Crossing all boundaries musically, emotionally and culturally, as he crooned his way into the hearts and souls of listeners around the globe for more than twenty years, Luther became a household word. As if his gorgeous eyes and beautiful smile didn’t melt the people’s hearts; his voice hypnotized audiences as he sang of love and more love.
In a sneak attack, on April 16, 2003, Vandross suffered a diabetes-induced stroke that left him in a coma for several weeks. Fans came together with prayers and well wishes for this idolized singer, songwriter.
Producer Rex Rideout felt compelled to put together a project, giving back some of the love Luther has poured out from his heart all these years.
Pointing the finger of success for this project doesn’t work, as Rideout backs out of the spotlight and attributes the greatness of this album to the artists who stepped up and poured their own time, energy and magnificent talents into this work of art, showing Luther their own love of him and his works.
"I’m such a fan of Luther Vandross’ music," says Rideout. " I would say initially, the idea for this project came from being such a fan. And, secondly, from working with him on his last three albums. I wanted to do this before his illness. But, after Luther had his stroke, this became a mission of mine to honor him by sending well wishes to him while he’s recovering."
"I pitched the project in October. We actually started working on it the end of December. We finished the middle of March"
JazzReview: Wow, that’s quick for such a huge undertaking.
Rex Rideout:Especially when you have to coordinate 11 artists, I think everybody kind of pitched in and helped extra. It was about the love
This was collaboration among myself - Bud Harner and mixing engineer Ray Bardani.
I’ve known Bud from working on other Verve projects-- Richard Elliot and me. So when I talked with. Ron Goldstein about the project, he put Bud Harner and me together to work on it. And, he kind of spearheaded this thing from there. He called a lot of the artists and I called a lot of the artists and we produced the record together. It was great.
JazzReview: Mr. Ray Bardani is mentioned as recording and mixing engineer. How did you find him? Why did you choose him?
Rex Rideout: Actually, I just met him by working on Luther’s last album. The two before that also, but we also worked on Dance With My Father. Ray and I mixed Will Downing’s last record. He’s just a great engineer.
And, when I began this album, I wanted to be authentic. A project like this can become cheesy if not handled in the right way. So, I wanted to have it as authentic as I could . How much better could it be than to have the guy who mixed 16 Luther records, to mix the entire album?
JazzReview: I watch the Apollo theatre. A lot of the people who go on there try to do Luther. Almost all of them fail.
Rex Rideout: You know, it’s a hard undertaking to do a vocal Luther album.
JazzReview: Absolutely. You have several different sax players on this album. Can you give me some insight into how you chose each sax player for this album? As I listen to this album again and again I hear each sax player hits exactly the right note at exactly the right time. That’s quite an accomplishment.
Rex Rideout One of our concerns was: we had so many sax players. Smooth jazz in general has so many sax players. But, on this album, what we found when we listened to it, is: each person plays so differently. It doesn’t end up being boring because Kirk Whalum sounds completely different than Richard Elliot, who sounds entirely different from Boney James and Dave Koz.
You don’t really notice it when they’re apart. But, when you hear them back-to-back, you really notice the difference.
JazzReview Is this because of the horn? Or is this because of the style or wind power of the artist?
Rex Rideout: I think it’s a style, how they play. Each person’s horn is different. But, I think each person brings a different style and approach to the project.
You’ll find Richard is a really ballsy player and he goes for it hard. Then you’ve got Kirk who is really, really soulful. Then, there’s the R&B, Groverish textures of Boney James. Dave Koz has a totally unique sound. Then Mindi Abair. It’s funny because having Mindi on this project with Ray Bardani, who mixed and produced a lot of the Sanborn records; Mindi is such a Sanborn fan, it was great having them work together.
JazzReview: They create a great sound. I also notice Dave Koz and Brian Culbertson together forOnly For One Night. They pulled it off beautifully. Nothing missed. Every note perfect.
When Luther does that song, you hear his vocals. Everything else just is background. But, hearing the song done only through instruments brings another entire dimension to this song. This is an intricate piece. It has a lot of surprise twists and turns to it.
How did you make the decision to put Koz and Culbertson together?
Rex Rideout: That song was produced by Brian Culbertson. We approached Dave and Brian about being on the album on separate songs, but they had always wanted to do a duet. So, this was the perfect opportunity for them to work together. And, it came out great.!
Brian is a really fine producer. We love having him on this album.
JazzReview Well, it turned out just perfect.
This all says a lot about you as a producer. You must have an ear to know who fits with who-- plus, timing and sounds. And, to be sensitive to the specialness of each song is a great talent.
