Here’s what I asked him:
Tell me about your early life. What kind of family environment did you grow up in ? Did your parents love music ? What are your earliest musical memories ?
My family life took a turn for the worst when my parents divorced. It affected me deeply. It became the source of my rage. I bounced back and forth between houses. It was the only way I could have them at the same time. They both liked music but my mom more intensely. I think it’s because she was a dancer. I remember listening to music and dancing in our living room. She used to go to a club, back then, called Dingbats.They had a day when they would put on a “Kiddy Disco” and she took me. She took me to a place called Metro Music and bought me all the albums and 45’s I wanted. I think my first record was “Disco Duck” or Peter Brown “Do you wanna get funky”. It was also my Dad’s favorite Disco tune. I don’t remember too many things about family life while my parents were married but after they divorced it was always on the edge. Music was something we all enjoyed and I have many memories of grooving with my parents, albeit separately. Music totally took me away from the stress.
What musical instruments do you play, when did you start to sing, and what was it like to grow up in Chicago – a place with such a rich musical history ?
I don’t play any instruments but I’ve had lessons, although brief, in guitar and drums I started singing because I loved the music. I could carry a tune okay but I was no singer. I started singing on my own tunes out of necessity. Sometimes you have to get on the mic yourself when there is no one else to do so. When I started writing for people I had to reluctantly sing the songs to them, so they would know the melody, until I was able to secure singers to record demos. Growing up in Chicago, during the 80’s, was interesting musically. I won’t get deep into it but House music or Underground was exclusive and sometimes you had to know someone to even hear what was played in the clubs. That is if you were too young or couldn’t get in. Ron Hardy was at the Music Box. Frankie Knuckles was at The Warehouse then C.O.D’s. Pharris Thomas, Terry Hunter,Gene Hunt, Armando Gallop, Mike Dunn, Lil Louis, just to name a few, they had mobile parties on lock for the younger crowds . Hip Hop was rising up at the same time. Even with that you had to have a connect to hear the new stuff. When I was up North, I hung out with my B-Boy friends tagging, “Pop Locking”, break dancing and all that the culture provided. I rocked Puma & Adidas. I walked around with my boom box playing Hip Hop and House I was like Radio Raheem from “Do the Right Thing” before there was a Radio Raheem. I was in love with both genres.
You seem to have worked with both Justin Stride and Sean McCabe – what’s the Cardiff/Bristol connection, did you live there ?
I never lived in Cardiff/Bristol. The connection actually came about when Deli G introduced me to Alex Winter. Deli interviewed me once on “The Touch” and we kept in touch ever since. Alex was starting a label and Deli heard a demo of our song “Just Do It”. Justin & Phil were a part of the label as Southern Divide and they provided a remix. Sean was a part and was just coming up, he had a remix I think for Soulfuric and he and I would chat sometimes when I called and we’ve been “mates/bro’s” ever since. I collaborated on an original tune titled “Time to Groove” with Southern Divide and a tune titled “Free to be Free” (Tony records) with Sean & we all have been collaborating ever since.
Wow that’s a lovely story of how friendships through music can last for years. So who are your biggest influences ?
My life/spirituality is the biggest influence. My songs are true stories. They’re usually about something I’m going through, gone through, witnessed or needed to hear. Songs from the 70’s and 80’s second. Artists like Gil Scott Heron, Larry Heard, Bob Marley, Marshall Jefferson,The Police, Robert Owens, Genesis, Jamie Principle, T.S.O.P., Sleezy D, Depeche Mode, Derrick May, Art of Noise, Liquid Liquid…the list goes on actually.
Nice list, and yes I love that your songs are true stories, you can really feel the passion. Do you have a day job or is music your full time occupation that pays the bills ?
When I started I had day jobs and night jobs. I was a bouncer and I worked at a very popular spot called Imports etc. back in the day, where my involvement turned from security to actually making music and throwing parties. I met a lot of DJ’s there. Funny thing is I was friends with a few DJ’s already from working the parties and working with promoters. I’ve been fortunate to be involved with this music to a point where it became a real good source of income. I was a stay at home dad when it wasn’t the most popular thing but it was the best thing for my family and it afforded me the opportunity to really dive into this music thing while being with my kids. The income changed when the industry changed but I’m still chugging, still receiving love and still able to give some too.
Where did the ‘Big Ed’ nickname come from ?
Big Ed came from a friend of mine when I was a teenager. I told people my middle name (Edward) because I got teased when I told them my first name, Harold. There were a few Edwards around so when they asked my friend anything about Ed, he never knew which one they were talking about so he would ask, for example, “Which Ed? Skinny Ed? Or Big Ed? I was Big Ed so it stuck…lol
When did you realise that music was the thing that you wanted to do, was there an ‘aahhhh’ moment when you knew for certain ? What would you say is your main strength – DJ, Producer, Vocalist, Musician ?
