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Steve Arrington

One of the true pioneers of the West Coast g-funk sound, Dayton, Ohio, resident Steve Arrington stopped by the 2013 Red Bull Music Academy to discuss his lengthy career and many contributions. His innovative vocals and drums were key to such classics as "Watching You" and "Just A Touch Of Love" with the legendary soul/funk outfit Slave and solo tracks like "Weak At The Knees" and "Nobody Can Be You." His songs have been sampled by the likes of Jay-Z, Snoop, N.W.A., and Mariah Carey among countless others – and continue to be heard on discerning dancefloors across the globe. After an extended hiatus from music in the '90s, Steve has recently partnered up with Stones Throw’s Dâm-Funk for a collaborative album, leaving the door wide open for the next chapter.

Hosted by Noz Audio Only Version Transcript:

RBMA

 Today we're very lucky to have with us a legend of funk music. A man who got his start playing drums with the band Slave and later became their vocalist. Put out a ton of great music as a solo artist and with his own band, Hall Of Fame. Everybody give a round of applause for Mr. Steve Arrington.

(applause)

So you come from a city called Dayton, Ohio.

Steve Arrington

Absolutely, Andrew. The land of funk.

(laughter)

Absolutely. The land of funk.

RBMA

So tell us a little bit about that, because it definitely was a hotbed of funk music back in the day, and it's not the biggest city, but it produced some of the biggest acts.

Steve Arrington

Very small town, but big talent. The Ohio Players started it off. Ohio Players, Heatwave,Slave,Faze-O, the group Dayton, Lakeside. It just goes on and on. It was just a thing where when The Ohio Players kicked off, we all got inspired. They were so original. And we thought, "We wanna be like the Players." Didn't wanna sound like the Players, but wanted to be original like the Players. And so the Dayton sound is not like Motown, it's not a producer-driven sound. It's not like Minneapolis, where you had artists like Prince, and then the Minneapolis sound sort of has his sort of stamp on it. Dayton, we all just got it in and did our own thing and we developed a style that is known for just originality. Just being original.

RBMA

Now, what do you think it was about the city, culturally, that kind of inspired that?

Steve Arrington

I don't know. It's the home of aviation, the Wright Brothers are from Dayton. Paul Laurence Dunbar's from Dayton. Just originality and unique thinking. It's a small town, not too much going on. Lot of funk. Troutman, Dayton, you know, Zapp, those guys are from Dayton as well. Dayton and Cincinnati.

RBMA

Now, was it a real competitive circuit coming up?

Steve Arrington

Well, the talent shows and Battle of the Bands. We were getting it in. There'd be lines around the corners at the high schools, because all those bands ended up being, like, national acts. You know, I remember Lakeside. Let's see, Ohio Players were first, we were, like, maybe 10 years behind those guys. Seven to 10. So Lakeside was the biggest of the guys of my age group, we were coming up. They were called the Young Underground. We all knew everybody's battling for second, 'cause Lakeside was gonna win. They were that band. And they went on to do some great things. Their band, interesting enough - their local band - ended up being more just like what ended up happening when they went national. Some of the other bands were splinters of different groups coming together and then went to a national level, with different units. But Lakeside was pretty much the same band from Young Underground, locally, to their national.

RBMA

Now, how old were you guys during this Battle of the Bands stage?

Steve Arrington

You know, 15, 16, 17, 18.

RBMA

I guess, going back a few steps, when did you personally first discover funk music?

Steve Arrington

James Brown. Straight up. James Brown, "Cold Sweat." When I started on drums, you had to have your "Cold Sweat" beat together. You had to. If you didn't have your "Cold" - "Next!" You'd come in and do an audition, "What's your 'Cold Sweat' beat like?" You also had to have your Archie Bell and the Drells beat together. And your Sly Stone. You had to have your Sly Stone, "Sex Machine," those were the grooves that you had to have as a drummer. And I started on drums. [I] try to think. What else did you have to have together? Also the doo-wop era was really strong. (sings) "Betcha by Golly, Wow." That was happening. (sings) "Cowboys to girls." Yeah. You had to have your doo- wop groove together, because we'd play behind singing groups. And singing groups were still happening before self-contained bands really took off. So I was in that era between, singing groups were just starting to fade, self- contained bands were coming in. James Brown had made it to where just the rhythm section was the focal point, versus a lot of production that was happening before. So everything was changing when I was coming up. And then, all of a sudden, the rock thing started happening. Bands like Deep Purple, bands like Led Zeppelin, we started to get influenced by that. Me, particularly. Yes. I was influenced by Yes. So it was just a collection of a lot of things going on when I was coming up.

RBMA

Yeah, it seemed like a great era for kind of cross-genre blends and things of that nature.

Steve Arrington

Yes, absolutely. I was totally into it, too. I just ate it up. I was crazy. I went to all the shows. I could get my money up, you know what I'm saying? Back then, shows were 4, 5, 6, 7 dollars. It's not like that today. But yeah.

RBMA

Do you remember the first concert you went to?

