Songs from the Black Book, my first album, came out in 2006. And so, I’m very happy to say that my second album of songs is now available for sale at all the usual online retail outlets. Click here to buy the new album.
To read all about why my new album, This Ain’t R&B Vol. 1, IS actually an R&B album, click here.
Go here to read about me and my production partner, Nate Barnes.
Wanna listen to both albums in their entirety to get a little taste? Go here.
Thank you for your support, whomever happens to find their way into this little corner of the Interweb. And to my friends, family, and fans who’ve supported my music through the years: My humble gratitude for listening to what I have to say.
Thanks for supporting Indie Music!
The original review appears here.
I have only become aware of this remarkable and refreshing album from Gary King. Released in 2006, this artist draws together a really heady mix of styles that have been the foundation and tapestry of his life, and packed them together in one smart bundle of soulful and jazzy sounds which possess various different undercurrents and accents. Vocally I am reminded of singers such as Tuomo or Remy Shand, and musically the mix is very much packed with real instruments and lush, intricate sounds that offer the listener a really fresh, different and alternative sound to what the mainstream are forcing upon us. Not beating about the bush, I rate this album as excellent and a very essential item. Gary King does not fail me on any track, and I just know that one listen to his songs on CD Baby and you will be adding the CD into your cart.
I grew up in the newspaper business—my parents owned and operated the newspaper of record in American Samoa, the Samoa News, and later on, the Samoa Journal. I came out of my mother’s womb and immediately got smeared with newspaper ink when my father held me in his arms. I started as a paper boy at the spry age of 3, moved onto become a typist at 9, and by high school, I was designing ads, laying out, and collating newspapers. Later on, I even edited and wrote stories, as well as opinion editorials.
We didn’t have a web press or automatic folding machine, so we had to manually fold, collate, and insert the actual pages of the newspaper. It was an arduous task and took all night. But it was fun by virtue of the communal nature of things: We didn’t sleep the night of production, but we played music while we folded the newspaper, we laughed, I got to watch my older brother develop photos in the makeshift darkroom, and the blur of pages landing on top of each other at the front of the press formed a kind of visual rorschach test that still lingers in my memory. We drank coffee (in my case, soda—I wasn’t allowed to drink coffee), and in general, got lost in the rhythms of the offset sheet press that gave birth to the printed word via newsprint. It was hard work but rewarding because of the fun we had collectively putting the paper to bed as a team.
On one particular night in 1985, my brother and I were working another one of those overnights folding papers, when this song came on—this beautiful, amazing song. It immediately caught my attention. It had all the hallmarks of a classic. A lullabye intro with lush pads, hooks and inner hooks and a catchy verse melody and a catchy prechorus melody and then more hooks on top of that and a huge chorus that never quit. It even had guest appearances by all the biggest musical stars at the time: Lionel Richie, Cyndi Lauper, Huey Lewis, Bruce Springsteen, and legends like Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, Bob Dylan, and more. Of course, most of you know the song I am referring to: We Are the World. Quincy Jones produced it, and It was written by Lionel Richie and, yes, the King of Pop, Michael Jackson.
I remember hearing Michael Jackson’s part come fairly early in the song, right after Diana Ross’ voice trails off with the words, “we’re saving our own lives,” just as Michael’s satin falsetto seamlessly merges with hers in harmony before taking the first chorus by himself, gently, smoothly, caressing the now-famous hook in only the way that he could. The radio station played that song at least 20 times that night, probably 3 or 4 times an hour. I knew most of the words by daybreak, and to this day, it remains one of those childhood musical markers for me, a moment in time placed in a capsule of my choosing to be opened whenever I feel the need to revisit things from a bygone era. I break out “We Are the World” when I need a karaoke show-stopper (I can still do relatively decent fascimiles of all the singers who performed the song), or simply when I want to feel the warmth and nostalgia of my childhood, smell the newsprint, and feel the ink stick to my fingers as my brother snores underneath the table sneaking a nap before the next round of papers is ready to be inserted.
Almost 25 years later, I will get the chance to sing this song from my childhood (and others from the MJ catalog) at Michael’s memorial service at the Staples Center today, Tuesday, July 7th. I’ll be singing as part of the Andrae Crouch Gospel Choir, and we’ll be providing the spiritual backbone of the services. The Andrae Crouch Choir in the 80s and 90s sang on MJ records like Man in the Mirror, Heal the World, and even on a Madonna tune, the gospel-tinged Like a Prayer.
