You've sweat on the dance floor to their house classics, bounced to their beats in modern rap singles and many of their hits, you probably didn't even know they produced. But when you hear the name Crown Heights Affair, the one thing that clicks immediately is infinitely soulful classics from a very tight band. Making music since 1973, they are still making hits in the new millennium. In our sit-down, we had a chance to hear a little about their history, their colleagues and the new generation. Let's get started.
We're sitting with three original members of Crown Heights Affair. Guys, introduce yourselves…
William Anderson also known as Bubba…
… and Ray Reid known as Johnny Ray.
You started out at RCA in 1973, before moving on to Delite and your mega-hit, "Dreaming a Dream..."
Burt Reid: "Dreaming a Dream" was our first hit on Delite/Polygram Records and we released about 6 or 7 albums with them.
Taking you into what time?
Ray Reid: About 1982 - 83.
Then you guys sort of stopped making music together, and went on to some other projects. I want to hear what the projects were, and what happened to them.
Bert: Well, I guess we start with me. We went into production together as a team, Ray Anderson and myself, and together we produced Unlimited Touch and the song entitled "I Hear Music in the Streets". I wrote the lyrics to it, and Ray Anderson produced it with me. Next we did "Searching to Find the One", also by Unlimited Touch. That's when I went off on my own. I did "I'll Do Anything For You" by Denroy Morgan. That was my first big hit after I left my partners.
Those were huge records! How did it feel when they kicked over - did it eclipse what you did with Crown Heights Affair?
Bubba: Well, I think we went into production because we needed to grow. We were in the group for a while, we traveled all over the world and we felt like we needed to do a little bit more as individuals. Being in a group with so many talented individuals, it's hard for you to reach your full potential within the group. That's why we decided to go out and do other things - that's how it began.
How did it feel to go from an artist to a producer?
Ray: It was an easy transition. We like to motivate young talent by taking our experience and passing it on to the younger generation.
The younger generation has made a lot of those records you mentioned classics and those songs were an important part of the programming on New York radio and other radio stations around the country when FM was new and developing. Did you guys do a lot of record promotion, like going to the stores and radio stations to promote your projects?
Bert: Yes, we had interesting times - good times - doing this. But it was also an experience for us, and a challenge. But we learned a lot and we're still learning.
What is it like to be singing background for those guys; how does that really help you?
Ray: What I would like to say is that other than record promotion, we spent a lot of time going to clubs. [We were] watching the DJs, developing relationships with [them], and keeping an eye out for what people were listening to. We like to be in touch with what's happening on the dance floor. We had a very close relationship with Larry Levan, and I give Nicky Siano credit for being the first DJ that kinda turned me out as far as underground house music.
Not a bad thing to say tonight, since Nicky is currently upstairs turning people out. Who else did you work with at that time?
Ray: Gwen McCrae. I worked along with Kenton Nix of Atlantic Records, and we did "Funky Sensation". Within the past year, Kenton Nix, William Anderson and myself did Taana Gardner's latest release which was called "I'm Coming". By the way, it was very well mixed by Nicky Siano.
That's out on West End?
Big ups to Mel Cheren and West End Records!
Ray: Can't leave out Andy-Man! I want to mention one more thing - he works with Louie Vega and he [Bert] didn't even tell you.
Bert: Yeah, I guess I keep forgetting to mention things. I wrote the song "Stay Together" that was a big hit on STRICTLY RHYTHM. Louie produced it, and I wrote the lyrics for Barbara Tucker's record.
So what do you think about Louie Vega? He's a part of this new crop of talent that is much more than a DJ. When you look at his work, you can see he is bridging the gap between dance, jazz, Latin, R&B - all kinds of stuff - and it gets to a global audience. How was it to work with him?
Bert: I think that Louie is very exciting to work with. I also feel that he has paved the way for a lot of DJs. In the very beginning, I felt that DJs were experts at playing in the club but as far as studios were concerned, I used to think that they didn't know the studio as well as we did. Nowadays, the DJs know the studio very well, and Louie Vega is a perfect example of that. When I worked with Louie, I felt the way that people used to feel with me, because he's a perfectionist - [now] I'm the victim. [When] I'm at the mike and he wants the words to be different, I have to change them on the spot and he's very meticulous. And it's a pleasure, because we enjoy working together and it's all good vibes.
Let's come back to François K, cause you guys really laid it down back in the day and had some real important hits. Tell us about your experience with him.
Ray: Well, François played a big role in making all of our songs even more exciting through his remixes. He was on a very serious road - every single record that François mixed for us was a hit! With François, we batted 100. He mixed "I'm Dying to be Dancing" by Empress - that took off. He did a remix of "Searchin to Find the One" - that took off, and France Joli's "Gonna Get Over You". François has influenced me; he contributed to me being deadly as far as remixing. Mixing for fourteen hours was unheard of in my life until I spent fourteen hours with him.
But you came out with some dope stuff!
Ray: Yes, Yes, Yes!
Bert: I have to mention as far as François is concerned, we go way back. I remember working with François before he had the studio that he has now.
Axis… [Closed since Fall 2000]
Bert: Yes… I used to go and visit him at his apartment. Every week he'd have more and more stuff in his apartment, and he would say to me, "One day I'm going to have a studio." Each time I'd come to his apartment, there'd be less and less room - these big speakers - and pretty soon, there's like this much sitting room. Now he has the studio.
I forgot to mention that I produced a group called The Jamaica Girls. I did a few records with them like "Need Somebody New," which was on SLEEPING BAG RECORDS. That was Will Sokoloff's label back when he first started. Then later on François and I produced The Jamaica Girls, and had them signed to Warner Brothers/ Sire Records. That's the same label as Madonna, and it was a joint venture that François and I endeavored in that was enjoyable. I also had a record out on François' label a couple years ago, called "Ting-A-Ling." J.A. Posse was the artist - it was a Jamaican rap song.
