I remember, although I didn’t know this was him, the first time I came to listen to Luther Vandross‘s specific voice. This was some time back in 1980. He was then along with Change. An Italo/US Disco/Funk group which Jacques Fred Petrus and Mauro Malavasi had put together. Singing the lead on their album title track (‘The Glow Of Love’) and ‘Searching’. Two standards that would help him to break under his own name a year later, after many appearances as a backing vocalist. Be it for Quincy Jones on his ‘Best’ Album in 1969 (his first experience of the likes). But also Carly Simon, Chaka Khan, Chic and David Bowie among others. Not to mention Roberta Flack who pushed him to go under his own banner.
Following her advice, he would release his 2 first albums as a solo artist under the Luther guise for Cotillion in 1976 and 1977. And how not to mention his vibrant cover version of Toto‘s famous ‘Georgy Porgy’ 5 years later with 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. 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.
Surprisingly, it wasn’t before 1989 that Luther Vandross would get into the Billboard Pop Chart Top 10. And this, with ‘Here And Now’ from ‘The Best Of Luther Vandross… The Best Of Love Greatest Hits’ compilation. ‘The Power Of Love’ album followed in 1991, including the famous ‘Power Of Love/Love Power’ which received the remix treatment of Frankie Knuckles. Itself 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 one usually find in the Disco and Dance Music production is to me totally inadmissible. Therefore, 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 you may notice by my collaborations 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 celebrated him as the Best Singer in 1991. Or 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? Why trying 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.