Chatting With Multi-Grammy Winner CeeLo Green

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Five-time Grammy Award-winning singer CeeLo Green is combining his unique vocals with the iconic tunes of late artist James Brown, for a night of live music by the sea at the Subaru Newport Beach Jazz Festival. 

The tribute show will take place on Saturday, June 4, during the three-day festival at Hyatt Regency Newport Beach. The night will feature Green performing alongside artists and musicians Eric Benét, Peter White, Vincent Ingala, Morgan James, Four80East, Kim Scott and DJ Shell. 

The Atlanta native, best known for hits “Crazy” and “Forget You”, as well as his television stint as a judge on NBC’s The Voice, chatted with Backstage SoCal about his latest James Brown tribute gigs, and what motivates his passion for music.  

Why is James Brown particularly special to you?

I think because if you’re speaking on the music itself, it’s because it has range, and there’s enough space to improvise and to add on, you know what I mean? It’s like an open book and a never ending story, you know? A lot of those earlier recordings and most of his most famous and celebrated music, they stem over from jam sessions, you know, there’s not even a lot of vocals. It may not be a formal arrangement, you know what I mean? But it’s impulsive and there’s an excitement there, because you can see those songs, and the chatter and the banter between himself and other musicians, or whomever were in the room.

Everybody’s having a wonderful, good time, a funky good time, and you want to be in that room. But you not only want to be in the room, you want to be a participant. You want to end up finding yourself asking well then what instrument am I gonna play? Okay. I hear the trombone. Okay. You know what I mean? Like, maybe I can pick up a tambourine or some shakers or something like that. You know what I mean? Cause James is not gonna let you be in there doing nothing, you know what I’m saying?

But at least you could do his dance. And then when you can see him dance, he’ll show you how to do it. That’s why he says, watch me. I got it. Like, that’s what he’s trying to say. Like, to me, like I got soul and this is soul power. What we need is soul power. What we want is soul power. So you have to name it and claim it, believe it and receive it. There’s ministry in it. You know what I mean? Because you believe something that’s raw and unrefined; you find that to be more truthful than something that’s tailored and fixed to fit a format. That’s too much of correctness. His music isn’t politically correct. It’s honest.

When did you first start discover your own musical talent?

The first inclination is exposure. I mean like hearing and being, you know? When it says something that strikes a nerve. I grew up around a lot of music, secular and otherwise. Both my mother and father were ministers. So I grew up around praise music, which is ultimately dance music and disco music, because it could go on and on and on and on and on and on. I mean, who wants to praise God while you gather? Know what I’m saying?

How do you continue to grow musically?

Well, I still love it. You know, love is light stuff. Don’t grow in the dark with moss. You don’t need that. That’s not livable. That’s not sustainable. You need the light baby. Then you think about the blues and going into the church, James Brown, when he’s a minister, he’s a light, he’s gotta be. So I don’t know how many young whippersnappers are gonna check this interview out, but go back and check out the Blues Brothers and stuff like that. That’s the stuff that made me.

What is your most treasured moment of your career so far?

Well, I mean, I have many fond memories; probably too many to pick just one, but I think once, this suspended animation that we call and consider life, I think once it is complete, it would’ve all seemed just like one elongated moment.

Where are your Grammy awards currently?

I’m not in one place a lot of the time, cause I don’t live anywhere full time. So even where I may be living partially, I still wouldn’t want to don it as if I’m there to stay. So, I know I got a couple Grams, but they’re good in a box and stored somewhere. I don’t have to put them on display to remind myself or anyone else what God has done.

What advice would you give 20-year-old CeeLo?

I would tell him, (laughs) that 46-year-old Cee is a lot better to be, you know what I mean? Enjoy the process that it takes. You know what it’ll take to get to the point, 20 years ahead. Have that foresight, and stop trying to take the shortest distance between point A and point B. I mean take the scenic route, it’s so much better.

CeeLo Green as Soul Brotha #100: A Tribute to James Brown

Where: Hyatt Regency Newport Beach, 1107 Jamboree Road, Newport Beach

When: Saturday, June 4

More info: https://festivals.hyattconcerts.com/artists/ceelo-green/

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