Dee Dee McNeil, Musicalmemoirs’s Blog
AN ARTIST INTERVIEW WITH KATHY KOSINS
You can’t just call Kathy Kosins a jazz singer, because her artistry touches all genres of music, from her roots in the soul and R&B music of Motown, to the smooth sultry West Coast jazz singers she emulated on her CD, “Ladies of Cool”. She’s also an award-winning ASCAP songwriter. When you listen to Kathy, you hear Blues, jazz, rock and soul all mixed up, like a beautiful, rich stew.
Kathy’s early love of music led her to songwriting. This blossomed into a career of singing. Recently, I talked to her about some of her roots as a performer in the music business.
KATHY: “It was 1977 or 1978. I had two cassettes made with some of my original song material and it was all R&B. Those cassettes were used for the purpose of taking them around to various recording studios and trying to get in the door as a session singer; a background vocalist. … I heard it from somebody that Michael Henderson was in United Sound studio. It was this humongous studio where Aretha recorded. Everybody was using that studio, because it was a big, popular studio back in the day. I walked in with a couple of cassettes. Michael Henderson was recording that day and he wouldn’t see me, but his manager came out, or his musical director; Eli Fontaine.** He took the music from me and I remember this like it was yesterday. They didn’t even have to buzz me in. I just walked in and I went to the receptionist and asked to see Michael Henderson. … So, Eli Fontaine came out and took the cassettes from me. My phone number was published right on the cassette. About a week went by until I got a phone call, and they said, Michael wants to see you in the studio the next day at 3-o-clock. They needed one more voice to round out the background voices. So, I showed up! Michael Henderson told me himself, I really like what you put on those tapes and I need a third singer.”
** NOTE: Eli Fontaine was a good friend of this journalist in Detroit. He was a well-respected reed player who worked on sessions at numerous Detroit studios. It’s his horn you hear on the top of the historic Marvin Gaye recording of “What’s Going On.”
KATHY: “… When I got there, I was introduced to the girls who sang with the Brides of Funkenstein or backed up Parliament Funkadelic. They were part of George Clinton’s crew. I’m sure he recorded there too. They all did. Sure enough, we went on tour. I wound up doing background vocals for this man’s band for a while. In that band, I met a woman named Carol Hall. She was one of the singers, and then there was this girl from the Parlets. Carol and I went on the road, as background vocalists, and in that band was a guitar player named Randy Jacobs. I knew randy from the Motor city music scene. We were all in bar bands at that time, … playing in bars around town. Carol was in a band. I was in a band. But now, we were on tour with the Michael Henderson band,” Kathy told me.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with Michael Henderson, he is an American bassist, lauded for his work playing with Miles Davis and he’s also a competent vocalist. As a Buddah recording artist, Michael Henderson collaborated vocally with the late, great Phyllis Hyman and had several hit records on his own, including the popular “You Are My Starship,” Recording, when he was featured vocalist with Norman Conners. Later, Henderson recorded a duet with Hyman using the same song.
At age twenty-four, Kosins was a seasoned background singer and was busy composing music and singing around town. She ran into David Weiss, better known as David Was and Don Fagenson (aka: Don Was) of the band ‘Was/Not Was’. In 1982, Don Was produced Kathy’s first single release entitled, “You Shook Me All Night Long”, a re-make of the AC/DC tune.
KATHY: “After touring with Michael Henderson, the next thing you know, I did the same thing. I knocked on the door of Sound Sweet recording studios. It was located in a bad part of Detroit and Don Weiss ( aka: Don was) was in there making the very first Don Was (Was Not) record. It was the same thing; being in the right place at the right time. Don asked me not only to be a background vocalist for his band, but to hire the other two singers. So, I had to contract singers. Who did I call? Carol Hall and Sheila; I wish I could remember her last name. The same girls from the Henderson tour. One thing led to another, and suddenly I was doing a whole lot of session work in the city of Detroit.”
Kathy Kosins doesn’t come from a musical family. Her father built an empire in Detroit as the owner of the most popular men’s store in the Motor city. During the sixties and seventies, Ford Motor company was employing a multitude of blue-collar workers, business was booming, and Berry Gordy’s Motown was growing to nationwide fame, with Gordy’s hit records pouring out of radios coast-to-coast. Kathy recalled that time in her life.
KATHY: “If you knew Kosin’s clothes, and you did, ‘cause you lived in Detroit,” (she said to me confidentially) “my dad sold to Motown artists. I remember when I was a little kid, my dad used to grab me and he’d say, let’s go for a ride and take mister Gordy his suits. We’d drive up Woodward Avenue to Boston or Chicago Boulevard area to Berry Gordy’s big, white mansion or we’d take clothes to Mayor Coleman Young. My dad sold clothes to pimps, politicians, entertainers, funeral parlors, when they had to bury somebody in a nice-looking suit, or if you were getting married, you got your suit at Kosins,” she told me.
As a youngster, Kathy worked at her father’s popular clothing store and was introduced to celebrities like Dinah Washington, Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, the Temptations, Lou Rawls and the Four Tops. She learned the art of salesmanship. Later in life, when promoting her own CD projects and her solo career, that talent of selling surfaced to her benefit. To this day, she’s a meticulous business woman.
