*It’s difficult to believe that singer and recording artist Will Downing, “The Prince of Sophisticated Soul,” has been a major star on the R&B/soul scene for 30 years.
The disbelief expressed, however, is not predicated on Downing’s singing abilities, because he has long been an extraordinary vocalist, blessed with a rich baritone voice.
The unbelief is more rooted in the fact that most true R&B/soul singers/recording artists that were on the music scene three decades ago are no longer around, or are not relevant.
However, Will Downing is still going strong as a pure R&B/soul singer. Maybe, just maybe, his latest album, his 20th, offers validity to its name, “Soul Survivor.”
The new album on the Shanachie label features some of Downing’s best work to date, with support from several musical friends, namely, Najee, Phil Perry, Maysa, and Avery Sunshine. Some key songs on the album, which was released Sept. 22, include soul classics such as “Stop to Start” made famous by “Blue Magic,” “Hurry Up This Way Again” by “The Stylistics,” and “Tell Me All About It,” a hit for Michael Franks and Natalie Cole.
One would think after 30 years as a prominent singer and recording artist, Downing should be able to navigate through the music/radio industry blindfolded. Yet, it’s not so easy anymore, even for the veteran artist.
“This album was a challenge,” Downing told EUR’s Lee Bailey during a recent phone interview. “There used to be a time when you got respect for all the things that you’ve done and people on the radio would play the record. These days, however, it’s almost like you got to prove yourself again. So I don’t make records for radio anymore. I make what I think is a good sounding record and that’s it.”
Downing pointed to how much radio has changed, which seems to always want songs recorded a certain way, meaning commercial.
“Screw commercial records,” Downing said. “All the musicians on this new album are seasoned veterans, so we didn’t want to make a record that was commercial. We just made a good feeling record.”
“You got to stop chasing, when no one knows what they want because the industry has changed so much and is moving so fast,” Downing said. “So I’m kind of sick and tired of trying to figure it out. I’m just being me. I’ve been doing this long enough to where the sales of a record is not going to make a difference anymore.”
Downing expounds even more.
“It’s like you put out a record, radio is going to play it a little bit, promoters across the country are going to find out about it, and you’ll work,” Downing said. “That’s what the industry has become to from my perspective. So when you put a record out, it’s almost like handing out a business card to let people know that you are still alive and still relevant.”
Spoken like a true R&B/soul artist, who knows his multiplicity of fans will buy his music and pack his concerts at national and international venues. After all, Downing’s songs and music have been tested and found true for 30 years.
While often compared to the late-great Luther Vandross, Downing, a Brooklyn, New York native who was a good friend of Luther, has worked to create his own identifiable brand and style of singing rich, smooth, and silky smooth ballads. Yet, just like Vandross, who was considered the best in the business at covering other artists’ songs, Downing has the same vocal acumen and knack. In other words, when Downing covers another artist’s song, according to many who know and love music, he virtually “owns the song for the betterment,” just like Vandross always did.
Some of the songs that Downing has rendered his own “reinterpretations” on have included, “War’s” “The World is a Ghetto,” Angela Bofill’s “I Try,” Teddy Pendergrass’ “Turn Off The Lights,” “Cuba Gooding and The Main Ingredient’s” “Just Don’t Want to be Lonely,” Paul Davis’ “I Go Crazy,” Whitney Houston’s “Saving All My Love For You,” among others. Now, Downing is riding the original waves of the first single off “Soul Survivor” titled, “I’m Feeling The Love,” with Avery Sunshine.
“If there are a handful of singers who are going to carry the torch of what’s left of this genre of music, Avery Sunshine is one of them,” Downing said. “She’s a sweet lady, who genuinely loves singing…and she can really sing. She’s such a pleasure work with.”
While Downing will be busy touring and performing on the heels of “Soul Survivor,” he is already working on his next recording project.
“I promised my mother that I would do a gospel record,” Downing exclusively told Bailey. “So that’s what I’m working on next. My mom has been asking me to do a gospel album for years, and she’s 89 now. So I’m going to get it done. I think I’m going to call it ‘The Promise.’ I promised her and I promised God I would do it when I was sick and laying on my back. I have to make good on my word.”
For MORE on Will Downing and his new Soul Survivor project, click over to willdowning.com/.