LIVERPOOL — When the Syracuse Soul Music Series opens with its first notes at 1 p.m. on Sunday, January 16 in the Carman Community Room at the Liverpool Public Library, music fans will be treated to the duet work of Michael Houston and Sam Wynn .
“Just me and Sam,” Houston said of himself and Wynn, whose connection began decades ago in band The J Project.
Yet they will bring with them memories and respect for the musicians and bands who have made their mark on Syracuse soul music since the 1970s.
“I think of all the bands over the years that I grew up listening to, the BlackLites, Sunrise, Soft Spoken, Bobby Green, the Meditations,” Houston said. “I think of the days when we had the ‘Happening Wagon’ where local bands performed in the parks. I think of the days when in the summer you could go to Thornden Park to listen to local bands. The 70s and 80s were a great time for local soul music.
And soul lives on, he said, thanks to veteran musicians like Soft Spoken’s Reggie Seigler and Isaac Wynn and UAD’s Hollis Mathis.
“They have worked tirelessly to not only keep soul music prominent, but also relevant to our younger generation and in the community,” Houston said. “They’ve formed a coalition called Syracuse JAMS (Joined Artist Musicians and Singers), a place where local talent can share information about local concerts, videos, be part of workshops and dialogues.”
The LPL’s Syracuse Soul Music Series will continue February 20 with Menage a Soul, March 20 with TrumpTight315 and April 24 with Ava Andrews, Dave Hanlon and Friends.
Masks must be worn inside the library. You must register to attend the shows, at lpl.org/events/programs-and-events/events-calendar/. All will be on Sundays at 1 p.m.
The series opener will be soft and relaxing, Houston said.
The comfortable style felt from the start, he and Wynn.
“Sam and I would start at some point on the show swapping lyrics over songs, and from there it became something we did that came naturally,” Houston said. After The J Project, they also performed with The Critics and the Paul Robeson Performing Arts group.
About five years ago, Houston said, he noticed “the big bands started hurting my voice.”
Central New York veteran jazz singer Ronnie Leigh suggested Houston look for a suitable duo. This turned out to be great advice.
“I started noticing my singing was improving,” Houston said.
Those who attend the LPL show can expect “fun and great music.” It’s as simple as that,” Houston said. “Marvin Gaye, Spinners, Commodores and Temptations and maybe even jazz with a soulful twist.”
All done with a Michael Houston stamp.
“I try to give each song my own interpretation, slightly doing something different to give it a new quality,” he said. “I think I’ve sung ‘Mustang Sally’ a million times but I’ve never sung it the same way, which makes me funny.”
Of all the musicians he has worked with over the years, the memory of his late brother Jeffrey remains the most indelible. Guitarist Jeff and vocalist Michael together founded the J Project; Jeff passed away in 2015 at the age of 57.
“I think the fact that I’m still making music is a tribute to his legacy,” Michael said. “If it wasn’t for him, I’d probably still be trying to be the next Michael Jordan!” It’s been a blessing that I’ve been doing this for as long as I’ve been doing it, and it was a blessing to have a brother like Jeff. There were so many times when I performed, I was like, ‘Jeff would have really loved that’. He is gone but not forgotten. I even have a guitar tattoo as a tribute to him.