Wednesday, January 13, 2010
Grammy-nominee RC Williams influences music industry at large, calls Dallas home
He tours the globe playing with many of today's top artists, sites Dallas as a top factor for his success, and is quite likely the most effective advocate for the development and recognition of the Dallas music scene.
DALLAS Three-time Grammy nominee RC Williams was born and raised in Dallas, and he is proud to still call it home amid his busy schedule. RC humbly exemplifies everything Dallas has to offer the music industry at large. Since attending Arts Magnet and UNT, he has reached critical levels of success, all while calling Dallas home base. This is impressive, to say the least. He hosts weekly jam sessions at The Prophet Bar, tours the world as Erykah Badu's musical director, and has many projects as a well-connected writer, producer, and performer for such artists like Snoop Dogg, Jill Scott, Mos Def, Kirk Franklin, Musiq, N'Dambi, Queen Latifah, The Roots, Soulive, Pharell, Dave Chapelle, Eric Roberson, and Ledisi (just to name a few). He is quite likely the most effective advocate for the development and recognition of the Dallas music scene. He stopped by my office to talk music and left me feeling inspired by the unique sound and soul of Dallas, Texas.
Who were your primary musical influences growing up here?
My family, basically. I grew up in the church with a heavy tradition in gospel. My father has a gospel quartet, the Sensational Harmonizers. I would wake up Saturday mornings with my father playing jazz records or B.B. King, Ray Charles. I was exposed to a lot of gospel, traditional quartet music, and jazz. When I got to Arts Magnet I met a lot of great fellas, females, and friends. I really admired them and they exposed me to different styles of music. I've been hooked ever since. Between the music I've been exposed to and the people that I met, it's been my drive -- trying to find my sound in everything else I do.
So you still work with a lot of people that you grew up with then?
Yeah, yeah. A lot of us are doing music all over the world. It's good to see the other fellas achieving it. We all love Dallas, Texas and want to represent it well. We want the world to know that Dallas has true musicians, writers, producers, entrepreneurs, everything. We're not in New York, we're not in LA, we're here.
And you're doing it. You are widely recognized in New York and LA, almost (it seems) more so than in Dallas.
Probably so, yeah.
How has your North Texas upbringing impacted your career as a musician? Have you faced different challenges being in Texas than if you had up and run off to New York early on?
Maybe so. The Dallas scene isn't like the New York or LA scene, where the big noise and the crowds are. That's where all the great musicians go. There were challenges, sure. But for me, growing up listening to Bobby Sparks and so many other musicians that are here in Dallas, I was hooked before I even started traveling. I have so much love for the musicians here. I travel the world and see amazing musicians and they're good, but then I think of Bobby or Jerome back home and I feel like I've already heard some of the best musicians. I've just grown to love Dallas. The fellas I grew up and went to school with, we put 100% into shedding, learning music, and writing. I'm surrounded by great artists and I have been since high school. When I first walked into Arts Magnet and heard Robert Searight making tracks, it changed my whole life. We underrate Dallas, but it's awesome. Dallas is where it is. That's why all the musicians I know can go and live in any city and have a following because of the time they spent in Dallas. All the bands come here. I love Dallas.
What would you say keeps you rooted in Dallas?
First of all my family is here. I love my family. I travel everywhere and I don't see myself having to move anywhere else. All the cities are great, I have so much fun everywhere I go, but in Dallas I feel like we can have our own base production-wise and records-wise. It's a big city, there's a lot going on. I think it's a tremendous upside for the music and arts scene.
How did the jam sessions get started?
My friend Gino (he's a drummer) used to do them on Tuesday nights in a rehearsal hall. All the musicians would come, and after awhile we all started touring a lot so it kind of fell off. I got home off tour and didn't know where the cats were playing at. There was nothing going on, so I started doing this happy hour at the Walrus with the band. Eventually the promoters didn't want to do it anymore, but the owners said I could still play there. I told them I was trying to get a jam session going so all the musicians could come through in one night and they might make some money at the bar, or they might not. He was cool with it, so we got it going there and I got the word out. One night before Thanksgiving they were having a big party (we'd been doing it there for about six months), and they told me I couldn't have it there that night. Everybody was disappointed because we were all home for the holiday, so I called Prophet Bar to explain the situation. They called me back and we've had the jam session there ever since. We liked the sound and the stage and just grew over there even more.
Do you notice that difference in the way musicians sound after they start hanging out at the sessions?
Yeah, even with the younger musicians that come out. They get a deeper level of professionalism, it's like they're more open. We try not to let them feel nervous at the Prophet Bar. I'll call up anybody to play with me. That's just the vibe. You never know what type of music is going to come out every week. I have CDs of every jam session we've had at the Prophet since 2006. Everything. From when Bernard Wright was coming every week. Everybody. There is so much music, it's crazy. My studio has over 600 stacks of CDs from every Wednesday.
What local artists are you really into?
Well, Snarky Puppy is gone but, Snarky Puppy.
They still count. Everybody knows Brooklyn is just another suburb of Dallas.
I like Geno Young, he's one of my favorites. Candye West is a great gospel artist and she writes for a lot of people, too. As far as bands go, it's different. Dallas has a lot of cover bands, there aren't enough bands putting out their own records right now. It's hard for me to name band after band more than naming individuals.
Where can I go in Dallas to find the good music? We know to go to Prophet on Wednesdays, you also do Sankofa?
Yeah, Sankofa's a great place. They have great food and poetry nights. Monday nights at Amsterdam for Shelley Carrol. He's one of the greatest saxophone players ever. His band is real authentic jazz every Monday night. It's very refreshing. Every time I go there, I gotta go home, shed, and pull out records. They're basically over there playing records every Wednesday. Somebody needs to come and record them. Bernard sits in over there a lot, too. Then there's Sandaga on Tuesday nights. Bernard and Bobby Sparks do a jazz thing over there. It's an early thing, it's pretty much over by 11-11:30, they start around 8. It's B3, piano, it's amazing. Those are some of the few places I know you can get some great music.
You are also Erykah Badu's musical director. Are you guys finished with the new album yet?
It's almost done. Me and one of the Cannabinoids have a single that's about to drop, it's called “Jump Up in the Air and Stay There” featuring Erykah and Lil Wayne. They just shot the video here last week in Dallas so I got to meet Lil Wayne and everybody else that's on the record. It's pretty exciting. Erykah's the best. She is one of the best entertainers, and I'm not just saying that because I play with her. From all the artists I play with, I learned a lot from her about how she just commands the stage and uses every part of the artistry she knows from dance to singing, emotions, acting. Everything. Traveling the world and seeing how she commands the crowd, I learned a lot and that helped me with my band and the things I'm trying to do.
How long have you been working with her?
Oh, wow. Since 1999-2000? I got into the scene and started playing with her. Got my first chance to write and produce for her in 2003 on the World Wide Underground.
Nabbed a few Grammy nominations there.
Yeah. I was really excited about that. Just from touring with her and steadily connecting in the industry, I met a lot of great musicians. It's been a cool, cool ride. I look forward to taking it to the next level.
Anything else you are particularly excited about?
I'm finally going to put out my record in 2010, and The Gritz band record, the Cannabinoids record is going to be hot. I'm also looking to start a small label here in Dallas. I'm working with a couple artists as well as some other producers and writers like Shaun Martin and Jah Born. We want to put this thing together and develop more artists, try to get this Dallas music out. We've been waiting awhile.
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