Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1101

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Halo: Exclusive Interview

HALO Greg Coleman Karvin Johnson James King Jr

A Blues And Soul exclusive interview with HALO - the band behind ‘Let Me Do It’ - one of the most indemand dancefloor bombs of the last 10 years in the UK’s underground ’Modern Soul’ scene.

Until last year there had only been a handful of known copies of this incredible early-80’s glorious mid-tempo 45 and copies were changing hands for between £1000 to £2000. Luckily they were all owned by such prestigious DJ’s such as Soul Sam, Butch and Keb Darge, DJ’s that had the power to break tracks such as these on the knowledgable Soulful dancefloors of the UK.

The owners of Lotus Land records in the US (Andy and Tom Noble) managed to track down Halo and last year, at last, everyone had an opportunity of owning this record on their label. I must thank Andy and Tom for kindly and unselfishly putting me in touch with the band. Greg Coleman, Karvin Johnson and James King Jr. are three true ‘gentlemen’ of the industry and have been so kind and helpful to me. Shortly they will releasing 6 previously unissued tracks that should have been on their debut album – entitled ‘Halo – Now And Then’ and they will be back in the studio soon to record songs that they wrote at that time for the project 30 years ago. We’ll keep you updated on the progress but meanwhile please read, for the first time, the history of HALO.

Snowboy: Where are you from?

Karvin: I was born in Baton Rouge Louisiana; this city is located about 80 miles outside of New Orleans.

James: I was born in 1952 in Detroit, MI. It is the home of the Great Motown Recording Label started by Berry Gordy.

Greg: I was born and raised in Detroit Michigan too.

Snowboy: What were you doing musically before Halo?

Karvin: Before Halo I was the lead singer in a band called ‘Group Fusion’. I also was a member of several choirs and local corner groups in Monrovia, California. We performed mainly at talent shows, back yard parties and school assembles. All the local groups would battle for first place in the talent competitions

Greg: I grew up with the whole Motown experience so I always pursued my musical interest. In Detroit I performed with a couple of high school groups, won talent shows as the lead singer with the groups. A buddy of mine and I almost had a artist/writer contract with a small label in Detroit, however at 15 years old it was school first and then music per my parents. That opportunity slipped by, but the pursuit continued.

James: I started playing guitar when I was 10 years old. In my middle teens - I guess around 1969-70 - I auditioned for the rhythm guitar position for the band ‘Black Nasty’, a local band. Later I found out the band’s manager was Jonnie Mae Matthews, an artist on the label Stax Records. I played on a recording called “Talking to the People.” I’m not sure about the outcome. Around 1975-1977 I formed a band called the ‘New York Stock Exchange’, but that didn’t last. Then I met a young lady by the name of Sherry Scott - who was a former member with Earth Wind and Fire. She sang lead on ‘I Think About Loving You.’

Snowboy: Were you involved in any other record releases then?

Karvin: Yes, I released a 45 on a label I created. The A side was called ‘If You Let Me’ and the B side was called ‘I Will Love You For The Rest Of My Life’

Greg: No, I soon left Detroit to finish school in Indiana then I moved to Washington D.C. I met a guitar player by the name of T. J. Winfree, from West Virginia we recorded some music that he and I wrote together. I don’t know what became of those recordings they may be floating around out there somewhere too. (Laugh)

Snowboy: How did you meet James?

James: Greg and I have been friends for 49 years. We grew up together on the mean streets of Detroit, MI.

Greg: Yes, in the 60’s when music was starting to change as far as psychedelic and being incorporated into Rock and Soul music. James played a mean rhythm guitar a lot like Jimi Hendrix. I was experimenting with different styles of music - Soul, Rock, R&B, so we kind of shared that in common and started to hang out together.

Snowboy: Karvin, how did you meet Greg and James?
I met Greg through a Motown Writer/producer by the name of Kenny Thomas, He was the writer of the Supremes Motown hit ‘Stone Love’. Kenny was the manager/producer of ‘Group Fusion’. I met James through Greg.

Snowboy: How did the partnership come about?

James: I moved to Pasadena, CA in 1974 and that’s when I reconnected with Greg, we didn’t form the group Halo until the 80’s.

Greg: I moved to Cali following the music business I learned that James was also in Cali at that time. I was in a singing group with Karvin called ‘Licorice’. Kenny Thomas, also formed that group. I reconnected with James at some point and he was introduced to Karvin and we started getting together and jamming and decided to start writing together.

Karvin: Well, after the Licorice disbanded Greg and I would get together and sing and talk about doing something else musically, maybe with one of the other guys or maybe not. On one occasion James was hanging out with Greg at his apartment, he had his guitar with him, and man could this guy play. As I remember, James would say, “I can’t play that well, I just mess around” but in fact he was great! So after that night we said we would get together and create some music together and it happened and kept on happening.

