Lincoln Ross

Lincoln Ross began in the music business at age 15, shortly before he got his first driver's license. Since then he has been blessed with some really great experiences along the way, like playing trombone with the Count Basie Orchestra as a young man age 24. He also had the opportunity to record an album on a major label in 1975 ("Vibes of Truth"-The Three Pieces / Fantasy 9476). 

This came about through his association with jazz legend Donald Byrd, as did the Blackbyrd's recording of his original instrumental "Gut Level" (which actually charted in the top 40 in 1974). He met Dr.Byrd as a student at Howard University from which he earned a bachelor's degree in music (Class of '73).

Currently, Bill Pinkney and the Original Drifters has recorded his song "The Same Candlelight", which has been released on the Repete and World Wide Gospel labels. As a keyboardist he did some road work with Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes in the 70's and Wilson Pickett in the mid-80's. 

Others he has played his horn behind include Ella Fitzgerald, Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, Sammy Davis Jr., Nancy Wilson, Gladys Knight, Joe Williams, the O'Jays, Johnny Taylor, Millie Jackson, and many others. A few years back he even recorded a track with another hometown hero, DJ Kool. 

Presently he continues to do gigs with the O'Jays when they are in the Baltimore-Washington area. This is always exciting because they are often on shows with such other R&B legends as EW&F, Maze featuring Frankie Beverly, the Isley Brothers, the Whispers and many others.

  • Lincoln, you just sent me your Vibes of Truth - The Three Pieces. For me it's like a flash back to good old Motown sound.
L.R.: Glad you got the CDR OK. This album was recorded in 1975. I had a group at the time and we called ourselves THE THREE PIECES. Jerry Wilder - Lead vocals and bass, Andre Richardson - Percussion /bkg.vc., me - keys /trombone /bkg.vc.

Donald Byrd produced the date and we were signed to Fantasy Records. I had written a tune for the Blackbyrds called "Gut Level" which made the charts so that's how we got hooked up. Wade Marcus, formerly on staff at Motown did the arrangements.

We toured briefly with the Blackbyrds at the time but the deal subsequently fell through so unfortunately we didn't go on to make another album.

I was 25 years old at the time same age my son is now. I also have a daughter who is 31 years old.

  • Do you have the rights back or is Fantasy Records still existing with the

L.R.: We don't have the rights back nor do we recieve any artist's or writer's royalties. This would be a good 'blurb' feature. I sucessfully sued Donald Bryd's 'Blackbyrd Publishing' a few years back for a
small portion of the back royalties from "Gut Level" the tune I wrote for the Blackbyrds album.

Vibes of Truth is still being sold on the net. I did a google search (vibes of truth lp) and came up with a few sources especially in Europe. One was

I'll send you a complete list of credits for that record. Ray Parker Jr. (of Ghost Buster's fame) played guitar on one of the tracks.

  • Why did you hesitate to demand your rights back or to sue your royalties for this album?
L.R.: I was unaware until the advent of the internet or better still when I first had access to the internet (within the past 3 1/2 years) that the album was still being
marketed. I used to get Fantasy's catalogue and it was not listed although the tune ("Gut Level") that I did for the Blackbyrd's was. Also I used to see "Gut Level" in the stores regularly on Blackbyrd compilations. I never saw "Vibes of Truth".

When I called Fantasy about "Gut Level" royalties they said that they were paying Blackbyrd Publishing via his attorney (Steven Kopictko ?sp.) and that the publisher not the record company paid the writers. Kopitcko gave me the run around for a year at least. It wasn't until I
ran across an outfit in NYC called Royalty Net that any legal action was taken. Their deal involved making the legal moves for a 20% commission without any front money.

Prior to signing up with Royalty Net or even before I called Kopitcko I had written Byrd several letters and even caught up with him in person a couple times. It was
kind of funny because one time he was at the Kennedy Center here in DC doing the a Billy Taylor Jazz Series Concert. 

During the performance there was a section where they took questions from the audiance. Thanks to my buddy Andrew White (world reknown Coltrane transcriber), I had the nerve to ask Byrd about our royalties in front of the sold out audiance! On top of that, the whole thing was being recorded for NPR (Nation Public Radio). Even though I was polite and respectful, the crowd did gasp slightly and Byrd gave me a short lame answer about the 'matter was being looked into'. It was funny because before I asked my question he saw who I was and gave me this nice intro about being one of his best former students and good trombone player. 

Before that, he had never answered my letters, and on another occasion back stage he ignored the whole thing.

