So, you have just finished the Mother's Finest shows in Europe--how did the tour go? You seem to have had a cult following there from the beginning...
Yeah, Europe is just...ahh...we spent a lot of time, we worked really hard early in the seventies going over there. I just think that they are a little more open for things that are differnt and we fit the bill between the rock and funk, which is something that they really didn't understand or get a lot of. The mixture kind of embraced everything. It made them love the sound...
You have a couple of shows (in South Carolina and Atlanta) this September, will there be any additional American dates this fall?
Yeah, yeah..you know we got to do that! We may have...maybe seven dates in October back in Europe again, it's because we're talking with the record company there. e're trying to get some new product. They've really been the only ones to step up and really want to do music...put out a piece of product on a band that has been around as long as we have. So, going over there provides us time to sit and talk and ponder over exactlty what we ask of one another. It looks really, really, really good...i'm really excited about that. The dates coming up in the states are in November and a little bit of December. Philadelphia, Baltimore and then some here in Atlanta. We have our spots that we hit at least once a year. So that's wonderful, we are thankful that we can still work and people actually come up to the window and pay money!
Ha ha (laughing...)
That's rocking! You know we've been around for a while! Ain't no dust on us yet...thank God!
What age were you when your family escaped from Mississippi to Chicago?
How did you know...that? Hey!
I know everything about you. I've been following you forever. I know everything.
Really? We left Mississippi in.. well, I guess I had to be seven.
Hard times down there?
Yeah. Well, you know, ...my life with my family, as an African-American family in Mississippi was a little bit different because my grandfather was a mason. I think that it gave us a different type of balance...even though it was a strugle. My parents owned their own property. They had the farm, they raised their own produce, their own...you know, everything. We didn't really want independence but we left only because I lost my grandfather, who was a Navy man. All the other older people in the family had already gone to Chicago--one of which was my mother. The older siblings took care of the smaller ones until the other ones in Chicago got on their feet, then sent for all of us..and me being one. My momma sent for me and I moved to Chicago at about the age of seven. I won't even tell you what was going on when that happened because you will start...
I lived in Mississippi. I know what it is like...
Yeah, but...my family...I don't recall any bad experiences whatsoever. So if I go there, I'd be lying if I did. I was small, so I wasn't faced with a lot. There was music...most of my cousins played music by ear. There was a piano in the house and my grandma sang all day long while she was pushing around the kitchen making breakfast and stuff. Music has always been there.
Where did you learn how music works? Singing in church? School?
I started in school. I sang all the time...humming...but I didn't realize, I had no idea it was going to be my life passion. Then I started singing in school...because I always went to the music. I always went to the piano. I always went to the choir. I had a girl's group in high school. Other people...this lady use to have a house full of kids, and they all sang. There were boy groups, girl groups, individual singers and stuff. I was in high school and I ended up hitting base with her. All the tv shows, I knew all the songs, all the lyrics. Every song that would come on--I would know it. So, music was always there. I didn't invision how to make it a career until I was in high school.
Who were some of your musical heroes? What shows did you watch...which artists are you talking about?
Oh Lord...no! C'mon now, Phillip! If I name some of those shows people won't even remember them. Shindig, and all that. People will not even remember that stuff. Ed Sullivan...you had to see Ed Sullivan if you from the era. Music was changing right in your face on Ed Sullivan. The Beatles and Otis Redding were the cutting edge of musical change. You know, music has always been that weapon that we use to give people a heads-up on change. Which is great..and it has vision and everything. All the great ones had the vision. Unfortunately sometimes in America, we get a little starchy about what we like and what we don't like. So a lot of the artists, all Africian-American artists, end up going to Europe in order to break ground.
So there are a little bit, just like I said in the beginning, they are a little more open to things that are different. Especially if it's coming from the Africian-American culture, they really have their eyes and ears wide open. Every year or so, there's always a program, in fact, when you called and said you wanted to do an interview about the Memphis music...they had the...damn!...during this time of year they do a lot of festivals. Music festivals...
