INTERVIEW: FRANK MCCOMB
You'd be hard-pressed to find a musician that deserves to have the phrase "talent deserving wider recognition" thrust on
them more than Frank McComb. Having worked with Branford Marsalis's Buckshot LeFonque band, Prince, Teena Marie,
Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, Philip Bailey, Chaka Khan, Gato Barbierie, The Rude Boys, Patrice Rushen, New
Sector Movements and a host of other luminaries, McComb's not only got the chops, but the pedigree.
He was put on the payroll of Philadelphia International Records by legendary songwriting duo, Kenny Gamble
and Leon Huff. He's had two major label deals (Columbia and Motown's MoJazz group) and an indie contract
(Malibu Sessions), releasing the albums Love Stories (co-produced by Marsalis) and The Truth. While with MoJazz he
recorded two albums worth of material that were never released, but that go for a pretty penny on the bootleg market.
In 2005, McComb decided it was time to take matters into his own hands, and self-released his strongest and most
personal record to date, Straight From The Vault, on his own label, Boobeescoot Music. For his trouble, McComb's
Straight From The Vault was recently voted "Best Album of the Year" by Soultracks.com and has been a top-selling
album on CDBaby.com for two months straight.
With influences ranging from Stevie Wonder to Herbie Hancock to Chick Corea to Donny Hathaway, you
can't go wrong with Frank McComb. And, as we here at GSJE found out in the interview below, he's not only about
integrity in his music: he's also an earnest, stand-up, down-home guy. Plus, he's hilarious.
This interview was conducted November 28, 2005 by Scott Woods.
Visit Frank McComb's website: http://www.frankmccomb.info/
Q: So what’s going on with you?
I’m exhausted. I’ve been working on this music, man.
Q: What’s that looking like?
It’s looking good. Just trying to have it knocked out before the holidays, before Christmas jumps off. I haven’t told anybody yet, but I’m looking to do another version of Straight From The Vault for the Japanese. It’s gonna’ be an all-vocal album. I want to take the instrumentals off and put vocal [versions] on it. Get that finished before Christmas. I'm gonna’ try to close the deal before the holidays. So I’m trying to get this music done so I can shut down. (laughter) Brother tired, man. Trying to get it done. I figured, since I’m mixing the whole project over for them, I might as well mix the original Straight from the Vault. Change the artwork and everything. That’s the joy of having your own record: you can different variations of it. It’s a wonderful thing.
Q: So how do [the Japanese] treat you ?
Just think of your wildest fantasy. (laughter) Yep. Just like that. When it comes down to business? They don’t play.
Q: So how does the business aspect compare to how it’s handled over here?
Well, let me put it to you this way: most of the time, when you’re going over there you’re paid before you leave, whereas over here, they give you the hardest damn time. (laughter) People so scandalous. The Japanese? They’re on top of it, man.
Q: Now, when you’re doing a gig over there, how do the venues compare?
Well, the [Japanese] audiences in most cases are real quiet and very conservative. You won’t hear a peep out of them until you finish playing the last note of the song and it has to be DEAD silent before they start applauding. (laughter) And then it’s funny because at the end of the show, they start chanting for you to come back out; that’s when they get rowdy. They get rowdy because they don’t want you to leave. It’s great, man, the reception is incredible. The music definitely has to have some kind of integrity or you can forget it.
Q: What about Europe?
Europe is cool. They’re a lot louder when it comes down to that audience. A LOT louder. Especially in England. Holland, yeah. They love some good music, man. I think Americans love good music too; it’s just that we've got people in positions over here that just look at everybody as cans of tomato paste, you know. That’s the deal. The people love the music, they’re trying to get ahold to the real music, but it comes down to the positions of power. Those are the ones that are flaky. They don’t keep their ears to the ground. They don’t. Everybody’s always talking about, “We’re looking for the next new thing. We want a real soul artist, somebody that can write music and do his own thing” and man, I been right here. (Laughter) I ain’t gone nowhere. So I said, let me do it myself then, since they don’t get it.
Q: When did you make that decision?
