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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, October 13, 2003

When Joss sings, soul legends listen

By Steve Jones
USA Today

S-Curve Records CEO Steve Greenberg was stunned the first time he heard Joss Stone sing. The voice belting out old Gladys Knight and Wilson Pickett tunes in his office sounded as if it had been honed during the 1960s or '70s in soul capitals such as Memphis or Muscle Shoals, Ala. But the blond 14-year-old girl he was listening to was actually from rural Devon, England.

Joss Stone is 16 years old.

Gannett News Service photo

Greenberg — a soul music aficionado who has produced box sets on Stax Records — knew he was in the presence of a unique talent. It wasn't just that she knew the songs, which was surprising enough, but she poured so much feeling into them that it was as if she knew what she was singing about.

"She could sing in a certain way most young people these days can't," Greenberg says. Now 16, Stone has released "The Soul Sessions," a well-received album of old-school R&B gems featuring a stellar crew of veteran musicians.

Stone says she likes all kinds of music, but as a child she gravitated more toward the likes of Whitney Houston and Tracy Chapman. She was sold on soul after seeing an advertisement for an Aretha Franklin compilation on TV; she asked her mother to get it for a Christmas gift.

Joss Stone

• Age: 16

• The first album she ever bought: Aretha Franklin's Greatest Hits

• How long it took to record her album: four days

• Web site: www.shorefire.com/artists/jstone

Stone's site includes her biography, biographies of the players and history of the songs on her album, and photos, as well as press releases.

— Gannett News Service

In 2001, she auditioned for the BBC-TV talent show "Star for a Night," singing Donna Summer's "On the Radio." She didn't learn she had won until several months later, when a camera crew showed up on her doorstep. After she performed on a charity show, she caught the eye of London producers the Boilerhouse Boys (Andy Dean and Ben Wolfe), who alerted their friend Greenberg. He soon signed her.

"I guess it was kind of meant to be, because I really wasn't thinking about signing in America," she says. "I had never played with a band in my whole life. I wasn't even going to be a singer, and it was just kind of crazy that I walked into this life."

Greenberg sent Stone to Miami to write songs with singer-songwriter-producer Betty Wright ("Clean Up Woman" for a modern soul album, now scheduled for next spring. But her version of Carla Thomas' "I've Fallen in Love With You" gave Greenberg another idea:

"I thought, before she does a record where it's all about getting a single on the radio, why not let her pay respect to the roots of what she is doing?"

Wright assembled some of Miami's most storied musicians into a live studio band, including organist Timmy Thomas ("Why Can't We Live Together"), keyboardist Benny Latimore ("Let's Straighten It Out") and Willie "Little Beaver" Hale ("Party Down").

"When I met her, she had this pink streak in the back of her hair and she looked like an absolute doll baby," Wright says. "When she stood up, she was a giant, like 5-feet-10, and was absolutely beautiful. Then we go into the studio and here is this voice."

When Wright played Stone recordings and asked the musicians to imagine what Stone looked like, "they described her as 300 pounds. To have a voice like hers, she had to be a big girl. When they saw her come into the room, they didn't believe it was her."

Stone is making the talk-show rounds and last month, performing with many of the Miami musicians plus Wright and Angie Stone backing her, wowed a New York audience. She takes the accolades in stride.

"To tell you the truth, they are not going to say that I'm bad to my face. I know I'm not perfect, and I'm my own worst critic. I try not to take it too seriously."