Learn your craft and keep an open mind. It will allow you the flexibility to collaborate successfully with other artists by being able to bring meaningful creative ideas to the table. An example for me happens whenever I step into a project where you’re building everything up from the floor. It doesn’t matter who they are or what either of us did in the past because only this project, this moment matters. The creative piece comes before anyone’s ego so, it’s important to surrender to creativity and allow that to take the lead.
As a part of our series about creating a successful career in the music industry, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Dave Revels.
Dave Revels was born in England and spent his formative years in Jamaica. Since immigrating to the United States, Dave began singing as a teenager and has enjoyed a career spanning several decades and musical genres, from Reggae, Calypso, Americana to Rhythm & Blues.
He is currently enjoying chart success on the Beachmusic45 charts with his previous release, “Anytime You’re Close To Me.” Recent collaborations include the 2022 single “Birds & Sleeping Dogs” with legendary Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna founder/guitarist/vocalist Jorma Kaukonen. In 2017 with The Persuasions for Steven “Little Steven” Van Zandt’s solo album Soul Fire and also with The Persuasions and Barenaked Ladies reimagining their existing songs and arranged background vocals and singing leads on Ladies & Gentlemen Barenaked Ladies and The Persuasions. The double vinyl album charted in the top 30 on the Canadian charts. Dave is also the writer of a contemporary national American anthem, “Stand Up America”, which has been performed at major league baseball stadiums, the Veterans Day celebration in New York’s Times Square and is sung in schools across the country.
Dave is the longtime creative director, producer and lead performer of the award winning concert musical production, “Shadows Of The 60s,” hailed for its precise, highly talented and creative portrayal of Motown’s legendary artist such as The Four Tops, Temptations and Supreme ladies of Motown.
Dubbed the “golden throated singer” by the New York Post, Dave always reminds us that he is standing on the shoulders of his great mentors. Dave was a member of The Drifters with Charlie Thomas and Elsbeary Hobbs and in 1985 they appeared on the NBC television special, “ Motown Returns To The Apollo Theater”, alongside The Temptations and The Four Tops. He was later recruited to join America’s legendary A cappella group, The Persuasions as lead singer and record producer following the departure of lead singer Jerry Lawson.
He has sung calypso on albums by legendary stars such as The Mighty Sparrow, Arrow and Lord Kitchener, reggae with early legends The Blues Busters, Rock & Roll with The Drifters on the last American Bandstand Tour.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
My early and most formative years were spent in Jamaica where I learned my core values — family loyalty, being in touch with nature by growing plants, tending live stock, private catholic school education and religion. I loved climbing trees on our property, eating the sun-ripened fruits from them and playing from sun up to sun down. I remember being creative and making my own hand made toys. Slingshots, spinning tops, building kites from scratch by shaving bamboo down to make the frames and attaching colorful thin sheets of paper with homemade glue, then running along the road and letting the wind lift them to the sky. I feel that side of me led to having a fertile imagination and my becoming a creative person as a writer, singer and entertainer.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
For me, it started in high school. I went to Erasmus Hall High School in Flatbush (Brooklyn), which had a lot of creative outlets from dance, theater, and choral groups. I was a very shy person but was always drawn to music, especially singing. They were holding auditions in the Boys Glee Club for solos. I raised my hand and gave it a try. I think my fellow students; teacher and I all found out at the same time that I could sing. As so many before me that was the first time I joined a singing group, as we all sort of gravitated towards each other. My first group got a real jump start when we met a member of the world-renowned a cappella group, The Persuasions. We went to his apartment to show him how well we thought we could sing and he said, “that’s nice fellas, but where’s the harmony?” That led to him taking us under his wings and our first formal lesson on what it meant to sing as a professional. That gave me the skills to start reaching out to bands and doing gigs.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
That would have to be Jayotis Washington of The Persuasions. He taught me vocal arranging, how to pay attention to the blend and how to frame harmonies around a melody, which led to my gaining confidence to approach anyone and go after opportunities. Without that fundamental knowledge, I honestly don’t think I would have appreciated music the way I do.
You probably have a lot of fascinating experiences. Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
Wow. This is a rough lesson and moment in my career that I believe defined my entire approach to the industry. I was in a new group touring our debut album and we opened for Chaka Khan in New York back around 1979 -81, can’t recall the exact year, at a concert promoted by Ron Delsner at Town Hall. We did a great concert and during the intermission it was a who’s who parade of stars that came backstage, some congratulating us but most, probably dropped by to say hello to Chaka. We were all set to take a picture that was to be placed in BILLBOARD Magazine. We were excited and proud of what we had accomplished and to be on the same bill with the great Chaka Khan! We had worked so hard for that moment. The camera came up as a scream erupted from the vicinity of Chaka’s dressing room area. A fight had broken out between two women who were both dating our drummer and it tumbled into her dressing room. Needless to say, no pictures were taken, no BILLBOARD spread or write-up. When the connection was made between these women and our group, we were ordered to pack up and leave the building before Chaka’s performance. It was a crushing moment to be so close to your dreams, riding so high that you can feel and taste it; only to have it all explode in your face. A couple of my band mates never recovered from the loss of that dream moment. I personally had to make a decision for my future. Why did I want to be in the industry? I just shrugged it off and said, well maybe it wasn’t meant to happen just yet for me. I learned from the experience and kept going.
