Eddie Chacon, a Fleeting ’90s Neo Soul Star, Returns as an Old Soul

As one-half of Charles & Eddie, he had an international hit with “Would I Lie to You?” Now he’s releasing his first music in decades.

Eddie Chacon’s roller-coaster music career took him from obscurity to brief stardom. Now he’s coming back with a new spin on his old sound.Credit…Clifford Prince King for The New York Times

The year was 1992, and a longhaired Eddie Chacon, in suspenders and big hoop earrings, grinned and posed alongside Charles Pettigrew in the video for “Would I Lie to You?” The duo took turns singing in silky falsetto — the pop-soul song’s memorable chorus is “Look into my eyes, can’t you see they’re open wide?/Would I lie to you, baby, would I lie to you?” — and occasionally Chacon let out a triumphant, soaring “Hoo!”

The track was a hit, but Charles & Eddie’s fame was fleeting. Chacon ended up walking away from the music industry for three decades.

“I used to tell my wife, ‘If I ever make a record again, I want to make a record you’d have to be my age to make,’” Chacon said on a Zoom call from his home in Los Angeles. Now 56, his dark hair cut short and turned salt-and-pepper, he returns this week with “Pleasure, Joy and Happiness,” an album produced with John Carroll Kirby, a jack-of-all-trades songwriter and musician who has worked with a new generation of musicians drawing on soul: Frank Ocean, Solange, Blood Orange and Harry Styles.

Chacon’s years away from music were filled with other creative pursuits, but songwriting has been a part of his life since he was 12, a Latino playing rock with two other teenage boys in his Castro Valley neighborhood in Northern California. His bandmates, Mike Bordin and Cliff Burton, went on to form Faith No More and Metallica. By 20, Chacon was working as a songwriter for CBS Songs, but he struck out cutting his own music. An album for Columbia was shelved and one for Luther Campbell of 2 Live Crew fell through the cracks. Demos made with the production duo the Dust Brothers — in demand thanks to successes with Tone-Loc, Young M.C. and the Beastie Boys — didn’t see release.

Josh Deutsch, a music executive who was then a young A&R rep at Capitol, recalled Chacon’s talents. “Eddie’s full voice and falsetto had an Al Green thing,” he said in an email interview. “And with jet-black hair down to the middle of his back, he presented like a total star.” On the strength of the Dust Brothers demo, he signed Chacon to a deal in 1990.

Then came an only-in-New-York twist of fate: One day, Chacon encountered Pettigrew, a singer from Philadelphia, on the C train. One of them was carrying a vinyl copy of Marvin Gaye’s 1972 soundtrack “Trouble Man,” though Chacon can’t recall who. Both of them were signed to Deutsch, but they didn’t know it yet. And a musical partnership was born from that chance meeting; they even wrote a song about it, “N.Y.C. (Can You Believe This City)?”

“We started writing songs at lightning speed — in the back of taxi cabs, laying on the floor in apartments, in bars on napkins,” Chacon said.

Their debut, “Duophonic,” was released in 1992 at a time when artists like Lenny Kravitz, Terence Trent D’Arby and the Brand New Heavies were wedding soul music to hip-hop, rock and New Jack swing — a sound that would later be labeled “neo soul.” They struck gold immediately with “Would I Lie to You?,” an uplifting track powered by crisp snares, crunchy guitars and their own honeyed harmonies.

It didn’t break the Top 10 in the United States, but went to No. 1 on the British chart, and in 17 other countries. Follow-up singles scraped the bottom of the Top 40, but Charles & Eddie were one-hit wonders. (The song still has fans three decades on, with over 40 million YouTube plays. The EDM D.J. David Guetta rerecorded it in 2016.)

By 1997, the label stopped taking the duo’s calls, and it split amicably. Pettigrew toured with Tom Tom Club before succumbing to cancer in 2001. In the months before his death, “we were back on the phone talking daily,” Chacon said. “We had even decided to make another record. He never told me he had cancer.”

In the wake of their breakup, “I was pretty lost,” he added. “I had a real identity crisis after it was over. I questioned my own validity as an artist.” Chacon turned his attention to work as a photographer and creative director: “I left my recording studio one day and didn’t turn it on for 10 years.”

Kirby, the producer, said he “pictured Eddie as this guy looking down from his Spanish casita in Los Feliz, waiting for the right time to come back and make his statement.” A common friend suggested the two meet in 2018, and there was an immediate rapport. “It’s a very L.A. thing to sit in peoples’ cars,” Kirby said in a phone interview from Los Angeles. “The first day we met, we just sat in his car for two hours listening to music and talking ideas.”

“Pleasure, Joy and Happiness” blends Kirby’s interest in hushed, contemplative music with Chacon’s classic soul style. The album avoids the trappings of a throwback or revival of a bygone era, instead exploring the rarely glimpsed side of that genre’s themes of passion and heartbreak, sung by a bruised but wiser man.

“Eddie was game to really reflect on his life instead of making fun sexy music to put on at a party,” Kirby said. “He was past it all. He had done it all. He’s been screwed over, but he’s really Zen about it. Eddie’s strengths came from an authentic and honest way.”

Chacon said he was interested in giving listeners an escape. “It was a time where I felt sensory overload from social media and the news,” he said. “I wanted to make a record that was fresh and cool and very meditative. A record that people would listen to, and it would recharge peoples’ batteries.”

Kirby sees a connection between current R&B stars like Ocean and Solange and an elder statesman like Chacon. “All three of those artists are very good with not having too many rules,” he said. He had Chacon record vocals the way he said Solange did on “By the Time I Get Home”: “On a Shure SM58 in the room, no booth, no headphones, just right there,” Kirby explained. “It adds a bit more immediacy.”

For Chacon, it was the chance to put some of his hard-earned wisdom down on record. The single “My Mind Is Out of Its Mind” turns the well-worn theme of an anguished mind into an exploration of modern neuroses. On the hazy ballad “Hurt,” he revisited a chorus that had stuck with him for well over a decade: “You were hurting yourself.”

“There’s only a handful of things in this life that changed the very fabric of who you are, and heartbreak is one of them,” he said of the soured relationship at the song’s root. “I highly recommend heartbreak.”

For all of the album’s new aesthetics and hazy ambience, Deutsch still hears the same artist that first enchanted him three decades ago. “The album showcases a much more mature singer now,” he said. “But Eddie was always an old soul — patient, determined and self-aware.”

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/28/arts/music/eddie-chacon.html

News – Eddie Chacon, a Fleeting ’90s Neo Soul Star, Returns as an Old Soul

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *