I’m honoured to have spent a considerable amount of time with New Jersey producer come vocalist Cassio Ware on his recent visit to the UK. His track record for being associated with quality releases is second to none. As a vocalist he came to the fore with the sublime ‘Baby Love,’ a catchy infectious monster of a tune, which was followed up with a string of potent smashes such as my own personal favourite of his ‘Angel,’ his version of Chip E’s ‘Like This’ and ‘Funky People.’ Cassio serves up a laid back smooth vocal style that bridges rapping with a soulful spirit. He has been an instrumental part of the New Jersey scene for over 30 years and has worked with a whole host of acts such as Jomanda, Blaze, Camacho (he played the keys on the legendary ‘Renegade’) and Masters At Work. He is in the process of releasing his first studio album called ‘What’s Up Superstar?’ in 2012. As an entertainer he knows how to rock a party and it brings out the best characteristics of his warm personality. Roual Galloway caught up with Cassio recently at the Scottish Soulful Weekender.
Where are you from?
I was born and raised in Brick City in Newark, New Jersey. Thanks to my parents I’m the man that I am today because Newark is a tough city to live in. There’s alot of gang activity. It’s a beautiful city with beautiful people. It’s also one of the chocolate cities. That’s brought about alot of change and diversity. We have our Latino’s, our Portuguese, i’ve seen some of the Jewish community come back, the Chinese are hidden within the wings and now the college scene with their sports arenas mean that white America is slowly creeping back into Newark, but the hood still exists. The gang violence is still present. So once again thanks to my parents for putting me through decent schools. I’m a preachers son, who’s the bad boy, but i’m still grounded.
Was it your father that introduced you to playing the piano?
My dad discovered church just like my grandmother had when he felt that he had his calling he started a church in our basement with just a few of us and got a bit of money and opened a store front and brought a piano and then an organ on the other side. That’s where i started to play with little piano lessons learning mainly classical music, but I was still not totally trained at that point. He told me to get on the piano one day, there’s singing and i’m just banging the keys, but i was able to develop these chords through hearing. I was also going to piano lessons. I would take the chord structure from the classical and I would add those to my gospel flavour and before you knew it i was learning by ear and by note. That’s when i developed my own style. I combined the gospel flavour with the classical and did some of my own avent garde creations. At that time too I started to develop my ears and started to play along to tunes on the radio, which took me into high school and i met my partner from Backroom Music called Derek Jenkins. We started doing parties together at the Catholic All Boys High School that we attended. If I could do it all over again I would never do it again, but we’d play at all the other schools. I’d bring my keyboard and would start playing around live to the music, just like David Cole. I was doing this at a young age also. Then Naeem Johnson who was playing Sensations came down to the basement where, sorry let me go back a little bit because I missed out the part where I was introduced to Dwayne ‘Spen’ Richardson. The three of us Derek, Spen and I formed the Backroom Productions. We started out in my basement until the time that my mother got fed up with us burning all this electricity which was combined with all the other local traffic. She was like you’ve got to take all this someplace else. So we took it to Hawthorne Avenue into Dwayne’s mothers house, where we had his mother telling us to turn that music down. We still hear her today saying that. This is where we really started doing music and that’s what helped to keep us out of trouble too. We were strictly in that room doing music. Spen introduced a young lady and i introduced a young lady called Yvonne, who had a cousin called Joanne. Then Joanne brought her girlfriend called Amanda. Who became Jomanda. That’s when Spen brought Renee into the fold to form a trio. To cut a long story short Amanda just didn’t fit in and had differences so she left. That’s when we brought in Cheri, the one with the dynamic voice of the three. We came out with ‘Make My Body Rock’ and the next thing we know it was boom. We had great success and it took us all over.
