Interview with Bobby Douglas
By Patrik Andersson
Hi Bobby and thanks for taking time with this interview
Could you tell us about your musical background?
I started classical piano lessons at the age of five. Stayed with my teacher, Alex Chiappinelli, for 12 years. Went to Arts High School in Newark N.J. the first Music and Art high school in America and from there I spent some time learning composition and music writing at Fairleigh Dickenson University, and film scoring at N.Y.U.
Prior to your work with Petrus what projects were you involved in?
I was involved in a band called PLATINUM HOOK. We were on MOTOWN under the management of the COMMODORES in the early 80's. We released two albums for them and one for RCA. Things were a little rough back then, but I was introduced to an Italian record star by the name of LORREDANNA BERTE. She was a huge star in Italy and I recorded and toured with her from "81" thru "87".
How and when did you first get in contact with Petrus and what were your first impressions of the music that came from Little Macho stable?
Fred saw Platinum Hook in a club in NYC and hired us to sing on the REVANCHE project. I thought the tracks were GREAT! Davide's bass sounds and Mauro's arrangements were outstanding. I had never heard this kind of thing for dance music before. Very impressive.
There is no doubt that Petrus was a highly controversial man. Some even hated him and saw nothing good at all whereas others had a more balanced contact with him. What are your feelings and experiences of this dual persona both in his role as a businessman but also and as a person?
I tried never to mix business with personal relations. I saw Fred treat others like nobodies, and with that "Dime a Dozen" mentality. So I refused to cow-tow to that type of treatment because I was from Newark, and I would bust his ass if need be. I'm a pretty big guy and have always been a good size. Fred also saw me doing something else that told him I didn't need his money, which was the touring I was doing with Lorredana. I also spoke fluent Italian so I could cuss him out if need be in two languages. For some strange reason he had a respect for that.
You did sing on several albums of Change and BB&Q band but also on less know productions like Revanche, Rudy, High Fashion and Zinc. Do you have any favourites among them and how was it to work with such great acts like Ike Floyd, Gordon Grody, Luther Vandross etc.?
First let me say that working with those fantastic singers changed my life. They gave me a confidence and a inspiration that I never knew existed for a musician. These guys and gals did this work like they lived and breathed it everyday. The techniques they displayed where phenomenal, which is why Fred used them in the first place. My favorite stuff was all the Change material and the Zinc tunes. Zinc was so ahead of it's time that I knew it wasn't going to be well received because it was so much better then the schlock that was playing on the radio at the time. Not knowing what song was for what project was a pain because you never knew if you would get the credit for your work. But the checks kept coming so….
Petrus' working method included writing and recording the music in Italy with mainly Italian /writers musicians like Malavasi and Romani (more Americans later on). Then the new and fresh sound was finalized in NYC by adding skillful song and English lyrics by local writers/vocalists and doing the final mix. How aware were you about this process? Where you "only" a "hired gun" or where you more involved?
Being new to the family of musicians and engineers working on the material, I was mainly a hired gun. But I made friends with the tech guys so I was allowed to sit in on a lot of the process. Not in Italy, but here in New York. The creativity was crazy on both the musical side and the engineering side. Mike Brauer was just brilliant in his mixing techniques, so to be able to sit in a corner and watch as some of this went on was just a blessing. Later on I helped in the recording and playing of some of the material while in Modena with Timmy Allen and Kevin Robinson. I believe Allyson Williams and Crabb Robinson where there too.
Did you have any clue on which album your singing efforts finally were placed? Drummer Silverlight (and others) that Petrus used a lot had no idea on which album their work was going to end up until they heard the final product on the radio. Was that your experience too?
Yeah, that was a definite. It was a toss up of which project you'd be working on at what time. Could be three different records at once. You never knew…
Where you involved in others projects during the Petrus years?
Just the early stuff of little Macho,Revanche, and Rudy Trevisi. Other then PLATINUM HOOK and LORREDANA, I was mostly a road dog back in those days. I didn't get much studio or writing work until "89" when I hooked up with KEITH SWEAT and wrote a couple of tunes with him. After that some production work and song writing began to work it's way into my career.
In 84-85 Petrus Empire was struggling to find new directions and his production company faced some serious money trouble. As far as I know you ended your relationship with Little macho after participating on the brilliant partly Jam/Lewis produced Change album "Change of heart" in 84. Did you simply find other engagements or were there any other reasons?
Other work found me. Lillo Thomas, Freddy Jackson, Sister Sledge, Will Downing, New Edition, Taylor Dayne, Chaka Khan, Randy Crawford, 8 years at the Apollo Theatre with Ray Chew and the Crew, and a lot of other session work and tours kept me busy for the next 25 years, I'm grateful to say.
The much troubled Petrus was tragically murdered in 86. What do you know about his early death?
I know that it was something waiting to happen. Because you can't be that evil, to that many people, and not have your Karma be effected. Making bad business loans and not paying your bills can piss off a lot of the wrong people. That's something that many other folks can answer better then me.
How did your music career developed after Change, BB&Q band etc.? I know that you where involved with such great acts like Melba Moore, Keith Sweat and George Benson! It seems that you continued to ride on a good wave?
Things got a little hectic with PLATINUM HOOK, and the business changed over the years. We lost our manager, BENNY ASHBURN, to a heart attack, and things just went south after that. So I was blessed with the ability to be in the right place at the right time, living in NY. Much of my ability to find work rested on the relationships I'd made over the years, so that helped to keep me going, plus a little talent didn't hurt.
What are you doing today? Is music still as much around you as before? Are you working on any thing special right now?
As I mentioned earlier the next 25 years was filled with many blessings. A couple of American Music Award nominations and Grammy nominations and so forth, but the tours and recordings were very gratifying, and many of the people who I met over the years are friends to this day. My life has been good and so now I'm trying to give back some of that experience by teaching piano and theory to the kids at the JOSIE ROBERTS SCHOOL of MUSIC sponsored by the BOYS CLUB OF NY in my spare time. I'm working on a few independent projects with some new comers that look promising…But you know what Hemingway said."You talk about it, you loss it" So that's all I'll say about that.
The music industry and they way music was distributed back in the 70s or 80s compared with the situation today was very different. Today any one with a PC can download music both legally and illegally, the CD format is loosing ground and you can now have thousands of tracks on your iPod instead of hundreds of vinyl records occupying your home space. What are your thoughts about this?
It was inevitable. You can't keep giving people one or two good songs on a CD or Album and expect them to keep paying for it. The record companies got lazy and greedy and figured they were the only game in town. Well we see what happened with that kind of thinking. People will buy what they like, but if you shove crap down there throats eventually their gonna throw it up. So that's what they did. Downloaded what they liked and threw back the crap. Technology hasn't hurt the record business, the record business hurt the record business. Always looking for the next same thing. Playing it safe has always kept crap on the radio. Only the innovative writers and producers give birth to the next GREAT THING. Follow the cycle of real hits and see what songs preceded those hits. Mostly crap….
Music to be is like a magic gate between this world and spiritual world beyond words and human understanding. What impact does music have, not only you, but also your family and friends?
Music has heeled many a sad heart and brought a spiritual light to the world that can never be replaced. That's why people like Micheal Jackson will be missed so much because he was a true light to the world. Words often fail me when trying to explain what music does for the universe. All I can say is thank God for it, because without it, Hell would have won a long time ago……Peace…….Bobby D.
Many thanks to Mr Doglas for his open minded attitude through out the interview.
Interviewed in October 2009 by: Patrik Andersson
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