Rex Rideout: What’s great about having an instrumental project like this is: you’re not concentrating on the vocals and that person’s interpretation. With an instrumental version, you reflect on where you were when you first heard the song when Luther sang it. I don’t think I knew that going into it. But, after I did this project, I realized, Wow-there’s something special about an instrumental.
JazzReview You’re right. I didn’t realize until I sat down and listened to this album, just how much was going on in the background. A tremendous amount of talent shows up in the instrumentals.
Can you tell me something about Kirk Whalum and his style?
Rex Rideout: He was our first choice to be on the album because he was Luther’s favorite Sax player. He played solos on several Luther records. He was one of the first people we called and fortunately, he obliged to do the record.
The amazing thing about him is we went to the studio and began to record; He goes into the studio-most of what you hear on the album is his first take-and when he comes out of the booth, he says, "You know what? I never played that song before. I just know how it goes."
It’s like, "You gotta’ be kidding me! He’s got every nuance, every vocal nuance-and I think that’s what each artist did. They each listened to the song. They each knew how it goes. And, they really bring something of Luther to the studio.
And, Kirk-he’s just such a soulful player.
JazzReview: And, Boney James, as you say, is such a strong player. Yet, he fits the songs he does on this album.
Rex Rideout: Right. And we worked together on this album. It’s really natural for Boney and me to work together. We see pretty much eye to eye. We’ve worked together on three albums now. He knew what the song needed He knew when to blow hard and when to hold back.
The other song, Sensitivity, where he covers it with a blaring solo, it’s like a pop record, like a big blaring sax solo where he knows what to do.
JazzReview: Right Rick Braun .?
Rex Rideout: Rick’s another one.
JazzReview: Rick and Richard Marx co-composed Dance With My Father, which won two Grammy Awards, including "Song of the Year."
Rex Rideout: Rick did an incredible job. I remember after his take, we were listening to his flugelhorn on the song. I wanted him to be a little busier on that.
And, he said, " you know what? This song is about the melody and the words. And I don’t want anything I’m doing to come in the way of that."
It was funny because when I went to Luther and played the album for Luther, we got to Dance With My Father and Luther started singing along with the song.
Then as I thought about it, I felt so glad Rick wasn’t going crazy on this one. He played from the heart, and he felt what he did.
JazzReview: And, did Luther break loose with a tear?
Rex Rideout: He just sang along. Well, at the state he is in, it’s a great accomplishment for him to sing along, from the middle of the first verse, he sang.
We were the ones with the tears. His mother was in the room, plus his aunts, and, my friend, Fonzi Thornton, who introduced us, he was there. We all had tears in our eyes
At that point, I knew we had done the right thing.
JazzReview: You touched his heart.
About some of the singers: Lalah Hathaway. She did such a nice job on this album. I hear she surprised herself when she heard her own performance. She said she sounded like a girl.
Rex Rideout: Right. When I played the mix for her, she said, "Wow. I sound like a girl."
The amazing thing was: she insisted on keeping the song in the original key. It’s a low key, especially for a female. But that’s the way she sang it. It’s just so sensual because it is in that key. And, that’s the way she kept it. The original song was very lush and huge. This went in the opposite direction to make it really clubby, really tight horn sound. And people lots of times say, it’s their favorite song on the record.
I’ve been doing a lot of interviews with Lalah, and I always say, "The daughter of a legend singing the songs of a legend."
She was awesome, one of our first choices.
JazzReview: Lisa Fischer? She’s been with Luther forever.
Rex Rideout: Yes. She’s been with the Rolling Stones for a long time, also.
JazzReview: Since this is a tribute to Luther because of the debilitating effects of diabetes, and you feel so strongly about it, do you have a personal experience with diabetes?
Rex Rideout: Yes. My grandfather, a pianist, had both legs amputated due to diabetes. Plus, it is so prevalent in the African-American community.
We wanted to make this album more than a musical statement. We wanted it to be something bigger than that. And, I think it’s taken on a life of its own.
The American Diabetes Association has been intimately involved in promoting this album. And, the awareness is being raised this album is turning into the proper tribute (as I wanted it to be) rather than an exploitive project to capitalize on Luther’s condition right now.
This is ‘let’s celebrate him and the legend he is’. And at the same time, do something that’s meaningful.
It just touches me.
How all this has grown by the production of this record, I’m humbled by the experience.
JazzReview: That says a lot about you, too. To accomplish what you have accomplished, and to have the sensitivity that you do, did you start working when you were 5? Or are you 120 years old?
