The O'Jays: 'We still sound great'

The O'Jays: 'We still sound great'

Throughout Eddie Levert's career as a lead singer, the O'Jays have released 10 gold albums, with nine going platinum, 10 albums certified gold and 10 No. 1 hits.

The band, which performs Saturday at the Virginia Theatre, has included Levert, Walter Williams, William Powell, Bobby Massey and Bill Isles.

Under a different name, the band made its first chart appearance with "Lonely Drifter" in 1963, but reached its greatest level of success once Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, creators of the Philadelphia sound, signed them in 1972. (The band also sang as the Triumphs and the Mascots).

They became a trio after the departure of Isles and Massey. Williams and Levert are joined on this tour by Eric Nolan Grant, who joined the group in 1995.

"We're hanging in there," Levert said. "As long as I get my rest, my voice can hang in there."

Williams and Levert first formed the band in Canton, Ohio, in 1963, alternating as lead singers.

Hits from their peak in the 1970s and 1980s include "Backstabbers," "Love Train," "For The Love of Money" and "Use Ta Be My Girl."

Like Aretha Franklin, Levert began to make a name for himself in the church choir, hitting the high notes.

"Most of the people in my era came from the church," Levert said.

He could sense there was a bigger career moving into R&B.

"I think the one thing that drove all of us to secular music in the '60s, '70s and '80s — all of us that went from church to secular for financial reasons," he said. "The church sound became soul, the sound that exactly fit that era" before hip-hop.

Levert's early band was taken for an audition in Cincinnati.

They auditioned at King Records by Syd Nathan, whose Federal Records made James Brown a star.

The band was in transition.

"I became the lead singer. I wasn't voted in or by popular demand. Walt and I alternated. I basically started because they wanted a very high voice; they wanted the urgent sound in your voice, you sounded like you wanted to do something very badly," he said.

"Whichever guy can do the best job on the songs, it was a group decision. I was on a lot of B sides with ballads because I could hit those notes."

The O'Jays name was created fairly randomly.

"That's what happens with lazy people. You get stuck with" the name, he said. "Later on, you pay for your laziness — the guy that threw that on us said he felt like he deserved to be paid for it."

Anyway, the name has done a good job for the band.

Levert said he still enjoys the 80 or so shows the O'Jays do every year. But he knows it's not going to last forever.

"The older you get, the more the rust starts to accumulate. I've got to remember to get rest. I remember when I could stay up and party all night and come back and do it again. I'm no longer that guy," Levert said.

"But with the three of us, a couple girl singers and a band, we still sound great."

The band entered the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2005.

If you go

What: The O'Jays

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday

Where: Virginia Theatre

Tickets: $69.50 to $119.50

More information: by calling 217-356-9063, or online at thevirginia.org/event/the-ojays.

Schedule

A look at the upcoming concerts at the Virginia:

Tonight — An evening with Lyle Lovett and Robert Earl Keen.

Nov. 8 — Rosanne Cash with John Leventhal.

Nov. 10 — REO Speedwagon

Nov. 28 — 98

Topics (1):Music
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