Steve Arrington

Well, the first concert, my teacher took me to see Canned Heat and John Lee Hooker. My seventh-grade art teacher, she was like a hippie chick. And I used to write poetry, and we'd have, like, Friday bring your music to school, right? And, you know, we brought our Jackson 5 to school. I brought my Jackson 5. But I also brought my Grand Funk Railroad to school, I brought Led Zeppelin. And so she noticed that, musically, I was a little bit more broad in my thinking than some of the other people that were bringing music to school. And so she asked me, "Would you be interested in checking out this Canned Heat, John Lee Hooker concert at Wittenberg College?" And I'm like, "Yeeeah." And that was my first show, in the seventh grade. Although I did play a lot of shows at this place called the Lakeview Palladium in Dayton, as the opening act. With a group I played drums in called Soul Illusions and Eluders. And we opened for people like Spyder Turner, Erma Franklin - Aretha Franklin's sister - and Joe Tex and people like that. So I played on some shows, but the actual first show that I actually went to was Canned Heat and John Lee Hooker.

RBMA

So you're already performing at a very young age.

Steve Arrington

Yes, my brother's band, the Soulangers, I played congas and bongos. That's all I remember, is music. I just remember forever, as long as I've been alive, almost.

RBMA

Did you grow up in a real musical household?

Steve Arrington

Yes, my brother played saxophone and my mother was a music-lover. You know, we'd have clean-up Saturday, where we'd have to clean up the house, and she'd play some Mongo Santamaria. She'd play Ray Barretto, lot of jazz and a lot of Motown. And my mother loved early Aretha, so a lot of Aretha Franklin got serious spins at my house.

RBMA

So a lot of Latin influence in there, as well.

Steve Arrington:

Absolutely, absolutely.

RBMA

Which, I guess, kinda brings us to the next stage of your career. You went out to L.A. and...

Steve Arrington

Yes. Well, actually, San Francisco, the Bay Area right after high school, you know? I was like, Dayton is a great place in terms of the musicians but you can't, like, do a whole thing. You can't get your music going, go to the studio and have a whole business scene in Dayton. You have to go somewhere else. So I went out to the west coast. Lakeside went out to L.A., I went to the Bay Area, San Francisco area. And I met Coke Escovedo, and this is a funny story, my buddy and I, we were just riding around, I was just getting hip to the scene. I'd been out there about a month and a half. We go for a ride and he goes, "Yo, man, that's Coke Escovedo over there watering his lawn." "That's not Coke Escovedo, man. The percussionist for Santana? No way." "Yeah, it is." So I go over there and I say, "Hey man, I'm just outta here from Ohio. I'm not trying to bother you right now, but, man, I love what you do, and I'm trying to make it out here. Can I get an audition? If anybody needs a drummer, here's a number for me." Blasé. He says, "Yeah, well, I happen to have a friend of mine." He was a... what did he play? Flute player. He said, "Yeah, come on out. Do this audition." It happened to be at his house. Did the audition, got the gig, and Coke said, "You know, I'm feeling what you're doing. I want you to be my drummer as well." So I went from just getting it together to, next thing I know, I got this gig with the flute player who opened up for Coke Escovedo, and then I'm playing with Coke Escovedo. And I ended up moving in his house and he decided to take me under his wing and show me this whole salsa Latin thing, because he said, his words were, "You can play the notes, but you have to understand the language of the music." And that's what he taught me. The language of the music. And then I applied that to different styles of music. It's not just the notes. It's deeper than that.

RBMA

Now, what was a Coke Escovedo show like in those days?

Steve Arrington

Well, you know, he was one of the first guys to do, like, Latin soul. His album Comin' At Ya! and the self-titled album, _Coke, _they were just awesome tracks, funky, Latin soul. Also, I met Sheila Escovedo, she came and sat in with us one time. He says, "I want you to meet my niece. She plays percussion." I'm like, "Yeah? A female percussionist? Never heard of that." I said, "Well, how old is she?" "I think she's about 19. 18, 19." "Oh, OK." So we meet and she sits down and begins to rip. I mean, we were all just looking over like, “Who is this?” I mean, she was smoking. At 19. She was killing it. First time we'd ever seen a female percussionist. And we formed that relationship there and I ended up playing with them a little bit later. Her and her father Pete. But I loved playing that music because it was soulful, but then it added a whole 'nother element that you weren't getting into the Midwest at that time. Because the Midwest was just into Santana and some of the jazz things, but that salsa, Latin soul thing hadn't really happened yet in the Midwest.

RBMA

And then, I guess roughly around this same time, Slave had formed.

Steve Arrington

Yes, '77.

RBMA

And you were not involved in the earliest incarnation.

Steve Arrington

No, they did two albums before I joined. But I'd say half of the members in Slave, we were in a local band together, called the Young Mystics. I was four years older than most of those guys. Slave, we went all to high school together, many of us. But I was the oldest of the younger bunch. Because Slave had guys in their thirties, and then they had guys who were like 16-, 17 -years-old. So I was in-between. So when I was 18, Mark Adams the bass player, Mark 'Drac' Hicks the guitar player, Danny Webster guitar player, those guys were like freshmans going into their sophomore year. So I was a little older than them. But they hit "Slide" while I was out in California with the Escovedos. I said, "Man, I like this track 'Slide.'" Went and bought the album; there was my homies. I'm like, "Oh, they jumped off!" So I was real happy and excited for them.

RBMA

What eventually brought you back to Ohio and working with Slave?

Steve Arrington

Well, we had did a tour with Pete and Sheila Escovedo, and the tour was over. Slave said they wanted to do a change in their drum situation. And Mark Adams called me up and said, "Hey man, we're gonna do a drum change. Why don't you come back to Ohio and join the band?" I was, like, "This is great." I had just finished this tour with Pete and Sheila, looking what was going to be my next move. And I came back to Ohio and first joint I did with them on drums was "Stellar Fungk."

RBMA

Maybe we should play that.

(music: Slave - Stellar Fungk/applause)

So what do you recall about the recording of that track?

