By Lee Hildebrand
Walter Scott and his identical twin Wallace, better known as “Scotty,” never forgot the music they grew up singing at a Baptist church in Fort Worth, Texas. Now, 45 years into their distinguished career as co-lead singers of the Whispers, they and their cohorts in the group, Nicholas Caldwell and Leaveil Degree, have released their first gospel CD.
On “Thankful,” the Whispers perform entirely new songs tailored to their signature style, rather than traditional religious songs, as most soul artists do when turning to gospel. “If you listen to the lyrics, you’ll hear the gospel intent, but other than that, it’s the same thing that we’ve been doing for years,” Scotty, 66, explains by phone from his Southern California home. “We felt like we shouldn’t try to change what got us here.”
Even gospel music great Fred Hammond, who wrote and produced four of the 10 songs on “Thankful,” didn’t attempt to alter the group’s effervescent jazz-imbued soul sound. “When Fred Hammond said to me, ‘Scotty, I want you to scat on the beginning of this song,’ I thought he was joking,” the singer says. “This being our first gospel thing, we were sort of new at what you could do and what you couldn’t do. Scatting wasn’t a problem for me, but I didn’t know if it would work. But he’s the guy who wrote it, so I was more than happy to get into it.”
The Whispers plan to mix at least one song from “Thankful” into their vast repertoire that includes such hits as “And the Beat Goes On,” “It’s a Love Thing” and “Rock Steady” when they perform Saturday, January 16, at the Fox Theatre in Oakland. Former Temptations lead Dennis Edwards and his current group open the show at 8 p.m.
Harmony vocalist and choreographer Nicholas Caldwell may or may not be present for the Oakland show. He ripped his Achilles tendon during a November 27 concert in Westbury, New York, and has since been recovering. If he does rejoin the Whispers at the Fox, Scotty says, “He’ll probably be sitting on a stool.”
The Fox show is something of a homecoming for the group, most of whose members lived in the East Bay from the mid-’60s to the early ‘80s Although originally based in Los Angeles, the Whispers found little love from disc jockeys and club owners there at the onset of their career. Their first break came in 1965 when Sly Stone, then a deejay at KDIA in Oakland, began playing their second single, “Never Again,” and booked them to perform at Lil’ Bo Peep’s in San Francisco. It was their first paying gig. They were soon packing the Sportsman in Oakland other local clubs.
“The jocks played our records, we worked the clubs and we learned our skills in the Bay Area,” Scotty says. “By the time we came back to L.A., it was all worked out, but we had to leave for that to happen.”
Send comments and story ideas to Lee Hildebrand at LeeHilde@aol.com.