  • Lincoln, you are in the music business since a long time. Can you give an advice, how a musician can avoid such a situation?
L.R.: Unfortunately, even with proper copyright papers, signed contracts, ect. one cannot guarantee that the people you are dealing with will always do the right thing. Also if a project is not extremely successful and a whole lot of money is not involved it often is not even worth trying to pursue it legally. As usual the little man who could
really use the few measly dollars gets screwd simply because he can't afford to defend himself. They (crooked industry types) know this from the outset.

So to answer your question I guess I'd have to say that even though you can't completely eliminate the risks involved you should at least;

(1)make sure all your paperwork is in order and
(2)hope that you are dealing with honest people who will share with you even if the
profit is relatively small.

Remember the bottom line is that you really can't force them to pay you so if your
paperwork is in order your legal options will be easier. IF you do have the means to take them to court.

In our case we did at least get a small advance so there are certainly many worse horror stories out there. On the other hand, in this type business where a product
can still be on the market after 27 years, somebody's getting paid something somewhere. I mean no one is just giving away records and CD's for their health. And even if the royalty due us last quarter was only $30 we could have still used that bread to buy gas or maybe to pay the phone bill. :O)   

  • After such along time did you think about a new solo album?
L.R.: During the 80's I unsuccessfully sought another deal but as time slipped by and this became less and less likely I gradually shifted my approach to that of writer/producer. At my current age (52) I know that the odds of me getting signed are probably higher than hitting the lottery. :0)

Nevertheless I will always write and record so it's just a matter of me saving enough bread to put something out on my own. With all the technical advances in home
recording these days this goal is not nearly so far fetched as it was a few years ago and I look forward to reaching it. Still it will be expensive and involve considerable sacrifice especially since I love working
with real instruments like horns and strings for sure.
  • Is this your fulltime work or do you have a daytime job besides producing and recording?
L.R.: No I don't have a day job however my main source of income hardly comes from producing and recording. I WISH! For the most part I provide music for private affairs like weddings, retirememts, graduations and things of that nature.

Occassionally I do shows and some road work but not much these days. I'm basically a freelance musician working locally in the Washington DC area. Not exactly the starving artist but close to it. :0) 

  • I have read your February blurb and the joke at the end:

Inside Joke: What do you call a trombone player with a beeper? An eternal optimist.

Do you take your situation with humor?

L.R.: Let's just say that at times a sense of humor can get you through a situation where nothing else will so 'be happy and don't worry'.
  • Viewing back your life, would your decision to become a musician be the same?
L.R.: Yes, although there were always those days when I'd wonder, 'so you want to be a musician do you'? I've concluded that there are no easy paths in life so you might as well choose something you have a passion for.
Hopefully the idealism of youth propels one far enough so that the pragmatism of later years does not diminish this passion too severly. I still have a healthy passion for what I'm doing. 

  • What are your currently projects?
L.R.: Currently "Only Human" is still on the front burner. This is the recently completed CD by Changamire, my fiance. We are busy promoting the album as well as preparing for a live concert we hope to stage in a few
months. I am very proud of the product and of Changamire who masterminded and financed the whole project. It took a little over two and a half years to complete including live strings on a few tracks and final mixes at the world reknown Sigma Sound Studios in Philadelphia. Thanks to the internet we have sold CD's in London, Hong Kong, Paris and all over through sites like Amazon.com, CD Baby.com, Jazzvalley.com and others. The internet
explosion really gives the self-produced artist a big boost. It's the light in an otherwise very dark tunnel.
I love it.
  • What kind of music represents "Only Human"?
L.R.: The "Only Human" CD is an eclectic mix of jazz, R&B, pop, soft rock, semi-blues, and one track that even features the talented rapper 'Mr. 40'. It's an interesting musical journey lasting a little over 46 minutes. The bluesy track "Together" also spotlights my son (Lincoln Ross IV) playing the guitar solo. His son, Alyosha,(my grandson)attended one of the sessions but at 4 years old is not quite ready to join the act just yet. :o)
  • With other words: Without any restrictions you had a lot of fun playing in and producing this album? Tell us more about the making of.
L.R.: Yes we had a lot of fun but also it was a lot of work. We went to Philadelphia to record the string sessions and of course this involved a lot of preparation. There were 14 string players, flute, guitar and a rhythm section. The music had to be all written out. We were blessed with some very fine musicians who came in the
studio and just played everything beautifully the first time down. The engineers took a few minutes to set levels and bingo the tracks were laid. On some of the other dates we used the electronic sequencers and sound modules.

