The number nine in numerology is considered a magical and divine number. It symbolizes completion, wisdom and fulfillment. Multi-talented saxophonist, producer and composer Michael Lington has arrived in his own sacred space with the release of his newest and ninth solo project, Second Nature, due out on Copenhagen Music in April 2016. “The title of the album refers to being at one with my instrument and the music,” shares Lington. “My vision for this project was Retro-Modern! While honoring the original vibe of the Memphis sound, I wanted to put my own stamp on it. This recording is about going back to my roots, to the music that inspired me to play the saxophone and move to America,” explains the handsome and charismatic saxophonist. Second Nature brings Lington full-circle as he pays tribute to the music he first fell in love with while a teen in Copenhagen, Denmark. Nearly 5,000 miles away from the Mecca of blues and soul, Lington listened to the radio and dreamt while falling in love to the music of Sam Cooke, King Curtis and Jr. Walker, among others. “Even as a young musician I connected with the songs because they were written well and had great messages,” recalls Lington. “The performances were outstanding and the artists were original and authentic.” Michael Lington’s own soulful spirited sound and the roots of Memphis soul converge on Second Nature.
Showcasing all originals with the exception of one lone cover and chart-topping soul anthem, “Soul Finger.” Michael Lington creates melodic musical wonders punctuated by stirring horn sections, grooving bass lines, a swirling organ, funky guitar licks and driving rhythms. In preparing for this album, Lington immersed himself in the classic Memphis sessions and even journeyed to the STAX museum. While most of the album was recorded at the famed Sunset Sound in Los Angeles, Lington also recorded at the legendary Royal Studios in Memphis, which has churned out sessions for everyone from Al Green, Chuck Berry and Buddy Guy to Ike and Tina Turner, Solomon Burke, Otis Rush and Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland. Lington’s SOUL mission on Second Nature is simple. The Los Angeles based saxophonist explains, “I wanted to create up-tempo songs with a party feel. When people hear the music, I want them to have a fun time listening and for the music to be able to make them feel good no matter what is going on.”
Michael Lington is a visionary and a dreamer. He thinks outside the box whether it is in music or other areas of life. How many other chart-topping musicians can boast owning their own Cigar and Winery companies? Putting his enthusiasm and fearlessness to the test on Second Nature, Lington hits optimal stride with an enviable star-studded cast. The all-star line-up that Lington has assembled is a testament to the respect and adoration he has garnered in the industry through the years. “It’s good to have talented friends,” laughs the amiable Lington. “I could not have recorded this project without the incredible contributions from the many great musicians I called upon.” Second Nature unites a who’s who list in music that transcends genre and musical boundaries, including GRAMMY® Lifetime Achievement Award recipient and venerable bluesman Booker T. Jones and The Dap Kings, the celebrated soul/funk outfit most notably known for their hit-making collaborations with Sharon Jones and Amy Winehouse. Lington also enlists help from Hollywood Walk of Fame recipient, multi-Platinum and GRAMMY-winning guitarist Ray Parker Jr. and chart-topping vocalist Taylor Dane. Brian Culbertson fans will be delighted to hear the pianist surprisingly featured on trombone. Producer/songwriter Barry Eastmond (Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston, Brandy, Kenny Lattimore, Al Jarreau) who produced Lington’s 2014 recording Soul Appeal joins forces once again with Lington and the chemistry is electric. The duo has done two albums together and written over sixty songs with one another. “We share a musical and personal admiration and respect for one another. One of the things I admire is that Barry’s main barometer is that the music must FEEL good and be spontaneous – and previously I have always strived for perfection, and as Barry points out …perfection to who? Music is not supposed to be perfect, it’s supposed to feel good!” Songwriting is an integral part of Michael Lington’s musical identity. He either wrote or co-wrote all the songs on Second Nature with the exception of “Soul Finger.” “Songwriting is where you can really put your own stamp on your artistry,” states Lington. “When you have a song you wrote that you are really proud of and/or it becomes a hit, there is nothing that beats that feeling,” confides Lington, who counts Stevie Wonder as among one of this favorite composers.
Second Nature opens with the albums first single, the inviting, swinging and bluesy jaunt “Beale Street.” Paying homage to the River City with a number that Lington co-wrote with Eastmond (who plays Wurlitzer), Lington lays it all on the line with his robust alto and sets the tone for a joyous excursion ahead. Booker T. Jones and the Memphis Horns bless the track with their soul-drenched performance. “It was a dream of mine to work with Booker T. and this seemed like the perfect song – he agreed!” “Stone Cool,” is a funky ditty that is the perfect forum for Lington and the band to strut their stuff. Ray Parker Jr.’s driving guitar shines on this track while the Dap Kings add just the right touch with their mellow horn groove and pianist/organist Shedrick Mitchell delivers all the right stuff. Lington shares, “The Dap Kings horns arranged their parts on the spot, that is unique, usually things like that are planned in advance and pre-arranged. It speaks to their magic!” If “Slick” doesn’t make you want to get up and dance you had better check your pulse. This song is another Eastmond and Lington original and the duo serves up a sumptuous number that would make James Brown and the JB’s proud. This well-oiled excursion finds Lington testifying and features a mean trombone solo from Brian Culberson à la Fred Wesley. “When he shows up it is always a party!” says Lington of his good friend and musical comrade. The Dap Kings arranged the horns on both “Stone Cool” and “Slick.” “I tried to get them on Soul Appeal, but it didn’t work out so I am extra excited to have them on board this time around,” confesses Lington.
