James Ingram on backing up Ray Charles, working with Quincy Jones, and his new hit single “Yah Mo B There”


By Steve Newton

In 1981 Quincy Jones’ album The Dude received a record 12 Grammy nominations and became one of the most consistently impressive LPs ever made. The singer on three of The Dude‘s tunes–the funky title track and romantic ballads “Just Once” and “One Hundred Years”–was a fellow by the name of James Ingram.

Ingram received three nominations for his work on the album, including Best New Artist, Best Pop Male Vocal, and Best Rhythm & Blues Vocal. He won the Grammy for the latter category, and in so doing became the first artist in the history of pop music to obtain the award without ever having released an album of his own.

Now Ingram has his own LP, the just-released It’s Your Night, another production of the maestro of soul, Quincy Jones.

The golden-voiced singer called me from Los Angeles last week and I asked him about the new album, his writing of the current Michael Jackson hit “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)”, and his relationships with Quincy Jones, organist Jimmy Smith, and the great Ray Charles.

I understand you spent two years playing piano and singing background with Ray Charles.

Yeah. Ray Charles had a record company called Tangerine Records, and I had a chance to work with him and one of his artists, Joe Webster. My first experience at putting records together came by way of Ray Charles, plus I had a chance to play on a couple of his records. I played on “I Can See Clearly” and sang background.

Did his inspiration as a singer have a big effect on you?

No doubt about it. You can probably hear it in my voice. It’s hard to get away from him–he’s such a strong influence as a person and as a genius talent.

After Quincy Jones heard your vocal on the Barry Mann/Cynthia Weil song “Just Once” he invited you to sing on his album The Dude. Has meeting up with Quincy proved a turning point in your musical career?

Oh, no doubt about it. My whole life changed when the guru of music came into my life and touched me. Before I’d met Quincy, he’d always been my guru, and I had a chance to meet him at Ray Charles’ studio when I was working with Ray. But Quincy didn’t know me then as a singer, he just knew me as a keyboard player for Ray.

Quincy, when he was 15 years old, was in Ray’s band, and he used to do arrangements for him. They’re old friends.

When Quincy asked you down to his studio to record The Dude were you surprised to find that he wanted to use you as a singer and not a keyboard player?

Yeah, it blew me away man. I mean it really blew me away. Because I felt I had a voice–I knew I could sing–but I didn’t think I could sing well enough to live up to someone like Quincy’s expectations.

In 1981 you went to Japan with Quincy and his 50-piece orchestra. What sort of experience was that?

Well, it was my first experience as a solo artist. And to have a 50-piece orchestra behind me, and Quincy back there leading it, I was too nervous to be afraid and too afraid to be nervous. I was just caught up in the awesomeness of the whole trip. It was like a big dream.

“There’s No Easy Way” on It’s Your Night is a really beautiful song–you put so much feeling into it. Is it true that Barry Mann wrote it for you two years ago and you save it for your solo album?

Right. Matter of fact, when I went to Japan to play for Quincy I took the tape with me to learn it on the way back, so that when I stopped in L.A. I could sing it for Barry and see if Quincy wanted to use it on my album.

I waited till we finished the gig in Tokyo and when we flew to Honolulu for a little vacation I took out the tape and put it in my little Walkman and listened to it. And it put tears in my eyes–I mean the song really touched me.

When I did the demo and Quincy heard it, he knew it was the magic that we needed. We knew that this song was going to be on it.

What’s Patti Austin like to sing with?

Oh, she’s just a bundle of joy. Besides being very creative she’s always up in her personality. She’s like Magic Johnson–wherever she’s at, she’s always happy. When the energy is down, she’s always up. So it’s beautiful working with Patti.

Another singer you do a duet with on the new album is Michael McDonald. How did you come to meet him?

Well Quincy and Michael, they’ve been friends for quite a while, and Quincy asked me how I’d like to get together and try to come up with something with Michael. And I told him I’d love to, because I was always a fan of Michael’s singing.

So we got together and started working on some things. Next thing I knew we were jamming for 45 minutes–didn’t even know what we were doin’ or nothin’. We weren’t even looking at each other, we were just playing [laughs].