So you guys have to run to your local record stores to bug them for "Ting-A-Ling"!
Bert: I guess I should be plugging the Bert Reid record that's out on SOUNDMEN ON WAX - it's called "Music on my Mind," and as I understand it, it's well liked by everyone. It's very different. I'm not gonna tell you how it sounds or what it's about but go get it!
Let's move forward and talk about what you guys have been doing lately. You've done so much production that you stopped performing as a group - tell us about why you stopped performing as a group, Bubba?
Bubba: Well, we got so tied up with songwriting that we were having a lot of technical problems as a group with the record company. We decided to just focus on production and songwriting so we could keep our focus on the music rather than the politics of Crown Heights. That's all that happened. We never retired, we just took a break.
And you certainly haven't retired, 'cause you guys are still doing some gigs. You got back together in April 1999, and you entered the pre-millennium together again…
Ray: As a matter of fact, we entered the millennium at the Tropicana Hotel in Atlantic City. We did a big New Year's party with the Hughes Corporation and Kathy Sledge. That was the best way you could ever start the new Millennium as an entertainer.
So what do you guys think about the renewed interest in your music? Everybody gets their 10 or 15 minutes of fame in the beginning, and then you've got to wait about 20 years for everybody to catch up again, and bring it back.
KB: Another tour. Thank God, a U.S. tour (yeah!) It starts at the end of April.
Is there anything else you'd like to tell your audience?
Ray: You know what I say? I feel like a pair of bell-bottoms. You say, "Hey - bellbottoms are back in!"
"Yeah - I still got mine!"
Bubba: I'm going for the platforms - the sandal platforms, I'm wearing them this summer. [All laugh.]
Bert: I think there's a need for live music again - for live groups. The new music now, the regular R&B/mainstream - some of the top records, you can' t really see a live band involved in it. I mean I love hip hop music, but in terms of live shows, there are certain hip hop artists that are going out with bands and their music is put together like that. Even Tupac had music on his songs. If you went out to see him live, he would have some live musicians I'm sure. I think that's the direction that everything is going, and it should go. That's real music, and that's why the reception for us is very high. People want to hear bands playing again, they want to hear real instruments and see people really singing.
So what do you think about sampling? Do you think that helps or hurts the music? Or does it reintroduce it to a new generation?
Ray: First of all, I'd like to say it helps our pockets financially.
Residuals, and that's what you have to do to get some money, right?
Ray: And it brings our music back to life again, so it's very hard to complain - totally- about sampling. We have our own personal beliefs that we will remain creators of music and never lean on just sampling. Not saying we wouldn't sample, we'd do it for a change of pace. But we have always been trend-setters and we will remain trend-setters.
Bubba: It's an art form, when it comes to sampling. I think Puff Daddy - he's wonderful. I think he's a pioneer of sampling as an art form. Some people might mock him because they say, "Oh, he wasn't being creative," but that is being creative - just to sample the good stuff. I work with a lot of rappers that come to me and ask, "What's the hot old stuff?" They want to go back to [it] so they can sample it and put it in rap music.
Bert: I agree. I think that sampling is an art form. Times change and people develop new skills, and sampling is actually a new skill that people have developed and fine-tuned. Now in terms of the music that they use, I feel honored when people sample my songs, besides the financial benefit. I really feel honored that they thought enough of my music to sample it. Last year, I had two gold records and one platinum. Montell Jordan redid "I'll Do Anything For You." Faith Evans did "All Night Long," that went gold and that was the music I did for "I Hear Music in the Streets." Method Man used a part of "I'll Do Anything For You" which went platinum. So, I'm grateful and also honored that they would choose to do something.
Just quickly in the last moments we have, I think it's important for the young people to understand that songwriting and royalties are tied to future earnings and it's not enough to perform the record - they have to be involved in creating the record. How key is that to your success right now?
Bert: Well I think if you look in terms of just the thought of receiving money for something that you wrote that many years ago, helps to answer the question. But fortunately, from what I have seen and from the little bit that I know, the young people that are doing records now are very sharp business-wise. There's a much larger percentage of them than there were at the time we were doing records. People are aware of the publishing and their writing credit. They're getting good attorneys and it really makes me feel good, because it makes me feel like we paved the way for people to start getting what they deserve. I'm happy for them, but they're getting what would take a lifetime for us to get with one record. It's the same way that Walt Frazier and Willis Reed from the New York Knicks paved the way for these new ball players to come in and get millions on their first contract. But you have to be grateful.
Did you guys fall into any of those traps when you were recording and just starting out?
Bert: I was really young when I started, but I was somewhat aware that you had to give something to get something - that's the bottom line. If there is any advice that I would give to young producers and songwriters, it is to not ask for the world too early. You have to pay some dues… you have to. At a minimum, but don't ask for too much too early, and you've got to give up a little bit somewhere along the line. If you come in cocky and want it all on your first record, you're going to have a rude awakening. Other people have had to sacrifice and you have to sacrifice a little too.
Lastly, I'll say that if you do get all the money right away, you have to realize that you still have to pay dues...it may be spiritual dues that you have to pay from the inside. Cause if you are not together on the inside, money can kill you. So either way you go, you have to pay your dues.
That's an important message to drop… there are a lot of artists in 12-Step programs or dead because the inside is not right. Alright… thanks for taking time out to be with us and before you go, let's get a final word from each of you starting with Bubba…
Bubba: Stay strong and positive. God Bless!
Bert: I guess I said all I had to say, but thanks for listening.
Ray: I give a special thanks to Jackie McCloy for the warm welcome here at the club.
Interview :: donna ward II Videographer :: Jon Martin II BCAT Producer :: David Alan Poe