Gary James' Interview With
George McRae




His song "Rock Your Baby" was voted the number one song of the year (1974) by Rolling Stone. And why not, it went to number one in the U.S. and U.K., selling eleven million records in the world! In 1975 he was up for a Grammy nomination for Best Male R&B Vocalist. Of course we're talking about George McRae. And what's he been up to lately and what he can tell us about his success with "Rock Your Baby". That's what we wanted to find out.

Q - You must've made a lot of money with that song "Rock Your Baby". You divide your time between Florida, The Netherlands and Aruba. What attracted you to The Netherlands and Aruba?

A - My wife is Dutch and that's why I'm in The Netherlands. I've been here since 1987, 1988.

Q - Are you still active in the music business?

A - I'm still active in the music business. Matter of fact I have a brand new album, CD coming out next year, (2016) in the upcoming Spring. It's gonna be on a different format. It's called the 3D Sound format. It's a brand new format. It's unbelievable. It makes stereo sound obsolete.

Q - Will you tour behind the CD then?

A - Yeah, I'll tour behind it of course. Fourteen songs are going to be on the CD.

Q - So, let's go back to the past. You've got this group, The Jivin' Jets going in West Palm Beach. Then you up and join the Navy in 1963. Why did you do that?

A - It was my high school group. At the time, 1963, the Vietnam War was starting, escalating. They were drafting. I did not want to go to the Army because I didn't want to go in the jungles to fight my fellow man. I didn't have a choice where I was born and raided in Southern Florida. Opportunities weren't too great for Black people at that time. So, I didn't want to go to Vietnam. I just did the right thing. I joined the Navy.

Q - Navy guys see action, don't they?

A - We saw action, but not in the middle of the jungle though. We still had clean sheets on the boat. I was in the Air Squadron, Tactical Air Wing. Our main cargo we flew was mail for the military, all the Marines that were there. We were flying all the packages to the Marines. We flew other things too that I don't care to talk about.

Q - You served how long in the Navy?

A - Four years active. Two years inactive.

Q - You get out of the Navy and you put the group together again. With the same members or different members?

A - Exact same group except one member 'cause we lost one member in Vietnam in the Army. He was killed in Vietnam. So, I had my ex-wife in the group instead.

Q - Right. Then you and Gwen decided to do a duo?

A - Correct.

Q - Then you were signed to Henry Stone's Alston label. Who else was on the label?

A - It was Alston Productions. In the stable we had different labels. I was on it. Betty Wright. Clarence Reed was on Blue Fly. Steve Alaimo was our producer, but he had a song out there, "Where The Action Is". Later on we had K.C. And The Sunshine Band. Little Beaver. Peter Brown was on the label. Foxey was on the label. Anita Ward was on the label. So many.

Q - Then you went on to manage Gwen. You had some solid credits behind you.

A - Oh, yeah. I was learning the business too.

Q - You knew Harry Casey (K.C.) and Rick Finch from your days with Alston Productions then?

A - Right. We all were part of the whole group that was writing, producing and arranging. We all supported each other. It was that way until Harry Casey and Rick Finch came three or four years later. They were first working in the warehouse. He (Henry Alston) had a distributing company too. Rick Finch was also working in the studio with the engineer, keeping everything clean and running. At that time K.C. was only twenty-one years old and Rick was only seventeen. They came in with ideas, younger people. Rick Finch and Harry Wayne Casey were two white boys who came in the studio and they wanted to do different kinds of music. I liked what they were doing. It was so different. It was so new. They recorded a song called "Sound Your Funky Horn". Betty Wright did the background on that song. K.C. recorded another song called "Queen Of Clubs". We, Gwen and myself, did the background vocals on that song and that song became so popular over in Europe at the time. Meantime, K.C. and Rick were recording a track that was too high for him (K.C.) to sing. Timmy Thomas was on the label and he had just finished recording his track and left his organ there. So, one night they went up there and they took some throw away reel-to-reel tape that no one wanted. Rick took it and re-wound it on another reel. He erased it and cleaned it up and they recorded this track that became number one all over the whole world. It was too high for K.C. to sing. He heard my vocal. I always had a high vocal tenor voice. Rick knew that track would suit me so he asked me if I'd be interested in singing that track and I said, "Let me hear the the track," and I listened to it and I said, "I can do that, not a problem." I put my vocals on it and the track became "Rock Your Baby".

Q - When that song became such a hit, what did that do for your career? How did life change for you?

A - You can't describe it. For someone not used to having something, used to living small. I think I was making $200 - $300 a week just working. You don't realize it until you start getting calls from newspapers wanting to do an interview. One of them was the Palm Beach Post out of West Palm Beach, Florida. My home town. They wanted to interview me about "Rock Your Baby". "Why do you want to interview me? Okay." Then all of a sudden I got another call from the Miami Herald and they wanted to do an interview. Wow! Henry Strong called me down to the office and said, "We got a hit record!" I was happy. I got a hit record. He said, "No, it's not a hit record, it's a worldwide hit." I was stunned. Worldwide? It really changed my life and then all of a sudden I call Henry and who's on the line? James Brown. James Brown asked me to be his opening act on this tour. At that time, if you wanted to cover the whole United States, James Brown was the man to go with. I said, "Sure." The next thing I knew I was performing at Madison Square Garden with James Brown.

Q - How many takes were involved in "Rock Your Baby"?

A - One take. They did the track, I sang it, that was it. At the end, when I finished it, Rick said, "George, at the end when you get to Aah three times, on the last one time I'm gonna punch in just hold it. I said okay and he punched in. That's what I did and that was it.

Q - What was the follow-up to "Rock Your Baby"?

A - The follow-up was "I Can't Leave You Alone" on the first album. Then it was a few songs after "I Can't Leave You Alone", "Baby, Baby, Sweet Baby" and "You Can Have It All" and "I Get Lifted". "I Get Lifted", from that album, was still the most simple Hip-Hop song out there. That song "Rock Your Baby" took me all over the world. I was the first one to play among an integrated audience in South Africa back then. There was no problem. It was packed. Everybody mixed together, not divided. Everybody was sitting right next to each other. First come, first served. It was unbelievable.

Q - Back in the 1970s it was common place to pair different styles of musical acts on the same bill. So, who did you perform with, besides James Brown?

A - Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, Tavares, Chi-Lites, Patti LaBelle, Bonnie Pointer of The Pointer Sisters. There were so many artists.

Q - But, you were never paired with say a Hard Rock group, were you?

A - In Germany, yes. I was on a show with Steppenwolf.

Q - How did you go over with that audience?

A - Great! "Rock Your Baby" was like the National Anthem for everybody. It's a song that stands out on its own. Gene Simmons was in the studio and he gave me a compliment about "Rock Your Baby". "Rock Your Baby" inspired him to write one of his songs. It also inspired ABBA to write one of their hit songs. It's unbelievable.

Q - Did you ever meet John Lennon?

A - No. I met Mick Jagger. I met Bill Wyman.

Q - Where will you perform when you hit the road with your newest CD?

A - I don't know yet. I haven't planned anything actually. Let's see when it's released how we want to put the band together and where we want to go with the promotion. I could be in front of fifty people one night and the next night in front of fifty thousand people.

Q - That keeps you on your toes.

A - Yeah. That's how it it. So, I'm very versatile. It doesn't bother me at all. Where my fans are, I'll be there.

Official Website: www.GeorgeMcRae.com



© Gary James. All rights reserved.


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