Tomás Doncker shows us “The Mess We Made”



“Don’t push me/cause I’m close to the edge . . .”

Many will recognize those as the lyrics to the iconic Rap classic, “The Message”, from Hip Hop pioneers Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. Emcee Melle Mel earnestly gives the warning because, as he eloquently goes on to proclaim in the hook, “It’s like a jungle sometimes/It makes me wonder/How I keep from going under”, describing the troublesome times, traps, and conditions facing a young black man living in New York City. That track was released in 1982. Fast forward to 2017 and for as many ways that we’ve advanced and come a long way, sadly, many of the same traps, biases, frustrations, inequity and volatility of the time that underscores The Message and even years before still exist today.

Something “pushed” multi-talented singer, songwriter, guitarist, and producer, imageTomás Doncker past that “edge” on June 17, 2015. The event took a huge emotional toll on the accomplished New York bred, musician and artist who in addition to his own acclaimed projects, has performed and worked with artists such as Madonna, Meshell Ndegeocello, Ivan Neville, Cory Glover, and James Chance and the Contortions as well as being at the helm of the label True Groove Records.

But to “keep from going under” this always busy, man on the run, stopped and cancelled everything. And as a way to just heal, he shunned the world- played his guitar and wrote. What came from that, quite without intention, was the framework for his new release, The Mess We Made, an incredibly impressive, provocative, no holds barred, scolding of our country – of our society- but not without a few suggestions of things we can do to get right. At the same time, Doncker masterfully manages to entertain with a stirring soundtrack of soul, blues and funk he calls Global Soul.

ISPYSOUL caught up with Tomás Doncker to talk about the The Mess We Made and what drove him to let us know. Check out our interview:

Click here to check out and purchase The Mess We Made

And to learn more about Tomás Doncker and True Groove Records go to Tomás


The Soul Seen:KEM

The Soul Seen
is a retrospective of features that appeared on ISPYSOUL during its acclaimed initial run. These features provide a snapshot in time of key moments in the careers, from fledgling to legendary, of several creative and talented artists. The projects featured are older now, but no less significant. The insights and perspectives they shared, speak to their success and as you will find, still resonate today.


From the original ISPYSOUL feature segment, WATCH CLOSELY, 2003


It’s a lucky thing that the prevalent mind set of the music industry to foster monotony and artlessness has not kept gifted souls from being heard. The recent rise of artists, “doing it for themselves” has brought forth a crop of talented folks furtively proving that a notable slice of the listening public pie still desires artistry and meaningful messages. Case in point, vocalist, songwriter, and musician, KEM.

A little more than a year ago the “Motor City” resident born Kem Owens in Nashville, Tennessee, released the splendid CD that is KEMISTRY on his own label. The aptly titled concoction of smoothed out hipness, sensual vibes, stirring words, and Kem’s superb vocal prowess that hints to the flavor of legend, Al Jarreau, was ushered to the masses with a seemingly lofty goal – Sell 10,000 copies. Well, not only was the goal met, it was exceeded – while at the same time sparking a watchful eye and eventual offer from Motown Records to promote and distribute not onlyimage Kemistry, but 4 other future releases as well. It’s indeed ironic that the legendary label that once set up shop in Detroit would zero in on his project. It’s also fitting when you consider its iconic history of discovering and grooming stars even as recent as that of the talented, young soulstress, India.Arie. But why, you maybe wondering, after confirming his ability to sell records on his own would Kem decide to hook up with Motown? “It’s a win, win situation for me,” says Kem. “Having the machine of a major label behind me would allow me to reach a lot more people and to get the music released on a national level. It also helps me build my fan base, my market base.” He then keenly continues to elaborate on his decision this way. “If for some reason this should not do as well [as planned], I will have expanded my base and I can always go back to selling records on my own. I think the type of music that I’m doing is such that people will continue to buy the records for as long as I choose to make them. I will have established that kind of base.”

