Songwriter Kipper Jones On Penning Hits For Brandy, Vanessa Williams, and His Journey to Liberation
If Kipper Jones, 59, could go back in time to give himself advice, the celebrated songwriter and vocalist says he would simply say, “don’t be afraid.” For the man who famously penned hits for Vanessa Williams (“The Right Stuff,” “Comfort Zone'') and Brandy (“I Wanna Be Down,” “Brokenhearted”) that catapulted their careers and made them superstars, Jones has spent most his life running towards success and running away from himself. As a self-identified same-gender-loving man, Jones often wrote about love in songs that shot up the Billboard Hot 100 chart, while denying himself the experiences in his lyrics.
“I’ve kind of had arrested development in some areas of my life in terms of relationships. I didn't even delve into that until way later in my life,” says Jones, who adds that he didn’t pursue relationships in his early 30s because he felt like he couldn’t.
Before Los Angeles became his second home and recording studios across the city his haven, Jones found inspiration, honed his musical chops, and received societal cues about people who were different inside the sanctuary of New Jerusalem Baptist Church under the leadership of Rev. Otis Floyd in his hometown of Flint, Michigan.
“They say he was a blues singer in his previous incarnation, but man, he just had all this soul when he sang,” says Jones of Rev. Floyd. “My mother says I would just sit there and just marvel at him. I remember that,” he says.
But for Jones, it was Jeffrey LaValley, a then “17-year-old kid from Milwaukee who just came to town and blew everybody away,” that he credits as his first real musical influence.
“Jeffrey was writing songs for the choir and he was 17. I'm like, he's so talented. How do you do that? Where does that come from? I saw him do it and I think that was my first visual of it,” says Jones. “Just how to take an idea and make it a song and give it to people and teach them how to do it. It was just incredible to me.”
Jones would be given many opportunities to display lessons learned and to build upon LaValley’s musical influence after relocating west to Los Angeles with his family, which put him in the right place at the right time, in the studio with a former Miss America who would use success as the best revenge after being forced to relinquish her crown, and alongside an untested young singer with only a failed sitcom that ran for one season as her biggest credit. Jones had the right stuff and soon everyone would know it.
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