Narada Michael Walden is a multi platinum Grammy and Emmy award winning producer and world class drummer. At the ripe age of 20, Narada had big shoes to fill when he joined the Mahavishnu Orchestra to take over for jazz/rock fusion drum pioneer Billy Cobham. This lead to drumming and writing contributions on Jeff Beck's classic gold album, "Wired". Narada also recorded and toured with guitarist Tommy Bolin (of James Gang and Deep Purple fame) and appeared on his "Teaser" album. As a producer and writer, Narada Michael Walden was very instrumental in developing Whitney Houston's and Mariah Carey's careers. Behind the console, Narada has worked with a who's who of musical talent with the likes of: Elton John, Barbra Streisand, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Lionel Ritchie, and so many others. His Grammy achievements include: producer, album, and song of the year. Now a young father, Narada Michael Walden is releasing an album dedicated to his family entitled "Evolution". I recently corresponded with Narada.
N.M.W. - Thank you, I enjoyed creating this new material very much. This is a very natural thing for me to love my new situation of having children, a 7 month old and 19 month old. My first baby, Kelly is 19 months old and Baby Kaylah is 7 months old. You know I’m on the night shift, I’m not getting a whole lot of sleep, but I am really enjoying the process of being a father. It’s a wonderful time in my life.
R.V.B. - How did you go about deciding what type of style of music (Soul, R&B, or Dance) to represent the different themes in your life?
N.M.W. - This album is a very conscious effort to make a dance driven type of sound for now. You know back in the 70’s, 78, 79, 80’s I jumped in Disco hard core with ‘I Don’t Want Nobody Else to Dance With You, I shoulda Loved Ya, and Tonight I’m all right, so this is a kind of continuation of that kind of feeling back around now. Always soul, everything I do has got to have soul.
R.V.B. - Did you write the lyrics first and put the lyrics to the music?
N.M.W. - I normally write music first, hear melody first and then the lyric will accompany the Chorus and then the verses.
N.M.W. - Kimrea who works in my studio helped me on a song called “Billionaire on Soul Street”, she’s a co-writer on that song, and it’s a quite powerful record. Lionel Ritchie helped me on two songs, “Tear the House Down” and “Me and My Girl”, we started writing those songs over 20 years ago. Jose’ Neto plays guitar on “It’s the 60’s Now” a beautiful song, a tribute to the 60’s. My band of Angel Funk on the Bass, Matthew Charles Heulitt on Guitar and Frank Martin on the Keyboards, they are always beautiful to have woven throughout my record. Another great chap is Troy Lampkins doing some remixing on two songs. And then there’s my Tarpan Staff of Jimi Reitzel Engineering and Dave Frazer Mixing and the Lodge doing the mastering with Emily Lazar. It’s always a pleasure to have a nice sounding record.
R.V.B. - Why did you choose the classic covers "Freedom" and "The Long and Winding Road" to be included in this collection?
N.M.W. - I chose “Freedom” because I’m feeling Freedom in my heart and want to inspire the world to do the right thing with Freedom in our lives. We want the best for everybody. Everybody should have a free life. No slavery, no mental slavery, to be able to enjoy the gifts that God has given us and be bountiful. Plus I love Ritchie Havens.
“The Long and Winding Road” was something I was working on and I felt the calling to have one beautiful ballad on the record. I liked that message of the Long and Winding Road. Its very heart touching to me, so I wanted to do it live.
N.M.W. - I got started at a very young age at 4 or 5 years old. I come from a musical family in that my family loves music. They don’t play music professionally, but they love it very deeply and they are very sensitive about it in Kalamazoo Michigan. A big big part of my life was always hearing the latest thing, the hottest thing, be it Nina Simone, be it Horace Silver, be it Jimmy Smith, be it Dave Brubeck, be it Cannonball Adderley, you know, be it Lee Morgan, there was just so much music coming out… be it Johnny Mathis…
R.V.B. - Did you have formal lessons as a drummer? Who inspired you during your learning years. Who were some of your teachers?
N.M.W. - Yes, I did have formal drum lessons. My first drum teacher for the snare drum learning 5 stroke rolls, 7 stroke rolls was Tom Kerry. He worked out of the basement of the Bobby Davidson Music Store in downtown Kalamazoo, in the first mall of all America. Then around 10 years old I got with a cat named Harold Mason. He lived around the block from my grandfather in downtown Kalamazoo. And he was also Stevie Wonder’s drummer. He taught me the Blue Book of Jim Chapin, the book of independency, to make your mind work 4 different ways so he was really instrumental in my life. Records are my greatest teachers, just listening to records and trying to imitate what I hear. Like the guy who played drums with Horace Silver at the age of 18 years old named Louis Hayes on the album “Six Pieces of Silver”, “Senor Blues”. It’s a really pivotal sound in my life. And also the guy that played drums on Ahmad Jamal’s “But Not For Me”, “Poinciana,Live at the Pershing in Chicago” is also instrumental in my life. As well as Art Blakey on “The Sermon” by Jimmy Smith, and of course comes Mitch Mitchel with Jimi Hendrix, and Ringo Star and all the sound of Motown, all the Curtis Mayfield records, just everything I’m touched by, that I just listened to deeply and tried to learn from.
