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Michael LingtonJM: Barry Eastmond has worked with some of the top names in the R&B and urban jazz world – Dave Koz, Anita Baker, George Benson, Al Jarreau, Jonathan Butler, Jeffery Osborne, Yolanda Adams, etc. Aside from his great resume, what made him the best producer for Soul Appeal?

ML: I was on a tour with Michael Bolton and we played Tarrytown, New York, where Barry lives and has a studio. I had always wanted to work with him but had never met him. He met me backstage and told me he always was hoping to work with me on a project too. We didn’t start out with a specific concept, but started emailing digital files of musical ideas to each other while I was still on the tour. Then I took a trip to his studio to start writing with him. We actually went through a lot of different styles, but didn’t really have a theme or driving force. I felt the material was good but it was missing something unique and different. I said we should try to write new material in the style of that classic soul era, stuff that came from the Junior Walker-King Curtis school. Once we did, things clicked and we got on a roll. I went back on the road with Bolton in 2012 and once again we did a lot of digital exchanges – only now we had a concept. The synergy felt right.  

JM: I like your handpicked group of musicians, too – the core pocket of Freddie Washington (bass) and Teddy Campbell (drums), organist Shedrick Mitchell (from Maxwell’s band), rhythm guitarists Paul Jackson, Jr. and Ray Parker, Jr., lead guitarist Phil Hamilton and percussionist Lenny Castro. How did you choose that ensemble?

ML: I look at an album like I’m casting a movie, from producer to executive producer to studio engineer to the musicians. Once we had the idea and the mission, I knew instinctively how to fill in those blanks and who could best create the vibe Barry and I were going for. Teddy’s been on many of my previous records and it was great switching off between Ray and Paul. It’s great to have consistency but also variety. Ray Bardani is a great engineer who worked with Luther Vandross and David Sanborn, including my favorite Sanborn album Voyeur. I knew he could put my sax in an environment that would make it sound like never before.

JM: I understand also that you had an unexpected special guest show up and hang out with you guys.

ML: Halfway through the first day, Steve Perry from Journey showed up – and he never left. He is friends with Barry and he hung out for the entire project, including all the recording and mixing. It was amazing spending our lunch breaks with him, listening to him singing Marvin Gaye and Sam Cooke songs. He said something about the music just touched him. He called me later and told me that I, through this music, helped him find his emotional compass. It was a special experience having him there.

JM: Your fans have also supported your venture into the cigar business these past years Tell me about how that started and where they are available.

ML: I’ve enjoyed smoking cigars for 20 years and when I was on the Dave Koz Cruise in 2006, he asked each artist to create an onboard event that would create intimacy with the fans. I thought it would be fun to do a cigar party, and I recorded a traditional jazz CD to play as the soundtrack to create a smokey New York jazz club feel. I have friends in the tobacco industry, but they said to create a special cigar blend for that event, I would have to order 2,000 cigars minimum. My friend Kevin Paige, who owns several retail tobacco stores, helped me put the deal together and we created our own cigar, which sold well on the cruise. Later we decided to create a business out of it and so now there is a small line of Michael Lington Cigars. We make different sizes. The first ones were made in Nicaragua and now they are from Honduras. They are available on the website and also at special cigar night events I host at events like Brian Culbertson’s Napa Jazz Getaway and other wineries.

JM: Finally, as if you didn’t have enough on your plate, you are now in the wine business!

ML: That’s really exciting for me. A year and a half ago, I got a call from Tom Baer, a winemaker at Solana Cellars in Paso Robles, California. He said he liked what I had done with my cigar line and wondered if I wanted to do a joint venture on a signature wine with his winery. Solana is a boutique winery but a huge grower of grapes for the entire region. I immediately agreed and we have since created two wines – Lington Trio, a red wine made of 60% Malbec, 30% Petit Verdot and 10% Petite Sirah, like a Bordeaux style blend, and Lington Soloist, a Paso Robles Viognier (white wine) with an apricot and peach aroma. I’ve always been passionate about wine but now I see all the work that goes into making it, from the planting of vines to harvesting of grapes and beyond. It is currently available on the website, Spaghettini Fine Dining and Entertainment in Seal Beach and opening soon in Beverly Hills, and Nic’s Beverly Hills, a cool restaurant and martini bar. It’s a brand new venture and I’m looking forward to seeing how it develops.