When I got sick of these record companies. I was signed to a major black label and they didn’t put the record out, Motown. Then I signed to major white label and they got the record but didn’t support it. So I said forget it. Then I went on the road with Branford (Marsalis) and did my thing. Then I hooked up with an independent label and they wanted to basically own me, so I said, “Oh, hell naw. Gotta’ go.” (Laughter) Yeah, went through some hard luck with that, but I got out of there. That’s the stuff they do. Major white company, major black company and an indie…I’ll do it myself. I mean, where else is there to go, you know? I just went ahead and did it.
And I have to admit, I did not expect the kind of turnout that I’ve had with this record. It was the number one selling CD for the month of November for Soultracks.com and CDBaby, who work hand-in-hand, and now I got the news that it’s the record of the month for December. A lot of good stuff is coming out behind this record. Not too bad considering every record was hand-pressed.
I said I’m going to stop taking this industry so doggone serious and I’m going to just see what happens because the record I did for Motown ended up being sold as a bootleg on the black market for fifty dollars a CD. There was no artwork, wasn’t mixed, wasn’t mastered and it was a CD-R. I’m gonna tell you, I know this to be true because I found four or five of them in England a few years back in support of The Truth - which happened to be in support of Frank McComb. My latest record just happened to be The Truth. I don’t believe in support for just a record…until Straight from the Vault came along, which is all mine. (laughter)
So I went over there to do some shows and folks were coming up to me, and I had a line - I’m not gonna’ exaggerate – that was roughly 150-200 people. And about five of those people had made up their own artwork and the whole nine for that Motown record and asked me to sign. Hey, it’s still my music. I didn’t like the fact that it was bootlegged, because I didn’t see a dime of it, but it was still my music. It wasn’t supposed to be released, but it was still mine. They’re trying to get good music. I take that as a great compliment, if somebody’s trying to buy my record – an unofficial record – at 50 dollars a record…a hundred pounds? Man…people were calling and emailing, asking me how to get the record. I’m like, “dude, what record? The Motown record? What you doing, knowin’ about that? It was never released! It wasn’t even finished! Really, it was never mixed. We never finished it. It’s crazy, man.
Q: Just looking from the outside in, your career looks like it has a mission. Does it?
Wow, it’s funny you say that. Out of all the interviews I’ve done, it’s funny that you say that because my life has turned into a mission. I couldn’t explain to anybody my life story. They wouldn’t understand. That’s how you know it’s God and not yourself. If it’s unexplainable, it’s got to be supernatural. I cannot explain my life in words so you could really get it because you wouldn’t believe half the stuff you hear. And then coming out of one thing into another – and HOW I came into one thing into another – it’s just…one would say, “No. No way in the world.” Explain how my wife could survive a diabetic coma, but now she doesn’t have a thing wrong. Explain that, you know? It’s God himself, man. I can’t take credit for it.
It’s the same way with this music. People look at me and say, “How is it you can do what you do?” Look, I just sit at the piano and I play what I play. I wrote songs and I put them out and they touch the world. Now, people, like I said, in positions of power? They don’t get it. They don’t see it, so I’m not doing it for them. And for my music to touch the people like it has…all I did was sit down and developed it, but it was already created before I was born. All I did was sit down and develop it. And there must be something to it because folks are just nutty about it and I’m lookin’ at them like, “What’s wrong with y’all?” (Laughter) I mean, my son is nine years old. He jumps all over my back. People look at me as though I have to burn incense before a show and say some ritual or something. (Laughter) I’m just a body being used by God and if you let God use you, you can do something supernatural and crazy too and everybody can look at you! (Laughter) That’s the way I feel about it. Do something right with your life, people are gonna notice you for it. If you do something bad with your life, people are gonna notice you for that too! Which do you choose, you know?
Q: In terms of composing, where does that process tend to start with you?
I know it’s probably different here and there, but on average, does that start with lyrics? Does that start with music? Are you just jamming? What does the composition process look like?
Well, it evolves depending on the song, depending on how I feel, depending on the mood, depending on if I’m just going through my keyboard finding a patch. If I’m looking for a certain sound and I start playing a lick with that sound and it fits, I can build a whole song around it. It can happen any time.
