Will Downing is celebrating his 30th anniversary in the music industry and he’s just released his 2oth album– Soul Survivor. He talked to Grown Folks Music about his new album, how he picks the songs he will remake and feeling like the sole survivor in this soul music genre. Read below and enjoy.

Sole Survivor of Soul

GFM: You’re about to release your 20th album called Soul Survivor. I know that there’s a layered meaning behind the title. Can you talk about that?

Will Downing: It’s my 20th album, as you just said, plus my 30th year recording. It was actually going to be titled something else. I was actually going to title the record 20/30. I told someone [who is] a good friend of mine, ‘Yeah, that’s what I’m thinking about running with.’ He said, ‘Man, think of all the people that started when you started. How many of them are left?’ I said, ‘Oh wow.’ I hadn’t thought about it from that standpoint. He said, ‘The music that you’re doing is becoming like a dying sort of a genre. You’ve survived all these years doing music the way you wanted to do it. You’re a soul/sole survivor.’ I was like, DING! We gone run with that title. It works for me. It makes perfect sense. It’s very apropos. To survive this long in this crazy business doing this… it’s a big deal.

GFM: When I first read it [the album title] without even reading the press release the first thing I thought is that you are a sole survivor in the sense that you have been carrying the banner for soul music, but in doing so you’ve also preserved your soul. You haven’t compromised your artistry in any way.

Will Downing: Yeah absolutely. It means all of that. Its funny, over the years over the course of recording all these albums I’ve been asked to do all kind of stuff musically. I just kind of stayed the course. I said, ‘You’ll see. I may not be the first one to the finish line, but Imma get there.’ People would look at me like I was crazy. [They would say] ‘Yo man, why are you doing this stuff? You could be doing this… you could get this producer.’ I said, ‘Nah.’ I’ve always been of the mindset that a good song lasts forever. That’s been my credo and as you can see I’m still around doing it. So, there’s something to the madness.

GFM: You brought in some of your label mates on this album. I wanna talk about one of them– Ms. Avery*Sunshine. Who wrote the duet, because it sounds like a perfect description of her situation as a newlywed after she’d sworn off marriage?

Will Downing: [Laughs] That just happens to be coincidental then. Me and another gentleman, Randy Bowen, actually wrote the song. Really we were thinking more of her from working with her in the past and the marriage of our voices together really works well. Maybe that’s why she sang the mess out of the song. Maybe she was kinda feeling getting married again to Dana and being in a happy relationship, but lyrically me and Randy Bowen actually wrote the song. I just love Avery’s voice. I just think that she’s one of the most amazing voices that I’ve ever worked with and I love her spirit. She makes me feel good and when you’ve been doing this for a long time it’s hard to get motivated. When you run across someone like that– always upbeat, always in good voice, always wants to do her best– it just makes you pick your game up. I just love her.

King of Covers

GFM: You are the king of covers. I’m naming you the king of covers. The potential is limitless for another 20 albums. How do you decide what covers you’re gonna do? How does it come into your head, ‘Okay, I gonna record this particular song?’

Will Downing: Some of them are songs that I’ve always loved. Some of them are songs that other people love and challenges. Some of the remakes I do some people say, ‘I’ve always loved this song, man. No one can do this song better than…’ Then, I’ll kind of go ‘Okay, well Imma take it on. Let me see what I can do with it.’ So, that’s one reason. Another reason is because lyrically and musically I may love the song so much that I want to take it on. A lot of songs that I do are songs that are done by female artists, or even guys who have falsetto voices and that’s the way people only hear it. So, that’s why sometimes I’ll mess with a Stylistics song or a Blue Magic song where the song is like an octave up. They’ve only heard that song that way and when they hear it by a gentleman who has a baritone voice it kind of puts a whole new spin on it. That’s another reason why I do it. Even with songs like “Hurry Up This Way Again”, I was in the car with Najee and we were doing a gig together. We were driving to the show and radio was on. The song came on and he just said, ‘Man, I’ve always heard you doing this song. I’ve just always heard you doing it.’ So, when I got back home I did it. I sent it to him and he heard it and he was like, ‘Oh my God, Man, you’re crazy.’ I said, ‘Come on don’t play, brother. It was your idea.’ So, we did it.

GFM: Speaking of Najee he’s on the album as you just mentioned. He also just came upon his 30th year [anniversary] from his debut album. Talk about him and your relationship with him.

Will Downing: I’ve known Najee, and I hate to even say this number, but I’ve known Najee [for] probably 35 years. We grew up together. He grew up in Queens. I grew up in Brooklyn. Me and his brother used to work together a lot. They would come by my house. I think I was just getting out of high school… or just graduating from high school. I met him way back then. We’ve known each other for a very long time. We’ve guested on each other’s albums more times than I can count. I’m on his latest release. He does a song that’s a dedication to Al Jarreau. Obviously, he’s on my latest one with “Hurry Up This Way Again”. We’ve toured together so many times over the years, so it’s almost like recording with a family member. [He’s an] amazing talent and a good friend, so we’re good.

The Wind Down Radio Show

GFM: We’ve talked about The Wind Down before, but I want to mention it again briefly because it’s still going strong and the grown folks need to know about it.

Will Downing: Thank you first and foremost for acknowledging it and remembering it. The show is doing really well. We’ve picked up quite a few stations across the globe. To explain it it’s a combination of today’s music. Not necessarily the singles that you hear on regular, terrestrial radio everyday five or six times a day. What I try to do is if an artist puts out a record, [then] I try to get into the album itself. Singles are obviously great, but as an artist you record eight, nine or ten songs. What about those other six or seven or eight songs that’s on an album aside from the singles that the label kind of promote? So I kind of dig into that. We have a segment where we play “Interpretations”– one song by two artists. It’s not supposed to be, “Who Did It Better?” But, it always turns into that when they hear a classic song and a newer artist or an interpretation of a classic song. They go, ‘Oh, well I like the original one better.’ Or, ‘I love the new one.’ It turns into that so it becomes a talking point. Then we pay tribute to a soul legend on “Soul Legends”. It’ll be a group or an individual… someone who probably hasn’t had the light shined on them for a long time, but it’s great music. We do that as well. It’s a variety show…. a variety, music-packed show.

GFM: What is your definition of Grown Folks Music?

Will Downing: Music that touches the soul. Music that has longevity. Music lyrically that touches you and says something to you and something that you can identify with. An opportunity for you to get dressed up, but also you to let yourself go at the same time musically. An artist that has been around and when you hear the music it takes you down memory lane. That’s what it’s all about to me. When I hear an artist and they sing something or I if hear something played you go right back to that time and that moment when you first heard it or that special thing. You might’ve been with a young lady or you might’ve gotten married to a particular song or something like that.

It’s something that today’s artists, unfortunately, don’t have an opportunity or won’t have an opportunity to experience because this music thing is moving so fast. Most artists don’t even put out more than two or three albums over their careers anymore. When I hear grown folks music, I think about your Luther Vandrosses or your Natalie Coles or your Aretha Franklins, or your Stevie Wonders or your Earth, Wind and Fires… Frankie Beverly and Maze, The O’Jays . It just takes you back to someone who had a catalog of work. When you hear those songs it just takes you there and makes you feel young again… youthful… vibrant… it does all of that to you. That’s what grown-up music is to me.

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Kimberly Kennedy Charles

I have questions. Artists have answers.