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MIKI HOWARD 2006 SOULMUSIC.COM INTERVIEW
MIKI HOWARD AND HER PALETTE OF COLORS
New York, October, 2006: On the occasion of her new album, " Pillow Talk: Miki Sings the Classics," Miki Howard has a lot on her mind, except the fact that December 2006 marks the 20th anniversary of her classic debut, Come Share My Love (Atlantic, 1986). “I forgot all about it!”, she laughs via telephone from her home in Jersey City. “20 years ago, I probably would have won American Idol. In those days I was more of a stylist. I have a lot more character in my voice now," she says. That character, what Tina Turner might describe as “nice ‘n rough," serves Ms. Howard well on her debut for Shanachie Records. Pillow Talk celebrates the classic pop and soul records from the 1970s that inspired Miki Howard during her teenage years in Los Angeles. In addition to an impressive run of hit singles on the R&B charts, a constant of Ms. Howard’s career has been stirring re-creations of well-known material, whether Jimmy Scott’s “Imagination”, Aretha Franklin’s “Until You Come Back to Me”, or the Billie Holiday songbook. Titled after the 1973 hit by Sylvia Robinson, Pillow Talk continues the lineage of Howard’s soulful and evocative song interpretations.



Recorded in April 2006 and released on September 19, 2006 in the U.S., some of the album’s initial reviews by critics claim that Ms. Howard sounds “rough around the edges”. Ever the professional, Ms. Howard explains, “We opted to keep it as natural as possible and as close to the first take as possible. I’m really not offended. I think, ‘Wow, they really don’t get it.’ I was fortunate to have a record company say ‘Here are some colors. Paint this picture and do it however you want to do it.’ It’s like a Picasso. It’s painting a picture of things you see all the time but in an obscure way. Giving a character a color. A lot of vocalists today don’t do that.”

Indeed, there are many “colors” on Pillow Talk, whether the cool, jazz-tinged swagger of Boz Scagg’s “Lowdown” or the exploding vocal fireworks on Natalie Cole’s “Inseparable”. Of the songs that made the final cut, all of them well-etched in the minds of listeners for more than 25 years, only one did Ms. Howard feel any pressure about recording in her inimitable style: “Misty Blue”. “If I had my druthers, I would have passed on it”, she explains, “but we already recorded the track. I was so insecure because Dorothy Moore did such a wonderful job. I didn’t think I had that kind of emotion to bring to the song.”

Howard was much more at ease with “Which Way is Up”, the title song to the 1977 film starring Richard Pryor. Remembering her days in Los Angeles, Howard says about the song, ”There was a group called Stargard. We just thought that they were the shit. These guys were really hot and they were a mixed group – black and white. They never really got famous or anything but that was just such a great song. As I got older ‘Which Way is Up’ became an inspirational song for me, as much as someone would think of ‘Amazing Grace’. You get lost and you might go down the wrong road in life and you find yourself saying ‘Hey, which way us up?’”

The road for Ms. Howard since her last album, Three Wishes (Peak, 2001), has been challenging. Miraculously, Howard survived a bought with acute asthma. “I was sick and I didn’t know I was sick. I had severe problems with my breathing, respiratory problems that I didn’t know I had. I just thought I was losing my voice. I had to go to therapy and they discovered that my nose was broken and I had changed the flow of air. I still have some trouble breathing but I spent a lot of time just getting cured.” Fortunately for listeners, Howard survived the ordeal and Pillow Talk proves that her voice, though deeper than what fans might remember from #1 R&B hits like “Ain’t Nuthin’ in the World” and “Ain’t Nobody Like You”, is well intact…

…and sultry, especially on her recording of “Do That To Me One More Time”, the #1 pop hit by Captain & Tennille from 1980. “I’ve always loved Captain & Tennille. I remember when I was a kid, we had our little group of children and we critiqued records. We taught ourselves not only listening to black music but music across the board. Black people loved Captain & Tennille. I thought it would be great to pay homage to them because I don’t think that people say enough about them.”

Having her say in song selection was part and parcel of Howard being one of four producers on the album. When producer Chris “Big Dog” Davis fell ill on the first day of recording, Howard stepped in to ensure the project’s completion. “It was like going over somebody else’s work. Chris had done all the tracks. They were all basically there. We brought the project back to New York. Kim Waters, who’s a friend and a label mate, said ‘I’ll help you out’. Danny Weiss, who’s one of the executive producers and who signed me initially to the label, said ‘We’ll just do it together’ so we finished it ourselves. I had a lot of fun.”

After 20 years in the music business, Miki Howard has seen her share of changes within the industry, especially in how R&B music is presented and marketed. “I was here when MTV did not play videos by black artists and you had no hope of being on there. It was easier to get on VH-1. Artists such as myself weren’t going on Letterman and we weren’t going on MTV.”

She observes that artists of her generation had a strong sense of how to conduct oneself in the public eye versus current hip-hop/R&B artists whose careers thrive on sensationalism. “We all have our issues, - drugs or alcohol - but you never came out in a public situation like that. They (artists today) don’t have any concern about the image they portray. This is one of the first times urban music has been widely available in the mainstream. I don’t like the violence. It’s fabulous that you’re young and beautiful and you can strip off to a g-string but that shouldn’t be all that we are entitled to see. That’s embarrassing and it’s shameful to me. That’s not about music.”

However, Ms. Howard does enjoy a good deal of the music currently being made. Given even more artistic freedom, Howard would love her next album to be steeped in contemporary R&B. “I’d get a hold some of great writers. I like the music that Ne-Yo is making. I’d love to have a record with some of the rap beats, not what they’re saying but the rhythm. I’ll probably end up doing a jazz record, though.”

For now, Howard is lining up appearances to promote the new album. Considering that Pillow Talk is an album of covers, would Howard ever consider covering one of her own recordings? With an infectious laugh, Howard retorts, “For what? I did the best I could!” With a future pregnant with possibilities, Miki Howard will no doubt continue to give listeners her very best for many years to come.

  
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