This process also involves a lot of homework where, in my case, most of the playing is done outside of the studio. You already know what it's going to sound like before you go in yet the magic of the studio greatly embellishes the overall quality and fidelity. At any rate I love the recording process and learn something new everytime. Always when the time has expired I wish we could stay longer.      

  • Was there a special reason, that you chose the studio in Philadelphia for recording?
L.R.: Sigma Sound Studios in Philly is a legendary facility where many, many hit records were recorded over the years. In particular, this is where Gamble and Huff of
the famed label Philadelphia International recorded many of their artists and where we knew we could get a great string sound. We were not disappointed. Also I
personally had recorded "Bustin Loose" with Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers here as well as a few other projects and fell in love with their sound.

  • Playing with all the greatest of soul and smooth jazz music you will certainly have a perfect knowledge of the scene. Which artists are your favorites and why?
L.R.: As far as my favorites, this is the most difficult question you have asked so far. My musical palate is large. I enjoy all kinds of music from James Brown to Beethoven. Just the other night I went to see Curtis
Fuller, one of my all time favorite trombonists, and at 68 he his still fantastic. But to name just a FEW other
I would have to include; Stevie Wonder, Bob Marley, John Coltrane, Art Tatum, Bud
Powell, Oscar Peterson, Mozart, Brahms, Oliver Nelson, Duke Ellington, Billy Stayhorn, Slide Hampton,
Urbie Green, Dinah Washington, Sam Cooke, Matt Monroe, Sly Stone, Luther Vandross, Mahalia Jackson, Patti Labelle, Nancy Wilson, Quincy Jones, Babyface, Prince, Smokey Robinson, Dru Hill, Mary J. Bligue, Denice Graves, Kenny Rodgers, Garth Brooks, Biggie Smalls, Mystikal, Yo-Yo
Ma, Take 6, India Arie, Alicia Keys, Joe, U2, Boney James and many many others. You see what I mean, I've got it real bad. :o)

  • That is a great selection from classics over jazz to soul, pop, contemporary jazz and smooth jazz. But I won't make it easy for you. Among those artists, which one is your top favorite?
L.R.: Since I like every artist for different reasons it's hard to say which is the top favorite. But if I had to pick just one it might be John Coltrane.
  • And why?
L.R.: I find myself listening to Coltrane often as well as practicing and performing some of his music. As with certain foods I like, I don't know know exactly why I like them other that to say they taste good to me.
Coltrane sounds good to me as does Stevie, Bach, etc. I could say that one artist or food was my favorite but it would be just a theoretical answer to an impossible question.
  • You played with great musicians in the past like Ella Fitzgerald, Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, Sammy Davis Jr., Nancy Wilson, Gladys Knight, Joe Williams, the O'Jays, Johnny Taylor, Millie Jackson, Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes and Wilson Pickett. Tell us about these events and these artists.
L.R.: Actually I recently became aware of a release by Universal Records of a Marvin Gaye CD called "What's Going On?" Deluxe Edition. Included on the two disc set
is a live concert he did at the Kennedy Center here in Washington in 1972. I was in the band with about twenty other local Washington DC musicians.
Unfortunately we are only credited as 'unknown local musiscian' but with the help of the union I'm trying to rectify that. Anyway here's a good true story written before the current release:

Since Marvin was from DC, when he did a gig here during the height of the "What's Going On" album, the city rolled out the red carpet. Not only did he receive the
key to the city but the gig was staged at the then new Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. This must have been around 1970 and as fate would have it, I got the gig on trombone. Not that I was such a good player but just in the right place at the right time. Anway at around 20 years old this was quite an experience as you can imagine.

We reheased a couple of times at Howard University with band leader Maurice King. Because of some copying errors the rehearsals didn't go as smooth as they could have but interestingly enough this worked out to our advantage since we were being paid by the hour. Also Marvin was there some of the time even playing a little piano on a few of the charts.

Now for the really good part.

We were just about to go on stage the night of the show when we were informed of a slight delay. Seems as though the union people had discovered some heavy duty cables leading to a 16 track recorder (or however many tracks they had at that time) and some other professional gear.
To make a long story short we all received a second paycheck. This one may have totaled more than the first which itself wasn't bad considering the paid reheasals.
Of course the second check was for the live recording.

(Thanks AF of M) 

Although I never got the lowdown, it appeared as if someone was trying to pull a fast one. Of course nothing new here. . If I were to write a book on dirty little tricks in
the music business I'm sure I could fill up a whole chapter with my own personal experiences. 

