Ricardo Makyn/Staff Photographer
Richie Stephens, song writer and producer.
Avia Collinder, Outlook Writer
To hear Richie Stephens tell of his relationship with his mother is disarming. There is nothing so attractive as a man who adores his mom.
"The day when she came to live me was the happiest day of my life," he says. It was from Carmen Farquharson, he said, that he inherited his voice and his passionate love for music.
In addition to possessing the deep, commanding voice that makes women yearn for love and the dark, good looks which add to the attraction of his lyrics, Richie Stephens has dedicated life and song to the celebration of love.
His show - Take Me Away - to be held at the National Indoor Sports Centre in its fourth staging - will be a celebration not only of talent, but also a remembrance for the two women who first believed in him and who, he says, are among the greatest natural singers in Jamaica.
The proceeds from the show will go towards the needs of the girls of St Mary's Child (a home for abused and pregnant teens) in Kingston, in the fine tradition of his grandmother - Miss Estelle - who was the 'Mother Teresa' of Russia district in Westmoreland, where he grew up.
Life full of love
Stephens was raised by his mother and grandmother with five siblings. Life was hard, but it was full of love, he states.
Grandmother, Miss Estelle, was always willing to share what she had with strangers and, frequently, people the young children did not know would appear at the dinner table. There was nothing they could do but accept it.
Stephens dropped out of school in grade nine. His mother worked hard to send him to the Savanna-la-Mar Infant, Primary and Secondary schools. But at age 15, he decided that, as the oldest son, he had to do something about his family's condition.
He first went to live with his grandfather, Nehemiah Farquharson, in Tivoli Gardens, and then left for dad, John Stephens in Spanish Town. "My intention was to succeed at music and I would stop at nothing," Richie Stephens reflects on those early years.
No day labour
He knew what he wanted to become and there was no deflecting him into the paid servitude of day labour.
The teenager with the fabulous voice hooked up the band, 'Stars Incorporated', which did shows around Spanish Town, and in no time was working as their lead singer.
The money was not great, but the opportunity was.
"I did get a little thing," Stephens recalls, "but it was just enough to pay my fare to attend rehearsals. What I wanted was to get myself a full-time singing job."
When a close friend told him about the north coast there was a glitter in his eyes, and when, further, he was told about a weekly talent show in Ocho Rios, he quickly said goodbye to his father and made his way north.
As he recalls, he won first place in the competition and collected a bottle of coconut rum, which he gave away. The event gave him the encouragement to continue.
In Ocho Rios, Stephens secured for himself a job with Rockers International, a band based in the north coast town, as lead singer. Working for three nights every week, he was hanging around one night when he learned that performers were needed at the Jamaica Jamaica hotel for six nights each week. It was music to his ears. Stephens went to audition and obtained, he said, his first steady job.
On his day off from Jamaica Jamaica, he was able to return to Westmoreland with a little gift for his mother. It was then, he said, that he really started feeling as if things were going his way.
But, never satisfied with staying in one position too long, the teenager defected for the Elements Band, a group with national profile which travelled - at the request of the Jamaica Tourist Board - throughout Europe advertising the culture of Jamaica.
The group visited Belgium, France, Italy and Germany promoting the island, and Stephens shopped for his mother, brothers and sisters so enthusiastically, that when they returned to London he was unable to take home what he had collected.
"I just wanted to show my appreciation," he now smiles as he remembers.
After the European tour, Stephens thought that the band would turn to recording, but they were satisfied with playing in the hotels six nights each week. He wanted more and left.
In 1988, Stephens recorded his first song, Buff Baff - a Top Ranking production and a major hit in the dancehalls.
He then started doing numerous specials but, ever determined to push the envelope, he also decided to record a song which would showcase the vocal style and range learnt on the north coast
Stephens wrote the ballad, By Your Side. Despite the difference in style, the production was also a big hit, especially with women. This recording was his passport to a name for himself in the music business, as he began getting his props as a singer and songwriter. By Your Side was followed by several hits, including Trying To Get To You, Get Up Stand Up (done with Garnet Silk) and She's A Maniac (with Bounty Killer.)
Stephens went on tour in Europe and in Brixton, London, where he met Jazzy D from Soul II Soul, who came to the show and was blown away by his performance. "He asked me to do a song on their third album, called Just Right." Stephens was so excited that he immediately called 'Mama Carmen' to tell her the good news.
"I said, 'all the things you have been dreaming about all these years, you son is going to get it for you'."
With Soul II Soul he recorded Joy, the song which has remained his biggest hit to date. The song went to number three on the English national charts and number five on the All European charts. People were constantly amazed that it was done by a Jamaican."
Appeared on Arsenio
There followed what Stephens describes as another one of the happiest moments in his life. He got a call from 'Babsy' Grange (his then manager) who slotted him in with Arsenio Hall - the hottest American talk show host of the early '90s - with an estimated audience of 80 million. Stephens went and performed, the immediate result of which was that he was signed to Motown Records.
A culture clash meant that the marriage with Motown in 1993 did not last. One reviewer comments on the short engagement thus, "It's a shame that he didn't get more exposure, but then again, that's Motown's fault."
On the album produced the songs which did best were Every Time You're There and Black Cinderella.
Stephens returned home, he said, unwilling to embrace the trend in crossover music and started his own label, Pot of Gold, stirring things up with the attention-getting dancehall singles Winner, Bus the Place and Slop Dem.
His output, in the last decade and a half, has incorporated reggae, ska, and contemporary gospel and several music videos, among which the production Every Time You Are There was featured on BET.
Stephens has also produced Beres Hammond, Bounty Killer, Tarrus Riley, Maxi Priest and DYCR.
While another artiste has appropriated the title 'Mr Romantic', a review of local talent will tell you that the title belongs, instead, to Stephens. Described as the 'love specialist', Stephens' 12th album, Take Me Away, arrived in 2006 on Valentine's Day.
The album Pot of Gold, completed on returning to Jamaica, was dedicated to his mom, and Mama's Blessings, the single done with her, did well in radio play. "Singing with my mother was a dream for me. I also wanted to hear her on plastic," the artiste says. With Mama Carmen, he has also recorded Shine.
Another dream realised has been the consistent donation of part proceeds of his endeavours to charity, especially to schools, health centres and other entities in Westmoreland.
"It was a promise made to God (giving back for the gift of success)," he said, in his earliest years, which he has had no second thoughts in fulfilling. His 2002 album The Man Upstairs, featuring Christian lyrics, is also reflective of deeply held beliefs.
Stephens was in 2006 awarded the Jamaican Governor General's Achievement Award for contributing to civic, social and recreational projects in and around Westmoreland, including the Savanna-la-Mar Infirmary.
At 41, he says that he remains committed to working hard. He is an exercise fanatic (loving both running and the gym). Married to marketing manager Bernadette Stevenson, he is the father of five children - son Jordan and daughters Danielle, Javar, Demar and Kyra.
Another son he has fostered is DJ Copper Cat, a young artiste who, with his assistance, recently completed Jamaica College, spending his last year as president of the school's Student Council.
Stephens states, "Success to me is not what you have done. It is what you give. That is the success story, based on where I am coming from