Steve Arrington

Aw man, that's some funk right there.

(laughter)

I mean, you know, we had come from Dayton, we had grew up in high school. We had dreams. We wanted to make it. And here I was, playing with my homies, playing some heavyweight funk. I mean, that funk, I remember Atlantic Studios, in the big speakers, Studio A, when we mixed it, and we all listened back and was like, "That is some serious funk right there." Just excited. It's like listening to it now is just the same as when I first heard it. And of course, it was my recording debut, on drums, and I was like, also the guy, (sings) "We are stell-ar." That was me, too. That was my vocal debut, you know what I'm saying? So I'm listening back to it 30 years later, actually, about 33 years later, just as moved and touched by it as the first time I ever heard it.

RBMA

So, you sung on a few tracks on that album The Concept.

Steve Arrington

Yes, mostly background vocals. I did a lead on a song, "Coming Soon."

RBMA

Had you previously had much singing experience?

Steve Arrington:

I sang with a lounge band called the Murphy’s. Prior to that, in Dayton, I was the drummer. I never was known as a singer, and never really got into singing much. But I'd sing to myself and around close, close friends and my family, but the scene didn't know I could sing. So I joined this band called the Murphy’s, and they were doing the lounge circuit, and we were kinda on our way to hopefully get into the whole Vegas thing. So I used to sing, "Tie a yellow ribbon 'round the old oak tree." I mean, just all the joints, you know? But, what it did for me, it got me into different character voices and different styles of singing. And when I joined Slave, they were like, "Hey man, can you sing?" And I'm like, "Yeah, I can do a little something, man." And I developed my style more listening to instrumentalists than coming up being a singer. So I think that's part of why my vocal style was a little different.

RBMA

So who were some of those influences on your vocal style?

Steve Arrington

John Coltrane's horn playing, number one. Miles Davis' approach on trumpet. And there were some singers, as well. Stevie Wonder, for sure, Sly Stone. And again, Yes. Jon Anderson from Yes. But mostly I would just mimic... and, you know, Jimi Hendrix solos. I would just mimic their solos. Not thinking of being a singer doing it. Just being, you know, gettin' it in, I'm throwin' a joint on and the solo just captured me, and I'd try to mimic it and learn them note-for-note, never thinking I was gonna end up singing, and then approach singing more from that perspective.

RBMA

So, by the next Slave album, you kind of stepped up your role as lead singer. What led to that?

Steve Arrington

Well, you know, they started to see, you know, "Let's add Arrington to the mix." So we were in the studio doing a song, "Just A Touch Of Love." And we had the track done, and we had some background vocals done on it. But we hadn't had a lead on it. And so we went around the different singers. And Slave was more like the Temptations, like on "Slide," you have three different singers. And usually we traded off. And we all went around the mic, took a turn to come up with a lead for "Just A Touch Of Love," and nothing was really working that really fit. And they said, "Steve, you go out there and do something." And I'm like, "Oh, OK." (hums a tune) I had no words. (hums a little more) And they're like, "Yo, man, that sounds kinda crazy. Let's try that." So I came up with some words. Say, "Let's go back to the hotel." Came up with some words. And then I sang it, "Just a touch of love." And Jimmy Douglass was, like, "The intervals are interesting that you're using. It's a little different. And your tone, it's kinda different." And we were all wondering what to do with it. They were like, "We feel it's hot, but it's different." But we went with it, and thank God he did. It kinda led to me being a singer.

RBMA

Well, let's give "Just A Touch Of Love" a listen.

(music: Slave - Just A Touch Of Love / applause)

Now, what kind of response did you guys get when you'd play that song out?

Steve Arrington

Ah, people loved it. People loved that song. And today, my band, as we play that music, people sing along, young people, people my age group. I don't know. It's just such a blessing. I played drums on that track, and that's one of the best drum tracks I think I ever did - just to lock up. I listen to the drums and I'm, like, "Man, God is good."

(laughter)

It's just lockin'. You know, and I'm a fan of the music. When I listen to it, I don't listen to it as an artist. I listen to it as a fan. And it moves me, whether I made it or not. It's just, like, it moves me. So I'm listening to it, just, like, "Man, that's doing something for me right now. It's doing something for me." And that's the way when I hit it live, it's the same way. It's no different than when I listen to Miles, or I listen to Prince. Stuff that move me. When I listen to the music that I've been able to be a part of, it's the same thing.

RBMA

So you were pulling double-duty as drummer and vocalist for Slave.

Steve Arrington

Yes.

RBMA

How did that play out in a live setting?

Steve Arrington

Well, I did play and sing for a while, like Buddy Miles. And then they brought me out front. But I continued to play drums on the albums. Roger Parker, who was the drummer with Faze-O, and a good friend of mine coming up, I suggested that we get him into the band, and then he ended up playing live. And he actually ended up playing with me later, when I did my own thing. But I played most of the tracks on the albums, even though I was singing up front.

RBMA

Now, did you notice a different response from the public to you when you were a drummer, versus when you were a singer?

