Interview With John P. Kee (Part 2)
Not Guilty: The Music
Perhaps the biggest surprise for about John P. Kee's new Not Guilty: The Experience project, is that it hardly seems like retirement. Who can forget the industry buzz over the past few years about Kee's announced retirement from the industry? In fact, the last song on the Strength project was the poignant and seemingly final, "I Bow Out".
interview by Stan North —
Yet here we are in 2000 with not just music, but 139 minutes of it, on a double CD. In the second of our two-part interview (see part one by clicking here), GospelFlava.com asked him, 'What gives?'
"Five years ago, when I publicly announced [my retirement] at the Stellar Awards, I meant it with every piece of fibre in me. I'll tell you [the background to that]. I was at a Gospel event in the country, and I'd just written "Stand", and a group of artists, my peers, were backstage, and they began to laugh and mock my choir. I remember that one of my altos was tripped as she went up the steps. And I'll never forget this day as long as I live. It was a Thursday night, and it's where the song "Thursday Love" [from the Strength album] came from."
"I almost took matters into my own hand [that night], the old John that got delivered, he almost erased the whole stage. I got on the bus kinda weeping a bit, not for myself but for my people who got hurt real bad. These were people that had been with me for years. And the Lord spoke to my heart and said [of those who had mocked], 'They're not jealous of you, they're afraid of you.' And that night I began to pen the songs on the Strength album. Song after song after song after song."
"And now we understand that even when we say that 'we're through' and 'we quit', that God doesn't stop speaking to our spirit. I'm not saying, 'I can't wait to see how many CDs we sell', I'm saying I can't wait till the people of God hear the message. And I think if you have that kind of spirit, and if that's your purpose, then it goes forth."
"After Strength I said I was retired. But three years later here we come. (The Any Day VIP release really didn't count, because that was old masters, we had that already prepared to give."
"And that's another thing, if I stopped recording today, John Kee could still release for the next 7 or 8 years, because we have so much."
"I think the retirement statement was pretty much a reflection of [the fact that ] I'm pretty much relaxing now, in life. My passion now is, everything people trick, lie, steal, deceive to get...I've been there, done that, had it, owned it, sold it, and now I'm relaxing in retirement almost. I think that's what I call retirement. I'm at a joy in my life where I can see the people of God gaining too.
"But I hear God speaking again, and I said, what are we going to do? The church choir just finished a project, and things are going on. Now we've got all this music! So now I've got some new babies, ages 12 to 20. I'm calling them my Partakrew. And these kids are excited, so there's always an avenue. Even though I said retirement and I was through, God was still speaking to my heart, and back to the artists that don't get the phone calls [to go minister], and those that feel like their careers are over, God's still speaking to them to. So you really got to pray for them, that the Lord allows them an avenue to [empty themselves] of the [Word that God has given them]. Can you imagine the build up? It's something else. So we'll be writing till we're old and gray.
The New Songs
"I didn't start out with Not Guilty being a double CD. I started writing and I got to 5, I got to 10, then I got to 15, then I got to 20, I couldn't stop. So we were sitting with like 32 or 33 songs and we had to choose."
"I love 'Grateful'. This is my favorite on my whole album. 'Grateful' is my song. I did not write it for me, I wrote it for Donnie McClurkin [to sing on the project as a guest], but he was on voice rest, so we had to run back in [the studio] and do it in a hurry. I can't get to CD 2 because I'm always hung up on 'Grateful'. I don't know if it just speaks to what I'm really trying to say concerning our ministry, thanking God for allowing us the opportunity.
'What's the Verdict', well we have a Christian night club here, The Praise Connection, and that one was kinda one for the kids. That's totally for them. I was actually finished with the project, but I went back into the studio and held it up, and said 'listen I need to put a little dance mix in there.' My little John John, my three year old, goes crazy when that song comes on.
I did a lot of playing on this project, but I allowed the guys to come in on this one. That's a rarity. The truth of the matter is for years I've done all production on the albums. This project, I let the guys come in, and I totally enjoyed it. Matt Kelly, the organist and minister of music at my church, he did an awesome job. LaDonna Mole, who sings "Thou Art Worthy", Miche Waller came back and played piano on that. And Kevin Randolph, he's one of the 'live guys' that play here on the weekend. I let them flow, and it came out very very well."
"Breakout" is a band tribute number, we were through with the project, and we were kinda hanging out at the club one night, like 20 minutes before the club opened, we just put this arrangement together. I actually play with the band, and it was real cool. That's one we're going to start doing on our live set real soon.
The Old Material
On Not Guilty: The Experience, Kee and New Life present mostly new material, but they do bring back some recent favorites as well. Remixed of course.
"I couldn't leave "I Do Worship", it's such a powerful song. What I did was, we started doing another arrangment live on stage, and I recorded that one night in the club. I said, 'man, we're going to keep this track.' When I first wrote that song, it was on a Thursday night, and we sang it that weekend [in Toronto] for the first time.
"I'll never forgot how people were paying attention to the lyrics. And that's where that song actually birthed. You know [we in] the industry call that 'cheating' when you do an album full of remixes: 'C'mon, give the people something new!' But I just couldn't leave this song. I love the new arrangement."
And "God of Mercy", you can't leave it. Every concert it's in high demand, so we just kind of took it to a new level. [Editor's note: the song is retitled "Rain On Us" for the new project.]
