It’s safe to say that Reggie Calloway still has the Midas Touch. The co-founder and in-house producer of electrofunk/soul outfit Midnight Star is the current Director of Music Royalty Funding at Sound Royalties, a performance advocacy organization that helps provide advances to independent artists, songwriters and producers.
Calloway, a prolific, five-time Grammy-nominated songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, has never felt more fulfilled during his entire four-decade career. His day-to-day responsibilities are all part of his greater mission: to eliminate financial barriers that entertainers and artists may encounter.
“The artist’s brain is so creative,” the low-key flautist, trumpeter and percussionist says resting comfortably in the lobby of Atlanta’s Marriott Marquis hotel. “It doesn’t want to think about finance or structure but rather to survive in the world.”
Seems like Calloway’s golden eggs were hatching one-by-one throughout the ‘80s and '90s. His simple penmanship and slick production yielded memorable, dance floor-ready singles for Midnight Star such as “No Parking (On the Dance Floor),” “Operator,” “Wet My Whistle,” “Freak-A-Zoid,” “Slow Jam,” “Electricity,” “Engine No. 9” and “Midas Touch.” His sibling duo, Calloway, also featuring his brother/collaborative partner, Vincent, scored a million-selling, Top Five pop hit, “I Wanna Be Rich,” in 1989.
Calloway is no stranger to paying dues. When Midnight Star originally signed their deal with SOLAR Records in 1979, the band formed at Kentucky State University had never even heard of the label founded by veteran executive Dick Griffey. The band members temporarily lodged together and rehearsed at Calloway’s grandparents’ home in Louisville and at his mother’s home in Cincinnati.
The band’s debut effort, 1980’s The Beginning, was produced by Harvey Mason as a strategy to establish Midnight Star as a live act. Midnight Star then released two subsequent LPs—1981’s Standing Together and 1982’s Victory—with minimal to no fanfare.
Sacrifice and trial-and-error helped to foster the nine-piece ensemble’s signature synth-based grooves. Midnight Star, Calloway says, was totally against playing anything synthetic or minimal. “We wanted to have all of this great musicality in our sound,” the now salt-and-pepper-haired Cincinnati native says. “Unfortunately, that doesn’t always equate to sales if it’s not done properly. We wanted to be able to perform our records live and have similar sounds to what you heard on record.”
Working concepts became vital to Calloway’s musical output. He proactively studied hit songs on terrestrial radio, paid close attention to what DJs were spinning in the clubs and even hosted listening parties for immediate family and friends at home.
Calloway’s study habits helped fine-tune Midnight Star’s sound. “At the point of not having a hit,” the extremely focused creator says, “you have to take a serious look, find what the people want and do it in an original way. A lot of groups would get dropped well before that. It’s always a matter of taking the best track and putting the best concept on top of it.”
Returning to the drawing board paid off for Calloway. By the time Midnight Star released its double platinum-certified fourth LP No Parking on the Dance Floor in 1983, Calloway tightened up on production techniques by shadowing songwriter/producer Leon Sylvers in the studio.
Leaning forward on the lobby sofa, Calloway, rolling up the sleeves on his jacket, starts to name some of the offers he received to produce for other acts. “Everybody wanted a piece of the sound and what was going on,” he says using a myriad of hand gestures and slight laughter to chase his responses.
Calloway co-wrote and co-produced Klymaxx’s 1984 jam “Meeting in the Ladies Room.” Griffey also valued Calloway’s insights, inquiring to Calloway about other acts from the Ohio area he could add to SOLAR’s roster. Calloway suggested The Deele, featuring then unknown musicians/songwriters/producers Antonio “L.A.” Reid and Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds.
“He signed them unheard based on our reputation, but they had the music to back it up,” Calloway recalls.
Going on to produce The Deele’s 1984 self-titled debut, Calloway grew up miles apart from Reid in Cincinnati. Both musicians frequented the talent show circuit. Midnight Star members Bill Simmons and Jeff Cooper grew up in Indianapolis near Edmonds. There were never any reservations, Calloway assures, about The Deele’s star quality and work ethic.
“Both of those guys and everybody they played with are hard workers,” Calloway declares. “Babyface studied the art of songwriting as hard as I did.”
Midnight Star cranked out gold and platinum-certified efforts Planetary Invasion (1984) and Headlines (1986). More band members were striving to get songwriting credit on the singles, so the creative (and competitive) atmosphere often caused Midnight Star to clash.
“You can’t have nine opinions when making a record,” a prideful Calloway urges. “It’s got to be one over all. You might utilize nine ideas but has to be cohesively put together with one mind or you have a bunch of junk.”
The golden eggs kept hatching for Calloway and his brother. His ear and easygoing demeanor landed him in the studio with Gladys Knight and the Pips (“Love Overboard”), Teddy Pendergrass (“Joy”), The Whispers (“Contagious”), LeVert (“Casanova”) and Natalie Cole (“Jump Start”). Calloway eventually released his 2009 debut solo effort Bring Back the Love via his own imprint, Spiral Galaxy Entertainment.
It’s a necessity for Calloway, a board candidate for the California Copyright Conference, to speak at length with artists anytime he sets out to craft original music for them at crucial points in their recording careers. “I try to take a look at the artists and find their story,” he says. “I ask myself what story can I say for a person that still wants to make records.”
That same inclination to find an artist’s spark is what encourages Calloway to advise aspiring talent on obtaining the proper resources to pursue their dreams. The suave-voiced music veteran was excited to moderate the closing panel on succeeding as an independent artist at the inaugural Atlanta Music Bootcamp this past April.
Calloway, a BMI songwriter, remembers requesting an advance from the publishing company. BMI denied him. That experience prompted Calloway to believe he had to impart business literacy onto future generations of performers and creatives, the same way SOLAR Records invested into his career.
“Artists have this great asset, this great commodity of royalty streams that they need to be able to leverage to do things they want,” Calloway says.
Calloway continues, “At some point, you have to decide if you’re going to have that longevity. You have to learn about business and discipline. I wanted to learn as much as I could about publishing, copyrights, finances and relationships.”
Continuing to have a thriving career in the entertainment industry keeps Calloway inspired. He’s written a play and is working on two books, including one themed around 20 mistakes that songwriters make. As he continues to reflect on his success and coach the next generation on carving its niche, he encourages young, passionate and energetic talent to absorb as much information to fuel their careers as they can.
To this day, Calloway’s intuitive views on timeless music and hit records haven’t changed. “Go off emotion,” he suggests. “If it doesn’t feel like a hit to you, it won’t feel like a hit to them.”
Reggie Calloway’s Top Five Albums of All Time: