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By Justin Kantor
Published on April 2010
<http://blogcritics.org/music/article/billy-ocean-talks-past-present-and> A career spanning four decades. Countless hit records, awards, and accolades. How does Billy Ocean do it? With a positive attitude, myriads of talent, and passion. He took awhile away from the music business to concentrate on family and other personal pursuits; but now, with Because I Love You, his first album of new material since 1993's Time to Move On, Billy is back in full swing - touring the world and writing classics for the next generation. He's worked with many music-industry greats. Keith Diamond, Wayne Brathwaite, Teddy Riley, R. Kelly, Ben Findon, Rick Hall, Jonathan Butler ² from smooth purveyors of R&B and funk to country-inspired pop craftsmen. More importantly, though, he's had his own voice through it all. Both on paper and on record, that is. He's had a hand in writing every one of his hit singles from 1976 on - some 25 of them. Billy's personality is just as warm and humane as the glow of his music and performances. To many folks, he seemed to appear out of nowhere in the mid-80s with a long line of smash chart hits. But the road to that success had actually been a quite lengthy, not always gold-paved, one. Growing up in Trinidad, Billy was raised by a Calypso musician dad, who used to take him along "to sing at people's Christenings and weddings. [The attendees] would want me to sing and I would! I don't think I was that good," Billy relates." I think people were just impressed that I was a brave kid." At age 10, the family moved to England. "My childhood was very good," he recalls. "There was no great amount of money, but we had a lot of love in the family and my parents encouraged us kids to do our best, and I think we did just that." During his early adulthood, Billy was determined to build a career on the musical talent he had been cultivating while growing up. He worked a variety of day jobs while taking whatever performance and recording work he could obtain. He remembers that during the early 1970s, "I used to do a lot of different sessions for people. A lot of them, in fact, were for free, because I was so excited about going into the studio. It was like a whole different world, to be able to record and hear yourself ² and I love that part of it. Also during that period, I learned to write my songs. It was like my apprenticeship, really." The first product to surface on wax was a single entitled "Nashville Rain," which came out on the small Spark label in 1971, under BIlly's birthname, Les Charles. "You can imagine the pure excitement," Billy reminisces. "To be able to go home to my parents and say, 'Look, here's my first record!' ... You're singing all the time, and you say you're interested in singing and all that, and one day you have proof that there's this bit of vinyl with your voice on it. Yeah, it's a great
" a feel-good dancer with an arrangement and melodic structure reminiscent of Motown's 60's output with the likes of the Temptations.S." While "Nashville Rain" and its follow-up single. it did make a little bit of noise. And most of the time." While one subsequent Scorched Earth single was released in Italy. But his climb to that level would see a serious escalation in 1975. Most of these seven inch single releases bore a picture of just Billy on their respective picture covers. "Some of the producers used to be favorable and give me the B-side. and I would just create my own melody and write a song around it. The follow-up single. this was a song called "Super Woman. and paved adequate interest for a follow-up.K. at the time boasting acts such as Donna Summer. "Whose Little Girl Are You. Joshua. Billy's next notable output came in the form of a 'band' project by the name of Scorched Earth in 1974. and crossed over to the lower half of the U. Eventually. and quickly found its way to international success in 1976. "Baby You've Got Something. That's one of the ways I was learning to write.S..S. including Bell in the U. but sung in Billy's distinctly lovely tenor range ² with just the right combination of tenderness and gutsiness. though. 'Go and try something around that." reached #19 in the U. which started the string of classics Billy is known for. and Sam Spade. The label licensed it to a number of different record companies across the world. "That was really on account of a song that Ben Findon wrote called 'On the Run. And if you're going to have your song on the B-side of what you think is a potential single.feeling! It wasn't the case of looking for a hit record. and produced you." Billy relates. Interesting choices." appeared under Billy's real name.' All I would hear was the backing track. on which it found its way to #22 on the pop chart. "Love Really Hurts Without You" reached #2 on the U. gave you the name. and The Dooleys. you were just excited to be getting the opportunity to do things. Super Lover. (Love on Delivery). Thinking back to that time. They took the package to the record company and did some sort of licensing deal. you do your best to try to match it up to the A-side. Heatwave." The song was initially released on the independent Young Blood label run by Miki Dallon. "The only name I got from myself was Billy Ocean." Following the Les Charles records for Spark. this B-side would be some sort of old track that didn't work ² and they'd say. when he was signed by Laurence Myers' GTO label. he would actually spend a lot of time over the next few years trying out different monikers ² among them: Big Ben. Billy offers. While Billy's first single for the label. In the U. eh? "I never gave myself those names. most of the material recorded would not surface until a decade later ² in remixed form ² after Billy had achieved superstardom. but it also afforded him his first release on wax of a song that he helped to write.' If anything happens. The others were on account of working with other producers.D. In those days. That song was "Love Really Hurts Without You." found on the B-side of the Philips edition of the single. Specifically." didn't become a chart-topper. R&B chart. the independent producers more or less controlled the record industry in that they were the ones who found the talent.K. really. the single was picked up by Ariola Records. singles chart. In those days. "L. the bigger Philips label released the single on a wider scale in the UK ² along with bandmates to accompany Billy in the publicity shots. then you build a band around the artist. Not only did "On the Run" begin to garner interest from record labels in Billy as a solo artist. .O. They did everything.