Steve Arrington

No. People who know me in Dayton were shocked that, it's like, "Who's doing vocals?" "Steve Arrington." "What?! Arrington's singing?!" "Yeah, man. He's got a quirky style, doesn't he?" "Yeah, who knew?" I'm going the same way: "Who knew?" I mean, I'm just going, "Yo, man, I'm singing." So it was funny, because I didn't know how to command the stage or none of that, you know what I'm saying? And I'm like, "OK, we're doing shows with Gap Band, we're doing shows with Kool & the Gang." I'm, like, "OK, JT's going to the front and he's hollering at the ladies, OK, I guess that's what I'm supposed to do." You know, I didn't know. I learned right on the job, you know what I mean? And the band gave me love, and said, "Go for it, Arrington." You know what I mean? And so I learned how to be a front man, because I never was in that role. I was always in the back. And I was content with being in the back. I had no aspirations of being a singer, I had no aspirations of being a frontman, or any of that. Just, God gave me that. That's all I can say. That's just the truth. He just gave me that. And I went with it, and I developed a style, and I learned how to deal with an audience, and I learned all those things. And I appreciate all the guys that I watched, like JT from Kool & the Gang, and Charlie Wilson, and others, on how to command a stage. And those guys had been doing it for years, and I'd been the drummer. So it was crazy. But people gave me love.

RBMA

Now, in the era when you guys were doing your thing, that late '70s, early '80s vibe, it seemed like funk was changing. The sound was getting cleaner and kind of like more syncopated and tighter. What do you think pushed it in that direction?

Steve Arrington

I just think, like all music, things happen for a while, and then a style is done, and then someone has a different look at things. They hit, and then all of a sudden someone else has a different look. It's just that simple. Funk changed because it had gone a certain way and somebody else had a different view. Just like my vocal approach. It just sort of happened, I just had a different view. And I think that's how it always is. Somebody who's dedicated... and it has to be honest. A different view is honest. That's the main thing. And that's what changes music: someone has an honest view, that you can feel. And then things start to move with it.

RBMA

Now, with that distinctive vocal approach that you brought to the table, did you see people picking up on it after you?

Steve Arrington

Absolutely. I heard people starting to use my intervals and my diction. I started hearing "Time In Mind" in songs. You know, (sings) "Make you miiine." You know, my diction on that. (sings)"In tiiime." I started hearing that a lot in different songs. And I was excited about that. Because I'm like, "Yo, man, people are starting to pick up and feel where I'm coming from." And, you know, I started to listen to singers like Nat King Cole, his diction. And so later, after I became a vocalist, I started to listen to singers. And then I noticed people who were listening to me. And that was an exciting thing for me. Because for me, every day doing this was something I didn't expect. So the people feeling my style and hearing my intervals, how I was doing it, meant a lot to me.

RBMA

Well, let's hear a little bit more of that. What do you think? "Watching You"?

Steve Arrington:

Yeah, let's do "Watching You."

(music: Slave - Watching You/applause)

RBMA

So that was from your third album with Slave.

Steve Arrington

Yes.

RBMA

And you recorded one more album with them.

Steve Arrington

Yes, Show Time.

RBMA

And then went off in your own direction.

Steve Arrington

Yes, absolutely.

RBMA

What inspired this transition?

Steve Arrington

Well, the thing with Slave, after the first album, there were always people coming and going. The reason for that, I'm not exactly sure. It just seemed like there was just an instability from the business side of things. It was a great band, great bunch of guys, great talent. But the business end never could stand eye-to-eye with us. You know, the business, the people that you have doing your business, have to be on the level of your talent, so that your talent can be fully realized and go where it needs to go. Especially after you first hit. If the business end of it is not up to that level, it ends up pulling you down. Slave was just people coming and going. I was never actually a member. That's why I'm sort of saying I'm not exactly sure. Because even though I was playing drums on the records, and I became the primary vocalist of Slave, I never was a signed member of the group. I was always a sideman. That's a strange scenario. But within that, there were certain things I wasn't privy to on how things were rolling and how things were running. So I would just say the business couldn't stand eye-to-eye with the music.

RBMA

So how did you go about forming Hall Of Fame from there?

Steve Arrington

Well, you know, some of the rest of us who were sidemen, like Roger Parker, I said, "Hey, man. I'm gonna do my thing, and if you guys wanna come with me, we're not actually a part of Slave. You can be in my band, and we'll have a band and you guys are all signed along with me." Charles Carter, Sam Carter, Roger Parker, Victor Godsey, Arthur Rhames - who's from New York, actually, Arthur is. Rest in peace. You know, they came with me and we did Steve Arrington's Hall Of Fame.

RBMA

How did the rest of Slave respond to that departure?

Steve Arrington

Well, because people were coming and going, Stevie Washington, who was one of the co-founders with Mark Hicks, had left. He and Starleana Young and Curt Jones had left and formed Aurra, prior to my leaving. They left after the_ Stone Jam_ album. I knew then there was a crack in the wall then, when they left. I stayed for another album. And it was hard for me. I didn't have aspirations of going out and doing the solo lead-singer thing, you know what I mean? That's not what it was at all. When I left the band, it hurt. Because these are the guys that I came up with. And also, we had formed a bond and a sound together, that I thought was very special and unique. So it wasn't like, "Yo, man! I'm tired of this and that. I'ma do my own thing." It hurt bad. It was like a divorce. We were friends, though. When they did their follow-up album, when they were working on it, we would go listen to in the car, listen to the tracks, and they would listen to things I was doing, because we were friends. It's just the business end wasn't together. So they showed me love, and I showed them love, and all the different cats that split from Slave, we were all happy for each other that we were making good records. And I was excited about that.

RBMA

Now, was it creatively liberating to kind of step into more of a bandleader situation?

