It’s been nearly 20 years since the music world was introduced to the soulful sounds of the Grammy nominated group Men at Large. The platinum R&B duo had hits such as “So Alone” and “Use Me” in the early 1990’s. Now one half one the original group, Dave Tolliver, is stepping out on his own with a solo project in the works. Tolliver is more than just the late Gerald Levert’s protégé; he hosts a bevy of talents that include songwriting, producing, and acting. Tolliver has also added his role as co-founder of the Full Belly Media Group and radio host to his extensive resume. With his new single “I Forgive Me”, Tolliver is on his way to making a name for himself in the music industry as a solo artist.
Soul Train: Where have you been the past few years? What’s been keeping you busy?
Dave Tolliver: Well, we (Men at Large) really haven’t been anywhere the past few years. It’s just that we’ve been off the mass media radar. We’re coming up on 20 years and we’re still gigging. We probably still do 30 to 40 gigs a year. I’ve done over 20 plays. I’m getting it in, they call me Tolli Hustle. As for Men at Large, we had the two albums–one we did in ’92 and one in ’94. After that, my original partner Jason Champion and I split up and I hooked up with another guy, his name is Gemini out of Chicago. We’ve been rolling since 1996, ups, downs, highs, and lows. We released an album in 1999, and another one in 2000. We’re still here, we haven’t gone anywhere. We’ll just continue to keep knocking on the door until they let us back in.
Soul Train: So, let’s backtrack a bit, remind us how you were actually discovered and became a part of the Levert camp.
Dave Tolliver: I started doing radio when I was 15 years old. My uncle Len Tolliver was one of the top broadcasters in the country. He started me off early; Jason and I used to sing everywhere. There was a guy at the time that was a DJ that had records out, Jeffrey Charles. He had a big concert so we went. We hit up the after party at his house and Gerald Levert showed up, and everyone was like sing, sing, sing, and this is like 1986, so we sang and Gerald told us he was going to hook us up. We didn’t see him again for three years. Actually, we forgot all about it.
Soul Train: Pause. Wait. How do you just forget that the Gerald Levert promised to hook you up?
Dave Tolliver: Well, I mean I was 16 years old, Jason was 13, we weren’t thinking about all that at the time. I was thinking about getting girls, I was popular because I was on the air, so I was focused on that. I was killing ‘em. Me and my fake glasses. (laughs) Back then, it wasn’t that serious to grow up as fast. So we didn’t know the seriousness of it at the time. However, we wanted to be just like New Edition.
Soul Train: So fast forward three years, you run into Gerald again and then what happened?
Dave Tolliver: We were dancing for this group, and yes we were fat still too. We were rehearsing at a studio in downtown Cleveland, and that’s where Gerald was recording. He came in and said he had been looking for us and he had an idea for a group. It took about another three years for us to put our stuff together, co-writing songs, co- producing, living, learning, and rehearsing 11 hours a day. In May 1992 our first record came out. That’s the story; next year will be the 20 year anniversary of our first release.
Soul Train: Wow, that’s amazing! With all that being said, what do you think is missing in music today?
Dave Tolliver: Talent. I’ll be honest, I feel like right now there are really no male groups out there. Yeah, you have Mindless Behavior and Hamilton Park, but that’s it. I like them, but compared to the 90s, come on, there was Boyz II Men, Jodeci, Men at Large, H-Town, Silk, Shai, Hi-Five–just so many male groups to name, but we don’t have that today. There are not too many people making records out there about love. That’s the core of everything. Now every group is talking about the bling, their rides, the strippers, and making it rain. There’s just so much more than that, it’s a shame that it’s what we’ve come to in music today. The artists are still listening to our music, but unfortunately these days to be accepted in the game, you have got to have those elements and go that route. I guess back in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, people weren’t afraid to speak their minds and talk about something that meant something to the fabric of the community. What’s missing now is the molding and cultivating of super stars. The guys you see now days, you wouldn’t have seen them 5 years ago. And then you have groups like us that haven’t sold a tenth of what a lot of these guys that come out now, but people still remember us. People still remember the groups of the past, from 2000 on, it’s like they just decided to start throwing folks out there and seeing what happens, not building careers at all. Back in the day, the music business was like high school: You’d see the cats with lettermen’s jackets on–those were the elite guys and girls in the school. Now days, everyone has a jacket and nothing is special about it. It needs to go back to that. I want to be part of the group that brings or restores music back to the way it was.
