Jeff Paris, best known as a solo singer and songwriter for artists such as Vixen and Mr. Big and many others, expands on his singing career and what the future holds with regard to the possibility of new music and live gigs.
Who were your influences in the early days and have you always wanted to be a singer?
I was born singing! I have tapes of myself at two singing, my parents taught me songs. This would be the early fifties so the songs would have been standards and that was an influence on me. From Frank Sinatra and the like. In my late teens I was practicing to three particular records who had vocals that I wanted to absorb. Stevie Wonder, Edgar Winter and Lloyd Baskin from the band Seatrain. Seatrain was the band produced by George Martin after The Beatles. Stevie Wonder you know and my particular vocal equipment I had a similar tone already. I would practice to “Signed, Sealed & Delivered”, the whole album all the way through. Then I’d put on Edgar Winter’s “Entrance” record. It’s before his album “White Trash” but it’s a phenomenal record. Very complex, Stevie very demanding and that’s what I required of myself. The ability to sing technically challenging things easily. So these were the guys and if you could sing that then you could sing anything. I was also influenced by The Beatles and John Lennon and Marvin Gaye and other Motown singers, Stevie Winwood and the list goes on.
You have appeared on a number of albums over the years. Do you have a favourite and why?
“Lucky This Time”. I recorded it by myself, in my studio and got things the way I wanted. It’s got fourteen songs, it’s a great record. I appeared on Radioactive “Four” with Tommy Denander and I wrote two songs and is probably the best singing that I’ve ever done in terms of AOR music.
Do you have any plans to release another solo album?
Yeah I do, but probably not AOR. But maybe I will. I’m not getting any younger so I should do it soon!
You were not born with the name Jeff Paris (Geoffrey Brillhart Leib), how did this change of name come about?
When I got signed to Polygram I knew I wasn’t going to be Geoffrey Leib for christsakes! Derek Shulman my A&R guy came up with the name and after a little bit of resistance I said “okay, fine!”. After the record came out he wasn’t sure about the name and maybe we should have gone with “Jeff James” which was my choice!
Some vocalists are on strict dietary regimes or gargle with special liquids. How have you kept your voice in tip top shape all these years?
I don’t do anything special but I suffer from hayfever so I take decongestants and I have a little steamer so that I don’t have to struggle. Lots of water too. My voice is very bright & piercing. Sound guys always tell me “whenever you get on the mic, it sounds like I turned the PA up”. Stevie, Edgar, and Lloyd & I were a live sound mixers dream. We hit the sweet spot of the microphone. Conversely, the more popular singers are the ones with the husky voices which I was always jealous of. I admire Bryan Adams, Rod Stewart, and Joe Cocker for that smoky tone. Recording Engineer’s have a term for that…they say those voices have a “big print”. Meaning they’re so fat and juicy that it sounds like they’re recording them on more than one track. I had vocal coaching guys when I was in my late 20s early 30s. The guy that helped me maintain my vocal chops and not blow my voice out was Ron Anderson.
He trained under Seth Riggs and a lot of people have gone to him including Alicia Keys, and that guy in Maroon 5.
Back in the old days Ron would only charge 25 bucks a half hour and it was really a guided warm up but it really helped. He’s been the featured Vocal Coach on the X Factor, America’s Got Talent and American idol. After I learned how to preserve my voice from Ron Anderson, I continue to use warm-ups, which I’ve memorized or have on tape I sing along with like most Rock singers. I don’t always need to warm up, but when I do they’re essential.
With a proper Vocal Coach, you learn how to control your breath, and also how to change what’s going on in the back of your throat. The motto is, the bigger the space in the back, the bigger the sound, and the more range you have. Basically, it’s “legit” technique and what I mean by that is, it’s opera technic.
Do you still get the same buzz out of singing live as you did in the past?
Yes. As a matter of fact I come in the studio and I work on my repertoire, songs that I like to be ready to perform. I like that you focused on “You still get the buzz out of singing” rather than “Do you still have the drive to perform” because I always uncomfortable with the idea that it was a form of showing off or hamming up. I found that because I spent some much time working by myself on my instruments, practicing and writing and in the beginning I didn’t imagine myself in lights. I just love the work and listening back and going “that’s great!”. Then you want to share it, so I guess I still get the same buzz.
Is there any material left over from the 80s or 90s that could see the light of day?
Yes there is but I don’t know if they’ll sre the light of day. I would have to reanimate them, it’s like the undead! [laughs] There’s some good songs.
Are there any musicians that you have not worked with, but would like to in the future?
I would love to work with Paul Rodgers and Stevie Winwood. I was a big fan of Oblivion Express and Alex Ligertwood and he lives here and I would love to sing a song on a Brian Auger record. I’ve never really sought out famous people. I played two weeks with Ringo Starr when I was playing with Dave Stewart and it was almost too much bucket list!
What is the music scene like where you live?
It’s really bad, there are no gigs!
Are you still writing songs for other artists?
Yeah, but I was a little bit vinegary about it as records aren’t really selling so I wouldn’t get any money. So there was a nightingale outside the house and he wasn’t getting paid either and he did four shows! So I thought, “I’m a bird!”, so you go out there and sing in the middle of the night to the spirits. So yeah I’m writing songs again because that’s what I’m supposed to do.
Is there any possibility of you performing any solo gigs, particularly in the UK?
No more solo gigs! [laughs] There’s always the possibility. I’m willing to do it, I’m in good shape.
Do you have anything else in the pipeline at the moment that you can share?
Recently I helped co-ordinate a Coco Montoya record. Coco Montoya played with John Mayall in the nineties I think and it’s a Blues Rock based record and should be really interesting as we took a long time to do it.
Interview by Stuart Dryden