Steve Arrington

Yes, because I was able to bring different things to the table that wouldn't work on a Slave record. Like, there's a song I did on Steve Arrington's Hall Of Fame I called "Beddie-Biey." (sings) "Beddie-biey's the right time for us." Very jazzy-sounding. As a matter of fact, Tribe Called Quest did a sample of it, with "The Chase, Part II." I loved how they flipped it, by the way. I dug that. But those were the types of things that I was into that really wouldn't work on a Slave record. And also, I had more control of how far I wanted to take the music, you know? So, you know, you'd have a song like "Weak At The Knees," and then you'd have a song like "Beddie-Biey," which are totally different styles and different vibes. That's what was cool for me. I was able to get into some of the influences that I'd had through the years that didn't really fit so much in the Slave formula.

RBMA

Let's give "Beddie-Biey" a listen.

(Steve Arrington's Hall Of Fame - Beddie- Biey / applause)

So I was reading the credits for that Hall Of Fame album, and I had no idea how many instruments you actually played on it. I was surprised.

Steve Arrington

 Yeah, I played guitar on "Beddie-Biey." I actually wrote that song from the guitar part. You know, it's interesting, that era, people started to branch out. Prince played a lot of instruments. I think we all were influenced by Stevie Wonder. It's like Stevie Wonder played so many instruments, and he was totally original, or is totally original on all of them. So I think, that era, people started to branch out and think, "Oh, I can do more. I can do more. I can do more." And so I played bass on "Nobody Can Be You But You." And I played guitar on "Beddie-Biey." And played some keys on some things as well.

RBMA

Now, what was your songwriting process in those days?

Steve Arrington

It varied. You know, we'd do a track and then, you know, I'd sing on top of it sometimes. Sometimes I'd sing some melodies and some things, and then we built the track around that. It just sort of varied. And with us being a band, we were around each other all the time, and we were grooving and jamming all the time. And we'd get into something and say, "Yo, yo, let's keep that part right there," and sort of piece things together.

RBMA

Now, shortly thereafter - and I'm jumping ahead a little, just for the sake of time - but you started moving away from the secular towards more spiritual music. What motivated that?

Steve Arrington

Well, a lot of my heroes, John Coltrane, for me, when I listen to his music, not only do I hear the technique and the greatness of his artistry from a technical point of view, his ability to be able to play what he heard. He had the facility to do that. But there was a deeper dimension when I listened to his music, and a spiritual dimension, a spiritual side to it that really drew me. Also, I come from a line of preachers and church was very important to me when I was little. My great-uncle, Charles Cook, used to call me Moosic. "There's little Moosic, little Moosic." When I was just coming up, and he used to preach and I used to remember sitting in the pew going, "Man, his passion." And that's sort of what's in my singing as well. I just have an unbridled passion. I just let it go. I don't know how beautiful it sounds. I don't even care. I just gotta let it out. I got that from watching my uncle preach. He just went at it. And so, as I developed and, you know, Carlos Santana, people were getting into Eastern religion - even the Beatles, and the Stones sort of dabbled into it as well - there was always a part of me, I had to go to there. I had to get into it. And so I got saved. In New York, actually. There was a guy walking down the street, around 45th, 42nd, around that area, holding up a sign, wearing a sign. I mean, we've seen these guys before. And I remember being on a tour bus earlier, thinking, "Man, there's gotta be more to it than this." I was having a good time, but that spiritual thing in me had to develop. And so this guy was just standing there, and I'm like, "Yo, man, you're hardcore, man." I got my jheri curls and I mean I'm hardcore, and I'm, like, I'm hardcore with mine. I'm walking down the street, you know, sometimes I'd have my rollers in my hair, so when I took 'em out, I flip my joints out, y'all seen Snoop. I did that way before Snoop. You know what I'm saying?

(laughter)

I'm like, "Yo, I'm hard." But I'm like, "I'm not as hard as you. You're holding up a sign. 'Jesus is coming.' Wearing one." I'm like, "What's up with that?" He took me through some scriptures, and I received the Lord right there in the street, in New York. And I've been loving the Lord ever since. It was real. My music had to go in that direction. My spirituality, like I said, Yes. People that I was into, that spiritual side was a part of their music. And so I went with it. And loved every second of it. I've been a preacher, I've been an evangelist, a praise-and-worship leader, had my own church. I love the Lord. I love people who enjoy finding out why. What? I mean, this is all great what we're talking about, and I love every second of it, but then there's those times when we're alone, when we go, "Why? What is this? What am I doing? What am I here for? What's going on?" For me, that's the road it took.

RBMA

You also went on a long hiatus thereafter.

Steve Arrington

Yes, I was gone 25 years. I guess, I didn't have anything else to say. And I mean that. Sometimes you make your statement with your music or whatever you're doing, and then I didn't have anything else to say. Now, I don't mean that I couldn't have made another record. I don't mean I couldn't have hit some more lyrics. I mean, that's all I had to say for that time. What I needed to say was in something else. You know, I used to just pray for hours and hours in a day, just to get closer to God. And I did. And I came out, it was just love. What I found out, after hours of prayer and hours of study and going on missionary trips. I mean, the whole nines. On the streets, leading people to the Lord like I was led to the Lord. After all of that, I found something out. What? It's just love. (laughs) It's just that simple. And so, after 25 years, it was like, "Well, what are you doing? You're coming back on the scene?" "Yeah." "Why?" "Man, 'cause I just wanna love on somebody." I mean, I've done it in a church. I just want to love on people. I just wanna be here, right now, Red Bull Academy, just saying, "Yo, man. It's about love." Bottom line. It's not the politics of religion. Had to find out about all the politics and all of that. It's just love. And when I listen to this music, talking to you, when I see these people, I'm just honored right now, that I can be here to say, "You know what? At the end of the day? It's about our love for another." That's what lasts. That's what is really powerful. That's what you take with you. Can't take the money with you. Can't take the hype with you. The sandwiches, the hype sandwiches are gone.

