The Rogue Cat Sound chaps, Dean Meredith and Ben Shenton, introduced me to The 3 Pieces` Iwishcan William around a year ago. It was one their selections put forward to help promote their legendary Rotation garden parties. Particularly taken with the track`s positivity, and finding myself momentarily Discogs / Paypal flush I shelled out $80 for an OG. When I informed The Cats of my good fortune, they replied, “Rob, we’ve just licensed it for Record Store Day.” The RSD 12, released on August 29th, will feature remixes from Lexx and The Idjut Boys` Dan Tyler – who turn in a sophisticated glide, and a spaced-out Larry Levan-esque dub, respectively. It turns out that Iwishcan William is a continually evolving musical moment anyway. Something you’ll discover during the course of this interview with The 3 Pieces AKA the true gentleman that is Lincoln Ross. Lincoln’s recording career spans some 50 years and he’s packed in a whole lot. From Wesley Ford’s DC Playboys to this brand new reissue, he’s worked and collaborated with revered exponents of soul, rap, jazz, go-go, and funk.
Where are you from?
I was born in Washington DC on the 6th of April, 1950 … My dad was from Trinidad, in the West Indies, Lincoln A. Ross Jr., and my mom, Doris M. Ross was from Mebane, in North Carolina. I`m Washington DC born and raised!
When and how did you first get involved in making music?
I asked for and received a guitar from Santa Claus at maybe 8 or 9. My parents purchased some mail-order written beginner lessons to go with it but I didn’t work too hard at it starting out. Later as a 9th grader I wanted to join the school band but had never played a band instrument. The band director – Mr. Weber – needed trombones so I began taking lessons from his fellow Marine Corp Band member, John Zimmerman. I think my first gig was at an annual Easter sunrise service at Mr. Weber’s church. Even before all that my uncles say that as a kid – maybe 5 or 6 – I used to grab the kitchen broomstick as a make-believe guitar and imitate Chuck Berry performing Maybellene, Roll Over Beethoven, and other Berry rock & roll hits of the day (laughs).
What instruments do you play? Did you receive any formal training?
Trombone, piano / keyboards and a little guitar … I have a student flute I used to tinker with but haven’t picked it up in years – it needs new pads etc. I was in a music program during my last two years of high school and have a bachelor’s degree from Howard University in music – trombone studies. For the most part I have been working as a freelance local musician since I left college in 1973 with a few scattered odd jobs along the way. Shall we say scraping by with compassionate support from family and friends (smiles).
How did you get to work with Eddie Drennon?
Not sure how I hooked up with Eddie. Maybe in the early 70’s in my latter college days at Howard, or shortly thereafter. I think Professor William Penn may have referred me to Eddie when he was on campus recruiting a horn section for one his recording sessions. Haven’t seen him in decades. He must be in his eighties as I just hit 70 and I remember him being about 10 years older than me … thanks for reminding me … got to check up on Uncle Eddie hahaha! (this interview was conducted back in May, and Lincoln did indeed check up on Uncle Eddie, who is alive and well – they hadn’t spoken in 40 years).
(Lincoln played trombone on this absolute classic)
When and how did The 3 Pieces get together? Who else was in the group?
The 3 Pieces formed around 1973. We were all in the same 12 piece R&B cover band “The Sound Service”. When the band broke up I was able to find some trio work in small DC bars and clubs as well as private parties, kiddie cabarets, weddings etc. The group was Jerry Wilder (RIP, 1954-2017) on bass and lead vocals, Andre Richardson, on congas, drums and vocals, and myself.
How did you all hook up with Donald Byrd?
I first met Donald Bryd as student at Howard. My freshman year, 1968, was the same year he started there as head of the newly formed jazz studies department.
(Recorded by Donald Byrd and The Blackbyrds, written by Lincoln Ross)
(Donald Byrd went on to produce The 3 Pieces` debut LP)
1975`s I Need You Girl and If I Could To Prove To You are soulful rare grooves, while Self Dealin` and Vibes Of Truth are much more “conscious” and jazzy. Who and what might have influenced the songs and recordings?