Snowboy: Was the idea to be a writing partnership or become recording artists, or both?

James: Our intentions were to be artist/writer and producers.

Greg: When we sang together it was appreciated by people around us so we decided to put a band together. We started to perform our own songs, we added other members, and it worked pretty well, we were on our way.

Snowboy: Did you think of the name ‘Halo’ before Karvin was involved?

James: The three of us pretty much collaborated on the name.

Greg: We knew we wanted to make a positive difference in the music business. Our slogan was drawn from the definition of the word Halo, “a reflection of light” in music and our meaning was based on using feel good lyrics and melodies to motivate positivity in our listeners.

Snowboy: How did you meet Karvin?

Greg: My girlfriend at the time was related to the then wife of Kenny Thomas, who had formed a male group with Karvin as the lead vocalist. I got an audition and was accepted at the urging of Karvin. We really hit it off. We did a lot of shows as Licorice. Karvin and I shared the lead vocal duties. We had a lot of fun back then.

Snowboy: Was the three-way partnership intended? Were you looking for a third partner?

James: It just happened, we be gellin!

Karvin: We became each others best friend and we loved to create music together for days and countless hours.

Greg: We had a big house in Hollywood that we were house sitting for a couple of years, right in the heart of Hollywood. The band ‘War’s studio was right across the street from the house, and some of the members would come over to our rehearsal’s and we would spend time in there and at Far Out Production Studio’s on Sunset.

Snowboy: So, then what happened? How did Lawrence Hilton Jacobs get involved?

Karvin: Lawrence Hilton Jacobs was a friend; we also hung out and did the Hollywood thing with our other friend TK Carter who I grew up with from grade school in Monrovia. So one day I mentioned to Larry, that we were going to be recording at this studio in Hollywood where I was working for Donnie Williams at the time as a sales guy and part time engineer, so Larry came by and met the rest of the guys and everybody hit if off. So we asked Larry if he wanted to play on the record and if he would like to help us produce the record and lend his talent and genius to the project, and he agreed. So we all did our thing.

Greg: Yes, he said he would like to be a part of what we were doing. He took the production role, and he also played melodion on “How You Ever Felt That Feeling” - the flip side of “Let Me Do It”.

Snowboy: Who’s singing lead in the group?

Greg: Karvin, Walter Lykes, and me

Snowboy: What musicians were on the recording?
Jimmy King Jr on Guitar, John Flowers on Bass, Moses Ingersol on Drums, Rudy Jacobs on Lead Guitar, James Gadson on Drums, Lawrence Hilton Jacobs on some vocals, the horn section from Bohannon and Calhoun from the Gap Band on Percussion.

Snowboy: Did you record the album first and then take a 45 off of it?

Greg: We recorded several songs for the album between two studios, KSR Studios in Hollywood and 54 East in Pasadena, CA.

Karvin: We chose to release a 45 single to first get the attention of the majors and hopefully get some airplay in order to make some money to complete an album.

Snowboy: How long did it take to record?

James: About a year.

Karvin: We recorded the record in about 2 to 3 sessions, but it took time to get funds to do other steps in the process of creating a final physical record.

Snowboy: What was the label called, and whose was it?

Karvin: The label was called Marshal Records and I was the owner.

Snowboy: How did the record sell? Did it get much play?
James - That’s a good question: not here in the US, but BMI monitored some air play in Belgium.

Greg: It didn’t sell at the time because we had problems getting a distributor to pick it up. I don’t think it got much play at radio, but a lot of play at parties. We probably gave away all that we pressed for promotions.

Snowboy: Why did the album not get released?

James: No Money!

Snowboy: The 45 also came out on Dyco Records too. The label was owned by two soul legends – the late Clifton Dyson and Clarence Coulter. Why did they release it and how did it do?

Greg: We met Clifton Dyson through Joe Thomas, a writer/producer, from the 50’s era. Joe helped us press the record on Marshall Records and helped with some studio cost in exchange for some publishing rights. We’re uncertain about how it got pressed on Dyco. That’s been a mystery to us all these years.

Karvin: None of us gave them permission to release it or was told it was being pressed or re-released. These guys were friends of Joe Thomas who was a co-investor along with Donnie Williams on the project.

Snowboy: Did ‘Halo’ perform live? If so, did you do many shows? Anything memorable?

Karvin: Yes, we did lots of shows, clubs, festivals the LA club circuit. My most memorial gigs were the audition for a national televised TV show called the GONG SHOW! And the other was the Pacoima Park Music Festival, the crowd was massive. Everywhere we turned there were people having a great day, grooving to the music and enjoying the park. That was fun. It was a feeling of arrival.

Greg: We had a great time performing live. One of the night clubs in Los Angeles was owned by the famous Chambers Brothers.

Snowboy: Did you remain friends after or work together again on different things or did you go your own separate ways?

