Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Ben E. King, who has his first studio album in 12 years, “Heart & Soul,” coming out this month, will be heading off to Europe in a couple of weeks for a continental concert trek. And after that, the legendary singer, who gave us jukebox classics including “Stand By Me” and “This Magic Moment,” will firm up plans for a U.S. tour.
“I’m really looking forward to it. I haven’t done a long tour in a long time,” he tells us. “I think you have to get yourself in the right frame of mind for it. You have to remind yourself, ‘Okay, Ben E., you have to eat well, sleep well. All the party days, you know, are over now. You have to be sensitive at your age,’” says the 77-year-old with a laugh.
To say that King has seen a lot of changes in the record business since he got his first hit in 1959 (“There Goes My Baby” with The Drifters) is a vast understatement. Today, “The record industry is in the strangest world I’ve ever seen it in, not barring the fact that the record stores are all gone. If you want to sell records, you have to do it at places like Starbucks and Target. The good thing is, we know that the music is still alive.”
King’s latest contribution to the record world is a collection of standards (on his own CanAm label) including “When I Fall in Love” and “My Funny Valentine.” He notes, “You make sure you do things that aren’t going to embarrass yourself and the industry. Make sure you don’t do things that should be left to the 18-year-olds, you know? After being out there for a certain amount of time, you have a certain slot and you belong there. I learned from watching cats like Duke Ellington and Billy Eckstine – if you stay there with dignity and class, you’ll be okay.”
Choosing the tunes out of the great American songbook wasn’t easy. “we really did have an overload. We kind of narrowed it down to ones we thought weren’t overdone,” he says.
And then, he did fresh treatments of the songs. “When you surround yourself with great musicians, things happen, you know? Someone will say, ‘Why don’t you try this or that? Why don’t you try it in another key?’” For instance, on “The Touch of Your Lips,” King explains, “We were thinking about doing it very ballad-y, slowing it down. Then we thought, ‘No, let’s not go that way,’ and we tried a little uptempo. All those little things came together.”