Legendary music producer Quincy Jones recently was blessed by two landmark events. First, there were the festivities earmarking his 83rd birthday on March 14 and then, weeks later on March 26, Jones commemorated the 35th anniversary of the most successful, poignant, and critically acclaimed yet slightly controversial solo record he has made throughout his incredibly extensive career.
All these years later, the quality of repertoire, performance and production on Jones’ 1981 album, The Dude (released under A&M Records) has indeed stood the test of time. Once called “a quiet storm masterpiece,” there were others at the time who dismissed The Dude as nothing more than a slick, commercial set of tunes that only incited a yearning for Jones’ previous work.
While those earlier albums were soul chart hits, anyone who knows the full body of his canon understands that Jones can be unpredictable especially once he gets in the studio. “Quincy has a way of shedding his musical skin every seven years,” says friend and former employee Ed Eckstine. “In terms of artists he’s working with and music he’s working on he is constantly changing.”
Eckstine, a respected record man and music executive in his own right, worked for Quincy Jones (and later Qwest Records) from 1974 to 1984. The son of legendary bandleader/singer Billy Eckstine, he has known Jones since he was a boy. He joined Polygram Records in 1987 and became VP of Artists and Repertoire where he signed Tony! Toni! Toné! and Vanessa Williams. In the 1990s, Eckstine was also one of the highest-ranking Black executives in the industry. “The first project I worked on with Quincy was Body Heat, which was really the turning point of his commercialism on record. He shed his big band persona and began focusing on record success.”
If I Ever Lose This Heaven – Quincy Jones featuring Leon Ware & Minnie Riperton (from Body Heat)
As a young television nerd, growing up in the 1970s, I saw the name Quincy Jones credited for the music on shows like, The Bill Cosby Show, Ironside and Sanford and Son, but I had no knowledge of the maestro’s prior career as a trumpeter, arranger, bandleader, record executive, world traveler and conductor for Frank Sinatra. It wasn’t until I saw him posing coolly on the Smackwater Jack album cover that I got my first glance at the man who looked as though he should’ve been hanging out at the Playboy mansion with an obligatory Martini in hand. Even sitting still, you could tell this brother had swag.
In 1979, after Jones flexed his versatile production muscles on Michael Jackson’s grown-up masterwork Off the Wall, the producer went wild working on various commercial R&B projects clearly with the intention to help him crossover. Having achieved many “firsts” in his career, including shattering the smoky glass ceiling of Hollywood film scorers (In the Heat of the Night, The Wiz) part of Jones’ battle was to bring Black talent into the mainstream.
Although he had already launched Qwest Records at Warner Brothers, Jones was still under contract for one more project under A&M before he could bounce completely. Whereas someone else might have given the label subpar material, Jones went out with an explosive pop-soul bang that made him the most important producer in the industry for the next 20 years.
“Off the Wall was the turning point, because that album synched into that mad rush of records for Rufus & Chaka Khan (Masterjam, 1979), the Brothers Johnson (Light Up the Night, 1980), George Benson (Give Me the Night, 1980) and Donna Summer (self-titled, 1981),” says Eckstine. “After all of that, Quincy went into the studio and began working on The Dude.”
Quincy Jones interviewed by Oscar Brown Jr.
Before officially beginning any new project, Jones would scout songs, secure the band, arrange the material and rehearse extensively. His real instrument was just being in the studio, which is where the true magic happened. “Quincy comes from the old school where preparation is really important,” late producer Phil Ramone once said in 2007. In the 1960s, Ramone and Jones shared an apartment in New York City and collaborated on various projects during that era. “He could be up for days and nights for weeks, but if it doesn’t sound right in the studio, he’ll change his ideas right up.”
The Dude became the album where Jones tried to please all ears by including elements of hot-tempered disco (with “Razzamatazz”), soul-riddled balladry (with singer James Ingram’s romantic “Just Once” and “100 Ways”) and icy fire jazz (with Patti Austin’s sly and sexy vocals on the Stevie Wonder penned “Betcha Wouldn't Hurt Me”). A cover of “Ai No Corrida,” previously a hit overseas, was the album’s official first single.
“When The Dude was sent to radio we played every track, not just the singles,” remembers legendary Philadelphia-based radio personality Dyana Williams. “Quincy’s work bridged, melded and fused genres in ways that others couldn’t do.”
Explaining his methods in 1999 to Inside Tracks author Richard Bushkin, Jones said, “Experimentation is so important to me, not just with instruments and recording equipment, but also with combining different music styles. Then there’s the right material. It’s all about the song. I think half the producer’s job is to get the right songs from the beginning.”
