Few vocalists have enjoyed as much success in one genre as Kenny Lattimore in three. Gifted with great range and impressive tehnical acumen, Lattimore's scored R&B and gospel hits as a solo performer and in steamy, sensual duets with his wife Chante Moore. In addition, he's collaborated with such top smooth jazz artists as Kim Waters and Brian Culbertson.
But despite the hits and diversified profile, Lattimore — who'll be appearing Friday night in Nashville as a special guest along with Chrisette Michele for a Lovenoise Valentine's production — wasn't thrilled with either the reception to, or overall sound on, his 2008 Verve release Timeless. Now Lattimore's doing something that would be very unusual for a new performer, let alone an established one.
"I've been performing raw demos in front of focus groups while trying to decide what material will go on my new release," Lattimore said during a recent phone interview. "I tell audiences, please be brutally honest. Tell me what works and what doesn't work.
"It's mostly original material, though I'll also throw a cover or two in there. But at a typical show I'll do about five tunes that I'm really seriously thinking about recording. A couple will be R&B ballads that people expect me to cut. Then I'll try some funk or jazz, and one will be a real rock song. The reaction has been very good. People are surprised that I really want them to tell me what they think. But they don't hesitate. I've already discarded some numbers I've been told just won't make it."
The process has been so successful, Lattimore says, he has decided his next record will hinge upon it.
"In terms of whether to release it on a label or do it myself, I'm going to present it first as a five or six-song EP," he says. "I want to get a feel for how it is being received and whether the company or label truly wants the music or just wants to try and market my name.
"As an experienced singer who's been out here a while, I don't have any desire anymore to get into a situation where the label wants to say here's the single we want to release and you know in your heart that's not the song either radio or the public will give a favorable response. Then you sit and watch while the record dies, which you knew was going to happen, and then the label tries to scramble and come up with the song they should have put out the first time.
"That's a counterproductive process, and a waste of time. If a label positively responds to the EP and is willing to listen to what I have to say in regards to the rest of the project, then we can talk about working together."
Lattimore got his start in the late '80s with the group Mannequin. Their 1989 album didn't make much impact. But Lattimore was an imediate sensation when his self-titled debut was released in 1996. He had a huge hit with "Never Too Busy For You," and his second release From The Soul of A Man two years later contained two huge singles, "Days Like This" and "If I Lose My Woman," that remain staples of late-night and Quiet Storm formats.
After marrying R&B vocalist Chante Moore in 2002, the duo became a 21st century version of Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell. They issued the single disc Things That Lovers Do in 2003 and the double-CD R&B/gospel release Uncovered/Covered in 2006, the latter featuring tunes that scored big in both secular and spiritual circles. Lattimore says he and Moore have now decided to concentrate on their solo careers, however, and he'll be performing some of his demo material at tonight's program.
Another area Lattimore plans to explore in the future is jazz. He was a member of the band at Eleanor Roosevelt High in Greenbelt, Md. before attending Howard University. "I would really love to do a complete jazz project, a mix of smooth and traditional tunes," he says. "I really enjoy all three idioms, R&B, gospel and jazz, but have never really concentrated on making a full jazz album. I think my fans would enjoy it and it would give me a chance to go back some to my roots."
The Valentine Lovenoise concert featuring special guest Kenny Lattimore and Chrisette Michele takes place 8 p.m. Friday at The Limelight, 201 Woodland Ave.
New book explores MTV's history
Author and music journalist Greg Prato has become the rock equivalent of Studs Terkel with comprehensive oral histories on Seattle's grunge scene and his latest volume on Kiss drummer Eric Carr. That's one of two new books Prato's released, the other being MTV Ruled The World: The Early Days of Music Video. It is devoted exclusively to those formative years in the '80s when MTV altered the rock landscape by elevating the video to a role of prominence.