Rex Rideout: It’s funny-I came into the business late. I never thought I’d be in the music business. I didn’t know this is what I wanted to do until I was 30. I’m 43 right now. So, I’m still a newcomer in a lot of ways.
The first time I was in a studio was 1989.
JazzReview: So you caught up quick.
Rex Rideout: I had to. I quit my job as a pharmaceutical representative and just moved to New York. So everything has been a blessing. And, this project has been one of those things that doesn’t happen very often
Part of this is you (the person doing the project) and part of it is stepping back and allowing the project to be bigger than you.
You have to do it or you cripple the project. I’ve always told people, it isn’t me, the artist.(It’s the project created of love.) I hope to facilitate this project. It’s a whole lot of people coming in, giving their time and love for this project-And, it isn’t a whole lot of money.
I’m sitting back there, as a fan. I can’t believe how quickly this project came together.
It was amazing. I’ve had a lot of projects that have taken a lot longer.
These songs were all hits. But, to take each song and do a special take on each one being true to each song and true to each musician. It’s a lot of love. And, it’s also a lot of luck.
JazzReview: You had to go into a vault of 118 tunes and narrow it down to ten.
Rex Rideout: Yeah. The other thing I wanted to do was to stay with songs Luther had written. That was one of the things I promised his management when I began this project.
I wanted to celebrate him not only as a singer but also as a writer.
JazzReview: That was good. For me, personally, I think Luther’s earlier songs were the best.
His later works may have been smoother, neater and he may have held his notes a little longer. But, his early works had wild twists and turns and were always a surprise.
Rex Rideout: Oh yes. Never Too Much, & Wait For Love-I grew up on that. I remember where I was when I first heard each song. I remember what I was doing. These songs become part of you, the person.
JazzReview: Yes. I think it’s possible Luther is responsible for more babies being born during the 80s than any other crooner. All men knew the way to a lady’s heart was through Luther’s voice.
Rex Rideout: Oh yes. Absolutely. And, I think it’s just great his mom is in support of this record. His management is in support of this record.
It’s really special because I think everyone took it in the right way. And, I have to give an applause to Verve Records and to Ron Goldstein, Susan Berg and J’ai St. Laurent-Smyth over there for their magnificent job in presenting the record in a perfect way
JazzReview: It’s true to itself all the way through. And, it’s great Luther’s mother is coming out and speaking up about diabetes.
Rex Rideout: Thank you very much.
It meant so much to have her give her blessings. It just adds a personal, heartfelt touch to the album
JazzReview: I understand she has lost extensive family member s to this disease.
Rex Rideout: That’s why it was so important to have Dance With My Father on this record. I know it was scary for Rick Braun cause that’s not something you want to screw up on. But he was so respectful of what this song was. I am so grateful to him for his touch.
I just want people to give their support to Luther, to buy this album and share the love .for him and to raise awareness of diabetes.
I was doing an interview last week and people said prayers and sent well wishes. This is another way to contribute to Luther and send well wishes at the same time.
If that can be accomplished through this record, then we’ve done our job-even more than we set out to do.
JazzReview: To step into such a big man’s shoes and to do it so well, that’s quite an accomplishment.
Rex Rideout: Thank you. That’s quite a compliment.
JazzReview: Do you have any other projects in the work or are you just going to take a breather?
Rex Rideout: I’m just finishing Maysa’s record from Incognito; and a couple other projects. Usually when you finish a project, you can go on to another project. But, this project for Luther-I’m so involved in it. It’s like the project that never stops:
A concert is planned in New York on October 22 for the American Diabetes Association, presenting Love Letters To Luther and his family. They will announce up to date results of the fundraising campaign.
August 3 kicks off the’ Love Letter to Luther’ Campaign. Several major cities across the US are participating in getting the word to the public. A release party is planned for next Wednesday, July 28, 2004: We’re putting a band together in Los Angeles. Several of the artists will be there. No one’s getting paid for this. It’s all done out of love.
Dave Koz, George Benson-they’re not making anything. I can’t take any credit. They’re just doing out of the love for their work and the love of this project. It just gives me a glimmer of hope that everybody’s not out for themselves.
JazzReview: It’s obvious this was meant to happen. Rex Rideout had a passion to gather the finest of artists and create a project to honor Luther with the highest praise for all Luther has meant to so many people.
Now, that project has come together. The album hits the shelves July 27, 2004. Borrowing words from Luther, "And, it’s so amazing, that we are together-sharing love forever, ‘cause we have Amazing Love."
For so many years, Luther shared Amazing Love with the world. Now, it’s time for the world to return Amazing Love to Luther-on his own terms.
What a project !