Stokley is getting more recognition from people who are on his “Level.”
The drummer and vocalist for Mint Condition has gone solo with an upcoming first album, “Introducing Stokley.” The first single, “Level,” is already an adult contemporary chart topper; Wednesday it was No. 9.
After our video interview, I called back to ask a) why Stokley hadn’t mentioned his “Level” video (shot in L.A. when he was touring there) and b) how’d he get Slash, of Guns N’ Roses fame, to direct the video?
Different Slash, laughed Stokley — this one is a woman based in Atlanta.
Our phone interview kept getting interrupted by people on Stokley’s side of the call so I asked if he was standing on a street corner. “No, that was Wendy,” he laughed, “from the Revolution. We had a show last night [in Indianapolis]. I’m singing with the Revolution, four dates. I’m doing double duty; we go to Louisville, Ky., Cincinnati, Cleveland and Toronto. On the 26th of this month the Soul Beach Music Festival in Aruba. Stokley, Usher, and The Roots open for Mary J. [Blige] and Cedric the Entertainer.”
When I teased Stokley about his lower extremity shaking on the video, he said, “I just like moves. When was the last Mint Condition show you’ve been to?”
Busted. Twice I was scheduled to see Mint Condition and didn’t. However, I’ve seen Stokley several times in performance with Jeff Lorber and Shaun LaBelle. There may have to be liberal use of my Lorber video, as I didn’t have the nerve to ask a fashion icon like Stokley to take off the hat he was wearing when he arrived at IPR, the site of our interview.
Q: Martha Reeves and the Vandellas or Diana Ross and the Supremes?
A: Martha. Martha had a different vibe.
Q: You’re on your own now. Was that a tough decision?
A: Nah. It’s just one of those things where it seems natural, as a musician, as a person just wanting to enrich their life in other ways but through music still. When you’ve done something as long as me and the fellas have done it, like 30 is a lot of years.
Q: Are you going to perform again with Mint Condition?
A: Sure. I’m like the first one [but] a few of us have different projects. One is scoring an independent film. It’s OK if we go away and come back.
Q: How old were you when you started beating drums?
A: Four, three. Driving my momma crazy with pots and pans literally. When I became 9, 10, 11, I graduated to the dishwasher and sink. I started out on hand percussions, just my hands on wooden tables, getting kicked out of class.
Q: Drums fill in the space, right?
A: Yeah, but it’s also about space, too. I grew up playing in African dance troupes. Might have three or four drummers and each one had a part. If you isolate one part, it seems like they’re not doing anything. Together it sounds like this big chorus. It taught me discipline, not just going off and doing what you want to do. You are part of an ensemble. You play for a long time and it feels like your shoulders are about to fall off.
Q: Are drums the instrument you burn the most calories playing?
A: Drums are very physical, depending on what kind of music you’re playing. Speed metal for sure. Jazz, same thing, a lot of technique.
Q: Have you started your boy on the drums?
A: He started beatboxing as soon as he came out of the womb. He’s on piano now.
Q: With your parents [Shirley Williams and Mahmoud El-Kati] being educators, were they OK with you being a drummer?
A: Yeah. They knew where I was. Pretty much every band I was in we rehearsed down in my parents’ basement. There was a lot of noise. I asked them when I was older, “How in the hell did you all tolerate the loudest instrument?” I thank them so much.
Q: Why aren’t you fatter given your proximity to your wife, Sylvia, the baker?
A: [Long laughs] I learned when we first got together, OK, I’m going to have to figure this out. I love sweets. She used to make a house cake every Sunday and I was like, “That’s got to stop.”
C.J. can be reached at email@example.com and seen on Fox 9’s “Buzz.” E-mailers, please state a subject; “Hello” does not count.