An Interview With Kathy Sledge In Ibiza
“We’re lost in music, feel so alive, I quit my nine to five” is the chorus to Sister Sledges funky soul classic, Lost In Music, which was written by Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards. It encapsulates much of what Ibiza is about – music, life and freedom of expression. It was released over thirty-three years ago and still sounds as good today as in 1979. I have always considered that era of American soul to be a renaissance period, with talented artists and songwriters forming a perfect storm of classic melodies that continue to influence modern music today.
It was pure, natural talent that rose to the top – only the cream got the opportunity to record. Elvis had just left the building, but his legacy was deep-rooted into the musical matrix of 70s America. My huge admiration for those who were part of that renaissance, from Buddy Holly to Aretha Franklin and the Disco era, programmed my musical ears. So imagine my excitement as I sat next to a star of that golden era, an icon whose voice is considered one of the best in the world. Oprah magazine rated her voice in the Top four from a list of 50 great female artists of all time. This is my interview with Kathy Sledge.
I was a guest of the 2013 DJ Awards, an organisation born in Ibiza in 1998, aiming to recognise and promote electronic music in Ibiza. Of all the big names nominated, there was one that I really wanted to interview, and that was Kathy Sledge. When I first saw her, she stood out from the crowd—smiling and laughing, her energy very much grounded in the present. She was in the company of Lenny Krarup, who, along with Jose Pascual, had initially conceived the DJ awards but in a different guise. Lenny is well known as one of the islands most colourful and interesting personalities. I first met him back in 2006 working with a Swedish TV company; he was involved with the famous Mancini family, the writers and composers of Moon River, The Pink Panther theme and many other film and television scores. Since my last encounter with Lenny, he had parted company with the DJ Awards after a disagreement over its direction, so it was good to see him chaperoning Kathy’s presence at the event.
Lenny, who rose from a West End barman to a multi-platinum selling artist, was then part of a remix project called, The Aristofreeks – the other part being Max Martire, a DJ at Space and Amnesia during its halcyon, open-air terrace days. Max tells me of his time at Space and Amnesia, where it was always about the music and never the DJ’s. “You were paid very little, if at all, in the early nineties”, laughs Max. “Musically, it’s a mess out there, it’s all nonsense music, and Ibiza has changed a lot. We want to deliver something real and bring quality. Max explains what Aristofreeks is about. “We take classic tracks from the ‘70s and make disco-house remix versions”. Their first signing was Kathy Sledge and, along with the legendary Jerry Greenberg, formed Pacific Electronic Music to promote their sound. It’s an exciting concept and one that is welcoming back the true greats of music to influence the industry with some perspective and direction at a time when things have gone a little stale.
My first question to Kathy is how did the collaboration with Aristofreeks begin. “When I first started in the industry at 16, Gerry Greenberg was president of Atlantic Records, and he put us in touch with each other. He always kept saying to me that I should do more solo stuff. So I talked to Gerry about a Billie Holiday project, and he felt the Aristofreeks direction would be good for everybody. So when I first heard the remix of We Are Family, I just said, wow, that sounds just what the record would sound like if it was released today…. they kept the integrity of the song intact but with an Ibiza undertone”. I then ask Kathy about the current music scene “What you have to remember is that to some people, they are hearing We Are Family for the first time I always say that when music is timeless, when it’s really, really good, it never goes away; it always comes back. When I was recording with the sisters, voices and artists were uniquely distinctive. Today it’s all about the acrobats – how they can run and jump around, instead of vocal style. So much of the music today is pop and trend-driven.”
she has one of the most unique and original voices in music. Always has and always will.”
I then ask Kathy about Ibiza and her connection with the island. “I first came to Ibiza with Roger Sanchez in 95 and worked on his chart-topping dance track called Another Star, a Stevie Wonder cover. Ibiza was a different town back then….it has changed a lot. If you are associated with electronic music in America, you know all about Ibiza. I had got to know it a lot better when I associated with Aristofreeks. We recorded in Beverly Hills and Ibiza, but I prefer to work here. We invested in a high-end Ibiza recording studio to create the authentic analogue wave we wanted for our disco sound. Nile Rogers will be recording a track with me in a Daft Punk style, with a funky disco flair, and I’m looking forward to that. I get to use my voice, and I am excited about sharing its nuances which is my passion.”
I then asked Kathy about Nile Rodgers and his influence on her career “When Nile wrote We Are Family, we recorded that track in one take, and this is why….. I wasn’t allowed to hear it until it was time to sing it. I was a kid, and I kept asking, “can I hear it? Can I learn it” and Nile would go, “no….. just trust me, when you sing it, you will get it”, and to this day, I think that approach created the magic of that song”. Kathy smiles warmly as she recalls Niles personality, “He is great at instilling confidence – he comes across as shy and insecure, but he exudes confidence. I remember as a goofy kid bugging him about our records being popular, and Nile would always reassure me with his words of “sweetheart, trust me…. it’s going to be fine, it’s going to be massive”.
Kathy reflects for a moment as if she is reliving those special days. “I can’t leave out Bernard Edwards either, he was so good to me, and I miss him a lot. Bernard and Nile were intense together; they knew exactly what they wanted. While I was recording Greatest Dancer in one studio, they wrote I Want Your Love in another. When they were in the zone, the energy they created was powerful, and I was honoured to be part of it.” We Are Family and Greatest Dancer were Sister Sledges two Number One hits in America, and both were written by Edwards and Rodgers, who were masters at guitar and bass line arrangements. Sadly, Bernard Edwards died of pneumonia in 1996 while performing a Chic reunion gig in Japan. Nile Rogers had this to say about Kathy Sledge “she has one of the most unique and original voices in music. Always has and always will.”
I next ask Kathy about the music that means most to her. “Of all my songs with the sisters, Thinking Of You means the most to me. I love to sing Thinking Of You, I love the ad-lib of Thinking Of You – it’s magic to me, and I love it more than any other song”. Max agrees and adds that he has over 250 versions of the song taken from the original. So what does the future hold for Kathy Sledge? “We are working hard on the new album together – we have six songs already. I am a workaholic, and I like to work fast. So I’m looking forward to recording some powerful songs with the label. For me, it all starts with a good song. If you take care of yourself, love what you do and honestly keep your heart good, then there is always a future for your voice”.
Kathy next tells me about a pet project that she will be doing “It’s a Jazz project with PEM and Stanley Clarke, a tribute to Billie Holiday called Brighter Side Of Day. Next year, I am also involved with an Aristofreeks Pink Panther project, with some surprises from Henry Mancini’s back catalogue. Sexy dance remixes where I get to sing in a Shirley Bassey/Amy Winehouse style. I have lots of new ideas, and it’s great to work with people like Aristofreeks as their energy is amazing, and that’s what I remember from working with Nile and Bernard”.
We continue to chat about Ibiza, club politics and music, and before long, my ten-minute slot becomes thirty. I had taken up much of Kathy’s time already, but you don’t want it to end when you get to meet a musical legend. As we depart and say our goodbyes, she whispers to me in her smooth and sexy Philly voice that she will try to include an acapella track with Aristofreeks; such was my instance during our chat that she records one. As a granddaughter of an Opera singer and with roots in Gospel, an acapella is only natural, in my opinion. I am truly smitten.
It was a Pirate ship that sunk, laden with treasure, coins and jewels in the port of Ibiza that lent the now-lost beach its name. Platja des Duros
The show’s production also didn’t disappoint, with the lights, lasers, fire and smoke cannons being some of the best we have seen at Ushuaia.
“Due to medical advice from his doctor, David Guetta has been told to rest for at least the next two weeks after he caught a virus last week”