New Jack Swing - Mr. Bernard Belle - Page Three

Njs4ever: Speaking of today’s music industry, which artists do you listen to now?

B. Belle: I prefer real melodies. I love live drums, live guitars, and things that aren’t sequenced. I basically appreciate music that requires creativity. While I do I think that sampling is an art form, it lacks a certain creativity that musicians had in the 60s, the 70s, and even the 80s. I would prefer to listen to something built from scratch. For that reason, I’m a big fan of the Jill Scott; you can put on one of her albums, and just let it play all the way through. The same goes for D’Angelo’s first album, which is a huge favorite of mine. I also like Raphael Saadiq, who we came up together with. When I was the musical director for Guy, Tony Toni Tone was one of the bands that opened up for us. And every night on the left side of the stage, we’d watch them while they performed; they were such a hot band. And when we were on, the Tonies would reciprocate, watching us from the left side of the stage. We just sincerely appreciated each other’s musicality.

Njs4ever: Are there any songs that you worked on that you are particularly fond of?

B. Belle: Believe it or not, "Let’s Chill" was kind of special because it wasn’t really written for Guy. We were working on music for the movie, New Jack City. In the film, there’s a wedding scene where Keith Sweat has a singing cameo. Teddy and I sat down and wrote this "street" wedding song, and named it "Let’s Chill". We were in the studio doing the song with Keith originally, and I sang the demo. Then Keith went in to sing the song, but Teddy wasn’t really happy with the way it was coming off. Finally, both Keith and Teddy mutually agreed that it wasn’t working it out, so Keith went on to write "There You Go Telling Me No Again", and we went on to write the title track for the movie. Then we kept "Let’s Chill" for the Guy album.

Njs4ever: Any others?

B. Belle: The entire first Guy album was special. Also albums by Glenn Jones, and an album by a group named Abstrac’. The Winans record, "It’s Time" was great for us too. Marvin killed the track. Something I’d like to say is that Marvin Winans and Glenn Jones are among the greatest vocalists I’ve ever worked with, but they are both very underrated. Marvin and Glenn were so quick in the studio. Teddy’s patience level is very, very short, and some say my patience is short, but mine is a lot longer than Teddy’s. But these guys were very fast: they could go to the studio, know the songs, and knock ‘em out. It’s rare in today’s music industry where a singer can go in from the intro all the way through the vamp without stopping. I would also add [Regina Belle] to that list: phenomenally talented, but seriously underrated.

Editor’s Note: Mr. Belle briefly discussed the Abstrac’ album, recorded by a female New Jack trio made up of G.R. members Mary Brown, Topaz, and Marsha McClurkin. After the interview, I was able to track down this rare album at Although the Abstrac’ project never reached its commercial potential (since it was released around the time G.R. Productions was being disbanded), it’s definitely a solid effort. The standout track (in my humble opinion) happens to be one of the two Bernard Belle cuts on the album – a ballad entitled "Trust Me".

Njs4ever: Could you share with us what it was like to work with Michael Jackson?

B. Belle: Absolutely. It was, as you can imagine, an amazing experience. Somewhere around early 1991 was when we started with MJ. Mike had rented out the whole studio – this was Larrabee in North Hollywood. It had four studios in there. The smallest one he had turned into a listening office where after he recorded, he could listen. He had the whole room transformed into a more cozy kind of place. He had statues put in, and pictures put in, and these great big loudspeakers.

I walked into the listening office thinking it was empty, and there he was, sitting while talking on the phone. I couldn’t believe it. I apologized and I walked back out. But he came out and introduced himself. I introduced myself, and then he said he was a big fan of my work and I couldn’t believe it. I was floored, and I wanted to pass out. I was actually shaking this guy’s hand, and I’d literally grown up listening to his music! It took about ten days for me to adjust to being with him every day. But he made us feel so comfortable. He wanted to take that whole "icon" thing away. He just wanted to be Mike in the studio, and that’s what he was. We ate together, we talked, we laughed, we had a ball, and it was great.

Njs4ever: Mr. Belle, thank you so much for your time with us. Is there anything else you would like to share?

B. Belle: I’m a music historian myself, actually. When I listen to the older Motown records, I want to know who the musicians were, who the drummer was, and who the background singers were. For example, the Funk Brothers, who played on most of the Motown records we’re familiar with, are now finally getting their recognition and I dig that. Somebody out there realized that these guys played on so many hits and were not given the credit they deserved.

Usually, there are more people behind a hit than one would think. Maybe the producer or the artist will get a lot of the shine at the Grammy Awards or something when their name is announced, and the artist will go up and thank God and everybody else, but then won’t thank the writer, or the musicians. Personally, I enjoy seeing the writers, the musicians, and the background singers behind a project get the recognition they truly deserve; it needs to happen more often, because it doesn’t happen enough."