Prato interviewed more than 70 people, including original VJs Alan Hunter and Nina Blackwood, plus an array of executives, video directors, support people, and musicians with pro and con views.
"I prefer the oral history approach because you are getting information directly from the source," Prato says in response to a question on his choice of format. "I was very fortunate with this book in that I was able to get a wide range of subjects to cooperate and everyone didn't hold back in terms of feelings. There are some issues involved with MTV that are still very controversial, and I wanted to make sure those were thoroughly explored.
"At the same time, I wanted to convey a sense of how innovative it was at the time to feature music videos as programming for an extended period, let alone over an entire day."
Some of the insights featured in Prato's book includes admissions from Hunter and Blackwood that at times they felt uncomfortable with their newly found fame. Hunter's background was acting: he had to do extensive preparation, unlike Mark Goodman and J.J. Jackson, who had extensive music backgrounds. And while Martha Quinn was regarded as the hip, perky VJ, Blackwood was deemed the sexy blonde — a role she neither sought nor ever fully embraced, as she acknowledges.
"I really wished Martha Quinn and Mark Goodman had also been willing to co-operate, but they turned down repeated requests for interviews," says Prato, who did the interviewing and writing over a busy, condensed period over last year in order to complete the book by the end of 2010. Sadly, Jackson, the lone black VJ among the original five, died before Prato began his research on the project.
The most revealing chapter examines what many considered MTV's Achilles heel: racism. Pointed critics such as Chuck D, Oran "Juice" Jones and Bootsy Collins blast the channel, accusing it of overt bigotry and a consistent refusal to air black videos.
"It (racism) was an issue you couldn't avoid if you wanted to do a realistic and significant book on MTV," Prato said. "It was interesting to talk with executives like Bob Pittman, who to this day still fiercely insist it was a lack of product rather than any reluctance to put black faces on the air that caused that situation. He also disputes the story about the CBS executive threatening to pull all his company's videos off the channel unless they aired Michael Jackson's videos.
"It's funny now when you release how powerful and important Michael Jackson's work has become, and how much of a trend setter it was to remember there was any controversy over it in the first place. But in talking with some of the directors and producers for 'Beat It' and 'Billie Jean,' they echo that story, and say they weren't exactly greeted with open arms when they initially submitted the videos. So I guess that's one of those situations where there will always be a division of opinion regarding who's telling the truth."
MTV's greatest praise comes from members of heavy metal bands, the idiom unquestionably boosted by a proliferation of videos that made bands like Def Leppard, Quiet Riot, Kiss and a host of others superstars. Many respondents are amazed by how much publicity they got from having their videos aired constantly. Most musicians were as unaware of video's potential as their labels, but everyone quickly realized a new and fertile profit field could be plowed by developing this technology.
Inevitably, video directors begin emerging, storylines were developed for songs, and bands begin thinking in both audio and visual terms with every single. Meanwhile, MTV was a major factor in cable's growth and evolution from being viewed as an afterthought into becoming a dominant medium, more important to music than the networks.
Though he includes details about the creation of VH1, Prato's book pretty much ends when the original five VJs begin departing MTV. He considers such latter day programs as Yo! MTV Raps and TRL quite vital in their overall history, but decided to focus on the early period because it remains his favorite. While he'll step outside the music arena for his next project, a book on the NY Mets, Prato's primary focus will always be on rock — he currently contributes to several publications and websites, most notably the All Music Guide.
"I seldom look at MTV anymore," Prato says when asked about the current preponderance of reality shows dominating its programming. "They were such an important part of my life at one time, and now they really aren't even something that registers much anymore. They seem to be doing the same thing now to VH1 — even VH1 Classic, which has lately been the closest thing to what the old MTV used to be. But at least the viewers who never saw the network during its early days or don't understand why it's called Music Television will get an idea of what it was if they read this book."
MTV Ruled The World: The Early Days of Music Video is now available at lulu.com. It will soon also be on Amazon.com and at retail outlets.
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