I recently had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Vel Lewis at an Open Mic Atlanta event. I hope that you enjoy his story as much as I did. ~ craver
Velbert Lewis, known to most as simply “Vel”, has found a way to yet again reinvent himself as Shady Grady. At first thought, he reminds you of one of those classic men that we’ve come to know as hustlers, but with more of a Harlem Renaissance edge. Then upon further inspection, he shows you that he’s more like a shade tree in a cool breeze offering you a place to put your mind at ease and your body to rest. He’s a part of what we know as smooth jazz, but as Shady Grady, he offers quite a bit more.
Listening to his debut album, All Wound Up, you cannot only hear the experience of over thirty-five years as a professional performer, you hear the depth and warmth of live musicianship reborn. His music reminds you of what it was intended to be for the listener… an experience. Though his history is varied, it has served him well with roots that extend from a youth filled with traditional, classical and popular training.
Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, his career began in 1965 as a 1st soprano with the Philadelphia All Boys Choir in conjunction with attending Settlement Music School; where he had vocal and piano training as well as concert flute. Within two years, he’d added the organ to his repertoire.
By the 70’s, he’d joined a vocal group, The Futures, and recorded the single “Breaking Up” on the AMJO record label out of Philadelphia. However, as he continued his training at Overbrook High School, he was asked to perform on a televised jazz program with his classmates, Gerry Brown and John Lee, from the school’s jazz band along with the show’s producer, Mr. Ira Tucker, Jr.
It was the coup de grâce, the show led to Lewis becoming a studio session musician with Peacock Records, a division of ABC Records, and garnering a recording contract from Phila. International Records, a division of Columbia Records. The next single, “Love Is Here” was on Gamble Records. There was a whirlwind of activity between recording sessions and concert tours with the likes of Frankie Beverly and Maze, The O’Jays, Grover Washington, The Spinners, The Whispers, and The Supremes.
It didn’t take much time before The Futures’ band became known as The Life Group and began playing with The Delfonics, performing such hits as “Didn’t I Blow Your Mind”, “When You Get Right Down To It”, and “La, La, Means I Love You”. Lewis had become an A-List musician continuing to play with such celebrities as Earth, Wind, & Fire, Parliament/Funkadelic, Al Green, Isaac Hayes, David Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks.
Fortunately, Lewis was not one to be limited, so he co-wrote the Delfonics last hit, “I Told You So” with William Hart as well as The Life Group’s successful single, “Tell Me Why”. Lewis continued to work throughout the industry as a member of The Life Group until the band’s last performance in Los Angeles during the early 80’s with Phyllis Hyman, Stevie Wonder, Mandrill and numerous other guest stars.
Though it was the end of The Life Group, Lewis went on to work on even bigger and better things. He co-produced original music with Tom Borton and Ed Martinez for Chrysler/Plymouth Motors, Inc.’s Superbowl commercials featuring Tina Turner. Lewis continued into the 90’s co-writing and co-producing on Borton’s three-album deal with Mesa/Bluemoon Records. As a songwriter with LA Post Music, he wrote even more music for television broadcasts.
Never a stranger to the road, Lewis continued to perform at places like the Indianapolis Jazz Festival with Dan Siegal and Boney James, in addition to working on Dionne Warwick’s World Tour for three years.
In most lives that would have been enough, however for the man that will soon be known to the world as Shady Grady, it wasn’t. With his debut album, All Wound Up, poised to hit smooth jazz radio as well as popular music stores, Shady Grady will soon be offering up a cool breeze of music and good times to the public.
Having teamed up with the producer, Chaka “The ChakFather” Blackmon, (Christina Aguilera, CeCe Winons, and Impromp2), All Wound Up offers a new mix of smooth jazz focusing on the innate dynamics of live musicianship. With such songs as “Let It Ride” featuring Anson Dawkins, “My Sunshine” featuring popular music vocalist Lina, and “Keep Comin’ Back To You” featuring Anson and Eric Dawkins, All Wound Up is sure to become essential for all music enthusiasts.
Yet, the music doesn’t stop there. With musicianship from the likes of Michael Paulo on “Shake It Down”, Gerry Brown on “Percussing”, and Alex Al on “Bake That Tasty Cake”, you can’t help but bob your head. Still yet it gets even better, with Russ Miller on “All Wound Up” and “My Sunshine” as well as Lenny Castro on percussion and George Shelby on horns adding something special to almost every song. At the end of the day… At the end of the album… It’s virtually impossible not to ask, “Why did it take so long for us to meet Shady Grady?”