September 25, 2019 Interview – Eddie Levert of The O’Jays
Through the ages, music has been a unifying force that breaks down walls and brings people together no matter age, ethnicity, or religion. It holds a undeniable mystical power and thankfully has gifted us talented collective groups such as The O’Jays. An R&B powerhouse, The O’Jays earned fame during the ’70s and sustained it through the ’90s thanks to hits such as “Back Stabbers,” “Love Train,” “For The Love Of Money,” “I Love Music,” “Use ta Be My Girl,” plus much more.
Driven by their passion for singing and bringing the message of love and peace to audiences, their achievements have been enshrined in The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as well as Vocal Group Hall of Fame, but yet they still look for more with the recent release of their stellar 2019 album, The Last Word. Also recently the subject of a recent PBS special, they are set to be inducted into the Philadelphia Music Walk of Fame on October 22nd, and continue to tour. So, are you ready to climb aboard the love train? Hoping to be your conductor, leading O’Jays’ Vocalist Eddie Levert recently sat down to talk the history of the group, spreading positivity, the work put into their new album, plus a whole lot more.
Cryptic Rock – The O’Jays have a very rich history in music dating back 5 decades. A member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, attaining numerous hits, and becoming a legendary band, how would you describe your journey in music?
Eddie Levert – Fantastic! Never in my wildest dreams would I think that it would last this long. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that I would be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Never in my wildest dreams did I think our career would last through the people my age, their grandchildren, my grandchildren, and I would still be relevant 60 years from the time I started. I just hope that I’ve been able to say some things and make some kind of music that changed people’s lives or gave people information they can use in their everyday living.
Cryptic Rock – Music is very powerful in that way, and your music has been a huge part of people’s lives. The O’Jays music has always been about love and peace, but you have also touched on social issues in your music.
Eddie Levert – You gotta. Everybody says what’s going on now is so terrible during the Republican’s reign, but it also went on during the Democratic’s. It’s been going on since we made “Love Train,” since we made “For The Love Of Money”; it was going on before that, it went on during that, and it’s going on even now. There’s no one particular person or political entity that you can point the finger at: you can really point the finger at humanity itself. We need to start being just a little bit more humane to each other.
Cryptic Rock – Many people would agree with that. The world is exhausted from the hatred and division.
Eddie Levert – Absolutely. It’s no one person’s fault that has done this. This has been going on since I was a kid, and it’s been going on all during my life. Man’s inhumanity to man has been going on, and that’s where the finger should be pointed – at man himself. The humanity of the world, we need to point fingers at each other and try to change.
Cryptic Rock – That is very true, hopefully people will start to realize this and come together. The longevity of The O’Jays has been quite impressive. Compounding it all, the band released the new album The Last Word a few months ago, and you have a live record coming out, a PBS special which has been airing, plus you will be inducted into the Philadelphia Music Walk of Fame on October 22nd. A lot of great things are happening for The O’Jays in 2019.
Eddie Levert – That, to me, is fantastic! The most important thing to us is our fanbase and that’s who we try to cater to – the people who go out and buy our music. To have them stay and stick with us for this long, and now have a PBS special, plus a live album, as well as The Last Word, it’s almost like a rebirth. If we could just sell a million records now, it would be really great and it would solidify that we have really made the 360 like all great artists do; they go and come back to do something great in their final days. I would like to be a part of that.
Cryptic Rock – Most certainly. Let’s talk about the new album, The Last Word. This is a great record with strong vocals, lyrics, and music. What was it like putting this album together?
Eddie Levert – It was quite an experience. When we first got in the business it was an artist business, now it has become a producer’s business. Now the producer is the star, because these guys know exactly what they want. They get you in the studio and they will make you go line for line, or word for word, because they know exactly what they want to hear. It was quite a new experience working like that.
When we worked with Gamble and Huff, you would go and learn the song, then you would go in the studio and do your thing. Now you don’t really have to know the song – you can just go in and they’ll give you line for line, you make it happen; they know what they want and when you give them what they want, then you move on. That for me was a very different way of doing it, but it works. I think we’re living in an age of a producer’s business other than an artist’s business.
