Raphael Saadiq has discovered that being busy as an artist doesn’t leave him much time to pursue his hitmaking career as a producer.
“I haven’t had any time to work on anybody,” Saadiq — whose credits behind the board include Joss Stone, D’Angelo, Mary J. Blige, John Legend, Whitney Houston and many more — tells Billboard.com. “when I have some time off, I definitely want to do that. But right now this is just the beginning of my record. I’m touring and just working every day, riding on the bus and hoping there are showers in the next venue I’m playing.”
The album in question is “Stone Rollin’,” the Tony! Toni! Toné! co-founder’s fourth solo album and the follow-up to 2008’s Grammy Award-nominated “The Way I See It.” The 10-song set debuted at No. 14 on the Billboard 200, Saadiq’s highest showing ever. “I’m just lucky that people were ready for this type of music at the time,” Saadiq notes, acknowledging that “Stone Rollin’,” like its predecessor, digs into old school influences ranging from classic late 60s and 70s soul back to the Chess Records blues of Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon.
“I’m doing all the things I listened to as a kid, all the things I really enjoy,” explains Saadiq. “It takes a while to develop yourself as a solo artist, to find out who you are and what you want to do. It took me four albums…to figure out what I really wanted to be as a performer, and to be on stage. By the time I got to ‘The Way I See It,’ I was just at that point of figuring it out. So from here everything is pretty much kind of figured out. I think there’ll be some surprises — I keep surprising myself, but I kind of feel like I’m there.”
Saadiq says he considers “Stone Rollin’ ” to be “definitely a departure” and even riskier” than “The Way I See It” and acknowledges that the overall sound is more raw than that album’s smoother Motown/Stax/Philly-influenced blend.
“I’m raw,” Saadiq says. “I’m from the Bay. Everybody in the Bay has been very raw, as far as Sly & the Family Stone and Larry (Graham) and Tower of Power, Carlos Santana — people I really looked up to before I even knew I was gonna be an artist. That raw element is just me. I grew up playing with people like the Gospel Hummingbirds, Roy Tyler and Joe Thomas; those dudes are, like, the rawest. There’s so much I learned from those guys in the beginning in Oakland. That’s where I come from. That’s all I know.”
Saadiq tapped into that past with some of the guests on “Stone Rollin’.” Besides hooking up with Robert Randolph and Yukimi Nagano of Sweden’s Little Dragon, he also tapped Earth Wind & Fire keyboardist Larry Dunn and the aforementioned Graham, who Saadiq freely says “chewed me up” in the studio.
“Oh, man, he’s like a monster,” Saadiq says with a laugh. “I didn’t stand a chance. I felt like a fly on his windshield…but it’s great, ’cause he’s my idol. That’s my dude. He’s like the father of bass to me. I met him when I was 13 years old, maybe 12. We were in the same store and I was chasing him around, trying to get a good look. I followed him to a bus stop and acted like I wasn’t chasing him, and he walked right up to me and said, ‘Hey, what’s your name?’ I told him my name, and I asked, ‘Are you Larry Graham’ and he said (in deep voice), ‘Yes, I’m Larry Graham.’ “So to be able to work with him now is like a 360 turnaround. To be able to work with somebody you’ve been watching your whole life and learned a lot from, that’s a gift.”
Saadiq currently has concerts booked into early August, hopping between North American headlining dates and European festivals.