Artist Review: Rebecca Ferguson (Bio taken from: www.amazon.com)
Everyone knows that TV talent show auditions are mostly for having a laugh at the people whose confidence far outweighs their abilities, or else getting teary over someone’s sad life story. So viewers watching the start of the tenth season of Britain’s “The X Factor” might have had the impression that the willowy young woman waiting outside the audition hall was just one more hard luck story – pregnant at 17 and again at 19, she was a young mother who had to abandon her dreams of being a singer. Later, when it was her turn to perform, she took the stage looking like she was a bundle of nerves, though she did manage a shy smile when asked her to introduce herself.
And then Rebecca Ferguson sang Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come.” Her eyes glued to the floor, her shoulders hunched defensively, she sang with a voice so unexpected – a mix of Aretha Franklin, Norah Jones and Sade, with a refined hint of Macy Gray -- that “X Factor” judge Simon Cowell told her point blank, “I think potentially you have an incredible voice.” He and the other judges warned that her lack of self-confidence could hurt her. “The problem is, it’s like you’re singing to yourself,” observed Nicole Scherzinger. “You need to start looking people back in the eye again, don’t you?” asked Cowell. Still, she got four “yes” votes and moved to the next round.
Her drama slowly unfolded over the next 10 Saturday nights – would Rebecca, so often tearful in the beginning, be able to stand the pressure? Would her talent be enough to carry her to the end? And, well, could she possibly be any lovelier, more charming, down to earth and humble? The audiences rejoiced and the judges praised her elegance and poise – “You are pure class,” said one -- not to mention her “subtle, understated and gorgeous” vocals. After a series of stunning performances, the “X Factor” audience was completely enthralled with the once frightened, now luminous young woman from Liverpool.
When it came down to the wire, though, Rebecca was the show’s runner-up. “I’d be lying if I said that, when I was standing on that stage in the final, I didn’t want to win,” she admitted in an interview with the Telegraph. “Everybody wants that petal drop. But, in the long run, I knew it would be better for me. It gave me time to get things right.”
She used the year after “The X-Factor” envisioning, writing and performing her album, “Heaven.” As her first single, “Nothing’s Real But Love,” is released in the U.K., the reviews have been glowing. "Her gorgeous debut single puts Rebecca Ferguson in the same league as Aretha Franklin," wrote the pop music critic for the Telegraph, who went on to call “Heaven” “a gritty collection of soulful, self-penned songs about real emotional issues.”
Though Rebecca says her direct musical influences are soul based, she admires a wide variety of performers including Ray Charles, Tupac, Sam Cooke, Stevie Wonder, Florence and The Machine, Beyoncé, Nicki Minaj and, of course, Adele. “She’s been such a support and said such lovely things about me,” she says of her fellow chanteuse. “She even admitted she voted for me over 80 times when I was on the show. She means every word she sings, which I love.”
For her first album, “I spilled my soul out. A lot of it comes from writing about relationships I’ve been in, so I think everyone can probably relate to the lyrics – we’ve all been there.” A self-confessed perfectionist, Rebecca, who has always written her own material, wrote a song every day for months. “People just made an assumption, ‘She came off The X Factor, she won’t be able to write. We’ll just write her songs.’ Then as time passed they realized, ‘Oh, she can actually do this!’”
Joining her in the studio were some industry heavy-weights who were eager to collaborate: Eg White (Adele, James Morrison, Duffy) Fraser T Smith (N-Dubz, Tinchy Stryder, Cee Lo Green) and Claude Kelly in New York (Britney, Whitney Houston, Jessie J). She admits that creating it wasn’t always easy. “Some days in the studio I’d been crying and say ‘OK, I’ve had a really bad week, I’m not going to lie but we’re going to write about it, and hopefully something good can come out of that. Someone can listen to it, and think, ‘She’s been there too. She knows how I feel.’”
Creating this album has also rewarded Rebecca with a new level of assertiveness and self-belief, “I refused to re-vocal some of the songs on the album. I meant every word of those songs when I sang them, and I’m not going to do them again, and not mean it. I don’t care if that makes me sound like a diva.”
