Interview with The Controllers

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The Controllers The phone rings at exactly 2:30pm on a sunny L.A. afternoon, and for any interview to begin precisely on time is, to say the least, unusual. On the other end of the line is Reginald McArthur, lead singer of The Controllers, the Alabama-based group whose recording career began in 1975 with the ever-soulful "Somebody's Gotta Win, Somebody's Gotta Lose".
Minutes later, we're joined by baritone Lenard Brown for a three-way conversation centred around the release of the quartet's first album for Capitol Records, appropriately entitled, "Just In Time".

After a four-year stint with MCA Records, the group have resurfaced with a collection that shows all the signs of cementing a reputation they've been building through the years as a top-notch team. So impressed with their vocal talents was a certain Ms. Anita Baker that, in 1986, shortly after the release of her landmark "Rapture" album, she had The Controllers opening for her at such prestigious venues as New York's Radio City Music Hall. But more about that later ? Reggie and Lenard are understandably anxious to talk about their new product.

"With each of our albums, we've tried to create a balance. You see, when we perform, people are always so surprised that we do a much more high-energy kind of show that they expect. Yes, we're known as balladeers but we never intended it to be that way, although we didn't mind when that happened. This new album reflects that this is a double-bladed act ? we can be fiery, uptempo cats too!
"Our new single, "Temporary Lovers" exemplifies the upbeat, today sound that we put on this album."

With producers Donnell Spencer and Sam Sims (who have worked with Pebbles and Gerald Albright as well as doing work for maestros Jam & Lewis), Vassal Benford (whose credits include work with Angela Bofill and Surface) and Ollie Brown (artist in his own right and producer of Trade Spencer, amongst others), "Just In Time" definitely takes The Controllers into some new musical areas. Do the group have any concern that their steadfast American fan following will feel like they've sold out musically?

"Well, when people hear just the single, they may have a one-sided look at what we're up to. But once they check out the album, they'll hear what else we do. The title track, "Just In Time" is likely to be the one that our ballad fans will love and the public who loves
that side of us won't feel like we've abandoned them when they hear that.
"But," Reggie and Lenard agrees, "this album is much more well-rounded than anything we've done before. We're showing that we can be funkateers as well as balladeers!"

In all their recording endeavours (including their three albums for MCA, the self-titled debut, "Stay" and "Playtime"), The Controllers have always emphasised "great lyrics ? that's part of our trademark. The songs we sing have to say something, have to have lyrics that people can relate to. We feel that we have an obligation to use the power of being recording artists to say something to so many."

Both Reggie and Lenard agree that working with different producers proved to be "very smooth for us ? originally, the idea of working with four different people looked like it would be a headache ? almost like climbing four mountains! But
each of the producers gave us something we wanted, whether it was ballads or up-tempo grooves and what was most important was that each team wrote for specifically for The Controllers, writing from scratch for us.

"That happened in some instances on our previous albums but not the way it did on this record."

Reflecting on their years with MCA, both gentlemen agree: "Those four years represented a good deal of growth for us. It was a productive time for us because before that we'd only been with one company Quana Records) and being with a large company like MCA, our music got greater exposure ? plus we got to do videos, so that meant we were exposed to new audiences both nationally and internationally."

Feeling that each of their three MCA sets had it's merits ("we never try to cut a bad LP!"), the guys consider that their 1986 release ('Stay") was probably their most successful.

The move to Capitol Records came through Jimmy Bee, the group's manager since 1983, who Reggie and Lenard refer to as "the fifth member of The Controllers! He's really the forerunner of the group and he was responsible for bringing us to the label and, we must say, this company feels even more ljke home to us. They seem to be giving their all and pulling out the stops and we really feel that they've been working together with us to make this project really happen."

In between their album releases through the years, The Controllers have hardly been sitting home! "We did a lot of track dates in between our records and although the South-East area remains our base and it's always going to be that, we've actually done a lot of work nationally."

As support act for Anita Baker, The Controllers received even greater exposure and they recall that their stint at Radio City Music Hall in New York "was like the pinnacle of success to us ? a real thrill. Then to get standing ovations on the shows we did there ? it was amazing!

"We did about six months' work with Anita and it was really a great, well-rounded tour because she nailed the men and we nailed the ladies! It was an excellent package and we know we left everybody satisfied."

As a vocal quartet, The Controllers aren't exactly in as highly a competitive field as they may have been when they started out in the mid-Seventies. "Yes, four-member vocal groups are an 'endangered species'! But we've learned what it takes to survive and that includes rolling up your sleeves, working hard and staying in tune with the times.
"We look at The Four Tops as an example of longevity at its finest. A lot of groups pull apart ? sometimes, groups break up so that individuals can grow. But since we're all relatives, there's a bond there. Plus, we've all studied the business and learned a lot: that alleviates a lot of the stupid things that you might do as an artist.
"We feel like we have a lot to tell the kids of today and especially those who want to be entertainers: the key is to learn the business, whatever you do. It's more than just having talent."

With that attitude in mind and with the musical talent to do along with it, The Controllers are unquestionably going to stand the test of time. Close to fifteen years isn't a bad track record and "Just In Time" seems a fitting beginning to a new chapter in The Controllers' career.            (DN B&S)

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