Badpuppy Gay Today

Monday, 09 February 1998

Nick Martinelli: Producer to the Divas


By Carter Burnette

 
Nick Martinelli grew up in Philadelphia listening to the Motown sound. Nick attended the all male Archbishop Neuman High School where he sang in the glee club. After high school he completed course work in medical technology, but took a job in the warehouse of CHIPS, an independent record distributor. "I decided I didn't want to be around bedpans and shit," recalled Martinelli.

Nick worked for CHIPS 10 years, and became it's warehouse manager. While there he developed an understanding for distribution and retail sales. In the early 70s Nick started DJing at clubs. CHIPS allowed him access to popular dance music.

His combined experience at CHIPS as well as his DJ work paid off. In 1976, while still working for CHIPS, Motown asked him to handle dance music promotions for Philadelphia, New York, Washington and Baltimore.

In 1978 TEC Records hired Nick as National Director of Sales. In only one year he made the transition to Director of A&R (Artist and Repetoire). "Being a small boutique label, there were only a few people working there and I demanded to do A&R." His first production credit was for a track called "Everybody Here Tonight Must Party", by a local group called Direct Current, which achieved moderate success. While Nick made the transition into A&R, TEC bought the WMOT label, (formerly We Men Of Talent). From that point forward, recordings were released under the WMOT banner. Nick's duties included signing and developing talent. Some of the artists he signed included: Brandi Wells, Frankie Smith, Barbara Mason, Cecil Parker, Fat Larry's Band and Captain Skyy.

In 1982 seeing "the writing on the wall at WMOT", Nick formed Watch Out Productions. He co-produced "Zoom" for Fat Larry's Band, which rose to the top of the British charts. This success enabled him to get remix work, first in the UK, then stateside. Along with David Todd, he developed a signature style in dance music and for two years he remixed hits for various artists, most notably the Ray Parker, Jr. hit "Ghostbusters".

In 1983 Nick recorded his first solo production for the English group Loose Ends. In 1984 he recorded Loose End's successful club hit, "Hanging On a String". The song was on their second album, but the single was released on the group's first American lp.

He also recorded songs for Five Starr and a variety of other artists, most of which were released only in the UK. The most successful was a track called "52nd Street". In 1986 he recorded an album project for Sheena Easton with Narada Michael Walden and Prince which was never released in the US.

In the late 80s, Nick decided to change his production style from dance to R&B. Anita Baker's recent releases inspired him to go back to his roots. "What I wanted to make was a different record. I wanted to work more with live musicians and bands", says Martinelli. The first project in his new style was for Regina Belle. He also recorded two #1 singles for Stephanie Mills, ("I Feel Good All Over" and "Home"), a gold album for Gladys Knight and the Pips (All Our Love), a gold #1 album for Teddy Pendegrass (Joy) and a #1 single for Mikki Howard ("Love Under New Management" and "Baby Be Mine").

When asked about his secret to capturing great performances, Martinelli replied, "I think the main thing that I've always done is to treat the artist with respect and as an equal. A lot of producers want to be bossy and [overemphasize] the bottom line. They try to misuse their authority. I don't think that works with most artists."

"As a producer, I've got the knack for finding great songs", he offers. "A big part of my success is that I pick the right songs for these artists".

During this period he was also developing projects for Phyllis Hyman and Dee Dee Sharp. In 1988, Nick recieved the Philadelphia Music Foundation Award for creating the most Top 10 singles in one year. He was honored by them two years later as Best Urban Producer. Additionally, Martinelli was constantly in Britain's Blues and Soul Top 10 producer list.

However, Martinelli was not without his share of misfortune. In 1989, Nick went to jail on drug conspiracy charges. The principals of WMOT Records were accused of laundering money. During his incarceration, he lost not only his best friend from a stroke, but also an ex-lover from AIDS. "The one thing that hurt me during the late 80s was being in jail those two years" Nick reminisced. I had five hits while in prison and couldn't capitalize on them".

While in prison he penned "When You Get Right Down To It" and "I Can't Take It Anymore" with fellow inmate Reggie Hines. Both songs went on Phyllis Hyman's album, "Prime of My Life".

"[Jail] had a positive effect because it gave me time to devote to myself. I found it to be restful, and less stressful. I even lost 100 pounds. In that sense it was very good and I turned it into a positive experience".

One of the first projects he did when he got out was "Don't Wanna Change" for Phyllis Hyman. This was Phyllis' only #1 single. Nick started the 90s hot with Regina Belle; this time earning two #1 hit singles and a Grammy nomination for "Make It Like It Was".

In 1991 he moved to Miami because he felt he needed a change. "Philly is my home and all of my relatives are there", he laments, but he hates cold weather. He moved to Miami to further develop his songwriting skills and focus on the Latin market. He acknowledges that the industry was going through a big change. "The hip hop culture was developing and it was something that I was not involved in".

Black music was going through a metamorphosis and so did the mentality of the record companies. Previously A&R was artist development based. "Now it was becoming more like a fast food business and producers were becoming the focus." He feels this trend is almost over.

In 1993 Nick moved to Los Angeles and started the M&M Music Group. He recorded and produced songs for Regina Belle, Robin S., Howard Hewett, Gerald Alston, Lulu, Ru Paul, Chaka Kahn and his idol, Diana Ross. Since they've met, Nick has produced a total of four projects for Ms. Ross including her her quadruple platinum "One Woman Collection" and her latest "Voices of Love" (UK release).

Upon his return to Miami, he formed Paradiso Sound. In 1994 he worked on "I Refuse To Be Lonely" for Phyllis Hyman. He remembers those sessions very vividly. "The day we wrote that song, she had cried for about five hours. We worked really hard to send a more positive message". Ironically, a few years later she would commmit suicide.

In 1995, he produced RuPaul, a big Diana Ross fan who engaged Nicky because of his success with Diana.

He also worked with French artist Ophelia Winter. This project was more difficult than usual because he wasn't supplied with the translations.

Currently he is developing Miami dance artist Alexis as well as Tammy Hert. He's dabbling in Latin music and continues to produce. He is known in the industry as an experienced producer who specializes in DIVAs, one of the highest rankings for independent producers.

He feels that the HIP HOP culture's ignorance of musical conventions helped forge today's sound. Although, dissonance may be present, it has become an accepted element of this genre.

Nick has expanded into real estate. He also is developing a movie project. He continually develops new talent and not only those behind the microphone. While at WMOT he was instrumental in giving two "green" promoters their start in the business (including yours truly). He also has a stable of writers and continually refines their craft. When asked about this trait he replied, "If you think someone has talent and capabilities you just have to try to help them out."

He is an advocate for safer sex campaigns. To the current generation of club kids he warns, "Be careful. People in my age bracket all have lost friends and are more aware." He adds, "The children are becoming more complacent. The kids that are coming up today have not witnessed what we have. Experience is still the best teacher." He feels it goes hand in hand with the misconception of youth and invicibility. "It's a shame", he continues.

He advises future artists: "Make sure that you have a great lawyer and a great manager. AND - make sure that you stay on top of everything because it's very easy to loose it all in this business.


Courtesy of Au Courant's GayPhilly Website

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