Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1095

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JIMMY LEVINE: A Thoroughbred among Mo-Phillys

Jimmy Levine
Jimmy Levine Jimmy Levine Jimmy Levine with Ray Fuller and Wah, Wah Watson Jimmy Levine

Some interviews don�t turn out in the way intended and this was one of them! Had spent quite a time preparing for this chat but nothing could have prepared me for the next hour of my life. Oh, do read on, there�s nothing nasty coming up...

The opposite in fact. Let me explain. Jimmy Levine is a multi-instrumentalist, composer and producer, who cut his musical teeth on � Motown!!! So you can guess what we talked about, but a little bit more about that later.

First we talked about Jimmy�s much acclaimed 'Share My Love' cd, released in 2006 which, at this point, I�d only heard the handful of tracks on his website. I now have bought a copy and what a wise investment it was too. Briefly then, with assistance from his A-list pals like Philip Ingram, Howard Hewitt and Ray Parker Jr, Jimmy tackled a selection of cover versions and original material. Of the covers he chose Stevie Wonder�s 'All In Love Is Fair' - one of his finest ever � with Maysa Leak on vocals and 'You Are My Heaven' featuring Kenda Hathaway and Philip Ingram as vocalists. However, what particularly interested me was Jimmy�s interpretation of Marvin Gaye�s 'I Want You' where the sultry, inviting smoothness of the original is replaced by light rapping courtesy of the Razkalz Cru. Marvin is a hard act to follow which is why, in all probability, Jimmy chose this unusual yet effective route. There�s a new musical overcoat on 'Reunited' and 'Where Is The Love', and of the original tracks - 'Miss You' and 'Love Ship' are worthy highlights. He came up with the idea for this project in 1984 under the title 'Jimmy Levine and Friends' but for one reason or another, it remained unfinished. Then during 2002 his daughter asked him to record some music that was �good old R&B/soul�. He thought about it and decided to use songs that would encompass all soul markets. �I wanted to combine old school with new school but keep the music real, and I think we did that�, he told me. �After eight months in the studio, the title �Share My Love� came to me.�

As excellent as the result is, I said, that�s not what we�re here for because the main topic of conversation should be the Mo-Philly Music Group which he founded in July 2007 with Raymond Earl, ex-member of Instant Funk (you may recall this group enjoyed massive disco success on the Salsoul label with 'I Got My Mind Made Up'). Jimmy had asked Ray to play on sessions for a follow-up cd to 'Share My Love', and they got talking about the abysmal times R&B artists were experiencing with some major record companies. Neither guy could change this way of thinking so the only course open was to open their own organisation. Before launching it to the world, Jimmy sought advice from Motown founder Berry Gordy, and also Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff from Philadelphia International Records. Hence the title! �The aim is to offer an alternative to the hip hop scene by releasing R&B in the way it was presented in the sixties and seventies. It�s my mission to have people record good quality music, that the world wants to listen to. A tough task, I know, but as I wrote for The Dells, Barry White, Gene Chandler for instance, I�ve had a lot of experience in this field. Music is the serenity of my soul, and I�m the messenger.�

Jimmy Levine was born in 1954 in San Francisco, and was introduced to music at an early age. At four years he began playing piano in the children�s choir at his grandfather�s church in Richmond, and nine years later played a saxophone for the first time. His older brother, who played tenor sax in a group, taught Jimmy how to play the instrument, and during his high school years joined several jazz bands which were influenced by the sounds bursting from Motown, and from groups like Earth Wind And Fire and The Ohio Players. During the early seventies, while he was playing in a nightclub in Oakland, Wally Cox sought him out to ask if he�d join Marvin Gaye�s touring backing musicians which later led to him working with Marvin for some years as a musician and co-writer. Anyway, I�ve jumped ahead too much because �

Following Jimmy�s first appearance with Marvin, he was invited to Los Angeles where he met other Motown artists, producers and composers before meeting Anna Gaye, Marvin�s first wife and Berry�s sister. Anna invited him to run Outpost Productions. (Anna never remarried after her split with Marvin and still loves him today as she did when they first met.) As Jimmy spent so much time with the Gordys he practically became a member of the family and still enjoys that privileged position today. We chatted about life at Motown and how the music really has laid the foundation for his ambitions to set up his own operation now. Methinks we�ll be talking again at another time about the Motown aspect of his career because it wouldn�t be fair to dwell on it now.

From Motown he switched his writing talents to The Dells, Jerry Butler, Barry White and Gene Chandler among others. He was then introduced to Rich Tufo who told him Gold Coast/Capitol Records were making changes inhouse and would he be interested in joining a writing/producing team. �A few weeks later he brought in Jessie Boyce and we became BLT and we wrote for Ava Cherry, Linda Clifford, the house group Spunk and TTF, a group of kids from Florida. My stay was cut short when Anna and Robert Gordy asked me to come back to run Outpost Productions which I did. Jessie returned home and Rich went back to doing jingles.�

And to the present, or thereabouts. Jimmy continued. �Ray invited me to his place, so I drove to New Jersey. It wasn�t the greatest of studios but he played me Shantel. There was something unique about her voice but the problem was how to market her and with whom. He said �the time is so hard for R&B artists now. With your pedigree can�t you do something to help her and other acts?� I should have been working on my next album, so I put me on hold to start looking into launching Shantel as Mo-Philly�s first artist.� Her debut album 'Arize It�s Time To Shine' is the company�s first release, following the extracted single 'It�s Over Now'. Both have been well received worldwide with encouraging sales figures being counted. Just the news Jimmy wanted to hear because in this present financial climate, when companies are sinking faster than the Titanic, investing in an unknown artist could be suicide. However, as he pointed out, there�s never really a right or wrong time to open a new venture; if he delayed his plans the music would be lost � �I worked in New Zealand from 1986 � 1992, worked in the recording industry, and learned about the industry all around the world, so hopefully I�ve come across all the things that could go against me. You can delay destiny but you cannot stop it� he added.

So, now that Shantel is off and running, Jimmy plans to focus on his new cd titled 'Surprise Surprise' where the concept is to express his feelings to the world via four different artists singing four different musical styles. He�s currently thinking of Teena Marie, Will Downing, Al Jarreau, maybe Stephanie Mills � his phone book must read like a list of who�s-who in the music business! �Music is my way of giving back ..the best thing in my life, outside of my family of course, is music. And using the Mo Philly Music Group New Age marketing and promotions, along with the latest technology, Mo-Philly will bring it's artists to the world. Our slogan is �Re-discover the music!��

Jimmy�s enthusiasm for life and music almost burned the phone wires. He�s wildly enthusiastic about Mo-Philly, so much so that he�s arranged his working day to fit in with the UK and European time differences to ensure he knows exactly what�s going on and where. There�s a lot more to come, believe me, a lot more.

Mo-Philly's first U.K release 'Arize (It's Time To Shine)' from the artist Shantel is available by hitting the buy now button below. Also you read Pete Lewis' interview with brand new Mo-Philly artist Shantel here in this issue B&S.

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