First off, much thanks to all the kind folks that enjoy my ravings...In addition to my Mentors column, I'm starting a series of experiences titled Bill's Blogs…
I've mentioned my father in other posts. He was my guiding light, & the best man I've ever known. However, he cursed me with a simple phrase that he lived by & preached to me -
" your word is your bond!" I've tried my best to measure up to his high standard, but at times it led me into difficult situations.
Most folks don't know that I was a classical organ major (with a piano minor) going into college... I believe it helped me become an arranger. The organ was linear (with independent parts played on multiple keyboards & pedals.
While at DePaul University, I made a life-long friend in Paul Wilson... I grew up in a lily-white suburb, & didn't meet anyone of color until college. He turned me onto jazz, blues, & R&B. Paul was/is uber-talented, & he also introduced me to a group of wonderful black musicians, singers, & songwriters. I demoed my songs, & after I joined Gino Vannelli's band, I was helped by Jerry Wolf (who helped finance a demo with real production value).
Jerry managed to get my demo tape of 5 songs to various places... In 1978 I was spending time in Los Angeles (staying with friends) in between tours with Lou Rawls. I received a call from Harvey Mason (drummer extraordinaire) who was recording a solo album. I became a fan of Harvey's from hearing his work with Herbie Hancock on "Headhunters". He told me that he loved my demo, & wanted to cut a song from it on his new album. He told me that I could play, arrange, & solo on the song- titled "Here Today & Gone Tomorrow". The musicians were all
A LIST musicians- Harvey on drums, Stanley Clarke on bass, Lee Ritenour on guitar, Paulino DeCosta on percussion, Bill Champlin on lead vocal etc…
"Maurice White... introduced me to another future mentor of mine - David Foster."
Shortly after this, I got a phone call from Maurice White (leader of EWF) to come out & write with him for the upcoming "I Am" album. We hit it off... (co-writing "Can't Let Go) & he introduced me to another future mentor of mine- David Foster. He wanted to co-produce an album on me with David... I was overjoyed.
About a week later, Maurice asked about also cutting 2 songs from my demo ("Where Do We Go From Here" & "Here Today & Gone Tomorrow") for the new album. I explained that I had given it to Harvey, & asked if both of them could cover it. He told me that EWF didn't do that...
I called my Dad & explained my dilemma to him. He heard me out, followed by a minute of silence. He then said "did you first give Harvey your word to cut the song?" I replied yes... followed by a long silence. My pop replied, "you know what I would do".
A couple of days later, David sat me down & said to me, "do you realize the opportunity you are getting here? We're thinking that song could possibly open the record." You should explain it to Harvey & ask him to cut something else of yours".
I was young & naive, & thought since "Can't Let Go" & "Where Do We Go From Here" were getting cut, I could show off my range by keeping it with Harvey, & not offend anyone. I kept it that way... The session with Harvey went great- I tracked with the above amazing musicians, played solos, & arranged strings & horns for it.
"Your word is your bond!"
In the meantime, "Where Do We Go From Here" (co-written with my buddy Ross Vannelli) was recorded but dropped when a deal on publishing was reached between the writers & Maurice for "After the Love is Gone". It ended up on an EWF album release about 15 years later....
Harvey's "Groovin You" album was reviewed well, but sold about 35,000 records. "I Am", released the same year has sold over 3 million copies worldwide. I would have liked to hear EWF's version…
Mason, who attended Berklee in the 1960s, received an Honorary Doctorate at Berklee's 2015 Commencement Ceremony for his achievement and influence in music and for his enduring contributions to American and international culture.