I remember, although I didn’t know this was him, the first time I came to listen to Luther Vandross‘s specific voice. It was some time back in 1980, as the lead vocalist of the Fred Jacques Petrus & Mauro Malavasi produced ‘The Glow Of Love’ album for Italo/US Disco/Funk group Change, left in charge of the title cut and ‘Searching’. Two standards that would lead him to break under his own name a year later, after many appearances as a background vocalist for artists such as Quincy Jones on his ‘Best’ Album in 1969 (his first experience of the likes), Carly Simon, Chaka Khan, Bette Midler, Chic and David Bowie among others. Not to mention Roberta Flack who would push him to go under his own banner, meanwhile dropping his 2 first albums as a solo artist for Cotillion in 1976 and 1977, and eventually doin’ a cover version of Toto‘s famous ‘Georgy Porgy’ 5 years later with transient outfit Charme on RCA.
Released in 1981 on Epic Records the ‘Never Too Much’ album, featuring its title track which reached the #1 status on the R&B charts, would be the start of million-selling units in the 80’s, seeing Luther Vandross collaborating with long time friend and bassist phenomenon Marcus Miller and subsequently developing a sound that would stand as a trademark. A sound which would make him quite an in demand producer, working for Cheryl Lynn and Aretha Franklin respectively on the ‘Instant Love’, then ‘Jump To It’ and ‘Get It Right’ albums. But it wasn’t before 1989 that Luther Vandross got into the Billboard Pop Chart Top 10 with ‘Here And Now’ taken from ‘The Best Of Luther Vandross… The Best Of Love Greatest Hits’ compilation. ‘The Power Of Love’ album, released in 1991, including the famous ‘Power Of Love/Love Power’ which would receive the remix treatment of Frankie Knuckles, giving me the pleasure to have what would remain as my first and only (phone) conversation with him…
“I do not write with the intention to fulfill the expectations of the crowd, nor am I trying to take risks. I’m simply doing the things the way I feel, even though they may seem linear to you from an album to another. As a matter of fact, who am I supposed to be to you and which kind of risks am I supposed to take???”
“Pretend that the uptempo is necessarily that kind of 120bpm thing to be found on the Disco and Dance Music production is to me totally inadmissible and I can understand that you don’t find anything of the likes on my album”, he started, as if he’d felt offended by my remarks about the existence of a signature/trademark on his repertoire… ” I love Disco, as shown by my works with Change on ‘The Glow Of Love’ and ‘Searching’, but I’m not in search for security while sticking to a certain rhythmic standard or any form of diktats! After all, isn’t that that our man had serious reasons to be sure of his affair after 5 platinum and 2 double platinum albums under his belt, dropping some 16 songs in the charts to this precise date? Not to mention the Grammy Award that would be given to him as the Best Singer in 1991 and his awesome live performances both at Madison Square Garden and Wembley Arena a few months before!!!
“I do not write with the intention to fulfill the expectations of the crowd, nor am I trying to take risks. I’m simply doing the things the way I feel, even though they may seem linear to you from an album to another. As a matter of fact, who am I supposed to be to you and which kind of risks am I supposed to take???”, obviously tickled by my remarks/questions, meant to nothing but have him reacting… “Don’t get me wrong, though. I know you just do your job, as I just do mine with my answers and when I say ‘you’, it’s not personal, as I suppose you wouldn’t be questioning me if ever you didn’t like my music…”
I then happened to mention Will Downing’s latest album at the time… ” Will Downing and I haven’t got anything to do with each other”, he reacted. “And that’s the same regarding Freddie Jackson, Alexander 0’ Neal or anyone else… I’m not following a certain path. I hate the comparisons. Why try to find common points between an artist and another or locate him in regards to another one like say Miles Davis and Herb Alpert?
You can’t compare me with Alexander O’ Neal, Freddie Jackson or Keith Washington, simply because they’ve appeared after me. Compare them to me if you wish, but not the contrary! They’ve been influenced by my music. I do nothing else but what sounds good to me and I do not listen to their music before recording. It’s quite strange to see us put in the same basket. Simply because we’re all Black and sing ballads… That’s a bit easy, isn’t it? After all, we’re all different, aren’t we???”
We would end up talking about his ‘Power Of Love’ album (his eighth back then)… “I’ve worked on it with a lot of serenity, with the feeling of being considered as a multi-format artist. I need to feel touched by melodies. I don’t like these X-mas New Year preconceived formulas and I’m not gonna release an album to keep my name alive on the market. There’s no particular theme and neither do I think about my previous albums when I come to record a new project. Each song title is the reflect of what I like at the time of its recording.” A unique signature that Luther would make his along the years with the help of long time contributors such as Marcus Miller Ray Bardani, and Nat Adderley, Jr., avoiding collaborations with the rappers which would end up becoming the ultimate standard on the R&B field along the following years. “I respect Rap the way it is”, he said “but it’s not because Picasso may have liked Walt Disney that you would end up seeing cartoon characters on his paintings…
Rap is an expression form on its own and if some people incorporate it on their works, that’s their business. Seeing some rappers on my music would seem to me like a sort of demagogy and I’m not to sure about the fact it would please my crowd.” At least, if one thing is for sure, and Luther agrees, had he been living everything he’s written along the last 10 years, he’d probably be standing somewhere by the window of a lunatic asylum, waiting for someone to pay him a visit!
I therefore wish I would have paid him one. And although I saw him performing a couple of times in London and Paris with a real emotion, I’d never been given the opportunity to be physically introduced to him.
then would get another Grammy Award for the Best R&B song the same year before scoring a hit with Janet Jackson by the likes of Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis produced ‘The Best Things In Life Are Free’, taken from the ‘Mo’Money’ OST. Two years after, he covered Lionel Richie & Diana Ross’s classic ‘Endless Love’ alongside Mariah Carey, then did another duet on Frank Sinatra’s ‘Duets’ album. 1997 seeing him receiving his third Grammy Award as Best Male R&B vocal for ‘Your Secret Love’, but also marking the end of his liaison with Epic Records with the release of a second ‘Greatest Hits’ album…