Randy at work
‘I have made nine albums,’ Randy Crawford told me, ‘and no black sister in America knows who the fuck I am. That makes me feel bad.’
It was not the first time I had had such an approach from a famous name. A number of singers, particularly glamorous women like Belinda Carlisle and Patricia Kaas, have come to me over the years begging me to find a way to release them from the burden of a shallow, tawdry and cheap success, telling me they want to make real, earnest, sincere music from the heart, something that will touch people. But to give them what they want I first have to unravel their personas as stars and bring them down to earth.
‘Okay,’ I tell them, ‘well there are rules. Firstly it has to be a team effort, not a star and six also-rans. We have to build a team of equals around you.’ I then teach them everything I know.
A large percentage of the people that I produce go on later to produce themselves, like Sade, and sometimes even to produce other people. I like to think that it is because I teach them well. I see myself as a cross between a driving instructor and that music teacher who inspired you when you were young and who you stayed in touch with later.
Randy was also not the first person to come to me carrying a reputation for being difficult. When I was due to work with both Fine Young Cannibals and Men At Work I heard just the same stories of what nightmares they were going to be. I never let it put me off.
On the first day in the studio Randy was still carrying her airs and graces and called somebody “young man”. I ran down the stairs and whipped the headphones off her head. I held her cheeks in my hands.
‘Listen here, Randy,’ I said.’ We’re not going to have any of this stuff at all. We are going to cut it out right now. If you are happy with your headphones we have got some things to do, would you please go down to the kitchen and make us all a cup of tea?’
‘I don’t do tea,’ she replied.
‘Do you mean you are too important to make tea? Because if you are, we are going to fall out.’
‘No,’ she said. ‘I mean I have never made tea.’
‘Then that’s different,’ I said, taking her hand. ‘Come with me and I’ll show you how it’s done.’
She made us all tea and from then on I never let her miss anything. I made her stay in the studio while we routined so that people could hear her singing along while they were doing their bits, which she had never done before.
‘Normally I just come in when they tell me they’re ready for me to do my vocals,’ she explained.
‘Maybe that’s why your voice always sounds like it’s stuck on top of the backing tracks,’ I suggested.
I made her stay in London while we mixed the tracks, which takes two or three weeks for an album when you have fifty or sixty instruments involved. Normally she would have been off back to California by then. I even made her come to the mastering, when the original stereo tapes are converted into the glass master to go to the factory.
Randy had travelled six thousand miles to come to London in order to make an r&b album. The work we did together resulted in four top ten r&b singles for her in America. She showed that she had magic in her voice and could sing with great soul and earthiness when she rolled her sleeves up and behaved like a normal person.
After completing the album I was pounced on by two legendary American producers at the Abbey Road Studios in North London, insisting on taking me to lunch.
‘I’m greatly honoured, gentlemen,’ I said. ‘To what do I owe this?’
‘Are you kidding?’ one of them said. ‘Three men who produced Randy Crawford and lived?’
All through lunch they regailed me with their horror stories and I had to keep telling them that I hadn’t found her like that at all. In fact she had proposed marriage to me quite seriously, about three quarters of the way through the album. I’m told there are some hilarious photographs of Randy rolling around on top of me on the sofa and the floor at the back of the studio, romping like a large overly-playful dog. I remember being struck by how light and firm she was for her size.
About a year later I wanted her to do a guest vocal. I knew she was really happy with the album because now black women came up to her in the street and showed her respect.
‘I’m afraid Robin,’ her manager said when I contacted him, ‘I don’t think you’ll be doing another record with Randy.’
‘That’s a pity,’ I said. ‘Why not?’
‘Really, she just likes to sing, shop and eat, you know,’ he explained. ‘She found working with you far too much like hard work.’ I think this said an awful lot more about her manager than it did about her, although perhaps she went back to the Halcyon Hotel each night after being with me in the studio and thanked God she had some people she could order around like a real superstar. I doubt it.