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Interview with Don Sypher

'It's Got to Be Right', by the obscure Sypher on a just as obscure recordlabel from NYC, is a heavy funk track with dark, freaky synths over hardcore beats and has an amazing bridge section. Lisa Fischer did the lead-vocals on this one. Fred Zarr and Jeff Bova played keys, Ray Chew on piano, Thelonious Monk Jr. on drums, 'Doc' Holiday did horns and mastermind Don Sypher on bass/keys/vocals as well. Fonda Rae was one of the background singers. This excellent rarity was released in 1983 so yes, it's got to be right! Read the interview with Don Sypher about his record. Listen to a sample here.

Hello Don, great to have you on this website! A friend of yours set this up and now I wanna know all about your fabulous record. Tell me, how did you manage to have such talented people cooperating in this 'It's got to be right' project? I mean, Jeff Bova (Change), Thelonius Monk and Fonda Rae are quite big names! Not to mention Lisa Fischer, who worked closely with Luther Vandross for many years. How did you guys meet? Were you all friends?

Don Sypher:

Yes, a big case of guys huh.....In fact, I was a young kid growing up in the Thelonious Monk a.k.a. 'Monk' household (yes that one!). Thelonius was my big brother sort of....if not guardian. I was attending school at the time (Juliard) and after classes I would stop by the house like clockwork each and every day! I auditioned hundreds (!) of un-known talented singers, vocalist, etc. always trying to create that 'Perfect Sound' group. Then I realized, that some of my co-horts buddies were trying to do the same. So then after unsucessfully, not makin' much progress I decided to resort to other channels. Thats when I friends....I tried auditioning Fonda Rae, whom already had a hit at the time called 'Over Like A Fat Rat', for the song but she was under contract and couldn't perform as the lead vocalist. Then...I approached my friend Benny Ashburn, the manager of The Commodores at that time. He suggested singers, but nothing became of it. To make an long story short!.....ahhhh.....I called Lisa yes! Lisa Fischer was not yet signed!! Yes! Heaven is missing an angel :) She and I worked on records before, when she was on and off tour with Luther Vandross in a band called 'Change'. Now I had the Voice I have been dreaming of! That's when I started to form...Sypher. I wrote the song and lyrics around her especially, knowing what she was going through at the time. Then I called up my 'Big Brother' TOOT!! put the funk in the Funk to say the least. The keyboards, besides myself, are Jeff Bova, Fred Zarr and Ray Chew (from Maze). Bass, myself and Mike Edwards. Horn 'Doc', Drums T.S. Monk, background singers are Lisa Fischer, Fonda Rae, Laura Carrington (whom went on to star in the Lionel Richie 'Hello' Video), Gene Smith, myself, and Toot.

You wrote the music and lyrics of 'It's got to be right' but according to the label information you also did the production and mixing. Was it a difficult job to do?

Don Sypher:

Not really. At the time I was also involved in producing artists, writing for T.S. Monk, Brass Construction and other artists on the Salsoul label. I formed a group called 'The Lovers' so I had some experience already.

'The Lovers' you say !??.....shoot....I didn't know that you were behind this band. I got their 'Lip Service' 12 inch here! A very nice Salsoul track! We're talking 1983, the year that such splendid funk was released on hundreds of small independent labels. TRC was one of those obscure NYC labels. Can you tell me who were behind it and was your record the only track released? Maybe you also know how many copies saw the light.

Don Sypher:

TRC Records is no you may have already known. The person that owned the company was Joe Marquez, an oil man from Venezuela (I believe he has returned during that time..1983 i.e.). Joe had a trustee here in NYC, whose name was Victor Carew. They were both in their late 50's, so who knows if they are still with us? I was the only artist signed at the time to the label. As far of how many copies were pressed...uhhmmmm that's a good question. I don't know.

Just curious, how old were you when you recorded 'It's Got To Be Right'?

Don Sypher:

The Infamous QUESTION :).....Put it this way.....I was still in High School. U do the math?? Ha!

I'm not good in math but i guess you must have been in your early 20's then :) Can you remember how the record was received? I assume it did not get much airplay for being too 'underground' or too 'raw'. Was it played in the clubs you visited?

Don Sypher:

Yep! Actually, it got a lot of club play in NYC but more air play outside NYC. A hit in the South and L.A. I played clubs here and there, but it was really hard to place everyone together at the same moment, so I decided 'Sypher' to be a 'mystery'....No performances!!

Did you make more funk tracks, in the likes of your 'mysterious' 'It's Got To Be Right'? Your style is definately original and i would love to hear about other music from your hand, be it never released.

Don Sypher:

Yeah, I worked with Norman "You are my Starship" Connors. And released records and collaborated with Vaughan Mason and Crew 'Bounce Rock Skate'. As well as with artist such as Phyllis Hyman, Jean Carn, Al Johnson, just to name an few.

21 years have passed and it wasn't until a year ago that i learned about Sypher via a friend in New York. Nowadays your record sells for over 100 $ on eBay and is much indemand. I would say it has become a classic rare-groove. What are your thoughts about your record, in retrospect.

Don Sypher:

Shocked! Still trying to figure it out, if I am the same guy? :) Who could've ever known...

I understood you are a D.J. as of today. Did you use to play funk in NYC clubs? And do you still produce music?

Don Sypher:

No, I am semi-retired......from producing artists for now. I currently do consulting for a Major Label, Jive Records. I D.J. downtown in NYC once a month or whenever I feel the need to do so, also to stay on top of things.

Most oldschool artists agree that temporary R&B music is more about image rather than talent, originality and proper production. People often ask me if the funk will be back. I hope there will be a turning point somewhere in this decade and that good soul and funk in that typical 80's style will revive. Do you see this happening in the near future?

Don Sypher:

Oh Yes! Its happening right now. There are more artist, putting more time into their craft, rather than.....just makin a record for the sake of being rich! It's just that these artist.....are in their home studio's waiting for the Nuclear fallout to clear :) Hey, believe me....they are out there. It's just that the record companies are so small-minded now. But the artists are waiting. FUNK never's just.....waiting.....for collective souls to connect.

I thank you very much for your time Don, it was a pleasure and honor for me. Your record is da bomb you know.

Don Sypher:

Kool! Thanks!

June, 2004

Don Sypher.

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