Cryptic Rock – That is very interesting to hear. There are many cases with modern records that they feel overproduced. That is not the case with The Last Word. You guys are old-school and you put soul into the performance; you can feel it. Tell us about the importance of putting feeling into the music?
Eddie Levert – You have to be able to feel what you’re doing. When I say it’s a producer’s game, they as producers knew this is what they wanted. They wanted to get that soulful sound that was done 30-40 years ago and they wanted to put it into today’s music. That’s what they were able to do and we were able to give it to them, because that’s the way we sing, that’s who we were. No matter what you do, you can’t change that. That to me was a great collaboration of today and yesterday.
Cryptic Rock – Yes, and it shines through on the album. The recently released live album, The O’Jays: Live in New York, which was recorded at the St. George Theatre on Staten Island, is a wonderful tribute to the classic music as well as a mix of the new music.
Eddie Levert – With the old stuff, we were able to have gone and got choreography – you basically knew the song backwards and forward. With the new stuff, we didn’t have a great amount of time to go and put choreography and such, so basically we were just feeling for the new stuff. It was just, “I like it and I’m going to sing it.” There is not going to be any great dance routine to it, so now you are just doing what you feel and what you feel right there is what you are giving them; just off the cuff. That was a great pairing with the stuff that were used to doing, that had all the moves to it, then going to the new stuff to just do what you naturally feel.
Cryptic Rock – That is a great mix. You continue to tour and you have shows lined up through the end of 2019. How is the tour going?
Eddie Levert – It’s great! People are still coming out and still enjoying the show. They’re buying tickets, they’re singing along with the songs, etc. The one thing great about this tour is everybody loves “Love Train” and we are able to sing the song twice in a row and they still love it! We will say, “Do you want to hear it again?,” and they will say “Yeah!” We’ll start it up again and they will be acting like it was just released yesterday. That, to me, is phenomenal that some of these people are as old as me, who have their daughters and grandkids that are there really enjoying the music. They only make old people like myself very tired. (Laughs)
Cryptic Rock – It sounds like the live shows are full of energy. We spoke a little bit in the beginning of the interview how the problems in the world are really a humanity problem. You have lived a good amount of life and seen a lot. What would you say are some of the most valuable lessons you have learned from your career in music?
Eddie Levert – The one thing that I’ve learned is music is a bridge that everybody can use to get to one another. I also learned the real key to solving anything going on is that love is really the answer. If we can just get to that place where we can just understand one another and love each other unconditionally, then maybe we can change the whole world.
Cryptic Rock – That would be wonderful to see happen. Do you feel like we have made strides in the right direction? A lot has changed in the world.
Eddie Levert – I don’t really have an answer for that. I just think we are just still trying. With the things that are going on, with people going in shooting one another, I don’t think we’ve made great strides. I think we are understanding what the problem is, but we are not making the moves to change them. We know what the problem is, but we are not changing knowing what the problem is. We are still stuck in a place where it is your fault or my fault. We are still stuck in a place where there is jealousy, hate, and “this is mine” and “this is yours. ”
You can’t separate the two: you have to come together and say, “This is ours and this is what we need to do to take care of ours.” Together we owe this, together we are at fault. We need to come to that place; the sooner we get there, the better it will be. There are some people getting there and then you have those people who are not making it. I am talking about people of all colors, not just black or white, I am talking about everybody.
Cryptic Rock – Agreed. Hopefully we can make strides to unity.
Eddie Levert – Absolutely! The bottom line is if we can get to unity, if we can come to one place and say, “This is all of our fault: it’s not one person or facet that brought this about – we are all to blame.”
Cryptic Rock – There is no question it is important people come together. Last question, what are some of your favorite films?
Eddie Levert – Oh man. (Laughs) I really love movies. I like The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966) with Clint Eastwood. I recently liked The Mule (2018). I liked that movie we did with Beyoncé called The Fighting Temptations (2003). I like movies that have a great, positive message.
Of late, I’ve not been drawn to watch a lot of movies. I’m stuck in the old movies” I really like the old actors like Clark Gable, Edward G. Robinson. Kevin Costner is kind of a throwback to that kind of acting. I like actors that really take their acting serious. I don’t really like a certain kind of movie, I’m all over the place; I just like something that is really good.