Keith Mitchell: After 7's Untold Story
As a member of After 7, Keith Mitchell scored seven top ten R&B hits and two Hot 100 hits. Their singles "Ready or Not" and "Can't Stop" both topped the R&B charts and reached #7 and #6 on the Hot 100 respectively. Both of the singles went gold and helped the group's debut album, After 7, go platinum. The group went on to release two more albums, Takin My Time, and Reflections, which both went gold.
The group split after the album Reflections in 1995. Since then, Keith Mitchell has opened a BBQ Restaurant in Atlanta and served as a manager for the artist Sarai. Keith is currently working on a gospel album and has recorded several tracks which can be heard at Keith's MySpace.
Keith recently sat down with R&B Haven for a two-part interview about his experience in After 7, what it felt like being the only non-Edmond's brother, the music industry today, and his work in gospel. In part one of the interview, you can hear Keith talk about After 7's beginning and end, and get a taste for what it was like being on the road with artists like MC Hammer and Whitney Houston.
Interview with Keith Mitchell of After 7
This is Matt Fyffe, R&B Guru of rnbhaven.com. With me today is Keith Mitchell, former member of the group After 7. As a member of After 7, Keith Mitchell scored hits with tracks like “Ready or Not,” “Baby I'm For Real,” “Heat Of The Moment” and “Til You Do Me Right.” Since then, Keith's gone on to do work as a manager and as a gospel singer.
- Keith, it's great to have you with us!
Hey, how you doin Matt? Good to be here.
- I understand you worked for a few years as a financial planner and investment advisor before joining After 7. So I was curious, with your love for music, what got you into the financial industry?
Well I guess I'm like a lot of people. I honed my skills in the Pentecostal Church as a seven year old and grew up in the church and sang in the choirs and was actively into music from that side of the business. But not really having just outright defined pursuit of a music career. My dad advocated getting your education, working hard, saving your money. Those were the things that he instilled in us.
And it was only after arriving at Indiana University and being exposed to one of the classes, the IU Soul Review, that I found another outlet to explore my talent singing that I had really developed in the church. I really didn't pursue a music career in high school. It was not a real hip thing to be involved in plays and choral ensembles and things like that back when I was in high school.
But after I got to college and got exposed down at IU to this program which focused on performance and some of the business aspects of music in a class that you audition for, that's where I really developed the love and the desire to wanna be on stage.
There was no relation with me and L.A.
- You mentioned this program, the Soul Review. So what kind of work did you partake in in that program?
Well in that program I was one of five male vocalists that were in a stand-up male vocal group. So the IU Soul Review is comprised of forty something members. There are instrumentalists, two rhythm sections that are auditioned and are placed together and three stand up vocal groups, one mixed group with two guys, two girls, one all female group with four girls, and one all male group with five guys. And I was a member of the five guy male vocal group.
I was in the group for a couple of years and then Kevon came to IU and he auditioned for the class and we brought him into the group as well. So that's where he and I garnered a friendship and a love for performance. And we took it home after the summers each year, along with Melvin. We did a lot of gong shows and singing contests around Indianapolis and we won quite frequently. And it was there that we developed the love for singing together and over a course of years, with Face's success with the Deele and eventually leaving the Deele, he pulled our coat strings and provided an opportunity for us to do what we had done for him over the years.
We demoed a lot of the music that later became hit records for some of his early placements in the music industry. We'd just go into a hotel room someplace and he'd tell us what parts to sing and he'd create demos that he was able to submit and got played. So that's where he developed the ear for knowing that we had something that was rather special as a sound.
And then a lot of executives heard us but they didn't really think of us as a group, they just knew that there was some guys with Faces brothers that had great voices. And eventually that brought about the opportunity for us to become a group.
- So you said you demoed several tracks around for other artists. Do you have any examples of that?
I know Shalamar did a record, the Whispers did a record. I can't quite remember all of them. It helped to open the door and pave the way for Face's music to get out there. And you know, you demo a record and somebody likes the song, they put their stamp on it. But just the fact that we had a part in that was what represented our sound in some executives ears that made us a viable entity.
Kevon, Keith and Melvin would record demoes for Babyface in hotel rooms before officially becoming a group.
- So I'm kinda curious about it. You mentioned the group's relation with Babyface. And I understand you're related to L.A. Reid, is that correct?
Well that wasn't totally true. I mean you know, back then, you try to make an interesting story but Kevon and Melvin were Face's brothers but in print, it sounded good with Keith being the cousin of L.A. But we really weren't kin to each other.
- So was there any relation then, I mean, how did that come about?
No there was no relation with me and L.A. Kevon and I, we were just great friends in college. And once the opportunity came about that Face decided to put Melvin and Kevon together, they needed another member and out of the history of Kevon and myself at IU singing together and then what we did in the summers in between those years in college, Face knew that I had some talent, wasn't a bad face to look at. You put the three of us together and you got a little something you know?
- Because of the group's relationship with Babyface, was there any work getting signed to Virgin Records or did you have to go through the standard process?
We got signed, basically unseen and unheard. They went off of LA and Face's reputation. You know at that time, everything they touched was turning to gold and platinum. So they figured, if you got the two brothers of Face, they couldn't be bad.
- How did it feel being the odd man out in the group, being the only non-Edmonds brother?
Well I mean it had its ups and its downs. Because you know, I was kinda like the cream between two chocolate cookies. Like an Oreo cookie, you kinda in but you're out you know what I'm sayin? I played my role, I welcomed the opportunity to work with both of them and they're both great vocalists. I think that we all were held as great vocalists because they sent us to Seth Riggs who at the time was Michael Jackson's vocal coach when we first went to Los Angeles. Virgin Records wanted to find out, did we really have some singers here?
So they sent us to Seth Riggs and he had a vocal session with us and it came back that we all were middle C tenors. So they were satisfied that, yea these guys could sing. Part of what made us unique, was that we all could sing first tenor, and we all could sing each other's notes. So it provided a very unique blend, but we all had a little different timbre and a little different texture to our vocal abilities.
But the challenges I would say, were the fact that I had been a member of the group in college that got to lead songs. And then coming into the group, I was not given that opportunity more than once or twice to lead a phrase in a song. But I do know that it did get me out there a little bit because we were on the Arsenio Hall Show. Arsenio Hall was one advocate that supported me as a lead vocalist and made mention of it several times that usually the person in the group that doesn't lead songs usually can't sing. But he recognized me several times as being someone who had a smooth silky voice. So I appreciated that acknowledgement and was humbled by it, but my role in the group was what it was. I could dance, I felt like I was an entertainer, I could speak well. And I used those talents to represent.
Keith Mitchell talks about the group's tours with Whitney Houston and their split on page 2!
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