But I’ll be honest with you, years ago there were many, many times when I had to go through something to write a song, and it was always so doggone personal. But now I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t have to depend on going through no pain to write a song; it’s an art. And I think that a lot of that was that I had no balance. Music, music, music was all I talked about, but if you have a wife and some kids, that’s gonna’ change. (Laughter) That’s gonna change quick. When your kids are always going to be, “Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!” “Yeah, man…what about that song I was writing? What was that?” (Laughter) You know what I mean? It happens. I have a lot more balance thanks to family. I don’t have to depend on getting my heart broken to write a good song.
Q: So do you write more now than you used to?
Nope. That’s why I named the album Straight from the Vault; because the songs that are on that record literally came from my vault. Man, let me tell you: I haven’t written a song in two years.
Yep. I got enough in the vault…man, listen: if I didn’t write another song, God has blessed me with so many that I could just cut ‘em and put ‘em out. From when I was fifteen years old. I still have the original cassettes I recorded the ideas on. I don’t get rid of anything. Don’t get rid of anything, dawg. (Laughter)
Q: What gear are you using?
Well, it’s funny you should mention that. Right now, the Korg D3200. It’s a new machine that Korg is putting out and it’s sweet. It’s competition for the Roland 2480. It’s a hard disc recorder, it’s got a hard drive and all that stuff in it. Beautiful piece, man. It’s brown, it’s got this wood look to it. I was approached by Korg last December about doing a project with them and it just happened to be for this 3200. Every machine that goes out has the second song from my album – "I'd Be A Fool" – as a demo. Single-handedly, dawg! So I’m using that right now and mixing the album over again. We gonna’ handle it, man, just me and God.
Q: So do you own a Fender Rhodes, or are you just lucky with the patches?
Oh no, Fender Rhodes is my instrument, dawg. It’s been my instrument since I was 15 years old. Yes sir. I came up listening to Fender Rhodes. In fact, I custom build ‘em. When it comes down to the action and the times and the tuning and all the overhauling, I do that myself. Ask Teena Marie; I did her piano. I do ‘em all the time. Brian Morgan, the guy who produced SWV back in the day? I did his piano. He brought me up to the Bay Area to convert it from a stage model to a suitcase model. I do it all the time. I’ve been known, in concert...if the piano breaks? I’ll stop the show, fix it right there. Give ‘em a crash test on how to fix it. (Laughter) It just happened at the Bitter End! I played the Bitter End November 5th, in New York. I was so blessed to be there because Donny Hathaway did part of his live album there in ’72 and Curtis (Mayfield) in ‘71…everybody, a whole lot of people recorded their records there and performed there. And to be a part of that vibe, man, just to see that brick wall…man, the sound was immaculate for there to be a brick wall; sound wasn’t bouncing all over. It was so cool just to feel that vibe. But the piano went out – well, it didn’t go out; one of the dampers broke, so every time I’d play, this F# would just ring. Nothing would stop it from ringing. So I stopped – it’s a good thing it was just a solo piece, I was doing something by myself – and the room was real quiet. And that F# started ringin’. I stopped in the middle of the song and fixed it. (Laughter) Them folks were on their feet. (Laughter) “Part of the gig! Part of the gig!” Crash course, Fender Rhodes 101. That’s my main axe.
Q: What’s your live show look like?
Every live show is like sitting around my living room around the holidays. That’s the way I look at it. I’m not a structured kind of person when it comes down to the live shows because people love it when you can just sit up there and come up with something and kill the crowd. Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, they told me years ago, “If you not dazzling the crowd, you’re not doing your job.” You got to dazzle the crowd. And what dazzles them more than just coming up there, sitting down, and really showing your gift? Forget all the dancers, forget all the lights, ain’t nobody trying to do all of that. Just sit down at the piano and show people what you can really do. No gadgets, just the piano and you and your small rhythm section.
When the time comes and the money is there, when there’s possibly label support, or I can make enough money to where I can just fund it all like I’ve been doing, it’s basically going to be a structured show essentially for live recording purposes because I’m eventually going to do a couple of live albums. Not just one, but a few of them. When that time comes, it’ll be more polished, it’ll be more produced and rehearsed. And with a live recording you got to rehearse your band at least 3-5 months to come up with a real show, make it tight, polished, so you can just run through that whole show. But until then it’s all on Frank McComb.
