I only spoke to Dominque Trenier once. I called him in an attempt to land a spot for a drummer friend of mine in D’angelo’s band. It was a good chat and I was left with the strong possibility that it might happen. I’d speak to D’angelo directly a couple of times before the near-certainty faded in to a not-gonna-happen. It was a little consolation that I wasn’t the only one this happened to. At the time, the business side of the singer’s act was a little chaotic, but the likely wasn’t Trenier’s doing. If he hadn’t been around, D’angelo’s early career certainly wouldn’t have been as iconic and memorable as it was.
It was Trenier’s idea for the singer to strip down for the “Untitled (How Does it Feel)” video, which saved his second album, “VooDoo,” which Trenier executive produced. Audiences were left with an enduring image of the singer, naked from the waist up, which wouldn’t be replaced for years. Trenier didn’t abandon his artist during his struggles with substance abuse, but he was eventually separated from in 2005 when he stopped communicating with much of his friends and family as his decent continued, according to Spin magazine.
Treneir’s contribution to D’angelo’s career was invisible to casual fans, but that’s how good manager operates. When D’angelo finally released his third album (“Black Messiah”) in 2015, it was bereft that invisible touch that guided his previous efforts. The cover lacked his picture. There would be no official videos. (No, this doesn’t count.) The album isn’t even credited to “D’angelo.” Good managers take care of the details and make things happen. If they do their job right, you might notice notice they’re around, until they aren’t.
(Full disclosure. While sorting through old studio tapes in producer Stu Gardner’s archive, I found a tape with “Irene Cathaway,” written on the spine, a name I remembered from reading album liner notes on one of my favorite records. There were four tracks on the tape, none of which I had heard. They were more than demos, with horns, background vocals and some inspired organ playing, along with the powerful voice of Ms. Cathaway. One of the songs was allegedly appropriated by a opportunistic music industry executive and became this. Stu and I agreed that these songs and some of the others in his stash deserved to be heard. A few weeks later, we started a company called Gardner and Belcher Entertainment (GABE), to share some of Stu’s unheard and forgotten music with the world. This is our first release, a 12 inch record of “Disco Madness” and “He Can Ring My Bell,” two of the tracks from that tape. Right now, it’s only available in the UK, thanks to our partnership with Super Disco Edits and at a few select stateside record shops. There’s more to come in 2015.)
In the 1970s, Irene Cathaway was a seasoned back up singer, lending her talents to projects with Connie Stevens, Helen Reddy, Mike Love, the Charlie Daniels Band and television variety shows. But while she was busy supporting other people’s music, she also did a little of her own, but most of it would go unheard. Now, with her second release and her first since 1977, Irene’s second act has begun, with some soulful disco tracks that have aged gracefully.
“Disco Madness” isn’t your first record. Tell me about the other song people may know you from, “Now We’re Doing It,” recorded in 1977.
I was approached by the producer, Steve Angelica. I guess he heard me singing somewhere and he had a song that he thought my voice fit, so we went to the studio and cut it. That’s basically how it went. I never heard anything else about it. I think I did one appearance, he took me to this gay club that liked the record, so … that was it. Really exciting!
You did a lot of background singing in the 1970s, for some top acts. But you stopped recording in the 80s. What happened?
I was mainly taking care of my kids, I have two girls. I settled in with day work because my children were becoming teenagers. I didn’t really think going on the road was probably the best thing. Now, they’re all grown up with kids of their own.
What do remember about the session for “Disco Madness” and how did it come about?
I was introduced to Stu [Gardner] and I did a tv show theme for Stu called “Wacko.” Stu, he says, “I’m going to make you a star. I’ve got these songs that I want you to do, there’s four of them.” So he got me and my girlfriend, Linda Moller and we went in to the studio in Orange County. We worked like 12 or 14 hours on these tracks. It was a labor of love, I tell you, it was great.
One of those songs that came out of that session was “He Can (Ring My Bell).” What did you think when you heard Anita Ward’s song, which came out later?
I was on tour, I think I was in Philadelphia, I forget who I was working with, and I heard “Ring My Bell,” and I thought “Oh my God, somebody just stole this song!” That’s the first thing that came to my mind! I said “Oh well, I guess I’m not going to be a star.” (laughs) Because you can’t put out “He Can (Ring My Bell)” [after] “Ring My Bell.” You can try, but that’s not ever going to work. I just thought “Wow, Anita Ward got herself a hit.”
Now, your song is finally coming out, years later.
I think it’s going to be great. I’m excited, I can’t wait.
Another song that came out of that session was a cover of The Moonglows’ “Ten Commandments of Love.”
