Rose Royce exploded on the music scene in the summer of 1976 thanks to “Car Wash,” a No. 1 song from the movie soundtrack of the same name starring the iconic Richard Pryor. Considered by many to be one of the most underrated groups to hail from the 1970s soul music era, Rose Royce is back.
A resurgence of their music, through continued airplay and steady covers by admiring artists, has kept the group’s classy funk and soul flowing well into the 21st century.
Rose Royce and special guest Slave will appear in concert March 15 at the Celebrity Theatre. Kenny Copeland, the group’s co-founder and trumpet player, spoke exclusively to GetOut to promote what promises to be a special night of music.
Q: There’s nothing quite like funk and rhythm and blues music from the 1970s. Why was that sound and that era so special?
KC: At that time in the industry, you really had to have talent. When we recorded our music, it was pre-electronic, and everything you heard on the record was the real deal. Real songwriters, real musicians, real singers, no double tracking or machines. When you heard a trumpet or saxaphone, we were blowing that sound, and no machine was correcting us. There was a human element to everything, which made the music stand out.
Today, you can take a person who doesn’t know how to play an instrument or sing properly and make them sound almost perfect because of technology. When we first recorded the album ‘Car Wash,’ which was a double album, it took us about six months. Because of today’s technology, we could record that album in probably about 45 days. But there was a lot of heart and soul in our work, and I think that’s why Rose Royce has stood the test of time.
Q: I was surprised to learn that Rose Royce was an instrumental band before you broke through.
KC: We were primarily a show band with lots of instrumentals, but I’d do a few vocals here and there. But if you recall, Kool & The Gang were an instrumental band, too. Once (producer) Norman Whitfield came to South Central to see us, he said, ‘You guys are good but you need a lead singer.’
He actually gave us a choice, asking if we wanted a guy or girl. Well, there were already eight of us guys, so we decided on a female. That’s how we ended up with Gwen Dickey as our first lead singer.
Q: Who were your musical idols growing up?
KC: Earth, Wind & Fire, Kool & The Gang, and of course, James Brown, who was everybody’s idol. And let me say this — they were not only talented and professional but hard workers. They blazed the path and gave people a hand up in the business. What annoys me about this younger generation is that they don’t have as much respect for us as we did for the artists who came before us. Their attitude is, what we did in the past doesn’t count if we don’t have a three or four million dollar house today.
Q: The song ‘Car Wash,’ your biggest hit, is one of the quintessential songs of the 1970s. I heard Whitfield pushed you to do something like 75 takes before calling it a wrap.
KC: We spent about two weeks at Norman Whitfield’s house, thinking about the concept of the album and how we should start it off. Near the end of the stay, we finally came up with the hand claps that you hear in the intro of the song, ‘Car Wash.’ From there we started building the parts of the song, and it was very intricate. We recorded it so many times that it go to the point where it was monotonous. At some point, you have to walk away and say, ‘This is the way it’s going to be.’ Finally at 3 a.m. in the morning, we all agreed that we weren’t going to do it anymore. We did about 75 takes, and guess which one was the master? The first take! But we put in the hard work and were rewarded. The song exploded all over the world.
Q: From ‘Car Wash,’ the hits came one after the other, most notably ‘I Wanna Get Next To You,’ ‘Wishing On A Star’ and ‘Love Don’t Live Here Anymore.’
KC: Yes, but there was a downside to all of that ... you do one album that’s a smash and everybody expects you to duplicate that success. You start getting into that mindset where every album that follows has to sell a million copies or it’s a failure. For us, our first three albums were platinum or gold, but trust me, it does not always go that way. So even though we had great success, every time we recorded an album, we had to act like it was our last one because the bar was set so high with ‘Car Wash.’
Q: Rose Royce has a tremendous reputation as a live act. Can you describe it?
KC: Tell Phoenix that we ‘bring it,’ baby!
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