The song you sing with him is called “Yah Mo B There”. What does that mean?

It’s like, “Are you coming to the party?” “Yeah, mo be there”. It’s a little slang for “I will”. But there’s some spiritual meanings in there too.

There are four people playing synthesizer on that song and the instrument is very prevalent throughout the album. You even play synthesizer bass on the opening track. Do you feel that synthesizers are going to replace the more conventional instruments in the future?

No really, because everything goes around and comes around the 360 degree circumference of a circle. It was new to the ear so people jumped on it and went crazy with it. It’s a fad, and it will be around, but I don’t think it will replace anything.

Was it your decision to use synthesizer so much on the album?

No, Quincy is the producer and it was his decision. But it’s fine with me, you know. He’s the best.

Even though the synthesizer is so prevalent, there aren’t any synthesized drums to speak of.

Well, drums are the heartbeat of a record, so he wanted to keep that natural.

Last year you wrote a song for Michael Jackson, “P.Y.T.”, and you also sang background on it. Did you write that song with his vocal style in mind?

No, Quincy called me, and he had the idea of “P.Y.T.-T.L.C.”, which is Pretty Young Thing and Tender Loving Care. And he had several other writers working on the same idea. So I went into my little studio in my house and put a demo together for him and brought it back. And Quincy loved the idea, so we got together and finished it.

But I was only thinking of a good record and the idea that Quincy gave me–I really didn’t have Michael in mind. Because it’s true for any professional singer: if it’s a good song, it’s just a good song. I mean, if it’s not the right key we can lower it or raise it up for you.

It sure came out well.

Oh yeah, I loved it. Michael tore it up. He’s the best, man.

I says in your album notes that when you were a kid growing up in Akron, Ohio, you idolized organist Jimmy Smith–that you listened to his records constantly and tried to learn every lick he played. It must have been a great thrill for you to have him play on the song “One More Rhythm”.

Yeah, that was a surprise. Quincy surprised me. He had an idea of the big band sound on one of the cuts on my album, so he put that together and got Jimmy to play for me. And it was just another honour, to have Jimmy play on my album. It was great.

How did you prepare yourself for the recording of It’s Your Night? Did you work on training your voice much?

I did a lot of runnin’–I ran five, six miles at least five days a week. And we did like a thousand situps, a hundred pushups a day, you know. I wanted to be in shape.


To hear the full audio of my 1983 interview with James Ingram subscribe to my Patreon page, where you can eavesdrop on over 350 of my uncut, one-on-one conversations with:

