|Roberta Flack feat. Donny Hathaway|
Gold Record presented to Roberta Flack - 1980
Last July, journalist Charles Waring did a very long interview with Roberta Flack to illustrate the booklet of the new Boxset Never My Love : The Anthology available on november 11th, 2013 worldwide. We will publish the whole story. Enjoy, part 1 !
How would you describe Donny's musical talent ?
Phenomenal and just awesome. As the wrestling guys say: awesome! Just incredible. Natural, that's a very important word. He was naturally talented and naturally able to express that and hear with a lot of accuracy what he was feeling and give it back to people who were in his midst or within earshot of him. We were trying to finish our first album and he had written a song for Carla Thomas but for some reason Carla didn't like the song, it wasn't working out that she would sing this song and he played it for me and I said that's beautiful, I want to do it. And the song was called 'Gone Away,' that's on the first album. Which all the samplers in the world have used since then… that's how that came about. But Donny was just unbelievable.
You also did a song written by Donny with Leroy Hutson on your first album called Tryin’ Times.
I love that song. I love that song.
It had very socially conscious lyrics, didn't it ?
Yeah. Even the use of the language; ‘Tryin’ Times,’ is what the world is talking about, to understand the use of that very bad grammar you would have to have been somewhere in touch with the neighbourhood, you know. But if you understood and if you do understand the importance and the intensity as well as the depth of the meaning of the whole phrase then you can understand why breaking that grammatical rule isn't that big a deal because you still make the point: tryin’ times, what the world is talking about. You can do it like that. You can say ‘Tryin’ Times’, what the world is talking about. You don't have to say ‘is’ - but I made a point of saying ‘Tryin’ Times’ is what the world is talking about. I thought it was very clever.
Whose idea was it for you to collaborate on an album together ?
Jerry Wexler, God rest his soul. May he rest in peace, Jerry Wexler.
That was a very astute move on his part, I think.
It was. It started out with him suggesting after James Taylor, who I adore love and worship - let that be recorded - as a musician I just think he’s probably top of the Pops. When he did ‘You've Got A Friend’ I just melted and I started to sing that in this little club that I was performing at in DC called Mr Henry's. Anyway, Jerry Wexler decided after hearing me sing it that we should do it as a duet and it should go to the R&B charts ‘cos of course, James Taylor was taking big booty for weeks and weeks and weeks at a time on the Billboard pop charts. You know, top of the charts and stuff. He said no, no; I don't do anything about charts and at this time I still don't know that much about it but I really was not interested. I said I like the song, I want to do this song. I didn't care what the motivation was. With him I did not care. But Donny and I, we did it in twenty minutes.
What other memories do you have of making that album together ?
The first album was the most unique and interesting because Donny and I went in completely innocent babies thinking we had eight songs. We didn't think that was enough and we didn't think it wasn't enough. We didn't think anything about how many there were, we just had these eight songs. And we were ready to do these eight songs. Actually seven songs and I think it was Joel Dorn, who was my solo producer at the time, and Arif Mardin, God rest his soul, who said to us one day: you guys need some more songs. You're talking about an album. You've got to come up with two or three more songs. So I said okay and Donny said alright and so we talked about it and I asked him, I said, do you know - because we were both from the church; I'm from the Methodist Church which is different from the experience that you would have as a young person in the ‘hood, in a Baptist church or in a Pentecostal church. A Methodist church was a little more… I would say… What's the word when you think about Handel and Bach? Traditional.Traditional, classic, sacred music, that's what we did. We did all of Handel's Messiah as much as we could as a choir, as a church, and we did all of the beautiful music; Randall Thompson, you know Mozart's ‘Ave Verum,’… I grew up hearing all of that and then a little later in my connection with the church I had a chance to play that because my mum decided to have my last sibling, who is my little baby sister, I think I was about 13 or 14. I took over and that was a big day for me… But the point is the Donny and I both had that background, that special church background, so I asked him in the studio if he knew…I said do you know 'Come Ye Disconsolate'? He said sure and he started playing. And so we started singing and then we got to the second verse and he said let's just repeat ‘The earth has no star... .’. I said no, we need to do the second verse you know. I'll take one and you take one, ‘cos it's a short song and we'll come back in and do the chorus again or something like that. He said okay so I called my mum, who is also in heaven now, and I said can you turn to page 312 in the hymn book (that's how good I was), and give me the words to the second verse; you know, joy of the desolate, light of the straying, you know, and she did. And we finished that song and it was so good. I can't tell you how many people asked me, especially in situations where it was more than appropriate to sing that song.
Donny played electric piano. His favourite instrument was the Wurlitzer. It's on 'You've Got A Friend,' it's on everything. One of my favourite songs that we did on there was 'You've Lost That Lovin’ Feeling.' But he could make any instrument that he was playing sound so majorly important. And when he plays on that Wurlitzer, boy, you know, I’ve had such incredible moments in my performances to try and get someone to recreate that sound, you know, it's hard. They have a Wurlitzer stop on the Fender Rhodes or any other keyboard, but they don't have something that sounds like the original, old Wurlitzer that he played.
Also on the album is 'Where Is The Love.' That was a massive hit for you both. What's the story behind it ?
'Where Is The Love' was written by Ralph McDonald, who was in my band, travelling with me around the world and he came to me and said "Ro, I've got a song" and he had recorded it with Valerie Simpson, who has an incredible voice. He had her singing 'Where Is The Love' and I thought it was just the nicest, hippest, most wonderful R&B thing that I had heard at that point in my life. And I wanted to do it. And I said I'll do it. And he said who are you going to do it with? It should be a duet. I said Donny. He said Donny? I think Ralph really had some other ideas but you know he acquiesced and Donny and I went into the studio and did that. That was another one that happened in like a fifteen or twenty minute window because we we're both musicians and if you listen to the songs 'Where Is The Love' and 'You've Got a Friend' I don't think that they sound like we studied them. We studied a little bit on 'Gone Away.' You know what I'm saying? After I heard it I said no, I don't like that note and Donny said okay, at the end I'm going to do this. I said ah! And then he said no, listen and I said okay. But on ‘Where Is The Love’ we just sang it down, two or three times and got it. The same thing with ‘You've Got a Friend.’
Part II SOON