Its a moving song. It’s very poignant. It’s a beautiful song. I was going to try to start putting it my act, my husband and I have a duo. This is a song that speaks to everybody.
Who were some of your vocal influences?
Of course Aretha, of course Gladys Knight. I like all kinds of music. My mother was into music, she really got me into the singing business, but she never went professional. I’m Mexican, so we played ethnic music … I like everything.
Where can people hear you sing now?
Right now we’re working at a place called the Epic Bar and Lounge in Sherman Oaks. We do a variety. We do a jazz version of “I Love the Way You Move.” We do some of the ’60s tunes, “Natural Woman,” and “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now.” We have a good time. We really play what we like, because you’ve got to entertain yourself.
You can buy Irene Cathaway’s music here and book her band here.
Here are a few outtakes from my recent chat with the Big Daddy Kane. The rest of the conversation can be found at StyleWeekly.com.
Your audience is likely to hold two generations of Big Daddy Kane fans these days. Are there any of your songs that young people connect with more than others?
On Twitter and Instagram, I see a lot of young cats, tweeting or posting stuff about “Ain’t No Half Steppin’” or “Raw.” You know, the mentality of the young generation, the type of music they like, it’s amazin’ to see that they would be into my music.
You’re doing this show with Rakim. There were rumors of a rivalry years ago, including one about a pay-per-view event, where you were supposed to be battle.
It never happened. It is what it is. It would’ve been dope. I would have loved to done it, but it just never happened. We don’t have no problems, we’re cool. I guess it was just something the people wanted to see.
What did you think about your Unsung episode on TVone? Did you think it was fair? Were you cool with it?
Yeah, I was really cool with it. It was like a real uncomfortable situation for me, because, I think that “Unsung” is such a great TV show. It’s a show that artists really truly need, to make people aware of their legacy. I just hate the name of the show. I think it just should’ve had a better name. I think that “Unsung” is a bad name for the show. It gives the feeling of that person they’re talking about is someone that never made it. Because you call it “Unsung,” you know what I’m saying’? So I was very hesitant about doin’ the show. You know, until they made the money right and gave me some creative control. But I believe that they did an excellent job with the episode.
Back in the day, when the Juice Crew/BDP beef was in full swing, I always wondered why KRS-ONE didn’t dis you on the “The Bridge Is Over,” since he came at your crew so mercilessly.
Me and KRS was cool. I mean, KRS-ONE and Ms. Melodie are the ones that came and helped me move out of my parents crib, when I moved into my first apartment, with Scoob, (my first dancer.) Me and KRS was carrying the couch downstairs, Ms. Melodie had the TV.
So it wasn’t that he didn’t want it with you, y’all just had prior relationship?
KRS wasn’t scared of me. I don’t think KRS would be scared of any rapper. To be honest with you, if I had a choice, to battle a rapper between Rakim and KRS, I would choose KRS instead of Rakim.
Because Rakim is dope MC, at saying’ rhymes, but KRS is a battle rapper. You know what I’m saying’? KRS – that would be some serious serious competition. ‘Cause he’s a battle rapper. He understands the art of battle. There’s a lot of great MCs that say great rhymes, but they can get crushed in one round ’cause they don’t know how to battle. Sayin’ a dope rhyme and battlin’ someone it two totally different things.
My interview with hip-hop veteran MC Lyte appears in this week’s Style Weekly. The last time I spoke to rapper was in the basement of Ivory’s Uptown Lounge in 1993. Unfortunately, the Radio Shack microphone I selected for the interview betrayed me, and I’ve been waiting for a another chance ever since. Here’s some parts of my talk with her that didn’t make the cut.
CB: As an older and wiser woman, when you hear records like 10% Dis, do you think maybe I shouldn’t have said that …?
ML: Oh no, not at all. It’s a song and in encapsulates that point in time. So, I’m never regretfull for it, it’s just something that I did. Not that I’m older, I can make the decision as to whether or not I want to create lyrics that leave that type of effect. I’m probably trying to leave a different type of effect on people than I was when I was sixteen, seventeen years old.C
CB: Are there any producer out now that you’d like to work with?
ML: Well, I’ve always wanted to work with Timbaland. I think that would be a different route. I’ve worked quite a few producers, from Jermaine to Puffy, to Teddy, to Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis …
CB: Prince Paul.
ML: The Neptunes, Missy and her camp. I’ve worked with so many, but Timbaland is one that I haven’t work with. I’d like to see how that could go.
CB: Do you ever plan to put another album?
ML: ” … I plan on putting one out. I told all my twitter followers, when I’m up to 100, 000 [followers], I’ll release a free mix cd, which is an album that’s free.