Peabo Bryson on ‘Reaching for the Sky’ Again — This Time With Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis

Singer’s 21st album marks relaunch of the production duo’s Perspective Records.

Peabo Bryson still knows how to make females swoon. That was quite apparent during his recent performance at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles (July 20).

Amid screams and shout-outs, the Grammy winner effortlessly ran through a list of his biggest R&B and pop hits including “If Ever You’re in My Arms Again,” “Tonight, I Celebrate My Love,” “Feel the Fire” and “Can You Stop the Rain.” And it was like time had stood still. That’s because Bryson sounded just as commanding as he did when he charted his first top 10 R&B hit with 1978’s “Reaching for the Sky.”

“The look on women’s faces is rapture,” Bryson tells Billboard about performing. “These songs are reminders of particular moments in their lives.”

Bryson still knows his way around the charts as well. That evening, he performed “Love Like Yours and Mine” — his latest hit (No. 3 on Adult R&B Songs). It’s his third top 10 and highest peak of his career thus far on that tally as well. 

“Love” is also the lead single from his 21st album, Stand for Love. The nine-track set, released Friday (Aug. 3) and produced by fellow Grammy winners Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, features additional standouts such as the instrumental “Looking for Sade” (Bryson wrote this 20 years ago and definitely holds his own on guitar), the sly up-tempo “All She Wants to Do Is Me,” the moving “Here for You” (which Bryson has dedicated to terminally ill children) and a live medley of several catalog gems.

“Stand for Love isn’t just about romantic love or relationship love,” Bryson says. “It’s about all kinds of love in every kind of relationship. It’s about what we do with our time here on this good earth.”

The album not only marks the first time that Bryson collaborated with Jam & Lewis. It also doubles as the first release from the production duo’s relaunched Perspective Records, distributed by Caroline. All three, along with Bryson’s manager Jeffrey Alston, met with Billboard at Jam & Lewis’ studio outside L.A. the day after Bryson’s concert. Amid bursts of raucous laughter, the trio chatted freely about their creative camaraderie, their favorite songs by each other and bringing Perspective back to music.

“Watching Peabo sing ‘Reaching for the Sky’ last night,” Lewis says, “it reminded me that oh, man. This is Peabo ‘Motherf—ing’ Bryson.” Adds Jam, “When Peabo gets on his shit, that’s what we call him.”

The trio also talked about:

Finally recording an album together

Bryson: Teaming up with Jam and Lewis is something that I personally wanted for a long time. They’re fearless in terms of genre range. And all three of us are stupid enough to believe that there’s nothing we can’t do [all laugh]. But the most palpable thing I got from them was that their mandate starts with you, the artist. They’ll talk and talk to you as they play music. The spirit in which they approach the creative process is like a music fellowship.

Lewis: The sessions were very simple. We’d come in, write and sing. Now what shocked Peabo, I think, is that every time we’d get to a point of writing, he’d say something about a thought and I’d say well, go write it. And he’d say, don’t you want to…? No, I’d say. This is your thing. I don’t have to write for Peabo. He has a voice and writes very well. Anyway, between him and Jimmy, I couldn’t get a word in [laughs]. Seriously, though, it became fun because Peabo understood that wow, we’re just making music. There was no pressure or preconceived notions. It was that one sounds pretty good; let’s do another one. We’d pop off two or three songs a day. When you deal with a pro, it’s fairly simple.

Jam & Lewis’ quintessential Bryson song

Jam: The first Peabo song I ever heard was “I’m So into You.” It was 1978 and I was driving with a friend to the Kool Jazz Festival in Milwaukee. I was a DJ at the time and this was one of those moments that’s become so etched in my mind: what is this and who is this? That’s how long I’ve wanted to produce Peabo. But it’s funny too. I always feel like man, I don’t want to mess anything up when working with someone’s who’s built a great legacy. Because Peabo’s a writer and musician as well, it’s like there’s no fooling him. We had to do something significant of that caliber and love.

Lewis: Mine is the same exact song. A friend girl of mine back then would play that song endlessly. I think she was trying to get something into my head. But she was so in love with Peabo Bryson. I had to either hate on him or love him. I didn’t have a choice [laughs].

Bryson’s quintessential Jam & Lewis song

Bryson: It’s Janet Jackson’s “How Time Flies (When You’re Having Fun).” Listening to Janet speaking French … are you kidding me? That’s one of the sexiest all-time moments. There are also the chord progressions and how they integrated the melody with those. It’s some esoteric stuff musically … mysterious, smoky and sexy.

The decision to relaunch Perspective Records

Jam: We never necessarily thought that we’d be bringing the label back when we shut it down nearly 20 years ago. But our philosophy in bringing it back is the same as our philosophy of starting it: to make music that we feel should be out there and isn’t. Back in the day it was Sounds of Blackness, Mint Condition, Solo and others. Today it’s Peabo; the next project coming involves me and Terry which will include the original Sounds of Blackness with Ann Nesby and James “Big Jim” Wright. But this is a partnership. It’s not like we’re the label and you’re the artists, a separate thing. We’re all going to do everything to make sure that we uphold the standard of what we’ve tried to set with Perspective in the old days and now in its new beginning.

Lewis: I just want to let the music speak for itself. I don’t know or understand why black people who made great music and became great artists get thrown to the side and forgotten. Why can’t they get the opportunity? We need to pay more attention to that. And the timing of this is great because there’s a demand for it as seen at last night’s concert. It reminded people of what they miss.

Bryson: Today’s music vs. then … it’s not that one is better than the other. There’s some extraordinary talent and music out there now. What’s missing mostly to me is individuality. Being yourself and using your own voice is a tough thing to do. But it’s the one thing that makes the greatest difference in a career. And that Jimmy and Terry chose me to launch Perspective, I will be eternally grateful.

For more information about Bryson’s upcoming concert dates, visit http://therealpeabobryson.com.

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