Five Questions For.... Frank McComb
by Deborah Hinds
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Frank McComb is a brilliant singer and
musician. Just don’t ask him to get up
from the piano and dance around with a
group of hotties a la Usher or some
other modern day pop star. He’s
recorded albums with both major and
independent record labels (2000’s Love
Stories on Columbia Records and 2003’s
Truth on Malibu Sessions), and so far,
neither have supported or promoted his
music in a way that his talent warrants.
. Some of this may be because McComb’
s style is somewhat hard to categorize,
which seems to be terribly challenging
for most folks at large record companies.
His music resides in this heavenly space somewhere between classic
R&B, neo-soul, and contemporary jazz. And he can even do a mean
gospel tune, as evidenced by his “straight out of a Southern Baptist
Church” version of Eye Is On The Sparrow on Love Stories.

McComb hails from Cleveland, and it was there that he started playing
piano, at age 12, and formed a trio while still a teenager.  In the early
90s, he got a gig as the Musical Director for Cleveland-based R&B
group, The Rude Boys (who had the popular single, Written All Over
Your Face). This led to a move to Philadelphia, and a stint as a
session writer and musician for Gamble and Huff, which included
tracks for Teddy Pendergrass, Phyllis Hyman, and many others.
McComb’s first record deal came in 1991 with Motown, where he
remained for 5 years, recording enough material for two albums.
Motown never released anything from McComb, possibly because of
that pesky “hard to categorize” thing. After 5 years of waiting for
something to materialize, McComb walked away, and moved to Los
Angeles. Soon he caught the attention of jazz great Branford
Marsalis, and became the featured singer for Buckshot LeFonque.
McComb’s first album finally materialized with Love Stories, a critically
acclaimed album that should have garnered McComb a lot more
recognition and sales.  His worthy follow-up, Truth was only available
as a pricey import to U.S. fans until recently, when soul music
websites like Dustygroove.com started selling it, because as McComb
puts it, “You can’t stop a good record from livin’.” He’s also offering
fans a new collection of songs, called Straight from the Vault, which he’
s selling on his own.

After talking to him for a few minutes, it’s clear that McComb has
emerged from his musical journey not bitter, but wiser about the
industry and his place in it. He’s says he’s thankful to have acquired a
loyal following and the ability to share his unique brand of jazzy soul
to packed houses in the States and abroad. McComb recently talked
about the ups and downs of the music business, and why he loves
the piano so much.

1.  You’ve had quite a journey in this business. And much of it has
been spent waiting for various record companies to take care of
you musically and trying to get your music out to the people.
Where are you today with what you’ve been through and as an
artist?
I’m looking at the three (record) companies I’ve been with and
nobody seems to know what to do with true talent. I’m not the type
of artist who’s going to sell out by getting up from the piano, because
I play as well as I sing and vice versa. There are plenty of artists who
sat at the piano and sang—Ray Charles, Donnie Hathaway, Stevie
Wonder, Billy Preston, and Aretha Franklin.  They all sat at the piano.
And I’m not one to get up either. I don’t dance. I don’t have a
gimmick. If you consider singing and playing the piano a gimmick, then
that’s my gimmick. That’s my heart. If you took a straight pin and
poked that piano, you’re liable to get my blood out of it. I’ve had a lot
of people try to get me up from the piano, and that’s not me. It’s
been a long time for me (to find success in this business) because I
won’t do what they (record companies) want me to do.

2.  Is there a single piece of advice you could give a new artist
about the music business?
You know, I’ve been through so many situations with people who said
they wanted to help me but they help you just enough to keep you
needing them, never getting you on your own two feet as an artist.
Be careful of people like that because the first thing they do is take
you off course. They want you to get on their road and follow their
way, and the next thing you know you’re a puppet. Get yourself a
good team of people—even if it’s just two or three people—as long as
they share your vision and everyone is pulling their weight, you’ll be
fine. I will do things on my own (booking my own shows, etc.) until I
know I’ve got that team of people who can help me reach that
common goal.  