If Kem sounds confident, well that’s because he should be. Not only for his astute business acumen, but because he is in possession of the main element which has been key to his success thus far – Genuine, innate talent. In addition to being a completely self-taught musician, his vocal range goes 4 high on the octave scale and his emotive, creative style, which soars, bends, and soothes, employs them all. As to the comparisons made to renowned, multi-award winning vocalist, Al Jarreau, Kem considers himself in great company, but counts Jarreau and vocal wizard, Bobby McFerrin, as more like confirmations than necessarily influences. “I haven’t studied either one of those artists per se, but I am a big fan of Al Jarreau.” He explains, “A lot of things that I’ve been doing or have wanted to pursue musically, I’ve been doing all of my creative life, but those two artists helped validate it. You hear them and it’s like, okay, so that is cool and I’m not crazy for wanting to do this. But they’ve paved the way for it to be done.” And doing it he most certainly is -folding his brand of vocal artistry into a soul-rich collection with love as the dominant theme, boasting gems like, “I’m Missing Your Love” or the first single, “Love Calls.” The lean to love on Kemistry is, however, something he admits to happening quite by chance. “I think that, somewhat by default, it’s an album that’s centered on love and a lot of people get that the most. I didn’t set out to do that. I really just selected songs that were closest to me, I liked the most and,” he adds with a humble chuckle, “were ready to go.” However, he admits, “I’ve been known for writing love songs for the duration of my career and I take pleasure in that. I think that’s something people need, people want, and identify most with.” But you’ll quickly discover that although the intriguing and inventive voice that serves up the love stories is well suited for the task, there are other topics clearly close to Kem’s heart as well. Topics like spirituality and faith. Cuts like, “Brotha Man” and “Matter of Time” will bring you those with consistent hipness and stunning vocal flow. When asking Kem about his hopes for KEMISTRY, he goes back to why he got with Motown and what potential it creates. “I don’t want to be limited to or equated with being a “jazz” artist. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I want to be able to move into other markets. And the fact that a label like Motown came and made an offer lets me know that it’s a possibility that we can move into other categories. I’m hopeful it can become mainstream.” However, he is quick to add emphatically, “But it ain’t necessary! I’m hopeful. [Basically] I’m not interested in the people who aren’t interested. I’m only interested in the ones who are digging me. Feeling me. Those are the ones I cater to.”

Seems like Kem might very well have the formula for success.

Bert Caldwell

Needless to say, Kem did indeed find the formula and has been whipping it up on the regular, over the years, for those countless fans that are definitely “feeling” him and his music. He’s had four #1 hit singles, three Gold selling albums, three Grammy nominations, and is a four-time NAACP Image Award winner – not to mention, he keeps a packed out schedule of tours and sold-out shows.

For more about Kem and when you can see him in your town go to

Raul Midon shows us how to “Fly Like An Eagle”


You know how you react when you see a magician do an incredible trick, right in front of your eyes? You stand there, with your jaw dropped, looking absolutely in awe at him or her, wondering what just happened? Wondering how in the world did they do that? If you ever see incredible vocalist, songwriter and amazing guitarist, Raul Midon, that’s how you’ll feel. But it’s no trick, just sheer, mind-blowing talent. One man, with a guitar, a mic and a flawless voice mesmerizes you with virtuosity, inventiveness and an engaging spirit that is beyond entertaining – its special – its, well, magical. imageSomehow, that enchantment translates to his recording as well with a spell that whips doses of Jazz, Soul and more into amazing musical moments. The highly revered artist, who has over the years fascinated audiences and legends of the music world alike, is about to release his ninth studio project called Bad Ass and Blind. Yes, he is, in fact blind, since birth. And yes, indeed he is Bad Ass – a description, it is said, was given an “amen” to by the legendary Bill Withers.

One of the tracks from the anticipated, upcoming release, dropping on March 24, is Midon’s wonderfully creative take on the Steve Miller Band hit, “Fly Like an Eagle.” Instantly, that magical moment appears as a slower beat creates a deeper pocket and a sequence of mesmeric chord changes under the opening verse have you asking that question- “What just happened?” And then there is the voice, his voice that soars like the title suggests.

Needless to say, Midon puts his own splendid spin on the classic, a song that holds a special place in his early music memories. He shares why that is along with the delicate task of making something your own while still keeping the essence of original:

Fly Like an Eagle is the first LP I ever bought with my own money. I was enthralled with the synthesizer parts and sparked by the message of revolution and hope.

