Crossing the color line

Tony Perez defies soul conventions

The story is so old, so familiar, as to border on the trite: A young man grows up in a poorer neighborhood, where the most affordable entertainment is the sound of his own voice, joined with those of his friends. He studies his heroes, the soul singers he admires, voices like Teddy Pendergrass and Al Green, and eventually gets his shot at the big time--a trip to New York City and a gig on Showtime at the Apollo. After a rousing success there, he returns to his hometown with the juice to make his own album; soon, folks are asking radio stations to play his songs.

Except that Tony Perez--as you might deduce from his name--is not African-American. "I know it's kind of strange for a Hispanic to be singing soul music," he admits. "I've had people argue with me, saying that there must be some blood in me," he recalls with a hearty laugh. "But there isn't."

The 33-year-old father of three grew up singing and listening to soul acts like Earth, Wind and Fire and Hall and Oates in a neighborhood right off of Cedar Springs. "I had the highest voice," he remembers, "so I always took the high parts." His interest in silky R&B and soul was more than a passing one. "I used to listen to those old songs, really studying them and analyzing them, over and over. My mom used to think that there was something wrong with me, but I was just trying to sing like they did."

His calling was revealed to him at a concert one evening. "I went to see Gino Vannelli," he says. "He came out in this beautiful white suit, and the girl next to me took off her underwear. That's when I decided, that's what I want to do." In January '96 he got on Showtime at the Apollo, a program whose audiences have been known to be brutal to pretenders who fall short; Perez emerged triumphant. His success brought him to the attention of Tommy Quon and Dave Deberry, the pair (in)famous for their role in the early success of Vanilla Ice. Quon and Deberry helped Perez put together Soul Conscious, his debut album for Toro Music--his brother Paul's label, basically created for Tony--and were instrumental in hooking Toro up with the mid-level Ichiban label.

Soul Conscious is a promising debut; Perez--who co-writes most of the material and has also studied and trained to sing opera--does indeed deliver smooth, modern soul whose precision doesn't get in the way of its ability to transmit emotion. His version of Hall and Oates' "Sara Smile" has been getting requests for airplay locally, but it's his "Drive Bye"--which examines a drive-by shooting and its aftermath--that has really hit a nerve and garnered the most requests. The production of "Drive Bye"--a slow rolling groove with a portentous chorus in the background and an anguished Perez holding a dying friend in his arms--is typical of his approach. "People like it because it has a message," Perez explains. "The way I try to sing soul music is from the depth of my heart. I try to make everybody feel what I'm saying."

Scene, heard
Long-running and hugely talented local aggregation Beledi will appear at the McKinney Avenue Contemporary Sunday, October 26, at 7 p.m. Although the group has ranged in size from a trio to more than a dozen members since its founding in 1976, this incarnation will find the improvisational collection with approximately half a dozen members. "Everyone's been in the group before," explains percussionist Jamal Mohamed, who started Beledi with his brother, guitarist Buddy. "It's sort of a reunion thing, where we just get together and have fun." Among those slated to appear are Kim Corbet (trombone), percussionists Ed Smith and Thom Cross, and guitarist Joe Lee. Look for members of D'Drum (the Observer's Best Unsigned Band of 1997) to join the group for a show-ending jam that will be accompanied by the dancing of Lora Cain.

Novachrome has agreed to a "word of honor" recording deal with Parallax Entertainment. No contracts have been--or will be, apparently--signed, but according to the deal, Parallax will foot the bill for the band's studio time and for the record's release later this year. Novachrome started as a home recording project for singer-bassist Johny Hawkins, who recruited a number of local musicians to guest on the band's Pixies-ish self-released tape Chromatose. Among them was Hagfish drummer Tony Barsotti, who played with Hawkins in the late sugar-metal band Cool Christine. Now a full-fledged band, Novachrome will enter the studio early next month...

David Wayne and Andy Lileson have moved to San Francisco in order to "put something together there," according to Wayne, who said that their "thing" may or may not continue as Super Secret Weapon, the name that most Dallasites associate with their efforts...Overflow is going into Last Beat Studios to record a five-song EP/demo and will appear at Club Clearview Saturday, October 25, with Atom 12 and Punkinhead...

Street Beat values all your e-mail tips and comments; direct them to Matt_Weitz@dallasobserver.com. Thanks be to Zac Crain for his contributions to this report.

 
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