Detroit Stroke Survivor “Jotown” Sings A Song Of Healing for America.
Hello, and welcome to The Grove Blog. We spoke with Jotown about his new song that he hopes will help heal America, titled “What Kind Of America (Do We Want To Be?)” Check out his website www.jotown.com and watch the music video for the song below:
Grove Studios: So Jotown, What is your Ypsi connection?
Jotown: Well, I’m not from Ypsi, but I have worked around this area for a long time. Over the years I have done a bunch of graduation parties and evens related to Eastern Michigan University.
And back in the 90’s I had a house gig at a place called The Roxy, in Belleville. My band played upstairs in the lounge, and on occasion I also MC’d the comedy club downstairs. I was there for a couple of years.
My band played up and down the Ford Rd, and Michigan Ave corridor a lot in that period. There used to be a ton of gigs for live bands back then. Westland, Wayne, Livonia, and up this way.
A couple of years ago I had the Wednesday night at Weber’s Inn in Ann Arbor. I covered for Laith Al Sadi at Webers while he was on The Voice. I told the agent who booked the room, and the Weber brothers who ran the place, that Laith wasn’t coming back. After his third week on The Voice, I knew that he had become a national act. The power of Television.
So though Ypsi isn’t my home area, I have worked all around it for years.
Grove Studios: Could you us me a little more background about your music career?
Jotown: I started off as a singer songwriter and I was very fortunate to get a gig at the Emerald Lounge on Chene St. in Detroit. The Detroit Emeralds were a very popular vocal group in the mid 70’s and I got to travel the world as a guitar player and singer in their band.
The lead singer of the Emeralds (James Mitchell) was also a songwriter and producer and in 1976 he made a record called “Float On” by a group called “The Floaters.” My band played on that album which went multi-platinum, and I had the honor of touring the world with them for a couple of years as a guitarist and singer.
And both the Detroit Emeralds and the Floaters were almost Hamtramck residents. Their families lived on Burnside and Mackay just north of Hamtown.
That led to my gig with David Ruffin from the Temptations who I did two tours with. After that I worked for Chuck Jackson (Any Day Now) and John Edwards from the Spinners (Working My Way Back To You), Spanky Wilson (Last Days of Summer) Gwen McCrae (Rockin’ Chair) and several other national soul acts.
Of course, I wanted to sing my own songs, and not just be a guitar player in the band so by 1980, I was writing and recording my own songs. I had a few record deals, and they all ended up a bust for one reason or the other. I became a nightclub performer at that time, and though I did some recording in the 80’s and 90’s, performing was my bread and butter, so I mostly focused on that.
Grove Studios: Tell us about your “America” song, and how it came about?
Jotown: I am first and foremost a singer/songwriter, and even though I haven’t released a real record in many years, I still write and record songs all of the time in my home studio.
I first got the inspiration for this song a few years ago. Watching all of the mounting division that was growing during the Obama presidency, I felt a need to do something about it; to use my voice and music to speak to the issues and the division that I saw exploding in our country.
But I didn’t want it to be a protest song. I have many friends on both sides of the political spectrum, so it took me some time to develop an approach that wouldn’t be partisan, or point fingers and cast blame.
I eventually settled on the idea of writing the song as a question; What kind of America do we want to be? I truly believe that most Americans – no matter their political affiliation or view – share a lot of core values. The idea that there is more that unifies us than pulls us apart. I believe that most Americans are good people. If I asked that question and allowed them to look into their hearts instead of the politics of it, most would know the truth, and what that America could look like.
And the good news is that my right leaning friends and my left leaning friends all love the song. And that was my goal; to write a song that both parties would like, and that resonated with their core beliefs, and not just their partisan positions.
Grove Studios: So you wrote the song; then what did you do?
Jotown: Well the truth is that I resisted recording this song for quite a while. The fact is that I am an old and irrelevant recording artist. And I’m not putting myself down. I realized when I turned 40 years of age, that my run of chasing the record business was over. It’s a young person’s game.
It costs money to make a good recording. I don’t spend money on those types of things because there is no real path to recovering the cost of recording anymore. So I put it on the backburner for awhile. But the song persisted. Writing a song – or the creative process itself – is a strange game. Sometimes a song, or a book, or a painting, comes into an artist’s imagination and it pushes the artist to bring it to life.
This can be very distracting. Many artists turn to drugs and alcohol as a way to quiet that voice that wants to be heard. I have been making music for a very long time, so I knew that the only way to get this song to leave me alone, was to record it.
And if I was going to make a record, I was going to make the best record I knew how to make. I brought some of my band mates from a record deal I had in 1984 into town so that I could record it old school in a studio with all of us playing together at the same time. For me that was the only way to do it.
It took some time, money and logistics but in 2018 I made that happen. I worked on the song for a few months, trying to find the correct vocabulary for the lyrics in order to create a non-partisan song that I hoped would be a healing vehicle for the soul of this country.
When it was done I had a dear Polish friend who is an 8 time Grammy winner mix the song for me. His name is John Jacsz and he works out of Nashville. His encouragement is what got me to finish the song, because he felt it was good, and timely.
Grove Studios: You recently had a stroke. Tell us more about your stroke and your recovery
Jotown: On the last day of summer 2019, in the words of Ram Dass, “I was stroked.” I found out at that time that I also had a brain issue that would require brain surgery, which I had in Dec 2019.
Since then I have been working hard on recovery and getting myself back on track. My brain is different now, and there are many things I can no longer do. But there are also many things I still can do, so I focus on that.
It took a long hard effort of recovery to get myself up to the task of finishing this song. I had done a good vocal in July of 2019 that I could live with, so in the past two months I have focused my will and got my America song done.
Grove Studios: So what are you trying to accomplish with your song?
Jotown: Well for starters; the mere act of finishing this song is a win for my new brain. It was also the best kind of comprehensive therapy I could have found. So for my new brain and me; it’s already a win.
The main intention and purpose of the song was to be an agent of healing the broken soul of America. I know that just the idea that my little song could do all that sounds a bit grandiose. That is what I set out to do, and why I composed, sang and produced it.
My daughters would tell you that their Dad is a dreamer and a bit of an idealist. That is true. But to help the country heal is why I created this song.
Grove Studios: So are you open to another artist recording your “America” song?
Jotown: Absolutely. But it would have to be the right artist. I worked hard to make this song non-partisan and not divisive. I wouldn’t want a partisan or divisive person to sing it.
One of the main criteria is that the song also be a vehicle for healing this country. We have enough division and divisive voices already. I want my song to be a healing voice in this crazy time. Again; I know that sounds grandiose, but that is what I wish for “What Kind of America (Do We Want to Be?)”
Grove Studios: Thank you so much Jotown, you have a very interesting story, and make sure to keep us posted on any future developments. Good luck from all of us at Grove Studios who are pulling for you, and your song.