It’s 12:38 a.m., and I just got back from rehearsal at the Staples Center. They’re expecting roughly 700,000 people flooding downtown LA for this event. It’s been a whirlwind couple of days in rehearsals for this service, and I got the opportunity to see some of my childhood idols soundcheck this afternoon and evening. A quick Google search will let you know the performers, so I won’t list them here, but for one: Stevie Wonder. At soundcheck today, he left me in tears performing a two-song medley on acoustic grand by himself. His voice devastated me, and I just cannot say enough about the strength and power and beauty and special quality that Stevie has in person. It is in the sacred vibrations of music by artists like Stevie Wonder that we normal-folk are allowed to glimpse the divine. I cried, and for a few minutes, an entire auditorium full of jaded, entertainment industry veterans who have seen it all, heard it all, been everywhere….paused and listened. And this was after several other prominent artists had taken the stage earlier. I know, I’m a broken record…bla, bla, bla, bla Steve Wonder is god, bla, bla, bla, bla. But it was that good.
I’ll try to post more of my thoughts and recap after Tuesday is over. Pundits everywhere are pontificating about his death, the role he played in shaping his own controversial image over the years, and in the midst of all that chatter, it’s easy to forget that at the end of the day, he was just like you and me: a person, a suffering human being, someone who wanted only happiness. I’m not privy to Michael’s life in any way, but I will say this—the dancers, the musicians, the techs—all of them exude a kind of loyalty and this sense of loss that could only have been the result of a former boss whose interactions with them must have been in some way like those with family. I’m focused, honored, and humbled to be a part of this moment in time, and yet any potential excitement I’m feeling is tempered by the collective sadness that seemed to fill Staples Center today and the prospect of saying goodbye to MJ, to Michael, the King of Pop—Michael Jackson—a major musical influence from my childhood.
Thanks, Michael, for the musical memories. I hope you’ve found the peace you sought and that we all deserve some day.
PS Hulu is streaming the Memorial Service. I’ve embedded the stream at the top of the page for those of you with fast internet connections. Peace and blessings.
The original review appears here.
by Matt Jaworski–Muzikreviews.com Staff
Ahh yes, the music industry… “It’s not what it used to be” or “it’s changed” is what many musically-inclined folks find themselves saying and hearing nowadays: it’s all about writing a hit song that immediately soars to #1 and then wears itself out soon thereafter. It’s rare when an artist arrives on the popular music scene (or in the 2008 major motion picture soundtrack for Prom Night) by simply writing songs that encapsulate “a diary of sorts” about their “life’s ups and downs”, but Gary King’s debut album Songs From The Black Book fits the bill.
Hailing from Los Angeles, this Berklee Music grad has compiled a collection that not only allows listeners to hear a fantastic voice at work, but thirteen tracks with positively-charged lyrics and outstanding musical companions as well. “White Blip On My Radar Screen” opens the album with just that – blips – followed by Gary’s first vocal entrance of the collection over a lightly sampled backbeat; his voice is thick, endearing, and pitch-perfect, calling to mind the likes of Maxwell and Nathan Morris (Boyz II Men). “Victim of Ur Love” follows three tracks later as the most memorable track of the album – with a nicely harmonized chorus, backing horn section, and medium-tempo groove – the high point of the album.
From the fifth track onward, Mr. King croons and woos with his intimate vocal performances overtop the funky, soulful 1970’s throwback “All the Love in the World”, the TLC-like backgrounds of “Crayons”, and the lush jazz voicings of “Lady Love” (his finest vocal performance aboard Songs From The Black Book). “Winter Eyes” further showcases Mr. King’s versatility by tossing in a taste of a 1980’s power ballad, with chorus-flavored guitars and punchy, syncopated synthesizer hits. The closing track, “Climb Your Mountains” features the powerful tones of the Confirmation Choir in an up-tempo, gospel-flavored groove and more positively-charged lyrics (such a nice thing to hear nowadays: positive lyrics).
Being Mr. King’s debut album in what is sure to be the first of many, his voice, the musicianship and mixing account for three well-earned gold stars, but on the whole, the album lacks varied vocal interpretation. While listeners are treated to many different styles of music, the vocal interpretation from track to track lacks variety and errs more on the side of playing safe than taking chances and reaching for new dimensions (and yes, Mr. King does have it in him). While the album is a pleasant listen, each track does also lose listeners’ interest as they constantly reach and surpass the four and five minute marks; while “Victim of Ur Love” nears it, a noteworthy chorus is what listeners are awaiting.
While Songs From The Black Book has its minor shortcomings, the good news is that Gary King has the difficult part in tow – an unforgettable voice and passion for his craft. Hopefully, Mr. King will begin Book II of his diary memoirs soon – perhaps a different pen and paper will pull it all together.
