While never breaking out as a crossover artist, keyboardist and vocalist Michael Wycoff developed a following as a result of three solid albums he released in the early 80s and a minor hit that was later sampled as part of a major hit. And his music continued to be discovered by new music fans, more than three decades after his commercial peak.
Wycoff first came to the attention of audiences through his participation as a background vocalist on Stevie Wonder's landmark Songs in the Key of Life album in 1976. He worked over the next several years on albums by Natalie Cole and 7th Wonder before being signed by RCA Records' fledgling Black Music division in 1980 (around the time of their signings of other acts such as Evelyn "Champagne" King and Tavares).
Wycoff's RCA 1981 debut album, Come To My World, spun off two minor hits, "Feel My Love" and "One Alone," but failed to chart. The next year, Wycoff worked with producer Webster Lewis and a group of top notch musicians, including drummer James Gadson and vocalists Gary Taylor, Tawatha Agee and Fonzi Thorton, for Love Conquers All, a strong but underappreciated album that squeaked onto the Soul charts but bore no immediate hits, though it had a number of appealing tracks. However, a decade later, one of the album's cuts, the midtempo "Looking Up to You," was sampled in Zhane's "Hey Mr. DJ" and found a second life, becoming a much sought-after steppers' classic. It created an underground market for Love Conquers All that continues to this day.
Wycoff released his third and final RCA album in 1983, On the Line, and it was his biggest, including the dance hit "Tell Me Love" and two excellent other cuts, the midtempo "There's No Easy Way" and the tender ballad "So Close." While he recorded no other solo albums, Wycoff continued as a valued session musician over the next few years, working with Cole, the Winans, Bobby Womack and Peabo Bryson.
Unfortunately, like many other talented artists of the 80s, Wycoff succumbed to addiction to drugs and alcohol. His addiction ultimately caused him the loss of his career, his home and his family, and Wycoff ended up homeless. At the bottom, he found his way back through his faith, beating his habit and ultimately becoming Minister of Music at several Los Angeles area churches, telling his story of fame, loss and ultimate redemption to young people.
A few years ago, Wycoff reconnected with an old friend, producer Robby Robinson, and the two began recording new songs, none of which were widely released, but which were posted for fans on the internet. At the time, Wycoff told us that he was considering putting the songs together in an album called Return, and the project represented "the full circle that I have traveled in my life. God gave me my gift of music in the church, and here I am back again. God is truly amazing!"
The joy that Wycoff expressed with his return to ministry and to music was welcome, and underscored the power of redemption and of rebirth for an artist who brought joy to many people in both “acts” of his life. Sadly, Wycoff died in March of 2019.
By Chris Rizik