Rose Royce’s front man Kenny Copeland keeps Wishing on a Star
It was not surprising to discover that the original name of the band we’ve come to know and love as Rose Royce was Total Concept Unlimited. And even though the name changed, Rose Royce remained a total concept, the total package able to produce a great list of hit songs covering the dance genre with “Car Wash”, “Makes You Feel Like Dancin’”, and “Do Your Dance”, the pop genre with “Ooh Boy” and “Wishing On A Star”, and R&B ballads with “I’m Going Down” and “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore” over the course of 4 years. As the name Rose Royce indicates, the band brought a type of class to the soul/funk of the 70s. With many of there hits being covered by other notable artists in their own right, some people of the generations over the past 20 years may not even be aware that Rose Royce created these songs covered by Madonna, Mary J. Blige, Christina Aguilera and more. Though the line up of band members has changed over the years, original founding member Kenny Copeland still apart of Rose Royce spoke with me as he and the band prepared for their upcoming San Francisco appearance at Yoshi’s SF to chat about how commercialization of the bands music as helped keep them relevant over the years, how their music speaks internationally to the community at large, and how producing their current live album shows people they are more than ballads band.
BEBE: As I was thinking about your upcoming gig at Yoshi’s SF this week, and I thought of the intimacy the venue provides any entertainer there with the audience, I couldn’t help but wonder whether the stage would accommodate based on the fact that the size (number of band mates) is so large (gets a laugh out of Copeland).
KENNY COPELAND: You know that’s true. I spoke to Michael Cooper (from the San Francisco Bay Area) of Confunkshun and I told him that we would be playing at Yoshi’s, and he said, yeah, the space is a little small but that we should be able to manage. We have about the same size group as Confunkshun who have played Yoshi’s, of course.
BEBE: I was just putting my thinking cap on, and saying to myself ‘are they gonna fit on that stage?’
KENNY COPELAND: ( after another laugh) And we’re not small guys either! That’s for sure.
BEBE: Well, I know you are a band in every sense of the word since you guys play real instruments and don’t utilize any digital type system like many groups these days use, and thus the importance of a real good sound system, which Yoshi’s has, is heightened.
KENNY COPLEAND: We are strictly from the old school.
BEBE: That’s so good to hear and see because you just don’t get that that much these days. Every one seems to be a fabricated version of a band and vocals nowadays. I miss, and I am sure I speak for many people, we miss the true and honest voices and instruments from days of old.
KENNY COPELAND: Yeah, well that’s where it originated from. When we did the “Car Wash” LP (album) which was a double album set, that pretty much drove me crazy because it literally took us six to seven months to do the album. We were just worn out because every little scene (from the movie Car Wash) that we recorded for was using all real instruments.
BEBE: (breaking in) And in addition to that, unlike how most soundtracks or movie tracks are done after the film is completed, you guys actually made and recorded the music for “Car Wash” movie as the scenes were being shot, if I’m not mistaken?
KENNY COPELAND: Absolutely! We were on the set as they were shooting so that we could get a feel for what the scene needed music-wise. So, we were there from day one. We just wanted to make sure that it had the proper music, and we also wanted to make sure we had good songs in case the movie didn’t hit we still had a good album. But fortunately, both of them were great.
BEBE: With “Car Wash” producing 3 R&B and Pop hit singles (“Car Wash”, “I Wanna Get Next You”, and “I’m Going Down”) for you guys, wouldn’t say that that album put Rose Royce on the map, so to speak?
KENNY COPELAND: Absolutely! That was the one.
BEBE: So wit that being said, why didn’t Rose Royce do more soundtracks? Were there any opportunities to do other film scores that you passed up?
KENNY COPELAND: You know it was really funny, because our particular producer at the time was Norman Whitfield (Motown producer of Edwin Starr’s “War”, Undisputed Truth’s “Smiling Faces Sometimes” and the Temptations’ “Papa was a Rolling Stone”), and he pretty much got us fresh off the streets. We didn’t know too much about anything in the music business. So, we relied on his judgment. And I think the “Car Wash” album took so much out of him and me, we didn’t want to do another one anytime soon after. But, I think the opportunity did come up again, but nothing ever got off the ground. I would have loved to do another soundtrack, and especially made a hit, but Norman just did not want to do it.
BEBE: Well we, the public, are sure sad that you didn’t make another movie soundtrack album, because we are still enjoying the music from “Car Wash”, and actually, music from the first three of Rose Royce’s albums because they produced so many good hits (including “Do Your Dance”, “Ooh Boy”, “Wishing on a Star”, I’m In Love (And I Love The Feeling)”, and “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore”). Hits that my and today’s generation are so familiar with, because you guys have done so well with having other artists cover your songs to keep them fresh, such as Madonna (“Love Don’t Live Here Anymore”), Mary J. Blige (“I’m Going Down”), Christina Aguilera (“Car Wash”), The Cover Girls and Teena Marie(“Wishing On A Star”), and the list goes on and on.
