In the first part of our interview with CHRIS JASPER he talked about his early music career and his ground breaking time with the Isley Brothers. In part 2 Chris goes on to discuss the part he played in Isley-Jasper-Isley, how he became a born-again Christian and, most importantly, his solo career and his latest long player, ‘Inspired’. First however he recaps the reasons why the six piece Isley Brothers disintegrated.
CJ It was 1984 and the six of us had a meeting. The older Isley Brothers were having money problems and wanted to file for bankruptcy and break the contract with CBS. Marvin, Ernie and I didn’t have those same problems and didn’t want to file bankruptcy. Because of that disagreement, and other financial inequities, the group had to split up. We stayed with CBS and formed Isley-Jasper-Isley, and recorded our first album, ‘Broadway’s Closer to Sunset Boulevard’. We were very disappointed when the older Brothers sued the three of us and CBS in an attempt to prevent that album from coming out, but we prevailed and Isley-Jasper-Isley continued recording for CBS.
Isley-Jasper-Isley will always be remembered for ‘Caravan Of Love’- how did that come about?
After the Broadway album, I felt that the group needed to return to a more soulful approach to music. The idea for ‘Caravan of Love came when I was playing guitar and working out some chord progressions. I came up with something that I liked and began to add the piano parts and the drum parts to it. The lyrics seemed to flow pretty naturally from the melody I came up with.
Is the song about secular or religious love… or indeed universal love?
The song is based on a principle in the Bible when Christ returns and it will be a time of peace on earth (“the lion will lay down with the lamb and a child shall lead them”), but it is also a universal theme in that we are supposed to love each other and strive to live in peace and brotherhood.
I think you can trace its pedigree back to gospel-inspired classics like The Impressions’ ‘People Get Ready’…. were you a born again Christian then…
I was raised a Christian, but at the time I wrote Caravan, I was beginning to study the Bible more in depth and I began to gain a deeper understanding of the Scriptures, and the responsibility that comes with that understanding, and from that point on, I didn’t separate my music from my lifestyle. The music stayed the same but, lyrically, I felt the obligation to put positive messages in the music, whether it is considered secular or gospel. The Bible is basically a blueprint for how to live our lives, not just a religious book. The messages are just as relevant today as when it was written. The messages are universal.
What did you think of the Housemartins hit version of ‘Caravan’?
The first thing that surprised me was how soon after the original release of ‘Caravan’ that the Housemartins released their version. The next surprise was their version was a capella. As I said before, I felt honoured that they appreciated the song so much that they wanted to cover it. I thought their version was really good and unique in its own way, and I know it was widely received, so that was great.
Isley-Jasper-Isley disintegrated in 1987 – What happened?
Simple really – Ernie resigned from the group so we couldn’t continue as Isley-Jasper-Isley.
After the split did you have a positive game plan or did you drift into solo work?
Since we couldn’t record anymore as Isley-Jasper-Isley, I pretty much had no other option but to record solo. I formed Gold City Records, which started as a CBS-Associated label, and I released two solo albums with CBS. I basically continued to write and record music pretty much as I had all along with the Isley Brothers and Isley-Jasper-Isley.
You enjoyed a solo hit quite quickly – 1988, I think, with ‘Super Bad’ – tell us about that?
At the time, I couldn’t help but notice what was going on in the schools, the dropout rate, etc., and I felt I needed to address that. The lyrics to ‘Super Bad’ are about growing up with some disadvantages, but the way out is through education and self-empowerment, staying away from drugs and bad influences, etc. During that time, I toured some schools and spoke to the students, which was a rewarding experience.
There was also writing and production with people like Liz Hogue and Chaka Khan – tell us about those days…
After ‘Super Bad’, I met Russ Titelman, Chaka’s producer on the ‘CK ‘ album. I happened to be recording at the same studio and they were looking for material. I wrote and co-produced ‘Make It Last’ and also sang backgrounds on the song. I played all the instruments except sax and congas which were added later. With Liz, we received a demo tape from her manager and I was impressed with her vocal range, and thought it would be good to put out an album on our Gold City/CBS Associated label. It was a great album but unfortunately didn’t get the attention it deserved. People still ask about ‘Dream Lover’ which was a great song on the album and really showed off her vocal abilities.
Musically you’ve made a series of successful gospel albums as well as pursuing a great secular solo career – how do you manage that split and do you see any conflict. I mean in the past we read that people like Marvin Gaye and Sam Cooke (even Al Green) were often emotionally torn between the two genres….
I don’t believe a person can or should separate their personal beliefs from their daily life. If you are a Christian, you should be a Christian all of the time. That doesn’t mean you can’t write a love song, because Christian men and women fall in love. It’s just that the songs should be positive, and without lewd lyrics and negative overtones.
Your music comes out via your own label – Gold City – tell us about that.
Gold City Records was formed in 1988 and was a CBS-Associated label when I released ‘Super Bad’. After we left CBS, we continued as an independent label and I have produced and released recordings by other artists on the label as well. Gold City refers to the physical description of the New Jerusalem as described in Revelation.