New Life Community Choir is renowned for not only its material, but for the talent that has arisen in its midst. Names like Montrel Darrett, Isaac Caree, Lowell Pye, Drea Randle, Erick Matthews, Chris Simpson, Shawn McLemore and more have gone on to solo careers. We're sure we're not alone in wondering about the possiblities for a reunion event.
"I will definitely be having a reunion project. Maybe no-one else thinks of this, maybe it's only me, and I know I'm like the corniest man in the world, but a reunion to me someway signifies that it's almost over. But I have visited the thought in my mind over and over again. I just believe if I called up Lowell and Isaac and all those that have sung with us over the years, I believe that they would come back. I believe that day is going to come. I mean songs like "Wave It Away" and "Jesus Is Real", those were masterpieces, you know."
"Right now, we're thinking about [recording the video for Not Guilty] in Canada or in Memphis. It's such a long project, we're thinking about doing it in both [places]. We're definitely looking at the spring for a recording. I love getting the project out first, so that when we get to the concert, we're not getting people just looking confused. But they can kinda of jam with you, and they know the material. I've always done that, have for years.
On The Recording Horizon
Double CD, upcoming concert video, it's a busy recording schedule, and if anything, Kee seems to be picking up steam. On the horizon are a number of unusual or specialty projects for him, including a comedy project, something he's talked about for a while:
"Comedy to me is almost like singing. It's not like I sit around and say, 'Ok, let's see how we can work this out.' There's so many things about life that oppress people and depress people, I use them to laugh at. And then when you have your kids and your family, there's so many things to laugh about. I use my laughter to define merriment. And I can actually use my laughter to make the devil mad. I think in the future I might just play around a little bit, so we might do some things in the near future. You know, what I've been thinking about doing is just releasing recordings of the DAT of all of my live concert performances, and just going back and taking from those. That would be the project itself."
And with the "Wedding Song" prominent on Not Guilty and also the focus of Kee's first concept video from the project, it seems that a 'love song project' is also something he has his eye on:
"Most definitely, we're working on it, working with a group of producers right here in the church. My brother Al, he's been a life saver along with Tim Mole. I think it needs to happen. That's what the "Wedding Song" is all about on the Not Guiltyalbum. It's not just a song for my wife. You know, Christians need their jam, so we're going to put that together soon. I'm going to pull together some duets, Vanessa Bell Armstrong and I are teaming up again real soon.
And then of course, there's Vanessa Bell Armstrong. Kee has had a long association with the Motown diva, going back to when the two of them were the only artists on Verity Records.
"Vanessa and I are teaming back up to do her next project. So, that's going to be exciting. I got to tell you, when I produced The Secret Is Out, I was in shock. I mean people don't understand how awesome this woman is. In the studio she was killing me daily, so I couldn't' make good rationale decisions, I was just gone, my head was gone. So I see it as God giving me another chance to work with somebody I just totally admire. She's going to do some production [on the project] herself.
"My daugher Shannon has a unique gift. I'm not pressing her, I'm not pushing her, I dare not send her off into the industry. My son Christopher has unique production skills, so I'm kinda watching these kids a little bit now.
Then there's New Divine Destiny (see review), they have taken their music ministry and touched this community in a major way." [Editor's note: as Kee's church choir, New Divine Destiny is signed to Tommy Boy Gospel and appears as guest choir on a couple of tracks on Not Guilty: The Experience: "Best Friend" and "Rhema Word".
"You can also look for a solo album from me, called, What I've Seen. I'm going to talk about everything I've seen since I've surrendered my life. We're doing something totally different with it. And the next VIP project should be very strong, a hot praise and worship project, full of energy.
Like Fred Hammond, Kee is known for his production skills, and frequently puts on that hat on other artist's projects. Yet also like Fred, he's doesn't do much writing for other artists. So we asked him if this was simply the way it works out, or if it was by design:
"People don't think I have the time, probably. But I'm doing some things quietly. I'm working with a girl in Boston who goes by the name of Christine, and I'm working on her project right now.
"And let me apologize publicly. You know that Dorinda Clark just called [for a song for her album recently recorded in Septebmer 2000 for GospoCentric]. My wife just had a baby, and I didn't have a chance to really get involved
with her project. I sent an apology letter to her, because whenever I asked her to come, she was with me 100% on the Strength video." (See video review).
"We just got a call from Marvin Sapp, he just called for a song, but a lot of times it's a time issue. That's when the pastoring and the production kinda all runs together so, you've just got to decide.
"I just did a project with Kirk Franklin, wow that's a hot project, I enjoyed the concert. I want to thank him, he came to the hood Charlotte and ministered to my babies like you would not believe, for not a dime, not a red penny. He really touched their hearts in a special way. But Gospel artists rarely work together, and the record labels, there's so much red tape. You know, secular artists can come together for breast cancer, for AIDS and raise millions of dollars, and we [Gospel artists] can't get in a room together. So that's something we pray will change in the future."
So with John P. Kee, it's all about music and ministry. Some are blessed by his music, others his preaching. But is there a difference? We concluded our marathon interview by asking Kee what he considered to be his greater gift: the singing or the preaching:
"I think the teaching is [the greater gift], because bottom line, that's where the song comes from. I have preacher friends who call on Saturday night and say, "Man I'm studying and I don't know what God's gonna give me tomorrow, I almost wish somebody else could do it." I'm offended by that. Because I can't wait!!! And I'm so high when I'm [in the pulpit] because that's when you're really delivering the message that you've been given."
"That's the part of me that's not for sale, I've never taken a dime for preaching. That's who I really am."
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Refresh Your Memory with this John P. Kee History Lesson