Seven Questions with Walter Scott of The Whispers

Published Wed, Mar 06, 2013 01:15 PM
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The Whispers.

Submitted by Mike Williams — Managing Editor (@imikewilliams)

The career of The Whispers spans close to 50 years and has hardly been, well, a whisper. Excuse the pun, but that’s the truth. In music today, you’ll probably never see a successful group stick together five years, much less five decades. But that’s what twins Walter and Wallace Scott, along with Nicholas Caldwell and Leaveil Degree, have been able to do. Other than original members Gordy Harmon (who left in 1971) and Marcus Hutson (who passed in 2000) not being around, The Whispers, who are all in the sixties, haven’t made any changes to the group.

Yet a lot has changed in the music industry in the last 50 years, Walter Scott says, notably the promotion of the music. “These young artists today are blessed with the advent of marketing,” he says. “‘And The Beat Goes On’ didn’t have the marketing program that, say Alicia Keys and Beyoncé would have on their tunes today. It sold in spite of it; it was word of mouth.”

Scott praises this generation for being smart about their careers. “Give props to them. The young people are savvy, very intelligent, especially Alicia and Beyoncé, and John Legend. All of them are savvy about their music,” he says.

There may not have been huge marketing machines behind them, but The Whispers still churned out hit after hit. None were bigger than the aforementioned “And The Beat Goes On,” from their 1980 album “The Whispers.” “We kinda knew, man, that when it was finished, that it was going to be a smash,” Scott says.

I spoke with Scott on the phone before they traveled to the Triangle for their show at the Durham Performing Arts Center this weekend. We talked about a lot of things, including being old school, the differences between his group’s “romanticism” in music versus this generation’s “graphic” music and how blessed he and his group members are.

Here are my seven questions with Walter Scott.

Q: You guys have been in the business for close to 50 years. Over 20 albums. What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you reflect on the staying power of The Whispers?

Many things, but I guess the one word would probably be disbelief. We say this all the time, but when we were in the projects in Watts, back in the ‘60s, if anybody would’ve told us we’d be singing 50 years later we’d have just laughed at them because we wouldn’t have believed it, you know what I’m saying? It’s really a testament to, I think, how we were brought up and a bunch of things, but to be here 50 years later in the capacity that we’re in now is just a great feeling and unbelievable.

Q: Now what’s kept you guys so close as a group over the years? I mean that’s a long time to be with anybody.

The good thing is that we met each other in eight grade and junior high school, you know, we knew each others' families. We started very, very close and remained that way for, you know, the entirety of our career.

Q: So on to the music. You guys have some hits, man. For me, “And The Beat Goes On” comes to mind because my father would always sing that chorus around the house. He’s told me that before I was born, his go-to songs on dates were “Chocolate Girl” and "I Only Meant to Wet My Feet," records he calls “real” love songs...

Very much so! [“And The Beat Goes On”] ended up being the biggest song we’ve ever had, including “Rock Steady.” A lot of people think “Rock Steady” is a bigger tune, but the album [“The Whispers”] was our first double platinum album, literally sold over two million copies. We knew it was going to be a hit, we didn’t think that big. That probably started the pattern of longevity that has lasted for 50 years, with “And The Beat Goes On” and, as you say, tunes like “Chocolate Girl,” “I Only Meant To Wet My Feet” and “Lady.” We were just blessed. It all started happening at once, and it was the greatest feeling in the world. As a result, we’re here 50 years later.

Q: What differences do you see in R&B music today compared to the ‘70s and ‘80s?

Our music focused on romance. The young people today are a little more graphic and raw. They tell it like it is. They see the world how they see it and that’s how they explain it. [In] our day, especially with the ballads, it was about the romanticism between a man and a woman, respect for the ladies. Not that it’s not that today, but it’s not as much. The hip-hop culture has come along and it questions — some of it rightfully so — how the world is operating and it brings about a different kind of music, not that it’s any worse, but I’m from old school, a different generation. We talked about how beautiful our ladies were; didn’t tend to call them the B word, you know what I’m saying, but today that’s where it is and how it’s different. It’s very graphic, very real.

Q: Do you think there is any artist or group today that represents that kind of content and takes it back to the courting process, if you will?

Yeah, I do. I think there’s a lot of good young artists. I like Anthony Hamilton, I like John Legend; it just doesn’t come in the form of the vocal groups like the era of The Temptations and The Dramatics, like we’re gonna be doing in Raleigh-Durham.

Q: You guys tour a lot. You had the shows in Vegas and you rock back-to-back dates sometimes. What do you attribute to being able to be on the road so much? How much longer will you tour?

Yeah we just did Vegas. We don’t play on the strip with that regularity [like before] but we play Vegas every year, as a matter of fact. Our tour situation is just a great example of how the man upstairs has blessed The Whispers. The fact we’re able to tour at the level we do is great, and God has blessed us to still be able to have the chops. You really have to be honest with yourself. You really, I think, kinda know when you can’t physically do it anymore, and now it’s up to you to be honest with yourself and come to that realization and own up to it. Fortunately for us we just haven’t reached that stage yet. Our show is just as effective — might be more effective today — than it was back in the day because the old school mantra is here. When I first heard old school I thought they were trying to take us out of the business. Well not really, because that has it’s own uniqueness and fortunately our fans are in the old school. Our fans are very much into that and, low and behold, we’re able to deliver at a top level. So we’re just blessed when it comes to that.

I think that when we reach the stage that we’re not physically able, we’ll have the good sense to go. But I don’t think we’re there, yet. We tour a lot, it’s great thing to do. I don’t want, at this stage in my life, to be at home doing nothing so thank God we can tour. We’ll do it as long as we can be effective at it.

Q: Like my father, there are a ton of Whispers fans in this area. What do you expect from the crowd at your show in Durham with The Dramatics and what do you want to give to them? Any friendly competition between the groups?

It’s so much fun because we don’t have to hold back. We know who we are. As I said we’re old school and proud of it. So I’m sure with us, and we work The Dramatics quite a bit, so it’s gonna be a night of old school. It will be a night of history because young people love this, too. I love when I see young people in the audience because we can school them and tell them about old school. We’re an example of where it comes from, kinda how it started. It’s a history lesson with entertainment attached. We’re gonna have bunch of fun. It’s a pleasure to do it.

It’s a different type of competition with the older guys. Us and The Dramatics, we’re great friends and have a long histories with each other. But when we hit the stage, you know, we’re trying to kill each other. We want the biggest response and so do they. It’s just great fun because they have their hits, we have ours, and the audience can enjoy both. Man, there’s no feeling like it.

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