By Joy M. Marion
You’re driving down the road with the radio tuned to your favorite R&B station and a blast from the past begins to play. The timeless song “car wash” with that unmistakable clapping intro instantly transports you back to the 70’s; or as some call it, back in the day, when music was soulful, funky and fun. It’s an unmistakable tune by the super group Rose Royce that nearly everyone knows with that infectious guitar rift featured with simple lyrics.
It has been over 30 years since they burst onto the music scene with other monster hits that so many of us grew up with and still love. “I wanna get next to you” and “Wishing on a star” are only a few of the songs the group which reins from South Central LA has produced to create the soundtrack to the lives of millions of their fans around the world.
Right out of the gate they saw superstardom, eventually earning them eight gold and five platinum records. There were eight talented male musicians and the unmistakable voice of female singer Gwen Dickey, who all shot to the top of the charts almost from the beginning.
I had the opportunity to talk to Rose Royce leader and trumpeter, Kenny Copeland, a few days before the group preformed at Yoshi’s in San Francisco. Many may be wondering what they have been up to after so many years, and the short answer is they never stopped playing. They have been touring for the past 15 years and remain hugely popular with their loyal fans, especially in Europe.
“There has been no age barrier with our music and it’s still so popular after all these years,” explained Copeland. “ We play our music all over the world and people 25-85 years old show up to listen. The music is in our blood and the moment I hit the stage it’s like going into a trancelike state. We really want to give people a good show because we still love what we do.”
I asked Kopeland what current artists he likes to listen to and shouldn’t be surprised to learn that one of his favorites is Charlie Wilson, aka ‘Uncle Charlie’ of the Gap Band, and to a small surprise, R. Kelly, whom he called “super talented.” He rounded his picks out with one female singer, former superstar voice of none other than Whitney Houston.
Rose Royce’s biggest influence on them as a band…? None other than Earth, Wind & Fire, whom he says they patterned themselves after as well as Cool & The Gang. Copeland proudly acknowledges that his band has been the muse for current artists such as Mariah Carey, Jay-Z (“Wishing on a Star”) and Mary J. Blidge (remade the hit “I’m going down”) who have both recorded from the groups catalog of songs, along with various other musicians who have sampled in the familiar tunes, further extending the timelessness of their songs.
What is Copeland’s favorite Rose Royce song to perform? “Love don’t live here anymore.” The most exciting developments with the group are their plans to hit the studio in the near future to lay down some new tracks with the guys and the new female vocalist Debelah Morgan (see her here) whom he says blew his mind after being introduced by a friend and heard her sing. Morgan had limited success here in the U.S. but had done exceptionally well in Europe before joining the group. Morgan replaced former original singer, Gwen Dickey, who helped drive the groups unique sound. She left the group many years ago after band infighting, financial and legal issues tore them apart.
Other members of the original group included Henry Garner (drums), Terral "Terry" Santiel (congas), Lequeint "Duke" Jobe (bass), Michael Moore (saxophone), Kenny Copeland (trumpet, lead vocals), Kenji Brown (guitar, lead vocals), Freddie Dunn (trumpet), and Victor Nix (keyboards).
How much longer can Rose Royce keep going? Copeland, a young 57 years old, says he and the group have much more to achieve and wants the chance to achieve success again. “I want to make more money and it’s also a prestige thing. Just like 50 Cent got his mega mansion, I want mine too,” he remarked. “I just want to keep on pushing it and see how it feels.”