The Vandalia Leader

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From Hometown to Motown

Posted on Thursday, May 2, 2024 at 6:49 pm

Chuck Overton’s music is revitalized as his legacy album is ready for release

By Stan Schwartz

Chuck Overton, the legendary alto saxophone player from the band Brainstorm, returned home to Vandalia a little more than a decade ago to enjoy his retirement. But three years ago, Crystal McCurdy with the Vandalia Area Public Library, asked her old school mate to come in for one of the library’s summer programs. Little did Chuck know how much playing for such a young audience would affect him. The library’s programs were designed to bring to life the greater world to Vandalia’s area children.

Not only did it do that, but it sparked something deep in Chuck’s heart.

It was not long after he entertained this group of youngsters and their parents that Chuck s interest became renewed to rework the songs he helped create in the 1970s as part of the R&B group, Brainstorm. He occasionally played with local bands here in Missouri until a bout with COVID left the sax player with diminished lung capacity. Chuck said his doctor told him he would probably never be able to play his cherished instrument again. But that diagnosis did little to deter him.

After his recovery, the library performance was Chuck’s first time playing again for an audience. The children, normally fidgety and distracted were instantly mesmerized by the pure sound coming out of Chuck’s alto saxophone. He regaled them with some of his exploits playing with Brainstorm, his time working with some of the greats out of Detroit and across the world, and he even sang for them. Seeing those faces while he played, gave Chuck a new outlook on his music. After talking with his wife, Davaline, Chuck decided he wanted to create a legacy album, something that younger generations could get into. He gathered his music sheets and began planning how it would all come together.

“At first, I thought, ‘I can’t do this,’” he said. But Davaline told him, you have to do this.

Even before performing at the library, he was working on an album, but the desire to reach younger listeners had Chuck thinking about reworking his songs for this demographic. Chuck even put in a little rap music in one of the songs to acknowledge the younger musicians who came along after him. He was looking to incorporate a variety of song genres, including a soul ballad.

Chuck started hiring local musicians and singers to help him with this project. He also teamed up with Pete Szkolka, a talented musician in his own right, who had built a professional recording studio in the suburbs of Columbia, Mo. Pete was on board to help Chuck bring his musical vision to life.

Because the new album is based on the songs, he and the rest of the group developed in the ’70s, Chuck named it “Chuck Overton and Friends; Another Brainstorm; Sounds of My Life.”

A friend, he said, once asked him if he knew what a brainstorm was.

While playing with the U.S. Army’s band, the musical director, Bruce Miller, Chuck explained, was an arranger with Paul Anka and told him he could easily get a contract with Motown. He went to Michigan, and started in Saginaw at the Michigan Theater with a small group before moving on to Detroit. Because he was a writer and performer, Chuck said they made him a vice president at this new company. He believed Motown was drifting away. There were a lot of groups, but little guidance for them.

“When I went to Detroit, I had a contract offer with Motown,” he said. Chuck had auditioned with the song “Secret Love. I remembered my work ethic, coming from Vandalia. I had a plan for them, and they followed it. That’s where Brainstorm came from—a group of creative minds getting together and creating on the same melodic interest. That was the idea. And it worked.”

Chuck sought out talented musicians for this legacy album. Three of them arrived at Pete’s recording studio to lay down the horn track for some of the songs. When talented musicians come together, the creative process is amazing to behold.

Pete, who had a few of the other tracks from the song already recorded, broke out the large music sheet showing the song’s progression and where the horns—a trombone, a saxophone and a trumpet—were to come in. The three players knew exactly the right time and tempo to join the recorded tracks.

While listening to them play, a smile spread across Chuck’s face. They were adding their own personalities to the music, which is what he hoped they would do.

Pete said he could have added the horns digitally, but he and Chuck knew that to create something truly original, you need live musicians, ones who could pour themselves into the music.

At 74, Chuck said he believes his writing had become much better in the decades he’s been playing. He’s worked with some of the greats including Michael Jackson, Marvin Gaye, the Isley Brothers and Smokey Robinson. The band, Brainstorm, played on the hit TV show “Soul Train” during its heyday.

“Psychologically, I feel better than I have ever in my life,” he said.

Last October, he reunited with a few of his former bandmates from the original Brainstorm at the Music-A-Go-Go festival in Detroit held at the St. Regis Hotel. Coming back from that festival brought a renewed energy for his project.

“My biggest asset is being around top-shelf people,” he explained.

But just as things were getting rolling, tragedy struck. Davaline was diagnosed with a brain tumor. And while in Detroit last year, Chuck had a heart attack and needed triple bypass surgery, just three days before his beloved Davaline died from that tumor.

Before she died, Davaline made Chuck promise to finish the album. She was his inspiration to start it, and after she died, Davaline is the reason he needed to complete it.

And he did.

On Saturday, May 11, Chuck is having an party to celebrate the album release of “Sounds of My Life.” The party will be at The Arcade, 313 Georgia St., Louisiana, MO, from 5 – 9 p.m.