This article originally appeared on SPasifikMag.com
R&B singer/songwriter Gary King couldn’t ask for a better start to the spring season after his song “Your Eyes” appears prominently on the soundtrack of the number one movie in the US. A remake of the original 1980 horror movie release starring Jamie Lee Curtis, “Prom Night” opened in theaters April 11th in the US with an all new cast and accompanying updated movie soundtrack including an R&B ballad performed by samoan born artist Gary King.
Born and raised in Amouli on the island of Tutuila in American Samoa, Gary grew up singing and performing at an early age with a fondness for the old school styles of Stevie Wonder and Sting. His parents the late Jake King a former musician from Alabama and his late polynesian mother Rowena Johnson of Saluafata on the island of Upolu in neighboring Samoa, owned and operated the original Samoa News newspaper in the US south pacific island territory and later the Samoa Journal in the early 80’s.
Upon graduating from the all boys Marist High School in American Samoa, Gary left the islands to attend the Berkley College of Music in Boston, MA after graduating with a Bachelor of Political Science at American University in Washington D.C. before eventually moving to Los Angeles to pursue his fledgling music career.
After releasing his first album “Songs from the Black Book” a mutual friend from Boston, put him touch with song producer Mike Balardi who was working on the upcoming movie soundtrack for “Prom Night” that was being released by Lakeshore Records who also released soundtracks for movies like Doomsday, Jumper, Little Miss Sunshine and Superbad. Balardi was looking for something along the same style and feel as popular R&B singer Robin Thicke, so along with King the two penned and recorded “Your Eyes” in two days and the track was released on the movie soundtrack and featured prominently in the movie. Enough to garner 2000 additional track plays on his myspace page the first week the movie was released, let alone the friend requests from movie goer’s who waded through the movie credits just to find a name to google.
Gary is currently working on his second album scheduled for release later this summer. He has five more songs being released later in the year on the soundtrack to an upcoming indie film “All About Us” which includes a cameo by actor Morgan Freeman. Along with a Gospel project further down the road, Gary also has plans to eventually release a Samoan album. Only fitting since his family geneology include samoan mainstays like uncle Alapati Savea and aunty Malia Savea of Penina O Tiafau fame along with distant cousin Ben Vai. Gary also has an older sister with a very impressive resume in government, but that will be for another article. This spotlight will stay on the little brother.
Songs From The Black Book: A Timeless Masterpiece
—by Erich Rittig
The record consists of delicately crafted lyrics, excellent vocal work and an equally high standard in regards to musical craft, with a steady drive for perfection.
King opens up a virtual “black book” of soul and R&B (with a sprinkling of jazz throughout) with the song White Blip On My Radar Screen. He sings with a powerful and crystal clear voice. The production never obscures his performance, allowing it to move beautifully and expressively to the foreground and leaving the listener with a vibrant, ambient setting. It is as if King is singing right beside you in the middle of a room. The rather subtle beats and instruments are well-placed and add to the high level of expressiveness. The drum programming is equally sensitive and balanced.
The first half of the album consists of a rhythmic, mid-tempo mix of fine soul and R&B. On Baby (I’m a Better Man), King again displays enormous vocal potential. He scales into his higher register at an artistic skill level that is reminiscent of Maxwell himself. From here, the record is an increasingly diverse one. Lady Love reveals a light jazz feel, while the song Winter Eyes succeeds as a subtle pop tune. King shows off more vocal acrobatics with Hopeless in Love, and closes SFTBB in good, old gospel fashion.
With a passion for melody and meaningful words in his stories, King creates a powerful mood throughout. One gladly puts time away to enjoy a true discovery such as this. Like a great book, Songs from the Black Book is suspenseful in its development and is replete with wonderful, little surprises and skillfully executed musical twists.
Journal entry. Thursday, October 18, 2007. Brushed teeth. Washed hair. Went to post office. Met Stevie Wonder today.
Hard to believe, but if I asked you which of the above statements was false, you would probably pick the last one. You would be wrong. In fact, I did not go to the post office on this day. I did, however, meet Stevie Wonder.
A small disclaimer about this little story I’m about to tell: It’s not so much that my meeting Stevie was this particularly unique event. Musical legends like Stevie meet everyday folks like me all the time. It’s part of their job. But there are such things as serendipity and by extension, moments when we find ourselves drawn into circumstances and events that lie just outside the domain of what we would normally chalk up to mere coincidence. My story is one of those times when a series of seemingly benign and unrelated events took on a life of their own and formed a wonderful, chain-link bridge between the past, present, and future in ways I never could have imagined.
