GOLDMINE: Congratulations on your EP A Different War. We will get to all six of those songs, but first let’s talk about one of your musical heroes, Stevie Wonder. When I was in college, his 1976 double album, Songs in the Key of Life, was huge. On our downtown Cleveland college jukebox, both No. 1 singles, “I Wish” and “Sir Duke,” were heavily played. The next two singles from the album were “Another Star” and “As,” which includes Michael Sembello on guitar, who reached No. 1 with “Maniac” in 1983, and its flip side “Contusion,” a jazz fusion instrumental with Herbie Hancock on Fender Rhodes electronic piano, who we would later hear on MTV with “Rockit,” also in 1983, the year my wife Donna gave birth to our daughter Brianna.
DANIELIA COTTON: “As” is such a happy song and there are other great songs on the album that didn’t make it to the radio, like the opening song “Love’s In Need of Love Today” and the next song, “Have a Talk with God,” which I covered for web streaming. The whole album presents such a spiritual moment. Instrumentally, Stevie was straddling a few more genres than people may realize rather than just straight ahead R&B, and he did it seamlessly. “Contusion” is a jazz filled delight. I think there is something for everybody on Songs in the Key of Life and I think he did what every songwriter should do, which is to let the songs be what they are supposed to be and sometimes that means that you go outside of the box. David Bowie would do that too and he also created a great variety of music.
Flip side: Contusion
A side: As
Top 100 debut: November 5, 1977
Peak position: 36
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GM: I heard your version of “Have a Talk with God” online and I feel that was a great use of the song during this year’s pandemic. One more Stevie Wonder song from his Fulfillingness First Finale album, that you covered on your Real Book album, is “They Won’t Go When I Go,” which I think is the most beautiful version that I have heard since George Michael’s interpretation.
DC: I was lucky enough to have the Broadway Inspirational Voices with me on that recording, who won a Tony Award last year. They are crazily gifted. I love that song. When Stevie played it at Michael Jackson’s funeral, I got chills. The beginning is like classical music and it has an incredible chord progression. You mentioned George Michael, well I loved his voice and he was so underrated.
GM: After Brianna was at a Black Lives Matter rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, I introduced her to “A Different War,” the title song on your new EP and here is what she said, “Wow! It is powerful and I love the line, ‘Even broken crayons still color.’ Danielia’s voice is such a beautiful contrast to the rapping. This song very much articulated the sentiments of the speeches and the crowd at the rally and could be an anthem right now. I have posted it online.”
DC: Woo-hoo, Brianna! We had no idea when writing and recording this song that this movement would happen. We were shooting a video for the song upstate in Woodstock and one of the rapper’s friends exclaimed, “Y’all were fortune tellers!” We had no idea about this revolution which would take place and be so heavily televised. I was just singing about the way things are. I have faced it a lot in my life to be the only black person in the room. It is the way I live and the partner that I chose, so I am constantly put in that position of being one of the few minorities in a room. I think that song spelled out a lot for me in my life.
GM: I love the line, “Yesterday ain’t tomorrow,” which just jumps out at me. What a simple and great line.
DC: It says that we don’t have to be stuck in this moment. I believe in that, like with “What’s Going On,” when Marvin Gaye sang, “We’ve got to find a way.” We have to create an uplifting lyric and not just sing about darkness. I haven’t seen a movement in my lifetime like this, regarding racial injustice, with all fifty states and other countries embracing this cause.
GM: With a guest rapper on your EP, what I find interesting is that my father used to listen to comedy albums and watch comedians on television. There was Nipsey Russell with his creative comedic poetry that I loved. Donna and I got a kick out of the name of the late rapper Nipsey Hussle. My dad had a couple of comedy albums called Mish Mosh and Katz Pajamas by a Jewish comedian named Mickey Katz and now you are with rapper named Mickey Factz. I like that.
DC: Ha ha ha. He is a great guy.
GM: Your EP opens with “Forgive Me,” which you wrote with your sister Catherine Joelle Fulmer Hogan and you sing being “on the road to something right.” I enjoy the chorus, electric guitar and harmony on that recording.
