For Keith Washington, fads fade but passion endures

January 14, 1994|By J. D. Considine | J. D. Considine,Pop Music Critic

Keith Washington is anything but a slave to fashion.

Other R&B singers may worry about keeping up with the current trends and making sure their albums are outfitted with all the latest sounds and gimmicks, but not him.

"I'm not really very concerned with the flavor of the moment," he confesses. "If the current trend is calling everybody 'hootchie mamas' and this and that, then that definitely wouldn't be anything that I would want to be a part of.

"I want to try to stand for love and romance and those kinds of things," he says. "I always try to go for the songs first, and then I let that be my barometer for whether I want to do it or not."

It may be an old-fashioned approach, but that's fine by him. Because Washington is most interested in making the kind of music that will be around long after the current fads fade.

"What I try to do are songs that are timeless," he says, over the phone from Los Angeles. "Because the great ones just have that tTC realness to them, whether it be Billy Joel and 'I Love You Just the Way You Are,' or a 'If You Don't Know Me By Now' by Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes. The great ones just come from the heart.

"I think that in truth, I want to make records that you can make love to," he adds. "Something real smooth, where you can have your glass of wine and your favorite lady, and just kick back without a whole bunch of screaming and hollering in the background. You can just appreciate what I'm saying, as if you're telling this to your lady.

"So let me do the talking. You get the wine, you set the mood, and leave the driving to Keith."

That certainly describes the feel of "You Make It Easy," Washington's latest album. From the gently pleading caresses of "Stay In My Corner" to the murmured asides of "We Need to Talk/Before I Let Go," Washington has no trouble maintaining an aura of romance in his music.

Some of his songs, in fact, are so vividly passionate that listeners may wonder if Washington has a specific lady in mind when he sings. "In a lot of instances, I do," he says. "But most of the time, it's just about the fantasy. Love at some point in your life.

"It's like being an actor. They say, 'Remember when you were angry at your girlfriend for parking the car and getting a parking ticket? Don't use that anger against her at the moment. Save it for when you get ready to go through this certain scene.'

"So a lot of times when I'm writing, it's just about tapping into past experiences. Because through the years, I've experienced probably every type of love situation that you can be in."

Of course, it helps that Washington has such excellent rapport with his writing partners, Jon Nettlesby and Terry Coffey.

"These guys are like brothers to me," he says. "We came up together musically, and so they really know me, and they know the honest side of me. If it's something that I'm trying to express, and I get caught up on a word or something, then Jon just has an amazing way of taking what I'm feeling and putting it into words that make rhythmic sense and rhyme and are structured. He's just really great with words.

"Plus, Terry has this incredible sense of orchestration and arrangement. He's able to lay a bed over which you can really be emotional and expressive. With them, I'm not afraid to try things, because if I make mistakes, or if I do something that's not cool, I don't feel embarrassed about it. So I can just totally, completely relax."

At the moment, Nettlesby and Coffey's biggest hit is the current Coca-Cola jingle, "Always Coca-Cola." Reports Washington, "Consumer research shows that it's the most popular Coca-Cola jingle since 'I'd Like To Teach the World To Sing.' "

Although the duo have talked to Washington about doing a version of the jingle -- "I'm thinking of maybe sitting down and doing a real mellow one, for a twist," he says -- Washington is in no rush to make it onto the TV commercial hit parade.

Nor, surprisingly, is he all that eager to take over the pop charts. "It's not always important to an artist to always have these super-huge hit records," he says. "Someone who is an artist, and not just a one-hit-wonder type of person, will make sure to consistently give the listeners something that they want. Regardless of whether it's going to be a super-screaming top hit, if just something that the core audience loves.

"It's like with Chaka Khan. 'I Feel For You' is her biggest hit song, but it's not necessarily her best record. She has a wealth of

songs that are just, you know, you can't live without them. They touch your heart, they touch your soul. And there are a lot of Earth, Wind and Fire records that I just love. They weren't the number one all over the world kind of songs, but the albums themselves are a treasure.

"As long as you have a consistency about what you do, and that's what I strive for," he says. "You remember certain things that touch your audience, and you try to give that to them consistently."

Keith Washington

When: Monday at 7 p.m.

Where: Lyric Opera House, 140 W. Mount Royal Ave.

Tickets: $27.50

Call: (410) 685-5086 for information, (410) 481-7328 for tickets

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