There were many many influences. Prior to this album – our one and only album – we had individually worked with many big name artists of the day as sidemen. I had just finished touring with the Count Basie Orchestra which was one of the reasons Byrd moved to produce us on Fantasy – especially since the BlackByrds were hot at the time. I`d also done sideman gigs with Marvin Gaye, Gladys Knight, the O’Jays and many other’s. The drummer on the record is Jack Cooper – Andre played congas only on the record. Jack was the O’Jay’s drummer at the time and I`d recently met him on one of their shows that I worked on as part of the horn section. I asked Byrd to fly him out to the Fantasy sessions in Berkely, CA. – which he did. Byrd also decided to further expand our trio sound with guitarist Ray Parker Jr. We were heavily influenced, I guess you could say, by the whole r&b / soul / funk / jazz /r ock &roll scene of the early to mid 70’s … all the way from James Brown to Miles Davis and John Coltrane to Marvin Gaye’s What’s Goin’ On.
What`s making that funky marimba-like sound on Back Up Against The Wall?
I think that was called an Arp Pro Soloist – an early synth – or something like that. It was monophonic – one note at a time no chords … I got it from Byrd.
(The 3 Pieces with Donald Byrd)
How did you get the budget for the big orchestral arrangements?
Byrd said Fantasy gave him a 40k dollar budget to make the album. By comparison Maurice White, a little prior to that, got over 500k to produce Earth, Wind &Fire’s The Way Of The World… at least that’s what I heard through the grapevine. Way Of The World came out in March while our LP came out in May. I also remember the Commodores` Brick House was out then so we quickly realized it was a tough time for a new first release act on a small budget to make any noise. Still it was an exciting experience.
Did the album sell well at the time?
Did you play live and tour?
We did gigs at the “Sugar Shack” in Boston, “Just Jazz” in Philly for a few days and some shows with Kool & the Gang – all with the BlackByrds on the bill as well. This lasted about three weeks and that was it …nothing after that … back to the local scene and basically hittin and missin’ like before.
What happened in the 7 years between Vibes Of truth and Iwishcan William?
Things gradually petered out…by the time Douglas Graham came along and financed “Wishcan” the group was in name only. I decided to just used the name anyway… maybe hoping – as in pipe dream – that some sort of re-grouping might still happen if the record took off … of course that did not happen.
Can you tell me more about the record? Again what inspired it? It has a strong motivational vibe? It`s a little like “Sesame Street goes electro”. Was that the aim? To get a positive message out to kids?
It was definitely intended to “Latch on to the affirmative” as Nat King Cole sang… Iwishcan William ended up being my ‘opus magnum’… it`s a hard story to believe really happened looking back …surely not something I made happen on my own … but something that more like happened to me … I always say, “Counting blessings is a full time job over in this camp“ (laughs).
Back in 1981 my first bandleader, Wesley Ford, and I were sitting around talking about the late 60’s – about when we were out gigging around Washington, DC. with his band, The DC Playboys. The unit had long since disbanded, and we hadn’t seen each other in a good while. Rap music was just beginning to catch on and somehow our conversation shifted to how a lot of negative influences were starting to creep into rap lyrics. Wesley knew I liked to write so he suggested that I should write something positive – while staying in the style of the rap genre. Having already introduced me to what he called the “I AM” philosophy, which has to do with the power of positive thinking among other things, Wesley encouraged me to use “I AM” as the theme of the song. That’s how the whole thing got started in the spring of 1982.
Little did I suspect at the time all the changes I would go through to arrive at the present incarnation of this 36 year old work in progress. My own kids, Lincoln IV and Nicquel, who were 6 and 11 at the time, are among the voices in the background of the original recording. They`re 43 and 48 today. Also my dear friend, the late Tyrone Anderson Sr. with his friend Judy Seeger gathered up her kids, nieces and nephews – who all ate peanut butter sandwiches in the back of my van on the way to Bias Studios in Springfield, VA. Douglas Graham – aka Mr.’D‘ – a DC area artist / producer / manager believed in the project and put up his hard earned money for us to record.
Twenty-three years later – in the fall of 2006 – I decided to update the beat and musical background. First, I went back to the studio with the old master tape, frazzled edges and all, and dubbed the kids voices onto a CD. CD’s weren’t even around when we first started this project. Next, using Pro-Tools, I was able to add the old voices to the new track and sync the rhythm. Later in the fall of 2007 I was then able to overdub four of my five grandchildren so that now they are on the same track as their parents – recorded when their parents were children. Actually my first grandson, Aloysha, is older on the track than his father was when we first recorded.
