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Darrell Mcfadden & The Disciples

  2006-01-13
 

I’ve Got A Right

In the here-today, gone-tomorrow world of popular music, some things still proudly bear the test of time, and few if any genres have shown the vibrancy and staying power of Gospel Quartet music.  Darrell McFadden & the Disciples, on their debut EMI Gospel release, I’ve Got A Right, proudly build, as well as dramatically expand, on that foundation.

As time moves on, each generation invariably puts its own stamp on that which has preceded it.  Darrell & the Disciples add to the traditions of their predecessors the distinct markings of a younger generation, and bring it powerfully to bear in every note and word they sing, making them true leaders in what is might more accurately be called “Modern Classic Quartet ” music.

Imagine the Dixie Hummingbirds, the Swan Silvertones - or any one of a number of  legendary greats - refueled and retrofitted for the 21st century, and you might start to get the idea.  Having a long family history of his own performing Gospel Quartet , and raised with the sounds of legendary secular and Gospel acts from the Temptations to Willie Banks & the Messengers and the Gospel Keynotes, among many others, Darrell McFadden & the Disciples’ interpretation of tradition has an unmistakably new and exciting touch to it, even as they remain respectful to the traditions that have preceded them.

I’ve Got A Right  was produced by group members Gene People and Spanky Williams, and nine of the albums ten songs were co-written by Gene, Spanky and Darrell.  On an album filled with strong shots, several stand out in particularly powerful ways.

“Be Ready” filters an irresistible retro-soul groove through totally modern sensibilities, to deliver what is undoubtedly the hookiest, most catchy contemplation on biblical, “end-times” prophecy ever created.

“Calling Me” is a gemstone of quiet-fire R&B, while “I’ve Got A Right” is a rollicking, Top 40/R&B romp that both captures and completely updates the classic “Philly Soul” sound of the O’Jays and a host of legendary acts of that era, all in the name of celebration of the greatness of God.

Gene, Spanky and Darrell also collaborated on a medley that puts a fresh but still-reverential to the classic hymns, “Oh How I Love Jesus,” “Amazing Grace” and Further Along.”

Darrell was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, spending every summer of his youth with relatives in rural South Carolina, giving him a taste of the culture and music of both the North and  South.

With God-given musical gifts, and growing up in a household and extended family of talented musicians whose lives were all centered around the church and Gospel music, it came as no great surprise to anyone when Darrell was singing solos for the congregation by the age of 11.

“As far back as I can remember,” says Darrell, “I always thought of singing just as my life.  When you’re a kid you’re too young to be considering things like careers. Singing was just all I ever did.  I never gave any thought to do anything else.  When I did get old enough to be making life decisions, music - professionally and in ministry - was my focus and the only goal I ever had.”

After high school, Darrell took a stab at several nine-to-five, workaday jobs, none of which lasted long, much less pulled him away from the dreams and plans he’d already made.  A number of Darrell’s uncles had a locally popular group in Brooklyn called the Spiritual Voices, which Darrell joined as a youngster; but by his teens Darrell was already marching to his own beat.

Wanting to pursue his own musical ideas, and with a career commitment in his mind and on his heart, Darrell left the family group in 1980, forming the Golden Sons, the first of two Gospel quartets he would helm in the years to come. The band consisted largely of cousins with whom Darrell also attended church, as well as a manager who brought to the young act the distinct assets of both sound equipment and a van in which to transport it and the group.

After only a couple of years, Darrell again found himself in a group that didn’t share his commitment to music as a full-time pursuit and profession.  When he heard that his childhood hero, Willie Banks, was looking for a singer, Darrell packed his bags for Banks’ home in Jackson, Mississippi, where he auditioned for and landed his first full-time, professional job in music, with a group that toured the country almost constantly.

Darrell’s tenure with Banks lasted just less than a year, but was a vital, and intense tutorial on the actual life of a professional touring and recording musician, and the business realities - not always pretty - that lay behind it.  He returned to Brooklyn with no stars in his eyes about the sometimes harsh demands of his chosen trade, but still all the more determined to make his mark in it.  Reforming the Golden Sons, Darrell soon found the group the most popular and in-demand quartet in the metropolitan New York area. 