Chaz Jankel – Ai No Corrida
Ai No Corrida Quincy Jones
While The Dude was viewed as simply “another Black record” by A&M executives who were dismissive of the project prior to its 12 Grammy nominations, the production of the album possessed a sonic smoothness and mellow Cali sound that today’s music critics refer to as “Yacht Rock.” Although the Yacht Rock of other popular artists of the time like Michael McDonald, Fleetwood Mac, Steely Dan, Carly Simon, Toto and Kenny Loggins utilized smooth jazz and soul elements, Jones’ boat was bigger, bolder and better than anyone else’s.
Rolling in the pocket with Jones was an elite band of musicians that included vocalist Syreeta Wright, keyboardists Greg Phillinganes and Herbie Hancock, background singers Michael Jackson, the Brothers Johnson and songwriter Stevie Wonder. “Stevie was always a go to guy for Quincy, so he invited him to come to the studio to contribute a track for The Dude,” says Eckstine. “Quincy told him to come to the studio on Tuesday and, in typical Stevie fashion, he showed up two weeks later, saying, ‘well you didn’t say which Tuesday.’”
Grammy-winning producer Brian Michel Bacchus remembers how much he used to love the Patti Austin ballad, “Betcha Wouldn’t Hurt Me” back when he was a student at Syracuse University. “Lyrically it was just beautiful and the 12-inch became a big club hit that was played at clubs like Body & Soul and The Garage. It was one of those times Stevie wrote a classic song that happened to be recorded by someone else,” says Bacchus.
Music historian and SoulMusic.com founder David Nathan agrees. “That song to this day remains one of my absolute personal favorites from the 1980s. When The Dude came out, I was already aware of Patti Austin, but Quincy gave her a whole new international platform,” says Nathan
Patti Austin – Betcha Wouldn't Hurt Me 12 " mix
Stevie Wonder – Betcha Wouldn't Hurt Me (Live Jam)
It was also on The Dude where we heard balladeer James Ingram for the first time, singing songs that would become timeless favorites at countless weddings. Before joining the Qwest family, Ingram traveled across the country playing keyboards and singing on demos for various folks including songwriters Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, best-known for their hits “On Broadway” and “You Lost That Loving Feeling,.” They sent a demo of “Just Once” to producer Russ Titleman, who then slipped it to Jones.
“Quincy loved what he heard, but we had to track James down where he was playing in some club in the Valley,” Eckstine says with a laugh. “James figured that he was just going to play keyboards, but when he got to the studio Quincy said, ‘No, I want you to sing.’” Ingram had also worked with Jones’ childhood buddy, Ray Charles, who gave the young musician a rousing endorsement.
“Introducing James Ingram on ‘Just Once’ and ‘One Hundred Ways’ was brilliant,” adds producer, songwriter and singer Bernadette Cooper, whose former group Klymaxx signed with Solar Records the same year The Dude was released. “They made me want to go and love somebody. Quincy was already legendary and had become a gift to the music industry. He personified class with his lush productions and vicious arrangements.”
Both Austin and Ingram’s performance on The Dude earned them Grammy Award nominations. “What made both Patti Austin and James Ingram stand out was that their voices lent themselves to instant pop airplay and recognition,” explains writer David Nathan. “While rooted in soul and in Patti’s case, jazz, they had immediate crossover success. Vocally, both very technically proficient and yet able to inject emotion and feeling into their sound.”
Just Once (live)
100 Ways (Soul Train)
Although Jones put his all into making The Dude, A&M was slow in appreciating its magnitude. They changed their tune when the album was nominated for 12 Grammy Awards, starting a fresh marketing campaign as if it was brand-new. Then on February 24, 1982, beating-out Arif Mardin and Lionel Richie, Jones won the award for producer of the year. With his eyes, heart and musical mind always focused on the next gig, he almost immediately returned to the studio to begin working on Michael Jackson’s next album.
Jones has the most Grammy nominations of any artist/producer alive with a catalog that spans more than 50 years. And yet, this one piece of a cadre of music continues to invoke such emphatic emotion for any critic or fan who is truly aware of its importance.
“The Dude remains a formidable classic and will always be viewed as an indispensable body of work for Black music,” says producer/composer Adrian Younge, who scored the music for the Blaxploitation parody, Black Dynamite and has produced tracks for Ghostface Killah, Jay-Z and The Delfonics. “It is an exemplary example of this magical formula, but more particularly, it set a bar on how to mold jazz and funk for a wider audience.”
Quincy Jones /Reflections Live At Budokan 1981-07-09