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BLACK MUSIC MONTH, Part II: Producers, band leaders on assembling the ‘A-Team’

If you’ve ever been to a musical production in Memphis, or other cities and even some countries, you might have experienced the work of Kurt “KC” Clayton and Garry Goin.

From choreographed productions to awards shows to world tours, Grizzlies games and more, these guys are Memphis’ other Soul Men! (Hat tip to Sam & Dave.)

Both Clayton (keys) and Goin (guitar), musicians, producers, writers, recording artists and musical directors with 40-plus years in the game, have a similar work ethic, and look for personnel who are disciplined, professional, consistent, and have some type of skills.

“Some might have soft skills,” said Goin. “And you can work with them to bring out other skills.”

Clayton, keenly focused on quality, adds, “You’ve got to preserve the brand…and we are the brand.”

Garry Goin with his Memphis Grizzlies House bandmates at FedExForum. (Courtesy photo)
Kurt “KC” Clayton has worked with Stevie Wonder. (Courtesy photo)

Both started as musicians for hire but were given opportunities that challenged and motivated them to reach new heights, which is how they lead bands today.

“Niko Lyras hired me as a session player, next thing I know, I was running sessions, and had become an arranger and producer,” said Clayton.

Goin said, “I met David Porter of Stax Records, who took me under his wing and started teaching me about songwriting. And David is in the Songwriters Hall of Fame. So, you know he’s amazing. He challenged me to start programming, producing and making records.”

Their resumes? Replete with the names in music worldwide – proof that a “can do” attitude hard work pays off.

Clayton has led musical teams for Confunkshun, the Bar-Kays, Glenn Jones, the Dazz band, Charlie Wilson, Howard Hewett, Cherrelle and Alexander O’Neil, to name a few.

Goin has worked with Kirk Whalum (whom he credits with watering the spirituality seed his grandmother planted long ago), Jonathan Butler, 8 Ball & MJG, Shalamar, Maurice White of Earth Wind & Fire and more.

He also curates productions for corporate clients.

Garry Goin and Kirk Whalum after a show. (Courtesy photo)

These musical giants agree that live music and studio sessions require different skill sets and selectivity is necessary.

“You have to know your featured artist and your personnel,” said Clayton. “I have family members who want to be in the industry, but I can’t always hire them – I have to call the right people.”

Goin added, “We have an ear when it comes to singing and producing. In the studio, less is more.”

Their penchant for striving for perfection started early and persists in their careers today.

“Niko taught me to play it, play it again…and again. He taught me about playing in the pocket,” said Clayton. “Some folks are great live and not in the studio, and vice versa.

“In the studio, you have to be a chameleon and enhance what the artist is doing, cut the vibrato, preserve the melody.”

Goin added, “The studio exposes every weakness. You could have a great live singer but if they don’t have discipline, they’ll go way past the song.”

Clayton and Goin, who have worked together countless times, recounted their entrée to the Memphis music scene, before they were calling the shots.

“I was born and raised in South Memphis and one of my first ‘gigs,’ when I was 16, was playing at Mt. Vernon Baptist Church-Westwood. Rev. Netters (RIP) fought for me when ‘church people’ had a problem with me playing in clubs,” said Clayton.

“I was playing for Ms. Ruby Wilson, also my church member, and, though I’ve played at other churches, I could never join because of the loyalty Rev. Netters showed me.”

Unlike some musicians, Goin did not start playing in church. He was born in Cleveland, Ohio (but reps Memphis since arriving in 1985) and started guitar lessons at age 16; and never looked back.

“After leaving Cleveland, my brother Chuckie took me to Fort Lauderdale for two weeks, and we never went home! We played high energy shows, for several hours every night, for five years. I was burned out and ready for a change,” said Goin.

“Since the day I came to Memphis, I’ve encountered great people, food and music. KC was one of the first people I met.”

Clayton recalls, “Yeah, Garry was playing at Captain Bilbo’s Downtown on Front Street. His band would play five nights a week, and my band, SRO (Standing Room Only) would play on Sundays, when we weren’t at Club Royale, The Western Frontier or El Morocco, which mysteriously burned down one day.”

Interviewing these two old friends and colleagues together presented time and word-count challenges but filled me with pride.

We can all learn something from these music professionals: let your passion lead, your work ethic drive, and your curiosity help you discover new pathways and fuel growth along your journey.

Garry Goin with hip-hop artists 8 Ball & MJG. (Courtesy photo)
Kurt “KC” Clayton after playing a show with Regina Belle at Cannon Center. (Courtesy photo)

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