Second Nature also highlights the satisfying “Memphis Strut,” featuring the Memphis Horns. This original is fashioned in the style of a Staples Singers/Amy Winehouse cut and is one of Michael Lington’s favorite cuts on the album. He shares, “My amazing studio drummer Teddy Campbell came up with the idea of using brushes for the intro which really gives the song a true Memphis down home feel. The Memphis Horns authentic sound brings the track to life and I love that Bari Sax!” Lington co-wrote the sultry and emotive ballad “Some Kinda Way,” with Siedah Garrett and Barry Eastmond. It features the tender vocals of Sy Smith. “Sy is an incredible talent. I have heard her sing with my buddy Chris Botti many times and knew I wanted to work with her. This is a very special song that I hope it will become an R&B Single. Both Sy and the song deserve the attention.” The title track is a memorable Al Green type of groove that pulsates with a gritty edge and a cool swing. Listen out for the undeniable nod to Shaft in the middle of the song! Lington’s alto soars from beginning to end with mounting intensity with each chorus. Lington states, “This song is a follow up to my composition “Soul Appeal”, which stayed at #1 on the jazz charts for 16 consecutive weeks. This was the first song that we recorded with the Memphis Horns at Royal Studios in Memphis. Lester Snell who was a staff producer and arranger at Stax arranged the horns”.
Lington cooks up a winner and does justice to the timeless late 1960s chart-topping soul anthem “Soul Finger” by the Bar-Kays. He had the great fortune of assembling a band of legendary Stax rhythm section plays and members of Al Green’s band. Lington shares, “In a sad twist fate, Ben Cauley, who wrote the song and was one of the founding members of the Bar-Kays passed away the day we recorded it. He was also the sole survivor of the 1967 plane crash that claimed the lives of Otis Redding and four members of the Bar-Kays. I hope he would have been proud of what we were able to create.” The intoxicating, sweet and lyrical “Block Party” is somewhat of a Memphis meets Motown composition and “Alright” is a bluesy number accented by the sublime vocals of Taylor Dayne whose timeless hits “Tell It To My Heart” and “Love Will Lead You Back” will forever be classics. “Taylor Dayne is an incredible singer and has deep roots in R&B,” shares Lington. “We have been doing some touring together and I thought it would be great to have her sing a song.”
Lington takes us to church with “Sunday Morning,” as his alto raises the roof and testifies on this truth-seeking gospel-tinged ballad. The song was co-written with Barry Eastmond and highlights the beautiful Hammond B-3 of Shedrick Mitchell and solo guitar of Phil Hamilton. Just when you thought it could not get any better along comes “Wooh,” and just as the title exclaims this is a high-octane number that percolates with excitement. The exchange between Lington’s alto and Ray Parker Jr.’s guitar on this fun-loving track is a highlight. Lington recalls, “Ray showed up to my house in a convertible car, just him sitting in the drivers seat and his guitar in the passenger seat- no case just sticking straight out of the car – it was some sight. When he couldn’t find parking he said to me with a big smile: Alright Michael we are going to write a hit song today so we can buy you a new house with more parking!” This marks the first time that Michael Lington and Ray Parker Jr. have written a song together. The album closes with a “Midnight Drive” and is reminiscent of Mr. Magic and the CTI glory days. Fusing the finer elements of jazz, blues, soul and R&B this Eastmond and Lington original featuring the guitars of Paul Jackson Jr. (who is a good friend and long time collaborator) and Phil Hamilton, has all the makings of a modern day classic. Lington shares this tidbit about the songs terrific finale, “The end of the song was not planned and it was just a bunch of exhausted musicians jamming and the end of a long day’s session. I love that it happened organically, so decided to keep in the song.”
One of Micheal Lington’s greatest influences is his grandfather Otto Lington, composer, bandleader and violist, who worked with such luminaries as Josephine Baker and Fats Waller. “I can honestly tell you that if it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t be doing what I am today,” says the inspired musician. “He was my mentor and friend and I love and respected him so much. He was amazing. He is the inspiration behind why I chose to pursue a life in music.” Scandinavia is often voted one of the world’s happiest regions to reside. Although Lington cannot explain why, he does site Denmark’s appreciation of the arts and the government’s support of art and culture as a huge driving force in his life and early beginnings. “There are great grants and opportunities available to anybody who wants to pursue a professional career in the arts. The people also LOVE music and particularly American jazz artists – I know I did.” In fact in the 50s and 60s such iconic jazz artists as Oscar Pettiford, Ben Webster, Dexter Gordon and Kenny Drew, among others settled in Copenhagen. Lington, who became a U.S. citizen in 2008, has performed numerous times for the Danish Royal Family, including the wedding reception of Crown Prince Frederik, the country’s future king. Aside from maintaining his own hectic touring schedule, Lington has toured alongside such starts as Barry Manilow, Bobby Caldwell, Randy Crawford and Michael Bolton.
When Michael Lington is not touring The Renaissance man is busy running two businesses outside of the music world. In 2006 he launched his own Cigar Company (Michael Lington Cigars) and six years later, he started a wine venture, Lington Wines, when he partnered with Solana cellars in Paso Robles, CA. Never one to rest on his laurels, Lington’s newest venture is the launching of his own signature saxophone mouthpiece. He also stays busy with his numerous adventurous past times including flying and scuba diving. “Everyone needs a release from their daily lives and for me it is no different,” states Lington. “Flying is an amazing thing and once you start it is hard to think about anything else. With scuba diving the experience is one of beauty and tranquility. Water skiing is fun and something I have done my whole life – but it is work !”
Second Nature affirms that Michael Lington is right where he should be in his element and at the top of his game- enjoying music and living life to the fullest. The visionary concludes, “I hope when people hear the new recording they can hear how I have grown as an artist and that I can continuing to evolve. The ability to create and continually reinvent myself is what keeps me going.”