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Interview: Chico DeBarge – Singer and Songwriter

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When R&B family act DeBarge was scoring many of their classic hits, the group's youngest sibling was taking notes on their claim to fame. Several years later, he would share—and stand alone on—the same musical stage, as the crowd passionately screamed his name: Chico DeBarge.

Success, failure and incarceration have been key elements of Chico's life. So have redemption and self-evaluation. More noticeable, however, through Chico's thirteen-year journey, is the loyal fan base that never left his side—from his self-titled debut in 1986 to Addiction (2009).

Upon the release of Addiction, Chico DeBarge managed to squeeze some time out of his busy schedule and settle down for an interview with Clayton Perry — reflecting on Marvin Gaye, second chances, and "soul music."

chico debarge

 

Although your career spans two decades, it's been awhile since your last release. For some listeners, Addiction will serve as their introduction to your music. What challenges do you face when creating music that your old fans will embrace, while adding a contemporary flair to your style?

Well, the music will speak for itself. There are plenty of stories from front to back and my loyal followers are definitely going to be looking for that – a signature CD, something that will remind them of Long Time No See. When you listen to the whole album, you know that a standard is being set, from the very first note. I definitely gave this CD my all.

When you look back on the recording experience, what particular thoughts come to mind? 

I really took my time with this album, and allowed it to follow a natural process. I didn't want to deliver a CD where a couple of the songs were great, but the rest of the songs were horrible [laughing]. With this CD, I feel like it was very much something that happened, not something I really made. Also, from my hiatus from 2003 up to now, it's been a long journey to this point. I'm grateful for the reception that I'm getting.

Well, the album's title definitely grabbed my attention. What life events –along this journey – inspired the title, Addiction?

Well, people can become addicted to any and every thing, you know? As far as my personal life, my addiction started when I got stabbed in 2003 and was prescribed prescription drugs. The abuse and chemical dependency that followed were things that I struggled with and eventually got over – thank God. I also had to deal with a relationship that I had with someone. She had an addiction. It was rough, so I figured that me writing about both sides of the fence would be something everyone could relate to, because if you're not addicted, you probably have someone close to you in your family that has dealt with that.

One of the standout tracks on Addiction is "I'm Okay." Describe the creative process for that song.

"I'm Okay" is just about me being awake. My loved ones, fans and family were asking about me. Was I coming back out? What would I be doing? When will I be coming to this city? It's just like a dedication song to all my fans, family and friends that I'm okay – everyone that was worried about me or wondered where I was. It's a very truthful song and very heart-wrenching.

In the liner notes of your third album, The Game, you gave a special shout-out to "everyone that encouraged [you] by trying to discourage [you]." When you look back over your career, what do you consider to be the biggest obstacle that you had to overcome?

When I was released from prison, the officers told me that it was over for me and I wasn't going to survive out there. At the time, it was very hard for me to overcome the psychological attempt of people trying to bring me down. But they just fueled my fire. It made me determined not to come back and make myself a better man.

In several of your music videos, a black raven appears. What does this bird represent?

It was dark, wasn't it?

Yeah. 

I don't even know. It was just some fascination I had with crows at the time.

Gotcha. Well, its presence definitely gave the videos a dark feel. Undoubtedly, over the course of your career, you've had your fair share of dark days, as well as some good ones. Do you ever question why you were blessed to be given a second chance?

Oh, I have. I believe it's just to do this, do music and to love and know love and show love, you know? I think that's the whole purpose of life. Just be a vessel. If we live long enough, life is filled with second chances for everyone. 

Out of your catalog, my favorite song—without a doubt—is "Listen to Your Man." In your personal relationships, what important lesson has love taught you?

Man, just to keep on trying. As far as relationships, I had a terrible relationship that was devastating, but I realize the heart doesn't give up. The heart hungers for it, you know? I keep on trying.

There are two guys that have been steady fixtures in your personal life and music career – Kedar Massenburg and Joe Thomas. You're currently under Kedar for management and you toured with Joe recently. Briefly describe your relationship with these two gentlemen.

Me and Joe, we actually met when I was releasing Long Time No See. He was also releasing a CD at the time. We initially went out on the road together to promote our CDs and tour. We decided to do a duet together, a remix of a song that was on my album, "No Guarantee." It did quite well. As a result, we continued on. Kedar, ironically, was his manager at the time. We developed a friendship, me and Joe, over the years that never died. Now, we are co-owners of our own label. Kedar offered that and me and Joe took it and ended back up in-house again, not just as friends but in-house in business. We thought it would be advantageous to us both to go out together and do the promo tour. Outside of us being good friends, we're also business partners.

What are the names of your respective businesses? 

Oh, it's Kedar Business Group. My label is Alove Entertainment. Joe's is 563 Entertainment. Our albums are joint ventures with Kedar.

As your professional career evolved, what change in the musical landscape strikes you the most?

For some reason, soul became a sound and that's not what it initially was. You got Michael McDonald who is a soul artist. People call his music "blue-eyed soul." He didn't have to sound like Al Green or Marvin Gaye. They all have different sounds, but it's still soul. There is so much more to soul than the sound. 

Several years ago, you covered one of Marvin Gaye's songs: "Till Tomorrow." The song was featured on a special tribute album, Marvin is 60 (1999), as well as The Game. Since this year marks the 25th anniversary of his passing, I'm interested to hear your reflections on him. I'm also curious to know why you chose to cover that particular song.

That particular song – I have to be honest – was the only song that was available. All of the other artists had already picked their songs and I was offered the opportunity to do a song on his tribute album late. The only two songs that were available were "Sexual Healing" and "'Till Tomorrow." So, I chose "Till Tomorrow." As far as my thoughts on Marvin Gaye, all I can say is that he was a soulful man. He carved out a sound in the soul genre of music where I don't even think it's a genre. He actually was someone that you could feel his music. There aren't too many artists that you can feel the joy and pain of what they're talking about, or what they're trying to say. He was very sexual, but very religious too. He was passionate and a very God-fearing man. I appreciate that boldness. I think it was dangerous at that time to speak about God and sexuality. I think he was really doing it for him and I respect that as an artist.

When I was flipping through the liner notes of The Game, I read that your brother El provided background vocals and played the keys on "Till Tomorrow." As a fellow member of the famous DeBarge family, what advice has he shared with you over the years?

One thing that he taught me in business was to always be a good steward over my affairs to the best of my ability and to be a good businessman, to do right by people. You don't have to be shrewd to get what you want. Just apply yourself to it. Music and good talent will always open doors for you. So I try to stay true to that – to the music and talent. That would be the door-opener for me. You get what you negotiate – that's partly true, but I think you also have to bring to the table some value other than that, especially in the music industry. Good music never dies. I think that's what he was telling. As long as you study your craft and use that to open doors, you'll be all right.

 

For more information on Chico DeBarge, visit his MySpace page.

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