Deniece Williams: Niecy's Real Nice
By David Nathan
In person interview, New York City, November 1976
1976 seems to have heralded the arrival of a couple of really good lady singer-songwriters who seem certain to make a big impact on the musical world within the next few months. We've already written about one of them — the lovely Patti Austin, who seems to be doing very nicely thank you with her CTI album, "End Of The Rainbow". The other lady worthy of note is Deniece Williams.
With “This Is Niecy,” an album on CBS, produced by Maurice White of Earth, Wind & Fire and Charles Stepney, Deniece is causing quite a stir. The album is receiving strong airplay and sales and as a debut set, it is picking up rave reviews and interest everywhere. Not surprising, since the production is naturally excellent and the lady's songs are simple, soulful and meaningful.
During a recent promotional trip to the East Coast (Deniece lives in L.A.), the lady took time to tell us about herself: "Well, I met Maurice through a mutual friend. I had some songs on tape that I wanted him to hear. We had a conversation and he told me that he thought that I should sing them myself, rather than letting them go to everyone else." Deniece explains that, prior to speaking with Maurice, she'd been concentrating on writing and getting her songs recorded. "I felt that I should get into one area — publishing — and then concentrate on others. Which is why I waited until I was ready to record — we didn't rush in straight away. During 1975, I'd had a couple of people do my tunes. Merry Clayton did 'Slip Away', The Whispers did one of my songs as did Billy Preston and The Soul Train Gang. Also, The Emotions did a couple of my songs which Maurice and Charles produced — which helped me to know the direction that they'd take my music when I did it myself. I also understand that Jean Terrell is about to record 'Special Part Of My Life' with Bobby Martin producing down in Philly and Frankie Valli is doing 'That's What Friends Are For'.
Obviously, Deniece's writing abilities have been far from overlooked by all and sundry. "I guess the timing was right when we finally decided to get down and do the album," Deniece comments. "You see, I feel that I have something to say, something to give and I eel people should hear it. And Maurice understands that. He knew my pace and the group just locked right into my music with no problem. I had kind of worked out arrangements on the demos with just piano and vocal — then Maurice added his special touch. It took some six months — but then I don't feel it's good to rush. In between times, I was kept busy with session work, doing jingles, and so on. It actually took three days for me to do my own finished vocals — of course, I can hear things now that I would have done differently — I hear room for improvement. Which is a good sign for the next album."
Already, with one album under her belt, Deniece has moved on! "I'm on my sixth album musically," she laughs. "I guess I must have some seventy-five songs in all — of which forty are already copy-written and ready. I've been writing for a couple of years now — some of the songs on my album relate back — like 'Free' which I started on in 1972. In fact I wrote quite a few tunes whilst I was working with Stevie Wonder in Wonderlove."
Tracing Deniece's musical history back, she recalls that her initial dealing with the music business came at the tender age of 17. "I was working in a record store and the people there figured I should record. I said I might as well — at the time I was trying to get my money together to be in school because I wanted to get into nursing. So I went to Chicago and recorded for Toddlin’ Town Records. And it was what we did there that Stevie heard and tracked me down a couple of years later. That's how I came to be working with him. Of course, working with him was fantastic. I learned so much. I was like a diamond in the rough back then — and I guess I got so much of my training working with him. One minute I was doing nothing, next thing I knew we were performing at the Bitter End, almost without any time for rehearsal. And it was a lot of fun. Then, when the time came, I moved on. I believe in growth and when it's time, you do what you should do."
It was after her stint with Stevie — which ended in 1975 — that Deniece decided to concentrate on her own music — and then in stepped Maurice White. So to the future. “Well, I'm concentrating on putting my name on the map," the lovely lady replies. "I want to be around like a Nancy Wilson or a Lou Rawls — longevity is the name of the game. I think I'm off and running and I couldn't really be in a better situation with having Maurice, CBS and everyone behind me."
It seems that on immediate listening, several folk have chosen to draw comparisons between Deniece and fellow CBS artist, Minnie Riperton. How does she feel about that? "I thrive in knowing there's competition! I believe that my second album will show people more of what I'm all about — there is so much more to come. We called the album "This Is Niecy" because that's who I am. And that's what it is. I'm secure about myself — and my music will reflect that. Like I say, there is so much more to be revealed — I play the flute so I can write instrumental. And if you really want to know, my heart is in country and western! So you see, nothing is impossible — there are many more facets to be uncovered."
Immediately, Deniece is beginning work on rehearsals since she'll soon be out on the road with The Ohio Players and K.C. & The Sunshine Band: "I really enjoy performng, I enjoy audiences. We've got a seven-piece unit — five musicians, two background singers — and I'm really happy with the sound we're getting." The lady says that she expects to actually start working on her next album "about the second or third month of next year — by then, Maurice will be free because right now, he's on tour with EW&F and won't be through till December."
Meanwhile, Ms. Williams says she's just really glad about everything that's happening. "I try to make my music spiritual — that's very important to me because that's how I try to be myself. I feel that all the things that are happening are part of God's plan for me. I want to give 100% in everything I do — and sometimes you can only get to 85% and hope that it will grow! But I want to do everything I possibly can — my dreams are truly coming into reality and I'm truly grateful for that."
We should be grateful that the lady's talent has now been unleashed because her vocal and writing ability is sure to leave its mark in the future….