Fresh from the 90s: Keith Sweat, Doug E. Fresh and friends bring their beats and smooth vibes back to Charleston
Doug E. Fresh, Keith Sweat and friends bring their beats back
By Stratton Lawrence Special to The Post and Courier | Wednesday, June 13, 2012
As the anniversary of the Sofa Super Store fire looms on Monday, fundraisers for the Charleston Nine Memorial Project have been increasing in number.
The Fresh Music Festival is another one, as $1 of every ticket purchased will be donated to the Charleston Firefighters Association – Local 61 for the memorial project.
The site of the fire on Savannah Highway in West Ashley has been turned into a small park, and a plan has been put in place to develop and build a permanent memorial to the Charleston Nine.
The plan has been broken down into three phases because of budgetary constraints. The first of the three phases was the construction of the park, which helped mark the fourth anniversary of the fire. The final two phases, which will complete the permanent memorial, are still in the planning stages with no definite completion date.
For more information on the Charleston Firefighters Association, go towww.Local61.com.
Tickets for the Fresh Music Festival are available at the Coliseum Advance Ticket Office, Ticketmaster outlets (including select Publix stores), by phone at 1-800-745-3000 or online atTicketmaster.com.
Fresh Music Fest benefits Charleston Nine
If you go
What: Fresh Music Festival featuring Keith Sweat, Doug E. Fresh, K-CI & JoJo, Guy and SWV
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Where: North Charleston Coliseum, 5001 Coliseum Drive
For more info: www.northcharleston coliseumpac.com or freshmusicfestival.com
It’s been well over a decade since any of the acts touring with the Fresh Music Festival had a hit record, but headliner Keith Sweat swears that the multiband concert will be far more than a stroll down memory lane.
“We could all put out the same songs that we released back in the day and they would all still be hit records,” Sweat said, on the phone from his home in Atlanta during a break in the summer-long tour, which reaches Charleston on Saturday.
To keep things “fresh,” the festival’s banner ads and promotional material highlight that each act will have a live band backing them, promising “no singing over CD tracks” and “No lip syncing.”
Although the claims of including “some of today’s hottest performers” may be a stretch, most of the acts will be more than familiar to anyone who watched MTV, listened to FM radio or ever went dancing at a club (or high school formal) in the ’90s.
On tour again
Family-trio SWV (Sisters With Voices) opens the show, recalling hits like “I’m So Into You” and “Downtown.”
Early ’90s vocal duo Guy have also reunited for the tour, remembered for tracks like “Groove Me” and “Do Me Right,” although the late Heavy D won’t be around to accompany them, as he did on the original.
Human beatbox Doug E. Fresh plays emcee for the evening, showing off his vocally created drum machines, effects and samples that took him from legend status on the streets of Harlem to a household name over two decades ago.
“He’s still doing his thing. Ain’t nothing changed,” Sweat said of Doug E. Fresh, adding that he’s still the best beat-boxer in the world. “It’s like he just came out. He can’t be touched by anybody, in terms of what he does. Doug E. gets the crowd up and makes them feel like it’s back in the day.”
Preceding Sweat in the lineup are K-Ci & JoJo, another vocal duo who boasted the 1998 smash hit “All My Life.” With its orchestral introduction, slow piano build-up and butter-smooth harmonies, the track still resonates as one of the strongest slow dance jams of R&B’s “New Jack Swing” era, a genre that headliner Sweat helped bring to prominence.
‘Still in the Game’
Now 50 years old, Sweat grew up singing with vocal groups around his home in Harlem.
In the mid-’80s, he began working gigs in New York nightclubs as a solo performer, maintaining a day job on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange as a brokerage assistant for management firm Paine Webber.
“That’s what I did until I decided to go into the music game,” explains Sweat, who worked on Wall Street for four years before giving it up to sing full-time. “Everybody has a desire, probably, to do something other than what they do, but you do it until you have the opportunity to follow your heart’s desires. Fortunately for me, I always knew what I wanted to be doing, so when I got the opportunity to sing, that’s what I did, because music was my first love.”
Sweat balanced his stock brokerage job with singing at night until just before releasing his 1987 debut, “Make It Last Forever.” The record sold 3 million copies, immediately turning Sweat into a star of the R&B world on the strength of his single “I Want Her.”
