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Jacques Fred Petrus & Mauro Malavasi
Interviews
 

 

Davide Romani

 How did you become a member of Goody Music Production? In the late seventies producers Petrus and Malavasi invited me to their Bologna studio to play the bass parts on Machoís track ďIím A ManĒ. I enjoyed the aggressive sound of the disco music, it was a very fascinating experience. So I stayed at Goody Music Production and I developed my personal bass sound. I collaborated on many projects like Rudy, Change, B.B.&Q. Band, High Fashion et cetera. Mauro Malavasi also persuaded me to compose songs besides playing the bass guitar. So in 1979, in a moment of absence of ĎIl capoí (the leader) Malavasi, I started composing tracks for the new Change project. I had never written songs before but the results were positive. My first track was the disco hit ďA Loverís HolidayĒ, my second ďThe Glow Of LoveĒ, followed by ďParadiseĒ, ďHold TightĒ, ďStarletteĒ for the B.B.&Q. Band and so onÖ

 Were you influenced by the seductive Chic sound?  I must admit that I was influenced by the sophisticated productions of Nile Rodgers & Bernard Edwards when I composed songs. Their innovative harmonic solutions in those days appealed me.

 How can you explain that an Italian is so good at making black dancemusic.  I have no explanation. Iím indeed a white man from a little Italian town called Ferrara. But in my heart Iíve always favoured black music. To give you an idea, I have never bought any Italian CD unless for professional reasons. I feel like an American producer living in Italy, a Ďblackí sheep among the Italian producers. Making black music has always given me most satisfaction in my musical career.

 During the early eighties you worked with a lot of accomplished American studio musicians like Kashif. Who made the biggest impression on you? I had the opportunity and satisfaction to work with many American top musicians in New York. I canít tell you who I preferred because there were too many talented people. But sure Kashif had a very unique musical touch and a very good taste.

 What was the usual procedure when you recorded songs?  Before we entered the studio with the other musicians we knew what we wanted. We had the basic track worked out. Usually I prepared everything concerning the compositions and arrangements, except for the lead guitar because I canít play the guitar, Iím a bass player. Generally the tracks were constructed in Italy. The vocals were recorded and mixed in the U.S.

 About 1984 you and Mauro Malavasi broke with producer Jacques Fred Petrus. What happened and why did you never produce black music again in the U.S.? There was a conflict with the Goody Music company. Producer Jacques Fred Petrus didnít pay us. I think Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis had a similar experience with Petrus. So we stopped the collaboration with Petrus. Both Malavasi and I started a studio in Italy. I didnít produce black music anymore because I was too busy working with Italian artists. But now I realize that I made a big mistake there.

 What do you know about the tragic end of producer Jacques Fred Petrus?  Jacques Fred Petrus was shot dead at home in his native country Guadeloupe about 1987 I think. He was hit by eight bullets. The murder was presumably connected with the illegal affairs Petrus was involved in.

 What is your opinion about todayís black music and the frequent sampling of music?  Evidently the clock has gone around, in the sense that Iím not surprised that the musical trace I left behind has turned up again. My songs have been used by black superstars like Aretha Franklin, R. Kelly and Janet Jackson. For a songwriter this is the ultimate honour.
Regarding massive sampling in dancemusic today, well I think weíre also in the front of a new wave of incompetent producers who donít know much about making music except reproducing. In order to have success you need to have ideas. The capacity of making music is not enough. However there are excellent groups with courage that I admire and respect. I think of Incognito, one of  the best groups around in the last years. I also adore Latin and Brazilian music as well as acid-jazz and funk. Iím tired of listening to rap CDs only but often itís the last resource for rhythm. Letís say that I like the groove but not always the melody.

 In 1983 the Italian group Flowchart meticulously cloned the Change sound on their album The New Harlem Funk. Can you appreciate this? Iím sorry, I donít know this group.

 Are you still playing funky music today? Iíve assembled a music band for amusement. The group has eleven members among which three vocalists and three background singers. We play music from the seventies and the eighties and also tracks by Tower Of Power and Jamiroquai, one of my favourite artists. Itís really fun doing this.

 Can we expect a new Change album in the future? Yes thatís possible. I recorded several demo-tapes with new, unedited material. But Iím still looking for the right lead vocalist.