So now there are three generations on the same track and it’ll possibly be embellished with more young voices in the not too distant future. Alexander, my fifth grandchild and most recent overdub-ee, was born just a few days past Iwishcan William’s 27th anniversary – February 4th, 2009. Alex overdubbed his part on June 6, 2014 when he was 5 – he’s 10 now – and upstaged the whole lot of us with his spirited performance in the first few bars. Now, does this song have a story or what?!!!
How many copies of Iwishcan William were made? Did it sell well? What did you do next?
Douglas ‘Mr.D’ Graham payed for the pressing – 2,000 12” records and 1,000 cassette singles. I don’t even remember seeing a cassette single before that … at least in the DC area. D&L Records was the name for our fledging label – an acronym from our first names. With no day job and a few local gigs, I did the session and production work. This involved booking time at local DC area studios – Omega, Bias, No Evil – and several trips to Philadelphia’s Sigma Sound Studios, Frankford Wayne Mastering Labs and Diskmakers. ‘D’ as, we call him for short, was working at an underground parking garage at the time so our D&L board meetings were held in the parking booth in between him processing parking fee’s and parking cars. ‘D’ will be 83 on June 25, 2020 and we are still in touch from time to time.
No, the record did not sell well and we have yet to recoup our costs. However, not prone to giving up easily, ‘D’ financed another release for our label in 1985 featuring Richard Knight – Knight Brothers Temptation’s `Bout To Get Me – singing my original, In The Meantime, with backing vocals by The Jewels as well as Andrew White on bass. White is the same jazz luminary world famous for transcribing hundreds of John Coltrane and Charlie Parker solos. Again with meagre production and promotion assets the record and the label went nowhere to speak of.
(Lincoln with Mr. D last year)
Was any other similar material recorded at the time? Are there any unreleased tracks in your archive?
Were you involved in the Washington go-go scene?
I wasn`t really involved much in the go-go scene but by a weird set of circumstances I ended up recording the trombone part on Chuck Brown & the Soul Searchers smash hit, Bustin Loose. They were recording an album and the regular trombonist, an old high school classmate, (John Buchanan, needed a substitute for that day so I got the call from producer James Purdie. I did a few scattered gigs with the Soul Searchers around town, but was not on the tour when the record was hot. I can’t really remember the club names … maybe Lamont’s in MD was one but it was not really a go-go club but rather an outside venue.
By the way there’s a clip up on Youtube of Chuck, back in 1986, playing a live go-go version of “Wishcan”.
Later, in the late 90’s I think, I also played in the horn section for a DJ Kool record. It wasn’t the big hit though – Let Me Clear My Throat… I can’t remember the name of the track. Although I wasn`t heavily involved in go-go I love the go-go beat and even recorded a tribute track after Chuck’s passing called We Remember Chuck.
The go-go scene was jumped on and then dropped by major record companies. Is there still an active go-go scene in Washington?
Oh for sure … go-go was recently designated by the DC Mayor and city council as the official music of Washington DC. It may not be happening on the same level as it once was but there is still an active scene with some of the musicians in their 70’s like me in addition to the younger set.
You also recorded with Elbernita Clark and Hilton Felton. How did you come to work with these artists?
I`m sorry but I don’t recall Elbertina Clark. Hilton, who passed several years ago, was a few years ahead of me at Howard U. We did recordings for each other and he played on my wife’s 1999 jazz album, Changamire`s Only Human.
You performed on the albums Ye Shall Receive Power and A Man For All Reasons. Did you know that both of these records have been “revived” and are rocking dance floors?
No I didn’t know that. Does that mean I get a check in the mail? (laughs).
Are you still to making and performing music?
I was until COVID-19 hit. Although it has zapped my gigs for the time being, it hasn’t stopped me from recording in my basement…also I play my horn everyday and try to write and tickle the ivories some too … I find it very therapeutic. “Musician’s don’t retire.. they expire” (laughs).
Wesley, Mr. D, and Lincoln, taken a few weeks ago, August 2020.
Iwishcan William is released by Rogue Cat Resounds, as part of Record Store Day, on August 29th. The package features the original 1982 version, plus two 21st Century re-rubs from Lexx and the Idjut Boys` Dan Tyler.
If this interview has piqued your interest in Lincoln, and the DC scene, there`s a great Q&A he did on DC TV last July here….