3.  How do you feel about the term or music category known as
“neo-soul”?
I understand that if you’re not a tomato can, you know, something
marketable, they don’t know what to do with you. So now they come
up with this new style of music called ‘neo-soul.’ If you want to call me
that, that’s fine but it’s nothing but soul reinvented. It’s nothing but
soul, modernized, as my friend (Singer) Conya Doss would say. What’
s funny is that if you look at rock (music), rock is always going to be
called rock, pop is always going to be called pop. But why is it that
soul has to have a twist to it? It sounds to me like they wanted to
come up with these different categories (R&B, neo-soul, hip-hop soul,
etc.) to cover different artists—those who aren’t that soulful, but will
pass with an image, to those who are very soulful and who are their
image. They can call me neo-soul, they can call me jazz, I don’t care.
Just as long as they don’t’ call me bad.

4.  Since the music industry has become so image-driven, do you
think you’re going to have to remain an independent artist (on an
independent label) in order to keep the focus on your music?
Eventually, I’ll start my own company and take on people who are on
the outside (of the mainstream). They don’t exactly fit in, but they’re
gifted. I’d like to take on people like that and help them get started
once I accomplish what I need to and hit all of the targets I’m trying
to hit. But in the meantime, I’m always willing to get with a (record)
company that supports Frank McComb. I don’t care what kind of
company (major or independent), as long as it’s got some integrity. It
could be ‘Gum On My Shoe Records’—if they’ve got the money and
love Frank McComb, then it’s ‘Gum On My Shoe Records.’ Just support
Frank McComb and treat him right.    

You have a number of fans outside the U.S., specifically, in Europe,
where soul music is supported and revered so much. Why do you
think that you and so many other soul artists get so much love
overseas?
There’s something about the European audience when it comes to
soul music. All I can say is they get it.  They have such a respect for
soul music. I get email messages every day from people in Europe
asking me when I’m coming back to perform in the U.K. or somewhere
else overseas. I love playing Europe, I love my European-based
crowd, and I love the audiences overseas in general. I’m going to
Japan in late December to play all the Blue Notes (venues). It’s crazy
how music just travels because I’ve met people who’ve heard my
records in countries I’ve never even visited. I was substituting for Me’
shell N’degeocello’s keyboard player for a show at the House of Blues
in L.A. last year and the opening act was a group named Soul Live.
They were grabbing me to feature me in their show, saying ‘We want
you to be in our show—we know exactly who you are—we found your
record in South Africa. I’ve never even been to South Africa.   

5. Let’s talk about what artists you’re listening to currently. You
have two kids, aged 6 and 8. Do you listen to what they listen to on
the radio?  
I listen to a little bit of everything lately. Drop it Like It’s Hot (Snoop
and Pharrell), Alicia Keys, R. Kelly (Chocolate Factory), Maroon 5—my
daughter likes that, and the other stuff on the radio my daughter
listens to—Vanessa Carlton, Ruben Studdard. Gwen Stefani (Love,
Angel, Music Baby). I’m always going to listen to Herbie Hancock—‘till
my dying day. Right now, I’ve really got Parliament on the brain right
now, so I’ll be putting on some stuff I’ve got from them on iTunes, like
Up for the Down Stroke. And I’ll probably put on some live stuff from a
show I did at Motion Blue in Yokohama, Japan earlier this year. I’m
always listening to Lalah (Hathaway) because I’m always playing with
her. I’m a versatile artist since I’ve played with so many different
types of artists over the years, and I’m always on a quest for
knowledge musically, so I listen to a wide variety of music.

Frank McComb plays regularly at Temple Bar in Santa Monica,
California. To purchase his latest CD, Straight from the Vault or his
other releases, send an email to frankmccomb2003
atyahoodotcom.