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Phone interview conducted October 20, 2011

Like many fans of the group Shalamar, Carolyn Griffey grew up listening to their records, watching them on “Soul Train” and had every poster imaginable showing off Howard Hewett, Jeffrey Daniel & Jody Watley. But Carolyn had an advantage – she knew each member personally. And for good reason – she’s the daughter of singer Carrie Lucas & Solar Records founder Dick Griffey (Shalamar & Mom Carrie were on the label’s roster). Years after she recorded with her own duo Absolute (for Solar), Carolyn has joined forces with Howard and Jeffrey for a Shalamar Reunion tour that will hit the UK on October 29th. Kevin Goins was fortunate to catch up with Carolyn via telephone from her home in Tennessee...

Kevin Goins: This is Kevin Goins with, and with us is a woman whose last name may be familiar with many folks who follow soul music and rhythm and blues, especially in the 1970s and the ’80s and even into the early ‘90s. And she’s currently touring with Howard Hewett and Jeffrey Daniel as part of the Shalamar reunion tour, and who am I speaking with? It’s Carolyn Griffey. Carolyn Griffey, welcome to

Carolyn Griffey: Thank you very much, Kevin. I’m glad and honoured to be here.

KG: Okay, great.

CG: Glad that we can finally get together.

KG: I know, I know. Other than you singing with Howard and with Jeffrey, you’re a mom and you’re busy doing the mom thing and everything, so…

CG: Yeah. That’s never-ending. I just have to catch myself in-between all of that.

KG: That’s fine. Now Carolyn, you’re the daughter of Mr. Dick Griffey of Solar Records, if I’m not mistaken?

CG: Yes, sir.

KG: Let me ask you, Carolyn. So growing up in and around that great record label Sound of Los Angeles Records, originally known as Soul Train Records, what was it like being in that mix, with your dad having the label and having acts… Midnight Star… let’s see, who else? Shalamar, probably the biggest act the label had… The Whispers. What was it like growing up with all this great talent that you got to see and hear?

CG: I think as a child it really wasn’t a big deal to me because it’s all I ever knew. Being a young girl and having The Whispers over at your house rehearsing in your garage, and having the twins’ (Walter & Scotty of The Whispers) wife who taught me how to swim in our backyard. Solar to me during that time was a family, and just seemed to have some really talented… like my uncles and aunts and cousins, everybody just happened to be on the radio or on tour. So the whole understanding of what I was in the midst of, it just really wasn’t an issue at that time.

KG: Right, I hear you. So did you have any designs on being a singer, growing up?

CG: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. When I was a little girl, of course watching my mother—my mother of course being Carrie Lucas—she was always singing, whether it was around the house, whether it was lullabies to me, whether it was on the road with The Whispers or doing studio work or with Shalamar. My mother being that, at a young age, she was immersed in it as well, of course. My mother, to me, I was always in awe of her; she was always very beautiful and she was just a really wonderful woman and I wanted to follow in her footsteps. But one thing that was standing in the way of all that was the fact that I thought I was the best singer in the world, but I’m the only one that heard me (laughter). I guess it sounds crazy and nobody understood it. I guess being around all that talent, instead of me wanting to step in and be immersed in it, it actually made me step back, because there were hard shoes to fill in front of people who were full of talent and greatness. That’s a hard bill to fill in, if I were going to do that at that time. So it had the adverse effect on me, which is why I never really jumped into it at that time.

KG: So if anything, instead of encouraging you it almost discouraged you, in a way?

CG: You know what? Silently, because I was never a shy child and I’m sure they would all tell you that. But that was something I wouldn’t even have told my father, even until—it’s crazy—even ‘til the day my dad died. My father was the one who, I guess, everybody said, “He was so proud of you and he always talks about how talented you are.” Only in a few conversations did I hear that. Of course he would say, “You’ve got more talent in your pinkie than some people have,” but it was never a thing where I was comfortable enough to sing… just to really let go in front of him. And it’s funny because he actually never got an opportunity—even though he kind of forced his hand on the Shalamar thing, he never really got a chance to see it for himself.

