Saturday, August 28, 1999

Gladys Knight: Many Different Roads

by David Nathan 08/1999

"My mother always wanted to me do an inspirational album and it was just in my spirit to do it. I knew that eventually I would make this kind of record and I even started to do one [back in the late '70s] but never finished it. After my mother passed away in December 1997, it was time..."

Gladys Knight, unquestionably one of music's greats, is in at a New York radio station and she's talking "Many Different Roads," her latest album on her own Many Roads label, distributed through MCA (for whom Gladys continues to record). She's just wrapped up an interview with Isaac Hayes, who hosts a morning show on the city's popular KISS-FM outlet. She'll be leaving momentarily for rehearsals for the Broadway show, "Smokey Joe's Cafe": for a couple of weeks, audiences will be treated to Gladys' inimitable vocal style on songs originally penned by Leiber & Stoller, the legendary team who wrote so many classic hits during the '50s and '60s (including "Hound Dog," "Yakety-Yak" and "On Broadway"). As always, she is gracious, warm and open to conversation...

We talk about how she feels her loyal audience will respond to the new album: "Hopefully, it will touch them...and doing an inspirational record is something that we've had a lot of requests from fans to do and I always want to do what they would have me do. I'm making a spiritual statement with the album...that everyone may take different paths but the bottom line is to get to your destination." Many of the choices of material Gladys made for the album (which was originally distributed on a limited basis last year) had to do with her own life experiences: "I'd say a song like "Mercy's Arms" is my own testimony," she reflects. "It makes a statement that we're all just lowly human beings, we're so imperfect and we fall so short and yet God loves us no matter what." Her inclusion of the time-honored hymn "Precious Lord" was "because it was my mother's favorite" while a new version of the "Mr. Love" (originally released on her 1991 MCA album "Good Woman") is included because Gladys feel it was a song with a timeless message.

Timeless indeed as is all of her music. In between a tour with The Temptations, Gladys has begun work on a new album, reuniting with songwriter Jim Weatherly, who wrote so many of her classic hits with The Pips (including "Neither One of Us," "The Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me" and "Midnight Train to Georgia). The untimely passing of Gladys' son and manager Jimmy Newman may mean that the album will not be released by the end of the year as originally planned but it's a safe bet that whenever Gladys Knight releases new music, her solid and loyal audience will be right there ready to hear it.

(c) 1999, David Nathan

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