Smooth soul singer Maurice Mahon is anything but new to the music business. Mahon, 44, has known he’s been destined to be a professional singer since he won a “Star Search” contest at age 20.
But Mahon’s eight piece band, The New Face of Soul, is an attempt to bring back a classic sound, with old-school musicians (many of whom are in their 20s) steeped in the Dusties. And he thinks – with the popularity of Cee Lo Green and Chicagoan J.C. Brooks and the Uptown Sound – it’s a sound that’s coming back, with a new twist.
Mahon, who lives in Forest Park, will perform Wednesday at the Taste of Chicago. The New Face of Soul will go on at 5:30 p.m. at the Bud Light stage.
“Something old, something new and something you,” is his set list philosophy, he said. Mahon said he’s crafting a sound that brings out “positive” feelings in an audience.
Last time Mahon performed his old-school sounding soul music at the Taste was eight years ago with the late Teena Marie. He had just won the first-ever WGCI Chicago Idol competition 2003, which “opened so many doors for me,” said Mahon, who lives in Forest Park with his wife and 10 year old son, Myles. He had also toured two years with Tyler Perry, and had been part of the 80s Minneapolis Prince-scene.
Since that last Taste performance, Mahon has toured four times as a backup singer with R. Kelly (whom he calls a good friend). Kelly wrote the song “Closer” that won Chicago Idol.
He’s performed on Kelly’s recordings including “Happy People” and “3-way Phone Call” with Kelly Price. With Kelly, Mahon has travelled to Europe several times and played in front of crowds of 80,000 in Nigeria.
“I asked R. Kelly if I could be his background singer to see the amazing artist that he is,” Mahon said. “He is phenomenal to watch. That is the best teaching for me.”
But one thing that Mahon has learned from Kelly is that he’s not interested in being a solo artist. Mahon instead sees himself as an integral member of his eight-piece band, composed of members ages 24 to 53.
That’s the only way to get the sound he wants – a sound he thinks can do lots of good in the world.
“If you change the music you change the motive,” is Mahon’s catch-phrase. Mahon is on a mission to bring audiences sound that only a band with a horn section, keys, two guitars bass and drums can provide.
“When you hear that sound, it’s like a movement. It’s a statement that goes beyond the regular,” he said.
Keeping a band together is “a sacrifice” and “not easy,” he admits. “But I’ve been blessed with the right musicians who work it out with their families.”
His own influences include the classic sounds of Stevie Wonder (who inspired him to play chromatic harmonica), Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye and Donny Hathaway, but he has a weakness for 80s music he grew up with, like Duran Duran, Culture Club and even Motley Crue.
His path to music was almost by accident, he said. His upbringing was very strict on Chicago’s West Side, and his family discouraged him from listening to popular music.
“I was a football player,” at Calumet High School, he said. “But then I had an injury. I broke my collar bone and wrist when I was a junior and I was in the bathroom singing with a brace on my shoulder, and [another student] asked me if I would join Gospel Chorus. By the next year I was president of the Gospel Chorus and head of the a capella chorus club.”
After high school, he won a Star Search competition and jumped a train – alone – to 1980s Prince-era Minneapolis.
“There was so much music, you could lift any garage door and there would be a band playing in there,” he said.
He went on to win other competitions, including three weeks as champ in a singing contest at the Apollo in New York City.
Wednesday’s Taste performance will kick off a new international tour with R. Kelly in October, said Mahon.
But looking over his career, Mahon thinks of his own young son, who will be in 5th grade at Grant-White school.
Mahon said he believes his true calling may be to expose children to music that will inspire them to create their own.
“When children learn how to play an instrument, they learn discipline, they learn patience,” he said. That leaves less time for other things, destructive things they can get into … I want to get behind a social cause and be an advocate of peace for children.”
Forest Park is a big part of the Mahon family’s hopes for their son.
“We love it here. We love the schools, they are a secure environment [for Myles] with great teachers,” said Mahon. “We’ve been here for three years and it’s the best community. It’s clean, respectful and I love the businesses and restaurants [on Madison Street].”
Young Myles already plays piano, drums and trumpet.
“My dad influences and helps me,” he said. “When he plays piano it looks so easy I want to try and it helps me get better.”
“In five years, he’ll definitely be in my band,” joked Mahon. A new face of soul.