Fitzroy speaks with Lillo Thomas ahead of 51st State 4th Aug 2018
Born in 1961 tell us about growing up and what inspired you musically and your aspirations in being an athlete?
I grew up in Brooklyn New York and my dad was a minister, so that is how I started performing in front of an audience . I always love to run track as well, so both music and athletics were a big part of my life. I didn’t actually compete until I was in high school and I ran 20.8 seconds in a 200 yard dash when I was 16 years old. From that point I qualified for the 1984 Olympic Games but I didn’t go because I hurt my knee in a car accident when I performed in Brazil. I also studied at a design school because I was going to be an illustrator.
Who influenced you musically before you got your first record deal?
I loved Sam Cooke, Otis Reading, The Temptations and Curtis Mayfield. The first record I purchased was Sly & The Family Stone. I liked the combination of love music and the funk.
I did a lot of background vocals for various people like George Benson and Melba Moore on her ‘Peach Melba’ album on ‘Take My Love’. I was a study background singer working for artists like James Ingram. When I wroteMind Up Tonight it was supposed to be for Evelyn King but she passed on it and Melba Moore recorded it.
‘Mind Up Tonight’ was around 1980 so how long where you background singing before you got your own deal?
I’d say for about two years and I was also in college at the time.
It’s clear you accident determined you being a singer but prior to that were you at a cross roads in being a singer, an athlete or an illustrator?
I was studying to be an illustrator and had already established my track skills but I hadn’t given my singing an opportunity. I had a job during the illustrating years but I wanted to put all my effort into doing music. It took me two years to land the record deal after doing the background stuff for Melba .
I remembered discovering you in 1983 via a tape a mutual music fan had rubbed off for me. It had lots of various tracks starting with the remix of First Choice ‘Let No Man Put Asunder’ but the third record was ‘I Love It’. I rewinded the tape so many times to listen to that song as it blew me away.(Right) That naturally inspired me to by the ‘Let Me Be Yours’ album which had some great tracks as a debut album. I loved your Temptations cover of ‘Just My Imagination’, ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’, ‘You’re A Good Girl’ and ‘Trust Me’ but ‘I Love It’ was such a good track to dance to.
Yeah that was Paul Laurence who wrote that and Freddie Jackson wrote ‘Trust Me’.
Melba and her husband had a management company which had yourself Kashif, Paul Laurence and Freddie Jackson. How did that experience work for you?
That was great and we all came together as none of us were previously on Hush Productions. Paul and Kashif were with Morrie Brown’s Might M Production. Morrie would take their songs and shop them to other artists. I knew Kashif from Brooklyn as we both grew up there and Kashif brought me to Mighty M Production. They liked my song ‘Mind Up Tonight’ and that’s where I met Melba who as one of my advisors in getting my deal, and I was the first to sign up to Hush Productions. Paul Laurence came over and became my producer and we were both on Capitol Record, but Kashif was on Arista. I did a lot of Kashif’s background vocals but he never wrote on any of my CDs as that was just Paul Laurence Jones.
When I listen to Paul Laurence’s production he does sounded like a clone of Kashif, who was now working with Melba, Howard Johnson and George Benson. Did they work that closely together on production because if I didn’t know it was Paul Laurence, I would have thought it was Kashif who produced you?
Yeah I think a lot of people would think that. The difference was that Kashif had become and artist as well but Paul Laurence concentrated on producing and became an artist later. So Kashif and Paul worked very closely together at Mighty M Production. They both have their own uniqueness. Kashif is an excellent keyboard player and he wrote very nice grooves, but Paul had a very sensitive touch in knowing how to embellish a song, and they both learned from each other. Paul is a little quieter than Kashif who is a little bit more out there.
Did you know Kashif when he was in BT Express and before he changed his name ?
Yeah I knew Kashif when he was in a group called Stepping Stone and this was way back in the day before BT Express. We didn’t hang out but we knew each other from being into the music scene and I knew him as Michael Jones .
Did Stepping Stone ever record anything?
No they were just a neighbourhood band.
How was it working with Tawatha on your album?
Fonzie Thornton and Tawatha were in demand as session vocalists in those days. Also Audrey Wheeler and Cindy Mizelle where very tight back then.
The next album ‘All For You’ you sang the title with Melba Moore but the track that created excitement for us over hear was ‘Settle Down’.
I also liked ‘I Like Your Style’ and you did a version of ‘My Girl’ by The Temps
Yeah as I said I love The Temptations and on one my albums I also did an Otis Redding tracks as I’m a big fan of him as well.
How did you end up touring with Eddie Murphy with your second album?
Eddie was a fan and he was doing his tour and he invited me to come along. The first part of the tour was done by the Bussboys, then he asked me to do the second part, because they were going out on their own tour. It was just a random call one day when he asked me and he also gave me a shout in his film ‘The Nutty Professor’ which was really nice(Ok I messed that I’ll have to watch the film again for that part.)
I’d left Hush production and was doing things on my own, so that was the first album outside of them in 1987, as I did a direct deal with Capitol as the previous was just a production deal.
You managed to capture people with you voice and that electro soul we were experiencing in the 80’s as opposed to the live instruments moving with technology.(Yeah getting into drum machines)
I have to admit I stopped picking up your stuff after ‘Sexy Girl’ and although you did a couple more albums it would appear that you weren’t as prominent as you were previously, so what were you up to?
I stopped music for a while as I felt that the industry was changing although for 7 to 8 years I was still on the road. I just felt to back up and re assess what I was in the industry for. I took a break for three years and got involved in other businesses. I found music again and came back in the way I felt most comfortable. When you work with Hush Production and Capitol they work with other people and they have different vision to how you see yourself, so I need to understand where I was coming from as an artist.
Would you say that your falsetto voice was your chosen key to sing in?
Yes I sing very naturally with that tone and it’s basically the same way that I talk.
Out of The Temptations I would say your voice would lend to Eddie Kendrick and also to Curtis Mayfield’s falsetto style (Right and there is Smokey Robinson too and that kind of tone).
Did you do backing vocals on Paul Laurence’s ‘There Ain’t Nothing Like Your Loving?’
No Paul didn’t let me do anything on his album because he wanted to see what he could do on his own. The only one was ‘She’s Not A Sleaze’ with me Paul and Freddie Jackson.
I always felt you could have sung that song(Really?) For sure because Paul did a great job but for me you had already set the template with ‘I Love It’. His vocals are not too dissimilar to yours. maybe he found you a bit of a threat
Yeah I think he had me in mind when he did his vocals and he always said he enjoyed my vocals.
Enjoy your time performing in London unfortunately I’m working elsewhere.
Thank you I’m looking forward to get re aquatinted with London again, say hello and have a great show and a good time.
Nice talking with you Fitzroy
Catch Lillo Thomas at 51st State Saturday 4th August at Trent Park check the website for details https://www.51ststatefestival.com