It was an “aaahh” moment for sure. I saw myself as an artist but not a musical artist. I was a writer/poet, photographer with dreams of becoming an actor and/or designer. I was content working the clubs and events as a bouncer at night and whatever job I could get by day. A very close friend was singing a song I’d never heard before. When I asked what it was, he revealed that he was reading from this black book that was on the table. The book turned out to be my journal that I hadn’t realized I left out. It was a secret book until that day. The book was filled with my thoughts/poems. I was struck because it was private but amazed at how he took my words and transformed them into song. I’ve been in love with the idea ever since. My strength, from what I’m told, is the vocal part of production and writing. I’m just a fan that writes and writing is now my ministry through music.
You have made a lot of tracks. Who have you enjoyed working with the most ? I’ve enjoyed working with everyone for different reasons. John Redmond, my friend & singer on “People Everyday” (Cajual), because he showed me the way. Ron Trent, Ron Carroll, Terry Hunter because we were friends. They were the first people I collaborated with. Hula & K. Fingers of Clubhouse records because they released the first tunes.”My Prayer” with Ron Trent and Ron Carroll, “Weekend” ERB acronym for Ed, Ron T and Braxton Holmes and “A New Day” with K. Fingers, Ron C. on vox and myself. That tune led to us working with Louie Vega and Barbara Tucker on “I Get Lifted”. We received an ASCAP Rhythm & Soul award for that so that was pretty awesome. I started collaborating with K. Fingers on The Blak Beatniks material because we clicked at clubhouse records. I met Carli Kapff in Miami in 96 and they heard a demo I played at an open panel. He signed all the tunes (“Do You Want Me”, “Oohh” and others) to PAN and introduced us to the UK. Fast forward to Mark Knight. That was fun. I received the track & it wrote itself. I sang the demo. He liked it and convinced me to do the vocals on a song titled “The Reason” (Toolroom) that was me singing and doing spoken word by myself. I like working with Sean McCabe and Justin Stride “Move” Musoul and “Get Over Yourself” (Solid Ground) because they brought inspiration to my life. Sean and I have grown in different ways while having a friendship that is more like being brothers. There have been more collaborationss and I’ve enjoyed them all because they are part of the whole picture, the entire life’s work, so far. You meet people and travel to different places having experiences. This is my new journal. My new black book.
Where have you travelled in the world and where would you love to go next ?
I don’t travel. Music has taken me to New York, Detroit & Miami but I have always wanted to go to the UK. My family obligations kept me from overseas and I don’t regret it at all, but I’m not done yet so, it can still happen. Over the years most of the love has come from overseas. I’ve always wanted to experience it in person.
Tell us about your creative process. What inspires you ? How does a track come together for you – is it usually a quick process or does it evolve over many months ?
I’ve learned the songs that touch people the most come from the hardest times or the most painful times in my life. Sometimes it writes itself sometimes it’s a line a week or a line a month. There are times when it taps me on the shoulder out of the blue and I have what I need to finish the story.
Are you a good dancer ?
I was known to work a dance floor…lol
Can you cook ? What is your ideal meal ?
I can cook. I try to cook healthier now. I have high blood pressure and heart disease so I must be more conscious of my health. I make a mean cornbread dressing.
How do you like to spend your evenings now ? A good night out or a quiet night in ?
My injuries and health issues keep me in but my spirit is flexible.
For me ‘Uplifted’ was such a special track, I loved the soulful vocals, and from when I first heard it on a Sean McCabe mix (about a year ago), I nagged Justin relentlessly to release it. I love how it has a kind of 60’s Motown feel mixed up with contemporary House music beats – it really stood out for me. What was the inspiration behind this track ?
That song came after a series of painful events in my life. I had surgery to repair a busted knee and recovery took years instead of months. My best friend, my dad and my grandmother died. I experienced heart failure and was diagnosed with a disease called Restrictive Cardiomyopathy. I was having a hard time getting songs done and fell into a deep depression. My depression lead me right into the arms of writer’s block. I had it for years. After working on my spirituality I was blessed with the hook to the song. It’s all I had no music or anything. Maybe a year later as my spirit strengthened so did my ability to write the story. I was blessed to hook up with Kym Franklin again. She sang on “7 Days” (Champion). She wanted to work on songs. We recorded it and I sent it to Justin. He banged out a few mixes. I hit up Makin Moves and you know the rest.
What is next for Harold Big Ed Matthews ? What would you love to achieve next ?
I don’t know. I keep living and life keeps inspiring. I’m just gonna do what I love to do and experience what GOD lets happen.
Thank you very much for chatting to me, I loved hearing your story.
I think you’ll all agree that Harold’s interview makes interesting reading – a true artist drawing on inspiration from hard times and good times, and it just goes to show how music touches our lives and friendships in so many ways.
Click here for the Traxsource link to ‘Uplifted’, the track that had me jumping for joy.