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The O’Jays – Giving the people what they want!

February 4, 2011 by  
Filed under Cover Story, Feature

Legendary soul music group the O’Jays are responsible for a number of songs that have been embedded in the zeitgeist for decades. Whether it’s “Family Reunion,” “Love Train,” “Backstabbers,” “For the Love of Money” or “Give the People What They Want,” many people can hum an O’Jays song on command, without missing a beat. Originally from Canton, Ohio, and inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2005, original members of the group include Eddie Levert Sr. and Walter Williams Sr.; Eric Nolan Grant joined in 1995. As Valentine’s Day approaches, Eddie Levert is still making music for the lover in all of us. In a wide-ranging discussion with Black Image, he shared his thoughts on today’s music, black history and coping with the deaths of his famous sons, Gerald and Sean.

How do you feel about black love today and musical influences?
I think radio and rap music has become so explicit that it has influenced our youth to be a little looser than we were. It all began in my era when we had that “free love” thing. The younger people nowadays are able to see the artists touching, and all over each other in videos and on television. It is all so visible, and we have lost touch with the fact that … being promiscuous is something that our society should not buy into. I think our children have grown up in an era when sex has just been thrown into their faces.
As musicians we need to step back and put the message a little more tactfully so that the reality of having sex is clearer. It can result in bringing babies into this world without fathers, and also children having children. Also, it is the element of having to pay the bills and nobody having a job, lack of education that serves as the trickle-down effect that this all has on society. I hate to think that the O’Jays music has created a lot of that, but I think at least in our music we were talking like gentlemen and were saying things that were in a worldly context. For example, we would sing about a woman that we wanted to marry and then have a family. Now, it’s flip that “thang” and “slap it up.” I think we have to get away from that.

The O’Jays music is about respectability?
Absolutely. Our music was back in an era when it was about a man-woman relationship and taking that relationship to the ultimate goal. And that ultimate goal is to get married, have children and have a family. Some children today just want to be big ballers because that is what they have been exposed to. I am not trying to pick on my rap brothers, but a lot of them are very explicit and most of the songs are about having a one-night stand. What comes from a one-night affair is usually a baby or something you don’t want. I just think we have to get back to real lyrics, and calling women ladies and men opening their doors.
Can we expect any new music from the O’Jays?
Currently, Walter has a new album. I am in the studio working on some new material for the Eddie Levert album and then we will start working on a new O’Jays album. Within the next year there will be some new music.

How do you and Walter like being new residents of Las Vegas?

I really got tired of the cold in Ohio. I started coming out to Las Vegas a long time ago. Just seeing the blue Las Vegas sky and the mountains is good for my psyche. Being back in Ohio with the overcast and snow was very depressing. Plus, the older I get, the more the cold weather affects arthritis and old bones. So moving to Las Vegas was a good thing — therapeutically and psychologically.

What is the O’Jays secret for lasting so long in the music industry?

You have to remember to cherish your people and your fans who buy your music. You have to cherish them. As an artist, you have to remember that they are the people who have choices and they don’t necessarily have to pick you. You have to be loyal to your fan base and always try to keep reinventing yourself. You have to keep serving the people who are buying your records.

As one of your hit songs says, “Got to Give the People What They Want.” How are black people faring, in your opinion, as we reflect on Black History Month?

You are asking the wrong person. I don’t think people — white, black, Hispanics, or whatever color — have come anywhere. Everything is still racially motivated. Everything is always black and white. We as black people still haven’t learned that the best thing we can do for ourselves is to educate ourselves and our children. We have to learn that charity starts at home and spreads abroad. The best thing we can do for the whole world is to “Do unto others as we would have others do unto you.”

How do you feel about your song “For the Love of Money” being used as the theme song for Donald Trump’s “The Apprentice” television show?

I think it is a great thing that Donald Trump is doing a reality show — “You’re fired.” His whole thing is about money. The people at Coors beer are also using another song of ours — “Love Train.” This song was always about the people, and Coors needs to address that fact. I think they will do it this year. They do give a lot of money out to the Thurgood Marshall Foundation, but they need to address things that are happening right now. They use our music, but they say that the people they are targeting are not our demographic. That is really strange — isn’t it?

Tell us about the book, “I Got Your Back: A Father and Son Keep it Real About Love, Fatherhood, Family, and Friendship” that is based on your relationship with your sons, Gerald and Sean.
That book was one of the highlights of my career. It was one of the last things that Gerald and I did together before he died. We got a chance to talk about our relationship. It was just the tip of the iceberg because there was so much more to come. We were going to do another book. We had planned to do a tell-all and talk about the O’Jays, Levert, and all our beautiful women we encountered [laughs]. The book was a great thing to do for our relationship. We were very close and my sons’ deaths were very untimely. We were very close then, and we are even closer now.

What is the O’Jays Weekend all about?
We have been doing the O’Jays Scholarship Foundation Weekend for years, and that is where we give out scholarships to children and adults who are reinventing themselves. It will take place in Canton, Ohio, on Aug. 12-15. There will be all kinds of activities and a “Love Train” moving from Canton to Cleveland. Celebrities such as Magic Johnson, Patti Labelle and Eric Benet along with others will join us to raise money for scholarships. You can visit for more information.


2 Responses to “The O’Jays – Giving the people what they want!”
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