And I have to say that I’ve been blessed to be able to turn out audiences everywhere I go. And life’s funny. This is what I was saying, how things happen to me and I can’t even explain how? That’s how you know that the man can’t take credit? Well, I would say 99.9 percent of the shows I’ve done I was the only one on the bill, or if there was somebody else on the bill there was a separate ticket charge and my ticket was a whole lot higher. And people, they pack the houses, man. People travel from different places to my shows. And I don’t have no glamorous, polished show. I like to make people feel at home. That’s what I do. If you go on my website, and click on “Reach Out”, that’s my little chat room, I call it my “living room”. I like to make people feel at home even on my website. Everything that I do I want it to feel like a real family-oriented vibe because I’m a family-oriented person. So the best way to describe my show is Donny Hathaway meets Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea. It’s me, a bass player, a drummer and a percussionist. That’s it. That’s just another example of something else happening and I have no idea how it happened. I can’t explain it, but people travel from different places. Any time I play the Jazz Café in London, England, people are coming from Italy, from Germany. I even had people from South Africa. I played D.C. and folks came up from Philly and other places.
I was playing at Zanzibar in Philadelphia, packed the house all weekend, and there was this man that came up from Detroit with his then-fiance. He called me at the Zanzibar and he said that he wanted to propose to his now-wife and asked me if I could help him do it. So, you know, of course, we went there, man. (Laughter) They’re still together today. They got married, got a house in Detroit and I think they got two little girls. They flew up from Detroit to Philadelphia. People will travel, man, and like I said I like to make people feel at home. I just think that if you be yourself, people will respect you in that manner.
And there are those who have never seen me but they’ve heard my voice. And then when they finally meet me, I’m this light-skinned dude…”Oh man, you sound like you dark-skinned with dreads, smoking some herb or something, man!” (Laughter) No, I’m a light-skinned, bald-head, freckle-faced dude that’s clumsy. (Laughter) That’s what I am, man, I’m being myself. I’m loud ‘cause I come from a loud family. That’s me.
Q: Let’s do a quick influence check. Everybody that follows you always pulls out Stevie Wonder, Donnny Hathaway, Herbie Hancock. Who are we missing?
Chick Corea. I've been told Donny Hathaway and Stevie Wonder meet Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea. That’s what I’ve been told. If they all had a baby, it’d be me. Them some big shoes to fill. I take it as a GREAT compliment. That’s something people used to say to me, though: “You sound like Donny Hathaway!” And I always felt that was a great compliment, but when I was 17, 18? I wasn’t trying to hear that because I was taking it like, “You trying to sound like Donny Hathaway.” I’m like, “naw, man, I’m a male version of my momma. Yes I am.” You should have heard her when she was young. But George Benson – I met Benson when I was like 16 and we’ve been cool ever since – he said, “any time anybody ever tells you that you sound like a legend, you better run with it, boy.” I had a whole different mindset after that. Run like Forrest Gump. George Benson told me that. It stuck with me the rest of my days.
I asked him once, “How could you play what you sing and sing what you play so well?” He said, “Easy: it’s all from the same branch. You just got to tell your hands to do what your voice say.” Ever since then I’ve always known where I was. At the piano, I always know where I am.
Q: Have you ever met Stevie, Herbie or Chick?
The met the first two. I haven’t met Chick yet.
I met Herbie Hancock when I was every bit of 16, 17. I was just visiting with Herbie just months ago back in February or March. I was working with Prince. We was just kind of doing a lot of sheddin’, trying to decide what he wanted to do for the summer, and he loved my band. So we would just get together and just shed. We would rehearse and those rehearsals would be like concerts and we had a BALL. He’d rehearse everyday from 1-8, just jamming every day and loving it. So he would have these parties up at the house and they were after parties for the Grammys and the NAACP awards, and those parties wouldn’t start until midnight. And we’d get out of there at like 6, 7 in the morning. Herbie came up to the house a couple of times. Herbie and I were rapping, I told him I’m about to do my record and I’m about to go all the way with it, ‘cause I was already selling it on my own. And Herbie said, “Push your record. You’re doing the right thing, man. Do what you doing. Always control your own stuff from here on out.” Herbie Hancock told me that just months ago. And I’m hearing it from somebody I grew up studying, you know? And when I heard it from him that was it. Prince had just told me that about a week prior to Herbie saying it. Prince said control your stuff. Don’t let nobody step in and don’t you start asking for people to. “Frank, keep your freedom. It’s the best thing that I could tell you to do.” Prince gave me that right out of his own mouth standing in his living room. And I was in the position – and still in the position – to be with people that people wish they could be with. That’s a great reward in itself. It’s a great thing.
