All photography by Loni Schick.
Roy Ayers is one of the most sampled artists in Hip-Hop history, and has worked with the likes of Pete Rock, Erykah Badu, among other hip-hop artists. RESPECT.’s @petermarrack had the opportunity to sit down with Roy during his recent stint in Toronto.
Read the complete interview after the jump.
I heard you had a tough time at the border, Mr. Ayers.
At the border?
Yeah, coming into Canada.
Oh, you mean last time I was here?
The border agent last time- I had my shades on, and he said, “Take off your glasses, makes me think you’re hiding something.” And I said, “Are you kidding?” I took them off, and I said, “You can see I’ve been drinking.” I’m just kidding with him. No, I didn’t have any problems at the border. They let me go through, no problem. It’s cool, you know, customs at the airport. Matter-of-fact I came in here at an airport called- it’s downtown.
Oh, Toronto Island.
Yeah, they didn’t even have any security there.
They must have gone to one of your shows.
They knew who I was, knew I was Roy Ayers.
I’m here for a hip-hop magazine.
What’s it called?
RESPECT. Magazine in New York City.
Oh, yeah, RESPECT., I’ve heard of that. I’ve seen a couple copies.
An artist named Tyler, the Creator was having an interview with a Canadian journalist called Nardwuar and he gave him one of your records-
Nardwuar? Oh, that’s nice.
He was interviewing this guy Tyler, the Creator, I wondered if you had heard of him.
I think I have heard of him.
He’s a fan of yours.
I haven’t worked with him, but I’ve been working with a lot of new people. There’s a lot of new people on the scene. I’m having a good time.
Whenever I see the movie Jackie Brown now, I think of you. I heard a story that you didn’t even know Tarantino was going to use some of your music.
Oh no, but I knew when they sent me a cheque. *laughs* Some of the music from Coffy, yeah.
Have you read any Elmore Leonard novels, because Jackie Brown is adapted from one of the books?
No, I haven’t.
The vibe of your music reminds me of his writing.
Oh, thank you, thank you. I consider that to be a compliment, thank you.
You released some music on Ichiban Records.
Yeah, that was a long time ago. Ichiban Records, the guy who owned the label, his name was- uh, now what’s his name…
It was a hip-hop label originally.
His name was John, John what’s his name, John, but he used to work for a magazine called Blues and Soul. He was also a promoter of a lot of shows in New York and he had that label, Ichiban, which is a Japanese name. It was good. John, what’s his last name? Darn, he was an alright guy.
Clarence Carter was on the label there with you as well.
Yeah, I remember Clarence Carter, yeah.
Some hip-hop historians consider his record, “Making Love (At The Dark End Of The Street)” to be the first example of rap.
Yeah, Clarence goes way back.
Did you ever work with him?
I played two shows with him and that’s all. I never worked with him, but I played shows with him. I have had the pleasure to work with Pete Rock. That was nice. He’s a rapper and a DJ, you know.
When someone like Pete Rock is making music, sampling, is it a completely different instinct than what you feel on the inside when you’re making music, at the conception stage?
I think it’s all about one’s appreciation for music. Each of us are doing something very similar, entertaining for the people. People like to dance, people like to groove. They do that to my music. I see people dancing. I see people dancing to hip-hop music. I was on stage with Pete Rock and he played “Let’s Stay Together” by Al Green. And I thought to myself, “I’m on the stage with Pete Rock singing with Al Green.” It was very nice. It’s nice to see the people’s reactions.
And “Everybody Loves the Sunshine” is like the most sampled hip-hop record, but I think you may have influenced hip-hop fashion as well. You have some nice hats.
Oh, yeah, thank you. I try to be as hip as possible.
Do you borrow anything from hip-hop fashion, do they borrow from you, or is it give and take?
Everything is related, hip-hop, jazz musicians, we all have a good time. Out of all this stuff, it’s all fun, man. I’m an old-timer but I have a young heart. I’m 71 years old and I keep doing it. This is wonderful. I’m enjoying it, man. I’m glad to be participating in hip-hop where they’re taking my music and sampling it. It makes me feel really good.
Which artists are you listening to right now?
I listen to everybody. I like to listen to Erykah Badu. I like her.
Do you know her husband, or her boyfriend, Jay Electronica? He’s a hip-hop artist.
I haven’t really heard too much of him.
He went to Africa to record his debut album.
With African musicians?
Oh yeah, that’s nice. What’s the release on that?
[interview interrupted by a departing fan, and her husband]
They got to get you on Twitter.
I’m on Twitter. But I’m @TheRealRoyAyers because somebody took my name.
That must be interesting.
@TheRealRoyAyers if you ever look for me.
I saw you, yeah. It’s new.
Yeah, I haven’t really used it, but I’m on Twitter.
Positivity plays such a large role in your music. When you’re young, staying positive isn’t as easy. You have an off day and it’s hard to turn it around. Was there a moment when that clicked for you?
I guess I’ve been fortunate because I have met a lot of people who are positive, and not negative, and those who are negative, they seem to understand when I say things to them positive, it seems to turn people around, make them think of the positive aspects of life. I’m very happy because I’ve met a lot of people who have been very positive. I spent a lot of time with Fela Kuti in Nigeria. I spent a lot of time with James Baldwin. He was a black writer. He was one of our greatest writers. I spent a little bit of time with Malcolm X. It was really just a pleasure to meet him. That’s just a few people and there were other people too.
So you’re saying it’s the people you surround yourself with.
Yeah, that’s what it is. If they have a positive nature about them, they’re going to say something positive.
Do your children, or grandchildren, make music?
No, no they don’t. I have two sons and one daughter, and none of them play music or sing music. But they’re in the business. My daughter’s in the music business, she works for me. She works with me and helps me booking. My one son used to work for Warner Bros. He’s a record man. He lives in Australia now, and my other son is the manager of a grocery store down in North Carolina.
You talk about music being a release. Should all passions be a release?
They have their own release, yeah.
That’s very true. *laughs*
How have you stayed so strong over the years?
Don’t tell anyone, but I eat Wheaties, breakfast of champions. Wheaties with some bananas.
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