KG: Wow, that is something. So growing up being the daughter of Dick Griffey and Carrie Lucas—Dick Griffey being a fine record executive and someone I looked up to when I was in the radio business, and your mom Carrie, just the wonderful music that came from her—it’s interesting to hear that. So you’re saying that your dad didn’t really live to see you actually emerge as a singer professionally, if I’m not mistaken?

CG: Well, I don’t mean emerging professionally, because of course he’s the one that’s always encouraged me. And especially because I actually had a duo back in the early Nineties, we were signed to Epic and Solar was a subsidiary at the time. We were called Absolute of course, and of course he pushed that, and that’s something - we actually had to do a showcase in front of L.A. Reid and Kenny Edmonds and the rest of the stable at the time. But I still knew I did because I could, not because there was such a hard passion that I feel I really… the project wasn’t something that I was excited about. I was excited about the concept but not the actual project itself. So he got a chance to see me perform and of course he heard me sing, but as far as Shalamar was concerned he never really got to see one of our shows with Shalamar. That was a big step because it wasn’t something I stepped into; it was something he made me do.

KG: Right. I hear you. So the duo you were in during the Solar/Epic years—the name of that duo again was what now?

CG: It was Absolute.

KG: Oh, Absolute. Oh yes, I remember the album came out, I guess, around ’91, ’92, I think?

CG: Yeah, it was about ’90. It was with Tiara – she was my best friend, her name is Tiara Le Macks and actually she’s got a project that she’s doing now. But that was just kind of like a personal love thing, and the comfort in that was I didn’t have to be a solo artist. I could actually hide behind somebody and share the spotlight so it wasn’t all on me. And the funny thing to that was my girlfriend, of course with her being Caucasian, she was like a Teena Marie: she had the soulful voice and I was actually the more… we used to call her the wheat and I was the Wonder Bread.

KG: Or should we say, she was Teena Marie and you were Diana Ross?

CG: Well, I guess… I guess. But at the time I really didn’t deem myself that soulful, being the fact that my mother… even my mother’s music, a lot of people in Europe really loved her music, but my mother wasn’t a soul singer. She wasn’t.

KG: No, absolutely.

CG: My mother was more into Judy Garland and James Taylor and Barbra Streisand. I was raised with a plethora of different genres that was offered to me.

KG: Well Carolyn, your mom Carrie Lucas, she reminded me a lot of Nancy Wilson, who was on Capitol Records, because Nancy had that very distinct voice that could straddle pop, R&B, jazz, folk; even country. It’s like what Miles Davis once said about a good musician who can straddle different genres: he said that a musician who is like that is like a paperboy—he can go to almost every backyard and deliver the papers and not get bit by every dog that’s there.

CG: Good point.

KG: And your mom to me really fell into that category. So in a way your talent, your singing, your voice styling, the fact that it could straddle different genres and it’s not a quote-unquote “soul voice” per se, that’s not a bad thing.

CG: Well actually, it’s funny…it’s actually transformed, because like you say, even as well as my background, it could either be a blessing or a curse because of the fact that there were so many… sometimes being a chameleon in situations, it depends on how you look at it: it could either be something that you could really own and take on, or you could step back. And even until lately it’s hard to really find my groove. Okay, I know I can sing like this person and do this, but what’s Carolyn? I think doing the Shalamar group has helped me find that. It’s funny because my mother recently, after my father passed, she finally felt the freedom to start doing shows and I didn’t realize it, I was like, wow, that’s cool. Because I sang with Andrae Crouch and started doing the church thing, and he was pushing me and I was like, “I’m not a gospel singer.” And then being here now in Tennessee and being around the fact that my husband - he’s our musical director and he works with all kinds of funk groups and all of these old-school bands, and now I’m around so much soul that my voice has transformed so now I am soulful. But it’s funny, even my mother—and it’s funny that you said Nancy Wilson—her base is jazz.

KG: There you go.

CG: She did a jazz set in Los Angeles in March, and I tell you, The Whispers and a lot of our Solar family was there. And everyone’s face was like, “Ah, that’s it. That’s her niche.” And it’s funny, I’ve done some jazz sets and like you say, now it’s a blessing because I can go in different settings, but it’s funny doing Shalamar. Shalamar was a group that was… when I was little, that was my favourite group. You know how people they idolized Michael Jackson or they idolized Prince, when I got older, and of course, Duran Duran or whatever it was. But Shalamar? Ask anybody. Like my room… everything was Shalamar: Shalamar shirts, Shalamar buttons, Shalamar standup posters—you name it, I had it. Everybody at school used to tease me about my whole Shalamar thing. I thought I was going to grow up and marry Howard Hewett.

