Have you heard the one about the old soul singer? He was full of power and promise but tragically succumbed to temptation and trouble, leaving behind broken dreams and extremely collectable vinyl records. Joe Quarterman, 63, (aka Sir Joe Quarterman) who recorded one album in his brief career, (“Sir Joe Quarterman & Free Soul”) knows that story.
Thankfully, it isn’t the one he has to tell. Quarterman, the singer known for the funk classic “(I Got) So Much Trouble in My Mind,” on GSF Records, decided the music business wasn’t worth the trouble and walked away. And then, unlike a typical episode of TV One’s Unsung or VH-1's Behind the Music, things got better. He talked to Style Weekly in anticipation of his appearance at Balliceaux on May 19.
Style Weekly: You sang about the problems of the world and you also sang about the challenges of everyday life. Was it those kind of challenges that led you to suspend your music career?
Sir Joe Quarterman: No. One thing about me, I schedule things. Ever since I was 15 years old, I said in 5 years I want to reach some pinnacle or milestone in life, and I worked at reaching that milestone. And I said that If I wasn’t a star or highly recognized by the age of 30, I was going back to school. And there was a lot going on that the time, I was 25 to 30, and that was during the period I recorded [(I've Got) So Much Trouble in My Mind], seem like there was more against me as opposed to for me. Since I wasn’t recognized as a star at that time, I decided to go back to school.
How did that work out?
Well, I was able to take care of my wife and kids. When I was in high school, I said I wanted to be an architect, so I got my degree in architecture. I worked for about fifteen years or more, steady as an architect. Until the mid-‘90s, that’s when the album was reissued in Japan. I think that opened a few more doors for me. So, I’ve been doing music part-time and doing my own architecture, small stuff in the Washington, D.C., area.
Do you regret only giving yourself five years?
No, because my family would have suffered tremendously. And even though I knew we were as good as anybody else out there, I didn’t have the support that a lot of the groups had. You know, it was shameful, because even the people at GSF Records, at least part of the administration, were saying” [The label] should really focus on Sir Joe and Free Soul, because they are the only one selling records for this company.” And the record company wouldn’t put any money behind us at all. Just knowing that I was going to get the kind of financial support that I really, really needed, I didn’t think was worth it to make my family suffer.
That would've been too much trouble in your mind. right?Right, you got it!
Your music is often compared to James Brown’s sound. How have you dealt with that?
My music is as funky as James Brown. Even though it has the same tone, it’s just that James Brown has been recognized for that style of music, that doesn’t mean no one else can do that style of music. I can’t understand why some people, not all, approach me with “Why are you trying to be like James Brown?” I’m not trying to be like James Brown. Everything I’ve done has been pure Joe Quarterman. In my discussion with James Brown, himself, he said he liked it and he said I should keep it funky. He understood that my album had a lot of social messages in it, but he said it’s the funk that was doing it for me. He said “Watch your style,” meaning that I’m stepping on his toes. But I never felt that way. I felt that we were doing our music just like anyone else. It’s a style. It’s music style. It’s called funk. And that’s what I do.
Now that you’re back, have you given any thought to recording a second album.
Yeah, as a matter of fact, this guy Will Rast [of Funk Ark], he sent me some demos and asked me to write some words and things like that to it. We’ve laid down a few demo tracks. We are generating new stuff.Joe Quarterman and Funk Ark play on May 19 at Balliceaux, 203 N. Lombardy St., as part of the SoulPower's Five Years in RVA Celebration Weekend. Tickets are $10-$12. For information, go to balliceauxrva.com. (This story has been corrected from an earlier published version. The date for the live appearance is May 19.)