After Ne-Yo opened for Alicia Keys last month at the Scottrade Center, he stuck around to present six songs from his upcoming album Year of the Gentleman at Grove club the Gramophone. He prefaced B-Sides' favorite song, "So You Can Cry," with: "This is a story about a homegirl of mine whose dude had done her wrong, and she locked herself up in her apartment for two weeks. And I told her, 'Love hurts. It's painful. But you gotta live, too.' And then I was jokin' around with her, trying to cheer her up. I said, 'Well, I'll ask the sun to shine away today so you can cry.' And then I made it into a song." The house favorites were "In The Way," which describes the relationship difficulties of an on-the-road lifestyle, and his last song, "Stop This World," which was about the experience of falling in love. B-Sides also chatted one-on-one with the R&B superstar at the listening session.
B-Sides: You describe your upcoming album Year of the Gentleman as having a different sound than previous ones, In My Own Words and Because of You. Will you describe what you mean?
Ne-Yo: Well, those first two albums are traditional R&B. I've been doing a lot of traveling lately, listening to new kinds of music, and I wanted to try something new. I stayed in England for a while recently, and I'm trying to bring some of that house culture and nightlife into my music, and I'm also trying to break out of the box with new lyrics. There's a little more of a rock sound than before. It's more organic in some places that way.
You hail from Arkansas. Any country influences?
I love country music. The story line always seems so clear; there's a clear beginning, middle and end, and it enhances the beauty of it — the beauty of a good story. I have a high appreciation of country music.
What was it like growing up in Vegas?
I went to high school in Vegas and it's really divided into the strip versus the people who are living there. The trip of the strip is different than living there. It's a tourist town, so friends that you have for a year will often be gone the next, and you have to learn to make new friends.
That sounds hard. Where were you when you got your "in"?
I was actually in California. I was in a group with three other guys called Envy. We had no money, no place to stay, and a plan. We were going to drive to the front of the Capitol Records building in a VW van and [stand on top of the van singing] until we got a record deal. [Laughs] That didn't work out so well. I was working small jobs — McDonald's, Pizza Hut, you name it. And I got a job working for a production company called New Time Entertainment, who had signed Youngstown and they allowed me to start writing professionally for that group and others. [Envy] broke up, but I got a solo deal with Columbia Records.
Yeah, it sounds like a big deal. And it was — but it wasn't — but it was. If you come into the music business not knowing who you are, they will create you. And if you decide that's not who you want to be, or you grow into someone else, then you get shelved.
So you're happier with Def Jam?
Yeah. They're letting me be who I am.
— Kristy Wendt
Mention "Motel 6" and "music" in the same sentence, and the first thing that comes to mind very well may be the lodging chain's commercials — which feature folksy announcer Tom Bodett offerin' to leave the light on for you, atop a sprightly Western-swing-style underscore. Now Motel 6 is opening its doors to jazz and blues, hoping to entice road-tripping music fans on a budget with a "Jazz Journey" via Goin6.com, a new Web site that's designed to help travelers plan their explorations of America's native musical art forms.
Devised by Jeff Palmer, senior vice president of sales and marketing for the Dallas-based motel chain, "Jazz Journey" traces the roots of jazz music from New Orleans to Chicago. It includes information on jazz and blues clubs, restaurants, and, as one might expect, Motel 6 locations in fourteen cities on both sides of the Mississippi River, encompassing musical venues ranging from down-home juke joints in Clarksdale, Mississippi, to the big city clubs in St. Louis, Memphis, Kansas City and more.
Palmer, who describes himself as "a big jazz fan," got the idea for "Jazz Journey" when he heard about European jazz fans making pilgrimages to mid-America to hear jazz and blues and soak up the history of the music. To serve as the frontman for the online effort, he enlisted Chicago percussionist and composer Kahil El'Zabar. El'Zabar leads the groups Ritual Trio and the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble and has collaborated with performers such as Dizzy Gillespie, Stevie Wonder and Paul Simon — as well as several musicians with St. Louis connections, including saxophonist Hamiet Bluiett and the late trumpet great Lester Bowie.
A former Chicagoan, Palmer first met El'Zabar after one of the percussionist's performances, and the two have been friends for more than twenty years. For a half-dozen of those years, they even worked together to produce a series of after-hours jazz concerts, so the percussionist "was just a natural for me to reach out to," Palmer says. El'Zabar consulted with Motel 6 to select music venues in each city listed on the Web site, and serves as a sort of online tour guide through a series of audio and video clips.
Given his long association with the famously avant-garde Chicago collective the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, El'Zabar might seem at first blush to be an unlikely choice as a spokesman, but he turns out to be a natural, with a mellifluous voice and listener-friendly delivery. The "Jazz Journey" short list of St. Louis venues seems on target, too, with mentions for local mainstays Jazz at the Bistro and BB's Jazz, Blues and Soups as well as smaller clubs such as Beale on Broadway and Cookie's Jazz and More.
After a few weeks, "we're getting significant viewership," said Palmer. In mid-May, the site also will open up a section for users to post messages and videos of their own "jazz journeys."
— Dean C. Minderman