A joyous Odyssey
EVERGREEN STEVEN COLLAZO WILL BE BRINGING THE GOOD TIMES BACK TO MOSELEY THIS WEEKEND WITH HIS BAND WHO SCORED A NO.1 HIT IN THE 80S. DAVE FREAK DISCOVERS HOW THEY SNATCHED VICTORY FROM THE JAWS OF DEFEAT LAST TIME THEY PERFORMED AT THE FESTIVAL
AFTER performing at a swanky Upper East Side Manhattan bar in late 1976, Odyssey became part of the late-1970s disco boom, quickly scoring an international hit with Native New Yorker in 1977.
Heading into the 1980s, further hits followed, including Use It Up And Wear It Out (a UK chart-topper in 1980), If You’re Lookin’ For A Way Out, Going Back To My Roots and Inside Out.
Founded by Lillian Lopez and her sister, Louise Lopez, the band continues today helmed by Lillian’s son, Steven Collazo, who has performed with the group since the beginning.
Having last appeared at Mostly Jazz Funk and Soul Festival in 2012, the band are back this year, joining a three-day bill that also includes The Cinematic Orchestra, Cymande, Hot Chip Megamix, Jocelyn Brown and Bombay Bicycle Club spin-off Mr Jukes, plus leading West Midlands acts Xhosa Cole, Kofi Stone, Lady Sanity and Sam Redmore.
Taking time out of rehearsals, Steven answers our questions...
How were Odyssey discovered?
They were discovered at a talent show that was held at Carnegie Hall in New York City by a manager/ agent who booked them for a European tour throughout the Scandinavian countries.
They weren’t signed to a label and performed a mix of original
material and popular covers.
The band had more hits in the UK than in the US - did you relocate here in the ‘80s?
Sort of. We were actually ‘bi-continental’ back in the ‘80s, especially my mum Lillian, aunt Louise and stepfather Al Jackson, who stepped up from being Odyssey’s tour manager to frontman for a while after Billy MacEachern’s departure at the end of our contract with RCA. Mostly, we were back and forth between New York City, New Jersey, Florida and London doing gigs and small tours. Into the ‘90s, it would be fair to say that we gradually began to spend more time on this side of the
Atlantic. I certainly have.
Growing up, were you always aware of the band and your mother’s role?
Are you kidding?
[laughs] I started playing piano at the age of two, before
I could even sit at the keyboard!
My mum often told the story of how, hours after she’d put my brothers and I to bed, she’d play the piano to work on her songs and could then hear the sound of tiny slippered feet coming down the hall in our project apartment (tower blocks to y’all). It was always me, and I can still see myself, sitting behind her on the sofa, being transported by her piano playing, her singing and her music.
When did you first become involved with ‘the family business’?
I was there from its very inception, and though there wasn’t much I could say as regards the records we were making for RCA, Mum made sure I got my apprenticeship in the music industry, singing in the studio, recording, learning how the business worked (and didn’t work), rising to the position of musical director from playing keyboards, to becoming the frontman, and eventually Odyssey’s producer today.
Was that an easy decision? Or did you want to do your own thing?
At first, it wasn’t a decision, it was more of an ultimatum: My brothers and I were three teenagers in 1977, not going to school, not working, but eating like men. In the end, my mama made the decision for us to become involved in the family business. Alongside this, however, I began to make my own inroads into the industry. In the neighbourhoods where I grew up in Brooklyn, I came to associate with the likes of Crown Heights Affair, BT Express, and Brass
Construction. I played keyboards and sang with a band called the Undisputed Truth. Though not a household name in the US (or the UK for that matter), while touring with them, we’d opened for Natalie Cole, Teddy Pendergrass, The Isley Brothers, Larry Graham (bassist for Sly and The Family Stone for years), The Ohio Players, my old neighbourhood chums Brass Construction and many more. So while it wasn’t my decision, it’s certainly one I’m grateful for now, as it all contributed to my stewardship of Odyssey today.
The hit singles are so well known, but could recommend any deeper cuts that people should check out?
Top of the list, New York City by Odyssey featuring Lillian Lopez – the first release from our forthcoming album The Journey Continues, which is scheduled for release in late autumn. Mum and I wrote and recorded these songs some 20 years ago, but after her passing in 2012, I absolutely couldn’t bear to listen to those recordings again. During the first lockdown, after I’d cleaned my flat for the umpteenth time and ran out of things to occupy myself with, I went into my little studio, fired up the equipment and undertook not only the painful process of hearing Mum’s voice again, but also to actually grieve, something I hadn’t really done up to that point.
After coming through it, the beginnings of the new album emerged. Another of my favourites is the title
song from our album I Got The Melody, mostly because of the way mom’s vocals were captured but the song always sounds carefree and happy to me.
This isn’t the first time you’ve made it to Mostly - do you recall your first visit?
Yes! I remember that day very clearly, primarily because of a mishap while we were performing. We were trying out a new way of doing shows, which involved a combination of live musicians and prerecorded music held on a laptop computer. Right in the middle of our set, the computer crashed and our sound engineer couldn’t get it back up and running quickly enough. Though the singer I was working with back then wasn’t too happy about my next move, I insisted we just carry on with only the guitar and vocals to perform our second biggest hit song Looking For A Way Out. For me, it was a rare moment of utter beauty, magic and triumph. The audience, who were aware we were having technical difficulties, seemed... mesmerised and greatly pleased by the ‘unplugged’ delivery of the song. I suppose they were somewhat stunned that we calmly kept going and when we finished, there was a long pause before they began to applaud.
The Mostly Jazz Funk and Soul Festival runs from Friday, August 20 to Sunday, August 22 at Moseley Park. See mostly.co.uk
I started playing piano at the age of two, before I could even sit at the keyboard! Steven Collazo