Jordan Cook, 2001
Steve Earle, 2012
John Keeble of Spandau Ballet, 1983
Kim Mitchell, 1992
Chris de Burgh, 1984
Ed Roland of Collective Soul, 1994
Steve Negus of Saga, 1983
Denis Bélanger of Voivod, 1993
Chaka Khan, 2022
Ben Harper, 2022
Nick Feldman of Wang Chung, 1987
Delvon Lamarr of the Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio, 2022
Mick Mars of Mötley Crüe, 1999
Hugh Dillon of Headstones, 1994
Kevin Martin of Candlebox, 1994
Joey Molland of Badfinger, 1987
Martha Davis of the Motels, 1985
Brian Vollmer of Helix, 1985
Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip, 1992
Tommy Aldridge of Whitesnake, 1990
Steve Miller, 2022
Al Stewart, 1985
Stewart Copeland from the Police, 2022
Tom Hamilton of Aerosmith, 1994
Terry “Mess” Messal of Flies on Fire, 1992
James Cotton, 2002
Martin Barre from Jethro Tull, 2022
David Gogo, 1994
Rob Halford of Judas Priest, 1990
Greg Keelor of Blue Rodeo, 1992
Popa Chubby, 1995
Jerome Godboo of the Phantoms, 1990
Alain Caron of UZEB, 1985
Billy Sheehan of Mr. Big, 1989
Ty Tabor of King’s X, 2001
Mike Gordon of Phish, 1993
Paul Shaffer of David Letterman, 2022
Paul Nieder of Scatterbrain, 1991
Bob Rock, 2002
John Cougar, 1983
Guitar Shorty, 2001
Cy Curnin of the Fixx, 1984
James Young from Styx, 1986
Charlie Musselwhite, 2002
Steve Morse of Deep Purple, 1998
Lenny Kravitz, 1998
Lars Ulrich of Metallica, 1998
Tinsley Ellis, 1992
Matt Minglewood, 1985
Mojo Nixon and Country Dick Montana of the Pleasure Barons, 1993
Bill Davis of Dash Rip Rock, 1992
Sue Foley, 1992
Tom Keifer of Cinderella, 1991
Terry Adams of NRBQ, 1997
Mark Hollis of Talk Talk, 1984
Joe Perry of Aerosmith, 2010
Slash of Guns N’ Roses and Slash’s Snakepit, 1995
Sonny Rhodes, 1999
Peter Goalby of Uriah Heep, 1983
Lenny Zakatek of the Alan Parsons Project, 1983
Marc Storace of Krokus, 1983
Chris Whitley, 1991
Buddy Cage of New Riders of the Purple Sage, 2006
Bill Elm of Friends of Dean Martinez, 1995
Simon Townshend, 1983
John Bush of Anthrax, 1993
Aldo Nova, 1983
Steven Adler from Guns N’ Roses, 2011
Mick Ronson, 1989
Tom Morello, 2011
Paul Pigat of Cousin Harley, 2021
Jakob Dylan of the Wallflowers, 1993
Henry Fambrough of the Spinners, 1983
Dave Brock of Hawkwind, 1990
Roger Fisher from Heart, 1985
Graham Goble of Little River Band, 1983
Colin Hay of Men at Work, 1983
Mark Kelly of Marillion, 1986
Luther Allison, 1995
Lee Rocker from the Stray Cats, 2007
John Critchley of 13 Engines, 1995
J. Geils from the J. Geils Band, 2006
Rob Thomas of Matchbox 20, 1997
Jason Newsted of Newsted (and Metallica), 2013
Marshall Crenshaw, 2013
Dan Hartman, 1984
Sean Costello, 2006
Roger Hodgson from Supertramp, 1998
Tommy Stinson from the Replacements, 1993
Brian Blush of the Refreshments, 1997
Joe Elliott of Def Leppard, 2003
Craig Northey of Strippers Union, 2021
Melissa Etheridge, 1990
Joe Jackson, 2003
Pepper Keenan of Corrosion of Conformity, 2001
David Ellefson of Megadeth, 1992
David Lee Roth, 2003
Grant Walmsley of the Screaming Jets, 1991
John Popper of Blues Traveler, 1991
Dave Murray of Iron Maiden, 2012
Joe Perry of Aerosmith, 1993
Ellen McIlwaine, 2001
Derek Trucks of Tedeschi Trucks, 2012
J.D. Fortune of INXS, 2006
Fernando von Arb of Krokus, 1984
Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, 1997
Gary Holt of Exodus, 1985
Dizzy Reed of Guns N’ Roses, 1992
Scott Ian of Anthrax, 2012
Gary Lee Conner of Screaming Trees, 1992
Nick Rhodes of Duran Duran, 1985
