O’Jays: Delivering The Goods

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There is something to be said for the music known as Old School. 

Is there any wonder DreamGirls is doing so well?  There is a thirst for romance and the hypnotic rhythm, blues and soulful tempos of R&B. While the record companies are thinking only of profit, they have forgotten their audiences are eager to immerse themselves in the beat.  Easy listening beats that make folks want to shout, rock, twist, and dance the night away.
There is nostalgia for those old fashioned love songs that don’t speak of self-degradation, violence, and/or malign women.

The record companies' demise started when they became strictly profit-orientated and stopped investing in their artists. In losing sight of the listening public, a chain reaction began that now finds record companies dwindling in number; abandoned by disenchanted artists and audiences who having found a paucity of musical variety turned to the Internet to provide what the record companies wouldn’t. 

There is also something to admire about those master crooners such as the O’Jays who have endured the music business for 48 years.  Successful artists must be flexible and stay current with the times.  Certainly the O’Jays through hits like “Backstabbers,� “Use Ta Be My Girl,� “For the Love of Money,� “Let’s Ride,� and “Let Me Make Love To You,� have carved a place in musical history via measuring the pulse of the changing music industry and understanding what their audiences truly want. 

Fans will have the opportunity to get on board the “Love Train� alongside Eddie Levert, Walter Williams and Eric Grant when these music legends help celebrate Black History Month at Lehman Center for the Performing Arts in the Bronx on Saturday, February 24, 2007 at 8:00 p.m.

Over the years, the O’Jays have become one of the most important Soul groups in music.  Starting off as a quintet of teenagers in Canton, Ohio in 1958, the group originally called themselves the Triumps.  Although, there were several talent changes, the original members were Eddie Levert, Walter Williams, William Powell, Bill Isles and Bobby Massey. “I met Eddie Levert when he was 7 and I was 6 years old. That’s how long we’ve known each other. We started off as the Triumps, became the Mascots briefly and then Cleveland DJ, Eddie O’Jay, suggested we call ourselves “O’Jay’s Boys.� 

Later it was shortened to the O’Jays� remarked Walter Williams.  “Eventually, we became a trio and teamed up with songwriters Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff who produced our first album on Philadelphia International Records,� stated the Grammy nominee.  

In 1972, “Backstabbers� became the monster hit that propelled the O’Jays into stardom.  “Love Train,� became an even bigger hit.  They went on to EMI after they began writing their own music.  “For The Love� came in 2001 after signing with MCA.  The song gained them their 4th Grammy nomination.
 “The O’Jays have never appeared at Lehman College before but I gather the college is bringing in more high profile performers.  I hope the ceilings are high and the acoustics sound,� said Mr. Williams who is currently working on a solo album.  The last album the trio released was “Imagination� in 2004.

“We released our last CD “Imagination� on the World Music label but we are not currently contracted to World Music as far as music is concerned, so presently we are not signed to any particular music company.  Recently, we have been traveling to a few cities doing a mini tour. Lehman College is one of the venues we are performing in as part of that tour. 

We plan to do some of our old standards and may drop in a surprise or two.  Our music has been labeled Old School.  If you listen to the radio stations their formats are pretty much hip hop.  Our music fits into R&B, contemporary, smooth jazz and easy listening but not too many stations are playing R&B.  I sometimes think the record companies would like performers like the O’Jays to stay home and never come out again but fortunately for us we have an audience.  And, as long as we have people coming out, we will continue to perform� promised Williams.

“In order to last in the business we do what we must do.  I don’t think my voice or that of Eddie or Eric is going to ever change. Years ago we invested in ourselves.  A talent coordinator from Motown told us once that a hit record will last 3-4 years and when the record dies, groups die if they don’t have something going for themselves.  He taught us stage presence, how to remain at the top of our game, performance, and the importance of show line up.  There is an art to getting into the feel of your audience, knowing what they like and expect and when its time to sing up tempo songs and ballads. We learned when to give love ballads to the ladies, get back into the grove again, and then slow it down once more. All that requires a certain timing; an ability to coordinate with the ebb and flow of energy that is exchanged between the audience and performer� added Williams who was spending a few days with family in Las Vegas at the time of our interview.  

“I am from Ohio but my daughters live in Las Vegas.  I enjoy my special time with them. I feel blessed and truly happy about how my life and career has turned out,� commented Walter.  “It took hard work. When folks ask whether the O’Jays are disappointed we never won a Grammy.  Yeah, but we’ve won other awards. We won an American Music Award, an NAACP Award, however the big one was the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame Award. That made the O’Jays part of history,� said Williams who believes love always finds you when you live your best and give the people what they want.

For ticket information contact the Lehman College Box Office at 718-960-8833 or on line via www.LehmanCenter.org.

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