*Often called “the hardest working woman in underground soul,” singer/songwriter/musician Sy Smith is eager to step forward – and she is doing it big time.
The singer, known in the nu-soul Los Angeles scene for over ten years, takes front-and-center with legendary percussionist Pete Escovedo. Smith commands the vocals on the track, “Let’s Stay Together,” from Escovedo’s new “Back to the Bay” release.
Smith told Lee Bailey in a recent interview that there was a lot in the mix before the collaboration took place.
“When I was pursuing a career as a songwriter I was working with a lot of producers and Peter Michael (Escovedo’s son) was one of them,” said Smith. “This was many years ago. We’re talking 2002. I would go to his house and hang out with him and his wife and all of their children.”
She continued, “Peter Michael and I would write and he told his sister Sheila E. (that’s right the former Prince protégé) about me and every now and then I’d run into her at award shows and we would be in the same dressing room and I was like, ‘Sheila E., oh my god.’ And she was like, ‘I know who you are.’ She and I became friends over the years and she would ask me to sing on the road with her.”
Unfortunately, Smith had her own gigs and could not tour with Sheila E. – just yet. However, in 2010, Smith was free to hit the road with the drummer extraordinaire. It was during Smith’s tour with Sheila E. that Pete Escovedo (also Sheila’s dad, if you have not figured it out by now) heard her powerful pipes.
“‘Pops’ (as she and almost everyone else lovingly calls Pete Escovedo) heard me at some of the shows. I was kind of like her hype girl. It was just me. There was no background section. One night ‘Pops’ came to (an event I hosted) and whispered in my ear that I’m his favorite singer. I was blushing so hard. The man is smooth.”
That moment sealed the deal that the New York born/D.C. raised singer was “in” with Pete Escovedo and last year she received word that “Pops” wanted her on “Let’s Stay Together.” Of course, the track is a remake of the 1972 Al Green classic of the same name, which Smith says has a special meaning to her.
“It reminds me of my family. I would spend summers in Tennessee with my grandparents and auntie. That was one of my Aunt’s favorite songs.”
As for remaking the song, Smith said, “Sometimes approaching a cover can be nail biting and you want to do it justice and want to bring your own thing to it too. When I heard what ‘Pops’ was doing with it musically he kept it in the spirit of (the original).”
The affection that Smith has for the Escovedos is the real deal and you can see it in the “Let’s Stay Together” video, directed by Peter Michael and filmed at Sheila E.’s home in LA’s San Fernando Valley.
“The atmosphere is real,” Smith said. “The familial thing is real. The Escovedos have taken me in as their daughter and Shawn Carter Peterson (her husband and actor – he’s also on piano in the “Let’s Stay Together video) as their son. Everybody thinks Shawn is an Escovedo but he’s not. I’m really the Escovedo. We are really part of the family.”
While Smith does not know if Green has heard the new rendition, she has good memories of working with the celebrated soul singer in the past.
“In the 90s, when I was on ‘Ally McBeal,’ in a couple of scenes we (me and other singers) sang with him. I was like I finally met the legend. We also sang the theme song for the “Soul Food” television show together.
Additionally, Sy Smith used to sing with The Rickey Minor Band on “American Idol” and “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.” The Howard University graduate also did backing vocals for Whitney Houston, Chaka Khan, and Usher. Meanwhile, you can buy Pete Escovedo’s “Back to the Bay” here.
Smith also has a new album out, her fifth, “Sometimes A Rose Will Grow In Concrete,” released earlier this year – buy now. For more information on Sy Smith, go here.
EUR BONUS AUDIO …