but it wasn't until 1980 that his second album finally surfaced." One single which unmistakably kept things going was 1977s "Red Light Spells Danger. and got picked up by Epic in the US. GTO. sales-wise. I was fortunate in that I had hit singles. for example. It came at a very good time. the man behind the Scorched Earth project. because it put me in a very good light ² not only as an artist. with producer Rick Hall ² known for his work on classic sides for the likes of Etta James. was bought by Epic ² a change that didn't fare so well for Billy as an artist. but also as a songwriter. I was more sure of myself then. the situation did." were penned by Billy with Ben Findon. The aforementioned 1978 single. and country. which kept the whole thing going. but musically. ." a fiery dancer which shot to #2 in the U. Wilson Pickett. as well as the subsequent "Stop Me (If You've Heard It All Before). but it was also harder for him to get product out. appeared to wane quickly.' Around the same time." The next interesting opportunity came out of what might have initially appeared to be a dim situation. because here I was with this huge corporation. and Laura Lee. pop. which was released throughout Europe. it proved to be a treasure trove of quality R&B. Releases became less frequent. "I had a great time down there. but never came out stateside. provide Billy with some interesting creative opportunities. 'Top of the Pops. which some savvy publisher picked up on. but with the expense you have to put into an album. It wasn't the sort of one-on-one I was dealing with at GTO. Lenny Williams. you're talking about a difference of economics." and. no less than five of the City Limit's songs were covered by a variety of established artists. Alabama. "I never had any contact to be able to get my songs to them. "In those days. their companion LP. I wasn't confident enough." Not only was it harder for Billy to talk to executives at his new.S. However. and La Toya Jackson. with just one single released in 1978 after the big success of "Red Light. They'd take a chance with a single. Billy's label home. The two partnered on penning nine of the 11 cuts that made up Billy's self-titled debut album. marked a notable change in sound for Billy ² an interesting mixture of soul. City Limit. While there was certainly a lack of certainty surrounding his status at the label. so I can only imagine that they probably heard my work through the publishers. It also landed Billy his fourth appearance on the famed British TV program of chart hits. and disco gems. because I was nervous. Harrison Calloway was arranger on the session. When I compare it to the time I got the second chance to go to America ² New York. indeed. The song was entitled "Everything's Changed. Over the next year. to name a few. Billy discloses. by-default label home. the record companies really weren't prepared to spend the money on a black artist. didn't know anybody. nothing much really happened. was recorded in Muscle Shoals. "I found it very difficult." while La Toya Jackson took "Stay the Night" to the R&B top-40 in the U." The Nolans cracked the top 20 in Europe and Asia with their recording of "Who's Gonna Rock You. While the singles "American Hearts" and "Are You Ready" just missed the UK top-40 in 1979.Both of these hits. The Nolans. including The Dells.K. You couldn't see anybody." 1979 saw two single releases which charted. at least. disco.
