Feature: Jack Foley
JONTE Short never had any aspiration but to sing and it is little
wonder... her voice is up there with Aretha, Gladys Knight, Merry
Born in New Orleans, 24 years ago, into a musical family, Jonte
and her siblings sang all the time, in church and at home, harmonising
to TV jingles.
When her mother was tired of her children’s singing, she
would cry, ‘Shut up!’, so they invented a song called
"The only time we weren’t singing was when we were
asleep," laughs Jonte, as she recalls her musical roots.
Jonte’s first public performance was when she was four,
hair dressed in ribbons, at the World Fair in New Orleans.
She and three elder siblings were the Landrum Singers.
"I can’t figure how my mum would get all these gigs
for us, auditoriums, theatres. We’d play in front of three
people, or up to 3,000," she continued.
A strict religious family, the Landrums’ life was centred
Jonte grew up listening to 'Jackson Five, Stevie Wonder, everybody
from Motown', but was not allowed to sing secular songs until
she was 18. As soon as her birthday arrived, she decided she could
sing what she wanted. Her mother told her to leave home.
"I did the sleeping in trucks bit. I shared a Happy Meal
with Earl, my boyfriend every day, once a day – we didn’t
eat that much," she recalled.
She got a slot at the Red Room, a jazz club in town, and the
first song she sang was I Will Survive.
With her wages, she and Earl were able to get somewhere to live.
They married a year later, Jonte gave birth to Earl Junior when
she was 20 – she used to sing at the club in sparkly maternity
shirts. “It all happened pretty fast.”
Babysitting Earl Junior was a problem
when she was performing.
"No one in my family wanted to look after the baby ‘cos
they didn’t want me to sing secular music," she said.
"It worked out for three months, but it started to get out
of hand. Then I got pregnant again. I was eight months, one week
and three days gone when I met David.”
David Steele had spent five years looking for a singer. He had
been around the world trying to find someone ‘mind-blowing’.
"I’d been everywhere," he says. "I saw a
lot of OK people, but nobody I listened to and thought –
It’s been eight years since his role as main songwriter
in Fine Young Cannibals, but he is nothing if not exacting - and
He first saw Jonte while in New Orleans for the Jazz Festival,
in 2001. He knew she was right straight away.
"Something clicked between us," he continues.
"I have some weird musical influences, but when she sings
over the top, you get something totally different."
The duo subsequently called themselves Fried, after Southern
US cooking, and started recording in New Orleans and London.
But New Orleans was never far away. One vocal had to be finished
in London, and to get the Deep South feel, David turned the heating
up to full.
In other songs, Jonte found herself leaning on the past: songs
about leaving home or recollecting her childhood.
The music is unique. Jonte’s vocals would make a car melt
– the songs are searing, soulful.
But forget crappy Notting Hill pseudo funk, or corporate dance
tunes predestined for some wanky car campaign.
The feel is pure Motown, blues and real R&B, but it’s
not retro; there is a contribution from RZA and a song co-written
with Beth, from Portishead.
"‘In a way, my ambition is almost done," concludes
David. "What I wanted to do was make an amazing record, and
we’ve done that."