I just heard from Patrice Rushen recently. She’s another one I grew up on. If it wasn’t for Patrice and Herbie and Ramsey Lewis, Chick Corea…I never would have played Fender Rhodes. That lady right there, people don’t realize that [Patrice] was putting out jazz albums before she even opened her mouth. She was like 20…killin’. I did a duet with Marilyn Scott. Patrice reached out to me and asked me if I would do a duet with Marilyn. It was the first time I’d ever worked with Patrice. And I was like, “You really think you had to ask me that?” (Laughter) I’d been wanting to work with Patrice since I was a kid, and we’ve been cool ever since. And then to HEAR from these people, man…these are people I grew up studying!
I love Stevie Wonder but he don’t know how to call people back. (Laughter) I met Stevie Wonder July 15th, 1993. That’s my birthday. I was signed to Motown Records. You could always catch me at a piano somewhere, writing a song, coming up with an idea, you know. I was in the office with Steve McKeever, he was the head of MoJazz. Well, Steve found me years ago and signed me to MoJazz, right in Philedelphia when I was living there. When I moved out to L.A. I didn’t really know anybody and I was always down at the company chilling, writing a song. So I’m sitting in Steve’s office, I’m playing this piano facing the window, looking at the mountain. I’m singing this old Donnie Hathaway song. Then when you get to the chorus, there’s this harmony part that comes in: (singing) “You make me fall in love with you.” I don’t know, it’s just, you know, the higher part. Well, when I got to that part, I heard this second voice come in and my back is to the door. I’m facing the mountain and I hear this other part come in. When I hear the part, I stopped playing. I’m like, “That sounds like...THAT SOUNDS LIKE…” And I turned around and Stevie was sitting on the floor with his legs crossed. I’m like, “Man, you’re STEVIE WONDER! Oh my God!” He said, “I know.” (Laughter) And that’s when we met. Just like that. And he made his way up to the piano – like he had sight, man – and then he said, “I got this song I want to show you,” and he started playing this song and it was BAD. It was so bad. (Laughter) I’m sitting at the piano with Stevie. Then I lost track of him until recently, when we did the awards. I ran back into Stevie. We talked and rapped and got out to Prince’s house and jammed and did a duet out there for the first time. I know Prince recorded it. I’m sure he did. He’ll never tell, but I’m sure he did. Man, it was incredible. Stevie is a great cat.
I’ve been really, really privilidged to meet a lot of the cats that I grew up studying and then to be on the same chart with them in the underground world, and dealing with the different internet radio stations that play their stuff and they’re playing me, it’s like woaw. It blows me away.
Q: Let me pick out a couple of records that you’ve been on or done and get your feeling what it was like doing them. Let’s rap on them Buckshot LeFonque records.
I think that was really the beginning of the underground world, with that band. We had a vision of getting in clubs on the regular, basically what the rock groups were doing. Why not take an eclectic band and do the same thing? I believe that really had a lot to do with opening the door for neo-soul.
Working with Branford was a joy because I learned so much, and I learned so much form the other musicians because they were all artists themselves...It was an all-star band, really. So it was great working with Branford.
The first album (Buckshot LeFonque) was just an idea when he was at the Tonight Show. He had this idea and some of everybody was on it: Kevin Eubanks on it, (Jeff) Tain (Watts) on it, Kenny Kirkland, me…he was still trying to find himself with the project. When we got on the road, he handpicked all these cats, (and) he had never heard me. He had somebody shopping for talent to sing this song “Mona Lisa and Mad Hatters” for the first record. Somewhere between the folks at Motown and the two sessions they put me down with Branford. I went up to his house with demos; he wasn’t even there. Two weeks later I got the call: Branford wanted me at the studio to cut it right away. So I got to the studio, cut it, and he and I were done the next day.
