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LINDA JONES TRIBUTE/TERRY JONES & HELEN BRUNER INTERVIEW
EVERYTHING OLD IS NEW AGAIN!
“Linda Jones was a baaad sista!” proclaims Helen Bruner, one half of the production team responsible for an amazing soul music project that has already generated a Grammy nomination for Bruner and partner Terry Jones, daughter of the great Linda Jones who is the focus of the project.

For most die-hard soul music lovers, the name “Linda Jones” is instantly associated with the classic 1967 R&B hit, “Hypnotized.” The fact is, Linda had recorded for a couple of labels (Atco and Blue Cat) prior to an entire album (and a few non-LP singles) for Loma before moving to the All Platinum-owned imprint Turbo Records and cutting some tracks also for the Gamble & Huff label, Neptune Records. While none of the material she cut had the same impact as that first Loma single, Linda’s distinctive melismatic vocal style ensured her a place in the world of contemporary music and it’s no surprise that her recordings have endured, reissued in various different forms over the years.

That her music has been constantly ‘reintroduced’ is a source of understandable upset for Terry as Linda’s heir but rather than be stopped by the legal entanglements that are involved with ensuring that Linda’s estate is correctly compensated, Terry chose to create a project with Helen that would serve as a reminder of her mother’s legacy. The result? “Soul Talkin,’” a brilliant album that features Linda’s original vocals on tracks that have been remastered and updated. The basis for the material was a stack of tapes of songs Linda had written and started but, with the exception of a version of “Things I’ve Been Through.”

Terry explains the genesis of “Soul Talkin’”: “Helen and I were in Tokyo in 1997. We walked into Tower Records and saw that Mariah Carey was No. 1…and Linda Jones’ “Greatest Hits” was No. 2! That was when we knew we had to do something, let people know that I’m her daughter, that there is an heir. We started talking seriously about the idea for this album three years ago. I’d spent a lifetime seeing my Mom on television with ads for compilations that included “Hypnotized” and CDs in record stores and as her heir, not really getting anything. It’s been a dream of mine to control her industry but I felt like I had to get myself together first…”

Adds Helen, “Terry had a hard time listening to Linda’s music but when the “Ali” movie came out, we went to see it and watched someone playing the role of Linda Jones, singing “Your Precious Love.” It was tough watching it and knowing that Linda’s name wasn’t being used… because no one even knew she had an heir .”

Fortunately, Terry discovered that her mother had kept a diary and that he grandmother had saved tapes of Linda’s: “There was a fire and some recordings and paperwork was damaged but I did realize that the tapes we did have were very special.” Helen recalls, “We found reading the diaries just how much of a songwriter Linda was even though she never got credit. She had a lot of catch phrases, like “Miss New” which is one of the titles we used for one of the tracks on the album. Linda liked to rap on her songs, she was a talker…”

As the idea for “Soul Talkin’” began to germinate, Helen says the pair started “doing research, wondering how we should approach it? Do a remix project, a dance remix kind of record? What we heard back from the fans was, ‘Don’t mess with Linda! Keep it organic!’” Once Terry felt she was ready to take on the project, the team listened to the tapes they had on Linda as well as talking to Kenny Gamble who also had some recordings from the Neptune days. “Kenny had some tracks that were never released and he said, ‘you can have whatever you want.’ It was amazing listening to them…you can hear (keyboardist) Richard Tee striking up the band, on one track, you can hear one of The O’Jays getting ready to sing background vocals… I mean, Linda was a baaad sista!” Helen says. “She was ridiculous…she could put a whole lot of energy into the word ‘yeah’! I thought I knew what I was doing as a singer until I listened to her. Kenny (Gamble) pointed out that Linda’s vocal mike was a little distorted but that was because she was so powerful and they didn’t have the proper compressors back then to deal with it.”

Once Terry and Helen had selected the songs for the project, their job was to clean up the tapes, transfer them and start working on the tracks for “Soul Talkin.’” For Terry, working on the title track and on “Baby I Know” was particularly thrilling because she and Helen got to sing with Linda. “With ‘Baby I Know,’ we did the background vocals first and then inserted my Mom’s part,” Terry recalls. “I got chills when we were recording. It was as if she was hugging me. I felt as if she was around me, embracing me. Singing with her, I said, ‘wow, if I could only be a percentage of what she is vocally .’”

The track “Cheated” - written with The Pointdexter Brothers (who wrote “Hypnotized” which – Terry notes – “was recorded as a first take with my Mom reading the lyrics from the paper on which they were written!”) – sums up what Terry feels “happened to my mother in the industry” and describes the whole process of making “Soul Talkin’” (which includes some songs co-written by the late Lorraine Ellison, a Loma labelmate of Linda’s) as “emotional ” while enabling her to learn more about her super-talented mother. “From the stories I heard from my family, I found out that she had an approach that was different from other female singers of the time. She was very assertive vocally and if you notice, she had male singers doing backgrounds on her records. In fact, she almost always appeared on shows with male singers and groups and no one wanted to follow her. Once she hit the stage, it was all over! A lot of times, she was singing with one kidney, on insulin and could have gone into a diabetic shock at any time – and yet she would show up to sing. Now that’s a real commitment. ” Adds Helen, “It was as if she knew subconsciously she wasn’t going to be here for long so she wanted to get it all out and that’s what we hear in her vocals – freedom, no restriction…”

All the excitement around “Soul Talkin’” has had some very positive results: the city of Newark, where Linda was born, declared December 14 (her birthday) as “Linda Jones Day” and issued a proclamation to that effect, with attendees giving testimonials to Linda including a message from longtime admirer Teena Marie and a poem from Bowlegged Lou (of Full Force) who remembered seeing Linda as a child in New York. “We’re working on doing a concert on December 14 and paying tribute to a soul music legend,” says Helen. “We just want to keep it going.”

Of course, the ‘icing’ on the cake for the team was learning that “Baby I Know” was nominated in the “Traditional R&B” category for a Grammy Award: “My Mom told Terry, ‘I don’t want you to call me unless you get a nomination because I know something is coming!” Helen smiles. When the Grammy nominations were finally posted online, “my fingers were shaking as I looked on my laptop!” says Terry. “When we finally saw our names alongside Al Green and others, we laughed, cried and shook at the same time. Then we called Helen’s mom! We were like, ‘did we just get nominated for a Grammy?’ What’s so moving for us is that our peers thought it was worthy. They felt the love and energy. We did this on our own budget, we mixed, we wrote and produced and we’re out here competing with major labels. It’s something that we did with our sweat and tears and it feels so good now. Sometimes, we still can’t believe we got a Grammy nomination!”


Next up, Helen and Terry plan to put together a Linda Jones tribute and take it on the road and at some point, there will be a Volume Two of “Soul Talkin.’” Concludes Terry, “People called her ‘The Empress of Soul.’ My mother touched a lot of people: James Brown and The Temptations came to her funeral, Cissy Houston sang at it,” says Terry. “I’m just thankful to all the fans of Linda Jones and of soul music for keeping her music and her name alive.”


About the Writer
David Nathan is the founder and CEO of SoulMusic.com and began his writing career in 1965; beginning in 1967, he was a regular contributor to Blues & Soul magazine in London before relocating to the U.S. in 1975 where he served as U.S. editor for the publication for several decades and began being known as 'The British Ambassador Of Soul.' From 1988 to 2004, he wrote prolifically for Billboard, has penned bios, produced and written liner notes for box sets and reissue CDs for over a thousand projects. He returned to London in 2009 where he has helped create SoulMusic.com Records as a leading reissue label.
  
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