Roy Ayers: Feel the Vibe, Pt 1

Roy Ayers has experienced an unparalleled life in music. Born and raised in Los Angeles, the Jazz vibraphonist has enjoyed a phenomenal career that spans five decades and even more musical genres, including Jazz, Funk and Disco, to name a few. Whether his music is sparking countless games of “Who sampled that?” or he himself is rocking with The Roots as he did on “Proceed II”, Roy’s legacy is relevant to the Hip Hop generation.

Not just content with his back catalog, his latest album, Mahogany Vibe (BBE/Rapster), features contributions from Erykah Badu and the legendary Betty Wright, along with more of the grooves that have endeared him to lovers of good music worldwide. Alternatives caught up with the always engaging Roy Ayers to discuss his career. Roy is a true personality, and at times inadvertently veers from the question he’s asked. Regardless, he still manages to deliver an interesting factoid of an answer nonetheless. Alternatives: Tell us about your latest project.

Roy Ayers: It's been out since the beginning of the year [and] now it's distributed by K7. The hardest thing to get when you're independent is [getting] good distribution, but I finally got it, and I think that that's going to make the record get international as well as local exposure.

AHHA: Are these songs that you already had in the bag?

RA: Oh no, these are brand new songs. Except I did ‘Everybody Loves the Sunshine’ and ‘Searchin', which are old songs, but [with] new arrangements on them [with Erykah Badu]. I had done another album for K7 which were old songs that I never had released before.

AHHA: Virgin Ubiquity?

RA: Yeah. That's how I got the distribution deal, because I did that deal with them and they said, ‘Well we like your new album Mahogany Vibe, can we put that out?’ and we did a deal on that. So there are some doors open that were not open before.

AHHA: How is Virgin Ubiquity doing?

RA: Virgin Ubiquity is still selling well. I think its passed the 50,000 mark.

AHHA: Were the songs included on the album never intended for release?

RA: No. I never intended to do anything with them, because they were sitting in my file inside of the storage bin. I've had them since the 70's and 80's - the stuff I did when I was signed with Polydor. I had signed a production deal with Polydor and everything I did on that production company that didn't belong to Polydor, that was mine. I still have about at least another three albums.

AHHA: Are you planning to release those as well?

RA: I can if I want. Probably K7 will be interested in them.

AHHA: Erykah Badu appears on your album and the couple of times I’ve seen you perform live you mentioned being grateful that she sampled your music.

RA: I'm just so glad that she did that. Mary J. Blige [used] ‘Searchin' also. When things start happening for you man… I just made my 64th birthday. In my younger days I thought that being 60 anything was old, ya know? But now if you're in good shape and you’re healthy, you don't really think about that. That's the name of the game. People feel old when they're sick or worn down, but I feel so good. I feel like a 24 year old!

AHHA: So you're just getting started?

RA: Things are happening, and a lot of young people like Erykah and all the people that are relating to my music, it's a wonderful feeling.

AHHA: A lot of young people know who you are through Hip Hop producers’ sampling of your music. How do you feel about that?

RA: I feel very good about it, because it lets me know that they relate to my music and I've asked many of them that have sample my music, ‘What is it about my music that makes you sample it?’ They all say the same thing - it's the sound that I have. When I had the analog sound it creates another vibe for them. I didn't know [a great sound is] what I have. I would just play music, and did my thing in creating that sound. I had no idea this was going to happen, as far as the sampling. I have more sample hits than any other artist out here. Including James Brown and George Clinton - all the cats that have been sampled a lot. It's a wonderful feeling.

AHHA: Since your name is out there in Cincinatti, there was a ruling that tightened the reign on sampling. Any use of a sample, including a note, is illegal.

RA: Oh yeah? It used to be 8 bars. I have a company that represents me called Chrysalis; they collect all of my royalties. The group TLC, in a song they said 'My life, my life, my life.’ They had a big confrontation between Chrysalis and TLC's people because they were saying it's not really a sample, and Chrysalis won. I think I got like 10% percent - some small percentage or something like that, [but] that was still a lot of money ‘cause TLC was selling a lot of records. As long as I've been here on the planet and they're still sampling my music, it makes me feel wonderful.