Gerald Levert Biography
Last updated: 07/18/2014 12:21:25 AM
We almost get too used to it with the great ones. The way they work their magic. All we ask as fans is that they do it again. And again. And again. And even though R&B superstar Gerald Levert is different than most -cooler, wiser- knows how to navigate that burning intensity of his just below the laid back demeanor - the making of another hit album is still an event on his home turf of Cleveland, Ohio. Except don't tell G.
You can tell from the quiet, unassuming way he goes about holding it down - from the writing process to the rehearsal hall, from first take to the last, from collaborations with the world_s hottest producers to show stopping duets on the world's greatest stages -G is always going to be G. Even after selling close to ten million albums, after writing and/or producing more than 14 #1 R&B hits - from "I'd Give Anything" to "Mr. Too Damn Good" - he's never going to let us all the way in.
Or is he?
Here's your exclusive glimpse - a snapshot, so to speak - of what Gerald's world is really like, as he prepares for yet another world tour. Oh, and to test-drive the brand new album called of course, Gerald's World. "Timing is everything," Gerald laughs, flashing that famous smile of his.
9:00 AM: Gerald awakes on a typical day in Cleveland, that eternal blur of sun and clouds hanging over the lake. His manager, Leonard, is on the cell, giving him an update on his schedule. Second day of tour rehearsals. But before we head out to rehearsals, Gerald ushers us into his personal recording studio to play a couple cuts from the new album. It's here that he first 'fesses up.
Gerald: I've been in this game awhile. I hear these younger cats and I remember all the hustling. The partying and the fast cars and the faster women and all the diamonds and the showboating. It's my kids and my family now. I do this for them.
He pauses. Hits play. Some mad wa-wa shit comes through the speakers and that unmistakable voice hits you. The voice. No one else in R&B, pop, soul or neo-soul for that matter can cut to the heart of a lyric like G. The song is "Soul Mate," and you realize before it's even finished that only a cat who survived the partying and the fast cars and the faster women and the diamonds and the showboating, could lay it down like that.
Gerald: Don't get me wrong. I listen to the radio. I listen to my people and my fans. I don't always record just what I want to hear. But I try to give it a sense of what I've learned. I try to incorporate my growth into every song I record. If I'm singing about a relationship now, you know I understand it from all sides. From all angles, baby.
11:00 AM: On the way to the rehearsal studio in Gerald's car, he decides to play us a couple more songs from Gerald's World. The first is a ballad with one of those double entendre titles that Gerald is known for: "#1." The second is another slow burner, the sensual "Got Love." Then it's on to "DJ Played Our Song," a very personal composition from Gerald.
Gerald: Not many people know I was engaged a few years back. We broke up and it was tough on both of us. When my sister happened to get married, my ex-fiancee came to the wedding. It was one of those intense moments when you see each other and you don't know what to do - what to say to each other. There are all these people around that you know and love, yet, your sharing this very personal, scary moment. Everybody has lived through that. I went home and wrote a song about it.
He lets the song fill up his silence, the thunderous music ebbing and flowing around Gerald's passionate vocal. Only when it's over does he feel the need to talk again.
Gerald: I wrote a lot of darker songs during that period. "Thinkin' About It" from Love & Consequences. I started getting a lot of questions on my website. "Why are you so sad?" But this isn't a sad album.
As if to prove it he hits fast forward to another track, then changes his mind.
Gerald: I'm going to save "Made To Love Ya" for the rehearsal. That song probably bests reflects where my head and my heart are at right now.
We get to the rehearsal hall around noon. An energetic road crew is milling around with a couple of Gerald's friends from the hood. Kicking off a new tour is always part work/part family reunion. Gerald admits that even he can't always remember who is on the payroll and who's there just to hear a song or two from the new album. Embraces and backslaps all around as he walks toward the cavernous stage. G takes off his coat, skips over a tangle of cord and wires and grabs a mic, his arm still around one of the tech guys he hasn't seen since Chicago or Detroit or wherever it was the last time they threw down.
It's a warm camaraderie that fills the room. This is where Gerald calls on his earliest showbiz experiences - when he was just a toddler in the wings watching his dad (Eddie Levert) on tour with the legendary O'Jays. The easy banter between Gerald and his band gives us a chance to do a quick fact-check on the versatile terrain he has covered over the years.
He formed his first group, Levert, in 1985. After tremendous recording and live success, he ventured out on his own in 1991 with the gold album Private Line. 1994's Groove On found critics pointing to him as R&B_s new standard-bearer, citing the single "I'd Give Anything," as an instant classic. Not content to rest on his laurels, he defied expectations in 1995 by releasing the acclaimed Father & Son album, featuring his famous dad.
A slew of outside projects with superstars such as Stephanie Mills, Barry White and James Ingram, among others kept him busy until Gerald released his groundbreaking collaborative effort, 1996's LSG, featuring Gerald, Johnny Gill and Keith Sweat. The all-star disc generated numerous smash hits, including the stunning "My Body," achieving double platinum in the process and establishing Gerald as one of the most talented multi-threats in the game. In '98 it was the aforementioned Love & Consequences, followed up by 2000's mercurial G, which entered the Billboard Top Albums Chart at an unprecedented #2.
But no more questions about the past. Gerald would rather heat up the hall with a quick run through of some of his past hits. The famous concentration, the astute vocal command, the charismatic stage presence - are all there - despite this being only the second night of practice. Then I suggest he sing the new one - "Made To Love Ya". He walks slowly to the end of the stage.
Gerald: We go to 9:00 or 10:00 around here. We eventually get to all of them.
The crew laughs and Gerald breaks into a few bars of "I Believe I Can Fly," inspired by the knock-out live version he recorded with superstar Yolanda Adams for her latest album. After a couple false starts of other songs, Gerald turns to his band and gives the kind of extra sensory signal that only a musician could understand. This is it. The moment everyone's been waiting for. Time to test one of the new ones. G smiles - you know by now the kind of smile - and clenches the mic with both hands.
/I was made to love ya, my hands to touch ya, my arms to hold ya, my legs to stand .../
It's a Gerald anthem if there ever was one. Even in the barren rehearsal hall, he doesn't miss a note. The song builds to such an emotional crescendo that even the stage crew pauses to take it all in.
/It had to be my destiny, I was made to love ya, my arms to hold ya.../ and on and on and on.
Finally the song ends. The room bursts into applause.
Gerald: I think that one will work.
Laughter all around. Gerald jumps down from the stage and motions for everyone to take five. There's no need to ask him any more questions about that song, or the new album, for that matter. The power of his vocal, the depth of the lyrics serves to further enhance that already indefinable mystique. All that matters now is that he is ready. The look in his eye is like an athlete's - hungry - once again - to step into the arena. We pack out notes and he comes over. He has one more thing to say about this game.
Gerald: All the great ones know one thing. Rehearsals are the easy part. It takes a strong person to go back to the room after singing a song like that in front of five or six thousand screaming fans every night.
It's Gerald's World. What else you wanna' know?