Whenever I do a cover I am challenged by the fact that I like the original so much.
It is for me, a tightrope walk, to maintain the integrity of the song and yet make it my own. I changed the key to a darker sounding A flat, slowed down the tempo a bit, and re-harmonized the verses to give it a mysterious quality. This is in keeping with the linear model sound found throughout the record.

I also wanted the ending to feel wistful, sad, and soulful like you might hear on a Marvin Gaye or Curtis Mayfield record. Fly Like an Eagle is a testimonial to the power of possibility. “

Check out Raul Midon’s rendition below to hear what he means:

Click here to preorder the anticipated upcoming release and  stayed tuned for our upcoming video interview with Raul Midon right here on ISPYSOUL!

In.the meantime, to find out more about him and performances in your area go to


DMD brings “After Dark” to light!


One third of the dynamic trio DMD, guitar phenom Marcus Machado, featured here on ISPYSOUL, recalls the impetus for the three stellar musicians ultimately coming together as a story of Kevin Bacon like connection and sheer admiration. Last year after finishing up his acclaimed EP, 29, Machado got to talking with one of his collaborators on the project, the renowned music mixologist and producer, DJ Spinna, while in the imagestudio about whom he might be thinking of to bring the outstanding project to life in performance. “We were just talking about musicians and stuff,” says Machado. “And he said, wow, when you finish this album, who are you going to get to be part of your band? And I said man, it would be crazy to get Daru Jones on drums because he’s one of my favorite drummers – he reminds me a lot of Buddy Miles, kind of like with Jimi [Hendrix] and the Band of Gypsys and that whole type of vibe – a power drummer, just an incredible drummer – that would be crazy to get Daru Jones to play.”

At that point is when the “dots” started to collide because as it happened, Spinna knew the drummer Jones whose impressive resume boasts work with an eclectic mix of noted artists such as guitarist Jack White, Nas, Talib Kweli, Slum Village and Esparanza Spaulding to name a few. Spinna wasted no time and called Jones on the spot and needless to say, Machado and Jones immediately clicked. Machado sent Jones some of the tracks from the EP and he was not only hooked and down to play in support of that project, he opened the door for that last “dot” to be brought into the fold. “ I sent [Jones] some of the songs off of 29, and he was like, yo! We gotta do something together! And then he goes, matter of fact, I just got out of the studio with Doug Wimbish and we just did some jams together- we just recorded some different ideas. And then he goes, would you be down to record some stuff? And I go, of course! Just send it to me.”

As it turned out, Machado had met and known standout bassist Doug Wimbish of the legendary rock squad, Living Colour, through noted multi-instrumentalist, producer and co-founder of eclectic soul group, The Family Stand, V Jeffrey Smith, who Machado counts as a major mentor. The two groups were part of the Black Rock Coalition and Machado, as a young guitar prodigy, was performing as a member of The Family Stand. Jones sent Machado those ideas as he describes as “killin” and ultimately laid down his own magic on them.

“After Dark,” is the first single from those ideas and the highly- anticipated DMD project coming in the Spring and serves as a funky, cool and groove–laden taste of what’s to come. Check it out below and stay tuned for more here on ISPYSOUL when it drops!

Click the link to get “After Dark” on iTunes

Or Apple Music

In Focus: Artist Tom Christopher


It is quite possible, perhaps even likely, that you’ve seen or come across the work of highly -accomplished, venerated artist, Tom Christopher, even if you’re not an art enthusiast. Over the years you may have seen the music posters and covers he created for CBS, Verve, or RCA records. If you’re into cars you might have seen his work in Motor Trend magazine. Read the Wall Street Journal or New York Times? Yeah, his work’s been there too. How about those very cool ads for Absolut vodka? Yep, he’s done some of those as well that not only graced the pages of magazines, but also graced billboards and are now housed in a museum. And, there’s much, much more, you know like, paintings that have wound up in private collections and galleries around the world and stuff. But if you’re a New Yorker or visited New York City, what Christopher might be most known for is what you’ve likely seen and marveled at and didn’t know he was responsible for. It’s his amazing Expressionistic renderings of the “city that never sleeps” in all its rambunctious, hip, cool, gritty and magnificent glory – In subway cars and stations around the city – on the cover of the official tourist guides that steer excited visitors all around town- on huge murals in places like Rockerfeller Center and on the side of the Roseland Ballroom. The Hollywood, CA born, but long time New York resident has been tapped to represent NYC frequently, no doubt because of the way he masterfully captures the swag, the attitude, the organized confusion and yes, the heart and soul of the city, so well you can darn near hear taxis blowing in the background. But again, there’s so much more. We caught up with Tom Christopher at his studio in NY to find out more about his journey, his process and his objective as an artist. His insights are like his paintings- intriguing and genuine. BC

