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Issue 1084

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Feature

Sam Bostic: Staying Power

Sam Bostick
Sam Bostick Sam Bostick

While a modern take on the Sixties retro-R&B sound may currently be conquering airwaves and charts worldwide to become todayâs surprise pop-sound-of-the day, Californian singer/songwriter/ producer Sam Bostic has instead opted to tap into the Seventies sweet-soul vibe for his widely-acclaimed debut album âSoul Supremeâ.

Primarily written, produced and performed by multi-instrumentalist Sam at his own House Of Soul recording studios (with a little help from friends Raphael Saadiq and John âJubuâ Smith), the appropriately-titled âSoul Supremeâ sees Bostic cleverly updating the sophistication and haunting melodies of the aforementioned sweet-soul era - frequently with tougher, contemporary beats - on cuts ranging from the lilting, tuneful âZodiac Signâ and a respectful cover of The Stylisticsâ stately 1973 ballad âBreak Up To Make Upâ; to the cinematic ghetto-hustler-going-straight tale of âGet Awayâ and the gliding, horns-and-guitar-laced âStill Missing Uâ. As an articulate and polite Sam (whoâs actually the nephew of Earl Bostic, the saxophonist who inspired the legendary John Coltrane) discusses with âB&Sâ from his West Coast home.

âWith this album I wanted to really combine the melody and textures of organic, true soul music, and make that clash and melt with todayâs hard drum sounds to give it a little more of a street edgeâ, he begins enthusiastically: âEssentially, I wanted to make it attractive to both an older AND a younger crowd. You know, what usually moves the younger crowd is the beat - the harshness of the drum and the bass. So, to bring them to the party too, I had to make the bottom-end KNOCK a little bit harder.â

âAnd lyrically most of it was based on real experiences that we all go throughâ, he continues: âYou know, Iâm really picky about my lyrics - sometimes a little OVER-picky. But thatâs because I think, back in the day, a lotta those great soul singers challenged your INTELLECT a little bit more. They had something to SAY! Also, if they were singing a love song, they really did pour their heart into it and really did draw you in. Whereas to me a lot of more recent music is very surface-y, and doesnât really go deep. So, in contrast to that, I like to try and make my songs similar to an audio movie. When you put on a record of mine, I donât only want you to be able to HEAR it, but to SEE what Iâm talking about as well!â

Interestingly, Samâs singing on âSoul Supremeâ sees the return to prominence of the falsetto male vocal - a sound which has all but disappeared from soul music since its heyday in the early Seventies, with acts like The Stylistics, Eddie Kendricks and Blue Magic: âYeah, I agree with you. Thereâs definitely a void of falsetto singers todayâ, acknowledges Sam, before revealing how he first came to sing in falsetto as lead vocalist in late-Nineties R&B male trio ArtâNâSoul (with whom he enjoyed US Top 20 success on Atlantic Records): âWhile I sang most of the ArtâNâSoul album in my natural tenor voice, there was one track that I wrote called âGoinâ Onâ where I did the whole song in falsetto. And the fact that everybody seemed to dig that song - we got a lotta requests for it at our shows - made me realise that a lotta people liked me singing in that high register. So for this solo album it just kinda naturally fell into place, where a lotta the stuff was written with that type of singing in mind. You know, while I was writing and recording I was listening to a lotta old falsetto singers - Curtis Mayfield, Stylistics - and that in turn just inspired me to go in that Seventies direction. Iâd listen to their records, look at their artwork, and grab a bunch of Seventies movies like âSuperflyâ and âWillie Dynamiteâ... I basically kinda travelled back in time, and just tried to recapture the whole vibe of that era. Even my STUDIO was decked-out like that too! So it all became a bit like a Seventies circus here!â

Initially growing up in a drug-and-crime-riddled neighbourhood of Richmond, California (the part of The Bay Area that inspired the Seventies blaxploitation movie âThe Mackâ), Sam first got into music through watching his father play: âYeah, my dad was a musician. He had a band called The Western Union Band. Theyâd rehearse at my grandmotherâs garage, then go out and do shows and travel for weeks on end. So, as a young kid, Iâd go in and check them out, âcause I was always fascinated by watching them play their instruments. Then, when theyâd leave, Iâd ask my grandmother if I could go in there and play the instruments myself! And sheâd be like âOK, as long as you donât break anything!â. So, as soon as theyâd finish rehearsing, Iâd creep in there, start messing around - and eventually I just kinda taught myself how to play.â

âThen at one rehearsal they were having - I was all juiced-up, because by that point I knew I had something to show people - I kept begging my dad to let me get on the mic for a minute!â, continues Sam: âSo - though at first he was like âDonât bother me! Iâm rehearsing! - eventually he let me. And, because from that I guess heâd seen that I really could do it, he put me on this little TV show he and his band were doing. And Iâll never forget going back to elementary school after Iâd performed on that show! It was CRAZY! All the girls kept running up to me like âOh, seen you on TV!â... And I was like âOK, you know what? I kinda DIG this!â!â

Despite his new album showcasing his unquestionable talents as a soul singer/songwriter, it was nevertheless as a West Coast hip hop producer that Bostic earned his first Gold and Platinum plaques; via his contributions to big-selling mid-Nineties albums from local Bay Area rappers E-40 and - more significantly - the since-deceased, now-iconic 2Pac Shakur: âOh, that was CRAZY, man!â, he relates with pride: âMy first encounter with 2Pac happened when E-40 featured him as a guest on his (million-selling âIn A Major Wayâ) album, on a song called âDusted And Disgustedâ. He came in, he did his verse - and he was just so quick, so fast and so deep, it was like INCREDIBLE! I was like âWow! This dudeâs killing EVERYBODY in terms of his work ethic! Heâs so full of ideas itâs UNBELIEVABLE!â! Then, after 2Pac listened to the track, he fell in love with the production and eventually ended up calling me back to work on his (Platinum-selling breakthrough) âMe Against The Worldâ album. So he brought me to LA, and we recorded a bunch of songs that ended up on that record... So yeah, working with 2Pac was a great experience. He truly was amazing.â

The album 'Soul Supreme' will be released September 29. The digital single 'Break Up 2 Make Up' is out now, both through Soul Jones Presents/Expansion
Words PETE LEWIS

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