"In The Zone"
New CD Release 10/11/11
Interview and Photos By: DeeLee Maley
Richard is a Scottish-born saxophone player who found his roots in R&B and as a member of the funk band Tower of Power in the 1980’s. Post Tower of Power, Richard launched a solo career which has spiraled into a dynamic explosion of hit after hit such as "Street Beat", "When a Man Loves a Woman", "Chill Factor", "On the Town", and "Crush", just to name a few ...everyone has their personal favorites.
More recently there is the smooth transition of the sweet soulful sound of Richard Elliot from ”Rock Steady” to his latest CD release, “In the Zone.” Richard is a strong presence in the music industry and a pure delight to his enormous international fan base.
Friday night, October 7, 2011, at the Frederick Brown Jr. Amphitheater in Peachtree City, GA, a huge crowd of music lovers had the pleasure of “Rocking Steady”, pun intended, “In The Zone", again pun intended, to the energetic, yet smooth, sounds of Richard Elliot and his tour partner Norman Brown. Richard blended the sounds of his tenor and alto saxophones along with the voice box; with the gyrating sounds of Norman Brown’s guitar and their band into an infusion of musical magic. The high energy flowed from the stage into the crowd simultaneously.
Just as we are still groovin’ to "Rock Steady", here it comes…”In the Zone” the newest release by Richard as Smooth Jazz Magazine caught up to him backstage after the show.
SJM: What is the musical metamorphosis from "Rock Steady" to "In the Zone"?
Richard: The two are actually connected because what I tried to do with Rock Steady is drawn on my influences in R&B music. So I started Rock Steady by taking three cover tunes and built all of the original material around those cover tunes, Eddie Kendrick’s’, Keep on Truckin’, Aretha Franklin’s Rock Steady, and Curtis Mayfield’s, Move on Up. Now, In the Zone was is a tribute to my influences around the same time, but this is my instrumental, jazz influence, which, for me, were people like Bob James, David Sanborn, Grover Washington, and Ronnie Laws. So that was the contemporary instrumental side of my influences. ..sort of the flip side of Rock Steady. The main difference is there is only one cover song for In the Zone which is a version of Inner City Blues, that I sort of loosely fashioned after Grover Washington’s instrumental version. The rest are all instrumental songs which I did with Jeff Lorber, who co-produced and co-wrote all the material. We definitely wrote it with the idea of calling on those people who were my influences in those years. By the way, Jeff Lorber was one of those influences.
SJM: Now besides this recent collaboration with Jeff Lorber, have you had the chance to meet and work with your influences?
Richard: I never got a chance to work with Curtis Mayfield or Eddie Kendrick, but I did have an opportunity to work with the Temptations and record with them back in the ‘80’s, but Eddie was obviously out of the group at that time. I would love to work with Aretha Franklin…maybe that will happen someday (with a huge smile.
SJM: Tell us about the influence that Tower of Power had on you?
Richard: Huge influence! I was with Tower of Power from 1982 to 1987 and they were probably the most influential group or artists that I have ever worked with. I learned more with them than I did with anyone else. That was like my graduate school…I learned more about being a horn player, a team player, and a performer with them. A lot of who I am today is definitely attributable them. When I was in the group five of the members were from the original group from the late ‘60’s. Tower of Power just celebrated their 40th anniversary in San Francisco at the old Philmore with a live DVD and a bunch of the alumni came back and sat in. So I got a chance to come back and play with the Band. It was great..
SJM: The energy between you and crowd tonight was fantastic . People seem to not only gravitate to your music but to your persona as well. What do you think generates that love?
Richard: It’s playing what you love and believing in what you are doing…playing it from the heart. Atlanta, like many cities globally, is such a great music town and the people are so in tuned to what you are doing…they are true music lovers.
SJM: So what is about the music of your influences that moves you?
Richard: I want to say sincerity and the fact that they are all jazz musicians with an R&B base. I was very lucky growing up. My older sister had a great record collection so I got a chance to listen to a lot of different music. She had very eclectic taste so I could listen to Santana, Led Zeplin, the Temptations, Four Tops, Junior Walker, King Curtis, etc. So by the time I started playing the saxophone, I had already been listening to all of them. I always gravitated towards Rhythm and Blues. The very first sax players that I gravitated to were all like the honkers like King Curtis and Junior Walker…these guys were reminiscent of very R&B, funky, and very soulful…that’s what attracted me. I did not know if I could do that…I just knew that I loved what they did and I wanted to emulate them and whatever was going to happen was going to happen.
SJM: What do you want your fans to know about your newest CD release, "In the Zone?"
Richard: I want them to know that it is 100% percent from in here (points to his heart). I did not try to second guess it or do what I thought people would like…I don’t think that that works. It is, in fact, 100% from my heart and what I was inspired to do. I always try to do that with every CD and with every performance. I play as sincere as I can. There is a great quote from Miles Davis. He says, “The hardest thing for a musician to do is sound like himself.” I try to have my own voice. I always say, “If someone walks away from my shows or listens to one of my CDs and says, “I really didn’t like that, but man he sure believes in what he was doing,” then I would be okay about it.
SJM: Tell us something that you have not been asked before in an interview?
Richard: I don’t think that I have been asked if I still get nervous. The answer is yes… but in a good way. After doing this for this many years, I still get butterflies, I still get pumped up; and I never take it for granted. I love every chance I get to get on stage…it is a gift. Thank you very much
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