Keite Young sits at a Deep Ellum bar, a red Kenyan necklace dangling from his neck, and carrying a small leather medicine bag. The Fort Worth native is ready to break what he calls his "eight-year silence" as Medicine Man, his stage alter-ego and soul/rock/hip-hop project with producer Jason Burt. Young made his alias' name locally through a monthly residency at RBC, which ended last year. He's now recording a new album due next year and a trilogy of videos.
Young went quiet after a solo record deal fizzled in 2008, but he wasn't entirely silent. Medicine Man's Traveling Revival, a well-produced, variety act showcasing local talent, ran for three years. Young hosted with Mattie Michelle.
"The name Medicine Man came from a character that wasn't completely intentional," says Young. "A lot of it came about because of certain life experiences, the kind you don't write about."
Singer Dezi 5, who used to perform in Traveling Revival, recalls his awe upon meeting Young. "I looked up to Keite the first time I saw him at the Prophet Bar," Dezi says. "I love Keite like a brother, and he's Dallas' D'Angelo; he's soul-rock."
Young was ordained as a minister at age 15, through the Baptist church, and spent his teenage years conducting sermons. "It's what I always was, it's what I am," he says, despite the fact he left the church at age 19.
"I had already outgrown religion," Young says. "I saw the lies for myself, the lie that religion uses to keep people slaves." These days, the only organized groups that Young belongs to are bands. "But I do still preach every time I'm on stage."
In his early twenties Young learned to play instruments, though he finds that they tie him down onstage. "I learned music by myself," Young says. "I had a broken guitar and my grandmother had a game room with no AC, and I would sing into a mic for 72 hours, writing a song."
Young also studied pre-law at the University of Houston, but dropped out after a year. "I found myself in the piano room more than in class," he says. He signed a publishing agreement at 19 with a label called Gospel Central, which entailed contributing 12 songs to be used at their discretion. "I signed the agreement because I don't think the music business has ever looked kindly upon people like myself who can't be put into one category very easily," Young says.
After fulfilling his contract as a writer, he was asked to join one of the label's artists, seven-time Grammy winner Kirk Franklin and the Family, as a backup singer. For two years, he performed on a nationwide tour, joined by his parents, who were also background singers for Franklin. "It kept me out of a lot of trouble," Young says. "Not enough, though."
Following the tour, Young signed a recording contract with Hidden Beach Records, a subsidiary of Sony. He says that the connection came through his great uncle, NBA player Wayman Tisdale, who'd worked with Hidden Beach, and had also been a bass player for the Motown label. Young says that it took six years to release his debut album, and it wasn't commercially successful. "Critics gave it love, but it wasn't promoted," Young says. "I was outpacing their promoting of the record, it wasn't a good match. ... If it's not honest, I can't connect to it, and then I have nothing on stage. I can't compromise."
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He also says he feels industry racism helped limit his options. "They were only letting Lenny Kravitz have a guitar and be black at the same time," he says. "The industry is super racist that way, nobody knew what to do with me."
After separating from the label, Young formed a band called Black and Blue, which includes guitarist Mark Lettieri of Snarky Puppy, and which still plays intermittently. He considers his music "root rock," inspired in a range between Led Zeppelin and Sam Cooke.
Medicine Man's upcoming album is in production at Modern Electric studios, and he expects it'll be ready for release in the beginning of next year. Producer Burt, who also plays guitar and keys, says of the project: "Medicine Man is a culture of honesty and vulnerability. Keite is a modern day shaman and has a lot to offer the music community in more than just the music department."
For Young, elaborate showmanship and music are just tools to get out his message. "Success for me is being the artist," he states. "I'm an artist, so I'm successful. I create. My show is my resume."