(laughter)

It's just love. And so that's why I came back. And I'm a person, I call... I'm like... I'm emotionally funky.

(laughter)

If you understand what I mean. I'm emotionally funky. I don't give a flip. I just wanna go in and just love somebody, if they'll let me. If they're not feeling it, I can dig that and understand that. I'll just love somebody else.

(laughter)

You know what I mean? I mean, really, I mean it's just really that simple. Because that's what, in my 25 years of searching and searching and searching, and scriptures and books and study and... for a long time, I never... I threw all my albums out, I didn't watch secular TV. It was just Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, 100, church, and go for a ride in the country. That's my thing. I love going for rides. But that's all I did. And I loved it. But then the Lord was like, "Yo, man, share some of this love outside of the four walls of the church." "OK." Now it's today.

RBMA

So let's talk about today a little. You're working on a new album.

Steve Arrington

Yes.

RBMA

With Dâm-Funk.

Steve Arrington

Dâm-Funk. Absolutely.

RBMA

What do you think of that whole scene that he's part of, in L.A.?

Steve Arrington

I love it. You know, before I left, I was doing work with Kool Moe Dee, on his Funke, Funke Wisdom album. Also, I got involved with hip hop prior to that, I think it was Three Times Dope. We did a thing of "Weak In The Knees." So I embraced hip hop. You know, and that's my thing. I'm always, "Whatever today is, I'm in it." You know, I'm not a guy who's like, "Well, all they doin' is pushin' faders and turnin' knobs." You know, "Them ain't no musicians. Samples and..." Hey. That's your thing, that's fine. I'm not saying that's not a place for your thoughts. That's yours. But for me, I want to be around the guys pushing knobs, you feel me? I want to be in today. That's always where I've been at. So before I left the game, I was connecting with hip hop. The underground scene, instead of me saying, "I wanna get with this big major label," I was studying underground music. I was listening to Ras G, I was checking people out, you know? And then Dâm-Funk hit me up, he said, "Yo, man" on a social network page, and said, "I'm doing this funk thing. I'm trying to keep it going. Would you do a 12"?" I'm like, "Yeah, let's do it." And he says, "Hey, I'm on the underground scene." I said, "Let's do it." I had been studying underground music anyway, as I knew I was gonna get back into this thing. I love it, man. I've been kicking with Madlib. I love Madlib. I love what Flying Lotus is doing. I'm vibing on Hudson Mohawke. I'm vibing on all of it, you know? It's always the way I've been, and it's always the way I'm gonna be. I wanna tell you this story. This is very important. When I was 16, I went to a show, I saw a group called Hot Tuna. The bass player and the guitar player were musicians that were in Jefferson Airplane. They had a side project, Hot Tuna. There was a violinist, his name was Papa John Creach. I was 16-years-old. Papa John Creach was way older than the guys in Hot Tuna. They were in their twenties, and Papa John Creach was in his forties, in my mind. I couldn't even go into the fifties. Found out he was in his fifties. But I looked up at him, and I thought, "Look at this guy!" Here's this older dude, and, you know, when you're 16, a dude 40 - let's keep it real - that dude is old.

(laughter)

And Papa John Creach was getting it in playing violin. And I said, "I wanna be like him. That's what I wanna do. I wanna be an older guy who still gets it on whatever's goin' on today." I said that when I was 16-years-old, and here I am. I'm 57-years-old now. And I'm still gettin' it in. And I appreciate what young people are doing. I let them influence me. I'm like, well, "You made 'Just a Touch of Love.'" No, no, listen. If I'm feeling it, and these young people they're influencing me, I'm influencing them, that's the way it's supposed to be. And so, you know, I'm lucky to be able to be in front of you guys here today. I'm looking at these young people. "Y'all care about what I'm doing? OK." I care about what you're doing. I care about what you think. So yeah, the Dâm-Funk thing, I was like, "Let's do it, homey. Let's get it in."

RBMA

Let's check out one of those tracks.

Steve Arrington

OK.

(music: Steve Arrington & Dâm-Funk - Goin' Hard)

(quotes lyrics) "Persecute my funk, and my history will prove you a lie." Aw, yeah.

(laughter)

RBMA

One of the fascinating things to me about that collaboration is I feel like there's kind of a direct line from that old-school Dayton scene to the scene that produced Dâm.

Steve Arrington

Absolutely. Dâm's very influenced by what happened in Dayton. And it made sense. I'm happy for him that, you know, he's doing his thing. I like what we've done together, and again, it's just a blessing. That's the way I see it. It's just a blessing. And, you know, I approached that song (sings). You know, it's a different approach. And it's different because I'm not trying to recreate what I did. It's like, you know, it's a much more rhythmical sort of approach that I did, vocally, to it. And I'm excited about that because I've been listening. You know? I've been absorbing the culture. There's times that I have that lullaby melody thing happening. And there's times I'm just going in. I'm like, I'ma ride these beats. You know what I mean? So that's kind of the approach on that song.

RBMA

So when can we expect the album?

Steve Arrington

Well, we're gonna drop it this summer. Yeah, for sure.

RBMA

Seems like the right time.

Steve Arrington

Yeah. Yeah. Absolutely. Absolutely.

