales of a Boy Band. In this documentary, every member of the group Troop was allowed to tell their own stories. That's available on Tubi.
So what else do you have going on in the present? The movies and new music. While working on the film, I decided I wanted to make some music, so I got with my friend Chuckii Booker, who produced Troops "Spread My wings and All I Do Is Think of You," along with my buddy Harvey Mason junior from The Underdogs, and we wrote "So Close." The song is about the importance of not sleeping on R&B music. Women still love to be loved. I sing grown men's music.
Did you produce it along with Chuckii Booker? No, he did it by himself. I proudly stepped aside, gave him his big brother producer hat back, and let him do his thing.
As a child, my mother could not afford to get our hair done regularly, so we had to do it ourselves. Occasionally, we were able to get our hair done, and boy, it felt good to have someone else do it. Isn't it like that? Yes, that's exactly what it is.
Awesome! I'll have to check both of those films out. Congratulations! Going back to music, are you planning any tours for your new music? Yes. I'm getting 1200 spins a week on a brand-new single. I'll be charting on Billboard very soon. This time, I'll be on tour by myself.
Will you be performing any songs from your prior Troop albums along with your new material? Yes, I'll be performing my new music and music from the Troop albums. Additionally, I'll be performing songs I wrote for Chris Brown, Charlie Wilson, Ruben Studdard, and Avant. I'll be performing a medley of stuff. I will be able to introduce myself this time as Steven Russell Heart. Some of the songs they will hear are those other artists have sung, but they did not know I wrote them. So, I'm looking forward to that.
Last, Steven, tell me, what's your dream? My dream is to bless as many people as I can with music that feels good. I want to write stories that feel good also. I dream that I remind as many people as possible that they are valuable. And my dream is for my children to be happy and prosperous in whatever they choose in their journeys.
Awesome! One last question. Which one tastes better on fried fish out of Red Rooster, Tabasco, and Louisiana hot sauce? You know, I like Red Rooster. If I say anything wrong about Red Rooster, I will be a hypocrite. Red Rooster is the bomb!
I know it's so well. It has such great flavor! Steven, thank you very much for this fantastic interview and your time. As always, I pray that God will bless you and your journey. God will bless your hands' works, be it done according to his will. That God will keep you and your family safe in this time. Keep dreaming, and don't ever give up! May the Lord be with you on your journey. God bless you, and thank you again.
Thank you, Gina.
It's my pleasure.
All Photos of Steven Russell Harts are courtesy of Steven Russell Harts
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