Anyway as it turned out, I don't think they ever released the recording. Maybe because a few of those copy errors weren't fixed properly leading to some false entrances, wrong notes, etc. Backstage after the show
Marvin came out of his dressing room for a moment and shook hands and thanked some of the orchestra members.
Old lucky me was standing close enough to shake hands and share a few words. As fate would have it I never saw Marvin in person again after that.

I once read that Quincy Jones had said that regardless of the song, the artist, the engineer, or the equipment, in order to make a truly great record the HOLY SPIRIT
needs to pass through the room. I'm sure we would all agree that the HOLY SPIRIT must have passed through a couple of times at least during the making of
the "What's Going On".

  • I don't know, how often artists have covered Marvin Gaye 's What's goin on? Especially the Smooth Jazz saxophonists extremely appreciate this tune. For example Everette Harp released in 1997 What's Going On, a tribute to Marvin Gaye's classic 1971 album as part of Blue Note's cover series. A compelling solo artist in his own right, the guitarist Doc Powell received a Grammy nomination for his 1987 interpretation of this Marvin Gaye classic. Another artist is Daren Motamedy with his album "It' s all good". I have read that, Marvin Gaye had fought hard to get Motown to release this title. It's an epic song cycle on which Marvin took total control and weaved his observations about inner city youth, the ecology, and race relations. What's your comment?
L.R.: Like I said ...'the HOLY SPIRIT must have passed through the room a couple of times at least during the making of "What's  Going On" '. It is a masterpiece.
  • Did you also make recordings as a sideman in studios?
L.R.: Occassionly. Since Washington DC is not really a big music production center like New York or Los Angeles there was never a whole lot of work here in the studios, but I do some from time to time.
  • I have the impression that you have more to tell about the behavior of black sheeps in the music industry. So don't hold back, here is your place.
L.R.: Wilson Pickett was another big disappointment for me. During the mid 80ís I did some road work with his band as a keyboardist. On one of the trips to Canada and New England, I drove my van and transported the luggage and instruments for the group. Of course I was to receive
extra money for this, which was agreed upon at the outset.

On the last day we were in Boston.  That night after the gig I was waiting to get paid so I could head back to Washington right away for a gig there the next day. Itís
about a 9 hour ride from Boston to Washington so I was trying to get on the road as soon as possible. First the band manager told me that Pickett didnít give him all the money so my pay would be short. So I went to Pickett, who was occupied in his dressing room with all
the after-show guests. After a long wait to get to talk with him, I told Pickett what the manager had said about not being able to get all the money from him. Pickett
said that this was not true and that he had paid all the money. By this time Iím pissed for sure and ready to leave.

I went outside to my van and took out all their instruments and luggage, leaving everything on the sidewalk in front of the club. I then pulled of and drove to my next gig.  Needless to say I didnít do anymore gigs with those folks, although I believe they called me about a tour of Spain some time later. Nor did I ever receive the money owed to me.

I didnít see Wilson Pickett for another 10 years. They were rehearsing here in Washington so I stopped by, since the rehearsal hall owner was a friend of mine.
Pickett acted as if he didnít remember me until I brought up the Boston incident. Then the band manager asked me to leave, saying it was a ďclosed rehearsalĒ. I
did leave peacefully and even though I still didnít get paid, I somehow felt better.

What I had hoped to have been an exciting and memorable experience working with a genuine R&B legend turned into yet another disappointment. But, as the song goes ď thatís life ď .

  • Was this a lesson for you? Have these incidents influenced your behavior?
L.R.: Life is an unending lesson especially when you attempt to understand people's behavior. 'Fickle' is the word. You never know when someone is going to switch up on you. I've had business relationships that went along just fine for several gigs, then right out of the blue here comes a curve ball. Totally unpredictable. Over time you end up a bit cynical to say the least.
  • Besides so many dark moments did you also have sunny memories?
L.R.: Sure!!! Riding a train through the Swiss countryside chatting with Count Basie, Oscar Peterson, and Norman Granz in the same boxcar would be one. Going to Detroit and doing a recording session in the famed "Hitsville Studio's" of Motown for David Ruffin and producer Hank Crosby was another.

Another great memory was playing the San Remo Blues Festival in 1987. We spent 10 days in Italy where they really rolled out the red carpet for us. This was the closest thing to a luxury vacation Iíve ever experienced. They treated us to one restaurant that had a fish pond out back where they would scoop out the fish of your choice and cook it to your liking. Howís that for fresh seafood?

Here at home in Washington DC I have always enjoyed hanging out at jam sessions where we play straight ahead
jazz. There have been many good memories at these sessions especially when the band is really swinging and the crowd is having a ball. Occasionally a big name artist like Branford Marsalis might drop in which would be the icing on the cake.

