From Church of Christ singer to soul vocalist, Detroit artist Neco Redd has come a long way
"The stage is my sanctuary," says Ebony Neco Washington, also known as Neco Redd. "I turn into a completely different monster on stage. I've been blessed with the gift to work backstage as well, and I don't have a problem with it. But if you're gonna put me out front, expect Neco to act a damn fool!"
A native of Detroit's west side, Redd seized the solo spotlight for the first time in 2010 with "No Discipline," an eight-song EP of raw, bluesy soul. A year later, rather than watch a collection of songwriting demos languish in the dustbin, she offered an exciting and diverse 15-track mixtape as a free download through NecoRedd.bandcamp.com October 2011's "The Full Disclosure" shows off Redd's powerful pipes, her versatility and her funky attitude.
Still, Redd promises that the real heat will arrive this spring with the release of her first full-length album, "Still Trippin." She describes it as a "bass heavy, guitar heavy," horn-driven album with live instrumentation provided by Tony Ozier's West Coast band The Doo-Doo Funk All-Stars.
Redd's first taste of the stage came in the second grade when she played Molly in the musical "Annie."
"All of my sisters and my brother, we all sing," she says. "All my cousins can sing. My uncles had groups… My father [Eddie Washington] used to be in an a cappella gospel group, and I can remember listening to them practice in the basement."
Her Church of Christ upbringing meant that she was surrounded by vocal harmonies. "We didn't play instruments. It was all a cappella with hymnals. All the groups, especially the male groups, were barbershop harmony and doo wop." But Redd didn't sing much in church. Her father was very critical of vocal harmonies.
She broke into performing as a student at St. Martin de Porres High School. "We had a talent show, ninth grade year, and I sang 'Sweet Thing', Mary J. [Blige's] version," Redd recalls. "The whole auditorium gave me a standing ovation, so it was just on from there. And I never stopped."
She was nicknamed "Redd" while attending the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. After returning to Detroit's music scene, she found herself in studios with artists who would become Detroit production heroes-Maestro of Silent Riot and Monica Blaire acclaim and Ta'Raach who worked with J Dilla and Carl Craig's Innerzone Orchestra.
"I just sang this melody and the words gave a definition of who I was," Redd says. "Neco Redd represents the Gemini twins. Neco is one entity. She is… rugged. And Redd is just raw and grimy. That's me."
Since then, Redd has performed with Detroit's best. She's toured with Amp Fiddler, performed with Kid Rock and Black Bottom Collective, and written and recorded with the Platinum Pied Pipers and many others.
For the past three years, she has worked with singer-songwriter Nation in a duo they call Groverton Finch. Several of the tracks from "The Full Disclosure" were written by Groverton Finch for other artists, but the producer they were working with decided not to use the songs. "So I was like, 'I did all this work and you're not putting it out?' I'm putting it out."
As she promotes her mixtape and finishes recording the "Still Trippin" album, Redd says she has learned to "expect the unexpected, and don't even expect that. Don't expect nothing.
"Just do what you have to do, and that's make the record," she says. "I never look at it as, 'This year's my year, and I'm gonna go straight to the top.' I just look at it as, 'I'm a little bit closer to my goal than I was last year.'
"But if anything, my main objective is to bring to life what is missing in music, which is vulnerability. Artists-people in general-are afraid to be vulnerable," says Redd. "What I'm learning is it's OK to cry on stage. It's OK to say, 'My feelings are hurt.' It's OK to say, 'I have emotions.' It's OK because I am a spirit having a human experience. I'm trying to get this [stuff] right."
J. NADIR OMOWALE IS A MUSICIAN AND FREELANCE WRITER BASED IN DETROIT.