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by Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2003 PopEntertainment.com. All
September 27, 2003.
You cant help but notice the voice. It is
strong, sensuous, assured. It soars to a crescendo or sighs to a whisper.
It flat-out belts a soulful, joyful noise that reaches for the heavens and
tries to box with God. Yet it doesnt fall victim to the showiness of the
Mariah Carey / Christina Aguilera wannabes. This woman aint gonna use ten
notes when one is good enough, even if she has the ability to do so. The
voice is the sound of a soul mama, a woman who worked her way up from
backing vocals and she isnt letting her no-good man hold her back no
Sometimes its easy to forget that the voice comes from a
cute, quiet, slightly shy 16-year-old British girl.
You wouldnt necessarily think it to look at her, but Joss
Stone is the possessor of those soulful pipes. And they are taking her on a
whirlwind ride of recording studios, live shows and industry hype. A few
years ago, she was just a little girl in Devon, England. Now shes traveling the States in a bus with her mom,
living through a
grueling press tour. Shes been the subject of a feature story in
Entertainment Weekly, performed on Good Morning America
and Late Night with Conan O'Brien, been
The New York Times and many of the
other big name papers. Shes booked gigs in some of the coolest venues in the US,
such as Joes Pub in New York and the Troubadour in LA.
When Stone speaks, she has a charming Brit lilt to her voice
that gets completely erased when she sings. Shes refreshingly real in
interviews. She hasnt gotten her stories all polished up from repeated
telling. She says um, and like and you know often enough that you
know that shes still getting the hang of this part of the job. Joss Stone
is still a girl who is a little amazed by this merry-go-round shes taking.
So, just who is Joss Stone?
To look at her, shes like the girl-next-door, more likely to
be listening to Justin Timberlake or Pink than Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson or
Otis Redding. But truth is, she was raised on old school soul.
album she ever got was an Aretha Franklin hits compilation that she saw on a TV advert
and she begged her mom to buy
it for her. Stone soon became obsessed with Stax and
At fourteen, while watching a talent show called Star For
a Night, Joss knew she could do better. On a whim she tried out. Stone sang (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman and Its Not
Right, But Its Okay on the show. And she won. Through that appearance, she
management. She, her parents and her managers
decided early on to change
her name for the singing career. Yes, she did openly tell me what her real
name is, but Im not going to be the snitch
my family name, Joss explains. I think its best to keep the two
separate, you know? Then I can put on my stage hat, and my family hat when
I go home. Its good for the rest of my family.
Stones managers knew the British producers called the
Boiler House Boys. They were impressed by Joss natural vocal ability, and
brought her to the attention of Steven Greenberg, a former A&R rep who had
started his own label, S-Curve. Greenberg has since said that when he first
saw Stone and then heard her sing, he started laughing. He thought it was
some kind of joke on him.
No joke. The voice really was coming from Stone. And she
really was getting signed to a record label. Stone went to work on her
debut album, made up of songs she wrote or co-wrote. Greenberg hooked Joss
up with 70s soul siren Betty Wright (who had hits such as Clean Up Woman and
Dance With Me). When the album was nearly complete,
Greenberg came up
with a brainstorm. Stone
should record some forgotten soul classics.
He had the idea of doing an EP, like three or
four tracks, with these soul legends, with Betty Wright, Stone says.
Steve loves Betty Wright. Then it turned into this whole album thing, it
got bigger and bigger and bigger. It was just meant to be an introduction
to my album.
Greenberg decided that he wanted to celebrate the Miami
Sound of the seventies. Other than Wright,
artists like K.C. & the Sunshine Band and George
McCrae were responsible for sun-drenched southern soul
beats. Greenberg asked Wright if she could get some of the biggest
names from the scene to play in Stones band
for the project. Specifically, he wanted Timmy
Thomas (Why Cant We Live Together) on organ, Latimore (Lets Straighten
It Out) on piano and Willie Little Beaver Hale (Party Down) on guitar.
He asked Wright if shed ask them to come in. She said it was no problem,
give her a couple of days. What she didnt say was she hadnt seen any of
them in over a decade.
