Jimmy Douglass is one of the most successful music producers in the world. What makes him so special is his versatility. Few can boast a resume that includes acts like Aaliyah, Foreigner and Gang Of Four. When we invited Douglass to the Red Bull Music Academy in Seattle, he explained what it was like to work with a good portion of those artists. He also talked about Slave, a funk group that – for many years – had trouble making its mark. In this excerpt from his 2005 lecture, Douglass reveals how “Just a Touch of Love” changed all that.
Slave came in with this record demo, and the head of Atlantic Records says, “I got these kids, man. What do you think about it?” I listened to it and I said, “This is alright, man, but they’re out of tune and they really need work.” And he said, “Will you work with them?” I was like, “Yeah, OK.” So I worked with them on the album, and they had their hit “Slide,” which was very nice.
I really didn’t know how to make a funk record. I was doing a Foreigner record.
There was a kid in the band, and I didn’t catch this whole thing. I think he was George Clinton’s nephew, and he wanted to be the man. But I don’t work like that, because there’s room for everybody to do everything. So when I took over, it kind of pissed him off. But I didn’t notice. And then there was another guy who was in charge. Anyway the way it worked was, I was telling this kid everything about this other guy, but I didn’t realize he was the guy who wanted [to be in charge]. So he kept talking to the [executive] and eventually they got rid of me.
That was cool. The next two albums didn’t really do anything. I’m not saying that I am what I am, but it just happened to be that way. So there came a time I’m in my life, doing other projects, I’m doing my rock shit and I’m enjoying my life. And it comes to the fourth album and they went in the studio and they did all this stuff, but it wasn’t happening. And the record company was like, “We’re kind of done with you guys if you don’t get some help.” The president comes to me and he goes, “Listen man, you really got to help me.” And I was like, “Sorry, I’m over it now.” [But] he’s the president of the company saying, “You gotta…” So finally I said, ”OK, OK, OK. I’ll do it if you let me make three new sides. And then I’ll fix whatever’s left of theirs and I’ll make that the b-side.”
[At that time] I had gone back into the rock ‘n’ roll world so hard, I really didn’t know how to make a funk record. I was doing a Foreigner record. I didn’t know in my mind what funk was. So I started going out and listening to funk records, and I remember at the time there was the Brothers Johnson [sings] “We’re gonna stomp! All night…” Chic was out with “Good Times.” [sings bassline]
Slave had got this new drummer, Steve Arrington. He had just come to the scene, and he was pretty good. So when we went to the rehearsal room and they said, “What are we rehearsing?” I said, “I don’t know, you guys just keep jamming.” So I had them in there for like two days. Just the two of them and the guitar player. They’d just be jamming and I’d go, “A-hah! Great lick! That’s a great lick. OK, keep that lick.” They’d do some more, “A-hah! Great lick! That lick there, I’m telling you, that’s the lick.”
I’d never heard anything really like it.
So we just put a bunch of licks together until we had our little jams, and it was very cool. And when we got to “Just a Touch Of Love,” I mean that shit was crazy. It was just nice. I mean, we had the little change... [sings bassline] All that stuff. When we got to the vocals, we did the backgrounds. Doing parts. Just throwing parts at it. [sings the alto part] “Just a touch…” [sings the backing vocal] “Just a touch…”
Steve Arrington, he wasn’t the vocalist. He was the drummer, right? We couldn’t find anything that was any good as a lead. Then he walked in and he started going [sings in slurring falsetto] “Keep me high, just… a little bit.” And I was going, “That is fucking crazy, that’s the craziest shit I’ve ever heard. I don’t know if this is really going to be cool!” And everybody’s going, “No man! That’s it! You grassed it!” I don’t know how to judge this. I’d never heard anything really like it, so I’m like, “Do me a favor, sing me one that’s straight.” “No, no, no!” I’m like, “You got to do this, because I don’t know what to do.” So he goes [sings in very plain, enunciated style] “Keep me high, just a little bit.” And I was like, ”Nahhh, we’re going with the other thing!” And fortunately it all worked out. That’s what producers still do, I guess. They make decisions overall for the band; you need another mind. Especially when you’re recording with groups. I used to call myself the sixth member of the band. That really was my function. Just to help everybody along.