Jocelyn Brown interview: Make It Last Forever

Marko Kutlesa caught up with disco legend and voice of dance music Jocelyn Brown to discuss collaborations and much more.

Skiddle Staff

Last updated: 7th Jun 2017.
Originally published: 25th May 2017

Image: Jocelyn Brown

You'd be hard pushed to name as bona fide a dance music diva as Jocelyn Brown. Her name has been synonymous with full-bodied dance music vocals since her career took off in the heady days of late 70s disco.

Jocelyn came from a musical family, the generation before her boasted several accomplished singers, some of whom were known as performers under the name of The Gaskins Family. Although she counts her mother as her biggest influence, it was her aunt Barbara Roy nee Gaskins's career, backing musician and later lead vocalist in Ecstasy, Passion & Pain, that persuaded Jocelyn she could make a splash in music.

After moving away from gospel singing, Jocelyn began contributing vocals for several highly rated bands and studio projects of the disco and disco funk era including Kleeer, Musique, the Salsoul Orchestra and Inner Life, many of which featured her as lead singer. Jocelyn also added vocals to the music of many premium disco stars, such as Chic, Cerrone, Van McCoy, Dazzle and Change. 

In 1984, Jocelyn released her first solo single 'Somebody Else's Guy'. It was a huge hit, reaching Number 2 on the US RnB charts and remains a much-loved classic to this day. She toured and worked with Boy George and Culture Club from 1985 – 1987, witnessing the band's huge international success before releasing a second solo album. 

Since 1990 she has lived in London, a move which made her available to work with a host of European producers including the UK's Incognito, with whom she scored another hit with their version of 'Always There'. She still featured on worldwide hits 'Something's Going On' and 'Keep On Jumpin' by Todd Terry (the latter covered her own song of the same name). Alongside her original recordings, Jocelyn is also the singer sampled by the band Snap! for their hit 'The Power'.

In recent years, Jocelyn has appeared in BBC One's celebrity singing talent show Just The Two Of Us and maintains a busy touring and recording schedule. We caught up with Jocelyn for a chat about some of her key tracks and her career to date. 

You've lived in London for over 25 years now. Which area do you live in and what do you like the best about your area?

I live in north London and what I like about it here is that it's more country or town orientated. Living in Brooklyn was very different, more apartment buildings. It was the projects.

I was looking on Discogs under your family name on your mother's side, Gaskins, and there are quite a few of those involved in music. Are you related to Larita Elaine Gaskins who sang for The Jammers, Instant Funk and Weeks & Co?

Yes, she's my first cousin. Barbara Gaskins, who is Barbara Roy from Ecstasy, Passion & Pain also and Ray Gaskins as well.

The saxophonist? 

Yes. He's my first cousin as well. 

Can I play you a piece of music to see if you know it and to see if you know which of those names it relates to?

Sure!

It's Inez and Charlie Foxx 'Mockingbird'. It's Barbara. She was Barbara Gaskins back then. She played guitar for Inez and Charlie Foxx.

Were you old enough to ever go and watch them in concert?

Yes, I was old enough. I saw them in concert one time, at The Apollo. It was great.

In 1984 you released your first and most successful single, 'Somebody Else's Guy'. On that single the publishing was signed to your company then released on your own record label Vinyl Dreams, distributed by Prelude.

I'm guessing it would have been a pretty big step for you to release a solo single, so what circumstances lead you to want to burden yourself with all this extra responsibility of doing your own publishing and label at the same time?

I had got involved in a contract that was not supportive of my career. The only way I was able to break out of that was if I put everything in my name, if I took total responsibility for it. It made me a free agent. But I ended up getting ripped off on 'Somebody Else's Guy' anyway. I just got my rights to it back around 12 years ago, maybe a little less. It was before my sister passed.

In the lyrics to 'Somebody Else's Guy', which you and your sister wrote, you write about a lady who discovers she is sharing her lover with another woman? Was that written about a situation you'd been in or was it the situation of someone you knew?

My sister and I had both been in a relationship like that, although we weren't aware of it being like that. We found out what was going on and we had to bail out.