I had no idea he knew that I was a keyboard player. When the rehearsals were put together, he called me and said, “Hey, I want you to come out and I want you to sing with the Buckshot crew.” I said, cool, where’s it happening? “Rehearsals [here], be there at twelve o’clock.” [I said,] alright, cool. Got there, and there was a keyboard rig set up for me. I was like, “How did he know I played?” I had never played for him. To this day, I still do not know how Branford knew I was a keyboard player.
But when all of us got together and we rehearsed and we got on the tour? That vision of his became reality. We wrote songs on that tour and that’s how Music Evolution was born.
I’ll never forget when he came to me with the song “Another Day”. We were somewhere in Germany or something, Sweden. And he said, “Frank, I got this song, man.” He just woke up, jumped off the tour bus and ran over to this piano. “I got this idea!” I said, what is it? He said, “Here, look, look…” Started playing the introduction, right? Just like the song. Then he said, (singing) “Another day, dun na dun a dun dun…” I was like, what is THAT? (Laughter) I said, “man, where the words at? I thought you had it!” He said, “You gonna’ write it.” Next thing I knew, between me, him and Bill Gable, we got the song done. Recorded. Went in the studio and cut that joker, man. That whole album, Music Evolution, was done inside of a couple of weeks. Branford, he’s a great guy to work with.
Q: So what about Love Stories?
I did a two-hour showcase for Columbia records, just me and a PC88 Kurzweil for all these A&R cats, all these big-wigs I guess you’d call them. Thank God none of them are there anymore. I did a two-hour showcase for them…man, I never heard from anybody. Then Branford said, “You know, that’s alright. Give me two years. I’m gonna get you signed.” I said, “This is great! Cool! So, what the hell am I supposed to do for two years?” (Laughter) he said, “Oh, you’re gonna be working. Trust me.” next thing I know, Buckshot was on the road for two years. (Laughter)
And then he called me and said, “Alright, kid, give me some songs.” I said, what do you mean? “Time to do your record. Give me some songs.” So before I knew it, I gave him the songs and inside of 26 days, the record was recorded, tracked, vocals mixed, mastered, everything. It was done. That record was everything I wanted it to be.
Q: How did you feel about how it was handled or where it ended up?
Well, you see how I felt about how it was handled: I put out my own record. (Laughter)
It’s like abandoning one of my kids, you know? You put so much into raising it, and setting a tone and setting a standard and then you put it in the hands of somebody else to do what they’re supposed to do with it and I just learned that nobody’s going to take care of your own stuff like you. Nobody’s going to be as passionate about your stuff as you are. It could be 10 million dollars or it could be the lint in your pocket; if it’s yours and you’re passionate about it, nobody’s going to take care of it like you. I’ve had the experience two times around, and it’s just time to do what I need to do.
Q: So how did you end up with New Sector Movements?
I got a call. Got a call from a guy that works with Virgin Records over in England, and he said that IG Culture wanted to work with me. So they flew me over there and, I think inside of two days, we had that stuff done. We actually cut that stuff in a day, now that I think about it. He just gave me the ideas that he had in his head. He was great at drum programming and coming up with lyrics, but all of that keyboard work [on the songs I did] was me. We did a couple of things together for that album, Download This.
Q: I was missing you on that second album.
A lot of people say that. I haven’t even heard the record after Download This. I have heard other versions of ["The Sun"]. Dwele’s done it, a remix was done by Vikter Duplaix.
I’m glad Vikter kept it alive. It was going around the industry, and people were like, “Man, you and Vikter Duplaix hooked up!” And I was like, what? I found Vik, I’m like, “What is everybody saying [we did]?” because I hadn’t worked with Vik in years.
I remember when his name was Vikter Cook. (Laughter) Back in Philadelphia, I go back like that with him. Vikter and I hadn’t worked together in years, and we were working with Jazzy Jeff at the time. Vik hadn’t even thought about it. It just happened to be a song that he had the acapella for.
Q: Someboy’s that real big on our website is Teena Marie. What’s she like?
Teena was cool to work with. She was realy cool. I think what put above everybody else was the fact that she plays instruments. I’m like Branford, I’m not really big on people who are not musically inclined. Now, Chaka [Khan]? She is so musically inclined, and it was cool working with her too. They don’t just get up there and sing. And Teena plays piano and guitar. In fact, when I first moved to L.A. 13 years ago, Teena Marie was my very first gig. It was always cool working with her. The latest record she put out – La Dona - I’m on that.