DC: I think to survive in a relationship you have to constantly forgive each other. Sam has been my partner for a quarter-century, and he and I have a two-year-old daughter Olivia.
GM: My favorite song is “Cheap High.” It is melodic. The guitar interludes remind me of 1970s rock. The chorus could certainly be a country chorus. The vocals at the end of each of the verses, and how the harmony comes together, jumps out at me like Mott the Hoople used to for me. I love it.
DC: Thank you. It is all about that money struggle. There is a group like AA called DA for Debtors Anonymous, about not handling money properly at an epidemic level. I was writing about my relationship with money, too. Living in New York, there are a lot of places with a lot of money and other parts of the city where people are working their asses off for another buck. I think we are all feeling it now, officially being in a recession.
GM: Speaking about New York, on your online video recorded in Woodstock, was that from Woodstock, New York? It is one of my favorite places in the U.S. due to its beauty and historic musical importance in our lifetime.
DC: Yes. I generally reside in downtown Manhattan, but I also have a place in Woodstock. I love it there. I almost sold it and then said that I couldn’t do it. I hope it always keeps its charm. Sam’s dad, John Roberts, and brother were among the four guys who were behind the Woodstock festival. His family owns part of the copyright.
GM: That film is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year and is my absolute favorite film of all-time. In our new Goldmine September 2020 issue, I have a page on one-hit wonders of Woodstock. Speaking about Woodstock, at the festival but not in the film, Janis Joplin sang ten songs and that is who your voice reminds me of on “Better Off Without You.” It is raspy, opening with high vocal notes, on a bluesy song, and it is pretty, too.
DC: I wanted to do a falsetto at the beginning because women generally don’t go out and do falsettos. I asked, “Why not?” I was thinking of “I’m Stone in Love with You.”
GM: Oh yes, by The Stylistics, which is some wonderful Philadelphia soul with Russell Thompkins, Jr. always singing with a great falsetto on their hits.
DC: Yes, he did, but I was thinking that girls can get in there, too, at least for the beginning of this song and then we went for a full blues sound.
GM: Speaking about soul songs from that same era, there was Luther Ingram’s “(If Loving You is Wrong) I Don’t Want to be Right,” and that is what I think about when I listen to “If You Don’t Want Me.”
DC: I am paying homage to a relationship, so if you don’t want me, and I didn’t have this, then I would be down. The song is meant to celebrate the intense, immense beauty of love, which is so overpowering. It is a reverse of the title, in a good way.
GM: Steven Kaufman’s piano and John Lopez’s drums come through nicely as well.
DC: Yes. These young kids on the record, The Church Boys, were the band for “Cheap High” and “If You Don’t Want Me.” I am so proud of them and how they put their stamp on both songs.
GM: On “She Too,” the powerful guitar playing is Jimi Hendrix-like or even in line with The Beatles’ “Helter Skelter.”
DC: Yes, Matt Beck is a pretty amazing guitarist. I wanted to pay homage to a bit of punk on this track.
GM: On the podcast from Woodstock, I loved your song “Easy.” That is such a pretty song.
DC: That one is from my album The Gun in Your Hand. It written by Kevin Salem, who produced my Small White Town album. When I first heard his song I yelled, “Oh dude!” When I sing it live in a festival, I think about how easy it is to step over the line from good to evil.
GM: Donna is a Bon Jovi fan and I am a Gregg Allman fan. Our family has seen both acts live. I was so happy that Brianna and I saw Gregg in 2007 at Lake Tahoe. You have opened for both.
DC: Gregg Allman’s people were so nice. His tour manager said that he would pick up Gregg in time for him to watch me open every night for his shows. When we finally met, he was so kind and so shy, surprisingly, which blew me away. He nailed it every night, effortlessly. With Bon Jovi, I remember after our show at Madison Square Garden, their keyboard player David Bryan came out and we spent time together. It was one of those experiences that you put in your book as totally awesome. Thank you so much for this coverage. With everything down, you and Goldmine giving us content is a great thing, so please keep doing what you are doing.