R.V.B. - How did the big event of joining up with John McLaughlin and the Mahavishnu Orchestra happen? Obviously you had some big shoes to fill at the young age of 20 to follow Billy Cobham.
N.M.W. - Well it happened that I was lucky enough to meet John Mclaughlin backstage at his show in Hartford Connecticut through Apeksha. Apeksha introduced me to John Mclaughlin. John was very kind to me. I told John, what ever he was doing in his life, I wanted to be like him. He took me under his wing. He introduced me to his Guru Sri Chinmoy. I became a disciple of his Guru. And about a year later I joined the Mavishnu Orchestra. I never tried to compete with Billy Cobham because there’s only one Billy Cobham, he was the number one then and he’s the number one now. All I ever tried to do is be the best Narada I could be, the best Michael Walden I could be…. be the best listener. John would always say, “you must listen, you must listen”! And so that’s really where it’s at in music… to be a great listener.
N.M.W. - Well Tommy Bolin was my friend; I loved him as a musician and a guitar player and as a revolutionary spirit who was one to push the boundaries…who knew the blues, understood rock and performance. I just loved working with him. He came into a time of abuse with substance which he had a hard time handling. I am very sorry about that and I left the band. But when I was with that band, we had the best fun and we rocked it so hard, Billy Cobham said, “You are knockin’ the paint off of them drums”. Tommy and I hung out and had a wonderful time. We were real brothers in the spirit of the love of music.
R.V.B. - You've released a bunch of solo albums and started doing soundtrack work... Was this an experimental time for you to test different areas of the music field?
N.M.W. - Duke Ellington says,“There’s two kinds of music, good music and bad music”. I love all kinds of music, especially music I can put in film as well, because the picture with it sometimes opens up the mind for a deeper feeling. I love doing soundtrack; my favorite was doing “License to Kill” for the James Bond Theme.
R.V.B. - You seemed to migrate to the production room eventually... why did you make that transition?
N.M.W. - It was a natural for me. I love music, I love putting things together as a songwriter, as an arranger, as top-ten pop-music, and I love pushing the singers to sing better. That entire world was just very appealing for me. I could wear many different hats in that world. So it was much more of a challenge, I could play drums in that world, I could play keyboards in that world, I could do anything I wanted in that world and be in charge. I love being in charge.
R.V.B. - The 80's must of been a great time for you with all the great artists you produced. (so many to list) As a producer... What are the differences in the approach to the music in the studio? Does each artist have to be handled differently?
N.M.W. -The approach is, yes, to each artist, you must handle each person different because each song is different right down to the tempo, the key, the feeling, and each artist and the way you deal with the artist is different. And washing your hands and keeping yourself clean at all times because you really want to be respectful and be a good listener to each person you are working with to give them exactly what they need and what they want and what’s gonna help their career to flourish.
R.V.B. - How was the feeling of winning those prestigious Grammy awards? That's a great accomplishment.
N.M.W. - For me winning Grammy's is a highlight. Before you win one you don’t realize or think it’s that big a deal. But when you win one or win two or win three it really is a mind-blowing experience because everyone is backstage whom you admire and love and they welcome you into the club. And I won my three Grammy's the hard way, the first one I won was for best R&B song of the year, for Aretha Franklin's “Freeway of Love”. The second one was as producer of the year, which is a tuff award to win because you are up against the best producers of the world like Quincy Jones and people like that. And my third award is for another tough category “Album of the Year”, that’s for Body Guard. So you know I’m very happy with my achievements and I hope to win more.
R.V.B. - What are your plans to support the new album?
N.M.W. - My plan is to go to New York and play the Iridium club on the 13th of November with my band and get a lot of buzz. We just brought on Michael Jensen to do PR with us along with the support of my great team at Tarpan Records with Billy and President Steffen and of course Kimrea and all my friends and family. So we want to make a big push for “Billionaire on Soul Street” on National Radio and Sirius Radio and do Club work and make things happen as we can. We say,“yes” to the Universe. Yes and yes some more. We hope the Universe continues to bless us.
R.V.B. - Good luck with the new release.
Interview conducted by Robert von Bernewitz
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For more information on Narada Michael Walden visit his website. www.nmwproductions.com
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