It’s really cool working with everybody that I have worked with because I’m not one to stroke your ego. I could care less about your personal life. Just give me my check. Let me do my job (laughter), let me do my gig, pay me, and if you want to be cool then we can sit down and rap. I’ve had that mentality with everyone I’ve worked with and it always turns out to my favor. Frankie Beverly, Chaka, Anastasia, Will Smith, Prince…all of them. I’m not coming in trying to get my nose brown. I ain’t like that. That’s not me at all. And I think because of it, they give a lot of respect. I’ve seen recording artist [do folks wrong]. I don’t get caught up in the people because, what if I don’t like your character? And I grew up studying you? What if I don’t like what I see? I don’t allow myself to get close to people like that.
Q: To your mind are there elements that make up a good slow jam or ballad as opposed to any other type of song?
Well, for a slow jam the main element is you’ve got to be saying something. I think so, anyway. I’m sure there are a lot of slow jams out there…at least back in the day there were. You look at the Isley Brothers, Isaac Hayes…those cats were saying something, man. Nowadays you don’t get slow songs. Nowadays, you got to cha-cha. (Laughter) That’s about as slow as it’s gettin’, dawg. I can’t keep up with something that’s more than like 60 beats per minute. I mean SLOW. I can’t recall it. I mean, I may have to do some research to see what’s out there. There’s not much to choose from.
What you think?
Well, we had to go through a few thousand songs and that was just to get them in one place on our end, just as a repository for that kind of knowledge. I think it’s very telling that most of the songs, not even just the good ones, but most slow jams period, had this nice ebb and flow based on when they came out. So the 80s have this huge jump, just a ton of stuff came out – stuff that’s still playing – came out in the 80s. And then in the early 90s that stuff just died. Just DIED. And it’s not just because it’s not on the radio; ain’t NOTHIN' on the radio. It’s just gone. It ain’t there.
Right, I mean, come on, when’s the last time you heard someone do a song like the Isley’s Brothers’ “Don’t Say Goodnight”? You know what I mean? I mean, these people are talkin’ about “I want to get your draws.” “Come on, wifey.” (Laughter)
I got to hand it to Luther. Those were SONGS, man. Songs today do not seduce women; they sex women. And what’s sad is that these girls that are comin’ out are thinking that’s romantic. “He said he wants my draws! Ooo! He said he gonna break me off!” (Laughter) As rough we ever got was Teddy Pendergrass tellin’ her to “take it off” but he had appeal with it! (shouts) “Cut ‘em off! Turn off the lights! Light a candle! Shut up!” (Laughter) But that was Teddy, you know what I mean? He started off slow, real soft: (singing) “Turn off the lights and light a candle…” But by the end of the single he was like “TURN ‘EM OFF!” (Laughter) ‘Cause by this time he had her where he wanted her. He wasn’t comin’out with his shirt off saying, “Come on and drop ‘em.” Come on, man. I’m gonna stop. (Laughter)
Q: Are there any projects that you have not done yet that you want to get to?
Of course: anything that’s in me that needs to come out. (Laughter)
Whatever’s left in the shoebox, huh?
You know what I’m saying? The shoebox, the drawer, the vault…I’m pulling them all out.
I’m torn between doing a gospel record next or a live record. I might put out a couple of studio records first, not sure yet. I don’t know; whatever God says to do. Back then, [old school artists] were smart enough to get all that money in all those different styles of music. I have the same mindset. I think that’s why God put me with so many old school artists, from Philip Bailey to Frankie Beverly to Chaka Khan to Teena Marie. Get all that money. They’re the ones who told me to be versatile.
Let me tell you something about me: I didn’t stop playing a Fender Rhodes in the 80s when everybody else was playing a DX7. I refuse to be a can of tomato paste just because they don’t get it. I’m going to stick to my guns and continue what I’m doing because I have peace this way. I’d rather have my peace.
Q: What one song goes on every slow jam tape Frank McComb makes?
It would have to be “I Once Had Your Love” by the Isleys Brothers. That’s the one there. Don’t get me started, man.
Visit Frank McComb's website: http://www.frankmccomb.info/
The Slow Jam Lounge