The Porretta Soul Festival in Italy?
Yeah, Italy is one...but we don't play that market as much. But what i'm about to say is they do things in these documentaries, and this year I ended up turning on the tv and they were doing a documentary on Memphis music. One about Mississippi and Tina Turner and all the real blues. Elvis Presley and how he got started and I'm going wow...this is really here. Yeah...but they do that a lot. They actually study segregation because they want to understand it, especially in Germany. It's that two-faced thing, the whole Hitler thing, and then the whole frighting thing with segregation and slavery. They really want to understand these changes in our history. It coincides with their history changing as well.
Did you like Elvis?
Elvis? Are you kidding me? Elvis was my first crush. My first crush that I can remember. Love Me Tender--my harmones were raging, I got to tell you. Hell yeah, I admit it right now today. I mean who didn't love Jailhouse Rock? Shoot, my dad took me to see it and I was in love. Are you kidding me? At the time...at the same time, Della Reese was a great singer also getting really big. She was the voice of the time. Then there was Nancy Wilson on the other side of the rock thing, you know, there was the old jazz female stuff. My house was filled with music, there was a lot of stuff going on. Tina Turner, of course, was going through there. She was out of the box. She was different, more blues and R&B. But the whole serious blues...back to the Hi Records and all those people, it got past me, to be honest.
I don't know a lot about them. But I read about it. You said something about Memphis and I went to my ipad and read up it. I 'm that familiar with that part of the music history in Memphis, but when you start talking about Otis, then I'm good! Sam and Dave...I'm good then!
What is the story behind "Respect Me in the Morning"--guesting on the Molly Hatchet album? How did that come about?
Oh...yeah! Well, it's not a serious story. It's just that we all traveled around in the same circles and Mother's Finest was one of those bands that could play any marquee. So we would play with the Commodores and Chaka Khan with Rufus and then the same week we could play with the Atlanta Rhythm Section or Aerosmith or somebody. It was one of those things where musically we were compact and as a performance band we were also compact. And people just loved the band--so because we would pull audiences they would ask us on. I think the first big tour that we got was with AC/DC which was phenomenal. I think that Highway to Hell was just breaking...
That must have been '78 or '79?
Yeah, somewhere around there. You got the numbers, I don't.
I remember the shows opening for Aerosmith on their Night in the Ruts tour. Then there were another string of dates with Mahogany Rush, Humble Pie and Angel.
Yeah, it was fun. It was fun days, man.
Before you did the solo albums, did Mother's Finest officially disband after the Iron Age album?
Yeah we did. We hit a wall with Iron Age. You know, because the world still wasn't quite ready for a multi-racial/ predominantly black rock band. They were'nt having it. It was difficult to find a place where there was a foundation for people to accept the band. We played everywhere with everybody--as an audience band we were accepted way up there in the hemisphere. When it came to the bureaucracy of the industry, they were not ready to change the coarse of how they did things in order to make this group happen.
You just couldn't get on the radio...
Yeah, it's not being exposed...or having the access to people's ears. And of course, the rock people did not want to see African-Americans doing anything other than rhytym and blues. I'm not saying that we set out to do that, break format or whatever, it's just the way it fell. That's just the way the cards fell. This was a type of music that we all collectively put together and arranged. There was no intent one way or another whether it was going to be more rock or more funk or more soul, it was just meshed itself spiritually that way. It was a beautiful thing because we're still here!
It wasn't a marketing plan--it just happened?
There was no architectural thing. Like this...we're gonna do this move, we're gonna make this move. This is Wyzard and Mo and Glenn and Michael and BB and Joyce. This is what happened when we got in a room and we created. We were free to do that, we respected one another, we relied on one another and this is what happened.
Ted Nugent and Aerosmith both have harsh things to say about Steve Leber and David Krebs. Was the parting with Leber-Krebs as your managers amiciable or did things get nasty?
