Today's Featured Biography
I remember the mornings going to Junior High. I'd always get there early to watch the drill team practice. They were sharp – the precise marching – the flying rifles that never seemed to stop spinning. I was hooked. “I couldn't wait for High School!” “I had to become a member of this team.”
My enthusiasm was equal for wanting to participate in the Marching Band, and Jazz Bands. Upon becoming a Freshman, ROTC was a no-brainer. I tried out for the Drill Team. It was terrifying, to say the least. A few of us Freshmen qualified and tried out. When the smoke cleared, I was the only one to make the cut. We won every competition during my four years (and a few years before that). My ROTC highlights were winning the John S. Griffin Award for both Individual Drill, and State Drill in Columbia MO (which, was a first), and becoming All-City Lt.Col. “We crushed the other schools!”
Band was a fairly easy decision for me. The intimidation factor wasn't there unlike ROTC, although challenging nonetheless. When I came to Southeast, I had already played drums for six years, and had started to play guitar. I recall the seemingly endless road trips, the parades, and my favorite: the Home Football Games – with the Halftime Show – and the drumming jam sessions in the bleachers. The ultimate highlight was forming the “Friends of Darkness Band,” with my brother Ira, (remember the little guy who played that mean bass?), Nate Brown, Hershel Clark, Kenneth Cameron, George and Eugene Davis, and Brian Beatty. I guess it is safe to say we were well known. We almost played every park, talent show, Prom and event in the city. The College gigs were unbelievable. I even thought we had a chance to make it to the big leagues. I must say that “Knightlights” was the most fun to play. Those were the good ol' days. Every time I reminisce, it brings a big grin to my face. Southeast High at the time was a powerhouse. I remember the styles of clothing we thought were so cool. The Afros...the music...Swope Park!
After graduation, I worked a couple of odd jobs before deciding on whether to go to College, or the Army. I would have liked to have done both, but I did neither. Music is my calling. My brother and I left Kansas City for Los Angeles, CA. We had started to write music, and considered ourselves good enough to make it.
We initially worked with Michael McGlory, who was producing Jermaine Jackson...
We had very little experience in the studio (although we had recorded some tracks in Kansas City) but we were hooked!
We respected Michael for what he was, and did learn from him. His style was not in our interest, and we moved on. We met many artists and producers that year. It was great. We even lived in an apartment complex owned by Lionel Richie. LA was the place to be. Ira and I played in a lot of recording studios (they were on every block back then). Once we ran into Jodie Watley, (I know you remember her) who at the time was with Shalamar. We were hanging out at a Fatburger on Santa Monica Blvd. Everybody went to Fatburger. It was the place to see and be seen in. Besides, the hamburgers are second to none. They are also the largest and most expensive you could buy (and still are).
Jody was an (use your own expletive). Our encounter with her was disrespectful. She was not really one of us anyway as I recall.
Well anyhow... all other encounters with musicians were positive. We met Stevie Wonder, Quincy Jones, Hung out with Pleasure, Patrice Rushen, George Duke, George Clinton, recorded tracks for Free Spirit (met Gino Vanelli, who was recording in the same studio: Westlake Village.), met Michael Jackson (we had an rehearsal studio in a building where his father Joe had an office), I'd skate with Janet (we visited their house in Encino), we jammed and studied with Larry Graham, met Lionel Richie, The Brothers Johnson, hung out at Motown. We must have met everyone in the business that year.
The most memorable encounter was when we invited to The Complex. If any of you are Earth, Wind and Fire fans, you've seen the Complex mentioned in the album liner notes. The facilities were unbelievable. To this day we have never met anyone in the music business as genuine and true-to-self as Maurice White. He taught us some very important things about the business that we use today.
He did not come off as a big star (although to us, he was the king). He did not have the ego that most all other professional musicians did. We listened to everything he had to say and absorbed every word describing the pros and cons about the business. I will never forget it. We even thought we were Earth Wind and Fire with The Friends of Darkness Band. Maurice currently has Parkinson's. He is still producing these days.
Ira and I were leaving a studio near Capitol Records when the door at another studio opened. Out came our Uncle Melvin, who played with “The Bloodstones.” He was surprised to see us, invited us in and started to shout to other musicians to come meet us. It was The Total Experience Studios. He introduced us to Charlie, Ronnie and Robert Wilson (The Gap Band). We were introduced to Lonnie Simmons, who was the producer and studio owner. Lonnie was an interesting cat. We'd watch his every move behind the recording console. His style of production was funny, if not downright silly. He knew how to make hits. We would eventually become studio musicians for Total Experience. We made lots of recordings with the Gap Band, Yarborough and Peoples (Don't Stop the Music). These were great times. It was like a party every night. We even went on the road.
We learned and paid special attention to production. Production was where it all happened. The focus went from being famous, to writing, recording, and producing the records instead. There were many additional lessons (but, that's another day). We both decided to go out on our own to produce and record other artists.
Times constantly change in the music business. Witness today's music, or lack thereof. Even the videos are have become mini porn flicks. The race is now to the bottom. I wanted to move outside of Los Angeles. I migrated to the city of Orange, CA Orange County. The peace was therapeutic.
I could only take so much partying.
We took a break from the madness, but we'd still record for ourselves.
Ira left the US and moved to Stockholm, Sweden (where he and his wife have raised some incredibly beautiful children. I stayed in Orange County, got engaged (am now seperated). I worked in various businesses and eventually owned a couple, worked for Acura, was a talk-radio host for KTTS, did job shopping: (technical aviation illustrations for Boeing and McDonnell Douglas), and worked for Chevron Corp. (firefighter at the El Segundo refinery).
California was a beautiful place. It is now becoming a third-world enclave with the invasion by millions and millions of illegal immigrants. Although I lived in California an equal number to the years growing up in Kansas City, I could never really call it home. But Kansas City is home. We would make plans to come home. We never seemed to have the time. We did come to visit in 1987, and then again in 93' to bury our mother, Vera. That was tough. I was angry with myself for a long time. I should have made the time. You have to go home! I was depressed for a long time after. Things started to spiral out of control.
I endured some heavy loses. But material things can be replaced. Through it all, Ira and I continued to write and record music. I know this is getting a little long... I wish I could write it all.
Today, we currently have music tracks played on Tyra Banks' “America's Next Top Model” Television Show (and are signed until 2008). We have completed one major Motion Picture music score (Drowning Ghost), and have two others in the works. Our company interCity Music is now a “C” Corporation, DBA Eighty-Eight/Frets Productions (Ira now an accomplished piano player, and myself playing guitars). Ira still has a home in Sweden. We both currently reside in Las Vegas, Nevada. We are working with other artists and have an album in the works. Yes, the journey continues...
But, I will never forget where it started. I do, and have thought about many of you - most are friends still. Though I have been away from Kansas City for a long time, it will always be home...I am proud to have been a member of the Class of 1977, Southeast High School.
Your classmate and friend,
Update: My placing Kansas City on the visitation backburner list has been complacently and inanely foolish. I did come home in September 2008. My father, Freddie Ward Sr. passed away after a long illness.
My family and I appreciate the support and condolences offered by many of you. I"ve made a promise to my sisters Dana, and Michelle that I will come home frequently from now on...
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