Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1101

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Preston Glass
Preston Glass

While his name may not be regularly mentioned amongst the hierarchy of all-time R&B producer/writer greats like Gamble & Huff, Jam & Lewis, Babyface and even his one time boss Narada Michael Walden, there’s nevertheless no disputing the fact that California-based Preston Glass does hold a mighty impressive CV in his own right.

With his career peaks including writing Natalie Cole’s 1989 international Number One ‘Miss You Like Crazy’ and producing the biggest-selling jazz/pop LP of the Eighties - Kenny G’s multi-Platinum ‘Duotones’ - fact is Preston’s long range of writing and/or production credits range from such bona fide mainstream black icons as Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston, Lionel Richie, Diana Ross and Earth, Wind & Fire; to respected connoisseur favourites like Angela Bofill, Lenny Williams and Phyllis Hyman.

Having been initially exposed to many different cultures and musics from his early travels while growing up as an “army brat”, Preston first started out as a staff writer for legendary Philly producer/writer Thom Bell in the late Seventies - before bloss-oming as both a writer and producer under the auspices of then-man-of-the-mo-ment Narada Michael Walden in the Eighties. During which decade he collaborated with most of the aforementioned superstars.

This month, meanwhile, has seen the release of Preston’s own album ‘Music As Medicine’. Where he combines his considerable production/songwriting skills with a range of guest artists, ranging from new protégés like young Latino soul man Carlos and ragga-rapper Silver Turtle; to such established soul names as Earth, Wind & Fire frontman Maurice White; former Sly & The Family Stone bassist Larry Graham; one-time Temptation Ali Woodson; as well as the arguably-least-known member of the famed Jackson siblings, oldest sister Rebbie Jackson.

A long-standing ‘B&S’ reader and admirer, an affable and humble-mannered Preston speaks about his ambitious new project from his LA studio.

Let’s start by discussing your new album 'Music As Medicine'

"The title reflects how music has always been a healing force, a feel-good source, and a life-saving course in my life - and how I wanted to do a project that had that same effect on everyone who heard it. You know, I basically set out to compose and arrange songs that had that soul-stirring and heart-touching thread running through them. So, in addition to the record being a reflection of me, I also wanted to reach a lotta different kinds of people. I actually include my musical influences in the booklet inside the CD, and you will notice the wide variety there. The singers include everyone from James Brown to Neil Diamond to Carole King. While on the writing side I go from Tony Hatch to Bob Marley! And I guess the music itself kinda reflects that diversity."

How did some of the well-known guest artists become involved?

"I'd say 99% of them basically came from working relationships I've had over the years. Whether it be me working on a project of theirs, or vice versa. For instance, Rebbie Jackson I got to know when I was working on her brother Jermaine's album back in the Eighties, and her family and I have kinda become friends over the years. Then with (contemporary R&B songstress) LaToya London - though she was one of the 'American Idol' finalists the same year as Fantasia and Jennifer Hudson, I'd actually met her years before that, when she was just 13 - when I almost got her a deal with Clive Davis. Wilton Felder (legendary Crusaders saxman) meanwhile has played on many earlier projects I've been involved with, while Larry Graham actually happens to be my brother-in-law! His wife is my wife's sister! Then Maurice White and I are also very good friends. We originally met when I worked with Earth, Wind & Fire back in the Eighties. We stayed in contact, and actually over the last 10/15 years we’ve written like 30 songs together. And, while he has had some health problems, he’s actually better now than he has been in a long time. But, because he hasn’t come out with anything recently, I guess people have assumed he’s still too ill to work. So, one of the reasons I really pushed him to do something on this album, was to let people know that he’s fine again.”

Who of the many legends you’ve worked with over the years stand out and why?

“In terms of musical technique I guess Aretha Franklin for me is actually a creative genius. Everybody knows her voice. But a lotta people don’t really take notice of the fact that firstly, she’s a great piano player and secondly, just her speech alone can inspire creativity. I mean, the song ‘Who’s Zoomin’ Who’ came from her just talking on the telephone with me and Narada! She was talking about her love-life, about going to a club and just getting away from it all. She was like ‘I’m lookin’ at him, he’s lookin’ at me - and it’s like well, who’s zoomin’ who’! And in that conversation alone we musta wrote down like 10 song titles! So that part of her is very creative. Then one thing I like to tell people about Diana Ross is that, though she gets a lotta flack for being a diva, she was actually one of the nicest artists I’ve ever worked with! She was very gracious. You know, usually - when you do a project with an artist - you turn it in, it’s done, then you say goodbye and you don’t talk to them for a long time. Whereas, when I finished working with Diana, she sent us free tickets to her show, booked us free dinner at Spargo’s - a really classy restaurant here in LA... And she didn’t have to do ANY of that! So, that’s one side of her the public don’t know about and that I think might surprise people.”

How do you feel about the difference between today’s R&B marketplace and your chart-topping heyday in the Eighties?

“A lotta people my age and older, that come from the same musical background as me, today complain about the downloading, the industry changes and the type of music. I personally don’t think it’s the recording artists and creative people that are to blame. Neither, in my opinion, do I even think it’s the fault of the people who are pirating. Because, at the end of the day, piracy itself has been around in one form or another for years. And, while it is illegal, it does serve as being a promotional tool. The people I personally blame are the record companies and radio stations that in recent times have tried to monopolise artists and have become very lazy. To where they feel they can just make money sitting on their laurels without developing artists and finding rare talent. I mean, the example I always use is how, back in the Sixties, Berry Gordy had so many different styles of singers on that one label - Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight, Marvin Gaye, Jackson 5... None of them sounded alike, yet all of them ended up being legends. And, as a producer, the change I suddenly saw happening in the Nineties was that record companies would call me and always say things like ‘You gotta bring me something like Brandy’, or whoever was selling at the time. Basically they were wanting IMITATION instead of ORIGINALITY. Which I think was the big downfall that’s since backfired on them.”

So where do we go from here?
“I actually think now is an exciting time. Because, while everything is a little unsure, basically anybody today can just put out their music and get it exposed potentially to MILLIONS, without having to go to any big corporation. So, while a lotta people are still complaining, I’m actually thinking POSITIVE right now. I personally think this could be the start of a good time for real music again.”

The album 'Music As Medicine' is out now through Expansion Records

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