Meli’sa Morgan: Doing It Again

There you are in a big old empty room, staring somebody down. The first thing that may come to mind is Prince’s “Do Me Baby”. But after the Purple One penned the song for his 1983 album, Controversy, a little known artist named Meli’sa Morgan recorded a version in 1986 that made the song an essential on any slow jam mixtape.

Morgan spent three weeks on top of the Billboard charts riding the wave of “Do Me Baby” and became an R&B princess in the ‘80s with hit Kashif duet, “Love Changes”, and her own “Fool’s Paradise”, “If You Can Do It” and “Do You Still Love Me”. And then Morgan did what so many R&B stars of the ‘80s did - she disappeared. Did she hit rock bottom? Is she a Behind The Music tragedy?

Emerging nearly 20 years after she first became a star, Morgan is back with a new album called I Remember and a classic vocal style that she hopes will give sexy R&B tarts a run for their money. Her new single “Back Together Again” features balladeer Freddie Jackson, and was one of the most added song to radio play lists this Fall. In the years between hit records, she has been doing plays, making dance music and helming the Meli’sa Morgan Foundation in remembrance of her father. She tells Alternatives why it was time for her to give the music industry one more chance. Alternatives: You’ve been very busy today, I hear.

Meli’sa Morgan: This morning has been nonstop. But that’s a good thing, especially coming back into the game like this.

AHHA: Are you surprised by how receptive people have been since you’ve come back out?

Meli’sa: I am surprised that the industry is embracing me like this. The radio is opening up. Television, radio and satellite radio are coming out wanting to interview me. That is what I’m surprised about. It feels good.

AHHA: Well, the number one thing people want to know is, where have you been?

Meli’sa: I have been working, touring a lot. A lot of people don’t know this, but people call me to open up for Keith Sweat and Kem. We’re working on doing some things for Charlie Wilson. People have been calling me all through the years to tour and work and just trying to e a better person spiritually. I’ve been working on my new house in South Carolina, and just trying to be a better person.

AHHA: How does it feel to be back in the studio and back to the daily grind of the music business?

Meli’sa: It feels wonderful. I have been doing dance songs before this. When I got back together with Orpheus Music, they said, ‘You need to come back to your roots and do an R&B album’. I didn’t know if there was room with Beyonce and Alicia [Keys] and all of them. When I got back in that studio and recording with [producer and songwriter] Lesette Wilson again, it was just like coming back home again. I got to express myself in a way that I didn’t even know I wanted or needed to express musically.

AHHA: You mentioned being concerned about there might not being room for you in this market. How do you fit back in with the current singers who are out now?

Meli’sa: Well you know, my thing was I wanted to still be Meli’sa Morgan, but I knew the production and the music had to be updated. If I had that cushion around my voice, I knew that I would be okay. So that’s what we basically worked on, making sure we had the right track. We went into writing lyrics and melodies, but once the track was there everything was gravy.

AHHA: When you first started out, how was the industry then compared to now?

Meli’sa: Well, the music that I did back then was more the genre of what was happening. So I fit right in. I came from singing in a band and singing in clubs to recording and going right out on tour. Now, there’s a twist to the music. The music is more raw and edgy; the music is more street. Now I’ve got to tune in to what’s happening to the music without changing who or what I am. If I came back out trying to act like Beyonce or somebody that I’m not, my die-hard fans wouldn’t go for that and neither would the new fans. When I came back being me with some new flavor, I’m still Meli’sa.

AHHA: Do you think the music being more edgy and street is good or bad for R&B music?

Meli’sa: I don’t know if that’s good or bad - I think that’s a change. I don’t think it’s hurt R&B in any way, I just think we need to always remember where we came from and respect and honor that. And not just want the new stuff and honor the Gladys Knight’s and Patti LaBelle’s, you know, because they started it. When you go over to pop music, Mick Jagger and Rod Stewart can come out with a record and sell a million copies just because they are who they are, and people respect and love them. It’s harder with urban music, and we need to get that same sort of respect back on our side.

AHHA: I’ve talked to a lot of artists who think that the industry doesn’t respect or recognize mature listeners. Do you think that?

Meli’sa: The game is different on our side. There are radio jocks and deejays on the pop side, when a record comes out, the program director is telling them to add it, no matter what. They’ve got the millions of dollars to do that. With us, it’s different. We’re dealing with a lot of independent labels, we’re dealing with labels that want to d the quickest thing to make a dollar, you know. They’re not going to pay millions of dollars to get spins. I know my project alone is going to cost $1.5 million to launch Meli’sa Morgan again. How many record labels are going to do that?

It’s a business, it’s about the dollar, and you have to realize that the 25 and older crowd is at work. They can’t stay at home and dial on the phone and say, ‘Can you play my favorite song’ a hundred times, you know. They’re working so that their kid can be at home saying that. And that’s what it’s about. I can’t be at work calling Wendy Williams or whoever 20 times. That kind of stuff has a lot to do with it. So they think that older listeners don’t want it. It’s not that they don’t want it, they just can’t play that kind of game to get it.

AHHA: When you were first out, what was the height of your success?

Meli’sa: It’s really sad that I have to say this, but I didn’t really enjoy it then when I had success before, I was so busy working. Thank God I was working, because when the low hit, I was sitting on some money and I could ride the wave. This time around, it feels a little better and I feel a little wiser and a little bit more relaxed, and a little bit less pressured to be something. I know who I am and where I’ve gone and what my music is about. Before, I was still trying to find myself.

AHHA: That’s good to hear, because you hear of so many horror stories of artists hitting rock bottom and not having anything.

Meli’sa: When it happened to me and I lost by deal, I just started going back to what I know and using my brain. I managed myself, I got my people around me, I started my foundation, I worked, saved my money, buy my own T-shirts, buy my own records to sell at my shows and negotiate my own deals. This has helped me to evolve to who I am now, so when somebody tells me something crazy I’m not trying to hear it. I know better. It’s good, it’s wisdom and that’s what we need. We need women and men figures in this industry that do grow so that we can pass the word on so the younger generation doesn’t make the same mistake.

AHHA: You worked with Freddie Jackson on the single “Back Together Again”…

Meli’sa: That’s my musical brother! I was going to an event uptown and heard “Back Together Again” on the radio and was jammin’ and thought, ‘It would be good to do that on the album with somebody’. So when I got to the event, he was coming in and I was leaving. I told him I just heard the song and we needed to do that on the album. He said, ‘I got an album coming out, we need to do something on my album too’. Honey, before I could even tell the record company, he had called them up, told them what I said and the executive producer had gone in the studio with the producer and recorded the track. Next week they called me on the phone with the track for “Back Together Again”. You can’t tell him nothing [laughs], but that’s my baby.

AHHA: About the album, you say you’ve grown and matured. What kind of sound can your fans expect?

Meli’sa: A cleaner more precise vocal style of Meli’sa Morgan. You can sing and you can let other people tell you your singing is good, but then after you’ve gone on the road and toured and had your experiences, when you tell a story you have a different way of telling it. I think that’s what people are going to get from this album. It’s a musical journey, and I was blessed to work with Freddie Jackson. Ashford & Simpson wrote my first Gospel recorded song for me called “He’s The One”. It’s a whole flavor.