We found success together. is that they were unknown producers. and very talented people. and that was arguably the case with many of the same songs from Billy's City Limit LP that were covered by the aforementioned artists. "I recorded the whole thing in something like 11 days." Epic's U. but I didn't have any rust. when 'Nights' took off in America. It's said that the third time is the charm. Jive promised they would send me to America. I was ready. they kept. I have to say thanks to Clive Calder. Billy finally found a label home where he could work on his craft while being supported by the company's infrastructure to get it product out in a far more noticeable manner. the full-length didn't get all the attention it was entitled to. Billy recorded what was to be his last album with Epic: 1982's masterful Inner Feelings. Signing with Clive Calder's Jive Records in 1983. Pressed to get it out in a timely manner. I was working with people like 'Mutt' Lange.K. Before long. Barry was Lena Horne's musical director when he was 18. And the nice thing about all of these people. released in 1981. who has to be the greatest record man in the world. chapter didn't put much promotional muscle into the release. They invited me to Paradise Garage. With the sudden success of "Nights." Epic's U.S. in comparison to my later days with Jive. market. It wasn't from scratch. simply titled "Nights. He knew what he wanted for the label. except for Mutt Lange." Today . but the record found its way to dance floors in a big way in the U. he quietly released a single of his own in late 1980. Nigel had enough to go on to produce and create his own idea of what it should be." . But one of the things 'Nights' did is really help me in the U.While other artists were achieving chart success with Billy's compositions. because it was experience. Billy was experiencing his biggest hit yet stateside . and for the artist. Barry Eastmond." Chart positions weren't as lofty this time around. It was a very creative period. Billy recalls. I was really at the top of my trade.S. because I was over here in Europe doing a lot of club dates. I was working one-on-one with him. If you look at the City Limit album as. 'This is a demo of what it should be like. and the subsequent single releases fizzled without notice. division commissioned a full-length album. so it was a very good relationship.' then it didn't seem like starting from scratch. I had a lot of artistic freedom. my time had come. and I did very well. But a major turning point was shortly around the corner. I was nervous. with the retitled "Nights (Feel Like Getting Down)" making major noise on radio stations and climbing to number five on the R&B singles chart. with Epic throwing out only one further single (the beautifully funky "Another Day Won't Matter") and then dropping the ball. I really wasn't getting a lot of money for them. "All these songs that were hits were really so on their own strength. So. Shortly thereafter. and all of a sudden. The first single was a sort of take-off on "Nights" with authentic Caribbean influences integrated into the funkiness ² "Calypso Funkin'.S. but it was a great period. Billy re-cut those tunes (initially produced by Ken Gold) with producer Nigel Martinez. All of the promises that they made. the song remains a classic crowdpleaser as a regular part of Billy's shows. He really knew how to put teams together. where people were actually working the records to create hits. Wayne Brathwaite was working with Herbie Hancock as a bass player." Unfortunately. The result was the nine-track Nights (Feel Like Getting Down) album. "What can I say? It's almost as if it was something that I was working towards.
000. In between touring and recording. he was riding high on the success of his first Jive album. he scored seven top-10 hits on the pop chart. Kelly. "It was a very interesting period then. he won a Grammy for Best Male R&B Vocal in 1985 and two American Music Awards in 1986. newjack swing. The album gave Billy his third #1 pop (and 4th #1 R&B) single in the U. Notably. he was nearing completion of his second LP for the label." The long drought of new material wasn't necessarily intended. he wrote and produced with a diverse cast of players including R. after releasing his Greatest Hits album in 1989. he had taken up playing steel drums. many were surprised when he decided to retreat from the limelight for nearly four years. he was getting ready for his own follow-up album. .The hit streak that Billy was about to experience was of great proportion. In 2002. Not many people heard the album ² at least in comparison to his mid80's output. Hula and K. Furthermore. co-written with Teddy Riley. Billy also found time to produce for several other artists in the mid-80's. By 1987. Suddenly. so all of the machinery that went into creating the hits wasn't there anymore. I didn't record for awhile. and nine on the R&B chart. Get into My Car.a super smooth and sultry midnight groover. romantic pop/R&B ballads. Jive released a collection of his ballads entitled Let's Get Back Together in Europe. which would continue his streak of chart success and packed concerts. The result was a potpourri of Caribbean-spiced dance numbers. as well as "Loverboy" and "Mystery Lady. in the U. surfaced. When his comeback album. and two newly recorded songs ² a cover of Tracy Chapman's "Baby Can I Hold You" and a rendition of Bob Marley's "Three Little Birds. Billy didn't record any further material for nine years. However." which was boosted by an appearance in the movie Jewel of the Nile. Further big hits from the album included "There'll Be Sad Songs (to Make You Cry). Time to Move On. Considering the constant success Billy enjoyed from 1984-1989." he recalls." and the title track . "Clive Calder was going over to America. Love Zone was preceded by the uptempo popR&B driver "When the Going Gets Tough (The Tough Get Going). Among the contents were a previously unreleased track recorded in the 80's. "After the Time to Move On album. Steely and Clevie. he had stopped to think about the time with his family he had been missing while constantly touring and recording. Fingers.S." By year's end. home and family were calling. and Timmy Allen." Indeed. and reggae. He also remarked that his mother's death had been a factor in putting his career on hold temporarily. At this time. and I came across another transitional stage. via "Get Outta My Dreams. As Billy mentioned during an interview on the TV program Regis & Kathie Lee that year." "Love Is Forever.S. produced by Keith Diamond and featuring nowclassic hits like the title ballad. he helmed Ruby Turner and Jonathan Butler's cover version of The Staple Singers' "If You're Ready (Come Go with Me)" and several cuts on teen singer Warren Mills' debut album. He was also invited to perform at the American Live Aid Concert before an audience of 99. he lay low until 1993. On the album. I had fallen out with my manager. Billy began sporting the hairstyle that he maintains to this day ² dreadlocks ² and began exploring new musical styles. Beginning with "Caribbean Queen (No More Love on the Run)" in early 1984. Tear Down These Walls. During his hiatus." and also spawned popular singles in the top-10 R&B ballad "The Colour of Love" and title track. So. Hence.