In the winter months of 2006, I accepted an invite to play a gig at BB King’s. I was excited. I had never played there before, and I was on a really good bill that included feature act Jon B and major-label artist Lina, who at the time was enjoying an R&B hit single, Smooth. The entire show was being sponsored by R&B/Soul radio station KJLH (102.3) in honor of their drive-time personality DJ Adai Lamar’s birthday. Stevie Wonder owns KJLH, and there were rumblings that he would be in attendance on Adai’s special night. Add in the fact that Stevie is notorious for impromptu performances, and the stage was literally and figuratively set for an interesting evening.
My performance came and went, and in a whirlwind moment, it happened: Stevie showed up. Like a tsunami, we were held captive in the wake of what turned out to be a 40 or so minute set by a musical genius that raged well into the wee hours of the morning. Feature performer Jon B wisely decided to take a raincheck. Who could have followed that? Stevie’s set was pure bliss. I wrote a much more detailed blog about it here. In the blog, I described my failure that evening at getting through to the owner of BB King’s via a variety of different mediums: phone calls, praying, and of course, everyone’s favorite past-time nowadays, text messaging. The owner was a stone’s throw away at all times that night but obviously, quite busy. The meet-and-greet with Stevie that I had envisioned for my band and me never materialized. I ended my blog with a prescient vow to one day meet Stevie but my claim was surely more bravado than not, a flimsy mask behind which I hid my true fear, that the chance would not come around again any time soon.
Fast forward to early fall of 2007. I’m checking my MySpace messages, and the subject header of one of them reads “Stevie Wonder Blog..BB Kings.” Question marks pop in front of me, and I open the email. It’s from Adai Lamar, the DJ whose birthday party Stevie “crashed” the year before. In the email, Adai describes surfing the web and randomly finding my blog post about her birthday party. She enjoyed reading it so much that she makes a mind-boggling offer: to arrange for me to meet Stevie in person, at the KJLH studios. I am numb. I wrote the blog almost a year ago and never expected a response from anyone remotely involved in that special night, let alone Adai, whose birthday was the reason we were all there in the first place.
I tell my co-producer Nate the news. He is ecstatic. Curiously enough, though Adai gives me her office number in her message, I choose to email her first and wait for a response. The strangeness begins here: When I don’t hear from her right away, I don’t follow up with a phone call. This gracious woman has offered to arrange for me to meet my idol, the Stevie Wonder, a musical genius, and instead of desperately clawing at the opportunity like most sane people would, lest it disappear with the wind, I wait (drum roll)….almost 4 weeks. Four weeks before I call her back. Don’t know why I did it, but I did. I’m still typing, so clearly, though I never meant it to work out this way, my decision to wait so long ended up working out in our favor.
I finally call Adai and leave a message. In two hours, I have a voicemail response from her. She says quite tersely and simply: “Stevie’ll be in tomorrow off tour, so come by the studio with Nate in the morning and we’ll hook it up. See ya then!” And that was it. We were on our way. I tell Nate about the message. We are both starting to feel as if outside forces are in play.
Nate and I barely sleep the night before, and we’re both up at the crack of dawn. Only Stevie Wonder could have this effect on me: I iron my clothes. I almost never iron. I ignore the fact that Stevie won’t notice my pressed shirt and pleated pants. Today is different, and we both feel it. We leave with plenty of time to spare and get to the radio station a little after 7 a.m. The studio is less than half a mile away from our apartment, which we moved into less than 6 months before. A security guard lets us in, and I meekly announce that Adai is expecting us. He walks down a long corridor and disappears behind one of those official-looking, thick metal doors with a small window pane tacked onto the upper half. The guard returns after what seems like an eternity and says Adai will be with us shortly. We sit. We wait. Shortly thereafter, someone enters the lobby, a well-dressed gentleman with the air of an academic. He looks at Nate first and then me. I acknowledge him with a Samoan raise of my eyebrows (only brown folk from the island will understand this reference). Nate ignores him, because, well, Nate is blind. Yes, blind. Since he was 10. He plays drums like a beast, and he’s blind.
The “academic” turns out to be Dr. Mark Humayun, an eye specialist over at USC. He takes an unusual interest in Nate and in particular, the fact that Nate is blind. He explains that Stevie has invited him to be interviewed on air about the special program he runs. Special program? Nate and I shift in our seats almost simultaneously, already nervous about meeting Stevie but now somewhat weirded out by the sudden but welcome intrusion in the form of…an eye doctor. An eye doctor who happens to be scheduled to be interviewed on-air the same day that I, after almost a month delay, happened to arrange our little groupie meet-and-greet. What are the chances?