KENNY COPELAND: And Beyonce’ did a version of “Wishing On A Star”.
BEBE: And, in another ten years, somebody else is going to pick them up to cover them. That, to me, says a lot about the quality of the songs. The songs stand up on their own and still have relevance today.
KENNY COPELAND: That was Norman’s (Whitfield) goal. He said ‘we don’t to record a song that is good this year, and then the next year nobody knows about it’. We wanted to do quality songs that last for years, and years,and years. That was his goal,we followed it, and it definitely came true.
BEBE: The people who made covers really didn’t stray too far from the original arrangements.
KENNY COPELAND: You are absolutely right on that. And, I admire that. I really liked Mary J. Blige’s version of “I’m Going Down”.
BEBE: I even liked Madonna’s “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore” (which appeared on two of her album releases in 1984 and 1995). She really stayed true to your original song, and that was a real big ballad hit for her.
KENNY COPELAND: It’s always an honor for these types of artists to record our songs. I welcome it.
BEBE: You know Rose Royce was a big part of my growing up, and I know I partied my butt off over the years to your songs, and it was funny recalling back then how many people thought Rose Royce was the name of your lead female singer, Gwen Dickey. We didn’t know it was the name of a group. That was similar to how many people thought Blondie was the name of Debbie Harry.
KENNY COPELAND: We did face that problem. It took us a long time to rectify. One of the reasons why it happened initially was when Gwen Dickey joined the group, she was in some management contract, so we had to giver her another name. Norman decided to call her Rose Norwalt until she got out of the contract. But by that time, Gwen’s name of Rose had already established something with the public, and we spent a lot of time undoing that.
BEBE: As we talked about artists covering our music, I also thought about how much of your music has appeared in commercials, TV shows and in movies as background filler (non-soundtrack). I know some artists are opposed to the commercialization of their music like you’ve done. They even go as far as saying artists that do what you have done are “selling out”. What are your thoughts on the subject of commercialization music?
KENNY COPELAND: Just as I said earlier, I welcome that because the bottom line is when your music is exposed in that manner, all it does is give recognition to the people who made the music. I can’t see how anyone could not embrace that! I don’t what problems other artists have with it (commercialization), but I assure your Rose Royce will not have any problem with it. They can play it from now to doomsday, I don’t care.
BEBE: Exactly, because your original recordings can be heard on the radio today, and I think it is because of the continual exposure that the commercialization of the music brings to your music generation after generation.
KENNY COPELAND: I have no complaints!
BEBE: Moving on to another subject, I know that Rose Royce is aware that you have a gay fan base because you have played at Gay Pride’s and other gay specific events over the years. What is it, do you think, about the Rose Royce sound and music that attracts your gay audience?
KENNY COPELAND: I think that the songs that we made, we’ve always kept them on a universal feeling. Everybody can relate the music whether you are gay or not gay. Our songs lyrics can apply to anybody, it does matter who you are, what creed or color you are. I think the gay community embraces that. And when I sing “I Want to Get Next You”, I don’t care if it’s a gay couple or not, I get right up in their face as if I was singing it to a girl or anyone else. There is no loss of quality because it is all about love. It’s a love song. Everybody can relate. That’s my feeling.
BEBE: Now you guys have been working band meaning you have always gone on tour and played live, as opposed to, the many groups these days that are just studio recording artists and don’t perform live, but you guys have been a working, performing band for nearly 40 years. As a matter of fact, your most recent album is a live one, right?
KENNY COPELAND: That’s right, and we have never done a live album before. We also want to do a Christmas album at some point as well. But we really wanted to get a live album out there because, you know, there are a lot of funk bands out there like the Bar Kays, Confunkshun, Kool and the Gang, and a lot of times when people come and see our (Rose Royce) show, they think it’s going to be kind of a soft show because we have a lot of ballads. But let me tell you right now, our show is so well balanced. We do top 40 type songs, our hits, we have choreography. When people see the show they say they had no idea our was what it is. They think they are going to be sitting down all the time, but we will get you on your feet.
BEBE: Speaking of the balance of your show, you definitely have created a balance of music covering funk, pop, ballads and the like. So with that, which one of your songs is your favorite, if you have one?
KENNY COPELAND: My favorite song, and always have been, is “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore”.I like it because I like the chord progressions, and we turn it into a big show type of song, We’ve incorporated horns into it when we perform it live where we used strings in the studio, since we can’t carry those instruments along when we do shows. So, you don’t lose any of the quality of the song. When we do something live, we always want to add something extra to give the audience a treat.
Rose Royce with Kenny Copeland will be performing at Yoshi’s SF Thursday, June 21. For tickets and more information, www.yoshis.com/sanfrancisco.
Following the San Francisco date, Rose Royce will play at the Anthology in San Diego on July 14.
Original lead singer Gwen Dickey will join Rose Royce overseas in Brighton,England at Concorde 2 on September 22.
Their current CD “Rose Royce Live in Hollywood” can be purchased on their website at www.rose-royce.com.