Larry Graham Talks Documentary with Prince, Relation to Rapper Drake, and Tour with Graham Central Station
By Erica Thompson | April 16, 2013
There’s something about Larry. In the late 1960s, the legendary bassist, known for his signature “slapping” technique, joined funk band Sly and the Family Stone, and played on classic tracks like “Everyday People,” “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)” and “Family Affair.” Larry Graham continued his success throughout the 1970s with his group, Graham Central Station, which produced R&B hits, such as “Your Love.” His solo career yielded the Top Ten hit and beloved wedding standard “One in a Million.”
While other musicians may have been tempted to retire after so much success, Graham continues to write and record, often with younger artists who grew up on his music. His latest album with Graham Central Station, “Raise Up,” was released in September 2012 on the independent label Moosicus. It features soul singer Raphael Saadiq and superstar Prince, with whom he has performed and collaborated for more than a decade. Prince and Graham are also close friends who share a spiritual bond—they are both Jehovah’s Witnesses.
I chatted with Graham about the Purple One, Graham’s new music and international tour, and the reformed Graham Central Station. Graham also shared an update on his relationship with his nephew, rapper Drake.
Your last album (“GCS 2000”) was released in 1998. What made you release “Raise Up” after all this time?
Well, you know I always continue to write, that’s what I do; it’s part of my life. So I put together a combination of songs that just all fit together…Plus, I have a band now…We worked to record three songs that are remakes of Graham Central Station material, so it all fits together.
What is the meaning behind the album title?
Hopefully, when people hear the album, it will help them to raise above whatever they might be going through in the times we’re living in right now.
For fans who haven’t heard the album yet, what type of sound can they expect?
Well, I think the biggest thing I was going after was giving a live feel. When I was in Sly and the Family Stone, I think part of our sound was recording live in the studio and capturing a live feel as opposed to maybe a lot of overdubbing, and so I was able to capture that because the musicians I have, they were raised on my music, they know it, and so we’re able to do that.
On your new album, you collaborated with Prince but also Raphael Saadiq. How did the latter collaboration come about?
He’s a good friend. He was also raised up like Prince on Graham Central Station music and so when I went to Los Angeles, we got together in his studio and laid down the track, and it was just a natural collaboration.
Tell me about the new Graham Central Station.
Well the guitar player, Wilton [Rabb], has been with me for about thirty years, so he knows my music and the rest of the band, they were raised in Oakland on my music as well as Sly and the Family Stone.
What do you hope to achieve with your music?
I want the music that I create to be positive and encouraging—I don’t want to write negative music. I don’t want to degrade anybody. And I think it’s important that I set a good example with my music.
Your new tour started in Europe last month. You’ve been performing there for the past couple years. What has your experience been like performing for audiences outside of the U.S.?
We get great reception in Europe and Japan. It’s kind of like even though I might not be able to speak the language of the different countries, the music is universal, and so we’re able to connect in that way. So, I’m able to communicate with people that, ordinarily, I would not be able to communicate with.
So fans can expect a variety of music on the tour?
Yeah…Some Sly and the Family Stone, Graham Central Station and the current “Raise Up” album.
Prince will be performing at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland in July. Any plans to join him?
Well, if I’m invited, I’ll be there. The way it’s been for the last 14 years, any shows he would like me to be a part of, he’ll invite me, and…he showed up to some of my shows as well.
Are you planning to invite him to any of your shows on this tour?
Well, yeah, that’s always an option.
Prince mentioned that he is working on a documentary about your life and career. When did he come to you with the idea?
We’ve been working on that for a while, and it’s pretty much complete now. I’m really happy with it, so I look forward to that coming out. A lot of things in interviews, they don’t get covered because most interviews are 20, 30 minutes long at the most. [The] documentary covers a lot more information and visually, of course, it shows a lot more. So yeah, I’m really excited about that.
Prince also mentioned that he’s waiting on clearance to use some of your songs.
I’m not sure about that part of what’s being waited on to clear so I can’t speak on that.
You recently discovered that rapper Drake is your nephew. Have you had a chance to meet?
Not yet, but I think that’s gonna happen soon.
Have you been in touch with Sly Stone?
Not lately. I have in the past and I have used members of Sly and the Family Stone in my shows as well. We’ve always remained close friends, so we’re like family for life, but I haven’t seen Sly recently.
You’re known for being an innovative bass player, but are you continuously learning new things?
Well, I think each show that I do is a learning experience because I try to make each show different than what I did the previous show…So yeah, I’m constantly learning.
Who are your musical influences?
Is there anyone else you’d like to work with musically?
I’m pretty open. I think that anyone that approaches me about playing with me, [and] is pretty open to what I do and my music, my sound—I’m open to everybody.
You’ve had such a long, successful career. What else would you like to accomplish?
[To] live forever.
Larry Graham’s 2013 Remaining Tour Dates
Napa Valley Opera House, Napa, CA
September 22nd – 29th
Dave Koz and Friends at Sea, Rome