Adai finally comes out. She is beautiful, confident, and clearly does not have a face for radio. She expected Nate and me, but the doctor’s presence is a surprise to her. Stevie arranged for the doctor to come on his own, without really telling anybody. Adai smiles. She’s used to it and takes everything in stride.
We follow her back into the belly of the station. We pass the main broadcast room. The “On-Air” light is red, and we see movement in the studio through the small rectangular door window. Stevie is close, separated by just a few feet of floor and mere inches of steel. She leads Dr. Humayun elsewhere, and sets us down in a small office adjacent the broadcast area. We are smiling and trying to seem cool. We are not cool.
Ten or so minutes later, Adai returns and leads us into the actual broadcast booth where Stevie and the morning DJs are bantering in between commercial breaks. We can’t believe it’s happening. Adai announces us to Stevie, and we both step up in succession to shake hands with him. I mutter something about it being an honor before I lead Nate over to shake his hand. Nate also mutters something bordering on trite as he shakes Stevie’s hand. He’s right there, sitting in front of us. I’m watching his every move. He really bobs his head from side to side. It’s graceful, though, with some seemingly invisible rhythm guiding his movement. And his speech is rapid-fire and poly-rhythmic, yet also fluid, graceful and—get this—melodic, in a lilting, almost hypnotic way. Classical musicians would call it legatto. Everything Stevie does is musical. I’m in awe.
In an instant, it’s over. Is that it, we wonder? One shake of the hand, and you’re done? Adai asks if we can stay until after the show so we can spend a little more time chatting with Stevie and take pictures. The decision is unanimous and of course, was never in question. Adai leads us back out, this time, to a larger conference room with a long, rectangular table. We sit and wait some more.
Nate and I catch our breath and try to manage the huge grins on our face at this point. A few minutes later, a staff member leads Dr. Humayun back into the room. After the requisite pleasantry exchange, he starts peppering Nate with questions, very specific inquiries that would seem to suggest he assumes that Nate is there today as “blind” Nate and not “Stevie Groupie” Nate. We find out why. Dr. Humayan has developed a special microchip that allows viable blind candidates to partially recover their sight. That’s right. The guy literally helps blind people see again. Stevie invited him to talk about the chip and to publicize an upcoming outreach campaign soliciting potential candidates for the procedure (they are still in Phase I testing). Things are starting to happen in slow motion now, and Nate and I, without saying a word, are both majorly weirded out by everything. It gets better. Nate and Dr. Humayan have hit it off, and Nate shares the story of how he lost his sight when he was 10. The doctor asks where he had his last surgery. Nate says in Baltimore, at John Hopkins University, in 1985. “John Hopkins? 1985?” Dr. Humayan says with surprise. “I was a resident at Hopkins that year! Which doctor did you see?” he asks. Nate says the names of two specialists who worked on him, one of whom was the same doctor who reattached Sugar Ray Leonard’s retina after the famous Duran bout. “I worked under both those doctors!” he exclaims. Nate and I shift in our seats somewhat uncomfortably a second time. Did I already mention we are both majorly being weirded out at this point?
It’s time for Dr. Humayun to go on-air with Stevie. Someone comes in and whisks him away. Alone for just a few minutes, Nate and I shake our heads at the amazing coincidence we’ve just realized is taking place. An eye specialist who literally worked at the same hospital under the same doctors who treated Nate when he was 10 is now being interviewed on-air with Stevie Wonder about helping blind people see. And, we just so happen to be there on the same day, when our visit should have actually already taken place, if not for my procrastinating self.
Another KJLH staffer comes by and kindly asks if we want any refreshments. They have catering at the radio station, apparently, every Thursday. On this particular day, it’s Soul Food. Say no more, I think, and I leave to get Nate and I some grub. I return a few minutes later with aforesaid grub in hand to find the second link in this coincidence chain that seems to have slowly wrapped itself around the two of us and won’t let go. There is a new participant in this little dramedy in the room when I return. A beautiful woman is sitting across from Nate, and they are making small talk. I recognize her. She’s an actress from one of my favorite movies, Independence Day. It’s Vivica Fox. I’m not surprised in the least by her presence given what’s transpired so far. As a matter of fact, I almost shrug. Stevie Wonder. The eye doctor from Nate’s past. Vivica Fox. We’re just getting started here, I think to myself. I mean, really, who’s next? Blair Underwood from LA Law? Yes, Blaire Underwood makes a cameo later on. I quickly join the conversation and start cracking jokes like an old Hollywood pro, trying to balance that mix of interest and disinterest that’s necessary to operate in the same league as someone of Vivica’s calibre. Or at least that’s what I tell myself I’m doing. Vivica is quite gracious and politely banters with Nate and I for the duration. Oh, and she’s drop-dead gorgeous in person.