Tom Christopher on ISPYSOUL:

For more on Artist Tom Christopher go to


The Soul Seen: Rahsaan Patterson

The Soul Seen is a retrospective of features that appeared on ISPYSOUL during its acclaimed initial run. These features provide a snapshot in time of key moments in the careers, from fledgling to legendary, of several creative and talented artists. The projects featured are older now, but no less significant. The insights and perspectives they shared, speak to their success and as you will find, still resonate today.


The enormously talented and highly regarded, singer/songwriter Rahsaan Patterson, granted ISPYSOUL two interviews early in its initial run. In fact, his first was the first full interview feature that appeared on its pages. The New York born Patterson, who got his start as a child actor as part of the cast of the popular television show, Kids Incorporated in the eighties and later went on to writing hits for artists like singer/actress Brandy (“Baby”), released his self -titled debut, RAHSAAN PATTERSON, in 1997. imageThe widely acclaimed project with gems like “Stop By”, “Spend The Night”, and “Stay Awhile”, helped stoked the fires of a resurgent soul music movement that would be deemed, by many, as “neo-soul” and also seduced a legion of fans with cult-like obsession, eliciting sold-out shows around the country.image
Patterson would later, in 1999, follow up the debut with LOVE IN STEREO, another fan favorite steered by his emotive, multi-octave ranged vocals and flaunting superlative songwriting, incredible production and infectious grooves.
We caught up with Patterson a couple years later as he was working on his next project and in retrospect, our candid conversation was perhaps prophetic as he shared his views on his career at that point, the LOVE IN STEREO record, the industry, the label he was then on and the artist he was intent on being. Below is that interview:

From the original ISPYSOUL feature segment, IN FOCUS, 2001

ISPYSOUL: You had already done a great deal of recording prior to releasing your debut solo CD, but was there still any anxiety?

Rahsaan Patterson: It was a natural progression for me to get to the point of making a record so when I was making it, it felt natural, you know, like the next phase. I was definitely excited about releasing an album.

ISPYSOUL: With that first CD, musically, what were you trying to accomplish or show?

RP: That I’m not a follower, that I don’t choose to be a follower unless I want to be lead by someone. I knew that I had to make some kind of impact and in doing so, I had to be me.

ISPYSOUL: I’ve always felt that an artist is only as good as their second project. Is there a great deal more expectation for your second CD than there is on your first?

RP: I believe there is on the second project. Definitely. People have more of an expectation. They want to at least see if you can live up to what the first one was. I believe it is true in that sense. I know for myself, I am always changing, growing rather and getting to places within myself where I feel comfortable with exposing other sides of myself to people through music. So with each album it just gets a little deeper for me that way. I feel that with each album, it’s for people to get to know the artist, maybe a little more in depth – See some other sides instead of that same side for twenty years.

ISPYSOUL: The first single off of the second CD, LOVE IN STEREO, was “Treat You Like A Queen. Because this was your important follow-up CD and because of the nature of the song, dealing with issues of abuse, was there any hesitation by the label to release this as the first single and to choose another?

RP: Well the interesting thing is, “Do You Feel The Way I Do” was the last song that I recorded for the album and I recorded that song, with those producers, basically because that was supposed to be the first single. For some reason, it ended up not being – after spending an astronomical amount of money with two hot producers of the moment – for a song that was suppose to be the first single because they were hot at that moment and the production style of the song was suppose to be the hottest. It was crazy for it not to be the first single after all of that, but there are certain areas that I don’t control. But in terms of what I write and what I sing and who I do it with, I have control over that.

ISPYSOUL: Along with the song “Treat You Like A Queen” you started a foundation called Soul Survivors [dedicated to the rebuilding of condemned houses into new shelters for victims of abuse]. What brought about you being moved to record this song and to start this foundation?

