COLONEL ABRAMS wishes to make it clear that he’s not affiliated to any fast-chicken enterprises. SIMON WITTER’s verdict: ear-lickin’ good!
“BEFORE I made it in music, I used to work in a personnel office, and people would come in and say, ‘I spoke to you on the phone, but when I heard Colonel Abrams, I thought you’d be an old man in glasses’. (Laughs). They expected me to look like the guy from Kentucky Fried Chicken. In fact I was asked to attend the opening of a Kentucky joint in New Jersey, but I didn’t want to. And one photographer wanted me to pose with a rifle. They were gonna dress me up, all kinds a stuff (laughs again).”
Colonel Abrams — a soul man with a big future — was blessed with two names so folksy-sounding that misconceptions dog him wherever he goes. Before I’d heard the richly urgent bounce of his hit single ‘Trapped’, I expected him to be a New Orleans honky tonk man.
The Colonel’s cool confidence is probably the result of an extensive musical apprenticeship. ‘Trapped’ may well be perched unassailably atop the US black charts, but it has taken him a long time to get this far.
In 76/77 he was the lead singer with a Minneapolis group called 94 East. Their first single featured a standout guitar part by a “real quiet” guy called Prince. Colonel and Prince worked together on several numbers, but lost contact when Prince stopped talking to the group’s leader Pepe. Polydor sacked 94 East’s producer, Prince got a deal with Warner Brothers, and the single was never released.
A couple of years back he had an even closer miss. He had a club cult smasheroonie, major radio hit, and the most requested song in New York’s record shops… without having put out the record. The song in question, ‘Release The Tension’, was culled from an eight-track tape he’d made with NY DJ Timothy Regisford. Meanwhile he’d signed to Streetwise on the strength of a ballad called ‘Leave The Message Behind The Door’, and another group had put out ‘Release The Tension’ to major public disgruntlement.
It was in New York clubs — where DJs will often play his songs without first listening to them — that Abrams really made his name. “DJs pound on my door constantly. At one point I had to change my number, ‘cos I was getting so many calls. New York was just buzzing, and DJs from Boston, DC, Philly would call me for my eight-track tapes.”
When another three-song tape, featuring ‘Trapped’, caused a similar stir, MCA snapped him up, and the rest is history. The Colonel’s first album should be out within the month, three tracks produced by disco has-been Cerrone, and six by Richard Burgess. The latter, producer of Spandex Wallet, King, etc., was a strange choice, no?
“I got a lot of criticism at first, but he has a great listening ear, and he’s a beautiful guy, which always kinda gets close to me. When we’d finished ‘Trapped’ even MCA, who’d been throwing various dedicated black producers at me, were amazed at how well we fitted each other.”
Your voice is very ‘contemporary soul’. Was Luther Vandross a model?
“No way. I admire his voice very much, but I grew up with Marvin Gaye, Otis Redding, Teddy Pendergrass. I love Smokey Robinson’s writing and the whole Motown era. I think ‘Trapped’ could’ve been a Motown song, its structure and lyrics are similar to what the Temptations would do with Dennis Edwards.”
Colonel Abrams is friendly, funny, and a fantastic singer. He’s also 6’3″ and very persuasive, so maybe the military ring to his name is not quite hollow after all.
Colonel Abrams wants YOU to dance!
© Simon Witter, New Musical Express, 5 October 1985