Known for her powerful vocals and stylistic versatility, Grammy-nominated, Wendy Moten, is the “singer’s singer”. Her vocal range and professional credit list are equally as vast. When it comes to vocal style there does not seem to be a genre she cannot handle whether it’s gospel, blues, R&B, jazz, rock, pop, Latin or country. Her career to date has spanned from solo artist – signed to EMI in 1992 with top 10 hit “Come In Out Of The Rain” – to touring as a feature and backing vocalist with international artists such as Julio Iglesias and Martina McBride to musical collaborations with artists such as Michael Bolton, Kenny Rogers, Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy and Joss Stone. Wendy has carved a solid and ever-lasting reputation in her industry.
iSing’s Mindy Pack was fortunate to be able to catch Wendy between current tour dates with Martina McBride so we could find out more about her singing journey and how she has maintained such longevity.
iSing: How did you get started as a professional singer?
WM: Well, I got started singing lead at age 6 in church. My father was the minister of music and all 5 of my siblings had to sing or play an instrument. When I was a teenager, I worked at a Memphis theme park called Libertyland. It was a great practice ground for young and up and coming singers and musicians – we would perform musical shows 5 days a week, 3 times a day during the summers! It was an amazing time and the beginning of my musical journey.
When I was 21 years old, I got in my first band called MVP, which was very popular in Memphis. We played at a club/restaurant called Captain Bilbo’s. We were considered the band with the best musicians, singers, and show. I played in that band for 3 years then got my first major tour as a backing vocalist for my close friend Kevin Paige who was an artist on the Chrysalis/SBK Label. He was the opening act for Debbie Gibson at the time, and she was touring stadiums then.
After touring with Kevin, I got my very own record deal at EMI Records in NYC. I was singing a jingle in the recording studio one day for Niko Lyrus (Studio Owner) and a friend of his named Dick Williams dropped by. His friend liked what he heard and asked who I was and what I sounded like live because he thought he could get me a major record deal.
Of course, I laughed it off. So that same night I “sat in” with Niko’s band. I sang some Whitney Houston and Aretha Franklin and he assured me that night he would definitely be able to get me a major recording deal.
About three months later he returned to Memphis and had me record 3 songs, Come In Out Of The Rain was one of them. A few months later, he had a nice bidding war going on between 3 major records companies. Crazy, right? That started it all.
COME IN OUT OF THE RAIN – WENDY MOTEN
iSing: What are the common misconceptions singers have about the music industry?
That it – success, popularity, fame – can happen overnight. There is always a great deal of preparation.
iSing: Any lessons that you think still have to be learned “the hard way”?
WM: Well, you MUST take care of your instrument. You don’t want to learn that the hard way. If you are a singer and you want to be a professional singer full time, you instrument has to be there 100%. Only YOU know what “taking care of your instrument” means.
iSing: How do you keep your voice in shape for touring and performing?
WM: Well, I try to get as much sleep as I can and warming up doesn’t hurt. I keep my head and throat covered on most flights and if ever there is a draft somewhere, I cover up.
iSing: If you could duet with or sing back up for anyone, who would it be and why?
WM: I think I would love to sing a duet with Adele. She has one of the best voices today.
iSing: Your new album, Timeless, is quite different in style to your past albums. What was your inspiration for this move into jazz?
WM: I’ve been pretty eclectic as a singer most of my life. My sessions came out of singing big pop and R&B ballads because that was the standard at the time with the Whitneys and Mariahs. But I love all music. The producers of Timeless – Wendy Moten Sings Richard Whiting, Paul Brown and Mark Nordman from Woodward Ave Records, were going to have me sing on the RW Project as a guest, in the beginning, then they decided to make it my project. It was a very exciting decision. Only then did I realize that I love that style of music. I got my first ear training by watching TV and memorizing theme songs. My favorite is the Perry Mason original theme. I still get goosebumps.
Anyway, I remembered watching those old movies as a kid and listening to early Ella Fitzgerald, Doris Day, Julie London and Nat Cole. This project is a gift.
iSing: You have had a long and successful career and don’t seem to be stopping anytime soon. How do you maintain motivation?
SO CLOSE TO LOVE – WENDY MOTEN
WM: I LOVE what I do and I never forget that every opportunity is a blessing or a gift. I don’t take it for granted and I do my ultimate best.
iSing: What is the most challenging professional thing that you have had to face and overcome to date?
WM: I had the unique chance to perform with the Memphis
Symphony this past December in Memphis. It was the first time I had ever performed alone with a 200-piece orchestra. I did not want to fail in my hometown. I had to make sure I knew my music and my voice were in “tip-top” shape. The Memphis Orchestra and Chorus already have an amazing reputation and I did not want to be the weakest link. I just made sure I was prepared and I also reminded myself to have fun and make sure I keep this memory close. My most challenging song was O Holy Night (“Cantique de Noël”). No one expected me to sing this in its original state. Nobody knew I had a classical background 🙂 The more music you are able to sing or study, the longer and better chance you have of staying in the music business.
iSing: What’s the funniest or most embarrassing on-stage experience you’ve had?
WM: Oh my. When I was about 17 years old, I was performing at Libertyland theme park in the summers and one of the songs I had to sing in the show was Somewhere Over the Rainbow. One Saturday show day, I completely forgot the lyrics. Embarrassing! I watched the young kids and their parents happily sing along in the beginning then I watched them become mortified. Of course, my show mates and crew were laughing uncontrollably. I didn’t think I would ever recover. I laughed a little too, then jumped back into the song. It feels like it happened only yesterday.
iSing: Do you have any advice to singers who want to be an artist?
WM: I tell people today that it feels like the western ‘Wild, Wild, West’. Everybody is looking for the “gold”. Because of this, there are no real music boundaries. You can sing what you want, record what you want and even generate your own fan base. The more independent you are, the more fulfillment and artistic control you will have. I know it’s hard supporting yourself on music alone, but you have a better chance of going it alone than waiting on a major record label to come and find you.
iSing: What’s next for Wendy Moten?
WM: The sky! I want it all. I want to continue to create great music by writing, producing, and singing well. I’ve got a few more Wendy Moten projects coming out. The best thing that could have ever happened to me was learning how to use ProTools and Logic. I get calls all the time from people all over the world asking me to sing on their recordings. The budgets of the old days that were big enough to fly me in, put me in a hotel and get me a rental car have come to an end on a lot of levels. Since learning how to record and edit my vocals, I can take a little more time to record some great ideas and then let these artists pick and choose, which parts work best for them. This way, they are not wasting their budgets on expenses and I can get up and record whenever, even in my pajamas. It’s priceless!