They were doing all the local clubs, the new York clubs, they turned a prison inside out. Three diva girls performed at a prison and the men went bananas. Even in the clubs at that time i could dance my butt off and you can see me dancing in one of their videos. I was doing my thing with them on stage and i wanted more after a certain point. With that camp the focal was all on them and i was all for it, but at that time when it came to me trying to finish some of my stuff it wasn’t going to happen. I could tell, so i went to college and I knew i was going to part. I introduced my friend Steve and I eased him in whilst i faded out. I had some differences too, but i won’t bring that up because time has passed and we’re cool. I came back home and I was chatting with paul Scott (BOP) telling him that i wanted to develop me. That’s when we did that song ‘Understand One Another.’ That’s when I started slowly finding myself. I continued to want it and through that we all met up with Blaze. We all became this big family under ACE Beat. I would play some keys on some projects. Then we had the Voices of 6th Avenue with the big choir. I had a little part in that song. Through that i connected with Josh and Kevin from Blaze. I was like I’ve gotta do a project for me and they believed in me, which is when we did ‘Baby Love,’ which developed that sound because i’m not a Kenny Bobien belter i’m more of a baritone, but i was also a rapper and poet. I was like how can i develop a style of my own because i’m not the greatest vocalist, but I want to be. I developed a rap song like flow with ‘Baby Love,’ with an almost talking style that’s developed along the way. Then Easy Street signed the record and It was like Wow. Then we followed up ‘Never Thought I’d See You Again’ which had the same flow. I didn’t want to go too far church baritone because that voice was working. Then with ‘So In Love’ i’d had three big ones and the next thing I know i’m travelling. I thought I love this and I was caught. Naeem Johnson brought me into the Sensations and i played live. He was like are you coming to do what you’re doing? We were in the basement with Colonel Abrahams, Derek and everybody. He was like can you play like that if I brought you to the club. So I went down with a Casio keyboard. Everybody thought that’s where I took my name from, but it’s from Othello Shakespeare. It is what it is? I’m playing with my Casio keyboard and Naeem throws on ‘Doctor Love’ when he drops the music out. I turned around and saw all these people going mad. All these fly girls. I said forget hip hop this is what i’m doing. I was caught from that moment on.
With ‘Never Thought I’d See You Again’ Kevin (Hedges) had given Timmy a copy and i’m in the Shelter because i didn’t think about it because know i’d started seeing a lady who was like the queen of the clubs who could have had any man that she wanted. We were vibing and he played that song which killed it bringing the bass in and out. The people were going crazy, who’s this? They started pointing at Cassio and then picked me up. It was like the biggest thing for me. I first performed it at the Sound Factory Bar. I realise that I had to be the greatest entertainer. I might not be the greatest vocalist but damn it when i’m on that stage i’ve gotta come hard. At the time the way i feel is that nobody’s going to do a better show than me except the queen and that was Barbara Tucker. That show I had models, MTV meets fashion and i had bodybuilders on stage with me. It was like a circus. I went all out and pushed it. I had the look back then and it was like a hunger for me to create the brand of something that i love to do. As shy as I am once i’m on stage I really just let it out. I just enjoyed it for what it was worth. You can love, but at a point when you see certain things and things change. Camacho and I would talk about it all the time with people that you helped to open the door for they’re forgetting about this. I got a bit frustrated and tired with the backbiting. The music industry is already shady and I kind of took a little break because I didn’t want to be caught up in that. I don’t play that because i’ll just knock you out. I also had my child and I didn’t want to continue travelling abroad performing because I wanted to be there for my child, especially as being an afro American male. I didn’t want to get on a plane because anything could happen. That was my mindset. I started working in the field of psychology and the social service. I became a street team liaison social worker. I started working with psychiatric patients with drug and alcohol issues. I got myself consumed in that and before i knew it time had started to pass me by. I was still producing music but i was sitting on it. Finally I started missing it. I would still go out and knew that my name was still there. I started coming out with some stuff. Then i worked with the OG’s who were DJ Crime and Dough Boy. There’s a whole series of guys with the OG’s like Teck Wone that i’m working with right now. They are the original new gangsters of the underground. They jacked ‘Like This.’ I heard it and i thought this is crazy so i ended up freestyling over the top. I gave it to one of the DJs at the commercial local spot and the girls went bananas, hook line and sinker. I put it out on my own label. It was a little bit before it’s time. Georgie Porgie had wanted to sign it but I believed in the song and released it on vinyl. We later had Chip E shoot the video and K Joy came too. The music was taking a turn and different sounds were coming in. So the song took off again. The album release party that I did on my birthday in 2010 called ‘Chocolate Cake.’ Everything was supposed to be set to come out on Traxsource and they had a glitch in the timeframe off all the hype. I thought I can’t put it out now because it would lose momentum. So I waited until now. I came up with my label ‘What’s Up Superstar?’ We’re getting ready to release that. We’ve got a whole series of other stuff that we’re ready with too but I didn’t want to put everything out at the same time.
