Sound Check: Chris Jasper: Inspired

Chris JasperWhen one thinks of the iconic group the Isley Brothers, funk hits such as “That Lady” and “Fight the Power,” and ballads such as “Between the Sheets” and “For the Love of You” immediately come to mind.  One of the industry’s highly influential keyboardists and songwriters in R&B music history is none other than former Isley Brothers member Chris Jasper. Jasper’s influence on the Isley Brothers’ sound from the 70s to the early 80s is unprecedented. His songwriting and production skills combined with his artistic weaving of the notes by using acoustic piano, organ, funky clavinet, and synthesizer helped to shape what is now viewed as legendary timeless music.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer was also an integral part of the group Isley Jasper Isley, where he sang lead on the chart topping hit “Caravan of Love.” Once parting ways with the Isleys, Chris Jasper created his own record label, Gold City Music, and went on to release music that was more aligned with his beliefs and allowed him the creative freedom to produce his own brand of R&B and gospel music, as well as for other artists. Earlier this year, Chris Jasper released his latest solo project, an album titled Inspired…By Love, By Life, By the Spirit. caught up with Chris Jasper to discuss his new music and how his faith plays a huge part.  Your new album is called Inspired…By Love, By Life, By the Spirit.  How did you come up with that title?

Chris Jasper: Well, because the songs on the album touch on all of those areas. There are love songs, there are songs that address social issues, and there are spiritual songs on the album. The album covers all of those things, so that’s why I named the album that. Talk about the single, “Inspired.”

Chris Jasper: It’s a love song, and actually there are three others on the album. “Inspired” is just talking about the relationship that I basically have with my wife, so that’s how I came up with the song. It talks about how I am inspired by that relationship and by her. It’s a song that any man can sing to his wife, or a wife could sing to her husband. That’s the kind of love songs that I write now, the kind that talk about true love. I don’t write anything that is suggestive, I just write about true love. How about the song “Any Day?”

Chris Jasper: It’s a love song also. It talks about that pure love. It talks about if you could just go anywhere in the world and see the wonders and the sights, but you would rather be with that person any day, and you would rather not do those things, you just want to be with her. What is the trigger for you to write those particular types of songs now? Is it where you are in your life?

Chris Jasper: It’s more related to my commitment to God. Love songs are fine as long as they are pure and they don’t have suggestive lyrics or going down in the gutter type of things for example. You can write a love song without all that. When I write, I want to be consistent with God’s word, whether it’s love, social issues, or whatever. I just want it to be consistent. Speaking of lyrical content, what do you think about the lyrics in music today? Do you think that lyrical content has taken a downward spiral over the years?

Chris Jasper: Unfortunately, yes. I don’t believe you have to put those things in your lyrics in order to be heard, in order to have a hit record. Historically, if you look back at some of the hit records, “For the Love of You” didn’t go in the gutter. There are a lot of songs that didn’t have to do that. I think sometimes artists think they have to go that route to be heard. I firmly do not believe that. I believe there’s too much negativity out there, and my choice is to be positive. I prefer to provide answers for someone. Sometimes people are looking for answers, and that’s what’s in my songs. My music gives answers, and solutions, especially the spiritual situations. That’s what my music is about to show people that you can be in the world, but not of the world. You can be in this world and not have the same principles that the world has. That’s the definition of a Christian. So that’s my approach. Mr. Jasper, you have a very distinctive voice and sound. Who do you credit for helping to shape that?

Chris Jasper: Coming up as a kid I used to like Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, and Marvin Gaye. I would say those three people had an influence on me vocally. I used to love their songs. I used to be shy when I was a kid, so I would sing their songs on my way home from school sometimes [laughs]. I really loved how they sing their songs, how they would style and phrase the lyrics. They were different from everyone else. You have been called a synthesizer musician. How does using the synthesizer help you in your creative process when creating new music?

Chris Jasper: The synthesizer offered versatility to me. I grew up just playing the acoustic piano. Then when the electric piano came out I really loved the sound of it; it provided a musical voice for me. Then when the synthesizer came out it was like it had an unlimited amount of voices and tones that you can create. I grew up with classical trainings, and grew up learning how to write music for an orchestra. So it provided for me all of that versatility. Voices that I would normally write for a woodwind section, I could get from a synthesizer.  As a musician I use it in the way that I would use an orchestra. How has your classical music training helped in your career?