The many wonderful people I have met and interesting places Iíve visited are possibly the greatest reward from my life as a musician.

  • Tell me something about your upcoming or future projects.
L.R.: I recently received a call from an old friend who is putting together a play and needs horn and string arrangments for 12 tunes. However he hasn't got all the funding in place as yet so we'll see. I've got my fingers crossed but I've definately learned not to count my chickens before they hatch. :0)

Another buddy of mine told me a few weeks back that he'd be in touch shortly about producing a few tracks for his
wife's next cd. Still no word, so ditto the above.

Other than that nothing too much going on right now other than the usual practice and writing routine. The trombone kicks my butt on a daily basis. Oh, I forgot to mention that a promotional cd compilation will be out next month with a remix of the "Macarena" I did a few years back. A group a musicians from the Keyboard Magazine Forum put this project together and we all
submitted a cover track of a popular hit. I'll send you a copy. 
  • Do you have an own studio?
L.R.: No, but I have some modest equipment for making demos.
However owning my own studio is one of my favoite dreams/goals.
  • When you use the word goals, that might be more concrete than dreams. What kind of equipment would you choose?
L.R.: You are right. The goal part will be met because I will always upgrade. The dream part is how far UP I'll be financially capable of going.

Ideally I would love to have a professional, state of the art facility with say a Neve board, both digital and 2' analog multitracks machines, Neuman microphones, Lexicon reverbs, Steinway grand piano, and all the extra computer advantages available today. Now that's the
dream. Realistically I like a lot of the digital audio workstations (DAW's) on the market presently, like the Yamaha 4416. These are all in one recording studio's
that are about the size of a small table top.

  • How much has one to spend for such a medium equipment (I don't talk about the Steinway)?
L.R.: Actually for about $5,000 to $10,000 you could do very well these days. The table top DAW's are only about $4,000 and that gives you 24 tracks with a cd burner all
in one. Add to that a few good mikes, pre-amps, a sampler, and various other accessories and you would be 'good to go'. It is really quite remarkable how close
you can come with this type setup to the quality sound of a professional room with $1,000,000 worth of gear.

On the other hand, of course, the room itself is the pro advantage. The sound of one's bedroom or basement can
never match the acoustics of a professional room not to mention the space required to accommodate a string or horn section. Many of the pro rooms like Sigma are
constructed of expensive woods including the floors that optimize the natural sound of real instruments as well as the human voice. Acoustic engineers also design these
rooms in such a way that the sounds reflect off the surfaces in the best way to be captured on a recording. In other words equipment alone is not the only factor in
making a quality recording.

Nevertheless the technological advances of recent years have certainly made it possible for ordinary artists to record on a level that was simply out of reach a short
time ago. 
  • You already answered my next question. Is the social environment also a factor?
L.R.: Social environment? Do you mean the mood of the players nor studio staff? If so I don't think I've ever had any problems in this regard. I would suppose that if there
were any personality conflicts or nasty attitudes it wouldn't contribute to a relaxed successful session. 

  • Some artists are founding their own label. What do you think about these endeavors?
It's interesting. Big names like Madonna (Maverick), Puff Daddy (Bad Boy), Babyface (LaFace), run their own labels with the backing of a major. On the other hand,
Prince (NPG) severed his ties with Warner Brothers and runs his label himself. Although he probably works out deals with major distributors the financial foundation
is his own personal fortune. .

However for most artists, unable to get signed, the only alternative seems to be
to simply  create your own label. Of course this doesn't mean that these artists have the financial means to effectively do what a label does. It just means that they felt they needed to put the name of a label on
their CD in order to have that pro look . Again the bottom line is the MONEY.

Personally when Changamire was ready to self-publish her debut CD "Only Human" I suggested that it wasn't absolutely necessary for her to come up with a label
name right away. My idea was to just use her own (legal) name so that the cover would read- (c)(p)K. Fletcher instead of- (c)(p)label name. This way she wouldn't have the additional expense of registering the label name and also it would be clear that she alone was the owner of this work. Later on when more funds are hopefully
available she could always come up with a catchy new label name and maybe even sign other artists as well.

In other words I kind of feel  thatself-produced artists who have thus far been unsuccessful in getting signed should focus on making a record that sounds good first and not worry so much about starting a label or fancy artwork and packaging. But really I don't think it makes that much difference if you change the typesetting to
read "Great Music Records" or "Out of Sight Records" if you don't have a budget to promote. I'd be willing to guess the average label spends ten times the money it took to make a record on promotion and advertising.

  • Lincoln, thank you for this interview and your profound answers.