[SLEPT ON SOUL]Madame X – Madame X by Michael Gonzales

Slept on Soul: Madame X – Madame X: A Look Into The Salacious, Sultry, Singin’, Sista Group
by Michael Gonzales

Back in the 1980s the girl group tradition was still kickin’ in stiletto heels. With the sexually charged trio Vanity 6 purring about being a “Nasty Girl” and the Mary Jane Girls up on the roof doing it “All Night Long,” those yesteryear hotties seemed to be embracing the post-seventies sexual liberation and hedonism of the ‘80s.
Still, the truth is, we don’t know much about what those fine femmes believed, because much like the singing “girls” that came before them, whether the Ronettes or Love Unlimited, girl groups rarely had much say in how they were portrayed. According to legend, Vanity came this close to being named Vagina and we all know what Rick James was smoking. Yet, while most girl-groups were created by men who wrote the lyrics, supplied the music and produced the sessions, Klymaxx was different. A real band founded by Compton born and raised drummer Bernadette Cooper in 1979, the group featured vocalist Lorena Porter, guitarist Cheryl Cooley, keyboardists Lynn Malsby and Robbin Grider and bassist Joyce Irby.

Signed to Solar Records, they were originally paired with outside producers and songwriters including label-mates Calloway and members of Lakeside. Yet, it was Minneapolis musicians Terry Lewis and Jimmy Jam, who contributed material to half of their second album Girls Will Be Girls, that would have the most creative impact on helping Klymaxx define their musical image.

As members of The Time, as well as the behind the curtain backing band for Vanity 6 on the 1999 Tour, they were a perfect pick for the group. As protégés of the LinnDrum and synthesizer genius Prince, whose computer funk post-modernization of R&B inspired legions of sound rebels, this was the first Jam & Lewis production outside of their own camp. Contributing the song “Wild Girls,” a catchy jam that sounded like a future Cherelle song, the duo proved to be the supreme teachers. Bernadette Cooper, a self-proclaimed “studio bum,” was looking over their shoulder and closely observing their way of making music.

“In the beginning, I didn’t even want to be a producer, but (Solar Records owner) Dick Griffey was the one who encouraged me,” Cooper says from her home in California. “I was writing songs for our next project, and I’d say to Dick, ‘We can get LA and Babyface or Jam and Lewis,’ producers we knew or had worked with before. Instead, he wrote me a check and told me to produce it myself.”

Madame X - Madame X by Michael Gonzales

Griffey was the first person to see Cooper as an artist, as writer and as a producer, but he wouldn’t be the last.
While working on tracks for Klymaxx’s album, Cooper flashbacked to those Jam & Lewis sessions. “I was completely inspired by them, their methods and approach to music,” Cooper recalls. “They loved heavenly mistakes, not everything had to be perfect. They were free and encouraged me to live my musical Dharma and follow my own musical path.” With the boogie down tempo of the single “The Men All Pause,” which was written and produced by Cooper and Irby, serving as the first single from Klymaxx’s fourth album Meeting in the Ladies Room (1984), the song made them “overnight” sensations.

Although the third single, the mushy ballad “I Miss You,” was the most successful song of their career, it’s their more flamboyant material that remains the most memorable. “I used to love the ‘The Men All Pause’ video,” singer Faith Evans says. “Klymaxx was in the forefront and represented the music with real artist swag. In their videos, they were so confident and had a kind of rockers attitude. I always thought they were the shit.”

Unfortunately, after Klymaxx released their self-titled follow-up album, which contained the soothing soul of “Divas Need Love Too” and the feisty funk of the Bernadette Cooper/George Clinton collaboration “Sexy,” the group disbanded in 1987. Later that same year, Cooper began conceptualizing a new girl group, one that was a bit more musically eclectic, fashion forward and soulfully sophisticated. Madame X would be both the group’s name and the title of their debut album.

“Madame X was a conception of mine and I mentioned it to my attorney Ron Sweeney,” Cooper says. “He mentioned it to Sylvia Rhone and she signed the concept to Atlantic Records before I found the girls. With a deal in place, I began searching and auditioning girls.” Eventually she discovered a trio of talented singers (Alisa Randolph, Iris Parker and Valerie Victor) at various locales throughout the Los Angeles. Iris worked at a clothing store that Cooper frequented, Valerie was found in Popeye’s buying chicken dinner and Alisa was the last chosen from an audition at the Solar Building.

Cooper, with a little help from her friends engineer Gerry Brown, musicians/arrangers Cornelius Mims and Mike Hightower, keyboardist Amp Fiddler and singer Teena Marie, created a stunning musical foundation for the vocalists to build upon. “Gerry and I crafted that project like it was the Mona Lisa,” Cooper says. “I would bounce most of my ideas him and he was brutally honest with me. I wasn’t searching for a hit, I just wanted the project to be pure. I let the girls do all of their own vocals and the result was the creation of a new sound and group.”

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