After nearly 40 years of dormancy, Flying Dutchman Records — the storied imprint founded by legendary record producer Bob Thiele (John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, Louis Armstrong’s “What A Wonderful World”) and known for releases by Duke Ellington, Gil-Scott Heron, and Leon Thomas as well as recorded speeches by Black intellectuals like Angela Davis and Stanley Crouch — will return with the March 17 release of Billy Valentine & The Universal Truth, a record that is in tune with Flying Dutchman’s musical and political legacy while charting a new path for the label’s 21st century rebirth.
Bob Thiele, Jr. — the son of Bob Thiele — hand-picked his longtime friend and collaborator, vocalist Billy Valentine, to release the first record for the relaunch of Flying Dutchman and signed on to produce. Valentine began recording the album right before the coronavirus pandemic. As the sessions proceeded, the world erupted in protest after the May 2020 murder of George Floyd. “Making the album suddenly became very cathartic,” Valentine recalls, “The pandemic was one thing. Then to see what happened to George Floyd — that just broke my heart.”
On Billy Valentine & The Universal Truth, Valentine reinterprets iconic protest songs, giving us his own spirited expressions of the boundless outrage, struggle, despair, and resilience contained therein. Backed by a veritable who’s who of modern jazz — Theo Croker, Pino Pallodino, Jeff Parker, Immanuel Wilkins and so many more (full credits below) — Valentine’s performances find new contours in these testifying renditions of message songs originally recorded and written by Curtis Mayfield, Stevie Wonder, Eddie Kendricks, War, Prince — and of course, Flying Dutchman stalwarts Leon Thomas and Gil-Scott Heron.
Today, Valentine shares his powerful yet wounded take on Gil-Scott Heron’s “Home Is Where The Hatred Is,” the late artist’s rendition of a junkie’s lament. Listen to “Home Is Where The Hatred Is” here.
The track follow’s Billy’s prismatic and soulful version of Curtis Mayfield’s “We The People Who Are Darker Than Blue,” released last year and praised by Gilles Peterson as “incredible.” Listen to “We The People Who Are Darker Than Blue” here.
Billy Valentine’s musical journey has been long and varied. Born and raised in Columbus, OH, at 15-years-old he booked his first paying gig after sitting in with his brother Alvin during a performance at Leon’s Cocktail Lounge in Patterson, NJ. He spent years honing his craft at Leon’s, opening for bigger acts such as Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway, who would cross the Hudson after stints at The Apollo.
After earning some on-the-road experience singing with the Young-Holt Trio and touring with the original road company of The Wiz, Billy and his brother John were signed to a deal at A&M Records to record as The Valentine Brothers. While The Valentine Brothers never became household names, they did have some fairly successful R&B chart hits, including the Reaganomics-critiquing “Money’s Too Tight (To Mention),” and the crate digger quiet storm classic “Lonely Nights.”
Following the duo’s dissolution in 1987, Valentine linked up with Bob Thiele Jr. (now the caretaker of Flying Dutchman) and Phil Roy, who as a trio began collaborating on songs that would ultimately go on to be recorded by Ray Charles, The Neville Brothers, and both Pops and Mavis Staples.
Says Thiele Jr.: “It was Billy’s voice that sold our songs, making them irresistible to the artists who would cover them. Others caught on and Billy would become the secret weapon of nearly every songwriter in L.A. His vocal performances on demos made their songs (and ours) irresistible to Bonnie Raitt, Joe Cocker, Bette Midler, and countless others. And yet, no one outside of the privileged few knew who Billy Valentine was.”
Over the years, Valentine’s voice continued to pop up in surprising places, including television (as part of the soundtracks for shows as varied as Boston Legal, Sabrina The Teenage Witch, and Sons Of Anarchy) and in pop hits by Nas (“Legit”) and Axwell (“Nobody Else”).