Every summer has a song.
I knew "Nights Like This" was the soundtrack of Summer 2016 the first time I heard it. The ingredients were all in place: hot streets, "feeling the beat of thousand people passing," the search for "someone to get right." And then the chorus, one imperative after another... but why don't you just watch and see what I mean?
Crazy, isn't it? A clean-cut guy in a suit, white shirt and tie.... with horns out of a Memphis soul band... a Jerry Lee Lewis piano.... a wicked drummer.... and a crowd of happy kids, hands in the air, singing along:
Nights like this,
You better not miss,
If you don't show up,
How you gonna know
What's going down?
His name is Eli "Paperboy" Reed, and his new CD (which doesn't include "Nights Like This") is nothing you expect to hear from a white guy who went to the University of Chicago and whose father is a vice president of the free-market Manhattan Institute. And that's the thrill of his music: his wholehearted love of gospel and soul. A millennial who can testify? Too simple. On his new CD, "My Way Home," Eli Reed stands on the shoulders of his heroes, but then he jumps -- and soars.
I learned about Eli Reed from, of all places, The New York Times, which profiled him for the coaching he does in Harlem, teaching gospel to a generation that didn't grow up with it. I went on to read how, as a kid, he soaked up 60's and 70's soul and country music records -- he may have been the only Bar Mitzvah boy who loved equally Wilson Pickett and Conway Twitty. Then I powered on to YouTube, which served up "Nights Like This." And then -- I was addicted by then, and I guess I should warn you: this can happen to you too -- I dived straight into songs from the new CD.
Sincere? "When I can't run any more, I will walk..."
Did I have questions for Eli Reed? Only 11.
JK: White shirt, tie, suit -- why?
ER: Well, it might not always be as simple as that, but I'd sum it up by saying that I'm a firm believer that a performer has to differentiate himself from the audience. If you don't present yourself like a performer, I don't think you have any chance of commanding the stage
JK: If you could be the opening act for any band/singer in history, who would be your 3 top choices?
ER: I'd be first on a program with Robert Blair & The Violinaires, The Mighty Clouds of Joy and The Gospelaires of Dayton, OH. And I'd get my set finished fast so I could watch them.
JK: I'm the father of an extremely critical 14-year-old; she holds nothing back. Have your students in Harlem seen you perform? If so, what do they tell you?
ER: They haven't seen me with my band, but they've definitely watched videos on YouTube. I think they find it hard to believe that I exist in real life.
JK: There will come a time when you'll fill vast venues, but for now, if you could create a dream tour schedule, what 3 clubs would you choose?
ER: My favorite venues in the world are probably The Beachland in Cleveland, The Continental Club in Austin and La Maroquinerie in Paris.
JK: You went to the University of Chicago. Ok, then: Favorite book? Favorite movie?
ER: Changes all the time. For movies I watched "Theeb" a few weeks ago and really enjoyed that. And anything that Peter Guralnick writes.
JK: I know: Spotify gives you everything, so this question is no longer relevant. But... Desert Island Disks: your choices, please.
ER: You'd be surprised! Honestly, most of my favorite music is not on Spotify and I think it's a shame, because the stuff that doesn't make it on there is going to fall farther and farther by the way side. I'm also a singles guy so LPs don't do much for me anyway. But I digress:
- Sam Cooke - Live at The Harlem Square Club
- Jerry Lee Lewis - In Loving Memories
- Bobby Blue Bland - A Touch of the Blues
- Howlin' Wolf - Moanin' in the Moonlight
- The Dixie Hummingbirds - In The Morning
- Bobby Womack - My Prescription
JK: Your father is a vice president at a free-market think tank. He was also a music critic. From which tree did the apple fall that produced you? I have to ask... if Donald Trump wanted to use one of your songs at his rallies, would you let him? How about Hillary Clinton?
ER: That is a lot of questions in one. I think, at least for my Dad, thinking critically about music is the same as thinking critically about anything. I think being a critical thinker and having the ability to analyze is incredibly important when making music. Listening and interpreting what you like about what you're hearing allows you to take the elements you appreciate and leave the ones you don't. I definitely feel that critical listening is one skill that nobody talks to young musicians about. Especially singers and songwriters.
I won't venture in to the political foray, but suffice it to say that I once wrote a song called "Mo' 'Merica For Me" and sent it to the Rick Perry campaign. It may or may not have been a joke.
JK: A Jewish soul singer - that would be you -- must surely have thought: "I wish I could be..." and the name would be a black soul singer. Who would you name?
ER: Not really. I'm fairly comfortable in my own skin. If you're asking me who my favorite singers are, I could give you a list a mile long, but I would never want to actually be any of them. Part of living in the modern era is that you get the benefit of musical and cultural hindsight, which is incredibly important.
JK: Toyota uses "Nights Like This" to advertise the RAV4. Did they give you one?
ER: Still waiting for it....
JK: When you perform, it seems you sometimes do "testify." Do you ever feel a power surge bigger than ego and ambition?
ER: Not quite sure how to answer that. There are certainly times on stage when I feel completely connected to the audience and it has nothing to do with anything else besides music and feeling. That being said, you can't be a performer without ego, it's a prerequisite.
JK: What was the catalytic moment -- the moment when you knew you HAD to trade the respectable life you had for music?
ER: Who says I had a respectable life?
"Take My Love with You" (with Daryl Hall)
[cross-posted from HeadButler.com]