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Sunday, January 27, 2013

Tevin Campbell - Can We Talk?

Can you believe that “American Idol” has been on the air for nearly eleven years now?  It’s absolutely mind-boggling to me that it has been that long!  But despite the turnover on the judging staff, including the supposed drama between Nicki Minaj and Mariah Carey, one thing that I can give the show a little credit for is discovering some talent that we wouldn’t normally have seen.  It did bring us Clay Aiken, Kelly Clarkson, Chris Daughtry, Jennifer Hudson, Adam Lambert, Kellie Pickler, Jordin Sparks, and Carrie Underwood. 

Now, all these people auditioned in front of the panel of judges and had natural talent that helped them proceed further in the competition.  In the case of Clarkson, Underwood, and Sparks, it helped them win the whole shebang.

Now, if I ended up auditioning for American Idol (something that I don’t think I can do anyway being Canadian), I know exactly what the judges would say.  Some of the adjectives that will come flying out of their mouths when it comes to my singing ability might include “tone-deaf”, “flat”, “awful”, and “delusional”.  And, to be fair, I completely agree with them.  When it comes to singing chops, I’m liable to be voted out of my own shower, let alone the judging panel of a talent competition!

It’s not to say that I don’t enjoy singing...I just prefer to do it when there isn’t anybody else around.  No need to subject them to something that sounds like a smoke detector with an almost dead battery.  In fact, here’s a true story for you.  When I was in the third grade, our music teacher had us all line up in the classroom and instructed us to sing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” in a continuous loop, and as we sang, he would walk down the line and listen closely to our voices.  Imagine my shock when I was one of the first kids he told to leave the line and stand on the sidelines...though to be fair, I was one of five.

The teacher then announced that it was a little exercise he planned to see who had the singing chops necessary to join the school choir...and as for myself and the five other people who were escorted out of the line, we weren’t good enough to join.  L

But, don’t feel too bad for me.  In all honesty, the teacher knew what he was talking about, and I didn’t blame him a bit for his decision (though the other four who had been rejected kind of gave him a dirty look).  No sense leading a person on when they don’t have what it takes to succeed as a choir singer.  I appreciated his honesty.  Besides, I more than made up for it when I joined the concert band as a baritone player in the sixth grade and performed a solo in the seventh grade when the eighth grade baritone player flaked out of the concert just minutes before it was set to begin. 

So, singing just wasn’t in the cards for me.  I can deal with that.  I mean, if I were to get a career in the music industry, I would likely make a better lyricist anyway.

Still, some people just seem to have that natural ability to blow people away with their singing voices in any situation, and in the case of today’s subject, this young man broke into the music scene when he was just in his teens, and ended up becoming a huge presence on the R & B charts during the mid-1990s.  Though his star ended up fading over time (likely compounded by an arrest in the late 1990s), as of 2013, it seems as though he’s looking to make a comeback in the music industry.  And, you know something?  I think that he still has the vocal chops to get back into the music industry once more.  At least I hope so anyway...I’m getting somewhat disenchanted with the state of the Top 40 charts these days.

Today, we’re going to be taking a look at the career of Waxahachie, Texas native Tevin Jermod Campbell, a singer/songwriter who has also dabbled in the world of acting.

He was born on November 12, 1976, making him thirty-six years old today.  From an early age, Tevin knew that he wanted to sing, and he satisfied his passion for singing by joining his church’s choir group singing gospel music.  As he grew older, he began to sing solos at a small town church located near Dallas, Texas. 

Certainly, Tevin’s talent was praised by his family, as well as friends of the family.  In 1988, a friend of Tevin’s mother had arranged for Tevin to audition for Bobbi Humphrey, an accomplished jazz flutist.  In a rather unique twist, Tevin performed his audition via a phone call to Humphrey’s home in New York City!  It seemed to work though, as Humphrey was impressed by the young Tevin’s talent.  She arranged to have a video and audio tape commissioned and sent to Warner Brothers, leading to am meeting with Benny Medina, which in turn brought Campbell to the attention of Quincy Jones in the summer of 1989.  Quincy was very impressed by Campbell’s huge voice, and shortly after they met signed Campbell to his own record label, Qwest Records.  Tevin Campbell was just twelve years old when the contract was signed!

Within a few months, Campbell had recorded his debut single “Tomorrow (A Better You, A Better Me)” to be included in Quincy Jones’ 1989 album, “Back on the Block”.  The song itself just barely cracked the Top 75 on the Billboard Charts, but it ended up reaching #1 on the American Rhythm & Blues Charts in June 1990!  Forget having your first single become a number one hit...imagine having it happen at the age of thirteen!

Tevin’s debut album “T.E.V.I .N.” was released in the fall of 1991, and it ended up having a unique distinction.  A total of eight singles were released from the album (at least five cracked the Top 10 on the R & B charts), within a four year period!  It sounds bizarre, but just have a look at the list of singles from T.E.V.I.N., and do the math!

