Steve Arrington: Robes to Freedom


THIS IS the man who’ll never write another rude song as long as he lives… the man who feels so real, he’s taking the sleaze out of soul and replacing it with pure faith.

Steve Arrington’s left the Hall Of Fame but he hasn’t gone solo. He’s teamed up with his man upstairs and sings all about him on ‘Feel So Real’ and his Dancin’ In The Key Of Life album. And whatever you think about that, there’s no getting away from the fact that the new combination has delivered Arrington’s beefiest crossover record so far.

“I think it’s the best thing I’ve done,” he agrees. “‘Feel So Real’ is just thanking the Lord for giving me the feelings that I have inside, for giving me my wife, and giving me the chance to live.”

Before the hand reached down, Steve had shaken the shackles of a four-album spell with uncompromising funksters Slave to build a distinctive sound of his own on two solo albums, Hall Of Fame and Positive Power, the first containing ‘Nobody Can Be You’ which as you’ll find out later is still favoured by the new Arrington. Unlike some of his other compositions.

“I was writing tunes like ‘Weak At The Knees’ and ‘Speak With Your Body’ — to me, ‘let’s go fornicate’ tunes, that’s what they are, and to me that’s not shedding any light on anything very useful. I’ve found out through Christ what music is really about, and the real responsibility that record artists have, the power to make people go into the stores and buy millions of records. That’s not to be taken lightly.”

Consequently he’s had to drastically rejig his live show, take a clean flannel to it, scrub behind its ears and come back singing only about the wholesome things. “I will not do any of the old material. But I will do ‘Nobody Can Be You’, because that tune reflects the way I feel now.”

Come June, we should get to sample the cleanliness for ourselves, because Steve looks set for some UK dates.

ILLINOIS-BORN and Ohio-raised Arrington spent a lot of his young years listening to down-the-line jazz (Coltrane, Monk, Miles) or out-and-out rock by the likes of Hendrix and Grand Funk Railroad. A journey to California brought him into contact with first Coke Escovedo and his brother Pete, both acclaimed percussionists.

Steve also worked with Pete’s daughter, who these days goes by the name of Sheila E. “I played with her around ’77. I saw her on the last tour Marvin Gaye played, we were opening for him and she was in the percussion section with him.”

The Slave spell happened between ’78 and ’81, and since his departure he got bigger as Slave got smaller. On, then, to the first Hall Of Fame album and all those naughty lyrics. Then, with the second LP in the works, a real dilemma.

“In the middle of that album I started to know where I was going. There was a conflict, and I told people why.” (The sleeve note stated unashamedly “in the middle of this album… I found God.”) “I wanted to be honest and not try to fool anybody.”

So the Key Of Life album is one he’s much more comfortable with. “It’s the first album that’s totally captured my own sound and gone in the direction I want to go. It’s not as funky as my prior things, it’s more cohesive, a lot of pop and Latin elements.”

The title? “Well, the songs reflect what’s happening in life and it’s done in a dance context. It’s also symbolic — I’m just dancing my way through life to wait and get home to heaven.”

Doesn’t it trouble Steve that a lot of people, probably the majority, won’t care in the least about his new message lyrics, they’ve only hooked up with him because of his good tunes and the dance factor?

“The main thing is that something that’s real has a vibration in it. ‘Feel So Real’ is a very joyous tune, and the music has that vibration along with the lyrics. I’m not trying to beat anyone over the head, I’m just trying to do what I have to do. If they just get into it to dance, if they can get something positive out of it, that’s OK.

“I want to get stronger at writing good songs. I think the Ohio Players used to write really good songs, and I used to listen to Parliament. But I’m looking at what’s going on in ’85… and a great song is still a great song.”

Won’t his dramatic change in lifestyle turn a lot of people off? “I think I’ve gained listeners, because my music now is much more universal. If I have lost any, I’m sure I’ve gained some in their place. But I really don’t look at it like that, I look at it like I’m a better Steve Arrington.”

© Paul SextonRecord Mirror, 4 May 1985

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