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Interviews

Interview with Chris Jasper

todaySeptember 10, 2020 59 1

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Chris Jasper is a living legend in the music industry. A Singer/ songwriter, and producer, Jasper has worked with some of the biggest names in music. 

As a member of Isley, Jasper, Isley and The Isley Brothers, his music has touched the lives of millions of fans around the world. Jasper helped create some of the most iconic songs of all time.

 

 In this exclusive interview, Jasper opens up about his career, his influences, and shares some amazing stories from his time with The Isley Brothers. You won’t want to miss it!

So sit back and enjoy this fascinating conversation with one of the most talented musicians of our time!

Linwood Jackson:

Our guest is on the line. He is a legendary singer/ songwriter, producer, and keyboardist, and former member of the Isley Brothers, and Isley, Jasper, & Isley. He is a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient. Ladies and gentlemen, we have Mr. Chris Jasper on the line. Chris, how you doing, buddy?

Chris Jasper:

Oh, great, man. How are you?

Linwood:

I’m fabulously well. Thank you. Now, you got a big intro, man. You got so much going on. I hope I got everything right.

Chris:

Yeah, I think you did. Yeah. Yeah. I’m glad to be on the show with you this morning.

Linwood:

Thanks for joining us, man. The Isley Brothers, decades, man, you guys been hit after hit.

Chris:

Yeah, it’s been a great career. And I started over with the Isley Brothers back in the seventies, and I ended up writing probably the majority of that music and producing it. It was a great learning experience, and was also a great part of our career because we got to travel a lot. Our audience grew from early in the seventies to, say like 1983. That’s when I was with the group last. It was a great learning experience.

Linwood:

But you’ve been performing for a long time. How old were you when you first discovered that you had a love for music?

Chris:

I think I was about seven years old. My mother played piano and we had a piano in the house. She read music. But I used to have a radio in that same living room. And when songs would come on, I would try to play the songs on the piano. And my mother saw me doing that. And she said, “Chris, you have a good ear for music. You should go and learn how to read music.” So there was a professor from the Conservatory of Cincinnati and he went to our church, and my mother knew him. So she arranged for me to take lessons from Professor Gibbs. And I just started to learn more and more about songwriting, and how composers would put together their pieces, and the different techniques they would use. And that was the beginning of my songwriting.

Linwood:

And how old were you again?

Chris:

I was about seven years old. Yeah.

Linwood:

Seven years old. And so obviously, your mother was a big influence on you growing up. Who are some of your other early influences?

Chris:

Oh, well the people I used to try to emulate and play their songs was Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, Marvin Gaye. Those were my top three. And I used to always try to play their music. And that gave me a love for R & B music. I later became very, very interested in Motown and what they were doing there. I thought they were doing some great things there, Philly International, they did some great stuff there. So I had a lot of influence, even Sly, Sly and the Family Stone and Stevie Wonder, but he had his own way that he wrote and produced music too.

Linwood:

And so 7, 8, 9, 10 years old, these guys influenced you. As you grew older and started your own bands, did you get to play with any of those greats?

 

Chris:

Well, let’s see. We toured with a lot of people like Teddy Pendergrass. He was on a tour with us. Brothers Johnson, Gap Band. Everybody who had a hit record back then, most of them were on a tour with us, because we toured quite a bit. We toured every year. It was usually three, four to five months out of the year that we would tour. Sometimes we would have different opening acts for different for cities. So a lot of bands would open for us. We even did the jazz festivals. We played with Aretha Franklin and Chaka Khan and Parliament-Funkadelic. There was just so many people we played with, Graham Central Station.

Linwood:

But before you were a member of the Isley Brothers, you formed your first band in high school?

Chris:

Yeah, that was the three of us younger guys, me, Ernie and Marvin. Ernie played drums, I played piano, and Marvin played bass. And we called ourselves The Jazz Men trio. And we played the high school dances. We played a couple of church affairs. We even played a bowling alley. Anywhere we could set up, we would just set up and play. And that’s when the older brothers really recognized how we were coming along and developing. They wanted us to start playing with them.

And at first, we just played on the record, on the sessions, in the studio. We would do a couple of dates here and there, but we were still in high school, so we couldn’t do extensive touring. But once we started going to college, we started to do a lot more. We started to tour a lot more. I started to write. Ernie started to write too. So, as time went on, we took more of a role in producing and writing the music.

Linwood:

Where’d you go to school?

Chris:

I went to Julliard first, and I studied composition there. And then I heard that Dr. Billy Taylor was going to teach a course out on C.W. Post in Long Island. And, jazz was one of my first loves. And, at the time, he was one of the top jazz pianists in the world. So I had to take that opportunity to go out and study with him for a while. So I graduated from C.W. Post College in Long Island.

Linwood:

You and Ernie were still performing, even through your college years?