1.       Round and Round (released 1990, #2 R&B, #12 Billboard)

2.       Just Ask Me To (released 1991, #9 R&B, #88 Billboard)

3.       Tell Me What You Want To Do (released 1991, #1 R&B, #6 Billboard)

4.       Goodbye (released 1992, #2 R&B, #85 Billboard)

5.       Strawberry Letter 23 (released 1992, #40 R&B, #53 Billboard)

6.       Alone With You (released 1992, #1 R&B, #72 Billboard)

7.       Confused (released 1993, #33 R&B)

8.       One Song (released 1993, DID NOT CHART)

That is quite a list of accomplishments.  Two #1 smashes on the R & B charts, at least one Top 10 Billboard hit, and eight singles in four years.  All before he turned eighteen years of age at that!  And, he wasn’t finished yet!

By 1993, Tevin Campbell’s musical tastes were beginning to mature (though keep in mind that he was still a teenager at that time), and he explained in an interview with J.R. Reynolds in Billboard Magazine that he wanted to make a more mature-sounding album that matched his new frame of mind.  After all, four years had passed since he recorded his debut single, and he had changed quite a bit in those four years.  I know that my perspective on life at the age of twelve far differed from the one that I had at age sixteen, so I completely see where Tevin was coming from. 

The name of Tevin’s sophomore album was “I’m Ready”, which was released in the fall of 1993.  The album took around eight months to record (from December 1992 until August 1993), and was produced once again by Quincy Jones and Benny Medina.  This album also had a number of high-profile collaborators and songwriters lending their talents to the effort.  Prince contributed several songs to the album (though it was under the pseudonym of Paisley Park), and Johnny Gill performed a duet with Campbell on the unreleased track “What Do I Say”. 

Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds also contributed a great deal to the album as well.  In fact, of the five singles that were released from “I’m Ready”, Babyface helped write three of them...the title track, “Always In My Heart”, and this one below.

ARTIST:  Tevin Campbell
SONG:  Can We Talk
ALBUM:  I’m Ready
DATE RELEASED:  September 30, 1993

This song could easily be considered Tevin Campbell’s biggest hit.  I might even consider it his signature song.  The song reached the top of the R&B charts the week of December 25, 1993, and stayed there until early January, and even on the Billboard charts, it peaked at a modest ninth position.  The song was also a hit in Australia, peaking within the Top 20.

And, when you compare “Can We Talk” to Campbell’s other material, it’s almost as if we’re listening to songs by two different artists.  Aside from the fact that Campbell’s voice is noticeably deeper in “Can We Talk”, the lyrics and the melody sound more adult than anything else he released.  So, if the aim was for him to broaden his sound to an older audience, I think he succeeded.

(Of course, this likely didn’t stop the preteen girls who idolized him in his early days from loving Campbell any less...)

This single was rewarded with a Soul Train Music Award for “Best R & B Vocal – Male” in 1994.  It was also nominated for a Grammy Award for “Best R & B Vocal Performance, Male”, but lost to Ray Charles’ “A Song for You”.

At any rate, “Can We Talk” helped people take Campbell seriously, and it was right around this time that Campbell developed a love for acting as well.  He had a bit part in the 1990 feature film “Graffiti Bridge”, and played a love interest for Tatyana M. Ali’s character in “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”, but in 1995, he signed on for two more roles.  One role had him appearing on an episode of “NY Undercover” alongside Brandy (the two would work together once more when Campbell made a guest appearance on Brandy’s sitcom “Moesha”).  The second role had him assuming the role of a singer named Powerline, in the 1995 animated feature film “A Goofy Movie”.  Just have a look at “Powerline” in action below.

So, what happened to Tevin Campbell?

Well, by 1996, people weren’t responding as well to his music as they had done previously.  His third album, “Back to the World” was released in 1996, and the title track had some moderate success...but the rest of his singles didn’t seem to do as well.  Three years later, when Tevin released his self-titled fourth disc, it barely made as much as a dent in the charts. 

And then in September 1999, Campbell was arrested in perhaps one of the most bizarre ways possible when he was taken into custody by an undercover police officer after Campbell solicited a lewd act from the cop.  It also probably didn’t help Campbell’s cause when he was also caught with marijuana on his person (which was – and is in some areas of the world – an illegal substance).

By 2000, Campbell had paid a fine, and attended Narcotics Anonymous meetings, and participated in a court-appointed AIDS awareness class...but as far as his music career went, it was more or less a memory, barring the release of a greatest hits collection in 2001.

But, that’s not to say that Tevin Campbell is giving up music.  In 2005, he landed a role in the Broadway musical “Hairspray”, assuming the role of Seaweed J. Stubbs.  He reprised the role in the Australian production of the same musical in 2010 and 2011.

And, on an appearance that he did on “The Mo’nique Show” in May 2010, Campbell admitted that he was considering making a comeback to the music scene, and was heard on the remake of Quincy Jones’ “Secret Garden”, which also featured Usher, Robin Thicke, Tyrese Gibson, and LL Cool J.

Personally speaking, I think that he could do it.  I happened to find a clip of Campbell singing “Can We Talk” in what appears to be filmed in his home recorded on June 27, 2012, (which you can hear if you click HERE), and I’ll admit, he still sounds great.

And, well...if I can make a confession here...I’d rather listen to his songs from 20 years ago than some of the stuff that passes as music these days.

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