KG: Oh, no [laughs].

CG: You don’t understand—I was in love with Howard Hewett. No, actually it really helps in working together, because like I say, we have disagreements. There’s times we don’t get along, there’s times I don’t like the way we communicate, but when you have that history with somebody… and like I say, before I became in Shalamar Howard and I were friends—really good friends, so it helps be an anchor in the midst of all that other mess. Because like I say, there were things that came along way before I came in the group involving my father and Jeffrey that I didn’t have anything to do with.

KG: I’m glad you brought that up, Carolyn, because the TV “Unsung” episode that was done on Shalamar addressed a good chunk of that stuff.

CG: Right.

KG: And I think in one way it was good that it addressed it and in another way it’s kind of like, was it good? Because of the fact that there was that bad blood that was there. Now here it is, you’re touring with Howard, you’re touring with Jeffrey; here it is, you’re the daughter of the man who signed their paycheques at one point. So my question to you, and I think you already answered it is: how do you deal with two artists, two gentlemen who pretty much have done their best to move on from what happened but are still kind of reminded of it?

CG: Well, believe it or not, I really carried the brunt of a lot of that for a long time, because of the fact… like I say, my relationship with Jeffrey Daniel—and I have to specify because I get a thing in my stomach: everybody says and my father even said on interviews Jeffrey Daniels—Jeffrey Daniel; there’s no “s” at the end, I just want everybody to know. I have two totally separate relationships with each individual. And it’s funny, even with other artists on the label… even though I am Dick’s daughter I was like—I don’t want to say the black sheep. I guess you could say the black sheep because I kind of removed myself from a lot of it, because as a little girl who loved everybody to have a father who was so… I will say, I guess, such a staunch businessman. There were no bones about the fact that he was strong in his convictions and the way that he wanted things done. I didn’t always agree, but I was too young to understand the intricacies of it.

Because I hear Jody saying things about “Dick didn’t like this and Dick didn’t do this,” or this one talking about “He never gave me a million dollars,” or “He never did this.” I’ve heard so many different parts of the story which, no, there never was one cheque written for a million dollars, but nobody understands until—and I’ve been on both sides of the story—nobody understands the money and the investment that’s put on the other side of it. As artists, you come in to a boat that’s already sailing; all you gotta do is jump in and continue to carry it on. I’m not saying that the blood, sweat and tears were not earned by members of Shalamar. And Howard—anybody will tell you, I give honour to every single last member, because like I say, it was not an easy ship to sail on. However, that ship was a catalyst that has given each individual their careers. But I’m sorry, I did get away from it. But being in the middle of those two and being with that, my thing is, nobody has to do it. If the blood is so bad, nobody has to do it. It’s a choice to come together and to do it. Because Howard’s got his own career—Howard’s got a great solo career; he travels all over the world. And of course he’ll do a Shalamar medley, but Howard, he’s got his following in his own right. It’s what he does, and takes care of his family very well. Jeffrey has got a myriad of things that he does all over the world, and his career is doing fine. I think when we come together it’s a choice to come together, and it’s not something that’s begrudging and [disgruntled sigh], “Here we go, we have to do it.” And if it becomes that, then we evolve yet again.

KG: You’re traveling with Howard and traveling with Jeffrey. Are you-all having a good time?

CG: Are we having a good time right now, or when we’re out on the road do we have a good time?

KG: When you’re all out on the road.

CG: Oh my gosh, it’s funny… and Howard even had to admit it, he doesn’t like to admit it: we have so much fun when we’re out on the road with one another. Of course there’ve been a couple of bumps but it seems like we have gotten pretty much over it. We are all so goofy, we are all pranksters, we are all so crazy that I think we kind of drive everyone around us crazy. But I would say overall we really do have a good time, and for me, I would say everyone who has seen one of our shows can tell that there’s a good time being had onstage. And whether Howard and Jeffrey have their rifts, we all like each other. We all like each other. We all have our own senses of humour, and you know what? I think it works. I think it has worked, I think it has kind of gotten us closer and if you think about it, the fact that we’ve been able to do these shows when all three of us are in three geologically completely different places—and like I say, we’ve only done so many shows—we come together and it’s either our chemistry: it has to work or it doesn’t. We don’t have time when we’re sitting down and we’re getting the show together, mapping it out, spending two weeks here in rehearsal and scripting and everything else. We get maybe two days of rehearsal to get the songs together, get the show together, and we make it happen.

