Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Eric Roberson: Mr Nice Guy talks Music and Family

Pulling up to The Birchmere, just minutes outside of Washington DC, I was surprised to see a line had already begun to form at 4:30 for a show that was scheduled to start at 8:00. An even bigger surprise was that Eric Roberson, the headlining performer, was outside taking pictures chatting and signing autographs for everyone in line. Although concert-goers were there to get will-call tickets, they got much more than expected. Roberson took his time with each person, chatting, exchanging chest-arm hugs with the “brothers” and offering the ladies handshakes or a hug. There was no security or entourage with him as he worked his way to the back of the line. At times, it looked more like friends reconnecting than a Hollywood meet and greet. He says that he always takes time to greet his fans before and after the show.
Eric is a native of New Jersey, where he spent lots of time in church and going through his dad’s record collection. As a youngster, he won Mr. Black Teen Universe, securing him a full scholarship to Howard University in Washington, D.C. It was during that time that Eric, on a self-imposed sabbatical from school, endeavored to pursue a life with his first love…music. In 1994 he landed a deal with Warner Brother Records. Although the album he produced under that deal was never released, its first single, The Moon, still is in rotation on some radio stations, and VH1Soul. He would later return to Howard University, graduating with a degree in Musical Theater.
With the success of being one of the top indie soul artists, who sold most of his CDs at his shows, Eric had no interest in getting a deal with a major label. Instead, he created his own label, “Blue Erro Soul.” Eric has been twice nominated for Grammy awards, and also a BET Award. Although he dropped his first single in 1994, it’s been only recently that mainstream media appears to be catching on.
The best thing about being Eric Roberson right now, he says, “I can be all of me”. Unlike many artists trying to field their way in the music industry maze, Eric is still able to successfully divide his time as an artist, business man, new husband, and even newer father. “I like that I’m able to be in the studio, and still take out the trash or play with my son,” he says. As part of the work- life balancing act, Eric success in some ways seems like a family business. His father often travels with him and helps with the behind the scenes business. During the sound-check, he sang to his one year old son as he was cradled in Eric’ mother’s arms in the distance. Meanwhile, Eric’s wife – who he’d actually met after one of his shows years ago – was navigating between working on her laptop and tending to their son. “I love being married. I love being a father too,” Eric said, “It makes me feel secure, and I love the energy it creates.”

In November, Eric Roberson will release Mr. Nice Guy, his eighth CD since 2001. He says he’s much busier these days, and with each new album he reaches many new fans. But in some ways, Eric feels as if he is still proving himself. Even though he is becoming more popular around the country, for years he has been an industry insider, scribing hits for Musiq, Jill Scott, and Will Downing to name a few. And while he has an almost cult-like following, he’s not yet a household name. He’s now getting radio play, but his songs aren’t a part of most urban/soul radio station daily play lists. Roberson doesn’t spend time lamenting these realities. While many artists measure success by numbers of awards and accolades received, his success is defined far more simply. For Eric, success is only achieved if he achieves success as an artist, success for his band, success for his label, success with his family. “Success to me is to grow old doing my music,” he says.
To many ‘ERFlings’(the nickname for Roberson’s core fanbase), he is the premiere artist on the indie soul scene; however, he is careful to stunt any hints of rivalry, calling it friendly competition. He goes on to say that he is friends and fans of lots of people in his genre. “I love all those guys, Martin Luther, Anthony David, Dwele,” he explains, “If another artist is on a show with me, I want them to have a good show and bring that energy, because I’m gonna do the same thing. This is much bigger than me. We need each other to do well. So we can all take it to the next level.”
Just a few years ago, the internet was expected to hurt the music business, and for many artists funneled through the music industry’s ‘machine,” it has. But the rise in popularity of YouTube and social media has increased the exposure of a mass of indie artists to a population with whom they would have otherwise continued to go unknown. In fact the majority of Eric’s fans discovered his music through word of mouth, MySpace, and YouTube. Eric sees YouTube a great concept. “Lots of people see you on YouTube and decide to go to a show or buy your music based on that. The downside to YouTube is I can’t wear the same thing twice,” he says, laughing, “I used to get away with that”.
In recent years, Roberson has consistently made the right moves. Call it luck; perfect timing, or just talent, his work ethic and talent all seem to be paying off. But perhaps the most humbling example came very recently, with what he sees as two of the greatest compliments to his work as an artist. One was when a young female fan who had suffered a stroke. When her family played Eric’s songs, her vital signs were higher “It’s great to know my music has some level of ministry and healing,” he says. The other, he says, is when people tell him of how they’ve conceived babies to his music. Such compliments used to be saved for the likes of Luther Vandross and Stevie Wonder, who Eric happens to be a huge fan of. He says he’ll gladly take the ‘baby-making-love-song’ title if it comes.
For more on Eric you can check out his site www.ericrobersonmusic.com @IamEricRoberson

