Lee Bailey’s For the Record: Kevin Toney
On this episode of our For the Record podcast, host Lee Bailey breaks bread with Kevin Toney, the prolific jazz pianist and composer who got his start playing keyboards for The Blackbyrds back in the 70s and helped fuel their biggest hits, “Walking in Rhythm” and “Rock Creek Park.”
The interview took place last month (March, 2019) in Sacramento at Jay King’s annual Creative Exchange Conference, and the conversation included some piping hot tea about their Howard University professor and mentor Donald Byrd … including that time they took the legendary jazz trumpeter to court.
“We sued him to get out of our agreement,” Toney reveals. “We do an audit, and the audit had some questions to be answered. Essentially, Donald would never face us in person to discuss everything, so we ended up going to court.”
Other shared memories include the fortuitous day Stevie Wonder visited Howard to perform tracks from “Talking Book” and why Byrd had to force him to attend the show, and an interesting revelation about the group not understanding the appeal of their biggest hit, “Walking in Rhythm.”
“Nobody really thought much about the song,” says Toney. “…Then that song just blew up out of nowhere. Over the course of a couple of months, it was in the top five on four charts, simultaneously. …We still didn’t get it, but Donald knew what he had.”
Toney also talks about passing his musical genes to his daughter, jazz keyboardist and singer Dominique Toney. The two often perform together, and the proud papa considers their shared interest a true blessing: “She loves it, and I’ll be able to look back on this with fond memories and say, ‘Wow, look how God blessed me to do something like this with my daughter.”