Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1101

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Joe Cang: Pillow Talk

Joe Cang
Joe Cang Joe Cang Joe Cang Joe Cang

With his punchy, life-affirming ‘Make Love’ having proven a major summer airplay hit on BBC Radio 2 this year, seasoned London singer/songwriter/producer/multi-instrumentalist Joe Cang now comes through with his new, second solo album ‘Bed’.

Largely written and produced by Joe alongside Matteo Sagesse and Jon Cohen, ‘Bed’ (which predictably includes aforementioned single ‘Make Love’) brings with it a unique blend of new classic jazz with a hint of blues. As tracks range from the flamboyantly swinging ‘Bella Signorina’ and spirited, finger-snapping ‘Hot Margaritas’ to the dreamily rolling ‘Divine’ and intimately haunting ‘Bed’. All of which are delivered flawlessly by Joe’s own band, which in turn boasts some of the cream of London’s live musicians - including aforementioned pianist (and songwriter/producer) Matteo Sagesse; bassist Neville Malcombe; saxophonist Ben Castle; guitarist Alan Simpson; plus drummer Andy Trim. Who between them have impressively worked with artists ranging from Bette Midler and Eric Clapton through to Amy Winehouse, Diana Krall and Michael Buble.

Indeed, having begun his recording career in the Eighties as full-time bassist with pop-funkers Scritti Politti (before going on to play live with such legends as Ian Dury and Jamaican reggae pioneer Desmond Dekker), Cang would also later find considerable success as a songwriter - contributing four songs (including the multi-selling single ‘Shine) to UK reggae icons Aswad’s Platinum-selling 1994 LP ‘Rise & Shine’, before going on to collaborate with the likes of Hall & Oates; Hugh Masekela; a pre-‘X-Factor’ Leona Lewis; and original rock chick Marianne Faithfull, with whom he toured Europe throughout 2009. Meanwhile, Joe’s emergence as a solo artist happened after he signed with US industry legend Clive Davis’ Arista Records, who in 1995 released his debut album ‘Navigator’.

Having just come offstage following a well-received, entertaining industry showcase at Soho’s Pizza Express Jazz Club, an instantly friendly and upbeat Mr. Cang enjoys a breezy chat with ‘Blues & Soul’ Assistant Editor Pete Lewis.

Joe’s ideas on his current album ‘Bed’

“Well, I’ve got very wide taste - something which as a SONGWRITER is great and as a LISTENER is great. But, in terms of being an artist, sometimes industry-wise people get CONFUSED by that - because they sort of want to know which RACK you should be in. And so what was good about these new songs I’d been writing was that it just seemed natural for me to sing them all in this slightly more jazzy, kinda traditional style - which is why we predominantly recorded it all live in an old-fashioned way! You know, we recorded it to tape, through the old EMI desk, and basically kept things as close as possible to that sort of traditional format... And in that sense I’m really pleased with the result! Because it just sounds like what it IS, and if you see it live it sounds like the RECORD! Because there’s not lots of tracks and lots of stuff like backing vocals involved. The object was really to let the songs lead - and in turn the songs just naturally lent themselves to that format.”

His early background

“I grew up near Camden Town, North London. And, with my older brother being a great guitarist, by the time I was about seven or eight I too was playing guitar and singing. And with me as a youngster obviously being very influenced by what my older brother liked, thankfully, my brother - in addition being a great musician - had really wide TASTE! So there was a lot of Led Zeppelin, Stones, Beatles, Stevie Wonder, Sly Stone, Santana... Then when I was about 14, I moved from guitar on to bass - I mean, this was the era of all the funk acts like Brothers Johnson, plus I was heavily influenced by the reggae bands of the time like Misty In Roots. So it was a great time to be growing up as a young, sort of feisty bass-player - particularly when I didn’t ever really STUDY! You know, I was basically self-taught and just blessed with a good ear… And so from there I eventually went on to play bass with the likes of Scritti Politti and Ian Dury.”

What prompted Joe to eventually become a songwriter

“It was actually when I sort of moved AWAY from being a working musician that I really discovered songwriting and basically went back to that realisation that it was actually songs and lyrics and singing that really touched me the most… You know, stuff like Chuck Berry was really making an impact on me at that time - simply because they were great songs with great stories that were really concise.”

Signing his first major record deal as a solo singer/songwriter with US industry legend Clive Davis’ Arista Records

“My manager at the time basically asked me if, as well as being a songwriter, I wanted to become an ARTIST. So I said ‘OK, let’s try’ - and we very quickly got a very tempting offer from the London office of Arista! So they flew me out to America to meet Clive; I walked in his office - and the first thing that caught my eye was this huge picture of him with Sly Stone! You know, he’s quite a short guy, and in this picture Sly was standing there next to him with this huge Afro!.. And so that was IT for me! I was like ‘Wow! You signed SLY STONE! I’ve gotta SIGN here!’... And the whole Arista experience became just a total pleasure! I mean, this was the time before there was much home recording. So it was big money in the studio, and I was basically just given the opportunity to do whatever I WANTED! Which was an AMAZING experience! The album was called ‘Navigator’, and for me it turned into a bit of an opus, because I decided to use a full orchestra… You know, I wanted the whole gamut! And while today I slightly shake my head when I think how much it all cost, overall it truly was an incredible opportunity!.. I mean, I just listened to it recently, and a lot of it still stands up well TODAY!”

Joe’s memories of working with a teenage, pre ‘X-Factor’ Leona Lewis, and the possibilities of him now writing for her again

“Well, I knew Leona when she was about 15. I’d met her dad, we got on well - and so I ended up writing a few songs for her. You know, she used to come to my studio on a Sunday, we’d record - and even back THEN she was great! It was definitely on the cards that she was going to make it! But the problem in those days was, I couldn’t get her a RECORD deal - though we did try hard, no-one really WENT for it... But obviously since then things have moved on, and I’m really pleased they HAVE! I actually took my little nephew to see her at Wembley fairly recently, and it really was great to see her up there - you know, this little girl who’d been in my vocal both when she was 15! And since then I have actually spoken to her father, and there are a couple of new songs of mine that she likes - though obviously it’s more difficult now because we’re dealing with a big operation! But having said that, you never KNOW!... So all I can say right now is there are POSSIBILITIES of us doing something together again.”

Joe releases a new single, ‘Hot Margueritas’, on February 28th 2011, and the album, ‘Bed’, is released in April 2011.

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