George Duke on Producing Jeffrey Osborne

With his third solo record, Jeffrey Osborne pretty much throws out the formula, and he emerges all the stronger for it. In a year when he could have been buried on the charts by the likes of Lionel Richie, Prince, Michael Jackson, Billy Ocean, Phillip Bailey and Al Jarreau, he put out Don’t Stop, which after six months is still a force in the black, dance, and pop markets. The second single, “Borderlines,“ is rivaling the top ten success of the title track first single.

Don’t Stop is also the third Osborne album to be produced by multi-instrumentalist George Duke, a man with high praise for the singer. “Jeff isn’t one of these fly-by-night artists, and that’s what I liked about him,” says Duke, “besides the fact that he’s an incredible talent, a good writer, and a pleasure to work with. There’s really no pressure. When we work together for these three months each year, it’s a party, and I think it shows in the music. He also has a commitment to growth. I don’t think any of these records sound the same.”

Osborne spent the better part of ten years with LTD, as drummer and vocalist. If you listen to LTD closely you can’t miss his distinctive voice. His passionate rendering of LTD’s “Love Ballad” in 1976 features that same velvety growl that he uses here on the ballad “Let Me Know.” Osborne’s reputation in the business has been that of a balladeer, and his firstever hit with Duke, “On The Wings Of Love” in 1978, did nothing to change that. “When we did the first album he said, ‘You know, I’m really known as a balladeer, and that’s where I’m most comfortable. You’re going to have to help me on the uptempo stuff’ And from there, we had to fight to keep a ballad on this record! There was so much up-tempo stuff that we all liked on this one that it was real difficult. As a matter of fact, we were more worried about the ballads on this record than any of the other two records we’d done.

“He sort of thinks like a drummer, and that’s why he’s rhythmically so good. He likes that real rhythmic kind of stuff,“ Duke continues. “When he first brought in some of the songs for this record, I was kind of surprised that it was so different from what you would think of a Jeffrey Osborne thing.” “You Can’t Be Serious,” “Hot Coals,” and “The Power” are testimony to the harder edge on Don ’t Stop. “He wanted to do that kind of thing,” Duke says, “so I said, ‘Let’s go.’ “Live F or Today,” “Borderlines,” and “Don’t Stop“ also give him a chance to show off his vocal versatility, a low range and growl that is pretty much unequaled in pop, a feisty squeal that doesn’t waver, and a full and warm midrange. “It’s one of those real natural God—given talents like Stevie Wonder. They just open their mouths and music comes out,” the producer says.

Osborne molds expressive phrases out of a single word, like “more” or “no.” And according to Duke, who recorded most of the album at his house/studio Le Gonks West, it doesn’t take the singer long to put his tracks down “Nine times out of ten you’re going to get it on the first or second take,” he says. “Generally I tape a second take just in case something happens to the first one. For no particular reason other than just to say I’d like to hear it again. He comes in prepared, and knows just what to do. I worked him a little harder on this record. I actually did say, ‘Why don’t you do this again?‘ And he’d look at me and start laughing and say, ‘Wait till you do your record. I’m going to come in here and…’”

Osborne co-wrote all but two tunes on Don ’t Stop, four of them With keyboardist Don Freeman. One of the Osborne-Freeman tunes, “You Can’t Be Serious,” is about an experience With flying saucers. Lyrically, Don’t Stop is the most strong and varied Osborne LP yet. ‘I think it was right after the Stay With Me Tonight record, and I talked to Jeff indirectly about lyrics—it didn’t have anything to do with this record,” Duke says, “But I said it should be possible to make a hit record out of something other than, ‘I love you baby, let’s go away in the sea, you and me.’ It seems like artists are all writing about the same subject. I just threw it out that we should do something a little different, cause I was trying to do something different at that time on my own solo records, which didn’t work out so well. But I still felt it was possible. And maybe he thought about that a little, and that’s how we got kind of weird with some of this.”

“Hot Coals,” “Serious,” and ‘Borderlines” are among the more visual tunes, and are enhanced by Fairlight synthesizer effects. “I have a Synclavier now,” Duke says, “but at that time I didn’t have anything and I wanted some different kind of sounds, and somebody who knew the instrument (John Barnes, Gary Chang, and Derek Nakamoto programmed Fairlight on the LP). He would try different things and I’d try to give him an idea of what we were looking for. On the spaceship song we needed some outer space kind of effects, and on “The Power” we wanted synthesizer bass and something that was strong.”

While they were tracking the effervescent cut “Live For Today,” Osborne told Duke that he would like to hear a choir singing behind him. They assembled “The Choir of Life—” Pat Benatar, Lynn Davis, Tramaine Hawkins, Howard Hewett, James Ingram, Joyce Kennedy, Debra Laws and Kenny Loggins, and they power it out, adding a distinctly gospel flavor. “It was a great feeling,” says the producer. “There’s some magic that happens when you get all that talent in one room, especially when there are no problems with ‘I’m a star.’ Man, it’s amazing. They just did it for Jeff for the love of it, cause there wasn’t any big money thing. That’s all it was—it was a love thing.”

Duke says that Osborne is one of those rare artists who knows what he wants his album to sound like long before he enters the studio. That makes the producer’s job a lot easier. “My basic gig is to keep everything cool so he can create and make the best possible product. Make his dream come true.”

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