Turns out Vivica is there promoting her latest endeavor, a touring play in which she’s the star. Her co-star in the play, she explains, is running late and will be there in a few minutes. His name is Boris Kodjoe. (Most women, and perhaps a few men, swooned upon reading that last sentence.) An up-and-coming actor, Kodjoe falls within that coveted category that all woman would classify as eye candy. It’s a tough job, and Kodjoe is equipped to do it—tall, handsome, square jaw, and ripped, Hollywood-trainer abs. Here’s yet another clincher: Kodjoe also happens to be the lead actor in a little indie film called All About Us. Nate and I had met him before at a closed screening of the film earlier that year. We attended the screening as producers and writers: 5 of my compositions appear in the movie, including the title song itself. Kodjoe eventually arrived and did not immediately recognize either Nate or me, though I quickly reminded him of our connection. The mere act of being able to say that we were producers with music in a film that he starred in temporarily gave us license to appear as something other than what we actually were and still are to this day: Stevie Wonder groupies who happen to record music in their living room (although now we record in a garage). Nate and I shifted in our seats yet again, and for the third time that day, we were officially “weirded-out.” With my newfound license to talk, however, I held court perhaps even more than I normally would have, coaxing Vivica to talk of her days living in, of all places, Indiana and about other random tidbits that were, at the time, the most fascinating things I had ever heard. I officially had a crush on Vivica.
But my mind was ultimately still on Stevie. Both Nate and I did our best to avoid what had become an obvious elephant in the room, a question that burned in our minds: Did Stevie realize Nate was blind? We didn’t think so. Let me explain. It wasn’t even so much about being “discovered” or having Stevie swoop in and sign us to a record deal or give us a huge advance or anything along those lines. We simply wanted a genuine and real connection with the man other than one where we were two more faceless strangers in a long line of people that he might meet over the course of his daily duties as a living and breathing musical legend. This idea, that we wanted to meet Stevie on our own terms and as unique individuals whom he might remember later on, was the primary reason behind why we left the BB King’s gig early the year before. Instead of trying to force our way into the VIP area that night, we decided, in an almost Zen moment, that it wasn’t right, that our time to meet Stevie would come later and would happen in a much more profound and memorable way. Clearly, today was that day. But how to execute this tricky maneuver short of busting through the studio doors with a machine gun, yelling “Stevie, Nate is blind! Nate is blind!” So, yes, dammit, we unintentionally found ourselves trying to play the blind card. Wouldn’t you? Sue us. Neither of us said anything at the time, but we both admitted afterwards that we were thinking the same thing, that Dr. Humayan would play a key role in helping us meet Stevie in that special way we had been seeking. Mind you, we had already met Stevie and were going to meet him one more time, regardless. We just wanted to stand out a little more. In the end, we were right. Dr. Humayan was clutch.
We continue to make small talk when Adai comes back into the room and whispers in my ear:
“Stevie wants to interview Nate on air with the doctor. Stevie didn’t realize Nate was blind, and the doctor mentioned him. He wants to see if Nate might be a good fit for this procedure. Would you guys be okay with being on air?”
The operative word of the day is cool, even though my heart is beating at a pretty good clip by this time. I reply cooly, “Oh, sure, that would fine,” as if to say, “Hmm, yes, I would be amenable to that. Sure. Whatever.” I smile at myself and how quickly I’ve transformed into some weird amalgam of the Dalai Lama and Michael Ovitz. Nate is still listening to miscellaneous Hollywood banter across from Vivica. I lean over and whisper the news. He shakes his head. We’re both completely, absolutely petrified, but in a good way.
Vivica and crew eventually leave for their talk with Stevie, and Nate and I are alone with our thoughts yet again, except now we’re trying to prepare mentally for this completely unexpected moment in the spotlight. We had originally hoped for a handshake, a few short sentences bandied about amongst friends, and perhaps a picture with Stevie. Now, we were going to be on air with the man, participating in what was ostensibly our first radio interview ever. Nice.
Half an hour seemed like forever, but eventually, our time came. An assistant comes in and says those two words that performers know so well: “You’re on!”