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Whats Up With Rodney Perry

Every night on the MoNique Show, she introduces the world to Rodney Perry, her co-host, side-kick and her friend. But many of us wonder why is he there? What does he do? And yet many comedy fans already know who he is and has seen what he can do-leave the crowd in stitches.

Although, on the show he hasn’t flexed his comedic dexterity, Perry has made a living telling jokes for over 15 years. Even as a kid he liked to make his friends and family laugh. Then Eddie Murphy put a face and label on his future career. After serving in the US Navy Rodney dabbled in comedy for a few years, but didn’t take it seriously until moving to Los Angeles in the mid 90s. He recalls his first time performing at Fat Tuesdays, which was the premier spot for Black Comics in LA as a night he will never forget. “They booed and heckled me soon as I hit the stage, comedian/host Guy Torrey saved him from the crowd but hit him with a few shots at him too. After an adamant person in the crowd asked for him to come back to the stage, Rodney regrouped and was able to salvage his dignity and regain the crowds respect. On stage his material is similar to his peers. But on stage he “wants to stand out” from his peers. Perry always wears suits on stage in a error when many urban comics sport jeans, and polo shirts. In 2002 He won the Bay Area Black Comedy Competition. Since then he has racked up numerous comedy show credits, including Def Comedy Jam, ComicView and Who’s Got Jokes.

Rodney and Monique had always run in the same circles. Their first encounter was brief. He was offered a higher paying option to perform on the Big Black Comedy show, but opted to co-host instead. That was the first time he met MoNique. She was the host, but they didn’t actually work side by side. Then shortly afterwards he was performing and didn’t know that she was in the crowd, but she was moved by his work ethic, reached out to him and took his wife shopping. “That was the begining of our friendship. Now she’s like my sister”, he said. When MoNique wanted someone to ride shot gun when she hosted her syndicated show, Rodney was right there. “When they called me in, we just clicked and after a few days, they told me I was gonna be part of the team,” he said.

Although the radio buzz soon died off, MoNique told him, there would be something better coming for him soon. Fast forward two years, and they are both on TV every night world-wide. For people who know Rodney seeing him on stage but not seeing him get to shine is perhaps more frustrating for them, than it is for him. “I used to get a little frustrated, but I’m learning so much, and people see my face and know my name now, he continues. “I’m learning from the Executive Producer on how to be a better business person. And I’m like Scotty Pippen was to Jordan, to assist.” Rodney says they shoot three days a week, doing two shows each day. He is quick to point out that Monique will greet or take a picture with everyone who stays after the show and won’t leave until everyone is gone. “I admire her for that”.

Rodney says even with his modest success, he is still learning. He says George Lopez taught him to always write new material. Steve Harvey sets an example of diversifying your talents and business. Cedric the Entertainer taught him how to be friendly to everyone. “I learn a lot from everyone and all those pieces help make me who I am,” he boasts. Being on the show of course has it perks. When he does shows now, his stock has risen. He can demand more for a show than he did at this time last year. On weekends, he tag teams shows around the country opening for Monique. her fans are becoming his fans as well. Another perk of the show is traveling. He says when they travel now, it’s a smooth ride to the gate with no interruptions. Also, fans can look for him in an upcoming episode of "Meet The Browns." The frustrating part of being Rodney Perry is that all of his comedic friends want to be on the show. “I want to put them all on, but I can’t. It’s not enough slots for everyone. He says even if he can’t get them on the show, he does make sure that the right person sees their tapes.

