About a year ago, I researched an Album By Album feature for Uncut magazine. For the feature I tried to talk to as many musicians as I could who had played on some great/pivotal Miles Davis albums. Doo Bop, from 20 years ago, isn’t everyone’s favourite – but it is the final Miles Davis album, and Easy Mo’ Bee was happy to tell me about his part in it. Mo Bee (as his rep told me to call him) had told this story a few times, as you probably would if you’d worked with Miles Davis, and “did the voice” in much the same way people do a voice when they’ve just met Paul Weller. He was a nice guy to talk to. In lieu of the traditional “lack of new post apology” I will try to post a few more of these interviews in the coming days.
Miles was living in New York, in a really nice area: on Central Park West between 88th and 89th right across the street from Central Park, with the doorman that wears the hat. The idea was that he had a meeting where they invited the producers. While he’s listening to the other producers’ reels, he sat on the couch. He looked at them and looked at me. He was real quiet, didn’t respond. Eventually, they all left. He finally said: “I didn’t like that shit.” He had already decided he was going to work with me. He played my tape again and said “That’s bad – you do that for me?” I said “Yeah, Miles, yeah!”
He was doing all right for a while in that meeting – but I had brought more beats. I was over at his tapedeck, and I looked over, and Miles was laying back with his forearm over his forehead. I asked him, “Are you all right?” And he said “I’m just a little tired.” And that’s all he said. So I went to the guy who did everything for him in the house, and he showed me out. But he was all right in the studio.
There were a couple of tracks that were built specifically for the album, but the rest were tracks that I already had built, and he loved them. Two songs that really are original are “Fantasy” and “High Speed Chase”. I think these came from something called the Rubber Band Sessions – unreleased music that he had in the vaults. We had recorded six songs and Miles’s manager Gordon Meltzer came to me and said “Miles is kind of sick, but we need to finish the album. We want to give you two songs to rework.” So they’re remixes of two songs he had recorded previously. So I dropped out the complete bottom, all the music, the horn was hanging there in the air- it was my job to build around it. They were built on the spot.
Every time that we went to the studio it was Miles, me and his keyboard player, Deron Johnson. I would lay the basic music and rhythm track, and Deron would lace it with the keyboard that Miles was accustomed to having in his music. “Sonya” is totally original – no samples or anything. That’s all me.
We did about six songs, then Gordon told me Miles had to go away, to do a show overseas. Then a little later, he told me that Miles was sick and that they wanted me to finish the album. As soon as he told me he was sick I was sick, disappointed and also worried…If you’re in the middle of the album, someone of his status could just wrap it up. But Gordon told me, “Miles loves your stuff- he wants this album to come out. We just need you to remix those two songs.” And that became the album.
I think we did it in less than a period of six months. We started recording in 1991, and it was 1992 when the album was released and won the Grammy. He didn’t play in the studio – when he came in, he worked. He knew something that we didn’t know – and that’s why he would bang it out. And after everything was done, he’d leave. A perfectionist: not in a James Brown kind of way- but the man was doing certain things in one take – and I’d never seen this.
He went through all of the genres of music in his time alive. He never stayed in one place – he always tried everything, and it seemed like it was only right that he would try hip-hop. Right before he died, he had told me – “I want you to come on the road with me”. I was picturing me on stage with an SP1200 (drum machine) and Miles Davis. That would have been real interesting. If he had stayed alive, it would have led to further collaborations, I’m sure.