Chris Jasper: I think it’s helped me tremendously; I was able to utilize a lot of the things I learned from classical music in our R&B songs. The chords that I played were a little bit different than what other people were playing because I was using different degrees of the scale that I learned from classical music. The song “For the Love of You” starts off with one of those chords using a 6 at the top, which makes it sound different. Some of the introductions to a lot of my songs are classical, like “Lover’s Eve,” “Love Put Me on the Corner,” and even “Sensuality.” They all have chords that derived from the classical sense. It’s just helped tremendously; I have used it in “Hello, It’s Me,” the way the chords are voiced in that cover of that tune. It’s kind of my musical identity, the classical sound, with a little jazz too, because I started off playing jazz. So that combination of classical and jazz is my sound, and I still carry that sound with me today. Do you think you’ll ever release a jazz album?

Chris Jasper: I don’t know. My first genre that I loved was R&B so I think that is where my strength is. I can do jazz, but I think music and the arts in general are best when they are honest and from the heart. If I’m going to be honest musically I’ll probably do an R&B song, that’s where my heart is, that’s where I do my best work. What do you think about the amount of sampling still being done today on your music that spans from the Isley Brothers?

Chris Jasper: I think it’s amazing. So many artists have chosen to sample those songs. I always think it’s great when someone covers something I have done or samples it, I think it’s amazing. They had a lot of other choices too, so I take it as a great compliment when somebody does that. You have written and produced for other artists including Chaka Khan.  How do you decide who you want to work with?

Chris Jasper: Working with Chaka kind of just happened. I was recording in the same studio where her producer was working on some tracks for her CK project. We just happened to start talking and he asked me if I had any songs because Chaka needed some for her album and I said sure. I have always liked her work and how she sang so it was something I really wanted to do. Other than that, I always look at the material, I look at whatever the song is that someone may be presenting and that’s the most important thing that will make me want to work on a project, the song itself. Not necessarily the artist, but the song. I’m a firm believer that you can’t be successful with a song if it’s not in the song, no matter who the artist is. Even the Temptations, it took them three years to get a hit and they were a great singing group, so the problem was they had the wrong material at first. I always look at the music first; it’s the main thing that motivates me to work with anybody. You also have your own label, Gold City Records.  What made you decide to go the independent route?

Chris Jasper: When I first went solo, I wanted to do the music that I wanted to do. I especially wanted to do spiritual songs; I always included at least one on every album, from the time I released “Super Bad” and on. I wanted that creative freedom to be able to write what I wanted to write without any pressure from anybody. That’s the main reason I formed my own label. I wanted the freedom to sign other artists that I wanted to work with and I did that on my label. That kind of freedom was the real reason why I formed Gold City Records. You have a law degree as well, Mr. Jasper.  When did you have time to go back to school?

Chris Jasper: [laughs] I just made the time. I look back now and say how did I do it? I just made the time. It was something that I always wanted to do, because I wanted to know what the law had to say about what I was doing, especially copyrights, contracts and all aspects of the business. From a legal standpoint, I wanted to be solid in my understanding of how things worked, especially with things I may have run into because I am running a label and wanted to be knowledgeable about the law. Is there ever a chance that you might reunite with the Isley Brothers?

Chris Jasper: I don’t know. I don’t understand the direction that they are going in, so I don’t foresee that happening, but you can never tell. What has been the highlight of your career so far?

Chris Jasper: One thing stands out, and that’s the “Caravan of Love” project for a number of reasons. It was kind of a turning point for me; it was when the three of us younger members of the Isley Brothers started to be a trio again, because we started out as a trio so this was a return to that original trio. “Caravan of Love” was the number one song from Isley Jasper Isley, and it was a song that I sang lead on, which is another reason why it stands out. Do you have any Soul Train memories?

Chris Jasper: There are so many. I think the ones that stand out are the ones where we played live on the show. One of the songs we did live was “That Lady.” We had all of the drums up there and during the drum break me and Ernie played percussion. That one just sticks out; we did Soul Train quite a few times.  It was a good experience to always do the show. What’s next for you?

Chris Jasper: I’m working on new material. I’m always working on new stuff. I’m working on another album, and my son is working on one also.  Both of those are forthcoming. If this album does what I want it to, who knows, I may start doing some touring, too.

For more information on Chris Jasper and his music check out his website

–Shameika Rene’

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, Mosaic Magazine Charlotte, or her own websites, and Follow her on Twitter @mofochronicles.

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