By most accounts Rodney is humbled funny and genuine. Be sure to log on to www.rodneyperry.com or follow him on www.twitter.com/rodneyperry to keep up with shows in your area.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Walter Maxfield Jones - On The Move

Just like many rappers make underground mix tapes to generate buzz and develop a grassroots following Walter Maxfield Jones has done the same thing on the indie film circuit. His name is fully established in the Washington DC/Baltimore acting scene, and industry insiders in New York and Hollywood are starting to connect the dots.

As a child growing up in Sacramento, this California native started showcasing his singing and acting talents in school plays, talent competitions and musicals. Even at a young age he had a hustlers spirit. He would make tickets and sell them to his family and perform in the living room of his home. “Entertainment is my passion. “If I don’t do it, I’m neglecting a blessing,” he says. “My goal is to win an Oscar and a Grammy.”

As a teen, Jones was a solid performer on stage and in the classroom. He signed a record deal with MCA Records as part of a boy band Adagio, that later disbanded. Like most teens he was impressionable and hung with a rambunctious crowd and believes that it was a matter of time before he would get in serious trouble. He later enrolled at Morgan State University with a full Engineering scholarship.
Once he moved to the east coast he became engrained in the local arts culture. He is the host of Warm Wednesdays, a Baltimore based showcase of Spoken Word and NeoSoul. Currently with thirteen years running it is the nations’ longest running weekly spoken word venue. “I do it because the people enjoy it and so do I,” he said. We’ve had some great moments there. Musiq, Raheem Devaughn, IndiaArie and a lot of other people have blessed the stage.”

Recently Walt was nominated as Best Dramatic Actor by the Indie Soap Awards for his portrayal of Michael in the series Anacostia. Other productions he’s worked on have done well in the Hollywood Black Film Festival, London Independent Film Festival and Washington DC International Film Festival. Currently, fans can catch him in “Torn,” a film dealing with the seldom talked about topic of women who cheat. Walt’s next venture is the film adaption of “The Power The Passion and The Pulpit,” a film in which he also starred in the stage production. “I want to make a business out of what I Love. This is my calling I need the stage and the stage needs me,” he boasts.

In an era when New York or Los Angeles seems to pull budding artist to relocate, Jones says LA is “inevitable.” But he doesn’t want to go until he has generated enough buzz and has everything in place. I don’t want to be one of those guys who move to LA and become a waiter. I’ll go when the time is right.”
Unwilling to rest with his pursuit of the arts, his go-getter attitude which he adopted from his childhood summers in New York, he is a solid business man. He owns a information technology company called ITSA. ITSA specializes in recruiting and consulting.

Walt says that a big part of what keeps him moving is his fear of mediocrity. He’s never wanted to be the average Joe. ”I always try my best and always enjoy life. Life is too short not to enjoy it,” he says. For more info visit www.whatwaltcando.com or follow him on www.twitter.com/wmaxfieldjones

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Reggie J: Hollywoods Inside Man of Fashion

During award shows and other Hollywood red carpet events, you expect to hear designer names like Gucci, Versace and Vera Wang. However there’s another designer, who prefers to call himself a clothier. “We build custom wardrobes”, said Reggie J, founder of Reggie J Custom Clothing of Beverly Hills.

In a matter if years, he has dressed some of the top names in entertainment, including Steve Harvey, Randy Jackson, Cedric the Entertainer, Terrell Owens, Barry Bonds and he recently designed a suit for President Obama. Although he admits that many of his clients are celebrities and athletes, he maintains, his ideal client is anyone who appreciates fine custom clothes.

