On Q with Curtis McClain

June 24, 2014
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Welcome to House Notes, where you get caught up and introduced to everything House.  House music is a genre of dance music that started here in Chicago in the early 1980’s.  It is derived from disco, but taken to another level.  It incorporates strong vocals, moving beats and percussions, but has the spirit of Gospel. What better way to kick-off House Notes than with Mr. Curtis McClain, the vocalist on Marshall Jefferson’s House Music Anthem “Move Your Body (The House Music Anthem).”  That song is the number one staple in the House music movement.  Any and everyone that considers themselves House knows the song and has had their “moment” because of that song.  The original release was in 1985.  An updated version was made in 2012, “Move Your Body the Remake.”

“Move Your Body” is credited as the first House track to feature the piano as the primary instrument.  The intro to the song is legendary, soul stirring and a spiritual experience.  The piano performance can be credited to Mr. Rudy Forbes.  With all of the spirit, soul and energy of Curtis’s vocal delivery, you’d be surprised to know that he has no formal training.  His vocal ability is a God given natural gift.  His voice has had a major impact on the House music genre.

The collaboration of Marshall and Curtis, the dynamic duo, resulted in numerous legendary tracks including “Pleasure Control”, “Let’s Get Busy”, and “Step By Step.”  He also collaborated with Jerry C. King on the track “Alright.”  On “City Life”, he reunited with Marshall Jefferson, along with the additional talents of Joseph Long and Lee Pearson, Jr.

Curtis took a long hiatus from recording for personal reasons, but now he’s back.  He has a distinct voice, humble personality and is an all around cool brother.

Ndigo.com:  Curtis, when and how did you first get into the House music scene?

Curtis McClain:  I was pulled into the House music scene, thanks to Marshall Jefferson in late October or early November of 1985. At the time, I had no idea what House music was.

Ndigo.com:  How did you meet Marshall Jefferson?

Curtis McClain:  Marshall and I met in 1982 working at the Main Post Office.  I guess it was inevitable that we would become friends for life because we had a lot of things in common. We hit it off immediately. We were the two youngest guys on the machine.  We keyed the same station, 60659.  We both lived on the south side, not too far from each other.  We both liked bowling, chess and the love of music.  So, we spent a lot time hanging out, on and outside of the job.

Ndigo.com:  Not being a singer and never having any professional vocal training, how did you become a vocalist?

Curtis McClain:  Well I’ve always, even as a kid, liked to sing. When I would come to work, we’d sing and what a lot of people don’t know is that Marshall is an excellent harmony singer.  I would be singing a song and I would get to the hook and Marshall would sing along with the harmony part. So after some time, Marshall came to me and said “Dude, we should go get some music equipment and start making songs.”  Now at this particular time, he had already recorded “I’ve Lost Control” under his friend’s name, Sleazy D. He wanted Tom Carr and myself to come down to the Muzic Box to see how the crowd was responding to his track to determine if we wanted to cosign for him to get some equipment. I told him there was no need for that.  Just let us know when you’re ready to go get the equipment.  That’s what we did.

Ndigo.com:  When Marshall Jefferson presented you with “Move Yo Body”, did you know that it would blow up like it did?

Curtis McClain:  Actually, no I didn’t. I think Marshall was the only one to see that. The way the whole thing came about was crazy to me. First of all, it was the first time I’d ever been in a recording studio and secondly, I thought artists had a chance to rehearse the song before they went into the studio to actually record it. That wasn’t the case here or with any song we recorded back in the day. When we got to the studio to record a song, that was the first time any of us had ever heard of the song. With “Move Your Body”, Marshall came to work one night and said “Dude, I wrote a song.  We’re going to the studio to record it when we get off.”  By the time I got to the studio, the music had been laid and Rudy Forbes was recording the piano solo for the intro. Then I was handed a piece of paper with the lyrics on it.  I recorded the verse in two takes, only because the first set of vocals were too mellow and laid back for Marshall. He wanted me to give it a Rock feel, I guess.  I struggled a little with the ad-libs because keep in mind, I had no idea what House music was all about. Then Marshall came in the booth and we started feeding off of  each others ad-libs towards the end of the song. When we were done with that, Marshall said “Ok, that’s a wrap.”  Me and Tom looked at each and said “THAT’S IT!?!?”  Marshall said “Yeah.”  I told him “Don’t let nobody hear that man.”  Marshall questioned me as to whether I liked it. It wasn’t that I didn’t like it, I didn’t like the voice I used to sing it. Marshall took it down to the Muzic Box that night. Ron Hardy previewed it in his headphones while he was dj-ing and started bobbing his head to it. Next thing you know, Ron rewound the tape and brought in “Move Your Body.”  They say the crowd went nuts over it.  So crazy, that they say Ron played it at least five times, back to back…UNBELIEVABLE!!!! So after 29 years, I’m proud to say, “I’m one fourth of that song”, along with Tom “TC Roper” Carr, Rudy Forbes, Marshall Jefferson and myself.  We made up the group “On The House.”

