Feature: Jack Foley
SHE boasts the voice of a young Aretha Franklin, or a genuine
soul diva, and has supported the likes of Erykah Badu, so it is
hardly surprising to find the hype building around the arrival
of Joss Stone.
What is surprising, however, is the talented young singer's background.
Aged just 16, Joss was born on April 11, 1987, in Dover, England,
and, at the age of eight, moved to the rural village of Ashill,
in the county of Devon; she is the second youngest of four siblings.
The first record to seize her young imagination was Whitney Houstons
I Will Always Love You, but Aretha Franklins Greatest
Hits was the first album she ever bought - after seeing it advertised
Joss first public performance was a harbinger of things
to come - in a Fifties-themed school variety show, she sang Reete
Petite, the Jackie Wilson hit from 1957.
In 2001, at the age of 14, she auditioned for the BBC TV talent
show, Star for A Night, where she sang Arethas A Natural
Woman and It's Not Right But It's Okay by Whitney Houston.
I found out that Id won some months later, when the
camera crew showed up in Devon to tell me the news: Congratulationsyoure
going to be on Star for A Night!," she recalls.
"For the broadcast, I sang On The Radio, by Donna
Summer. It wasnt my choice, and it didnt sound very
good, but thats how I got my management.
"Then I sang for a charity show, and when the Boilerhouse
Boys [London producers Andy Dean and Ben Wolfe] saw the video,
they said Steve Greenberg has got to hear this.
Steve Greenberg is the founder and CEO of S-Curve Records. Over
the years, in addition to discovering such hit acts as Hanson
and Baha Men, he expressed his love for rhythm & blues, soul
and disco by producing such sets as the Grammy-nominated nine-disc,
The Complete Stax/Volt Singles (1959-1968) and the five-disc Sugar
Hill Records Story.
In December 2001, Greenberg received a call from the Boilerhouse
Boys 'telling me that they had just heard the greatest singer
theyd ever heard from their country'.
He flew Joss to New York for an audition, in which she sang to
backing tracks of classic soul songs: Dock of the Bay,
by Otis Redding, Midnight Train to Georgia, by Gladys Knight
& the Pips, and A Natural Woman, by Aretha Franklin.
Steve was stunned by what he heard.
Joss had not only a great voice but also the ability to
put her own original stamp on classic material," he explained.
"She wasnt just mimicking, she was changing and interpreting
the songs, and doing it with passion and feeling.
"The level of nuance was just astounding for someone who
was then 14-years-old.
Their initial idea was to make an album of contemporary songs
- with Joss co-writing as many as possible - and one of the first
people contacted out was the Grammy-winning, Miami-based singer/songwriter/producer,
I was given a CD of Joss demos just one day before
we met, Betty Wright remembers. I told Steve, We
dont know how, we dont know why, but this kind of
voice is just a gift from heaven.
In making The Soul Sessions together, Ive been Joss
best friend and her worst enemy," she continues.
"By that, I mean Ive made her attempt things with
her voice that she couldnt even have imagined before. And
Joss, for her part, has reminded me of some I things Id
forgotten - about why this kind of music is important to me and
why I still enjoy creating it. We just plugged right into each
In the spring of 2003, Joss and her collaborators (including
Greenberg, Wright, and co-producer, Mike Mangini) set to work
on the proposed album.
But one of their first recordings, a cover of the obscure Carla
Thomas song, Ive Fallen In Love With You, turned
their efforts in an entirely different direction.
Steve Greenberg recalls: "A Carla Thomas cover didnt
really fit on the album we were then planning. But Joss
performance of it was fantastic. Meanwhile, Joss talent
was evolving by leaps and bounds.
"So we thought wed up the ante and have her record
live in the studio with a real live r&b band, doing a whole
set of classic and obscure soul songs. In addition to completing
her album of new material.
Steve suggested to Betty that they reunite some of the key players
of Seventies Miami, even though more than 20 years had passed
since theyd made music together, and, in the spring of 2003,
the team gathered at The Hit Factory/Criteria Studios in Miami
for what Betty Wright calls 'a live soul session, just like back
in the day'.
Greenberg adds: "We did not want to do a karaoke record.
We did not want to make an American Idol album of
someone singing note-for-note copies of great records. We wanted
to reinvent every song."
The result, an album called The Soul Sessions, heralds the emergence
of a new and unique young artist with a rich, vibrant voice and
a powerful sense of emotional engagement with her material.
In this case, the material consists of eight soul classics ranging
from the thoroughly obscure (Dirty Man, by Laura Lee, Super
Duper Love, by Sugar Billy) to the reasonably familiar (Aretha
Franklins All The Kings Horses, the Isley Brothers
For The Love Of You); along with radical reworkings of
songs by John Sebastian (I Had a Dream) and Jack White,
of the White Stripes (Fell In Love With a Boy); the latter
featuring the instrumental backing of The Roots, with supporting
vocals by Angie Stone and the legendary Betty Wright.
Plaudits followed from everything from the Chicago Herald to
Rolling Stone and led to TV performances on the likes of Good
Morning America and the Conan O'Brien show.
Now, however, Stone is looking to emulate her US success with
more in her home country, and plans a full UK release of the Soul
Sessions in February, as well as a single, Fell In Love With
a Boy, at around the same time.
And with everyone from Radio 1 and XFM beginning to get interested,
don't bet against hearing a lot from Stone by the end of the year.