Yes, it was about 43 years ago. The Ohio Players were promoting the record, “PAIN”, at the Lakeview Paladium, and our group, The Stone Soul Image got the opening act gig. We were seasoned veterns of three years. We had opened for the Delfonics twice, David Ruffin and had two Motown auditions under our belts.
At some point after the show, I had a chance to chat with one of OP lead singers, Leroy Bonner – Sugarfoot. He grinned at me and said “you can sing.” All I could say was “thanks but I aint no Sugarfoot.” He said, “naw, I can sang, but you be singing.”
I never forget that brief conversation, but it wasn’t until last Sunday that I came to know what he meant. Sugar had been my Sensei and the Palladium stage was his dojo.
When he made the distinction between sanging and singing, I didn’t grasp the idea of the raw vocal gymnastics that he had developed after years of starring a girl in the eye and making her feel his voice rumble through her body. He was an entertainer. I, on the other hand had studied vocal training and harmony in the evenings with Charles Spencer and sang tenor in the male chorus at Colonel White, under Ms.Carol Harris. They taught us melody and sight reading. What I was doing was art. What Sugar was doing was craft.
Sunday night, I did a show, backing up another colorful Dayton musician, Alan Foster. It was pure craft. Alan had a group of sweet harmony singing ladies, and I was just there to bring 43 years of craft to the table, filling in any hole in the harmony – in real time, while looking the ladies in the audience straight in the eye, so they felt that the songs we sang were directed at them.
Now to the point.
That same night, Alan introduced his audience to a young man named Abraham. This guy can sing. He is blessed with a set of vocal pipes that allow him to push notes above a musical bed and let you almost breath his melody, and he does it with seemingly total ease. It was at that moment that I saw the difference in what he does and what I do. He sings, and I sang, and with that knowledge, passed down from sensei – Sugarfoot, 43 years ago, I earn my wings. I used to sing, but now I can sang.