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REVISITING MILES: HOW A FORGOTTEN SESSION CAME TO LIFE

Stevie Wonder leaving Motown last week after nearly 60 years was a historic announcement. But a recent listen to jazz icon Miles DavisRubberband (released in September 2019, having being shelved unheard for 34 years) brought to mind that the late trumpeter surprised audiences similarly in 1985—leaving Columbia Records, his label for more than 30 years, for one last comeback on Warner Bros. Records. His first project for the new label? Rubberband.

Recorded in October 1985 with producers Randy Hall and Zane Giles in Los Angeles, Rubberband reveals Davis’ desire at the time to once again capture a more commercial audience. Covers of Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature” and Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” appeared on that April’s You’re Under Arrest. Continuing in that direction, he planned an album steeped in funk and soul featuring intended collaborations with Chaka Khan and Al Jarreau. Though some of the tracks made their way into his live sets, Rubberband disappeared at the request of Warner executive Tommy LiPuma. The label would recruit producer Marcus Miller to help Davis craft his best-known ’80s work, including Tutu and Amandla.

Rubberband received its second life at the hands of musicians Vince Wilburn Jr. (Davis’ nephew), Erin Davis (Miles’ youngest son) and original producers Giles and Hall, who recruited the likes of Ledisi and Lalah Hathaway to update songs like “Rubberband of Life” and “So Emotional” for the 21st century. Wilburn and Davis recently spoke to HITS about the process.

The four-song Rubberband EP dropped in November 2018. How did the release of that EP grow into revisiting the full-length Rubberband last year?

Vince Wilburn Jr.: For Record Store Day, we did something called Rubberband EP. And then Rhino gave us money to finish the record, and that’s how you got the Rubberband album release.

“We called the original producers—who live in Vegas—and said we have to start with the essence of the project but build it and make it a little more modern. And that’s what you hear now.”


- Vince Wilburn Jr.

Share the entire evolution of Rubberband from 1985 to 2019.

Erin Davis: In 1985 Miles reached out to Randy Hall and Zane Giles for some new music. They were working on this thing at Ray Parker’s studio in North Hollywood.

Vince Wilburn Jr.: He wanted a radio hit [laughter]. Randy called Zane because at the time, Zane was hot—hit after hit after hit. And he was living in Malibu. So they went over to Ray Parker’s studio and started the project.

Erin Davis: So then Tommy LiPuma wanted to do similar stuff, more in the vein of what Marcus Miller was doing at the time. They wound up doing Tutu and kinda shelved Rubberband. They wound up using some of Rubberband later, after Miles passed away, to finish Doo-Bop. So some of those trumpet tracks were used on Doo-Bop. And the opportunity came up: Hey, let’s listen to this thing we have in the vault. Nobody’s heard these songs except for a few people who were at live performances.

Vince Wilburn Jr.: And we were, like, an ’80s tone is not gonna work in 2016 [laughter]. So Erin has a studio … I have a studio. We were doing a lot of close listening. Then we called the original producers—Randy and Zane, who live in Vegas—and said we have to start with the essence of the project but build it and make it a little more modern. And that’s what you hear now.

Were there challenges with vocalists Ledisi and Lalah Hathaway not overpowering Miles’ playing?

Erin Davis: We found our own balance. You don’t wanna sing all over the horn parts; you wanna intertwine. Keith Richards always talks about weaving in music. When you hear that soulful vocal, that’s a weaving right there.

Vince Wilburn Jr.: They approached the project as accompanists. Lalah and Ledisi are musicians and vocalists and producers. When they first laced the track, what you hear is, like, one of two takes. And they did want to embellish, but we were, like, “Wait, wait, wait, wait” [laughter]! The energy put in was all positive, though; it just kept elevating. I hate to sound so syrupy, but it was really cool. For a couple of other things, we tried to get Bruno Mars, Gregory Porter and a couple of other people, but then everybody was doing their own projects.

Erin Davis: I wanted to get Devonté Hynes from Blood Orange to do some remixes on it. 

Did you see a different side of Miles when he was in the studio?

Erin Davis: He was always just kind of who he was, so when I went into the studio, he was doing that. When he was at home, he was enjoying his painting or watching the fights. When he was on the road, he was working the band. So it was different. It all depends on what we were doing.

We had a lot of fun at home watching fights. He could make bouillabaisse. He would run to the store to get his art supplies. He would take Vince to Maxfield and say, “Don’t look at the price tag.”

Vince Wilburn Jr.: In New York he would spend $30,000 in five minutes. I lived with Uncle Miles and Erin in Malibu. He was music. Miles: music. He could make the best dishes, art … It was cool to pop some gourmet popcorn and watch boxing with him. It was just beautiful, man. I miss him.

Erin Davis: I was watching MTV late at night, and Headbangers Ball was on. There was some Slayer video or something on. I was kinda watching it, and he walked in. I was, like, “Oh shit, I should turn this off.” And he kinda looked at it and said, “Ah, that drummer’s really laying it down” and just walked off. He would never say, “That’s just noise” ’cause he would hear the music inside, the parts and stuff. Whatever caught his ear, that was interesting; he would remark on it. He loved checking out the bands, seeing how they were making videos. That was all fairly fresh in the ’80s.

He would listen to everybody. Kassav’, Cameo, Toto. He played on Toto’s record [Fahrenheit], the ballad [“Don’t Stop Me Now”]. Lionel Richie used to come over and purchase art, dig it. People were digging both; everybody was getting into both aspects of the concert.

What do you consider Miles’ most politically conscious musical statement?

Erin Davis: Well, for me, it was naming those two albums Tutu and Amandla. And playing on “Sun City.”

Vince Wilburn Jr.: And also, Jack Johnson. ’Cause Jack Johnson didn’t take no shit off nobody. Chief owned films of Jack Johnson. I wanna say that he dug that swagger, that no-nonsense, don’t-take-shit-off-nobody attitude. And Jack Johnson would knock you out [laughter].

He signed with Yamaha in 1973 for instruments: keyboards, amps, guitars, drums. And he asked the Japanese to put the Black Liberation colors in front of all the amp cloths, the red, black and green. And that was 1974. So if you look at pictures from the ’70s—Google it and you’ll see the Miles Davis Yamaha with the liberation colors on the amps. They’re killin’.

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