Previously serving as his publishing company. with the song "Chained" being featured on the U. Billy put an end to the 16-year absence of a full-length album with the release of Because I Love You on his own Aqua Music. a particularly notable engagement was at B. in 2008. "The Question Is" and the title track. where am I going to go to a record company and say. because. compelling ballad. R&B. Aqua now acts as his bonafide record label. whom he described as a full-fledged musician with a lot of technological prowess. At my age. Charles. King's in New York on October 27.. I've always wanted to know what it would be like to be in charge of my own label and projects. Sign me'? They'd show me the door! But the truth of the matter is. I thought. Not to mention. and your concentration is on making the music. who was very gracious at our backstage "meet-and-greet. and reggae in a cohesive sequence that showcases both his mastery of the ballad and his funk savvy." With the delightful welcome-back response generated from these shows. 'Maybe I'll just spend some time with my family. The two first met while playing in a steel drum band together. then that buzz will always be there. and I still feel I have something to offer. it wasn't the same with the people I had to work with over here. Billy finally ended his absence from the music business in 2007. Meanwhile.K. when he began embarking on a comeback tour ² mostly in the U. Wilberforce 200 (A Change Is Gonna Come) .' Of course. swaying dancer "Tenderness. he notes." In February of 2009 .S. it was my first introduction to the warm personality of Mr." Those diverse influences are reflected in both the contemplative midtempo selection. he was awarded an honorary doctorate of music from the University of Westminster. Billy notes that he decided. and can vouch for the sheer energy and joy that permeated the club that night. The first result of this came in the spring. The last few years. touring. To the relief of many fans the world over." Because I Love You brings together Billy's loves of pop.when Clive went to America. But you don't know how to do it until one day you get the opportunity. if you are a writer and musician. an emotive. Continuing to tour while readying a new full-length album. time flies!" Notably. Of the latter. or Marvin Gaye. "Truly.commemorating the bicentennial anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade." then does some unique sonic experimentation on the percussive. you know. Billy made one very important decision concerning his new musical ventures: he would release his music independently. I'm Billy Ocean. it sort of drifted into nearly 15 years.K." Billy produced Because I Love You with Greg Assing. Billy takes the vibe back to his 80's groove with "Baby Don't Go. I can pick up my guitar and get a buzz from what's coming between myself and the guitar ² whether I'm strumming a John Lennon song. "Nothing happens without a reason. This writer attended the show. "I'm just gonna try things on my own. during this hiatus. 'Hi. Instead of beating my head against a brick wall. Billy took two more important steps toward making a full-fledged comeback: writing new material and recording it.B. but with a few stops in the U. I'm still out there making music. I had enough experience.-only compilation. they've been working in the recording studio that Billy built in . Commenting on his continued passion for making music.
. we started writing. "I've been lucky. He told me what we needed to bring it up to date. I think it's more important to take time and do it properly. and the whole set-up [of the studio] and said. At the end of the day. though. 'I'm in!' I then got some new equipment. just after Hurricane Ivan. but the reason that he's in the game again is the same one that prompted him to enter it over 30 years ago. I like all of them. and the album was made!" While Because I Love You has thus far only been released in the UK. hasn't really changed. you can get a million! It's digital now. Joe Public has been pretty kind to Mr. Maybe if I knew too much I might find it disheartening. As a whole. I've had some very successful periods in my life. where some of his family is from. when the album is set for release in America. 'We played Suddenly at our daughter's wedding." . People ask me what my favorite is. then there were CD's. "I am really a dinosaur when it comes to technology. When I started recording. that will likely change in mid-2010. I was doing so on an 8-track machine. Then." In fact. many aspects of the industry have changed drastically since Billy's last album. so they were ready to move whenever. When I started. It's not the same this time. you don't need to rush anything. awards. so we went down to Grenada. I met Greg down there and told him about my studio. without really understanding the mechanics of it. "At my age.. It was his first time there. and 32 ² and now. Ocean over the decades: hit records. there was vinyl. now there's I-Pods. Reflecting thus far on his accomplishments." Well.Grenada. My attitude as far as music is concerned. Jive was a giant with connections all over the world. because I don't have the facility of a major record company.' or 'The Colour of Love. if you have a good song and you deliver it to the best of your ability and produce it to the best of your ability. Billy says there are a few standout moments. sellout tours. Then I moved on to 16. then the rest is up to Joe Public. He was interested. All of these transitions. But I get people saying to me.That's the one that brought me to the attention of the world market.'" But I do think "Caribbean Queen" is my favorite in the sense of being mercenary. then 24. I sort of move with.where you rehearse and practice the steel drums. really. He liked the country. "Every once in awhile we'd have a party at the panyard .
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