For over a decade, Sweat consistently remained at the top of the Billboard charts. As late as 1998, his sixth album, “Still in the Game,” charted in the Top 10, thanks in part to a collaboration with Snoop Dogg.
Despite no longer being in the mainstream public view, Sweat hasn’t slowed his productivity in the last decade. “ ’Til the Morning,” released in 2011, came hot on the heels of “Ridin’ Solo,” released the previous year. T-Pain guests on the disc, as well as Coko of SWV on the track “My Valentine.”
At the Fresh Music Festival, it’s not uncommon to find acts collaborating on each other’s songs, including sit-ins by Fresh with the various groups.
“I’ve done tours like this before and played shows with SWV, K-Ci & JoJo and Guy before this tour,” Sweat said. “We’re all friends from the same musical generation. It just depends on how we feel on a certain night.”
Since 2007, Sweat has balanced his singing career with a nightly syndicated radio show, The Sweat Hotel. The show airs Sundays through Fridays in Charleston on Star 99.7 FM, from 10 p.m.-3 a.m.
In between spinning classic R&B jams, Sweat offers advice to callers having problems with their spouses and lovers. On the show’s website, www.thesweathotel.com, listeners can submit confessions and send their questions to Sweat, dubbed “the Maintenance Man.”
“It’s a fun, relationship show. I play corresponding, feel-good music, and people call in and apologize, confess and tell me what they need,” said Sweat, who has been married before but is currently single. “I can’t fix everybody’s problems, but I can help you help yourself. The Maintenance Man is somebody who can assist you in what you need.”
If a woman calls in complaining that her man doesn’t give her enough love, Sweat explains that he’d likely ask her to evaluate her own role in the relationship.
“I ask her, ‘What are you not doing?’ When a person blames or says they’re not getting something, you’ve got to look at yourself and ask, ‘What are you not doing in order to get certain things that you say you need or want?’” explains Sweat. “You’ve got to ask yourself, ‘Am I giving enough to get what I want?’ ”
Sweat acknowledges that not all couples are a good match, and he’s not afraid to tell callers when to call it quits.
In cases of adultery, he says it comes down to each individual scenario.
“I might have a problem staying with somebody who I caught cheating on me, but some people can tolerate that,” Sweat said. “I tell them what I would do, but we’re two different individuals. If you feel like you can work it out, fine, and if not, you need to get up out of there.”
Throughout his 25-year music career, Sweat’s songs deal almost exclusively with love and relationships. It’s a theme that goes back to his childhood admiration of groups like The O’Jays, Donny Hathaway and The Temptations.
“Most of those artists back in the old days dealt with relationships,” Sweat said. “I took that and used it for my songs.”
There’s a certain consistency to Sweat’s songs over the years. Songs like “My Valentine” and “Candy Store” from last year’s “ ’Til the Morning” could just as easily be tracks from his releases 20 years before.
“It’s something that I can’t help,” explains Sweat. “I try to stay relevant to what people want from me. When people buy a Keith Sweat record, they’re not trying to hear me sound like someone else. But it’s not intentional. If I feel a record that I wanna do, I do it. I don’t think about how I need to sing this way or that way.”
Similarly, Sweat’s move from New York to Georgia hasn’t played into his sound, despite Atlanta’s status as a hot-bed of Southern rap and R&B with artists like Ludacris, Kanye West and Outkast.
“It has no effect on me one way or another,” Sweat said. “It wouldn’t matter if I was in L.A. or Detroit or wherever. I still do what I do.”
Nevertheless, the bulk of the Fresh Music Tour’s dates are in the Southeast, hitting up nearly every major market in the region and a handful of smaller cities like Dothan, Ala., and Macon, Ga., along the way.
On the tour, Sweat said he’s equally excited about each act, adding that the groups were chosen because of their continued ability to entertain an audience and enjoy themselves on stage.
“It’s a family unit on the tour. As long as we have a unity situation, I’m good,” said Sweat, emphasizing that he and the other acts still have plenty to offer to R&B in 2012.
“I don’t call it old school. I just call it great music by great artists who are out there doing what they do.”