KG: It’s a done deal. Any chances of the three of you recording a Shalamar record?

CG: There’s been a lot of talk. Actually, I’ve got some things in the works right now. I’ve got quite a few friends of mine who are really… because every time we go to Europe that’s the biggest thing—“We need a record, we need a record.” I’ll be the first to say I’m not a fan of older groups coming out and doing new records because when you go in concert, you know what they want to hear? They want to hear the nostalgic music. But actually there are some things that we are moving forward with right now. We’ve kind of talked about it before, but it’s all a matter of seeing how things come together. If we can get these things worked out then it’s definitely something that’s going to happen.

KG: Having read some things on YouTube and seeing Jody come out with her side of the stuff without really getting much into that, I think the fans of Jody Watley have already come to the conclusion she ain’t coming back to Shalamar. It’s just not going to happen.

CG: And you know what? That’s the whole point. Because I’ll be honest, if I thought that there was an ounce of hope that she would have come back I never would have done this. Never. That’s why when my father asked me three years before I joined, I told him no. And even when he asked me, the guys will tell you I reached out. My thing was, “Jody will listen to me.”—don’t know why I thought that. And I respect where she is. The thing is, Jody’s whole thing is (quoting her) “That was another part of my life.” She’s made a completely different career on her own and she doesn’t do Shalamar songs in her show. I respect her. I respect her for that, and the thing is it benefits me whether she’s doing it or I do it anyway.

KG: Right.

CG: Either way it benefits me. A lot of people don’t like to touch on that—I like to touch on it because I know some fans have tried to say some things: “Oh, she’s trying to be…” I’ve never said that I’m trying to be anything. I’m doing this as a brand that I was left with and I’m celebrating it, and I will continue to celebrate it because there’s a legacy in it, and that’s my responsibility.

KG: There you go, and that pretty much sums it up right there. And Carolyn, as a Shalamar fan, I’m glad you stepped into the group. I am.

CG: Well, thank you. I appreciate you.

KG: I’m glad you stepped in—I can only speak for myself—I’m glad you stepped in and you’re helping Howard and Jeffrey continue the legacy.

CG: Right.

KG: Continue the legacy and…

CG: You know what? They’re helping me.

KG: Okay. All right.

CG: They are helping me, because you know what? There would be—of course with my dad starting and everything—to me, there would be no… and I say this for all the members, everybody has their own favourite version but Shalamar’s an entity. It is not based upon the people that are in it.

KG: Right.

CG: It’s an entity, and it has been a revolving entity. And you know what? That’s what it’s always been. So I celebrate and I give homage to every single last member who were a part of this group.

KG: Carolyn Griffey, thank you so very much for joining us at And you and Howard and Jeffrey, you’ll be in Great Britain the weekend, I believe, of October 30th?

CG: Yes, but the show is on the 29th.

KG: Oh, it’s on the 29th, okay. Because Howard wasn’t even sure and I wasn’t even sure, because I heard either the 29th or 30th, but it is October 29th?

CG: Yes, sir.

KG: And you’ll be playing where again?

CG: At the O2 arena, the Indigo.

KG: At the Indigo. Well, I hope that you will have as many fans there as Shalamar did when they hit Wembley Stadium all those many years ago, and I wish you and Jeffrey and Howard safe travels to the UK and safe travels back home, okay?

CG: Well, thank you so much, and I really appreciate your interview and taking the time. And bless you and take care.

KG: You too.

About the Writer
Kevin Goins aka “The Soul Ninja” is a veteran of the radio and recording industries, has authored liner notes for CD collections by Earth Wind & Fire, Melba Moore and Stacy Lattisaw. He's also the producer/host of the Internet radio interview series "Soulful Conversations" as well as a classic R&B show "The Kevin Goins Soul Experience".
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