The key line in the chorus of “Nothing’s Real But Love” -- “No money, no house, no car, can beat love” – has great significance, says Rebecca. “People used to say to me ‘Being rich doesn’t make you happy.’ And I’d think, I’ve got no electricity, nothing -- tell that to my empty fridge. But now I’m doing okay, I realize, they were right. It doesn’t matter what you’ve got, as long as you’ve got love. I know that sounds cheesy, but that’s everything.”
Rebecca grew up in a chaotic single-parent household, with three brothers and two sisters; she used music as her escape. “I didn’t have a very easy childhood to be honest and to get away from that I dreamt my life away; dreamt of singing.” Even as she was learning to talk, Rebecca could see her future: “I used to write songs [at] age three,” she laughs, “There’s pads and pads of lyrics I wrote as a teenager at my mum’s house.”
She admits she didn’t enjoy school, mostly because she was always wondering why she was there when she knew her destiny was in music. She had more than a few roadblocks. “My mum was really strict and I was only allowed to listen to Christian music,” Rebecca remembers. “But I remember one of her friends who knew I loved singing giving me two tapes -- Cher and Whitney Houston. I’d sit there for hours and hours listening to those two albums on repeat.”
There wasn’t enough money for Rebecca to follow her passion for singing, so at 14 she got a job in a clothes shop to pay for singing lessons. Performing Arts college followed, but then at 17, everything changed when she got pregnant with her first child, Lillie May, followed by Karl two years later. “People would say to me, ‘Well your life’s ruined now!’ For a while I started to believe it, but you don’t have to get rid of your dreams just because you have kids. They’ve just pushed me to succeed, to want to do better for them. And for me.” She studied to be a legal secretary as something to fall back on, but decided to make another stab at being a performer by signing up for that fateful “X Factor” audition.
Because of social media, Rebecca’s “X Factor” performances have been viewed by millions of people around the world; her audition video has had more than 3 million views on YouTube. Being on the show “completely changed me as a person. I’m strong now. Singing used to just be a dream, now it’s my focus. I had begun to give up hope and then the show happened and now, with this first album, I just wanted to get to a point where my voice and my songs are as good as they can possibly be.”
Tonight's Topic: What's your pet peeves?
No matter how calm or collected a person may be, everyone has particular things that drive them bananas. Whether it's in someones actions or lack of action, we all have pet peeves. But how often do we talk about these issues, especially to the individuals that bring the worst out of us? Let's talk about it today right here on the Live In The Vocal Booth show.
Special Musical Guest: Larry Dunn of the Legendary R&B Group Earth, Wind, & Fire
For many of us, Earth, Wind & Fire has been an elemental part of our musical experiences since childhood, making us dance, sing and, more often than not, inspiring us to simply pause to observe or think. Among the many names and faces associated with the legendary band, Larry Dunn is one that stands out in the minds of fans, tastemakers and musicians.
As the band’s keyboardist and musical director, Dunn helped to meld soul, jazz, R&B, funk and rock into a sound that became the band’s signature. It was a sound that transformed Earth, Wind & Fire into one of the most successful bands in the world, with sales of more than 100 million albums worldwide, six GRAMMYs, 13 GRAMMY nominations, four American Music Awards, 32 gold and platinum/multi-platinum records and albums, a star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame, and induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (2000) and the Songwriters Hall of Fame (2010).
Barely 18 years old when he joined the band, Dunn started “beating on an old tore up upright piano” when he just a tot. He met fellow Denverite, Phillip Bailey when he was 13 (Bailey was 15) and they struck up a bond that remains firm to this day. Along with Bailey, Maurice White, Verdine White, Ralph Johnson and Al McKay Dunn founded Earth, Wind & Fire, lending his musical expertise on organ, synthesizer, piano, keyboards, and clavinet for over a decade. As a writer, he contributed to many of the band’s most memorable hits, including "Shining Star," "Spirit," "Be Ever Wonderful," “Keep Your Head to the Sky,” "Runnin'," "See The Light," "Let Me Talk," “Got to Get You Into My Life,” "And Love Goes On," and "Jupiter.”