RP: Growing up around it. Growing up around physical abuse – Being exposed to it and realizing the effect that it has had on my life and my view of relationships. I knew that it was something that a lot of people could relate to and I know definitely a lot of people that come from the place I come from and could relate to it. So it really stems from a healing place and a place of putting out what’s real and something for people to think about. I‘ve always wanted to give back and in doing that, I just started the foundation and hopefully within the next few years we’ll be able to embellish on that.

ISPYSOUL: With now two CDs under your belt and with now a third soon to be released, can you give us an idea of what we’ll hear that will reflect your growth and experiences since the last CD?

RP: It’s another side of Rahsaan. Not that you haven’t had glimpses in the two previous albums. It’s definitely the next album after Love in Stereo. With “Get Here” being the last song on that album, it segues into the new one.

ISPYSOUL: I, like a number of other people, believe you are just half way over the wall of full- blown stardom. How do you feel about that assessment and does it really matter that you become a “star?”

RP: Well, like Sly [of Sly and the Family Stone] said,  “Everybody is a star” and my level of success is not defined by what is most commonly assumed being successful is. You know, like having a platinum record and all that kind of stuff. For me, my success is everyday, waking up cool with myself, and cool with my decisions and my choices – Always maintaining true to myself and artistry first. As long as I can stay true to that, I feel that I’m extremely successful in this industry.

ISPYSOUL: Because that‘s a hard thing to do, stay true to yourself and still stay on a label.

RP: Yeah, yeah, but then there’s always a reason why they keep you. Beneath all of that there has to be a reason why they keep you.

ISPYSOUL: Why is it, you believe, that your label has kept you especially since your CDs have done well, but haven’t been the multi-platinum successes they usually look for? Also keeping in mind, there have been other artists that have been dropped for similar situations.

RP: I can’t really say, because I’m not them and any perception I have in my mind is just a perception. I know that what I bring to the table is credibility and strength in music- Individuality, hope and truth. I guess, in the end, its just because I’m Rahsaan and I’m not anybody else. I’m me and what else should it be. And I guess, as difficult as it may be for them to try to understand me or understand what to try to do with me or my music – that’s on them, but there’s obviously some reason why I’m still there.

ISPYSOUL: With this whole Neo- Classic Soul. . .

RP: (laughs) I can’t believe that’s, like, still the phrase.

ISPYSOUL: I can’t really believe that there is a phrase, quite frankly.

RP: Well, outside of that, what I’m saying is that same phrase was around in 1996, so I guess we’re still in this.

ISPYSOUL: Well we’re hearing it more,  its seems, because ironically enough, there’s been a succession of artists, new artists, that have come out that have been conveniently plugged into this classification.

RP: Well, that’s bullshit really, because the bottom line is its music, period. When it’s not hip- hop or when it’s not bubblegum pop, then they’ve got to give it something – Another label. It’s just unfortunate that they have to label it Neo-Soul simply because it takes people to a time when songs were strong songs and had melodies and were more memorable because of the sentiment or melody or lyric.

ISPYSOUL: But like it or not its an acceptable stamp now. . .

RP: And now, it’s a gimmick. Now it’s a way to be to fit into this new genre to sell records that are supposed to be hot right now and its all a bunch of bullshit.

ISPYSOUL: Now, with that being said, does that hurt or help you? I mean, you’ve been doing your sound, this sound, since you’ve been doing what you do. . .

RP: And being that I’m who I am and have always been, I never go with the rest of the grain. That just doesn’t appeal to me at all. So on this third album you won’t be hearing “Spend The Night”(song from his debut CD, Rahsaan Patterson). You won’t be hearing that because “Spend The Night” was in 1996.

ISPYSOUL: When I came to check you out at S.O.B.’s in New York, I was very surprised to see the lines waiting outside the door and the place packed. But the thing that impressed me the most were people standing there, being able to sing word for word every single one of your songs. Can you give me an idea of just how you feel when something like that happens?

RP: It’s a beautiful feeling and it’s nice to know that people appreciate it and are there for you. On the other hand, it sometimes felt like I was not either existing on this planet or the other people involved in my career were fucking crazy. Because you know, it kept being said that people weren’t feeling me and coming up with all these excuses why my records weren’t selling and why people weren’t feeling me. To do a show, sell it out and have people standing there, singing every song. There were times when I’m like, what the fuck is going on? Am I buggin’ out? Or like, what’s really going on? So it was always comforting to get to that point and know that I wasn’t losing my mind and that basically other people were just talking trash and making excuses.

