The Michigan Daily - Wu44/.#4-, 4. - Thursday, April 11, 1996 - 5B
Unsung R & B hero Wil Downing releases fourth album this year
By Egn Bowen
Daily Arts Writer
There's nothing like the old school.
othing like the sounds of years and
ecades past when - as our parents and
grandparents always say - music was
music and singers were singers. Anyone
remotely familiar with black music can
name a few token contributors to the
sounds ofold-school R & B. Yet forevery
person lucky enough to have their name
etched in the books of musical eternity,
there are scores of others whose contribu-
tions havegonevirtually unnoticed. Those
people are our unsung heroes, and they
the ones to whom R & B lovers
everywhere are truly indebted.
Thirty-two-year-old Wil Downing is
one such unsung hero. He's no obscure
musicalnobody. Hehas produced somany
albums, sang background for so many of
the well-knowns and performed so many
jingles that it's highly unlikely you've not
heard his wonderful voice, even if you
can't place the name. Downing has been
0 the business for quite some time now.
istening to his life story, one quickly
sees that he was meant to be one with the
musical world, for better or for worse.
"I was probably more into sports than
anything else growing up," said Down-
ing, a Brooklyn native. He still lives there
today. "There was a lot of music in the
house -no musicians, but a lot of music
lovers. I'm the youngest of four, and I'm
sure I gained my appreciation of music
from those in my home.
S"I attended an arts high school. I think
ve always been in love with music, and
I've always been able to sing. At some
point in my life, I kinda knew I wasn't
going to be an athlete.
"After high school, I went to Virginia
Union College for two years. I left be-
cause I wanted to pursuo my dreams. An
education is great, but I think that if you
want to break into the music industry, it's
a hands-on experience. I'd been in school
*aling with music and learning music a
good portion of my life by then, and I
thought a hands-on experience would be
best. So I left in '83, returned to New
York, and the rest is history."
And what an expansive history it is.
"I started doing a lot of background
singing, learning the ins and outs of the
industry and really just cultivating my
talent. And when I say I sang background,
I mean I did it for everyone. I've sung on
ver 100 records." He still does, too. He's
cently performed background on Mariah
Carey and CeCe Peniston songs. "I also
did jingles. I've done some for Lays Po-
tato Chips, Anheiser-Busch, Burger King.
I sang in a lot of 'ethnic spots.'
"Afterdoingso manyjingles and so much
backup singing, there comes a point where
you start to see the same record people, and
you start to have a relationship with them,
from an A&R perspective. So eventually
Jey tured to me and asked if I was inter-
ested in doing a solo project.
"I started releasing singles back in '82.
I was a club-head back then. Thursday
through Sunday I was there. In fact, many
of my first singles were actually dance
tunes. I can't rap, though; I don't even
want to try. I like rap, but I don't buy the
stuff. I listen to it on the radio basically.
But I do like the Fugees new album ('The
Score'). Actually I might buy that one."
615 E. Liberty
N o W AI TI|NG
myalbum's versatility. Whereas'Sorry, I' is
R & B with jazz overtures, 'Just a Game' is
a straight-up jazz tune."
The diversity doesn'tjuststopthere,how-
ever. "I sang 'Where Is Love' (from the
musical 'Oliver') just 'cause I like it. The
same thing goes for my remake of Bonnie
Raitt's 'I Can't Make You Love Me.' She
did a really good job with the song, and I fell
in love with her execution. There's really no
great reason for why I sang alot of the songs
on this album beyond I just really thought
they were great songs.
"Everything in music doesn't have to
be like this deep, philosophical thing.
Music is about interpretation; there's no
one meaning to anything in music. That's
how it's supposed to be. Music is sup-
posed to make you think. My songs aren't
me dictating to you; it's what you get
from them. That's the joy of music."
Not since Whitney Houston's much-
improved remake of Dolly Parton's "I
Will Always Love You" has anyone taken
music that sits squarely in the realm of
white music and so effortlessly given it a
black sound. This shows Downing to be a
highly matured vocalist whose growth
can be charted throughout the span of his
career. But don't ask Downing to do the
usual and put down his previous works in
an effort to make his recent album look
that much better and sell afew more discs.