David “Honeyboy” Edwards, 2003
Rudolf Schenker of Scorpions, 1992
Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick, 2001
Jeff Keith of Tesla, 1988
Doyle Bramhall II and Charlie Sexton of Arc Angels, 1992
Marc Bonilla, 1992
Mike Smith of Sandbox (and Trailer Park Boys), 1996
Dewey Bunnell of America, 1983
Robert Randolph of the Family Band, 2003
Keith Strickland of the B-52s, 2008
David Johansen of the New York Dolls, 2005
Nathan Followill of Kings of Leon, 2003
Todd Kerns, 2016
Bill Payne of Little Feat, 2002
Robbin Crosby of Ratt, 1989
Tommy Shannon of Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble, 1998
Alejandro Escovedo, 1997
Billy Duffy of the Cult, 1989
Dave Martone, 2020
Ian Gillan of Deep Purple, 2006
Joss Stone, 2012
Glenn Tipton of Judas Priest, 2005
Jack Blades of Night Ranger, 1984
Vivian Campbell of Def Leppard, 1992
Colin James, 1995
Kim Simmonds of Savoy Brown, 1998
Tom Cochrane of Red Rider, 1983
Ed Roland of Collective Soul, 1995
Taj Mahal, 2001
Tom Wilson of Junkhouse, 1995
Mike McCready of Pearl Jam, 2003
David Lindley, 2002
Marty Friedman of Megadeth, 1991
John Hiatt, 2010
Nancy Wilson of Heart, 2006
Jeff Golub, 1989
Moe Berg of the Pursuit of Happiness, 1990
Todd Rundgren, 2006
Chad Kroeger of Nickelback, 2001
Steve Earle, 1987
Gabby Gaborno of the Cadillac Tramps, 1991
Terry Bozzio, 2003
Roger Glover, 1985
Matthew Sweet, 1995
Jim McCarty of the Yardbirds, 2003
Luther Dickinson of North Mississippi Allstars, 2001
John Rzeznik of the Goo Goo Dolls, 1995
Steve Hackett from Genesis, 1993
Grace Potter, 2008
Buddy Guy, 1993
Steve Lynch of Autograph, 1985
Don Wilson of the Ventures, 1997
Gordie Johnson of Big Sugar, 1998
Trevor Rabin of Yes, 1984
Albert Lee, 1986
Yngwie Malmsteen, 1985
Robert Cray, 1996
Tony Carey, 1984
Ian Hunter, 1988
Kate Bush, 1985
David Gilmour from Pink Floyd, 1984
Jeff Healey, 1988
Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip, 1996
Richie Sambora of Bon Jovi, 1993
Colin Linden, 1993
Kenny Wayne Shepherd, 1995
Justin Hayward of the Moody Blues, 1986
Elliot Easton from the Cars, 1996
Wayne Kramer from the MC5, 2004
Bob Rock, 1992
Nick Gilder, 1985
Klaus Meine of Scorpions, 1988
Jason Bonham, 1989
Tom Johnston of the Doobie Brothers, 1991
Joey Spampinato of NRBQ, 1985
Patterson Hood of the Drive-By Truckers, 2003
Andy Powell of Wishbone Ash, 2003
Steve Kilbey of the Church, 1990
Edgar Winter, 2005
Johnette Napolitano of Concrete Blonde, 1990
Randy Hansen, 2001
Dan McCafferty of Nazareth, 1984
Davy Knowles of Back Door Slam, 2007
Jimmy Barnes from Cold Chisel, 1986
Steve Stevens of Atomic Playboys, 1989
Billy Idol, 1984
Stuart Adamson of Big Country, 1993
Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull, 1992
Warren Haynes of Gov’t Mule, 1998
John Bell of Widespread Panic, 1992
Robben Ford, 1993
Barry Hay of Golden Earring, 1984
Jason Isbell, 2007
Joey Belladonna of Anthrax, 1991
Joe Satriani, 1990
Vernon Reid of Living Colour, 1988
Brad Delp of Boston, 1988
Zakk Wylde of Pride & Glory, 1994
John Sykes of Blue Murder, 1989
Alice Cooper, 1986
Lars Ulrich of Metallica, 1985
John Doe, 1990
Shannon Hoon of Blind Melon, 1992
Myles Goodwyn of April Wine, 2001
John Mellencamp, 1999
Mike Campbell of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, 1999
Kenny Aronoff, 1999
Doyle Bramhall II, 2001
Jon Bon Jovi, 1986
Dickey Betts of the Allman Brothers, 1992
Randy Bachman, 2001
Little Steven, 1987