I believe the label’s a real family affair?
Yes, my wife, Margie, is Vice-President/General Counsel. She is a lawyer and handles all of the legal aspects of the business. She also sings background on some of the songs and she was in the Isley-Jasper-Isley video ‘Insatiable Woman’ back in the ’80s. I also have a law degree and I am involved in the business side of the label as well as the musical side. My son, Michael, also records dance/techno music and attends college, studying music, film and politics. We released his debut album ‘Addictive’ on the Gold City label in 2010 and he is working on new music now. I call him my “rhythm-master”…he put down the rhythm tracks on my latest CD. My son, Nick, is a great artist and he does our CD covers and graphics. He is also pursuing a career in animation. Our son, Chris, is pursuing a musical career, and I have nieces and nephews that have sung background on a few of the songs, so yes, it is a real family affair.
Now let’s talk about your latest album – ‘Inspired’ –why did you call it that?
It is called ‘Inspired…By Love, By Life, By The Spirit’ and that goes along with what I was saying before, that it is all connected. There are songs about love, social awareness and spirituality on the CD. The music is the same soul, R&B and funk that I have always written from my time with the Isley Brothers, Isley-Jasper-Isley, and the music that I continue to write.
Yes, it is a perfect blend of religious and secular themes –was that your plan and does that reflect where you’re coming from right now?
Absolutely. I am often asked, “How does someone live a Christian life?” and this album hopefully is an answer to that question. Because on one hand, you have the topic of love and how a person should treat and feel about their spouse, like in the songs ‘Inspired’, ‘Any Day’, and ‘Someone’. On the other hand, you have questions about how you can better yourself and your status in life, and that’s addressed by a song like ‘Keep Believin” which, like ‘Super Bad’, talks about the importance of education, striving for your goals, and self-empowerment, and denounces gun violence which has become such a big problem today. You also have spiritual messages in songs like ‘Faith’ and ‘Prince of Peace.’ Songs like ‘Prince of Peace’ and ‘Let My People Go’ have both elements of social consciousness, addressing today’s problems, as well as spirituality. So there is something for everyone on this CD and it basically sums up where I’m coming from.
Musically, many of the tracks hark back to the classic sound of the Isleys – hard, crunching funk and beautiful ballads… is that a conscious thing or is it in your DNA as it were … in other words your music just come out that way?
I guess it is part of my DNA and just comes out that way. This is the music I was writing all along, and I am just continuing to write the music the way I have always written it, whether it is a soulful ballad or funk.
Tell us more about the track ‘Keep Believin’… it’s the most didactic song on the album… what are you hoping to achieve with that one?
Like I said I was hoping to reach the younger generation in particular in that I think it is information that they don’t often hear these days. I want to show that funk can also contain a positive message.
‘Prince Of Peace’ is the longest song on the set… tells us more about that one.
‘Prince of Peace’ is first an appeal to mankind to do what is right, and secondly questions how long will various inequities and social problems, warfare, etc., go on, and the answer, which is the return of Christ. Musically, I wanted to have a fusion of pop, a little jazz, and R&B in one song.
The sound on it is a little different to the rest of the album… I think it sounds like the blue-eyed soul of Michael McDonald … were you trying for something a little different?
Well, maybe it is the green-eyed soul of Chris Jasper. I think Michael McDonald and I had some of the same musical influences, like Ray Charles. But I was trying to do something different with this song, which is to blend several musical genres.
What do you hope to achieve with ‘Inspired’?
I hope people hear and enjoy it and, maybe some of the messages can be inspiring.
Rounding things off now, do you still see or have any kind of a relationship with the remaining Isleys (Ron, Ernie and Rudolph … now a minister…) Will there ever be a reunion? What are they doing at the moment?
No, unfortunately there is little or no communication with the older brothers. I have spoken on occasion with Ernie over the years. I was mostly in contact with Marvin, almost on a daily basis, up until he passed in 2010, and I miss him. So, I don’t see a reunion on the horizon. I believe Ernie and Ronald perform now as the Isley Brothers, along with a backup band.
Almost finally – what do you consider is Chris Jasper’s biggest achievement?
My biggest achievement is my relationship with my family, my wife and with God.
… And biggest disappointment or maybe lost opportunity?
My biggest disappointment is how the Isley Brothers group fell apart, both as a family and a musical group.
How would you like to be remembered?
I would like to be remembered as a good husband, good father, good son, and a man who loves and reveres the Lord, and recognized as a good composer who puts positive messages in good music.
Final finally –how can people find out more about Chris Jasper?
There is information on our website, Facebook, and other social media sites, and the music can be found on iTunes, Amazon, CDBaby, on our Gold City Music Store on Facebook and at retail…The web site is www.GoldCityMusic.com
CHRIS JASPER’S ‘INSPIRED’ IS OUT NOW ON GOLD CITY MUSIC AND YOU CAN FIND A FULL REVIEW IN OUR REVIEWS ARCHIVE