Frank McComb is certainly not a dull interview. All it takes is one question, and the 36-year-old, Cleveland-born, married father of two is ready to let rip on just how much he had to go through to get to this point in his career. And he'll disclose that info with candor and fascinating insight. But then again, would you expect anything less from a man named Frank?
The ivory-tickling McComb is an independent soul artist, one of the many these days who have chosen to bypass not just a major label but any label at all in order to drop smooth, organic, old-school R&B grooves on their own. McComb's music belongs in that same masculine-yet-sensitive bin with the likes of Gordon Chambers, P.J. Morton and Eric "Erro" Roberson (the Kevin Bacon of the indie-soul stratosphere).
And it is for sale only online or at his shows, which is just the way he wants it. McComb has been screwed in so many ways, by way too many major labels and industry folk, to step back over to what he sees as the dark side.
"I just got sick of record companies trying to manipulate me," says McComb, on the phone from his home base in Los Angeles. The reamings began over a decade ago when he signed with Motown. Already an accomplished studio musician, a session veteran in the camp of Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff's Philadelphia International Records, McComb joined MoJazz, Motown's jazz offshoot. There he recorded an album that was not released. McComb next joined Branford Marsalis's funk/jazz/soul/hip-hop combo Buckshot LeFonque project for a couple of albums before signing with Columbia. That label did release one of his albums 2000's Love Stories but they did little to promote it, and it was quickly forgotten.
McComb was frustrated and fed up, but worse was yet to come. While Motown and Columbia did him wrong, McComb saves most of his bile for the two men who ran a now-defunct company called The Malibu Sessions, on which he recorded The Truth, Volume One, his 2003 sophomore release.
"They were the ones pimping America, basically," he says, referring to them as "two cats who didn't know what the hell they were doing." Even though Truth was recorded in sunny Malibu, right here in the U.S. of A., the album was marketed here as an import with a $35 price tag. By releasing it in England and Japan only, McComb says, the label heads hoped to get top dollar for the album here in the States. McComb says the absence of a worldwide release was just one of many commitments they failed to live up to.
"They just breached that contract till they couldn't breach no more," he says, adding that their shenanigans did have an upside: He now has a substantial fan base in the UK and Japan.
But he didn't know that yet; all he knew was that he was even more pissed off with his current label than he was at Motown and Columbia. McComb didn't bother to support Truth, and severed all ties with the Malibu Sessions. And just when you think ol' boy could finally catch a break from getting hosed, something else came down the pike. The guy who owned the masters of his demo work, including the songs he recorded for Motown, decided to make some money on the side. He started selling bootlegs of McComb's unreleased MoJazz album, and the long-shelved debut became a hot black-market item. "It had been sold on the Internet for 50 bucks a CD," McComb remembers. "It wasn't mixed. It wasn't mastered. They were all CD-Rs."
McComb found out about the scam when he opened for jazz/funk band Incognito in England. "[There was] about 150 people in the room, and about 20 of those people, at different times, came up to me with their own version because there was no official artwork, no notes were on it. So, these people came up to me asking me to sign it. And I was like, ‘How did you get it?'"
And for McComb, this was the turning point. Instead of getting angry, he would get in on the hustle. "It taught me the game," he says, "by using it on me."
Not too long after that, McComb launched Boobeescoot Music, his own online, record-distribution operation (www.frankmccomb. info/boobeescoot/index.html). In 2005, McComb released a collection of recordings he made in his home studio called Straight from the Vault. This debut on his new label ended up winning a readers' choice award as album of the year on SoulTracks.com. (You can also buy the unreleased MoJazz album there, autographed by the man himself.)
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Today, McComb appears to admire Bill Gates more than anyone in the music biz in fact, McComb calls Gates "our modern-day Moses." McComb seems thrilled to be cutting out all the middlemen, giving the people what they want when they want it. He's not above a bit of gloating. "I told people this, and they didn't listen to me and now, it's happening," he says, recalling the times when record-industry folk scoffed at his plans for delivering his music online.
You also get the feeling that McComb is getting a kick out of watching the implosion of the entire music industry as we know it. "Record companies put a lot of money into artwork, and it's only two good songs on the record," he says. "My kids are ten and 12, and they can tell you that. My kids don't even buy CDs in the stores anymore. They don't care about artwork. They can download artwork. My kids go on iTunes and they run up my credit card by getting music off the Internet. They don't care about no CDs. I can't stand CDs all over the house anyway.
"I'm not bitter don't get me wrong," he says. "I'm just telling the truth." You could hardly blame the man for feeling a twinge of resentment toward all those shady sumbitches who used and abused him over the years. But he promises he isn't looking back in anger. "I can laugh at it now," he says, chuckling, "'cause I cried many days."
Frank McComb performs Friday, July 6, at the Breakfast Klub, 3711 Travis, 713-731-2409.