LIVERPOOL — When the Syracuse Soul Music Series opens with its first notes 1 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 16, in the Liverpool Public Library’s Carman Community Room, music fans will be treated to the duo work of Michael Houston and Sam Wynn.
“Just me and Sam,” Houston said of himself and Wynn, whose connection started decades ago in the band The J Project.
Yet they’ll bring with them memories of and respect for musicians and bands that have put their stamp on Syracuse soul music since the 1970s.
“I think of all the bands throughout the years 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 would perform in the parks. I think of the days when during the summer you could go to Thornden Park to hear local bands. The ‘70s and ‘80s was a great time for local soul music.”
And soul lives on, he said, thanks to veteran musicians such as Reggie Seigler and Isaac Wynn of Soft Spoken and Hollis Mathis of UAD.
“They worked tirelessly to not just keep soul music prominent but also relevant with our younger generation and in the community,” Houston said. “They formed a coalition called Syracuse J.A.M.S. (Joined Artist Musicians and Singers), a place where local talent can share information about local gigs, videos, be part of workshops and dialogues.”
The LPL’s Syracuse Soul Music series will continue Feb. 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 smooth and relaxing, Houston said.
The comfortable style felt right from the start he and Wynn.
“Sam and I would at some point in the show start trading lyrics on songs, and from there it became a thing we did that came naturally,” Houston said. After The J Project, they also performed together with The Critics and the Paul Robeson Performing Arts band.
About five years ago, Houston said, he noticed “the big bands started taking a toll on my voice.”
Central New York veteran jazz singer Ronnie Leigh suggested Houston look into finding a suitable duo. It turned out to be great advice.
“I began to notice my singing was improving,” Houston said.
Those attending the LPL show can expect “some fun and good music. It’s just that simple,” Houston said. “Some Marvin Gaye, Spinners, Commodores and Temptations and maybe even some 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 fresh quality,” he said. “I think I have sung ‘Mustang Sally’ a million times but never have I sung it the same way, which makes it fun for me.”
Of all the musicians he’s worked with over the years, the memory of his late brother Jeffrey remains the most indelible. Guitarist Jeff and singer Michael founded the J Project together; Jeff passed away in 2015 at the age of 57.
“I think the fact that I’m still doing music is a tribute to his legacy,” Michael said. “If it were not for him, I’d probably still be trying to be the next Michael Jordan! It’s a blessing that I have been doing this for as long as I have, and it was a blessing to have a brother like Jeff. There have been so many times when I perform, I say to myself, ‘Jeff would have really loved this.’ He’s gone but not forgotten. I even have a tattoo of a guitar in tribute to him.”