Even as a kid growing up in Philadelphia, Reggie says that fashion and clothes were a part of his blood. In fact, his parents worked at a knitting factory. He says that both of his parents were always sharp dressers. Those same characteristic became the fabric of much of Reggie’s personality. “When my friends were asking for balls and toys for Christmas, I wanted a cashmere coat. He got that coat when he was only 11 years old, and from that day, he has always been a snazzy dresser himself. Some of his early jobs, were in the fashion industry, but while working at stores such as Merry Go Round and Bernini, he didn’t take it seriously as a career.

Then he met Dion Lattimore, another designer who complimented Reggie saying he always looked nice at random events where he’d seen him before, and with that, they began to work together. He credits Dion with teaching him about selling and what makes custom clothes special. Yet he knew there was still more to learn. Then he met Johnathan Behr, who he says taught him about manufacturing of clothes, cutting and fabric. “By working with them, I learned both side of the business. The best of both worlds” he boasts.

He decided to go into business for himself after having lunch with a girlfriend who suggested that going into business for himself wasn’t a good idea. Reggie has been in business for 12 years, and proclaims he has not missed a meal since. He insists his business grows each year even during a time of economic depression when some of his peers are struggling. Perhaps the prime reason why Reggie J is not a household name is because he does not sale his garments in stores, nor does he have any intentions to do so. He says he learned a long time ago, it’s more important to be successful, than famous. Jenkins says, one thing setting him apart from his peers is his relationship with his clients. All of his clients have his cell number. He says he teaches them how to maintain the clothes and even how to identify fine fabrics. “If someone calls me at 2am to sew a button, I am on my way to sew a button”, he said. Another difference between his work and his peers, is the fact that all of his pieces are made in the US. “We use, Loro Piana, Dormeuil, Scabal. All the best fabrics”, he states.

Although he doesn’t buy many things “off the rack”, there are a few designers that he does like. Tom Ford, who he says is a trendsetter and has a unique sense of style. Also Jean Luca Izaire, who he says is the only designer he would wear other than his own designs of course. In fact, most of his wardrobe are things he designed. “We will do anything you need, ties, hats, suspenders, shoes, even cufflinks. We will do your entire wardrobe”.
Reggie is already grooming his daughter to take over the family business and carry on the name so that he can retire and move to Brazil. For more info please call 877REGGIEJ or visit the website www.reggiejcustomclothing.com

Monday, May 3, 2010

Laff'n With Aida Rodriguez

Aida Rodriguez is a comedienne, a writer and an actress, but most of all, she is go-getter. Rodriguez had her first essay published in her hometown newspaper the Miami Herald when she was only 7 years old. She then her creativity and resilience has taken her to the big screen and the comedic stage.

As a teen Aida worked as a model, but later gave up that dream when she realized she was living a nightmare fueled by anorexia. “I was good at it, she says, but it wasn’t what was best for me. But looking back at it, I have no regrets.”

She currently lives in LA and balances her time between mommy duties and her regimented Hollywood hustle. She is on stage at least once per week and often on location shooting various film projects. Aida determined, and unwilling to rest on modest success, she says she has to create her own opportunities. “Im 5’10” and a woman of color. I am not in demand. Casting agents aren’t looking for girls like me” she states. So Aida has produced her own projects. “The Greatest Song,” which she wrote, produced and starred in is a romantic comedy. It’s the story of a Black man (Laman Rucker) and a Latina woman who fall in love after meeting at church. One huge milestone for her was Wal-Mart’s decision to sale the movie in stores around the country. Aida also produced other projects including “Diggas” and “Brainiacs in LA LA Land.” I can’t wait for the opportunities to come to me,” she said. “I have to create my own.”