I think that we reached...there was a mutual understanding that we weren't helping one another. Contractually, we always like to go into situations with an out. Because..if we're not functioning for one another, I mean in a lot of ways, these people come into your life and they hold on to you and they try to suck you dry even after they are not doing anything. So we didn't want to get under an umbrella where people were sitting and collecting money from us while we work our butts off. We never wanted to be in that situation, so we always had an out. We give you a year: if you can't make it happen--we mutually part ways. We thought it was enough, there were no bad vibes.
Your first solo album, "Looking for Trouble", is one of my favorite albums of all time.
Oh thank you! I love you so much!
In retrospect, how do you feel about the album?
Ok Phillip, the thing is, I hadn't listened to that record since...probably 1984. So now it's on youtube and everything, Glenn and I were messing around in the studio one day and we said let's listen...let's see how that sounds today. I sat there with my mouth open. I was quite impressed. It was a good record, it wasn't a bad record, it might not have set any new tones or whatever. That was a very confusing time for me because I had stepped out of a situation that I was a great part of creating and I was free to do what I wanted to do. I found myself as an artist in M other's Finest and I tried to carry that with me when I went to the solo thing. I met the oppositions of life because the first guy I wanted to use, to be a part, to collaborate as a producer was Phil Collins.
They hit the ceiling. They couldn't feel their shit at all. I got to tell you, I had so many fights about who's gonna produce...and I ended up with...
Jeffery Osbourne and Leon Sylvers.
Jeffery wasn't bad because Jeffery was a singer. A singer's singer. But...they respected the band, Mother's Finest, they knew exactly what I was about about. But, to try and sit and be able to get somebody to create the atmosphere that the band as a self contained unit was to create, I didn't want to loose all that, even though the idea was to go mainstream and do a pop record, and all this other stuff. I didn't want to loose the edge that I had from Mother's Finest. You can't find that with everybody, that is a unit thing, you can't recreate that unless you got those people in the room.
What happened was that I choose songs that would fit my voice in those days. I just went for it. I thought the record would sell, but again, I don't know what happened. I thought it was going to do better than it did. I wish it had. When I did the second record, the first one was Lookin' for Trouble and the second one was I Wanna Play Your Game. Do you ever listen to that one?
Absolutely. It was great but I really loved the first one. Everything about Lookin' For Trouble...even the cover. The songs, everything!! Were you comfortable with the approach of using more than one producer to record an album? Or would you say that there can be too many cooks in the kitchen?
The first one had two different ones, Leon Sylvers and then there was Jeffery because I got caught...Jeffery and I had the same manager. There were a lot of politics being played there because I was a new artist and I hadn't really made myself known yet. I was in Mother's Finest, and that's the only reason the situation was there. Still, they did not regard that sound that I wanted, with getting Phil Collins, who was mostly a rock person, a rock/pop kind of guy. They didn't feel that for me--because they wanted the girl next door. They didn't really see me as the girl next door. I mean, you know, cause I was all in black and stuff, nobody was feeling all that. This was 1983 and 1984. So I was a little crazy thing...a little bit oddball, and that's good. I'm still a little bit of an oddball and I like that.
Are there plans for another solo album? Is "Metal Funk Rock Soul Diva" the working title?
Let me tell you about that! Now, i'm a little bit heavier in my mind and my heart. The people I listen to now are like Alter Bridge and Nickelback and I listen a lot more now to Garbage now I use to when they first came out because it's a girl up there. I've been around for a while, the only somebody that I can relate to as an artist is Tina Turner. She's the only Africian-American sister that's made any ground. The lady sold her millon units just in Germany alone, which was a huge market for Mother's Finest too. Mother's Finest has it's sound so maybe it's time for me to do a little solo record because we don't want to change MF's sound, right? So I do. I have plans. I'm already about eight or nine songs deep in our solo prject that I have been trying to finish for the last four years. I call it my "Funk Metal Rock Soul Diva" album. It's going to be heavy. It is heavy but it's sexy, it's exotic. Just because it's got heavy, heavy guitar doesn't mean it's gonna be a demonic type thing. This is just bringing the world together like MF brings the world together, so you got great vocals, great harmonies, the lullabies are great, the melodies are great. I've taken my time with this. I've done all the work, all the harmonies, everything.
