Sultry Reggae Singer Maxi Priest to Deliver the Gospel of Soul at Yoshi’s Oakland
By Shelah Moody
London-born singer/songwriter Max Alfred Elliot could not have chosen a better stage name: Maxi Priest.
The name “Maxi” suits him because, since his first album, “You’re Safe: Caution” was released in 1985, he has taken reggae music to the maximum heights, to the top of the “Billboard” charts, to adult contemporary radio, to late night television, to the San Francisco Symphony.
The last name “Priest” is fitting because it reflects his spiritual side and his belief in a higher power. Priest draws from his experience growing up in a Pentecostal church to create his unique blend of gospel, Jamaican reggae, British lover’s rock and American soul that inspires love and romance.
There is something about a Maxi Priest song that moves you. It is no coincidence that Angela Basset and Taye Diggs shared their first dance while Priest’s song, “Art of Seduction” played in the background in the film adaptation of Terry McMillan’s novel “How Stella Got Her Groove Back.”
Maxi Priest is known for his international string of hits including “Close to You,” “Housecall” (with Shabba Ranks). “Set the Night to Music” (with Roberta Flack), “That Girl” (with Shaggy) and remakes of Cat Stevens’ “Wild World” and Van Morrison’s “Crazy Love.” Whether performing at a large scale music festival or an intimate night spot, Priest always gives 110 percent. In a rare appearance, Maxi Priest and his band will perform two shows on Wednesday, Oct. 16 at Yoshi’s Oakland.
Maxi Priest is particularly proud of his latest releases “Maximum Collection,” which includes 36 songs from the beginning of his career to the present. Another recent album close to his heart is “Time of Year,” a compilation of his favorite Christmas songs. (Hint: This may be the perfect gift as the holiday season approaches).
During a press conference at the 17th Annual Monterey Bay Reggaefest last year, among other insightful topics that were discussed, Priest gave the media a preview of “Maximum Collection.”
“I look at it as a giving the younger generation a fast lane to catching up with who Maxi Priest is,” said the golden voiced singer, who is recognized by his long, cascading dreads and megawatt smile.
Although Priest and his siblings grew up in south London, he hails from hardworking Jamaican parents who immigrated to England in search of opportunity and success for their offspring. Priest draws from a regal bloodline, the late reggae icon Jacob Miller was his uncle and rapper Heavy D his cousin.
Priest’s obvious musical influences include Bob Marley, Dennis Brown, Cat Stevens and Sting, whose material he has covered. Since Priest covered Golden Lady” on his 1999 album “Combination,” I asked about Stevie Wonder’s influence.
“I think that Stevie Wonder has influenced everybody in music— musicians and non-musicians—in some way or another, said Priest. “He is very much a freedom fighter, always looking to spread the word of equal rights and justice.”
While headlining at the Monterey Bay Reggaefest in 2012, Priest joined the celebration of the 50th anniversary of Jamaica’s independence. There tone of the press conference took a serious turn.
“We know how to party, but we need to get a little bit serious sometimes,” said Priest. “(Jamaica) has survived for the last 50 years; and I can only hope that we learn from the 50 years of struggle that we’ve been through. There have been some highs and some serious lows. I only hope that our beautiful little island can look at those 50 years and make the next 50 years a better place, a better situation, for the younger generation. They are going to survive based on the foundation that we put down.”
Priest is particularly proud of his band, a multitalented, diverse group of musicians including Richard "Goofy" Campbell (keyboards), Paul KasticK (drums), JJ Sansaverino (guitar) and Taddy P. Camp (bass). When Camp approached the press table, Priest was more than happy to give him the spotlight. “He plays a mean solo bass and you should check out his CD, “Gimme Di Bass,” said Priest. “I had to say that, because it’s not good just to promote yourself.”
In fact, Priest heaped praise on all of his band members, including DJ Beniton the Menace, a New Yorker who jams with Priest on “Housecall” and “That Girl.” Priest even invited his road manager/engineer, Steve Locke, to join the group at the table.
Drummer Paul KasticK has been working with Priest since 1989; in fact, Priest’s was the first international band that KasticK played with. KasticK went on to play with the 809 band and other prestigious reggae artists.
“In 1986, when I was a youth playing in the hotels six nights a week in Montego Bay, I heard Maxi Priest for the first time,” said KasticK. “I remember exactly where I was when I heard “Wild World” debut on the charts for the first time. Maxi’s music has had a profound effect on musicians. Maxi, to me, is one of the top five vocalists in the world.”
Priest approached stellar guitarist JJ Sansaverino 12 years ago and ended up becoming a mentor.
“I have the opportunity to work with one of my favorite reggae singers—Maxi Priest,” said Sansaverino. “I knew about Maxi Priest way before he knew about me. I was a fan; and I got the call to work with this brilliant artist. It’s been a learning experience. He’s groomed me from a shy guy on stage to a maniac—with a lot of constructive criticism along the way. He’s become my brother, and he’s taught me so much. I’m so happy to be doing my own project, but one of the happiest times for me is being on stage with this group of musicians. This is an all-star line-up and we’ve been all over the world, we’ve experience the best and the worst.”
Priest’s attention turned to the 6’4 keyboardist Richard “Goofy” Campbell, a devout Seventh Day Adventist.
“There’s a lot more to Mr. Humble, Richard Campbell,” said Priest. “He has produced quite a number of people; he continues to support a lot of the younger generation. In Montego Bay, he opens his doors to young people and helps them learn to play keyboard and play instruments. I am honored to have the opportunity to work with him, and that goes for all of my band members.”
During the end of the press conference, the conversation circled back to Maxi Priest’s inspiration on the younger generation. When I was in my twenties, my grandmother, the strong woman who raised me, had undergone brain surgery at age 90—and survived. During those critical moments, I played Priest’s album “Bonafide” over and over for comfort. Nowadays, I listen to Priest’s composition “God Watches over Us,” when I need an uplift.
“Well, personally, I would say to a young person, first, find God,” said Priest. “When you find God, you will find yourself. When you can check out yourself, then you will know where you are going. It’s a support system. Faith is a key. Love is also a key. I’m a strong believer in faith, because it’s not everything that we know and understand. In traveling the world, my strongest asset has been faith, and belief that there is a God. I was brought up in very religious surroundings. I was raised in the Pentecostal church; my mother was a missionary in the Pentecostal church. So for me to create and sing a song like “God Watches over Us” is natural for me.”www.maxipriest.com