RBMA

Cool, well, maybe we'll take some questions.

Participant:

So, 57, what are you drinking? That's not the real question. So, from today, what are you excited to do with your existence?

Steve Arrington

Ah. Just continuing to spread love the way I know how to. And making music that I'm excited about, that I continue to challenge myself and push myself forward. I hope to be around a long time. My dream is to be like a B.B. King. Now, for some reason, I can never remember his name and I do this every time. And I'm gonna tell you because it's fun. So I'm gonna ask my wife right now, "Who's the other guy?" (voice off-mic) Buddy Guy. Now, I just do this thing, I can never remember his name. That's my wife, Leslie. But I hope to be like B.B. King and Buddy Guy, who are in their seventies and eighties and still getting it in, still putting out great music. I hope that I'm that. I've done what Papa John Creach has done. I hope that when I get to be in my seventies and eighties, I'm still looking for that next sweet melody. I'm still looking for that next crazy hot rhythm. And I'm still allowing young people, the culture of that time, to influence me, and they look at what I've done, to study and say, "You know, Arrington. He gave his heart. He gave his heart." That's me.

Participant

Hello. How are ya?

Steve Arrington

Hi. How are ya?

Participant

First off, I wanna say I'm originally from Washington, D.C., and I grew up in the '80s and Slave got plenty of love. I love your music. Funk is really influential to me. So I actually have two questions. Even though I think funk is a feeling - it's one of those things you just have or you don't - what would be a few of the quintessential elements you think, in terms of describing the funk genre? And second question: You also mentioned that you were never an official member of Slave, and I also know that they were sampled quite frequently. How does that play out, in terms of royalties or anything like that, business-wise?

Steve Arrington

Well, I'll deal with the second question first. Royalty-wise, it plays out well because, for me particularly, I have my songwriting credits, so when the sampling thing really happened and the music was being sampled a lot, you know, with a publishing administrator in place, those percentages and deals were made so that I get paid off of the samples that have been done from the Slave and Hall Of Fame music. The first question about what are some of the essential things that make funk what it is, I think the emphasis on the bottom, heavy basslines, hard drums, where in the soul era, the emphasis were more from the middle to the top. You know. It was more about the melodies and more about chordal movement. It was very orchestrated, the soul music of the '60s and early '70s. You know, the Philly sound, and Motown. It was very orchestrated, and it was kinda heavy. But funk just went buck-wild with the bottom. Another thing I think about funk is that it's really about the people who had a different idea. James Brown stripped it and made it about space and repetitive parts just coming at you over and over, with a tight groove. He established what funk is. So I think funk is a time period, where certain people, George Clinton, Sly Stone, James Brown, were so honest in their approach, they invented it. So funk is really, funksters, we’re all were all children of James, George, and Sly. Because those are the people who had the unique ability to speak in such an honest way that we all said, "Man, we gotta get in on that." And they spoke in that way from that bottom. Having parts where you're not playing a whole bunch of stuff. Like church music, the keyboard players were just playing so much music. James stripped it down and just said (sings a tight rhythm), and then funk was born.

Participant

Thank you.

Participant

Hi. You talk about gospel and I'm wondering if you know people like Odetta, or Mahalia Jackson, or Alan Lomax recordings. All that gospel stuff.

Steve Arrington

Yeah, I studied a lot of gospel. I'm sorry, did you say Mahalia Jackson?

Participant:

Yeah.

Steve Arrington

Yes. I love Mahalia. You know, I love the Clark Sisters. You know, Karen Clark Sheard. You know, I love older gospel. James Cleveland. Younger gospel: Karen Clark Sheard's daughter, Kierra. I hope I'm pronouncing her name correctly. I love gospel music. And mass choir music. And I love praise and worship. I love praise-and-worship music. Israel Houghton. So, what I dig about the gospel music of today is gospel music is starting to open up more and more to embrace different styles. So yeah, I studied a lot of gospel music.

Participant

Thanks.

Participant

Good afternoon. Growing up, my parents used to play "Just A Touch," so thank you for that music. My question dates back to you growing up. You said you grew up in a house where there was always music around. If you didn't turn out a musician, what would you probably turn out?

Steve Arrington

I loved baseball. I was a second baseman, and I had skills. I had skills. And for a while, I was torn between what I was going to do. I made the all-star team. I had won batting titles in my Little League teams, and I was considered, at my age, one of the best baseball players in my city. And I loved baseball. But I also would play in the drill team. Played drums for the drill team. And I'd miss baseball practice because I was playing the drums. Or I'd miss a drill team practice because I was playing baseball, and I had to make a choice. And I chose music. And my father didn't speak to me for about a month. He was like, "Dude, man, being a musician. That's not gonna fly. Baseball is what it is." Because he was a football player in high school and a very good one, so he thought the baseball thing should, you know, go down. But I chose music. And, you know, that was the right thing for me. Because, like I told you, I'm emotionally funky. I love this stuff. This is great.

Participant

Thank you.

Participant

Yes, hi. You kept coming back to the band Yes.

Steve Arrington

Yes.

Participant

Could you expand a little bit on how they influenced you, as a drummer and/or as a vocalist?

Steve Arrington

Bill Bruford on drums was just killing his snare sound, I loved. And his use of space. He did some things with King Crimson as well. I'm feeling all of Bill Bruford's stuff. Yes, vocally, they had this angelic thing happening. Their chords. I'll just do a little...

