“I have to write something that gives people chill bumps.”
It’s the mantra that continues to motivate prolific songwriter, producer and musician Daryl Simmons to consistently churn out timeless songs for some of popular music’s most successful recording artists.
Frequently working alongside his equally copious best friend of 43 years, Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds, and Antonio “L.A.” Reid, the multi-talented, Grammy-winning native of Indianapolis has contributed his ear and penmanship to an impressive array of soul and pop cuts over the past few decades. Most notable among these are Karyn White’s “Superwoman,” TLC’s “Baby-Baby-Baby,” Johnny Gill’s “My My My,” Sheena Easton’s “The Lover in Me,” Aretha Franklin’s “Willing to Forgive,” Babyface’s “When Can I See You Again,” Bobby Brown’s “Don’t Be Cruel,” Paula Abdul’s “Knocked Out,” Tevin Campbell’s “Can We Talk,” Dru Hill’s “We’re Not Making Love No More,” Whitney Houston’s “Queen of the Night” and Boyz II Men’s record-breaking chart-topper “End of the Road.”
His undying compassion, sincerity and ability to mold feelings people experience everyday into melodies and heartfelt lyrics are the same ingredients that allowed Simmons to further hone his craft by penning or producing Aaliyah’s “The One I Gave My Heart To,” Dru Hill’s “In My Bed” and “Never Make a Promise,” Tamia’s “Loving You Still,” Xscape’s “Do You Want To” and Monica’s “Why I Love You So Much.”
“It may be my life, but then maybe I might flip it to apply to the world,” says an extremely warm and finely tailored Simmons during an insightful conversation prior to this year’s BMI R&B/Hip Hop Awards in Atlanta. “Face would always say ‘Make it universal. Make it apply to everybody.’”
The 59-year-old creative speaks for a solid minute about his extensive professional history with vocalist Toni Braxton, who was honored by the 75-year-old publishing company this year with its President’s Award. Simmons, the founder of his own imprint, Silent Partner Productions, helped conceive the exceptional million-selling contralto singer’s hits like “Another Sad Love Song,” “Breathe Again,” “Seven Whole Days” and “You Mean the World to Me.”
He crowns Braxton as his favorite voice to record. “[Toni] has been incredibly amazing, making great records,” declares Simmons, calling the seven-time Grammy winner “gifted.” “We didn’t give her her incredible gift. We brought out emotions, spirit…a lot of those things that were deep down in there that we could see.”
Simmons’ discography also includes collaborations with Lionel Richie, The Deele, The Whispers, Elton John, After 7, Usher, Destiny’s Child, Mariah Carey, Michael Jackson, Jermaine Jackson, Diana Ross, Wynonna Judd, Mya, SWV, Vanessa Williams, Deborah Cox, Curtis Mayfield, Mary J. Blige, Stevie Wonder, Patti LaBelle, Kenny Lattimore, 98 Degrees and Pink.
These days, the lyricist and melody maker actively concentrates on consulting and developing up-and-coming talent. Simmons believes writers and producers can sometimes have a better grasp on entertainers’ greatest strengths and abilities better than the artists themselves. “A young artist doesn’t really know actually what they have, but we know” confirms Simmons.
What hasn’t changed for Simmons is his creative partnership with Babyface. Knowing each other since they were teenagers, Simmons and Babyface, whose birthdays are literally 24 hours apart, were high school classmates and fellow instrumentalists in the local Indianapolis bands Tarnished Silver and Manchild.
Simmons points out how anytime Babyface and he collaborate on projects, the velvet-voiced “Whip Appeal” and “Everytime I Close My Eyes” singer typically runs the sessions. He was actively involved in the creation of Babyface and Braxton’s Grammy-winning concept album, 2014’s Love, Marriage & Divorce.
“[Face] will take the lead,” shares Simmons. “When he leads me, I know where he’s going. I can help him get there. We get there together. Hopefully at the end, we’ve created something magical.”
Metaphorically speaking about his creative kindred spirit, Simmons considers himself Babyface’s “twin.” He nicknames Babyface “Batman” and himself “Robin.” “We’re so close to being the same,” comments Simmons. “We get in a room, and the synergy starts.”
It makes Simmons extremely proud and gracious to know that the enduring appeal of his compositions continue to touch people. It’s quite often that fans of Simmons’ work will fill him in on special memories attached to his music. Whether it’s through his own experiences or placing himself in someone else’s shoes, good songs, he believes, always have personal resonance.
“It’s our thought and our emotion, but the key is to make it so everybody feels it’s their song,” states Simmons, “that Toni or Face is speaking to just them. That’s always the goal.”
Daryl’s Two Favorite Albums of All Time:
Earth, Wind & Fire | That’s the Way of the World (1975) – “Maurice White inspired me greatly to want to be a musician and to write music.”
Marvin Gaye | What’s Going On (1971) – “Marvin taught me how a love song should feel. When I hear Marvin, I get chill bumps.”