Detroit soul ambassador Melvin Davis' new album, Double or Nothing, is the singer and songwriter's first original production since the 1970s. The warm, funky offering showcases Davis' continued determination to write and produce music. He's had a 50-year career in Detroit, from cutting records for the incomparable Fortune label to working with David Ruffin and writing hits for Motown. There is a warning label on the record that reads "Contents contain extensive truth, positive messages and an addictive groove that may become habit forming." We sat down with Davis to learn more.
Metro Times: How does it feel to get back into the studio on your own terms?
Melvin Davis: It's great. I've actually been planning this for the last seven years, waiting for the right people and the right opportunity. And timing is very important, and I feel like this is the right time for this, and it gives me an opportunity to really highlight the creative juices that still flow in the city.
MT: The track "Double or Nothing" was originally released in 1976. What was it like retooling it for 2015?
Davis: It's just great, it really is. The first recording was done with Wayne Kramer and a band called Radiation that was Tim Shafe on bass, myself on keyboard and drums, and the background was done by the Jones girls, who have a tremendous reputation of their own. But this version I've done now is a much more modern version that I feel is more timely now than when I wrote it, since it seems like the way that our planet and our humanity has evolved, it is more relevant. We are in a critical time on planet Earth — I really believe that. It is a make or break decade. We have some real difficult times coming and it will require a re-doubling of our efforts to bring about a positive outcome.
MT: How do you want your music to resonate with listeners?
Davis: I want the energy of creativity to penetrate the psyche. It is not just hearing the music — it is feeling and absorbing the idea. And I know that all types of music are valuable because it is the soundtrack of life. I believe that we should also have something positive to impart because there is a place for everything. Rap for instance: I understand that with every generation they have to have their own style, their own language, their own clothes, and their own music. But to me there is always a problem when you glorify a negative. So, this is my opportunity to bring a positive message to the youth and to people that grew up with my kind of music, with my kind of expression of the soul and of the heart.
The reality is to communicate because the difference between us is really too small to measure. I mean we are all individuals and we're all different, but we are so much alike. We have the same aspirations. So to create a positive mindset I think would really be beneficial to all of us. Like if I can be a better me and you can be a better you that would only make a better us. That's what this album is about. It's good music, it's dance music, it's clean music. It impacts your soul because it's full of truth. I believe everything that I write. And if I don't believe it I don't write it.
MT: There is a great media influx of stories about Detroit's rebirth. As a pillar of the Detroit community who's seen this city through many changes, do you in fact see the city on an upswing?
Davis: I've seen the city on an upswing for the past three or four years, before it became a popular idea to be positive. I say, "Catch the fever, be a believer." Because doubt is really the enemy. If you have doubt why would you pursue something that you believe isn't possible. So I believe we need to feed the faith and starve the doubt and everything will work out from there.
Now, everyone can see it. The new Detroit is materializing right before our eyes. And not before long, it's going to be once again a light, a shining light that is an example of how to recover from a disastrous state. And Detroit, I'm so proud of them because some people looked at it as a tragedy. I looked at it as an opportunity for greatness and that opportunity is being realized and fulfilled.
That's why I'm so proud of the people that are moving forward regardless of the naysayers, regardless of the haters, regardless of the doubters. That's just because they don't understand the energy and resilience of this city. And it's the people. It's not the politicians. It's not the Internet or inanimate objects like the building or the infrastructure, although that's important. It is the people that will cause this to be realized, and it's in process right now.
MT: You thank listeners of this album for participating in your "vision." What is that?
Davis: My vision is for us is to rise to our potential. For instance, I write down a lot of things that just come into my psyche, my mind, and into my subconscious. And one of the things I wrote down that I'm going to incorporate says "We are blessed and we are cursed, we are the best and we are the worst." So, everything in life is about choices. So really my vision is for the next generation to further the efforts. They have more information than has ever been available in life before. I want them to understand that to make the proper use of that information, to be wise enough to make right decisions will only make a better life for all of us, starting with yourself. So, I think that's my vision, to elevate our minds to the point where we eliminate so many negative traits, because that's where the problems come from.
In other words, it's not what you do, it's how you do it, when you do it, why you do it, where you do it. In other words, there are more elements to being right than just one. And to realize that and to seek to achieve our destiny and rise to the potential we're totally capable of, that's our responsibility. And it's an individual thing. So, this album is for everyone, but it's especially for people who are believers because I have a saying that in life gratitude creates joy. If you're ungrateful you are probably unhappy. Realize what you have and if you want something better work for it, move toward it, and never expect someone to do for you what you should be doing for yourself. Everybody needs help once and a while but we should try to achieve all that we are capable of and be the best that we can be.
Dennis Burck is an intern for Metro Times.