With a bit of detective work, Betty Wright was able to track
her old compatriots. Only Latimore was still in the music biz, Thomas
was now a college administrator and Hale works for Amtrak. They all agreed
to come in and jam.
Now it was a matter of deciding what they should play. Steve
had loads of different songs cut onto a CD, like, I dont know, thirty or
forty, Stone says. We would listen to them, and I would pick the ones I
liked, and Betty would pick the ones she liked. And she brought a few songs
to the table, too. [Co-producer] Mike Mangini, he had a really big input in
that. He was amazing. So, we all sat around in a ring and
decided on the songs.
songs that made up The Soul Sessions is a tasty gumbo of long-forgotten jams like the wonderful Super Duper Love (Are You Diggin On Me)
by the obscure one-hitter Sugar Billy. The Chokin Kind was an
country tune which Joe Simon
roughed up and took to the top of the soul charts. Bettye Swanns
mesmerizing ballad Victim of A Foolish Heart and Laura Lees smoky Dirty
Man are also resurrected.
While they respected
the songs, they had no interest in doing note-by-note reproductions of the
originals. Stone would use each song as a
blueprint, but she needed to sing them in her own way. I try not to
listen to them too much. Joss laughs. So, then I dont recall
the melody. I basically try to forget the original melody and make up
my own. You know, as much as I could
To tell you the truth, Im just making it up
as I go along. Seriously, Im just singing it how I think it should sound.
Im not using any special techniques.
Even when they recorded songs that were more familiar, Stone
and her band were determined to give the songs their own personal stamp.
They did record John Ellisons Some Kind of Wonderful (best known
as Grand Funk
Railroads rocking remake) and the Isley Brothers For the Love of You
(which has also been covered by artists like Whitney Houston and Candy
Dulfer in more recent years).
listened to the originals. Like, Some Kind of Wonderful,
we listened to that one, but then Steve had the idea of doing that
in kind of a DAngelo way. You know that song Devils Pie? Using that
kind of rough bassline and drums. That kind of thing. So wed kind of just
mix up two things.
She also was given a chance to do a tribute to
the singer that got her started singing soul, covering All the Kings
Horses by Aretha Franklin. I didnt really
want to do it, Stone admits. I was scared of covering one of her songs.
Its Aretha Franklin! It turned out cool, I think. Its not half as good
as hers, but
The marathon Miami soul sessions were completed
in just a few days. She then flew up to Philadelphia to do one last song
for the album. A rather surprising one. She does an astonishingly sultry
rethink of the White Stripes Fell In Love With A Girl (here rechristened
Fell In Love With A Boy.) It was produced by
the Roots leader Ahmir
?uestlove Thompson. (Ahmir
is the coolest person. Hes so nice! I love him.)
The song also featured the Roots on instruments and had backing vocals by R&B star Angie Stone. (Shes a blast, man. Shes wicked.)
Stone was so taken with the experience of
recording live in the studio, instead of the normal set-up of
each note. Because I had done some stuff in the studio before I did The
Soul Sessions, it was very different, but I totally prefer it that way,
Stone enthuses. Not only do I prefer the making of it, I prefer how it
sounds. What we did, we went back, and the stuff I had recorded for my
album, we scrapped that and recorded it again, live, because it sounds so
meantime, the media blitz continues. Hopefully The Soul Sessions
will reach the audience it so richly deserves. I think The Soul
Sessions could reach any audience. I mean, as long as people listen to
it, Stone laughs. The thing is, I want everyone to just listen to it. If
you dont like it, then thats cool, but, I want to give people a chance not
to like it.
Now that The Soul Sessions has been released to
rapturous reviews, she is back to
thinking about the original album. This
also include performances by Wright and the Roots, as well as veteran
songwriter Desmond Child and Chic songwriter/producer/guitarist Nile
lovely. Hes a sweetie.)
We know what Joss Stone can do with another
writers song, but what can we expect from her originals? Well, theyre
definitely more contemporary, Stone says.
Youve got a mix there. On my album next year, therell be like, a reggae
track on there, and some hip hop influences in there. But, its still
soulful. I cant sing without soul. I try to keep a little bit of soul in
there, because thats what its all about.
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