ISPYSOUL: So now with this third CD coming up, what changes in that respect?

RP: What changes? I have no idea because I’m not in the position that those people are in to sell records -To make them number one records. I don’t know how to do that. Those people get paid five hundred thousand dollars a year to do that, so they should know how to do it. What I know how to do is write songs, and present Rahsaan Patterson. That’s all I know how to do. I am a point now where I’m not as moved or bothered by the excuses and opinions that in the past made me the reason for lack of, you know, lack of listeners. Now I’m just like, whatever, I’ve got to do me. I’ve got to do what I’m doing and that’s it. Not that I have deaf ears to other peoples opinions or anything like that, but number one, I have to respect your musical knowledge in order to even check for your opinion. I’m 27 years old and I am a young black male who lives in this society and who is very conscious and aware of the state of music and the youth mentality. For me, as an artist, its about being original, but yet, using what I’ve learned from growing up, listening to people that I grew up listening to, and incorporating that knowledge and manifesting it into some kind of strength and power for myself so that I stand apart. I’ve always felt that I wanted to show people that I’m just like they are. It’s interesting because, I don’t know if its people’s perception of what an artist is or what, but I know that I’ve always been perceived as something different and that’s fine, but I always felt like I wanted to let people know that . . .

ISPYSOUL: I’m just like you

RP: Exactly! That we all are capable of achieving greatness and we all have the power to do and be whatever we want.
I’m at a point now where I’m cool with being here, with everybody else without having to prove anything, – without having to prove anything.

Rahsaan Patterson would ultimately part ways with his then label, MCA and his third project, AFTER HOURS, was released in 2004 on the independent label, ironically called, Artistry. The move has become a sign of the times for many renowned and successful as well as incredibly talented upstart artists frustrated by the bureaucracy, limitations and short-sightedness of the major music behemoths. Patterson has since had several other successful, Billboard-charting projects including WINES & SPIRITS and BLEUPHORIA,  as well as continued collaborations with A-list artists and producers. And yes, he’s still selling out shows across the country and overseas. Catch him if you can!

For more on Rahsaan Patterson go to his website, Of course!


The Soul Seen: LARRY GOLD

The Soul Seen is a retrospective of features that appeared on ISPYSOUL during its acclaimed initial run. These features provide a snapshot in time of key moments in the careers, from fledgling to legendary, of several creative and talented artists. The projects featured are older now, but no less significant. The insights and perspectives they shared, speak to their success and as you will find, still resonate today.


From the original ISPYSOUL feature segment, IN FOCUS, 2003

Larry Gold The Midas Touch

The story of arranger, cellist, and composer Larry Gold is one that should serve as an example to many in the music business or for that matter, in any business. Why you ask? Because his success is a result of his sincere love for what he does, a desire to grow, the recognition of talent around him, and of course, his own outstanding ability.

Check out the whole interview with Larry Gold above

His story is also one of irony because although many of you aren’t familiar with his name, you and scores of others have experienced his “touch”. Gold’s amazing body of work is punctuated by his tenure with the legendary label, Philadelphia International, as first, part of the house band MFSB that propels the treasured classic soul and R&B hits by folks like the O’Jays, Billy Paul, Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes, the Spinners and Patti Labelle to name only a few. And later, as string and horn arranger on hits from Teddy Pendergrass, McFadden & Whitehead, and more. That experience, while concurrently siphoning the knowledge of Sound of Philadelphia architects Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff and renowned producer, Thom Bell, accounts for the prowess that has since driven both, major acts and emerging artists to engage his services. The list is both impressive and diverse, boasting such artists as Musiq Soulchild, Floetry, Jill Scott, Brandy, Jay-Z, Monica, Gerald Levert, The Roots, Kindred, Common, Vivian Green, Justin Timberlake, Erykah Badu, Boys II Men, Glen Lewis, Kelly Price, and more. It’s also impressive because it shines with the glow of Platinum and yes, gold selling success the records from these artists enjoy.

