To hear Raphael Saadiq list his musical influences is like getting a rundown of the pantheon of 60s and 70s music. Sam Cooke. The Temptations. Earth, Wind & Fire. The Grateful Dead. The Mamas and the Papas. Bob Marley and the Wailers.
“I’ve only listened to the greats,” he says. “I just shoot for the stars.”
Like a competitive athlete looking to pick up tips from the giants that have gone before him, Raphael Saadiq says he’s absorbed the music he heard growing up in order to create his blend of rock, soul, r&b and gospel — a sound that pairs hard, acidic guitar with satin vocals, a mix that reflects the “soundtrack of [his] life.”
Saadiq, a professional musician from an early age, released his latest album, “Stone Rollin,” in March. It has garnished critical comparisons to some of the legends that inspired him, including Stevie Wonder and Otis Redding.
“The album and his current tour demonstrate that there’s a big difference between retro and classic, and the artist consistently finds himself on the right side of that divide,” wrote Greg Kot in the Chicago Tribune.
Saadiq was born Charles Ray Wiggins in Oakland, Ca. in the mid-’60s. The second-youngest of 14 children, four of his siblings died when he was young.
Surrounded by the eclectic music scene of Northern California, he picked up the bass guitar at the age of six and began singing in a local gospel group by nine. Saadiq credits local church choirs with influencing his musical hybrid-style, just as much as listening, from an early age, to a diverse group of pop music legends.
By the time he was 18, Saadiq was a regular on the local Bay Area music scene. In 1984, he heard about tryouts to be a member of Sheila E’s band for Prince’s “Parade” tour, and was hired as a bassist. He spent the first few years of his early adult life traveling the world with the superstar.
In the late ’80s, he formed the trio Tony! Toni! Toné! with his brother and cousin, his first major success in the limelight.
Over the last two decades, Saadiq explored other collaborative projects, has released a few solo albums, been nominated for Grammy awards, and matured into a musical renaissance man, adding producing, songwriting, and running a record label to his resume. He has even made a foray into television as the executive producer and composer for Love That Girl, a new sitcom on BET starring Tatyana Ali.
Art Beat talked to Saadiq at a recent concert at the 930 club in Washington, DC.