But EWF wasn’t the only outfit that reaped the benefits of Dunn’s talents. The musical multi-tasker found himself in high demand by other artists as a keyboardist, synth programmer and composer. He worked with The Emotions, Level 42, Ronnie Laws, George Duke, Lenny White, Paulinho Da Costa, Foley, Ramsey Lewis, Caldera, Hubert Laws, Stanley Turrentine, Dianne Reeves, Brian Culbertson, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Stanley Clarke and Deniece Williams, among others.
While Dunn’s tenure with Earth Wind and Fire ended in 1983, his love for music never went on hiatus. Since 1988 he and his wife Luisa, through their company Source Productions, have been involved with production projects, writing music for Japanese television commercials, film, and studio work. Dunn says he enjoys sharing his gift on the world stage. “What I love about the Japanese culture and European culture as well is that they don’t trip on your age or skin color. Knowing me from Fire, they knew that we were going to give it to them on the highest level.”
In 1996 Dunn released his first solo CD, “Lover’s Silhouette,” an album that blends contemporary music and new age while adding a twist of funk. Says Dunn, “My goal is to reach as many people as possible through music. That’s why we not only released the album here but in Japan as well.” Dunn said the album encompasses “true World Music” and features eleven powerful tracks that pick up where he left off with EWF. One of the album’s standouts is Luisa’s performance of the emotionally stirring "Don't It Make You Want To Cry."
Among the greats featured on “Lover’s Silhouette” are Phil Upchurch, Ronnie Laws, Marcel East, Hilliard Wilson, Steven Dunn, Derf Reklaw, and original Earth, Wind & Fire band members Ralph Johnson and Al McKay. Dunn’s most recent CD, “N2 the Journey,” was released last October and, like its predecessor, features a roster of top notch musicians: Hubert Laws, Munyungo Jackson, James Ingram, Foley, Ronnie Laws, Stanley Clarke, Sheldon Reynolds, Procton Bonnell, Jay King, Steven Dunn, Paulinho DaCosta, Rahmlee Michael Davis, Michael Harris, Hilliard Wilson, Andre Delano, Jorge "Jeo" Evans, Steve Baxter and, of course, his wife and partner, Luisa.
Dunn stresses that the album also features an array of styles, a fact that he is extremely proud of. “I love that we’re able to do all different types of music,” he says. “Some people who didn’t know my background and capabilities are now realizing that I do more than ‘Shining Star’ and if they really knew EWF they would know that we were bigger than that anyway. I’ve done everything from straight ahead opera to jazz to hip hop and I love that part because you get to be an artist.”
Dunn’s artistry was fed early on -- way back in Denver, Colorado. “I remember hearing an array of music on my mom’s side of the family,” he says. “She was Italian and they used to sing Italian folk songs on the weekends. Mom listened to and sang country and western and popular music. Pops played piano, upright bass and guitar....By the time I was 15 I had already played guitar, bass, baritone horn, trombone and violin.”
On “N2 the Journey,” fans will get a taste of classic EWF laced with a hint of jazz, an ingredient that Dunn attributes to jazz organist Jimmy Smith. “He was one of my influences,” he says. “When I was 11 years old my folks got me an organ. I would turn the turntable down to 33 and a third and learn those jazz licks and play them just like him.”
Just as EWF defied musical labeling, Dunn says his musical landscape is vast. “We need to come up with a new genre,” he says, “but if I had to call it anything I would call it adult contemporary. Most people when they hear it will call it grown folks music.”
Despite his solo success, Dunn is forever part of the Earth, Wind & Fire family. In January 2011, he joined the band on stage during the annual Monster Retailer Awards and Concert and their CES 2011 Convention in Las Vegas. He jumped on the keyboard for their performances of “Spirit,” “September,” “Shining Star,” and “That’s the Way of the World.” And, much to the delight of EWF fans, he recently reunited with the band for the recording of their latest single “Guiding Lights,” the lead single from the band’s “Now, Then and Forever,” CD released in January 2012. With Dunn on keys, the song is being lauded as a welcome throwback to the group’s vintage sound.
After more than fifty years of ‘beating on’ one keyboard or another, Larry Dunn shows no signs of slowing down. Like the elements, his creative genius remains timeless, universal and uncontainable.