EDITOR'S NOTE: The Mary J. Blige concert scheduled for Sept. 16 at James Brown Arena has been postponed due to unforeseen circumstances, according to a news release issued at 3:46 p.m. Sept. 14. A new show date will be announced and tickets purchased for the original date will be honored. Anyone wishing to get a refund can do so at the point of purchase. Visit georgialinatix.com for more information.
After nearly 30 years as leader of the successful Minneapolis-area band Mint Condition, Stokley Williams is taking another path as a solo artist.
Augustans will have a chance to witness his new digs when he serves as co-opening act during the Mary J. Blige concert set for 8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 16, at James Brown Arena. Tickets are $51-$121 from georgialinatix.com, (877) 428-4849 or at the box office. Williams will join fellow solo vocalist Joe Thomas, in setting the stage for Blige.
For most of his career, Williams has gone by his first name and stage name of Stokley. He revealed his given name was borrowed from the famed ’60s civil rights activist, Stokely Carmichael. Like Carmichael, Williams’ parents were affiliated with the black power movement of the era, and invited Carmichael to attend several rallies in the Twin Cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis during the mid-1960s.
Stokley was born in 1967, during the heat of social unrest and naturally attained the name, he said during a recent phone interview from his native St. Paul – where he still resides. “Staying here keeps me grounded,” he said.
Prior to learning to play the traditional drum kit, Stokley gravitated toward African drums where he learned to play polyrhythms affiliated with Africa.
“I was about age 4 when I started playing with percussion groups; learning different rhythms from the Continent (Africa),” he said. Meanwhile, he also learned to appreciate the steel drums as more than a novelty for tourists in the West Indies.
As a teenager, he along with cohorts from neighboring locales, were influenced by soul sounds of James Brown, Ohio Players, Sly &The Family Stone and Miles Davis’ jazz, he said.
Though Prince was about 10 years his senior, Stokley and his mates were heavily influenced by the teenaged Minneapolis phenom, who signed an album deal with Warner Brothers Records at 19. By 1978, Prince Rogers Nelson had become nationally renown and Stokley was impressed. By the time Prince and The Revolution starred in the musical biopic Purple Rain, Stokley and his musical mates realized they were destined to form Mint Condition.
In 1989, after a showcase performance at First Avenue, the venue featured in Purple Rain, producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis discovered the group and signed them to Perspective Records. The group hit success with the ballad Breakin My Heart and U Send Me Swingin’ in 1993.
In December 2010, Mint Condition realized a special dream-come-true when they toured with Prince.
Since announcing his solo career choice, Stokley continues to tour with the current Prince &The Revolution band, singing solo tunes originally sung by Prince, who died in April 2016.
“It’s truly been a great experience,” Stokley said.
Stokley says he’s not sure at this time whether his solo stint is temporary or not.
“It’s where my spirit tells me to go – to do some things where my energy has been pointing to,” he said. “I’m not sure where the future will lead.”
As the father of two young children, Stokley says he’s very dedicated to his family and his marriage.
Regardless of his career transition, he’s a forever drummer – heavily influenced by the likes of Max Roach, Dennis Chambers and new-school acts like Ronald Bruner Jr., Brandon Commodore and Chris “Daddy” Dave. “I love all types of music from Afro-Cuban, to Latin, Rock, Jazz, Funk and Soul,” he said.
Having just turned 50 in July, Stokley says he’s aware of the history of former drummers who became up-front, solo vocalists, namely, Sammy Davis Jr., Marvin Gaye, Don Henley, Jeffrey Osborne, Maurice White, Phil Collins, Teddy Pendergrass, Mel Torme, Ollie-Ali Woodson and Larry Blackmon.
“Drummers typically understand all the instruments – the rhythms – a lot of ‘em can play multiple instruments too. Just very talented people, and Sammy (Davis) was the ultimate,” he added.
Concerning Saturday’s gig, Stokley said, “It’s going to be a beautiful show. We all have our own fan-base. Joe has that incredible voice, and with me – the newest member of the solo camp. And what else can you say about the legendary and great Mary J. Blige?”
Stokley will sing songs from his debut solo CD, Introducing Stokley. He’ll also sing the latest single Level, in addition to tracks from his Mint Condition days. His backup group will include two lady singers with a full, seven-piece rhythm section. He says he’ll even play some drums on a couple of tunes.