Going back to the beginning, did you start singing at your fathers church?
The funny thing about that was I would play at my fathers church but i would never sing. I would get up and sing the traditional songs. My father was Baptists before he went Baptists/Pentecost but not the deep hardcore Pentecostal, because to them everything is wrong. I was caught up with a struggle of being a PK of a sanctified church, not just a Baptist. Where you know the limitations with what I knew I wanted to do. They never told me that I couldn’t do that. Then when the music started taking me all over they were like this is a blessing. Anybody that would say something from the deep south because my father is from Lincoln, Georgia ,no disrespect but you’re limited to what’s going on because everything is wrong. My father defended me. He put my flyers on the refrigerator and all stuff like that from places such as Hamburg, London and all other the world. He was like if that’s so wrong why’s he showing him the world. Where’s your son? Where’s your daughter? In jail, drunk, addicted. My boy’s fine. He may have tattoos, he may have dreadlocks but he’s my son. That was all I needed. I wasn’t getting crazy. I wasn’t getting hooked up in drugs. The only thing my addiction was for was women. That can get you into trouble too, but i stayed humble. I’m still humble to this day. I tried to do it all by myself. That’s where i became slightly guarded because you need team. I’m a one man wrecking machine but at the end of the day we all need a team.
It must have been quite an exciting time in New Jersey during the late eighties and nineties because the sound was hot. It was a hotbed for young producers breaking through. ..
…it was just like the genre of hip hop. Even with this era everybody knows each other and works with each other. It was always like that with us. The Paul Scott’s, Blaze, Tyrone Payton, Ace Mungin, Smack Productions, Kerri Chandler, Paul’s BOP’s and loads more were not to be reckoned with. Whilst not forgetting about Adeva, Colonel, and the DJs such as Naeem Johnson or Tony Humphries or even Bird the announcer at the Zanzibar. There was Abbey from Movin Records. Also Joe Smith who worked at Movin i’ve gotta give him recognition. He’d be pushing your music whilst letting Tony Humphries know what the hit records were. We’d give Tony records ourselves and he’d mix them in and being the kind of guy that he was he’d give us ideas on what he thought was missing. We were all a unit. There was Jersey and there was New York and at that time our sound was ruling.
What do you think was the difference between New York and New Jersey?
At the time New York was playing some of our music and then Chicago house broke after Larry played down there for Frankie. You would still hear some of our records but house just broke through. We all just fed into that. When the next great thing comes in you all start to emulate that. Things started to separate a little bit but we still had our style. Then things started to change, people got older, they weren’t making as much money as they had and they had kids. You’ve gotta raise that child. Then wax stopped and things changed.
You were part of this burgeoning scene in New Jersey. Did you expect to get it overseas?
We didn’t expect that it was going to be as big as it was. It was a learning experience and at the same time it made it easier for me when it happened for me. I was overwhelmed but i’d already been there so i didn’t get caught up in it. I was really ecstatic and happy about it. Even with Jomanda we didn’t know that was going to happen. We were doing it because we liked it. This was something that we loved to do. I think that’s when things really work when you have a passion for something and you’re not doing it for the money. It kept us off the street. I spoke with Cheri from Jomanda not too long ago and I was like you know you’ve gotta get back out there. I don’t care who it’s with. She still looks the same. That’s one thing when you don’t get caught up into the ways of the world where it consumes you. Once i started looking too out of shape i may still sing, but i if look crazy i’m not going to get on stage. If i again any more weight i’m going to have to get myself back in the gym to look the part because that’s what it’s all about. Loving what you do and feeling good about it.
by Roual Galloway
5 Essential Cassio tunes