Luther Vandross loves recording. Other singers may chafe at the painstaking labor involved -- the endless retakes, the constant fine-tuning, the intense attention paid to tiny details -- but not him. For Vandross, the studio is the place where dreams really do come true.
"It can be a very tedious process," he acknowledged recently, "but at the same time, seeing it all come together is a fabulous thing," he said recently.
Fabulous? That's an understatement where this man is concerned, for as any fan of soul singing can attest, Vandross' albums are as close to perfect as anything in this life gets.
It isn't just that he knows his craft. Sure, the rhythm arrangements and vocal backgrounds built into his current album, "The Power of Love," are absolutely state-of-the-art; some would even sound like hits on their own. But what ultimately makes these recordings come alive is his voice, for few singers put as much of themselves into a song; hearing him, it's almost impossible not to share the feelings he sings about.
There may be no way to squeeze more emotion into a song than Vandross does in the studio, but in concert it's easy enough to change the emotional mix. And that, says the singer, is how he is able to bring something fresh to live performances.
"The record is really only the way I felt about the song the night that I recorded it," he explained over the phone from Los Angeles, where he was rehearsing for his current tour. "When you come, you see me live, you'll get the essence of what it is, but you won't necessarily get the same exact proportion of ingredients.
"Because it's not necessary to recapture it to that degree. It's necessary to recapture what people love about the record, but there might be something better that I can say tonight. So we're not going to say the same exact thing if I've got something better to say."
Of course, it's not always easy to bring that freshness to the music each night. Traveling can be tiring, and the routine of concert after concert can wear at any singer's enthusiasm, as Vandross well knows.
"I will admit that I have been fatigued to such a degree that by the time the introduction music had started, I was like, 'Oh boy, let me get through this,' " he admitted.
"But you're talking to a person who, as a kid, used to sit in math class and draw pictures of the Supremes and Temptations on Ed Sullivan. So we're talking about somebody actually living his fantasy as much as Magic Johnson must be living his fantasy, as much as Michael Jordan must be living his fantasy now, you know? It's the same thing."
That may be the biggest reason Vandross so relishes singing. "It's involuntary," he said. "I've never found myself wanting the song to be over. I never have."
But it isn't just the joy of realizing his dreams that makes music such an ongoing passion for the singer; it's also the fact that singing helps Vandross deal with the day-to-day reality of his own life and emotions.
"I'm constantly searching," he said. "If my adrenalin is high and I'm feeling on top of the world and I've just had two phone calls that were great and I just fell in love and blah blah blah -- I'm searching as I sing the song, and something slightly different might come out.
"Or if I'm depressed -- concerned about my weight or fatigued after a 16-hour bus ride in the snow -- when I sing the song, something else is going to come out that might even be deeper than what you have at home on the record.
"Because it's a real person you're talking about. There's no tape and there's no sampling. It's all a real person, and that's what I grew up loving: real music."
Real music isn't just a matter of avoiding electronics and tricky technology, though -- it's a matter of emotions, of singing about things anyone in the audience can recognize and identify with. And that, Vandross said, is at the heart of what he tries to do with his music.
"Roberta Flack said it best in 'Killing Me Softly with His Song.' That whole story says it all," he explained. "There's this guy on stage, you know, and 'I thought he found my letters and read each one out loud.' That's the whole thing.
"And that's why it's so individual, you know. When somebody thinks, 'Luther says things in song that really applied to my life' -- that's what I meant to do.
"Like in 'I'm Gonna' Start Today.' If you say, 'Now I know how to make love real/ You don't know 'til you know how to feel/ I've been picking up the pieces of my broken past/ But it's OK, I'm going to start today,' -- that's better than saying, 'Baby, you've done me wrong.'
"You know what I'm saying? It's a different, more introspective type of self-realization. I can say something that I haven't experienced personally, necessarily, that could touch you in your life. You know, you could go to a therapist, and they may not have experienced what you've experienced, but the good they do [is through] their ability to understand. It's the same thing in writing and singing. It's about depth."
And when it comes to soul singing, there's definitely no one deeper.
When: Tuesday and Wednesday, Sept. 17-18, 8 p.m.
Where: Capital Centre
Tickets: $30, $45
Call: 792-7490 for information, 481-6000 for tickets