It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Ha! This is about the very first band that backed me up. Singers can be arrogant as hell. Thinking we’re all that. I didn’t respect the band, as I should have, I just totally focused on being a lead and front men with my group. I told the bandleader to set the microphones up for us. We had practiced all this choreography, spins, slides, all that. We were announced and the band started playing our intro and we came running onto the stage to find they had shortened our mic cables and strung them from the band like hurdles in front of us, waist high to the mic stands. It must have been hilarious the way we bumped into each other, as we literally, could not do any dancing and had to sing holding our mics practically two feet away from the band for the entire set. Lessons learned? Respect the band, know how your P.A. is set up and make sure you have extra long mic cables.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I am the Creative Director, Producer and a performer in the number one nationally touring Motown Tribute show called “Shadows Of The 60s.”
Since 2009 I am also the lead singer of the long running a cappella group, The Persuasions, a roll I took over after the original lead left for a solo career. I subsequently arranged the background vocals and sang lead on an album collaboration with Canadian Rock Group, Barenaked Ladies, called Ladies and Gentlemen: Barenaked Ladies and The Persuasions. I am also recording my original songs for my next album and have released two singles over the past two years. I am also very excited about bringing my songs to life in concert on September 12th at The Cutting Room in New York City. I don’t believe a song is completed until you perform it live before an audience. They add the final punctuation marks through their interaction with me. There is no greater feeling like it for me as an artist.
You have been blessed with success in a career path that can be challenging. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path, but seem daunted by the prospect of failure?
Don’t be concerned with creatively pleasing anyone but yourself. You are in an extremely subjective field where no two people will perceive your work the same way. One may love it, another will be completely unimpressed. Accept however they may feel about your art. It’s okay. Do not edit your creativity trying to guess at what the public will love and follow. Focus on expressing exactly what you want to say and distill it into as few words or phrases free of any gimmicks. If you manage to do that, it won’t matter what critics will say because you are honest with yourself. Try to truly be at peace and happy with whom you are as a person and not get obsessed with comparing yourself to what others are doing. Don’t create a monster out of yourself that you cannot keep up with portraying 24/7.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in the music industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Stay grounded in the fundamentals of life such as your personal relationship with your family and that tight group of friends who you never have to pretend around or worry about a bad hair day. This will help keep things in perspective. Rest and treat your body right. Try not to do everything to excess. There is truth in taking all things in little sips, savor the journey.
Thank you for all that. This is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career in The Music Industry” and why?
Big question. Not all things work the same way for everyone. It’s really a personal blueprint.
1. Learn your craft and keep an open mind. It will allow you the flexibility to collaborate successfully with other artists by being able to bring meaningful creative ideas to the table. An example for me happens whenever I step into a project where you’re building everything up from the floor. It doesn’t matter who they are or what either of us did in the past because only this project, this moment matters. The creative piece comes before anyone’s ego so, it’s important to surrender to creativity and allow that to take the lead.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I would like to work with kids just getting out of elementary school and entering junior high school. My wife and I raised four children and I saw the same insane pattern repeat itself with all our kids. In graded K thru 4th grade, kids are taught and encouraged to be dreamers, thinkers outside the box and to truly believe they can do anything they set their minds to. Their teachers become second parents, nurturing these belief systems. So, naturally kids feel emboldened. Then when they transfer to middle school, that hand holding and support just falls away and they enter an environment where older, socially more adept kids make fun of them when they talk about their dreams. The light bulbs begin dimming and the dreams fade and they become less expressive and have to put away the dreams now to be replaced with adhering to academic curriculum and lesson plans aimed at pushing them through and out of high school.
I feel we lose a whole generation of free thinkers and innovators this way.
I would like to see a class period set aside that has no paper grades that is run by older kids in middle school who managed to hold on to their dreamer state and who will be allowed to take on the role of chaperones for these kids to transition into middle school stages. They would continue to encourage these younger kids to be creative and remain open minded to creating and making impossible things real. The older student chaperones will be given credit and scholarships toward a college education as proven leaders and motivators.
These actions may lead to a world with more balanced and sensitive human beings.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“There but for the grace of God, go I.”
When I begin to think I have so little and need more, I just have to look at someone who has no roof over their head. For everything I believe I don’t have but need, I just look around at some who has nothing and would feel blessed to have the things I daily take for granted. I was born into a particular family with opportunities whereas; someone else simply, was not. This understanding has allowed me to be ever humble and grateful for everything that has happened in my life, setbacks or triumphs because I have been able to learn from all of them and count my blessings.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
As an independent artist relying on limited resources to bring my creativity to the public, I have had to be creative in adding visuals to my music through self-made videos. I believe people listen more today with their eyes so; the two elements go hand in hand. When I write, I also get visuals that come along with the melody and lyric.
Okay, since you asked. I would relish the opportunity to sit with filmmaker, Lacey Duke because her visuals don’t step on the message of the artist’s lyrics, rhythms or melody. It just seems to stamp it in your mind and feels like a conversation between viewer and the artist. I particularly love what she did with Janelle Monáe. Smooth, fluid and allows me to vibe with the artist as though they are talking to me one on one. I would like that for my music or just to have Lacey share some of that knowledge as to the “how to”
How can our readers continue to follow your work online?
This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!