Stevie Salas, 1990
J.J. Cale, 2009
Joe Bonamassa, 2011
Tommy Emmanuel, 1994
Rob Baker of the Tragically Hip, 1997
John Petrucci of Dream Theater, 2010
Eric Johnson, 2001
Stu Hamm, 1991
Gene Simmons of Kiss, 1992
Ace Frehley from Kiss, 2008
David Lee Roth, 1994
Allan Holdsworth, 1983
John Mayall of the Bluesbreakers, 1988
Steve Vai, 1990
Tony Iommi of Heaven and Hell, 2007
Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, 1996
Geoff Tate of Queensryche, 1991
James Hetfield of Metallica, 1986
Stevie Ray Vaughan, 1990
Rick Richards of the Georgia Satellites, 1988
Andy McCoy and Sam Yaffa of Hanoi Rocks, 1984
Steve Morse, 1991
Slash of Guns N’ Roses, 1994
Brian May from Queen, 1993
Dickey Betts of the Allman Brothers, 1991
Jake E. Lee of Badlands, 1992
Rickey Medlocke of Lynyrd Skynyrd, 1997
John Fogerty, 1997
Joe Perry of Aerosmith, 1987
Rick Derringer, 1999
Robin Trower, 1990
Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, 1994
Mick Ronson, 1988
Geddy Lee of Rush, 2002
Buck Dharma of Blue Oyster Cult, 1997
Michael Schenker, 1992
Vince Neil of Motley Crue, 1991
Vinnie Paul of Pantera, 1992
Joan Jett, 1992
Steve Harris of Iron Maiden, 1988
Sebastian Bach of Skid Row, 1989
Rob Halford of Judas Priest, 1984
Bill Henderson of Chilliwack, 1999
Paul Rodgers, 1997
R.L. Burnside, 1999
Guthrie Govan of the Aristocrats, 2015
Mick Mars of Mötley Crüe, 1985
Carlos Santana, 2011
Walter Trout, 2003
Rudy Sarzo of Quiet Riot, 1983
Rob Hirst of Midnight Oil, 2001
Tommy Aldridge, 2001
Donald “Duck” Dunn, 1985
Mark Farner of Grand Funk, 1991
Chris Robinson of Black Crowes, 1990
Jennifer Batten, 2002
Mike Fraser, 2014
Leo Kottke, 2002
Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead, 2002
David Gogo, 1991
Booker T. Jones, 2016
Link Wray, 1997
James Reyne from Australian Crawl, 1988
Mike Rutherford of Genesis, 1983
Buddy Guy, 1991
Country Dick Montana of the Beat Farmers, 1990
Mike Cooley of the Drive-By Truckers, 2016
Gary Rossington of Lynyrd Skynyrd, 1986
Lindsay Mitchell of Prism, 1988
Buddy Miles, 2001
Eddie Money, 1988
Tom Hamilton of Aerosmith, 1983
Gaye Delorme, 1990
Dave Murray of Iron Maiden, 1984
Graham Bonnet of Alcatrazz, 1984
Mick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac, 2016
Doc Neeson of Angel City, 1985
Rik Emmett of Triumph, 1985
Sonny Landreth, 2016
Tosin Abasi of Animals as Leaders, 2016
Jeff Beck, 2001
Albert King, 1990
Johnny Ramone of the Ramones, 1992
Peter Frampton, 1987
Otis Rush, 1997
Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip, 1989
Leslie West of Mountain, 2002
Steve Howe of Yes, 2017
Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden, 1983
Uli Jon Roth, 2016
Poison Ivy of the Cramps, 1990
Stevie Ray Vaughan, 1985
Greg Lake of ELP, 1992
Robert Plant, 1993
Malcolm Young and Brian Johnson of AC/DC, 1983
Warren Zevon, 1992
Tal Wilkenfeld, 2016
Steve Clark of Def Leppard, 1988
Ronnie Montrose, 1994
Danny Gatton, 1993
Alex Lifeson of Rush, 1992
Ann Wilson of Heart, 1985
J.J. Cale, 1990
Yngwie Malmsteen, 2014
Chris Cornell, 2008
Long John Baldry, 1985
Allan Holdsworth, 1983
Kim Mitchell, 1984
Warren Haynes of the Allman Brothers, 1994
Derek Trucks, 1998
Susan Tedeschi, 1998
Joe Satriani, 2018
B.B. King, 1984
Albert Collins, 1985
Ronnie James Dio, 1985
Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath, 1984
Dick Dale, 2000
Greg Allman, 1998
Dickey Betts, 2001

….with hundreds more to come



Leave a Reply