 What are the essential qualities needed to become a good producer and what is your message to all the talented people who want to start a music career? We live in a very ambiguous world full of dishonest people. I advise musicians to persist, to write and compose songs. Playing music only is not enough unless you are a first class musician. It costs a lot of money to reach your goal but itís possible in music. If you want to be a winner follow my advice.

Davide Romani, 15/12/2001, Ferrara
(Translation: Bruna Stefani, Francis Depuydt)

 

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Jeff Bova (Change)

  Could you explain the production methods of Petrus & Malavasi? The Italians produced, wrote and arranged. If they weren't the writers then they still arranged the songs. Fred would have already approved the song before it was being recorded. Mauro and Davide would lay down the groove first (drums, bass and synthesizer) and then would overdub. Each song would require different approaches but I know they had at least the song blocked out before recording. Terry Silverlight was the main drummer they used. He was a real tight player and funky too. After the basic was down, then other musicians - guitars, saxophone, horns, more keyboards etc -. would be added. There was however a difference with the recording process today. This era was pre-computers and -sequencers, so a lot of time was taken to make sure every playerís part was locked tight to the groove. One way was to slow down the tape and play the part at a slower tempo, then speed back up to normal afterwards. Finally the backing vocals and the leads were recorded and mixed.

 Why were the vocal parts always recorded separately. Isnít it easier to record music with singers in the studio? It is standard practice to lay down the track first in this kind of music. Since it was very groove orientated and since the musicians all really have a great musical sense it works. A great musician knows where most things are going to happen. If someone went outside the bounds required, then Mauro or Davide would show us what they needed, based on their knowledge of what the song was. We never heard the vocals, except Mauro or Davide might sing over the track in the control room to make sure it was going to work. They would demonstrate how a part should go and then let you put your own spin on and play it yourself.

 Was J.F. Petrus a reliable businessman or a shark? Shark first, and a very reliable shark at that.

 Is it true that you were playing with Change in 1981 already? How come that Petrus picked you for the Change project?  Thatís right. In 1981 we were introduced by a friend of mine, Pete Cannarozzi, who was playing with Roberta Flack. He was offered the job but was tied up with her so he recommended me. I did three world tours with Change and I recorded for the 1982, 1983 and 1984 albums.

 Was Jacques Fred Petrus ever present in the studio or was he a full-time office man? He was there in the studio. Petrus definitely had input into the over all vibe. Mauro and Davide were the detail guys. Mauro led of course but Davide did contribute a lot to every aspect. They were a very valuable musician team.

 Could you give a description of the mysterious Petrus since there are no photos available? He was indeed a very evasive kind of person. To my knowledge there are no pictures of him. Petrus was born in Guadeloupe and was of Italian descent. He wasnít black but dark skinned. The man didnít have a tall figure but acted tall. Stocky and muscular is my best recollection. Petrus was capable of a good laugh and did have a charming way at times. But he thought highly of himself and he was a very passionate personality. Very direct too. You knew he had the last word, he was the boss. He said to us once that, "I AM Change!".

 Do you know more about Petrus' assassination? I heard it was a hit. Underworld/Mob kind of thing.($$$$?)

 What have you been up to since Change? Well Iíve kept real busy. I composed, arranged, produced and did session work for a wide range of artists such as Iggy Pop, Sisters Of Mercy, Bonnie Tyler, Cher, Michael Bolton, Celine Dion, AhHa, Take That, Michael Jackson, Michael McDonald, Billy Ocean, Natalie Cole, etcetera. I also toured with artists Nona Hendryx, Herbie Hancock, Jeffrey Osborne, Akiko Yano and Cyndi Lauper. In my studio in New York I try to keep myself on the leading edge of the evolution in synthesizer programming and electronics synthesized instrumentation. In the last few years IĎve picked up numerous digital instruments and effects generators. I realized that computers and synthesizers are not all separate things. They and traditional keyboards are tools for the musicians. The good musicians use the best and most versatile tools available that make the music sound better, and make creativity less encumbered by Ďmechanicalí limitations. I inter-connected computers, mixers, effects and instruments in a practical full rack system. But I keep my older analog gear in my system because I noticed that many producers are asking for acoustic sounds.

Jeff Bova, 08/02/2002, New York

 

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