'Bringing One Nation Back Under The Same Groove'
The musical electricity in the Nashville studio was crackling the day in 2004 when 13-year-old Whitney Wolanin (pronounced WO-Lan-in) made her recording debut with a powerful and spirited rendition of the Martha and The Vandellas classic 'Heat Wave' — which she nailed brilliantly in one take. Legendary bassist and Motown “Funk Brother” Bob Babbitt, who gathered some of the industry’s top session musicians to play with the young singer, turned to his cohorts and asked what they thought.
“Amazing for a 20 year old,” they agreed. Then Wolanin spoke up and reminded them, “Guys, I’m only 13!” Reflecting later on her first session at the House of Bob studio in the vintage Victorian house — whose vibe was very much like Grand Avenue in Detroit, where the early Motown classics were cut — she says, “I went in there wanting to just be myself, and I was nervous at first working with all these great players. But the energy was high and the setting really inspired me. We cut four songs that first day!”
Those tracks quickly evolved the into the core of 'Funkology XIII', the singer’s debut project whose title reflects the set’s lively old school-meets-modern pop/rock grooves and the age Wolanin was when she recorded it. Produced by Babbitt with the singer’s father, 35 year music industry veteran Vincent Wolanin, the collection is a fun-filled gathering of soul classics, some very familiar ('This Old Heart Of Mine,' 'What Becomes of The Brokenhearted,' 'Young And In Love') and others magical but a bit more obscure (Martha and The Vandellas’ 'Quicksand,' Smokey Robinson’s 'Head To Toe').
In 2005, Whitney appeared on the front page of the Apple iTunes website twice. Wolanin also sang the national anthem before hundreds of thousands of people at Fenway Park, Shea Stadium and other major league parks, plus at a series of games for the Yankees, Red Sox, Twins, Phillies, Reds, etc. and also at Pro Player Stadium before a Miami Dolphins game. She has five baseball games scheduled already for the 2006 season.
Chatting recently with Whitney, I first asked her to take us back to that day back in 2004 when a 13-year-old Whitney Wolanin made her recording debut singing 'Heat Wave' - whilst in front of legendary bassist and Motown “Funk Brother” Bob Babbitt and some of the industry’s top session musicians! "That was one of the best days of my life. I remember I was a little bit nervous because I’d never really been in a recording studio before, but at the same time I was really excited. We decided I would do a take of 'Heat Wave' while the band was playing. I went all the way through the song from top to bottom and there you have it, one of the tracks off my album was made. The band thought I was 20 years old, not 13 as they said I sounded great for a 20 year old. I had to say. 'Guys, I am only 13!'"
Your album title, Funkology XIII suggests a mix of both old school jams and the age (13) when you recorded it - but is there more behind it, perhaps? "These were the songs that I’ve always heard and loved. The soul and expression in these records really drove me to want to remake them and try to spread them to a younger generation. That’s really where the ‘Funkology’ (study of Funk) part of the title came from. But as far as the 'XIII' goes, that represents my age and the number of songs on the album."
This new soul collection of yours certainly does contain a lot of fun-filled, beat-filled songs, but were there also covers that were sung/recorded that day but didn't make it onto the album? "Yes, we recorded Martha and the Vandellas 'Dancing in the Streets'. I felt that particular song had been over-recorded and I was looking to record songs that aren’t heard as much anymore."
As there are not many ballads on 'Funkology XIII', are we to take it that you are more comfortable singing upbeat tunes rather than slow? "Actually, I really don’t have a differing comfort level when it comes to upbeat versus slow songs. I love singing both and it really just turned out that way with 'Funkology.' I find that I’m able to really express myself in ballads, but I also like listening to and singing the fast songs. They’re pretty much equal in my book."
With 'It Takes Two' - originally done by Marvin Gaye and Kim Weston - now your lead single sung with famed Survivor lead singer Jimi Jamison, I'm wondering how you got along with him during the sessions ... and if you knew of his band Survivor beforehand?! "Jimi Jamison is one of my favorite people. I listened to my Dad’s copy of the Survivor album before I even met Jimi. We first met at the Rockin’ Christmas Party, where I performed alongside him. We have even sung ‘Eye of the Tiger’ now a couple of times live and the crowd seems to love it when we do the song as a duet. Jimi and I got along so good-he was really energetic plus always had good advice for me. I remember we couldn’t stop laughing in the recording studio."
It's been said that you are currently hard at work on your second album, although this debut CD has only just been released! Any ideas for a title yet, perhaps? "It’s funny you ask that because my friends are always asking me what I’m gonna call my next album. They always come up with ideas for me. On my next album I’m going to combine different genres of music; something that hasn’t been done before. So I’m thinking about coming up with a title that reflects this new concept."
For fun, and taking the titles of a few of your album tracks, please let us know:
'Superstar' - At what point will you finally know that you've reached the 'Superstar' status in this business? "I think you really reach the ‘Superstar’ status when you can’t go to the movies without being asked for hundreds of autographs. You could also say being a ‘Superstar’ is when you’ve become a diva, which is a status I’ll never come to. If you’re a celebrity, you’re still a human being - get your own water."
'Quicksand' - If you were in quicksand, who would you reach out to for help ... and why? "I would most definitely go to my sister Victoria for help. She’s my best friend and the most important person to me. I know she’ll always be there for me, no matter where my life takes me."
'Whitney's Monkey' - Do you actually like monkeys and if you had your own, what would you name it?! "YES! I like monkeys. If I had one I would probably name it 'Curious George.' I was a big fan of that book."
What '80s or '90s (and possibly cheesy!) song would you love to cover today if asked ... and why?! "I think I would pick Gloria Gaylor’s 'I Will Survive.' I think it is one of the most fun songs to sing of all time. If you really got into it, this would make a good recording because everyone knows the song."
Lastly, I like Penguins ... do you?! I do like Penguins! "We recently had a family movie night and watched 'March of the Penguins.' The baby Penguins are the cutest things I’ve ever seen in my life!"
Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk
Check out FMQB's 'AC - Get To Know Whitney Wolanin' Page
"Rockin' Christmas Party IV" - Dec. 3, 2005 (Charity & Scholarship Fundraiser)
If you would like to win an AUTOGRAPHED copy of Whitney's brand new CD, just answer this easy question: Bob Babbitt has playing on over 200 top 40 hits, but exactly how many Gold and Platinum records has he achieved along the way?
Send me your answers and if you're correct you'll be in the running to win one of these great new and AUTOGRAPHED CDs! Just send us an e:mail here before May 15th with your answer and the subject title 'WHITNEY WOLANIN SIGNED CDs' to: email@example.com
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