"I don't like to compare my albums,"
Downing said, "and I don't think anyone
should. No one should be like, 'It's better
than the last one' or 'It's the best thing I've
ever done.' For the time period that any one
of my albums was produced in, it was the
best album I could do. I stand by everything
I released. All my songs, in that respect, have
a very deep meaning for me. You just don't
put something on a record as filler."
What is almost shocking, however, is the
fact that Downing actually has a life outside
of music. Separated from his wife of 12
years and very actively involved father of
twochildren,4and 10,hehas littlechoicebut
totake on duties and responsibilities beyond
the confines of the music industry. He ad-
mits thatbeingmarriedchangesmany things,
especially for a person in the spotlight.
"The married life is a lot different from
the single life. A single person in the
business is out there swingin' big time.
There's a lot of temptation out there, and
some people indulge. But if you're mar-
ried, you tend to bea little more grounded,
a little less likely to do those things.
"My son is very much into sports, so we
might go out and play a little ball together or
something. There are all kindsofgreatplaces
for my kids and Ito go to here in New York.
Of course these things cost money, so I
become the official bankroll.
"I love movies, too. I especially love
black-and-white flicks; those are the best.
'Twelve Angry Men' is a great one. 'Citi-
zen Kane' is another. If you want to be a
little more modern, I think the best movie
from lastyear was 'Usual Suspects.' Also,
I think 'Hoop Dreams' and 'A Great Day
in Harlem' are both really good, informar
tive movies. If you haven't seen them,
you should check 'em out.
"I believe in God, but I don't go to
church as often as I'd like. I am a Baptisti
though, a straight up Baptist.
"I'm also a Democrat. Against (Rob-,
ert) Dole, I'll vote for Clinton absolutely,'
I think Dole and (Patrick) Buchanan are
very closed-minded men. For instance, I
have plenty of friends who are homo,
sexual. I have no problem with their hot,
mosexuality. The thing is, sexuality -
regardless of the type - is personal. It
should have nothing to do with how they
are as people or their contributions to
society. But people like Dole and
Buchanan would like to make us believe
in some sort of imaginary connection."
There we have it. He isn't the most-
political person in the world; he isn't the
mostreligious. He's notperfect, andthings
don't always go the way he would like
them to. Wil Downing is just an average
guy with an exceptional voice and a greg
deal ofsincerity. He's also very down-to-
earth. My interview with him was more
akin to a friendly meeting of old friends
over coffee - complete with laughter
and a billion side remarks - than a
formal question-and-answer period,
Maybe he's not always so friendly, agree-
able and open to questions, but he was
that fateful day when he and I had the
opportunity to exchange words. .;
It must have been his mood at the time,
Is it Rico Suave? Why no, it's Wil Downing, of course.
ing was finally given the green light to
produce his first full-length LP. It marked
the beginnings ofhis change from Mr. Party-
Over-Hereto Sir Smooth-R & B-Artist. Yet,
with thereleaseofhis debut self-titledalbum
in 1987, Downing also came face-to-face
once again with the business' biggest sad
side: Success can take awhile.
"My first album did really well over-
seas, but it didn't do too well in the
United States. I spent a lot of time over
in England and Germany doing shows.
I released 'Come Together as One' two
years later, and it did a little better here
and did well overseas again. Then in
1991, I released 'A Dream Fulfilled,'
and that did exceptionally well in
America. That's when I really started
working a lot over here." From there he
released "Love's the Place to be" in
'93; and "Moods," his most recent re-
lease, came out just last year.
Downing describes "Moods," his fifth
LP: "I named this CD 'Moods' 'cause it's
almost like a roller coaster. One minute the
singing is happy; the next minute it's not.
'Moods' is like this, kind of up-and-down-
up-and-down. From a lyrical standpoint, it's
very inconsistent. So it's a 'moody' album.
"'Moods' tells its own story. My favorite
songon this album is 'Sorry, I' which is also
the first single. Lyrically it says a lot. Any
good song is one you could sort of picture in
your mind, where you can listen to the lyrics
and envision everything being said. I think
song I like is 'Just a Game.' It really shows
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