Chris:

Oh yeah. Yeah, we would, what I would do, I would write music for the student composers concerts, which we had to do every semester, and which was classical in nature. But then on the other hand, I would go into the studio and record, “Pop That Thing,” and “Love the One You’re With,” And all that stuff with the Isley Brothers. So I was constantly doing something. I was either writing for school, playing on sessions. And then, like I said in ’80, I think, no ’72, was my first composition for the Isley Brothers that was released on the record, which was, “Love Put Me On the Corner.” And ever since then, from that point on, I took a bigger role in the production and writing.

Linwood:

All of your songs were great songs that we all loved to sing along with. I know it makes you feel good, hearing them. Tell us some of the instruments that you play.

Chris:

My main instrument is keyboards, piano and synthesizers. And I also play drums. I play guitar and bass, too. And over our career, I did play a lot of those other instruments on the Isley Brothers records, too. Many people don’t know that. But if you get the box set, there’s an Isley Brothers box set that has all the albums from, “Shout,” to, “Between the Sheets.” There’s a lot more information in the booklet about who actually played what on different songs. And I played bass on some songs. I played guitar on some songs.

Linwood:

And you played an instrument that looked like a piano with a guitar. What do you call that instrument?

Chris:

Well, that was a synthesizer. And the first one was an Arp 2600.

Linwood:

Okay.

Chris: 

I had to have that done customly, especially for me because the manufacturer didn’t make them that way. So I had to get somebody to put a post in there and the strap it, have an extra long cord for it. That was when I did, “Take Me to the Next Phase.” And when we did that live, the base synthesizer part was the lead part of the song. So I didn’t want to be off on the side of the stage when we played that. So I had the guy make me a 25 foot cord for it, so I could come out to the middle of the stage. That’s when I first started to do that, with, “Take Me to the Next Phase.” And then, songs after that, I used the synthesizer for other songs too.

 

Linwood:

Got you. And it made the difference, the different sound of the Isley Brothers, unique.

Chris:

Yeah. That’s true.

Linwood:

How would you describe the Isley Brothers?

Chris:

Well, it’s R & B of course, but in the structure of the chords is a lot more than R & B going on there. Sometimes I use different voicings that were used in classical music, and in particular, the Romantic period, with composers like Debussy, even 20th century composers, like Gershwin. I used a lot of the things I learned in my studies, and I used them in R & B music, which gave the Isley Brothers music a different sound. It’s still rooted in R & B. But when you hear an Isley Brothers song, you do notice, it sounds a little bit different than other songs.

Linwood:

I’m hearing a little funk, a little jazz, R & B, you got everything all.

Chris:

Yeah. That’s what I mean about the Gershwin and the 20th century composers in America. And lot of the 20th century composers in America were adept in jazz. Jazz is a American phenomenon. So yeah, I use a little of that in music, like, “The Heat is On,” in the funk. There’s a chord change in, “The Heat is On,” and it’s purely jazz, but it’s in the context of a funk song. Earth, Wind and Fire did that very, very well too. They incorporated jazz into funk, and which gave them their particular sound.

Linwood:

And I hear gospel back there somewhere, all tied into me. You guys were really, really doing it. I think you were before your time, the late sixties and the seventies. And also Chris, back in those days, we had a lot of civil rights issues going on. Well, we still do today. And you guys incorporated that into your music, if you will, like, “Fight the Power”, “The Harvest For the World.” Can you share with us a little bit where that came from?

Chris:

Well, well, yeah, it was what was going on in music at that time. And people were speaking out about maybe what they were experiencing personally, or what was going on in the nation, or in the world. That was commonplace back then. But I don’t think anybody voiced a title of a song like we did, like, “Fight the Power.” That was different for the time. But what we were talking about in that song is that a lot of people didn’t have a voice. They didn’t feel they were being heard. And even in the music business, there’s something called crossing over. When you release a record, it goes to R & B stations first, and then companies try to “cross it over,” to the Top 40 stations. And so, there was a block of what people call red tape. And part of the verse goes, “I tried to play my music. They say, my music’s too loud. I tried talking about it. I get the big run around.”

Linwood:

Right.

Chris:

“And when I roll with the punches, I get knocked on the ground, with all this BS going down.” And it’s talking about things that were going on in the record business, but it was also talking about people that couldn’t be heard, for some reason or another. And that song was speaking out for them.

Linwood:

I know a lot of guys wouldn’t go over to South Africa during the times and perform until apartheid was over. What are your thoughts on that? You think more artists should be getting involved? You think people should use their platform to speak out for those who can’t?

Chris:

I think, yeah. I think that’s part of what I’ve done over my career. You mentioned apartheid. I wrote a song in 1986 for Isley, Jasper, Isley, called, “Brother to Brother.” And it was talking specifically about apartheid. “So many have laid down their lives and that’s not right.” That’s in the chorus. And it’s talking about going to South Africa and showing solidarity for what was going on there. And then, I think, shortly after that, a few years after that, then apartheid collapsed and the whole thing changed. But I’ve always done that. I’ve always wanted to say something that was important, at least one of my songs on my albums.

