Classics: The Whispers – Rock Steady (SOLAR)
1987 marked the opening of a new era in the R&B production. And, in the meantime, the arrival of a new sound. But also the establishment of signatures. From Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis (Alexander O’ Neal, Ralph Tresvant, Janet Jackson). To Antonio L.A. Reid and Kenneth Babyface Edmonds. The latter takin’ on where Leon F Sylvers III left while bringing the Whispers to another dimension.
One would talk about Street Beat at the time, if not Swingbeat. With ‘Rock Steady’ most likely standing as its most brilliant illustration. Meanwhile prefiguring what would come soon after with the arrival of New Jack Swing.
Ironically, ‘Rock Steady’, which features Gary Taylor in the backing vocals, would stand as the last major cut for the band.
Texas natives Walter and Wallace Scott formed The Whispers soon after moving to Los Angeles, CA back in 1964. Eventually joined by Nicholas Caldwell, Marcus Hutson and Gordy Harmon whom Leaveil Degree replaced in 1973 after he injured his larynx in a car crash. The Whispers releasing their self-titled debut-album back in 1969 on Soul Clock.
The band had moderate success though until they started working with producer Leon F Sylvers III (Shalamar, Dynasty, Lakeside…). Their second eponymous album, released in 1979 including the memorable ‘And The Beat Goes On’ and ‘Out The Box’. 2 gems in an infectious vein which The Whispers set their new reputation on. Following the vibe with tracks such as ‘It’s A Love Thing’ and ‘I Can’t Make It Better For You’. But also ‘In The Raw’, ‘Tonight’, ‘This Kind Of Lovin” then ‘Contagious’. Not to mention ‘Rock Steady’ which saw them collaborating with the then emerging production pair made of L.A. & Babyface. As a matter of fact, it’s fair to say the band had their heyday on SOLAR.
Switching to Capitol Records with the release of their ‘More Of The Night’ album featuring the Robert Brookins produced ‘Innocent’, they started losin’ their status from then. Delivering a majority of M.O.R. R&B/Soul cuts.
Marcus Hutson left the group in 1992 due to prostate cancer and sadly died of it in 2000.
Nicholas Caldwell sadly passed of congestive heart failure on Jan. 05, 2016 at his Stockton, San Joaquin County, CA home.
– I remember the first time I heard of Babyface. This was back in 1983 actually. At a time, a friend of mine who was livin’ in Jacksonville, FL, used to listen to a radio named 95X. Eventually sendin’ me recorded tapes of their shows. With this being how I would get to listen to boiling cuts such as Margie Joseph‘s ‘Big Strong Man’ produced by Narada Michael Walden. But also Melba Moore‘s ‘Love Me Right’ with production work courtesy of Paul Lawrence Jones. Not to mention the then unknown The Deele (featuring Babyface) with the vibrant although quite underrated ‘Just My Luck’.
I guess the next time I saw a mention of Babyface was back in 1987. This along with partner Antonio L.A. Reid as the producers of The Whispers‘ ‘Rock Steady’. Meanwhile, I would get to stumble upon the firing ‘Mary Mack’ during that same year…
A native of Indianapolis, IN, Kenneth Brian Edmonds attended the North Central High School. Eventually writing songs as obviously too shy to express his emotions differently. Not only a vocalist but also able to play guitar and keyboards, he came to play along with Bootsy Collins. With the latter givin’ him his ‘Babyface’ nickname because of his cute face while he was still a teen.
Babyface eventually hooked up with Daryl Simmons when performing under the Manchild banner. This before joining The Deele where he happened to meet Antonio L.A. Reid who whom he would form a production unit a few years later. Then a record label by the likes of LaFace Records. Meanwhile, one of his first major credits as a songwriter remains the memorable ‘Slow Jam’ for Midnight Star back in 1983.
All in all, Babyface started his solo career back in 1986. He has released a total of 10 studio albums to date. With his latest – ‘Return Of The Tender Lover’ – seeing the light on Def Jam Recordings back in 2015. This in addition to an ‘MTV Unplugged’ and two Christmas packages.
He has written and produced over 25 #1 R&B hits throughout his career and has won 11 Grammy Awards. With his name strongly associated to the establishment of the Swingbeat (also known as Street Beat). The latter opening the path for the New Jack Swing era. Thus responsible for an impressive series of masterpieces. From The Whispers (‘Rock Steady’) and Bobby Brown (‘Don’t Be Cruel’, ‘Every Little Step’). To Karyn White (‘The Way You Love Me’) and the Mac Band (‘Roses Are Red’). But also Boyz II Men (‘End Of The Road’, ‘I’ll Make Love To You’, A Song For Mama’). Not to mention Sheena Easton (‘The Lover In Me’) and The Jacksons‘ ‘Nothin That Compares 2 U’. Or ‘Mary Mack’ and ‘For The Cool In You’ which he crafted for himself among many others.
No surprisingly, Face has come to collaborate with a countless lumiaries. From Whitney Houston to Toni Braxton, Aretha Franklin and Janet Jackson. But also her brother, Michael, Ashanti, Mariah Carey, Faith Evans and Mary J Blige among many others.
Then, if it wasn’t already enough, Babyface performed on the Season 4 episode of ‘Beverly Hills, 90210’ entitled ‘Mr. Walsh Goes to Washington (Part 2)’. And soon after he set up Edmonds Entertainment Group. Thus producing films such as ‘Soul Food’ and ‘Josie & The Pussycats’. Or putting together the soundtrack for ‘The Prince Of Egypt’. In addition to act as the executive producer the BET reality series ‘College Hill’ between 2004 and 2009.