Houston, Texas native Greg Curtis has worked with everyone from Destiny's Child to Yolanda Adams, but it’s his songwriting relationship with R&B singer Keyshia Cole that has catapulted him to No. 1.
After seven weeks at No. 1, Cole's "I Remember," which was produced and co-written by Curtis, ended it's reign on the R&B/Hip-Hop Songs Chart this week, pushed out by Usher's "Love In This Club." But Curtis is staying busy and between studio time with Jennifer Hudson, Whitney Houston and Raphael Saadiq, the song-writer sat down with Billboard.biz to discuss how he pens a song and where he draws his inspiration.
How are you feeling with the success of "I Remember?"
This is my first No. 1 record so I'm really excited.
What other songs have you written with Keyshia Cole?
I produced and wrote "Love," that's the song that got her signed, along with "Down and Dirty" from her first album, "The Way It Is." Keyshia and I have great chemistry. We don't talk all year but we'll go into the studio, I'll play her some tracks and get it started.
With "I Remember," I was playing her songs and I skipped right over that track but she told me to play it. When Keyshia heard the song, she immediately wrote half of the lyrics within that first listening. It's an amazing experience with her, there's a creativity there that I can't explain.
How'd you get started?
I went to Houston's High School of Performing and Visual Arts and when I graduated I attended the University of Texas, Austin but I was so bored. My theory class in high school was their third year so I went to Parsons School for Design. I ended up playing with Regina Belle and playing at Carnegie Hall with Ornette Coleman, playing freestyle jazz.
Houston is also songwriter Bryan Michael Cox's hometown. Do you know each other?
I met Bryan when he was 15 years old. I had a studio in Houston and Bryan's mom, Pam, wouldn't trust most people with him. But since I was a family man, she was fine with me. I taught him everything I could and everything he knows. We worked with Destiny's Child and did their first record, "Sweetie Pie," and later named "Sexy Daddy." Then Wyclef Jean came and knocked us out with "No, No, No" but I've known Beyonce and the Destiny's Child girls since they were little. I've also been playing for Yolanda Adams since I was nine years old.
In 2006, I won a Grammy for "Victory" by Yolanda Adams, a song that I wrote. I love gospel music and it's a blessing that I won a Grammy in the music that I love the most.
What's your creative process?
My songs come out of extreme pain. With the music business going up and down, if you're a family man, the financial inconsistency is a problem. Not to mention, juggling the music business lifestyle if crazy in itself.
When I wrote "I Remember," I was sitting at the house and playing the song's piano line. I was so sad that I just sat in the house all day in my pajamas. I literally let the piano line play for eight hours straight. Then I went to the kitchen, opened the windows, thought about how I was going to get through my situation and went to bed.
How would you describe your musical style?
My music grabs you, traps you, sets you free on the bridge and then traps you again all the way to the end of the song. Keyshia is a really transparent person. She's going to tell you what she's thinking. It might not be in the nicest way but she and I are similar and people always get a real good idea of what we're thinking. Maybe we'll do a happier song one day. But with the economy and the unnecessary war, we all have issues and pain that comes from those things. It's OK to cry, doctors say that we should cry more. You release toxins when you cry, so I like my music to evoke those types of emotions.
What are you working on now?
G, he's an R&B artist and his first single is called "Do it again." We'll probably release it via Fontana and might land him a deal. I just did a song called "Walk Outside" with Raphael Saadiq and it's that Motown sound. I'm also working with Brandy, Jennifer Hudson, Whitney Houston and Joe. I'm really excited about a track I'm working on for Joe and Stevie Wonder, cross your fingers for that one.
I was in the studio with Interscope Chairman Jimmy Iovine's new girl group, The Paradiso girls. Cee-Lo and I did a song in 2004 and Jimmy loved it so that's how that happened. The Paradiso Girls are supposed to be coming out this spring, and the song is called, "Pop."
I also did two songs on Dionne Warwick's gospel album called "Why We Sing" but I really like "I Lift My Heart." Ms. Warwick is the ultimate professional and it was an amazing experience working with her. I'm really proud of that project.
I also might be working on my first movie score. It's called "And Let The Church Say Amen" and I just got the call so let's just pray that I get the job.