Where do you do it at, Atlanta?
I did all the vocals here, the tracks are from a guy in Europe, he is a guitarist. When I first heard his music I was impressed, I was excited by it because at the time I didn't know if MF was gonna do another record, because nobody was stepping up. Most of the product we put out was on our own and a lot of it got bootlegged out there. So we said, this is crazy. The last record we put out...we put out a couple of live things, Right Here, Right Now: Live at Villa Berg and then we put out Meta-Funk'n Physical which had some great songs on there, but we didn't have the support of a record company. You've gotta have that.
So we are excited about this new thing. The company is called SPV, it's out of Germany and it's SPV Peppermint Records. They are going to be pretty awesome. They want to be...they want Mother's Finest on the label because they like the meeting of the worlds that Mother's Finest will bring to their label. When we had a meeting they were impressed because we could play a Harley Davidson festival and then we can go and play with Santana. Then we can play on our own and still draw! They were impressed by that so that means they can make money. Whatever money they invest they are going to be able to make it back.
We're going to be bogged down from...we have to give them a record by May. We've listed these dates in America, as you asked me earlier, get those done and then we are going to shut down and all we're gonna do is push ahead and get this record done. But my record, the solo thing...i'm deep in there and they want to do both of them. The label is going to take both projects. I just have to work it where one doesn't cash out the other--it's all about timing. It has to be a good business move on both parts because the voice is there for both MF and for the solo thing. We just have to figure out how to do it right. But, they want both projects so i'm happy about that! We're going to lock down and work and write until we get this record done. We have to have it done by February, they need three months to prepare.
People speculate that Prince must have listened to Mother's Finest. Have you ever had any contact with him?
Well, he use to have contact with us. He use to come to the Electric Ballroom a lot in the early days and he'd be up in the balconey watching our performance. For sure...that's how he started dressing. In fact, my best friend, they were very close. So yeah, we go back a long way but people forget. They forget. Well it's alright. It's like Living Color, they forget, you know. It's o.k., it's fine.
So you live in Atlanta now?
Yes sir I do! I snapped out of it and I came back home to Atlanta. I lived out on the west coast for about twenty years. Yeah, it's crazy man. I lived everywhere there, Malibu, up in Hollywood, it's just too expensive.
Did you ever get to know Whitney Houston when she was living in Atlanta?
I think that when Whitney came about...I was still living on the west coast when she came about. I've only seen her once in person but I never had the priviledge of meeting her, face to face. No, I didn't get to do that.
Well, it is obvious you are health conscious. How do you do it? Yoga? Running? Gym? Are you a vegetarian?
Thank you Phillip! I appreciate that. I'm a little bit of a health nut, I am. I've been a vegetarian for a long time. I haven't had meat in thirty five years, I haven't had flesh. I don't plan on having it either. I do a lot of fasting and a lot of cooking at home. My friends say i'm one of the best vegetarian cooks in the world.
None of the preservatives, none of the junk, the more natural the better?
I splurge when I go on the road in Europe, man! It's hard to get any good food and that does me in for a while. When I get home I have to start doing my fasting and getting back on my personal regimen--it keeps me healthy, keeps me solid and keeps my energy up. I appreciate that you notice that!
You haven't played Memphis in a long time...
Memphis is one of thoose places that is elusive, but it's not going to stay elusive for a long time. This new record...I think this is going to be the one.
Joyce Kennedy is the voice of Atlanta-based funk rock pioneers Mother's Finest. After finishing a string of summer European dates with her band, she was extremely gracious in sharing a few thoughts about her musical roots, touring in the late 1970's arena-rock circuit, race and stereotyping as factors in the music business and her new recording projects with jungleroom.com.