She leads us into the studio along with Dr. Humayun, who had rejoined us after Vivica left. The sight of the studio console, the engineer and main DJ, along with Adai and Stevie seated next to each other was an immediate and visceral thrill. The room was filled with the kind of vibrant energy that only major radio market personalities like Adai and her staff could conjure. They bantered, joked, and segued from one topic to another with ease. Stevie was clearly good at it too. Is there anything this guy can’t do, I think quietly to myself. Master singer, songwriter, instrumentalist, oh, and hey, I think I’ll kick some major ass at being a DJ too! Adai reintroduces Nate and I to Stevie on a commercial break, explaining the story of my blog and how we just missed meeting him the year before at her birthday party. Stevie nods and smiles a 3,000 watt smile that could power a small city. Our photo-op moment comes, and I hand Adai my camera. She takes the picture, Nate and Dr. Humayun bookending Stevie in the middle with me kneeling in the foreground. I feel like I’m dreaming. We’re all eventually led into position, given headphones, and in an instant, we’re waiting to go live on air with Stevie Wonder. Amazingly enough, Nate and I apparently still have some residual courage left over from our Vivica Fox bantering session, and we both engage in some conversation with Stevie and the other DJs during commercial breaks. Stevie asks Nate some questions, and at one point, Nate even cracks a funny. Everyone laughs, and being the attention whore that everyone knows I am, I try my hand at being funny with what I believe at the time is a humorous anecdotal reference. I was wrong. But everyone is polite and the show goes on. We’re on air.
Adai introduces Nate and me and explains the backstory behind why we’re there. She asks me to introduce myself and Nate, and somehow, some way, I force a few sentences out of my mouth. My first words begin with what seems to me like an interminable stutter, but I plow my way through and am able somehow to communicate a complete thought, something along the lines of “We’re producers and writers and we do muh-muh-muh-muh-muh-muuuuu-sic…” Stevie reintroduces Dr. Humayun and asks him to talk a little about the microchip and what’s involved in the procedure. Nate answers some questions from Stevie as well, talks about his life and about being blind. Before we know it, our time is almost up, but not before Stevie dramatically asks the doctor this: “So, doc, do you think we can get our man Nate tested to see if he’s a candidate for the procedure?”
Two weeks later, Nate went to his first appointment with the good doctor. Though Dr. Humayun explained early on that it’s a long shot because of the kind of damage that initially caused Nate’s blindness, he has not given up and is still in the process of determining whether Nate is a viable candidate.
Our interview ended with, as I hinted earlier, a surprise visit by none other than former LA Law star Blair Underwood, who stopped by to plug a fundraiser in Inglewood that weekend for an iconic, independent bookstore that was facing closure. At that point, the President of the United States could have swung by, and Nate and I would have been less impressed. We had just met Stevie Wonder, and we had done it on-air, live, broadcast to literally tens of thousands of listeners throughout the greater Los Angeles metro area. We left the studio happy, bewildered, and somehow invigorated by the idea that, for the briefest of moments, we were able to hang with the man himself. It was a good day, I thought. As we walked back to the car, I panicked for a second, realizing that I had not left enough money in the parking meter. I stopped myself and realized, with an almost uncanny certainty, that there would be no parking ticket on my windshield. It wasn’t that kind of day. I was right. Later that night, I met up with a friend to watch the Red Sox play. They won. I crossed that off my check-list of things to do that day: 1. Meet Stevie Wonder. Check. Watch Red Sox win on their way to 2nd World Series in 4 years. Check. Blatantly flout parking meter signs, leave too little money in your meter, and get away with it. Check. I left that bar and went somewhere else with another good friend. I shared my Stevie story—already at that point the stuff of legend— with him. We celebrated with a quick drink and toast.
In the midst of a Santa Monica club and a fray of twenty and thirty-somethings out having a good time, the DJ spun appropriately contemporary hip hop and R&B, the kind of stuff you might hear on MTV or the radio. I smiled at how we often have moments of introspection in loud environments and in the unlikeliest of places: clubs, bars, train stations, airports—places where a sea of humanity and its attendant noise seem to paradoxically open a door to a deeper consciousness we tend to associate with isolation and nature. I thought about all the signposts along the way that led to my and Nate’s meeting Stevie Wonder, all the strange yet compelling little coincidences. Was there anything else left? Perhaps there was one last signpost. The DJ suddenly played a song that I hadn’t heard in a while, No Diggity, by Blackstreet. Up to that point, his playlist comprised strictly current fare, songs that had come out in the last two years or so. The second he played the song, I experienced this eerie feeling of de ja vu. I had heard it one other time that day. Earlier that morning, they had played No Diggity at KJLH as part of a regular call-in contest—whoever could identify the artist and song after hearing just a snippet. I smiled again and for a fleeting moment, felt a twinge of sadness knowing the day would end and that other lesser days lay ahead, when parking attendants would not inexplicably leave me alone, when DJs in random clubs would not leave virtual signposts in the form of specific songs in their playlist, and when Stevie Wonder would no longer ask me or Nate about our lives on air in front of tens of thousands of people.