Recording offers were not long in coming, yielding four small-label releases over the group’s tenure together, but even as the Sons’ fortunes were clearly rising, Darrell found himself faced with a group that balked at taking that next step onto a national stage, and the sacrifices and commitment it required.  Frustrated at that reluctance, Darrell departed the Golden Sons in 1992 and formed what was, and would remain to this day, Darrell McFadden & the Disciples.

Having long ago developed into a prolific songwriter, Darrell was more than ready to see his years of investment begin to bear the kind of fruit he knew they merited.  Long before EMI and I’ve Got A Right finally placed Darrell McFadden and the Disciples on the national platform they had sought  for so long, the group had already built a significant regional following, performing constantly - largely up and down the East coast - and making five more independent label projects that all did well, especially in the absence of a national network of promotion and distribution.

Darrell was acquainted with EMI vice-president, Larry Blackwell Jr., ever since the days the Golden Sons had recorded one of their first albums for Blackwell Sr.’s HSE Records, and in 2003, Darrell felt the time was right to begin discussions with EMI about a major-label affiliation.  With a solid, largely self-built fan base and track record to show, not to mention a huge catalog of original material and recordings, Darrell & the Disciples’ brand of young, modern Gospel quartet music found a welcome reception at EMI, and wheels began turning that led today to I’ve Got A Right , and a strong label commitment to helping Darrell attain the goals for which he had so single-mindedly strived for over two decades.

Having always had a larger pool of musicians and singers who, as Darrell puts it, “rotated in and out and back in again” to the Disciples’ roster, the core of the group today, in addition to Darrell, consists of original members Gene People and Spanky Williams.

Spanky and Gene had for a number of years divided their time among the Disciples - in songwriting and in the studio - and various other endeavors, most notably as part of the mainstream R&B act, Men of Vision, produced by mega-hit-maker, Teddy Riley.  Gradually assimilating into part of Riley’s production team, both men learned the art of production from a multi-platinum master.  As the end of the ‘90s rolled around, the two had become experienced and well-seasoned in the upper tiers of both the creative and business ends of the music industry.

Well before the group’s foray into the major-label arena, Darrell, Gene and Spanky had found, cultivated and locked solidly into a pocket that was and remains the Darren McFadden & the Disciples’ signature sound. With Gene and Spanky soaking up all the influences of cutting edge R&B, and all three men well-versed in the Gospel and soul traditions that had been the soundtrack of their youth, they found a convergence of all those sounds that is truly unique in modern Gospel.

“That classic ‘60s soul is what we grew up on,” says Darrell. “That, and Gospel quartet.  If you sit me, Gene and Spanky together in a room to make music, that’s what’s going to come out, but it’s going to have a fresh, contemporary spin on it that makes this group stand out and apart from anything else you’re going to hear.”

Another milestone in Darrell’s life was reached 1998, when he became pastor of his own church, Galilean Deliverance Temple, which he describes as “more of an outreach ministry to the community” in the Bronx, New York. “Music has always been just a part of my calling,” he says.  “I’ve known for years I was supposed to pastor as well.”  

As Darrel McFadden and the Disciples move up to higher level of recognition and responsibility in both ministry and music, Darrell sees a unity of purpose and importance in it all.

“We want to take quartet music to a new stage of recognition and popularity,” says Darrell.  “A lot of people have lost touch with it, or aren’t even familiar with it, or have an inaccurate impression about it.  We want to show them that it can still be current and modern, and something they can latch onto and enjoy.  But our greatest purpose is just to win souls, man.  There’s a lot people who love this music, but still don’t know much, if anything about God.  We want to be ambassadors for the Lord, and present the Gospel in a way people can receive it in their hearts…just the same as we want to take quartet music and put it hand-in-hand with contemporary, and everybody live together as one.”