Kathy and her younger brother both were bitten by the music bug early on. When she was taken to New York by her dad, to attend the Broadway musical play, “Hair”, sitting in the theater with young, impressionable eyes glued to the stage, Kathy knew this was her destiny. She wanted to sing, write music and perform. Her brother, David, played guitar and had gigs in local bands. While he was inspired by and listened to Lester Bowie and the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Bud Powell, Miles Davis and John Coltrane, Kathy was busy listening to soul, blues and rock music, while writing songs and singing her heart out with local bands and in various studios. She says Janis Joplin greatly inspired her.
After her affiliation with the Don Was/Not Was Band, she collaborated with a number of Los Angeles and New York based writers to compose several songs she hoped to present to some popular jazz singers on the scene. Among those she hoped would record her work were vocalists like Dianne Reeves, Nancy Wilson and Diane Schurr. She prepared a number of songs, becoming her own song-plugger. Somehow, her demo fell into the hands of Schoolkids Records and they loved her material. It was 1996 and the next thing Kathy knew, she had a record deal and her debut album was released, entitled, “All In A Dreams Work”. It placed in the top 20 of the Gavin Report.
Her next release was on Chiaroscuro Records, in 2002, titled “Mood Swings” and received rave reviews. In 2006 she followed that success up with the release of “Vintage” on the Mahogany Jazz label. Then, six years later, Resonance Records released her popular “Ladies of Cool” album followed-up with “The Space Between” on Mahogany Jazz label. Kathy told me this 2013 album was a combination of her jazz influenced recordings and her Rhythm and blues roots. It was this turning point in her recording career that has led her to this most recent recording project titled, “Uncovered Soul”.
On her latest endeavor, Kathy Kosins circles back to her soul-infused, blues drenched, Motown roots. This new album introduces a fresh direction, moving Kosin’s from mainstream jazz to a more groove-oriented production. With producer Kamau Kenyatta by her side, she is reaching towards a more global approach to her music and is already being critically acclaimed in the UK music market. Producer, Kenyatta, is praised for his Gold Record, Grammy Award-winning collaboration with Gregory Porter.
The first cut, “ Don’t Get Me Started “ is a sensual, funk-driven production that showcases Kathy’s rich, sultry sound, driven by Eric Harland on drums and written by Gene McDaniels, pleasantly remembered for his hit records, “Compared to What” and “A Hundred Pounds of Clay.” Greg Moore’s tasty guitar punches the rhythm and Kathy’s voice is full of expression, warm and inviting.
Aaron Neville first recorded the song, “VooDoo.” Kathy and Kamau produce it as a combination of New Orleans soul and Kem-like grooves. ‘Kem’ is a familiar R&B star, based in Detroit, who has several soul-charted hit records and a signature sound. Mitch Foreman, on synthesizer-organ, adds a jazzy spice to the production and guitarist, Greg Moore, (or G-Moe as he is affectionately called), is gritty, raw and soulful.
Cut #3 is the CD’s title and one of Kathy’s original compositions. It captures a Smooth-Jazz/R&B flavor, and reminds me of a song Phyllis Hyman might sing, with a melody that Kathy’s warm vocals embrace and embellish. Another original is track #6, titled “A to B” and pretty much sums up the artist’s current state of mind. It’s one of my favorites on this CD. The lyrics say it all. For example, she sings:
“Those who came before me had so much to say. I listened to their stories as I try to find my way. … I’m just trying to get from A to B. Nobody ever told me, it don’t come easily. If I ask for inspiration, please shine a light on me. I’m just trying to get from A to B. Don’t try to be impatient, says a whisper in my head. When you trust your good intentions, you’ll be better off instead … Each and every day I’m thankful for following my dreams.”
The new Kathy Kosins’ album, “Uncovered Soul,” is based on the urban landscape of Detroit, pulling from the popular music of the early 1960’s and 70’s, she’s digging deeply into her rock and soul roots. When you combine this with Kathy’s jazz overtones and the hip-hop groove of danceable tracks, you begin to see a new side of this vocalist. Kathy describes her project as “Detroit-centric;” a tribute to her city, with music that paints a picture of an urban Detroit and its rebirth, its repurposing towards prosperity and renewed hope. She uses obscure tunes by gold-record composer/artists that include Bill Withers, Gene McDaniels, the Neville Brothers, Burt Bacharach, Curtis Mayfield and more, to thread a needle of unique artistry that holds the fabric of Kathy’s truth in place like a CD jacket.
Kathy Kosins is a multi-talented singer/songwriter who lives, breathes and paints music. When she’s not working on new songs, recording or touring, this multi-talented woman utilizes time as a visual artist and creates Modernist art.
KATHY: “I paint the sounds that I hear. Strains from Miles Davis’ trumpet, Charlie Parkers’ sax and Bud Powells’ piano translate into color and texture. I never have an idea or color scheme in mind when I pick up a brush. I paint strictly from my intuition. It was no different with the old jazz masters. They could play endless solos all night, using the same form.”
Her paintings bear the names of a number of jazz icons and jazz songs. For instance, the modern abstract painting that once hung in the Los Angeles office of the Monk Institute is called “Monks Dreams.” She began painting in 1990, and examples of other titles for her extensive work are: Miles Ahead, ‘Round Midnight, Corcovado, Joy Spring, Ornette, Green Dolphin Street and November Twilight.
Although this vocalist has recorded straight-ahead jazz and standards, on her new album, (scheduled for a September release), she reaches back to her beloved beginnings in the music business and combines styles. The result is jazzy and pop, soulful and R&B, uniquely mixed for strong crossover appeal.
Kathy Kosins will preview her “Uncovered Soul” album on June 8, 2017 at Catalina Bar & Grill in Los Angeles, California. Hit time is 8:30pm. See you there.