In spite of it all, Eddie Levert smiles. And laughs. He does this a great deal, actually.
True enough, the legendary soul singer and O’Jay’s singer has had the types of career ups that anybody in the music business would love to add to their own personal vitas. For starters, he’s a Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame inductee, he has a BET Lifetime Achievement Award, and of course his group’s hit song "For the Love of Money" soundtracks Donald Trump’s reality show, "The Apprentice".
But these last few years have been rough. He’s had to bury two sons—singer Gerald Levert died in 2006 and his son, Sean— who also performed in the group Levert, died in 2008.
At the time of his Gerald’s death, Eddie Levert had been working on a rather ambitious project of his own: he was planning to release his first solo album. The setbacks put the album on hold. But now, he’s released I Still Have It digitally, and he says it’ll land in stores this month.
EBONY.com talks with Levert about his music, his life, and why he can’t stop flashing those pearly whites.
EBONY: Tell me the story behind the album title, I Still Have It.
Eddie Levert: I still have it strictly because I still have a love for what I do. I have a love for the people that I do it with. I love my wife, I love God, I still have that love. First of all, before you can do anything successfully, you’ve got to have love in your heart and I still have that. And as long as I got that, God’s going to keep on blessing me and there ain’t nothing they can do about it.
EBONY: These last few years have been challenging. How did that affect the process of making this album?
EL: I just told you. God. That’s how I made it through. Losing my boys was not an easy thing. But there’s always that thing that says, ‘God never puts anything on you that you can’t handle,’ and ‘everything has a reason.’ And it was never in my power to stop that from happening, because I would’ve given anything and everything. That being said, that was a very dark place for me because I had started … to do this. I originally had this idea before Gerald and them did Levert, because that was really my name and he stole it! I told him, I said, ‘Gerald I’m gonna start off, I’m gonna get me a band and put it together ‘cause I wanna do some little things a little bit different than what the O’Jays do. I can never change the way I sound, so it’s gonna always sound like me and the O’Jays, but I can always do things that come from my heart.’ But (for this solo album) my nephew Ivan kept pushing me. We sent him to school to be an engineer, so he would sit at the house with me at my own little studio, and I’d be writing and … he pushed me to the point where I started digging real deep. A true, true writer digs deep; he’s able to expose oneself. Show your vulnerability, your weaknesses and all that stuff. That’s how I was able to get to this point, last man standing. Like I said, I was in a dark place and, you know, and I’ve told this story so many times and I’m almost sounding like, ‘OK Eddie, get another story…’
EBONY: That’s OK … you were saying?
EL: But when Gerald and Sean passed away, I wanted to really blame myself because I felt like it was some things I could’ve kept them from seeing that I did in my life, as a father. You know what I’m saying? People say, ‘You’re a great dad,’ and all of that, but I’m a person, too, you know? I never had nothing, and coming out of Canton, Ohio, I’d never quite been exposed to the life of an entertainer so a couple times when I got the hit records it was all gravy and all good and all of that. And I used to take them on the road with me, because it was my wife’s chance to get her break. I’d take the kids for the summer and she’d be able to get off into her ministry as being one of Jehovah’s witnesses. She was a great woman; she just had a rotten man. You know? And I can speak of that guy as being a rotten man because he didn’t know what he had and he didn’t know who he was or what he should’ve been doing. It was ignorance. I had to learn.
And so, consequently, they saw me do some things that … I thought they should’ve been in bed, but the person that was taking care of them, they was out partying so they was out partying and they saw me out partying. That’s how it works.
EBONY: But now you’re saying you’ve evolved? You mentioned earlier that you’re more of a preacher of some sorts when you’re not making music?
EL: Yeah. I evolved to that. When I took that look at myself, I realized there were some things that I did not like. You know? As a father, as a man and as a person and as somebody who was supposed to be loving someone … I fell real short. I wanted to be something special — not as a person, not just as an entertainer, not no star. I wanted to be special as a person. I want to be Godlike. You know what I’m saying? When I say Godlike I mean, you know, I’m a very spiritual person and I think through God I wanted to be like Jesus. You know? Fell way short, babe. Do you know how short? I [laughs and dips his hands to the floor]…I can’t get that far.
EBONY: That’s how short, huh?
EL: That’s how short. So after that, after I stopped evangelizing and stopped preaching to people and stopped and take a look at myself and I saw some things I didn’t like, so I started changing those things. I went through the process of changing. Let that out. Get that out of you. Cut that out. Get that out of you. I’m gonna keep that. And where I’m at now, I really like the person. I really think the person is really trying to be, and is working on it every day. The last song, "You’re Always There" — that’s really a song that I dedicate to my wife, because she showed me what real people would do for people, how far they would go to make it work. My wife is such a giving person. I tell her, ‘You might be the dog of life, girl, but you done fooled the hell out of me.’
EBONY: You’ve got a big birthday coming up this month. You’ll be 70 on June 16th. What stands out?
EL: The success of my sons. That, to me, was very gratifying. And then the success of Gerald by himself; that was a great moment for me. With the O’Jays … I still remember the first time I heard my record in the middle of Wyoming…
EBONY: On the radio?
EBONY: What was that like for you?
EL: It was like ‘they’re playing my record here where’s there’s nothing but white folks and cowboys.’ That let me know that I had reached into America totally.
EBONY: What is it you would just love for people to kind of walk away from this project thinking?
EL: I just want it to be good music. I just want them to say that it was a good record, and my money was well spent, and Eddie did a good job. I’m 70, girl. Anything I get now is, what, gravy? Yeah, gravy. I’d call it gravy and grace. If you’d a saw me three months ago you’d have been talking about, ‘Man, what the heck is wrong with Eddie? He’s creeping along.’ I’m glad I’m back.