“Has it been 25 years?” Take 6 member, David Thomas, seemed just as surprised as I was by the longevity of the group. When I picked up Take 6’s first album (yes, we were still calling them albums back then, but it was actually a CD) in 1988, the group had already been hard at work for eight years. While there had been several name changes and a few roster changes since its inception at Oakwood College in Huntsville, AL, in 1980, Take 6 had already spent 8 years earning its shot at a national distribution deal and a recording contract with Reprise Records, a division of Warner Brothers.
The first CD struck a major chord across several musical genres, and Take 6 walked away with 1988 Grammy Awards for Best Jazz Vocal Performance, Duo or Group (for “Spread Love”) and Best Soul Gospel Performance By a Duo or Group, Choir or Chorus (for “Take 6”). Since then, Take 6 has picked up 8 more Grammy Awards, 10 Dove Awards, one Soul Train Award, and received two NAACP Image Award nominations. In fact, with a total of 18 Grammy Award nominations, Take 6 is the most nominated Gospel, Jazz, Pop or R&B group in Grammy history.
With all of this celebrated history under their belts, it’s difficult to imagine that in many ways, the members of Take 6; Alvin Chea, Cedric Dent, Joey Kibble, Mark Kibble, Claude McKnight, and David Thomas; now find themselves starting over. With a scheduled release date of March 21, “Feels Good” is Take 6’s first project in four years, and their first project on their new record label, Take 6 Records.
In a published release from the group, Bass member, Alvin Chea says, “This was a natural progression for us. Traditional record companies want to lock you into a particular category. If you are slightly askew of that, they really don’t know what to do with you. We decided to take the reins on this project and in our careers so we could position our projects in the marketplace.”
I got a chance to chat briefly with Second Tenor, David Thomas, before the sound check for a recent Take 6 concert at Hill Auditorium in Ann Arbor. When asked about the break from Warner, David said, “We’d been with Warner Brothers a long time. To make a long story short, we didn’t quite see eye-to-eye with the direction they wanted to go, and Take 6 Records came about.”
Take 6’s first project on Take 6 Records, “Feels Good,” paradoxically brings them full circle; back to their roots, while simultaneously launching them into uncharted territory.
As both Alvin and David alluded to, it is difficult to force Take 6 into a particular genre or category of music. Record companies tend to operate in terms of marketing to specific audiences and target markets. However, with Take 6, one can only imagine the conversations that must have taken place during sales and marketing meetings for previous Take 6 projects. Gospel? Christian Contemporary? Urban? Jazz? R&B? Pop? Soul? Black? White? Old? Young? In Take 6’s case, “All of the Above,” was probably the closest to the truth.
When I asked Dave Thomas about who Take 6 thinks of as its audience, he shared the following:
“When you first start out with your first album, you’re not really thinking about who your audience is. You’ve usually built up a repertoire of music and you do what you enjoy. After your first album, you see who your audience is. And even now, we don’t think about our audience as much as [we think about] what God is trying to have us to say through our music. We’re not trying to reach any one group, we’re just doing what we enjoy, and what the Lord has put on us to do.”
In an industry driven by heavily-sampled, overly-synthesized, and youth-oriented mainstream music, one might wonder if Take 6’s impeccable a cappella harmonies, inspiring messages, and complex vocal arrangements are still relevant after 25 years.
One listen to Take 6’s “Feels Good,” and you’ve got your answer. With this new project due out March 21, Take 6 proves it is still fresh, still fun to listen to, and still very relevant. This project manages to take you up and down the radio dial – from jazz, to calypso, to gospel, to R&B, and back – without alienating anyone along the way. Because of the almost unbelievable use of their voices as instrumentation, you might even forget while listening to it that this is an a cappella project.
Take 6’s last project, “Beautiful World,” remains a permanent fixture in my CD player (my kids love the Bill Wither’s penned, “Grandma’s Hands”), and happens to have musical accompaniments on each song. On several other projects, most notably “Join The Band,” they’ve also included instruments. I have to admit to feeling a bit silly when I asked Dave Thomas about the return to an all-a cappella project with “Feels Good,” and he responded, “A cappella is what we do.” Because they can do so much, so well, somehow I’d forgotten that simple fact. Dave went on to say, “Take 6 is an a cappella group. We may add music, but we’ll always be an a cappella group.” With this being Take 6’s first release on Take 6 Records, Dave added that, “We wanted to get back to our primary base of people that we know enjoy us.”
With their smooth harmonies and precise timing, it’s easy to think of Take 6 as a seamless whole, but there are actually six talented men with their own individual pursuits. When asked about what he’s working on individually, Dave Thomas shared that he’s working with fellow Take 6 member, Mark Kibble, on Brian Littrell’s (of the Backstreet Boys) solo gospel album due out in the summer of 2006, on Reunion Records.
While we’re sure Take 6’s musical influences range from the eclectic to the mainstream, for Dave Thomas, recognizable influences include Andre’ Crouch, Stevie Wonder, and The Winans. Dave also noted that, “When you know that you’re going to do music from an early age, everything in music influences you.”
With close to 25 years of experience to share, Dave Thomas had the following advice for artists just starting out:
“Do what you enjoy. Try to stay true to who you are. Be original; don’t try to be like anyone else. Stay true to what God is trying to speak through you.”
Dave’s parting words to Take 6 fans around the globe: “Check out the new project!
FEBRUARY 6 – (WHEATON COLLEGE – CLINIC) WHEATON, MA 7 – WHEATON COLLEGE, WHEATON, MA 18 – TEXICO YOUTH FEST, ALBUQUERQUE, NM 19 – CAPITOL CHRISTIAN CENTER, SACRAMENTO, CA
MARCH 1 – SEOUL, KOREA 3&4 – JAZZ FESTIVAL, JAKARTA, INDONESIA 6&7 – (SHOW) BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA 19 – WILLOW CREEK, CHICAGO, IL 20 – WGN-TV, CHICAGO, IL 23-26 – CATALINA BAR & GRILL, LOS ANGELES, CA 25&26 – SADDLEBACK CHURCH, LOS ANGELES, CA 27-31 – TBD, NEW YORK, NY
APRIL 14 – PREMIERE MUSIC HALL, DANBURY, CT 15 – CBS EARLY SHOW, NEW YORK, NY 16 – WITHOUT WALLS, TAMPA, FL
JULY 13 – MONTREUX JAZZ FESTIVAL, MONTREUX, SWITZERLAND 18 – (SHOW) GERMANY