20 Questions with Crystal Waters – Billboard
Crystal Waters entered house music mostly by accident. Originally aiming to be a jazz singer, the DC-raised singer – whose father is jazz musician Junior Waters and whose great-aunt is singer and actress Ethel Waters – met house production duo The Basement Boys at a conference in Baltimore in the late 1980s, when Waters was working for the government, issuing arrest warrants. In her heart, she knew she was meant for something else.
The Basement Boys asked Waters to write them a pair of demos, including “Gypsy Woman (She’s Homeless)”. Waters dispersed “la da dee da da” on the socially conscious track, which told the story of a well-dressed woman Waters had seen begging in DC
The song was never passed on to another singer and became Waters’ first big hit when it reached No. 1 on Dance Club Songs in May 1991, where it remained for the next two weeks. Now considered one of the greatest house songs of all time, the song was followed by Waters’ 1994 classic “100% Pure Love”, which spent 45 weeks on the Hot 100, culminating in the 11th place. This song helped bring house music to the masses, as a key track in the genre crossover from top 40 clubs in the mid-90s.
Since then, Waters has not stopped making music. In 2021 alone, the singer, who still resides in Washington DC, released five singles, the latest being “Never Enough,” a collaboration with up-and-coming Irish producer Richie Blacker that dropped on Friday (December 3) on the record label. dance Atlantic Records Signal >> Supply. The song is a catchy piano house hymn that showcases Waters’ unique voice and the same jazz-style performance that made her famous. Here, Waters discusses his journey up to this point and what follows.
1. Where in the world are you right now and what is the setting?
Right now I’m at home sitting in my studio. I live in a suburb just outside of Washington DC; it’s about 16 miles from the White House.
2. What is the first album or piece of music that you bought for yourself, and what was the medium?
The first piece of music I bought was the Stevie Wonder album Songs in the Key of Life, and everything was vinyl back then.
3. What did your parents do for a living when you were a child, and what do they think or think about what you do for a living now?
Well, I come from a family of musicians. My father was a jazz musician. I used to tour with him every summer. My great aunt was Ethel Waters, a very famous singer and actress. My uncle was Zack Zackery, the main saxophonist of MSFB. My brother played in bands, so there was always music in the house. Even though it wasn’t obvious when I was a kid, I think they were very happy that I was continuing the legacy. I’m sure they wished I had pursued a career in jazz, they didn’t really understand house music.
4. What was the first song you composed?
The first song I ever did was called “Tell Me” on a 4 track.
5. If you had to recommend an album to someone who wanted to get into dance music, what would you give them?
Little Louis Travel with the loners.
6. What was the first thing you bought for yourself when you started making money as an artist?
A BMW car!
7. What is the last song you listened to?
“Essence” by Wizkid, Tems and Justin Bieber.
8. The caption goes that you weren’t happy that the clubbers didn’t get the social message behind “Gypsy Woman”, so you asked the label to add “She’s Homeless” to the title. Is this story true? If so, why was this message important to you?
Well, it was true that I was not happy that people did not get the message. I felt it was important and still is. They only heard “lada dee ladada” and treated it like a rhyme. But it was [house music pioneer] Tony Humphries who actually approached the label to ask them to add “She’s Homeless” to the title, because he had the same feeling. After he did this, all 12 inch discs had a silver sticker that said “ladadee ladada, she is homeless”. Tony was instrumental in breaking the song up in New York City.
9. “100% Pure Love” is also consistently rated as one of the best dance songs of all time. What are your best memories of doing this song?
I still remember getting the song, it was just a bassline and a beat. I just loved it! The first time I returned the song the Basement Boys hated the hook. They made me laugh as I walked out of the studio and told me to try again. Then I came back with what you hear now.
10. What makes the track work so well?
For me it was the bass line, the beat changes every eight bars, which gets you moving. And of course I love the lyrics. “100% pure love”, everyone wants it.
11. If you are actually going “back to middle and over again”, where do you end up?
It’s hilarious. In my mind, it’s more of a symbol of infinity. Love is endless.
12. At the start of your career, you worked closely with the Basement Boys. What were they doing then that no one else was doing?
They were helping to launch the craft of house music. They were in Baltimore, which made them sound slightly different. It was all so new. I think what made them different was that Teddy Douglas had the mentality of a Quincy Jones. He wanted structure, live instruments, real songs. I still think he’s one of the best producers out there.
13. I know you were originally a jazz artist. What were your impressions of house music and the dance scene – its sounds, its places, its people – when you first got involved?
Yes, it was all so new. I remember they took me to the Soundfactory in New York. Junior Vasquez was at the helm. There were these huge speakers you could sit on and the music was vibrating all over your body. I had hung out at clubs, but they weren’t like that at all. It was actually house all night long. There was such a positive vibe and everyone was accepted. Everyone was dancing, baby powder on the floor. There were vogue battles, drag queens parading in designer clothes. The hair, the makeup, the clothes, everything was over the top. I was addicted; I liked it.
14. You released five singles this year, most recently “Never Enough”. Did you feel particularly creative in 2021?
I am usually on the road to do shows. With the pandemic, I had more time to focus on writing, like everyone else. I have a lot of songs that are recorded and I sit with the producers until they have time to work on it, so I never know when they’re going to pop up and be ready to release. Looks like it was the year. I write and record constantly.
15. How did you spend your time during the pandemic?
I think I went through different phases. At first, I just cooled off. Then I started to repair and change things around the house. Then it was the return to music. I built a new studio in the house and decided to learn Logic so I could record my own voice.
16. What does the term “house music” mean to you?
It’s a feeling. It is unity, positivity, love, soul.
17. Where is your favorite place to listen to and discover dance music?
In a club. Usually after playing I hang out to listen to new music and feel the vibe of the crowd. Every now and then I walk around the floor and stand in the middle of the speakers just so I can feel the music.
18. What’s the best business decision you’ve ever made?
Signing of my first contract with the Basement Boys.
19. Who has been your best mentor and what was the best advice he has given you?
My father. He said never give away your post.
20. What advice would you give your young self?
Never listen to enemies or skeptics. Just believe!