"Always And Forever" is not a phrase usually associated with a fickle music business, especially in recent times when one-hit wonders and manufactured artists have been especially prevalent. But for Silk, one of the few vocal groups to breakthrough in the hip-hop era, the phrase applies not only to their own longevity--seventeen years and counting with the current line-up featuring the four original members who have been together throughout--but also to the quality of their music which features finely crafted harmony singing and lyrics that deal with timeless issues of love, romance and sex. With the release of their seventh album "Always And Forever", their debut release on Shanachie Entertainment on October 17th, Silk brings their vocal artistry to a hand-picked selection of songs that have inspired them as simultaneous homage to artists who they respect and musical statement of the ultimate quality of Silk's music.
"It all comes full circle on this album," relates Gary Glenn. "A lot of these songs were ones we were already familiar with so it was easy for us to step in and emulate people we have a lot of respect for. It's a chance to show off our own artistry. If someone has the audacity to do a MichaelJackson number or a Prince tune and do it well, or to really do justice to"The Secret Garden" , then they walk away with respect from the audience. That's what we want."
The album, which features Silk's interpretations of major hits by Blue Magic, Switch, Shalamar, Prince, Michael Jackson, Quincy Jones, Heatwave and others, simply builds on something Silk had already been doing.
"We've done a re-make on almost every album anyway so it was like time to do this--a full serving of what we've been doing throughout. Like (Blue Magic's classic) "Sideshow", we've been doing that in our shows and people love it. We were doing (Switch's) "There'll Never Be" at shows and people start to "step" when we do it...and it's a beautiful thing. It even happened in Aurora, Colorado, which is the last place I thought people would be steppin'!"
The young men who formed Silk grew up in Atlanta. Three of them met each other in the late Eighties in the course of working at a particular McDonald's. Soon --Gary "Big G" Glenn, Jonathan "John John" Rasboro, Tim "Timzo" Cameron and Jimmy Gates (Tim and Jimmy were cousins)--got together around their mutual love of singing. They sang whenever and wherever they could ("I don't think there's a church in Atlanta we DIDN'T sing at," laughs Gary) at talent shows, clubs, churches and in the streets. Louise Ferguson, who is their manager today, was determined to get them a shot with Keith Sweat who didn't particularly want to audition the unknown wanna-be's. So when Keith came to a barbeque at Louise's house, she invited Silk to come over and they discreetly went down in the basement and started singing for the kids there. Keith heard them and liked what he heard enough to make Silk the first group signed to his Keia label in 1992 and they were featured on "two of Keith's tracks on his "Keep It Coming" album. Silk's first single, "Happy Days" was garnering radio play but then "Freak Me", another cut from their first album, starting generating radio play spontaneously and when released a single became a Number 1 R&B hit and Number 1 pop hit. It was quickly followed by two Top Ten R&B hits--"Lose Control" and "Girl U For Me, which grew into a string of hits throughout the Nineties including "Hooked On You", "I Can Go Deep", "If You ("Lovin' Me")and "Meeting In My Bedroom". Their signature sound was dubbed "baby-making music."
"At the time we came up," Gary Glenn notes, "producers were putting groups together but when Keith met us we were already Silk. That may be part of the reason why we have been able to stand the test of time. We didn't just get together to get a deal; we got together to sing. We had to find our own niche. You had Boyz II Men with their harmonies and Jodeci with their "from the gut" sound, so we were kind of in the middle. We went from high school stages to arenas very quickly--that was due to Keith."
Silk's audience has grown up along with them and some of the children who were the result of "baby-making music" are now teenagers.
"People are always telling us," John adds, "I made my first child to your music." That's just a blessing! That someone created a child with our music. We know what people are looking for from our music so as long as we honor and respect that we can keep going in that vein, like The Isley Brothers and Keith Sweat."
It's a difficult challenge for even a solo artist to survive in the cut-throat music industry and even more so for a group to stay together. Fourteen years together since the release of their first single, what's Silk's secret?
"I think a lot of prayer, patience and understanding," says Gary Glenn. "We don't always realize how important our commitment to each other has been. It's like being in a marriage that you REFUSE to leave. It's like "I got this ring and I ain't going NOWHERE!" But we all bow down to what's important to Silk. And in the end, we just love singing together."