(sings: Yes - The Revealing Science of God / applause)

You know, Jon Anderson's singing's been killing me. That's the first song from the Tales From Topographic Oceans album. I dug his approach because it sounded honest. Same thing with James Taylor. I love James Taylor's vocal. It's so honest-sounding. Aretha, it's just honest. I like artists that sound honest. That you can pick it up right away. Yes does that for me. Especially when Bruford was in the band. I like Yes when Alan White came to the band. That's great. I love their material with him as well. But Bruford has that space. And Bruford was funky. That stuff he played on Roundabout and Close To The Edge, that stuff is just funky. Him and Chris Squire are getting it in. So yeah, that's ... I mean, I can talk about Yes and Mahavishnu Orchestra all day.

RBMA

Go right ahead.

Steve Arrington

Well, let me tell you about Mahavishnu. I went to a show. The headliner was Curtis Mayfield. Much love. Any Curtis Mayfield fans in here? (cheers from the audience) Much love to the great Curtis Mayfield. But on this show, it was like a festival sort of deal. Frank Zappa was on the show and a group called Mahavishnu Orchestra, which I had never heard before. Now this was '72. Yeah, '72. I'm a young homey. I'm 16. And at that time, I was into all types of music. So yeah, I was there to see Curtis Mayfield, but I was also there to see Frank Zappa do "Peaches En Regalia." I was also there for that. But I didn't know about Mahavishnu Orchestra. So they open up. This is crazy. And I'm like, "I don't see an orchestra. Where's all the stands?" You know, all I saw was this huge drum set. Billy Cobham was playing, like, the biggest drum set I had ever seen. And he has this big gong in the back. And I'm like, "Where's the orchestra at?" So these five guys walk out. Four guys. Five. Yeah, I told you I was 57. Sometimes I... I have fun. They come out on stage. They're wearing, like, these white linen sort of things, jumping off, you know? And I'm like, "That don't look like no orchestra to me." And, you know, I'm trying to chill it with the homies, and they kick in and my mouth drops to the ground. And they kick in to the then album that I didn't know was Inner Mounting Flame, with "Meeting Of The Spirits," the first song off that album. And they commence to ripping stuff up so much, I've never been the same. After leaving there, I completely said, "I have to get in my shed and get my drumming together," because I'd never heard anything like that. And then I said, "What's all this weird-time-signature Indian-sounding stuff?" That's what got me off into 'Trane, that's what got me off into Miles. They hit me so hard. That's why I know the power of music. They hit me so hard I said, "There gotta be a God, for somebody to hit like that." I mean, I'm serious. It revolutionized my concept about music. And it touched me in my spirit so deeply. It helped me to start going on my spiritual journey, to not be fearful to do it. Because John McLaughlin and Billy Cobham, Jan Hammer and those cats, Jerry Goodman on violin, Rick Laird on bass, they changed my life. Has anybody heard some music that's changed your life? Not just dug it, but changed your life. I'm gonna ask you a question: has anybody heard music that's changed their life? Yeah. Yeah. Then you know what I'm talking about. I'm talking about it just filleted you, ripped you up, diced you. They had to pick you up off the ground, you know what I mean? In pieces. Your eyes are over here, your forehead is over there. I mean, that's what they did to me. I was destroyed. They had to get my molecules together after that. That's how destroyed I was. I was similarly like that when I first saw Stevie Wonder. I was destroyed. I was just, like, "I know there's a God." I mean, music that hits you like that. Yeah. Yeah, I'm havin' fun right now, man. (laughs)

(applause)

Oh my goodness. I felt the same way when I heard Stravinsky for the first time, Firebird Suite. (screams) I was like, "Oh my goodness!" Yeah! Music is mighty. That honest stuff will just tear through you like a ray from Star Trek.

(laughter)

Yeah. Yeah.

RBMA

Well, do we have any other questions? Cool. I guess that's a good note to end on. Unless you'd like to tell us about some more music. I think we could listen to that all day.

Steve Arrington

Well, I will say this. Just everybody has their thing. When I say I'm into different styles, and into current music and all that, it's not to say that people who are more into one style or two styles, versus another, like, I'll tell you who else lynches me. Probably not a good word to say when I tell you his name, but Hank Williams, Sr.

(laughter)

You'll have to put that together. Hank Williams, Sr.'s phrasing is, like, the bomb. I mean, I don't care Hank Williams, Sr.'s stuff is honest. It's just honest. But, I don't put that on anyone else to say, "Well, you know, I ain't feelin' country like that." You know? Or, "I'm not feelin' today's music." You know? I got homies who's like, "Man, I can't deal with it." I'm not judging that. But I say to you, at your age, you know, just allow yourself to stay in the moment. Because it's only for a season anyway. It's only for a time. And then you're gone. Just absorb it. That's what I'm doing. I'm looking at you. And you know what, I will say this, too. People are like, "Why do you groove all the time? Why can't you sit still?" And that's because if I can feel where that pocket is, if I can interpret it, then I can do it. Don't forget that. If you can interpret it, then you've got it. That's why I don't care what it is. I'm groovin'. I'm trying to find where the thing is at. 'Cause if I can interpret it with my body, you know, that Dâm-Funk groove was different than the Slave things and others, and my body language was different. You know, that's something Michael Jackson was able to do with his dancing. He could interpret so much of the song, and you were watching the music with his body. His body was interpreting the music. For me, if I can grab that pocket, I can get it. I don't know if that works for somebody, but I'm throwing it out there for somebody who can snatch that one up.

(laughter)

RBMA

Ladies and gentlemen, give it up for Mr. Steve Arrington.

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