So, if someone who was in that situation came to you for advice, what would your advice be?

First of all I would say to take a step back. Step back out of the relationship, see where you are and see what's going on. And if the truth is the truth, you'll see if this person's right for you or not, if they will do the right thing by you. If they're not, then let them go, live your life. Because you're sitting there holding onto something that's got nothing to do with you.

Having worked with so many great producers why was it that you turned to Jellybean in particular to work with on your debut solo album?

Well, we had a little personality clash. So, sometimes if things don't work out a certain way, you remember what you did and you keep going. You move forward.

I was actually asking why you chose him to work on your debut LP?

He came to me. He asked me if I would do a project with him. 

Marvin Gaye and Tammie Terrell's version of 'Ain't No Mountain High Enough' is such a popular, widely known interpretation of the song. How did you feel being approached to do your own take on it with Inner Life and how do you think your version is different?

It was fun! Beautiful! It was an opportunity to do something that was entirely different. I loved our version of it. Did I feel apprehensive about approaching it? No. It wasn't like that. In music you're giving a difference of opinion, a difference of feeling. You're giving another life to something. You're not sitting there trying to recreate the original song, because that song's already been created. It was just about adding some extra, wonderful things to it.

Did you ever meet Nick Ashford and Val Simpson who wrote the song?

Yes, I did. They're beautiful people. They loved our version.

Groups that you sang for like Musique and Inner Life were very much studio based projects. Were you ever called on to sing these songs live in clubs and how did the clubs of the late 70s compare to the clubs of today?

Yes I did. To be honest with you the clubs of today are more like the clubs of the 70s than at any other time I've known. It's really all come back around, full force. Everything has returned to how it was in the beginning.

How were PAs in those days? Would it be just you and a microphone singing to an instrumental version?

Well, they weren't strictly instrumental versions. I don't know how you would say it. It was like another version of the song, something like a special version, a little like a dub mix. Back then is the same as it is today, it's all about the remixes. 

Ah, OK. I asked because I never saw footage of you singing things like 'Ain't No Mountain High Enough' in the 70s, backed by an orchestra, as you were on the record. But I did see some wonderful footage of you doing just that a few years ago with the New Amsterdam Orchestra. How was that experience? Did that take a lot of rehearsals?

It felt fantastic. What a wonderful way to interpret the music. To be honest there wasn't a lot of rehearsals that I was involved in. 

 

You worked with producer Todd Terry on the songs 'Something’s Going On' and 'Keep on Jumpin'. How did it feel to be revisiting 'Keep on Jumpin' after having sung it originally, all those years ago with Musique? You sang on both of those songs with Martha Wash. Were you both in the studio at the same time? 

It was great, although it was very different. There was a big difference in the sound, but it was great. No, we weren't together. Martha was in New York and I was here. But I've known her for years. Her and Izora. We've had a great relationship.  

Do you have any plans to work with Todd Terry or Martha Walsh again?

I would do that anytime.

You worked with and toured with Culture Club from 1985 – 1987. What was it like seeing first hand your countrymen's reaction to the flamboyantly attired Boy George?

My country loves him! They have a lot of respect for Culture Club. It was wonderful. I love George, he's great. He has his own situation, he knows who he is and I love that he is truthful. He doesn't care about how you feel about something. He'll explain to you what it is and if he doesn't want to be a part of it, he won't be a part of it. That's all.

But he doesn't stop loving you. We maintained our friendship after I moved to London. I don't see him all the time, but when we run into each other, we associate, we share.

If you could work again with one person who you've worked with before, who would it be?

Bette Midler. She was just her own woman. She knew what she wanted and she knew what her sound was. She knew what to do and she's a great producer. Doing the film with her, I loved it. She pulled me into another arena in life that I had never been involved in. 

What have you got coming up in the future Jocelyn?

I'm working on an album. I'm doing some writing right now. I'm just looking forward to it being a more spiritually uplifting time for house music, dance music and for RnB. It's time we lived it up and that's where I'm going.

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