It was a good day.
What cultivated your love of music?
Definitely my parents and my siblings and growing up in Samoa. My parents were music lovers, and my father was a former musician. He played the fiddle and was a travelling, country musician in the 30s. My mother dreamed of being a singer in her youth.
Did you have any formal education/training in music?
I went to the Berklee College of Music in Boston.
Give us some of the backstory behind the songs that you write.
Definitely. Some of them are autobiographical. Some of them are tunes I made up. And some are based on things that have happened to my friends or things that I’ve read about.
What artist do you think has influenced your music most?
It’s a cliche, but Stevie Wonder, hands down.
Is there a moment that you can recall that was the turning point in
Well, it’s still turning. It’s making a soft left right about now. The trick is not turning too much so you end up making a U-turn. No U-turns.
Are there any Polynesian artists that you enjoy listening to?
I’m old school when it comes to Polynesian music. I grew up listening to people like Penina o Tiafau, Jerome Grey, Ava, Tiamaa, Five Star, Punialavaa. Tiamaa Vol. 8 was a big album for me as a kid, produced by J.R. Scanlan, whose music I also grew up listening to. I wore that album out.
What about mainstream/contemporaries?
I’m a fan of TeVaka, Fiji, Adeaze, The FeelStyle. I was only recently introduced to Afatia’s music, but I love what I’ve heard so far. I value and prize uniqueness in a musical artist. Here in L.A., I’m a big fan of Natusol [Note: now Common Kings], Sons of Manasseh, Local Culture, Natty Rootz. There’s a guy out of Australia who’s really good too, Tolu Faletolu, who I just heard the other day on MySpace. He’s great. I’m missing a lot of people. I can’t think of everyone off the top of my head.
Tell me about your home life and how that cultivated your love for
Samoa is such a musical place. We sing everywhere. At functions, church, school, it’s just such a natural part of life there, unlike here. No one back home is shy to sing and everybody has the same shared musical history. We know the same songs, and we are all mystically somehow able to launch into a song spontaneously in the same key (it might take a second or two, but we all gravitate into the same key, which almost never happens here—anyone who’s listened to a group of people at a restaurant like Friday’s, for example, sing Happy Birthday along with the waitstaff know this). It also helped that my older brother and sister brainwashed me into loving music when we were kids: We would listen to our parents’ record collection and transcribe the lyrics and sing along. My brother would take me along with him to buy records and tapes when I was a kid. I learned to love the experience of opening an album, reading the liner notes and the lyrics, looking at the pictures, and wondering what a Producer did when I saw that in the credits. I learned to love going into a record store and browsing. Mind you, this was Samoa, so we had only one Record Store, so, there wasn’t all that much browsing to do. But what little browsing was available to me, I used it up like a sponge. I was always singing songs with my dad, and at school, in church. I was surrounded by music from a young age.
Where would you like to see your career progress in the next four-five years?
I’d like to put out at least 3 more albums of my own, as well as produce other artists’ projects. I’d like to continue to write material for myself and other artists, and explore film and TV as an avenue to get my music out there. I would like to put out an album of traditional Samoan folk music.
How important is the “5:54” concert tour to your career?
The tour is quite a blessing for me, and I feel honored to be one of the opening acts for a fellow Polynesian as talented as Afatia. I was really honored to be asked to be a part of the LA/Vegas leg of the tour, and it will be fun for me to perform in front of a new audience that might not have had a chance to hear my music yet.
What do you want listeners to know about you and your music?
I want them to know that it comes from a real place, and that the quality of lyrics and melody are really important to me. I feel like those two things—good, singable, memorable melodies and meaningful lyrics—are often missing in today’s music. Commercial radio seems hell-bent on spoon-feeding the masses the musical equivalent of Spam (not that there’s anything wrong with Spam—I’m Samoan, so I love Spam). But sometimes, it’s nice to have a little variety, maybe some chicken or even a steak. I want my music to be like chicken or steak—a nice little, break from the usual Spam that you might otherwise get the rest of the time.