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0 Roy Ayers Good Vibrations

Roy Ayers puts on a killer live show.

He's a unique musician who plays a unique instrument. I've partied to the "Roy Ayers Ubiquity" sound at an unusual show place: the Steel Pier in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

Ayers hasn't slowed down. Kevin Johnson tells us what R-A's been up to...

"New Generation of Artists Drives Rebirth of Roy Ayers" written by Kevin C. Johnson - STLtoday.com (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

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"Jazz and R&B music lovers have been digging Roy Ayers' vibe - make that vibes - ever since he came into the music world in the '60s. Still, for some, it's like he's just getting started.

The Los Angeles-bred artist, scheduled to perform as part of the 2006 Missouri Black Expo, is one of music's most popular, respected and sampled vibraphonist players - despite the surprising fact he's never won a Grammy or had a gold record.

His '70s heyday included a fruitful period of collaboration with flautist Herbie Mann; fronting his own band, Ubiquity; and hits such as "Running Away," "Searching" and "You Send Me."

There was also his seminal 1976 album, "Everybody Loves the Sunshine," featuring a memorably bright yellow cover. In a phone interview from London, Ayers said: "I think my greatest achievement was with that song."

Ayers was also among the special breed of 1970s soul artists, including Curtis Mayfield and Isaac Hayes, who created classic soundtracks for popular "blaxploitation" flicks of that era.

He was behind Pam Grier's "Coffy."

"They called and asked me if I could do a soundtrack, and I'd never done one - though I said, 'Of course,' like I had done one, because I wanted to do one," he said.

"When 'Jackie Brown' came out, Quentin Tarantino used some of my music from 'Coffy,' and I didn't know it. If they hadn't put my name on it at the end, I would have sued."

Still, "Everybody Loves the Sunshine" and "Coffy" were three decades ago, several lifetimes in the music industry. Ayers has made much music since then, including his 2004 album "Mahogany Vibe."

But his classic material is what's driving the career rebirth.

A new generation of R&B performers and hip-hoppers, including Mary J. Blige, Erykah Badu, A Tribe Called Quest, Common and 2Pac, have discovered his music and made him an icon all over again.

"They all find a degree of spirituality to my music, a spiritual essence, and it doesn't have to be about God. But it is about the things that God has produced, like the sunshine," Ayers said.

Blige probably made the best use of Ayers' music when she liberally incorporated portions of "Everybody Loves the Sunshine" as the backdrop to her signature song and CD, "My Life." Blige also used Ayers' "Searching" in her song of the same name.

"I was very thrilled about that," Ayers said. "She's a very talented artist."

The renewed attention has led to him being conferred with titles such as "Godfather of Neo Soul" and "Godfather of Acid Jazz." And he said he's fine with that.

"It doesn't matter," he said. "All of them are positive."

Ayers' rebirth also is providing an outlet for music he recorded decades ago but never released. Labels have come to him with deals to distribute the music, and there's plenty to choose from; he has hundreds of unreleased recordings.

"I was obsessed with recording. I recorded so much music on myself and on other artists it was amazing," Ayers said.

"I had a contract with PolyGram and had to do two albums a year, so I did all those recordings and would pick out the best and they would use it.

"I forgot about the rest. I never thought that music would see the light of day, or that I would ever do anything with it."

Roy Ayers on...
How the vibes hooked him:
"I was always fascinated with the sound of that instrument, being from a family that loved Lionel Hampton... you could feel his rhythm and intensity and joy and happiness, and I still applaud his greatness. He's the main reason why I do this, as well as my mother, who inspired me all my life."

Herbie Mann's influence:
"He taught me how to be a leader. I didn't want to play in too many groups. It was always my objective to be a leader, not to put anybody down, but I had that installed in me."

Vibe players today:
"A lot of the young vibe players pattern themselves after Bobby Hutcherson. They sound like him, and I'm glad they sound good. But I want to hear the new vibe players get their own sounds."

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Roy Ayers Good Vibrations
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