As a comic, she is still considered a new comic and isn’t yet regarded as a queen of comedy but she has already garnered respect from her peers and fans as she works the crowd at the Laugh Factory, The Comedy Store and the Improv. In addition, she even appeared on BETs showcase One Mic Stand. Her comedic insight has even taken her abroad, touring the countries of Korea and Japan. “I don’t tell jokes. I tell my business,” she says of her comedy routine. “If I tell my truth, I can’t loose.”
Aida’s first time on stage would probably give most people extreme stage fright. She performed in front of 1500 people and did well. Although her second performance, didn’t go over as well, she held her head up and worked out the tweaks, learned the art of stand-up and continues to take people through her hilarious journeys. However, She says there are a few limits to what she will do onstage. She says she won’t embarrass herself, and she doesn’t talk about her dating life. She was recently dating a well known person, but refuses to talk about it publicly, acknowledging it’s his business also.

Her son likes him mom being a comedienne, while her daughter is used to her doing comedy but would prefer mom go back to modeling. Her family is finally all aboard. Initially they were hesitant because entertainment is a male dominant game, and unsure if she would be able to support her family. Aida says that comedy will always take priority over acting, because it is a creative outlet and it opens other doors for her. Moreover, she realizes success is more important that fame. “If I can’t show a feminine point of view and help someone at the same time, it’s pointless.”
For more info on Aida Rodriguez please catch her o Sunday and Wednesdays on www.chopituplive.com www.aidarodriguezlive.com www.twitter.com/aidaisfunny or find her on Facebook.

Leela James Bears Her Soul

Seems like the new millennium has brought in a wave of soul artist who haven’t gotten a Grammy, most haven’t hit platinum sales numbers yet. But they make great music, have a solid fan base waiting for them to hit the stage or drop a new CD. During an era when many artist are copy and paste clones Leela James, knew it was time for something fresh and released her debut CD in 2005 “A Change Is Gonna Come”. Songs like “Good Time” and “Music” combined with her energetic performances solidified her name at soul festival around the globe.

Leela is back with a new team, new label and new album. "My Soul" hit stores May 25 and she is “excited” about its release. Since the first album she released a project of cover songs, but only a few fans heard of it. However she has had an aggressive tour schedule taking her from US turf as far as South Africa and Switzerland. Although she enjoys the creative process in the studio, she admits she loves to be on stage. In between tour dates she worked on new material and made visits to the Soul Train Awards and NAACP Image awards not to perform but because she was nominated for awards.

Before gaining mainstream success Leela grew up in Los Angeles, performing in talent showcases and later working the local music scene. She grew in a house that fused an eclectic mix of Soul, Funk, Gospel and Hip Hop. “I’m a product of all those genres. I like all kinds of music and this album will show those parts of my personality,” she said. “I called this album “My Soul” because it’s the most accurate reflection of who I am than anything I’ve recorded.” The first single is

“Tell Me You Love Me,” in which she says, the title speaks for itself. She co-wrote that song, but says “I want It All” is a song she wrote on the spot. The version that is on the CD was recorded in one take and was all freestyle. “That’s what I was feeling at the time and it all came out” she admits.

Although on the surface all that we see is the glamour of the entertainment industry, Leela says one of the biggest lessons she’s learned is to put God first. Early in her career she has already had to assemble a whole new management team and even signed to a new Label. Although cautious not to give details about the dispute with her previous manager, she did say “You try to see the good in everyone, but you can’t trust everyone.” She was more candid about the dissolved relationship with Warner Brother Records claiming that they weren’t fully behind the first album. She feels that the CD should have had a stronger marketing and promotional campaign.
Now she is with Stax Records, a label that has been around for years, but not with the same big name artist as the more popular labels. Stax is credited with breaking Wilson Pickett and Otis Redding. James says she’s happy to be on a legendary label who has a history of soulful music. On the new label she has more control and says the label is fully supporting her movement.

Part of the demise of Stax’s visibility was due to business practices. Even today many labels are folding because of the internet, but Leela has full confidence in her company. However she does recognize the benefits of the internet as well. She is on Twitter and Facebook, and confesses to its power in marketing her music for free but also says of the internet it’s nothing you can do (to stop people from stealing music).
Leela is co-hosting a BET TV show “My Black Is Beautiful” which airs in May. She says she likes doing TV, but loves the freedom she has when on stage doing music. For now you can find her videos on Youtube, follow her on Twitter.com/leelajames or hit her on facebook.