Karvin: Yes we remain good friends. I will always love those guys because of what they mean to my life and it’s partially because of them, I am better at what I do now for a living.

Greg: James and I worked on some other music projects. One of them was a comedian singer named, Mama Stokes, and we did the ‘I Gotta Get Paid’ album.

Snowboy: What have you been doing musically since Halo?

Karvin: Now this is a big question: Well after Halo I met Freddie Perren a song writer and mega producer through Lewis Peters who was a great friend and Motown staff engineer. Freddie and his wife Christine Perren took me under their wings and I became a scratch vocalist for their production company called Mom & Pops Company Store, located in Studio City California. That place was a Southern California ‘Hit Factory’ and for once I was getting real money from the business I’d chased after all of my life. There I worked 8 to 15 hour days singing all day in the studio, one-on-one with the great Freddie Perren, helping him structure melodies and performing lead and background vocals for the big named artist he would produce, such as: The Spinners, Tavares, New Edition, The Sylvers, Teddy Pendergrass, Tierra, The Mighty Clouds of Joy, Johnny Gill and the list goes on. While working for Chris and Freddie I met a producer by the name of Sam Brown who was looking for a singer to complete his group Gemini, I sang for him and started recording the album that night along with my new singing partner Fred Sawyers. The Gemini rising album sold around 400,000 copies or more and is a classic collector’s record to date. After coming off the road with Gemini it was back to Freddie’s studio working again and waiting for the next big thing to happen for Gemini. During that time somehow I was called into Chris’s office for a big meeting, the company was restructuring and I was asked to become the production company and studio manager. I replaced Ron Hughes. This appointment allowed me to go now on a business level deal with and interact with record company executives, major music publishers, promotion guys, TV producers, artist and the likes. It was a musical wonderland! After Freddie and Chris decided to close the (3) commercial studios, we shut down the operation, they licensed the music catalog, we had a big party all cried and went our separate ways. Fred Sawyers moved to Atlanta Georgia and I was contacted by him to come to Georgia to help start a new record label called ‘Peachtown Records’. Peabo Bryson was between deals and was to be the first artist on the indie label. Capital would be an issue with Peachtown Records so I started to work every angle possible to earn a living. I started an entertainment newspaper called ‘The Atlanta Rhythm Times’. It chronicled the happening in Atlanta which was on the verge of becoming the new Motown of the South and for a while it did, and in fact is still, dominating the Hip Hop charts with artist such as Usher, T.I., Jermaine Dupree, Dallas Austin, TLC, Soldier Boy, Lil Bow Wow, Lil John, Ludacris and the list goes on. From there I started a artist marketing, management, promotions and distribution company to service indie artist. The distribution company is called KES Music and Video Distribution and the marketing company is called National Marketing which are both managed by my wife Lori Taylor Johnson and myself

Greg: James and I worked on some other music projects. One of them was a comedian singer named Mama Stokes, and we did the ‘I Gotta Get Paid’ album. I’ve been working with a production company called Aria 51 Song Designers. We produced an album on my daughter, Shenil. She’s an R&B pop singer. We have been shopping that material for placement or distribution. The production company is always looking for new talent. I still write and perform as a solo artist and with a male vocal group.

James: I continue to write and record original music.

Snowboy: ‘Let Me Do it’ has recently been reissued on ‘Lotus Land Records’ from Milwaukee in the US. How did they track you down?

Karvin: I was contacted by Tom Noble the owner of Lotus Land Records and was asked if we were interested in doing a licensing deal on ‘Let Me Do It’ (based on our UK popularity of which we were not aware of) so I asked Greg to contact him and they did the deal.

Greg: We struck a Licensing Deal to reissue the song last year.

Snowboy: Were you shocked to find out how popular ‘Let Me Do it’ was on the dance floors of the soul scene in the UK? It’s been sought after by rare soul collectors for at least ten years.

Karvin: Yes, getting that news was awesome! It is so gratifying to know that people are still digging our music.

Greg: We were very shocked and very pleased to know that our music is so appreciated. That is what moved us to put out the CD which features four never before heard released songs from the 'Let Me Do It' album. It’s entitled 'Halo Then and Now'. We hope it’s well received in the UK.

James: It would be nice to have the 12” ready that we are working on for press and release today. What do you think?

Snowboy: Will we now see a Halo reunion?

Greg: Maybe you’ll have to stay tuned for that one.

James: It depends on how famous we are!

Karvin: Let us know if you got any gigs (laughs).

Snowboy: Thank you so much for the interview.

Halo are offering music on myspace

They will also be reissuing 'Let Me Do It' on 45 via Lotus Land Records in April and it will be backed with the incredible Disco Funk track 'Change' that was intended for their debut album.

This interview is not to be reproduced, it is strictly 'B&S COPYRIGHT PROPERTY' for Blues and Soul readers on this site only - we take theft of copy VERY seriously.

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