One of the defining voices of the Golden Age of R&B is the O’Jays’ Eddie Levert and the iconic soul singer recently released “Eddie Levert: I Still Have It,” his first solo album in a career that spans more than 50 years.
Since 1958, Levert has partnered with Walter Williams on such R&B classics as “Backstabbers,” “You’ve Got Your Hooks in Me,” “Use Ta Be My Girl,” “Love Train,” “Family Reunion” and “For the Love of Money,” and the group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2005.
I recently had an extended conversation with the jovial and accessible soul singer, and in discussing his new collection now available in stores and on ITunes, Levert was surprisingly open and candid about the sudden and painful loss his loveable and extraordinarily talented sons Sean and Gerald.
“This has almost been six years in the [making], because during the process I lost my two boys, which sort of threw me back. Trying to get past that, and then trying to complete the album, it took me almost six years,” he said.
With his legacy in the annals of popular music assured, why even take on a solo project? “I’m going to go back a little before Gerald and them started their ‘Levert’ group,” said Eddie, who obviously passed his sense of humor on to his beloved sons, along with this musical talent.
“I was really going to start a group back then. I wanted to do some things outside of the O’Jays — not leaving the O’Jays, but just trying to be well-rounded in the business — trying to make sure I don’t get stagnant. I always felt like I wanted to keep evolving, so I told Gerald, ‘Look. Your dad’s going to put together a band, and I’m going to record them, and I’m going to call it ‘Levert.’ The next thing I know, he got together with his brother and Marc Gordon, and they started a group, and they called the group ‘Levert,’ and I told him, ‘You stole my idea!’ I had to forget about that, and after they became so successful at it, I said, ‘Well, it wasn’t a bad idea. It worked for them.’ But he’s still a thief!”
Levert ultimately returned his focus to his own career, with the 12-track “I Still Have It,” which he refers to as his “metamorphosis,” being the result.
“Finally I got with some guys, and I had all of these ideas for songs going around in my head,” he recalled. “The business has changed so much since the time I got in the business. There’s no major deals given out by record companies, so if you don’t go and do it yourself, or pay the money for it yourself and then try to get some kind of distribution out there, your chances of getting a deal now are very slim, especially being in my age group. They’re constantly looking for younger and more valuable — more sellable images.”
The first single from the album, titled “The Last Man Standing,” is an inspirational anthem written by Levert. “After my boys died, and I think from talking to other parents who have lost their children — the first thing you do is blame yourself, then all of a sudden you say to yourself, ‘Why wasn’t I there? Why couldn’t I have been there? If I had been there, I could have saved him! I could have done something!’” he said.
“And then you finally get to a place where you realize that you couldn’t have done anything, because it was out of your hands. And then you go through this thing where you want to save everybody. You want to save everybody in your family, so you get overprotective over everybody — your grandkids, your nieces, your nephews, the next door neighbor’s kids — you get overprotective, and so you’re always preaching to them. So everybody gets to the place that when they see you coming... ‘Aw, here comes Eddie! Let’s hide! He’s gonna start preachin’!’ You overreact and you start alienating people. Then you get out of that dark place, and you say, ‘Well, it’s gonna be what it’s gonna be,’ and then you finally get to a place where you put it in God’s hands.
“Then you take a look at the man in the mirror,” Levert said resolutely. “And when you start looking at the man in the mirror, you come up with a song like ‘The Last Man Standing,’ because you go to looking at yourself and you say things like, ‘Low, I’ve been low, with stuff in space with no place to go.’ Cause you’ve done so many things that was frivolous. So now you have to go about changing you in order to change everybody else around you. And they have to see that change. You have to make that change and make it visible for everyone to see that you’ve made that change. And that’s how ‘Last Man Standing’ came about.”
“Eddie Levert: I Still Have It,” also features the Levert compositions “Get Over It” and “All About Me and You.”
Many of Levert’s fans have wondered allowed how the iconic entertainer has managed to survive and thrive in the aftermath of such unspeakable tragedy, and he answers that question with the same heartfelt conviction that pours into every song.
“Because I have other people depending on me,” Levert said. “I have my daughters, I have my grandkids and my nieces and nephews that needed someone to be in their lives. At that time, my grandkids were really in a way, because that was their fathers, and they didn’t have no more of that man image, so I had to pick up the slack. I had to sort of be all of that to them, and I really enjoyed it, because I got closer to them. I got to be part of their lives, and I got to be part of molding them into the people they are now. They’re in college, they’ve got jobs. I’ve still got a few knuckleheads, but they’re less knuckleheads than there is the positive. I’ve got more positive out of all of them than I did the negative.”
Levert is happy to be able to spend more quality time with his family now than when his own children were young, and he was constantly recording and on the road with the O’Jays. “That’s what I’m saying about ‘The Last Man Standing,’” he explained. “I had to transform myself and be that person, and be around for them. I had to become a more ‘hands-on’ person with my family, which I think has done well for me. It really helped me a lot, because to be loved is really a great thing.”
Excited that his solo project has finally come to fruition and available to the public, Philly’s happy-go-lucky adopted son had parting words for his Philly fans saying, “I’d like them to know one thing — that it’s pretty damn good, if they listen to it!”