Linwood:

I know because a lot of performers are afraid to speak out. They think they’re going to get blackballed or what have you. And, I’m sure some of them did. But then, it took guts for those of you guys that did speak out. And that’s what I want to commend. I think you should use the platform, whatever the good Lord blessed you with, to reach out and help somebody.

Chris:

I’m glad you mentioned the Lord because that’s where a lot of my ideas are written, from his perspective.

Linwood:

We’re playing one of your songs now in the background, “You Are So Beautiful.” Your voice is on that one. But, “How Great Thou Art?”

Chris:

Yes.

Linwood:

Tell us about… You wrote all of those songs. What comes first, the lyrics or the music for you?

Chris:

Well, I didn’t write these two songs. “You Are So Beautiful,” is a Billy Preston song.

Linwood:

Correct.

Chris:

Billy Preston wrote that song. And I think Joe Cocker made it famous, his version. But I put my own spin on it, just like I did with some of the old Isley Brothers covers, “Hello It’s Me,” and those covers. So, it was my spin on that song. Now, “How Great Thou Art,” is a very famous hymn. It’s probably in just about every hymnal in every church you go in. But it was one of my mother’s favorite hymns, and my wife too. It was one of her favorites as well. And she’s the one who mentioned, she said, “Chris, you’ve done a lot of arrangements of cover songs. Why don’t you try something with these two?” And so that’s what got me on to doing arrangements for them. The more I worked on them, the more I felt it was going very well.

And then, “How Great Thou Art,” was a very special one, because I knew the hymn, I didn’t practice singing it that much. I just wanted to get the production right. And so, when I went to the studio, I was singing it, but it was almost as though I was listening to someone else singing, but I was singing it.

Linwood:

Wow.

Chris:

It was just a spiritual experience. And when I finished, my exact words was, “Did I just do that?”

Linwood:

Wow.

Chris:

That was my question to the engineer. Margie was crying inside the studio, and the engineer was smiling. It was such an uplifting experience for me.

Linwood:

Wow. You’ve written a lot of songs and all of these songs must be uplifting spiritually for you. Tell us about your record company.

Chris:

Yes. Gold City Records is my record label. And, if you go to chrisjasper.com, you can go and hear all of the music, all the music that’s on there, my schedule, Facebook, Twitter. So chrisjasper.com is where you can hear all the music and even buy it.

Linwood:

And any other family members in your family perform?

Chris:

Yeah, my son, Michael. He actually does a lot of my rhythm tracks on my CD’s now. But he’s also doing a CD of his own, which sometime this year he’ll finish it, but he’s working on something now.

Linwood:

What advice would you give young musicians like your son who want to perform as long as you have in the music business?

Chris:

Well, first of all, really try to learn as much as you can about music. And, I say that because that’s what’s going to make you come up with really good ideas is the more you know about a subject, no matter what it is, the better results you can get from it. So really learn as much as you can about music. And then also learn as much as you can about the business of music, contracts, copyright law. Or if you don’t know, have somebody that you really trust get involved in those things with you, because I know that’s some things that prevent people from going on is when they have problems with business. So those are the two things I would advise.

Linwood:

What’s your latest CD title?

Chris:

It’s called, “Share With Me.” And, “How Great Thou Art,” and, “You Are So Beautiful,” are on that new CD.

Linwood:

All right. And we’re playing them in the background right now, as we speak. What’s next for Chris Jasper?

Chris:

Well, immediately, I’m going to finish this project with Michael, but we’re also working on a film score. There’s a script that he’s written and we’re working on the music for that. So we want to finish that and get that film to a studio, hopefully a major studio, and get that into production. So, that’s the very next thing. And then after this, I think after this CD is out for a while, I’ll probably consider doing some live performances. So that’s the immediate future with what’s going to happen.

Linwood:

Sounds like this summer. Well, we’d be looking for you to come through Delaware. We got a lot of stops. We love your music.

Chris:

Oh, thank you. Thank you so much. I appreciate that.

Linwood:

Hey, listen, we down to the wire. You got any closing remarks you’d like to share with your fans?

Chris:

Yeah. I’d like to say this, and I say it with all sincerity, is that I appreciate so much the people that, over my career, have bought the music and appreciate the music. Right now, people giving me so much feedback on Facebook, and I appreciate the comments so much. So I can’t say that, I can’t thank them enough for their support.

Linwood:

Chris Jasper, legendary singer/songwriter. We appreciate you stopping by and sharing with us.

Chris:

Thank you for having me, man. I’m Chris Jasper, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame singer, writer, arranger, and producer, with the Isley Brothers and Isley, Jasper, Isley. And you’re listening to the Linwood Jackson radio show. And he’ll be right back.

 

Linwood Jackson is the Founder /CEO of Rockin’ Hot Radio and host of The Linwood Jackson Radio Show.

For more on Chris Jasper go to chrisjasper.com

 

Written by: rhrbrandswan

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