Soul Train: Now, where did the nickname “Blaq Pavarotti” come from?
Dave Tolliver: I feel like I’m one of the greatest tenors of all time, maybe not the best but one of the best. Luciano Pavarotti is the greatest tenor of all time. I’ve given myself many monikers over the years, so I just came up with this, because it’s the type of impact I want to have. I’m 41 and I’m fat. I’m pretty though (laughs), but seriously, today, the industry wants guys to have girlish features, 6 packs, and muscles, wear leggings and stuff, and that isn’t me.
Soul Train: Has your weight ever been an issue in the music industry? Do you think it held you back at all?
Dave Tolliver: I feel like in certain instances, yeah it probably did hold us back. People didn’t know or felt like in certain stuff that we may not have been appealing. But let me tell you something, women love the big boys! (laughs) Old and young, they love it! Look at Rick Ross, he keeps taking off his shirt and stuff, but we were doing that back in the day. We did that first, took our shirts off on stage. Ladies love big boys, I don’t care what nobody says!
Soul Train: (Laughs) Well alright then! So what you’re saying is you’re still big and sexy?
Dave Tolliver: Still big and sexy! (laughs) But seriously, the only time it was an issue was one time we were on Video Soul and Donnie Simpson really got on us by talking about health stuff. We were on the show to talk about music, so we really didn’t know how to take that, but we didn’t want to disrespect him. Today, of course we are working to try to lose it to stay healthy so we can be here for our families.
Soul Train: You appeared on Soul Train a couple of times. What memories do you have of the show?
Dave Tolliver: The first time we were on there, Don Cornelius said, “Everybody give it up for Men at Work!” (laughs)
Soul Train: (Laughs) Whoops!
Dave Tolliver: So we ignored it, but he did it again and called us “Men at Work!” So, I told him that it’s “Men at Large,” and folks were like how are you going to correct Don? (Laughs) I was young and dumb, I didn’t give a damn, I wanted it to be right, but that was my most memorable time.
Soul Train: (Laughs) Yeah, you’re a bold one correcting Mr. Don Cornelius on his show! Did you have any favorite dancers on the show that you liked to watch?
Dave Tolliver: I didn’t have a favorite dancer. I love the 70s and how they danced back then. The way they danced on there, I loved it. Everybody had a cool type of pimp vibe to them. Even the ladies and the dudes had swag of about ten million back then. Those are my favorite shows to watch of Soul Train. Don was the epitome of cool, his voice was incredible.
Soul Train: Let’s talk about your new single “I Forgive Me”. What’s the story behind that single?
Dave Tolliver: I wrote that song for someone else because I felt that song fit his life. A lot of times we do things in our lives, being young, flashy, stupid, and sometimes people won’t look past it, and judge you. They still want to classify you as that same type of person, and when you see that person 20 years later, or even 10 days later, you never know what a person has gone through to make them want to change their life that fast. The song is really saying ‘I don’t care about what ya’ll think about me, God has forgiven me and I forgive myself.’
Soul Train: When does your album come out?
Dave Tolliver: Right now, there’s no release date. I would like to get a major deal first, before putting the project out, or a major independent that truly cares about the music. The single should be up on iTunes available for purchase within the next month or so.
Soul Train: Will there be a Men at Large album coming out anytime soon?
Dave Tolliver: Well, real talk, I put aside all of my personal dreams over the last several years to uphold the Men at Large name, but right now I’m focused on my solo project, so no. The dilemma is, what do I do with my guy that’s been with me for 15 years? I can’t throw him under the bus to just get back with the original member to do an album. Jason actually has a gospel album he’s working on with Warren Campbell, Erika’s husband from Mary Mary. As of right now no, it’s all about Dave Tolliver.
Shameika Rene’ is a journalist of all trades. She can usually be found producing television news and writing for various websites such as Charlotte Vibe, Creative Loafing, or her own site, www.themofochronicles.com. Follow her on Twitter @mofochronicles.