Ndigo.com:  The first three words of “Move Your Body” are “GOTTA HAVE HOUSE.” You sing that with so much power and you belt those words out with pure spiritual energy. It sets the stage for the rest of the song.  Did it take you long to get into the spirit of the song?

Curtis McClain:  That’s the funny part about the session. As I stated earlier, I first sang it in a smooth laid back style.  As I think back, if we had released it with the original set of vocals, it probably wouldn’t have worked. Marshall had a vision and knew what the House community would embrace. So to answer the question, I guess I just tried to give the producer what he wanted, even though I wasn’t really feeling my vocals.  But, I’ll say this, I’ve come to enjoy performing it in my shows.

Ndigo.com:  You have natural vocal abilities.  Do you play any instrument?

Curtis McClain:  Yes, I play a little guitar and I can tickle the ivories a little bit.  I’ve never taken lessons for either instrument, but I’ve fooled a lot of non-musicians in my day. LOL!!!!

Ndigo.com:  Are you a songwriter or lyricist?

Curtis McClain:  I’ve got songs that I have written, but never released them as of yet. I’m working on that.

Ndigo.com:  You and Marshall are not only business partners, but friends as well.  Have you two ever thought about or discussed reuniting and creating new music together?

Curtis McClain:  Actually, we’re currently working on a Curtis McClain album as we speak. It’s not finished yet, but three songs have been released already from my upcoming album in the UK.

Ndigo.com:  Are you currently working on any other new music or new projects?

Curtis McClain:  Yes I am. You know next year, 2015, will mark the 30th anniversary of “Move Your Body”, so I’m planning something real big for that.  Be on the look-out for that. I’m also working on some new music projects and networking with some new artists as well.

Ndigo.com:  I know that you are still performing your classic songs at venues everywhere.  I was just at your birthday party this past March and you brought the house down with your performances.  You also performed at my House Roller-Disco Birthday Bash this past April and you drove the crowd bananas.  How does it make you feel to see the pure joy and excitement that you bring to people with your live performances?

Curtis McClain:  There’s no greater feeling than to be on stage and have a crowd of people embracing and singing along to something you were involved with creating.  Believe me, I live for the live performances.

Ndigo.com: Many of your songs are some of people’s favorites.  What’s some of your favorite House cuts?

Curtis McClain:  Wow, there are so many, but Jamie Principles’ “Your Love”, The Its’ “Donnie”, Adonis’ “We’re  Rockin’ Down The House”, Mr. Fingers’ “Can You Feel It”, Terry (Hunter) and Teresa’s (Griffith) “Wonderful”, Ten City’s “Right Back To You” and most of the stuff my boy Marshall Jefferson produced, just to name a few.

Ndigo.com:  Who inspires you in the Music industry?

Curtis McClain:  I could go on forever with this. The Jackson 5, Stevie Wonder, The Temptations, The Commodores, Kool & the Gang, L.T.D., Marvin Gaye, Teddy Pendergrass, Luther Vandross, Al Green, Peabo Bryson, Howard Hewitt, Babyface, Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston, Enchantment, any artist from Philadelphia International, Salsoul and Motown, just to name a few.

Ndigo.com:  On behalf of the entire House community, worldwide, I would like to say THANK YOU.  Your songs have been the soundtrack to some of the best and most memorable moments of our lives.  What would you like to say to the millions of loyal House music fans that you have worldwide?

Curtis McClain:  I would like to say “Thank You” for accepting and embracing my contributions to this genre of music that we’ve come to love, called HOUSE!!!  I would also like to send out a few personal thank you’s to Chauncey Alexander, Marshall Jefferson, Chaz Da Wicked, and Adonis for making my comeback possible. Also, as we celebrate 30 years of House, I want to acknowledge our fallen loved ones of House: Armando, Pink House, Loleatta Holloway, Larry Levan, Ron Hardy, Darryl Pandy, and our Godfather, Frankie Knuckles.  Last but not least, I want to thank you P, for always having my back bro. Thanks for having me as your first interview for House Notes and congratulations.  I know you’re gonna EXCEL!!!!

Ndigo.com:  You’re welcome man.  You know you’re my brutha.  Thank you!


Pierre A. Evans

Freelance Writer, Contributing Writer, Singer/Songwriter, Actor, Model, Poet, DJ, TV Host, and Owner of Pinnacle Entertainment Productions.  You can follow me on Facebook, on Twitter @Playerre, or log onto my Pinnacle Entertainment Productions website.

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