But there are things that stand out in the story of Larry Gold that could perhaps be seen as the basis his for longevity, success, and the respect he’s garnered- things such as his readiness to embrace new situations that ultimately unveil opportunity. Another is his love of the place he was born, bred and still calls home. You guessed it, Philadelphia. And the two go hand in hand. It’s what attracted a very young and gifted cellist with initial classical aspirations but a fondness for popular music, to the emergent label that was to become the fervent soul source, Philly International. “I always wanted to be more than just a cello player,” says Gold. “I was always involved with popular music. Even from a little child I was learning Elvis Presley tunes on the guitar. So it was both. It wasn’t just one or the other.” He continues, “I must have been anywhere from thirteen to fifteen [years old] when I met Leon Huff for the first time, playing cello.” 

Ultimately his vast experience, love of both, a broad range of quality music and the art of making records over the years is what fueled his opening of a small studio in 1985. That would become the prototype for the State of the Art recording facility now known as The Studio, used by many of Philly’s brightest young talent. When asked if the young artists who are flocking to his studio now fully know the depth of his impressive resume and ties to the legendary Philly sound, Gold responds, “It depends on who they are. Certain people do and certain people don’t. He continues, “I know enough young producers that they might say to other people, hey, he’s been making hit records since he was a baby.” And he adds, “I think that people like Timberland do. I think they’ve learned after working with me now a bunch of times that its not just random. I think Rodney Jerkins knew. I think that Amir (Questlove of The Roots) knew. A lot of these young producers are big fans of old music,” Gold asserts. “There’s a lot of respect or else I wouldn’t be working quite as hard as I am.”

So when he was approached by the UK label, BBE, to do a record, the concept was a no-brainer – an homage to the rich and legendary Philly music scene he has been a part of for so many years. The result, Larry Gold presents Don Cello and Friends, a imagecornucopia of some of Philly’s finest, past, present and future, submitting lyric, voice and song to Gold’s lush and affecting arrangements.

Busy with arranging gigs seemingly around the clock and running a popular recording studio, Gold hadn’t given much thought to doing a record of his own and really had to ponder the offer from BBE. But as he explains his decision to go forward with the project, he says with a chuckle, “ I think at the time, a whole group of people were recording at the studio and I thought to myself, ‘well I can get the young kids to help me make it.” Indeed the assiduous 55-year old Gold called upon a range of talents from young and little known to legendary with the criteria for selection being pretty simple. “First of all I wanted everyone to at least have some roots to Philly. The whole concept was to keep it local if I could,” says Gold. “I wanted [the project] to be a touch of the old, but also with some new people. Some [artists] that people never heard of.” He explains, “My intention was to make a nice blend of old and new and not just famous, but also introducing some younger artists.” Don Cello and Friends is the mission accomplished starring a cast which includes Floetry, Kindred, Gerald Levert, Black Thought of The Roots, Jaguar Wright and Philly music royalty McFadden & Whitehead and Bunny Sigler sharing the stage with lesser known, but solid talent like Carol Riddick and Eric (ERRO)Roberson to name a few. The musical goal is achieved as well with infectious dance and up-tempo grooves flowing there way through to warm, sensual and tender moments all providing a hearty glimpse at Gold’s masterful, mood setting, string arrangements. On Don Cello and Friends he successfully whips up the spirit of the classic Philly sound while displaying vibe of the current Philly music scene.

The making of the CD could be seen as one in a multitude of things validating what Gold had a hunch would eventually happen – And that is Philly’s return to prominence as a major music town. When asked about the renaissance Gold says, “I had a sense. I had a very strong sense. I kind of smelled it at the beginning of the 90’s.” But he is also quick to give cudos to the revered Philly unit, The Roots for being a huge catalyst. “The Roots had a lot to do with the city coming back,” says Gold. “Because The Roots really kept playing. They were a band. And when there weren’t other bands playing, they were playing. In a way, they folded into the into the neo-soul movement.” In the end, what he believes is, “No matter what the other markets do, we do our own sort of style and at this point we’re having success with it.”

It’s clear Larry Gold has had a hand in that success both times around. Or you might say, he’s still shining bright on the Philly music scene.

Bert Caldwell

Copyright ISPYSOUL 2017

Check out Larry Gold presents Don Cello and friends below