Drummer and producer Cleveland ‘Clevie’ Browne says ‘we’ when talking about his latest project with late musical tag-team partner, Wycliffe ‘Steely’ Johnson. He is not being macabre or holding on to one who has passed, though. Clevie is simply acknowledging that the keyboard player – who died in New York in September 2009 – is key to their Memories album, due in May.
“I promised Steely when he was in the hospital that he should not be worried about any work that was not completed,” Clevie told The Sunday Gleaner. “He was a workaholic.”
Considering Steely’s death, the name of the album is an inescapable irony, but it also does not take a huge leap of the imagination to make a connection between the first track completed for Memories and Steely’s contribution to the project. The first track of the remake compilation set is A House is Not a Home by Freddie McGregor, for which Steely laid the drums at Clevie’s home studio. This was after the Studio 2000 property on Worthington Avenue, New Kingston, was gobbled up by an expanding educational institution.
“I decided to work from home,” Clevie said. So it was there that Steely laid drum tracks for other songs on Memories, including Never Never (John Holt), If I Follow My Heart (Ed Robinson), Stars (Cornel Campbell) and A Little Love (Vegas).
Before the production process began, Steely and Clevie selected the songs together. Clevie describes Memories as “a compilation of songs we grew up on in our formative years as musicians, songs that helped shape our taste for music”. He says the objective is to “keep songs alive or reintroduce them to a new generation, which I believe is very important”.
“We believe they are songs that will never die. We believe a good song, good singing, great production will last forever. It is not fad music,” Clevie said. He seems to have practical expectations of longevity for Memories, saying “these songs may not top the charts and then fall off. They will continue to sell and sell for many years”.
There is an instrumental version of A House is Not a Home with Steely on keyboard and Dean Fraser playing saxophone.
Steely and Clevie have been making memories for many years, since Steely followed another Browne – Dalton – home after they met through Twelve Tribes of Israel. They started working together in 1973.
After Steely died, it took Clevie just over a year to start working on Memories again. He did a couple projects, including a remake of the Duck rhythm.
“A number of artistes were calling, but I told them I did not intend to leave the industry. This is my core business,” he said. The vocals were recorded at Big Ship, with Dalton and Danny Browne, as well as Dean Fraser, completing the track.
And, while Memories is Clevie and the late Steely’s latest project, it is certainly not their last from the core business of making music.
“I still have plenty unreleased recordings that can last another couple decades. Because we were such workaholics, we still have many rhythms that have not yet been heard and that can stand the test of time,” Clevie said.