By: Melody Charles
It’s been 22 years and 14 albums for the Brooklyn-born baritone and musician, Will Downing, and according to the romantic balladeer, the new CD entitled Lust, Love & Lies arose from an idea he’d been contemplating for years. Different from his prior releases due to its straight-forward R&B sound and sequencing as a modern, unfolding romance (hence the term ‘audio novel,’), Lust….is one of his most positively-received collections yet and the 40-something performer is grateful that fans are feeling the concept.
“I’m ecstatic, it’s good to know that people get it,” he enthuses during an exclusive phone chat with us from New Jersey as he readies for a nationwide promotional tour. “I go online like everyone else and I’m reading responses from around the globe, it’s been very positive, so I’m excited. Folks are getting it, and it doesn’t get any better than that. When you do something like this, literally throwing someone a curveball, you just never know how people are going to react. I’m glad that people are enjoying the music, the story and the spoken vignettes in-between. I’m really pleased and I can’t tell you how happy I am to see and to hear how people are receiving it. Everybody kinda knows someone like that, someone who misinterprets things and turns it into a big thing.”
And as he unveils the ‘audio novel’ for the fans on stage and beyond, how far does Mr. Downing plan on taking it? He’s elusive about the details, but he doesn’t mind revealing that it can almost go practically anywhere. “In the big, big picture, there were always plans to turn it into a book, a play, into a movie…..we’ll see,” he laughs. “It’ll depend on the popularity of the CD to get it to that next level and see if there will be a part two. Who knows?”
The one subject that Mr. Downing doesn’t mind expounding on is his bout with polymyositis, a debilitating disorder that affects the joints and muscles, which threatened to end his career in 2007 and confined him to a wheelchair, leaving people doubting if he would be able to walk, much less perform again. “God is no doubt good. I didn’t know what I’d be able to do, but this is all I’ve ever done and this is what brings me happiness. So to be able to do it again is a blessing. In fact, to do anything again, including sing, is a blessing—walking, talking, whatever. I’ve learned to have a different appreciation for life.”
This gratitude about remaining in the game is what also makes Mr. Downing philosophical about the whole crossover issue: unlike some of the peers he emerged in the 1980s with, such as Luther Vandross and Jeffrey Osborne, for example, he hasn’t quite become a household name yet, but he believes that as long as he keeps his standard of music high, that larger recognition will come. “The masses really don’t know (about me), but they’re coming on one by one. There’s nothing you can do except keep putting out quality music until people start to get it. They are, slowly but surely, so as long as I’m in the game, I still have a chance.”
And given his decades of experience in the fickle music industry, Mr. Downing feels it’s pointless to change a winning formula and remains most comfortable with using his tried-and-true approach to musicality rather than bowing to every trend that dominates the charts at any particular time.
“I think that things are changing for black music and coming back for real musicians, real sound and substance. It’s a cycle, and it’s always been this way. All it takes is for one person to write about things they don’t have, the big house and big cars, and that becomes the trend. Then performers start to become more afrocentric, and then another style comes around for a minute. Right now, there’s an emphasis on reality-based subjects and music is back, and I’m glad to still be a part of it. I’ve kind of always stayed on the same road, so when it comes back around again, I’m always there kinda waiting, so it’s good to finally being in vogue. There’s always something to sing about, and as long as you keep it reality-based, people will get it. I think that’s the one thing that’s sustained me is that I sing songs about things that people can identify with. Fans can close their bedroom doors and say ‘hey, that sounds like me. That’s us.”
And that’s the familiarity many are connecting with when they listen to Lust, Love & Lies, the eternal arc of beginning, building, and breaking down relationships. “We’ve all met someone in our life and time that we thought was ‘the one’ and we were attracted to them, had some laughs together, then things might have changed slightly. It’s not reinventing the wheel, but putting it out there to make you remember. It’s not so far-fetched that it couldn’t be you, so you can easily listen to the story and insert your own name.”