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article imageChris Wells, editor of 'Echoes' Magazine Special

By Adrian Peel     Feb 11, 2016 in Music
'Echoes,' Britain's longest running magazine for black music, began as the weekly publication 'Black Echoes' in 1976. This month, they celebrate their 40th anniversary, an impressive feat editor Chris Wells discussed with Digital Journal.
These days, Echoes is a monthly print and online magazine long since relied upon to bring its readers the very best in soul, reggae, hip-hop and jazz. The current issue features Michael Jackson on the cover and I wondered whether that was because the editor felt no other artist had done more for black music over the last 40 years than the much-missed 'King of Pop'?
"Well on the one hand, yes," answers Chris, in charge since 1994, "because he successfully came out of something that initially was seen as a very soul thing in the States - especially on the label he started on - and then did what Berry Gordy always dreamed of and crossed over.
"The white masses picked up on Motown generally, but more on him because he was a kid, he was sparky, he was amazing for his age and that took him across to the pop market. By the time he was the 'King of Pop,' nobody thought of Michael Jackson as either a black artist or a white artist. He could get played on pop radio and on MTV in the States.
"He could break through those kind of barriers, whereas people like Luther Vandross they wouldn't play him on pop radio. Luther Vandross never had a pop number one, as gentle as he was, and his music wasn't scary or anything. It was just decent quality soul music with a commercial edge.
"So it was nice to be able to put Michael Jackson on the cover, and we also have an interview with him that fitted in nicely with Spike Lee's new documentary because it was about that period after Motown and up to Off the Wall - and Off the Wall's my favourite album. We had an interview from '79, which was right when he was in the middle of making it."
Did Chris ever get to speak to Michael? "I've interviewed all the Jacksons except him, actually. By the time I started myself in '84, he'd stopped doing interviews... He was coming to the end of his 'in The Jacksons' period, when he still did some interviews with the brothers, and that finished."
"Oh, Bobby Womack - he's miles ahead of everybody else," replies the former legal executive, when asked to name his top interviewees of the last 30-odd years. "I interviewed him about a dozen times and he became a long distance, sort of journalistic-type friend. I got to hang out with him and he would open up a bit more and do things he wouldn't normally do."
Along with Michael Jackson, reggae icon Lee "Scratch" Perry and hip-hop artist LunchMoney Lewis also appear among the pages of the current issue. What else can we find inside?
"Well we've got 16 extra pages and there's a section in the centre which is a 12-page pullout," explains the dedicated soul fan (his elder brother introduced him to the genre - via the music of Otis Redding - back in the late 1960s). "That's got most of the reminiscing stuff. I had fun dragging all the old copies out of my loft and thumbing through them to find interesting interviews."
I finished by congratulating Mr. Wells on 40 years of Echoes, an outstanding achievement in this age of numerous online publications and easily accessible digital multimedia. "Yeah, there aren't many around still going... Blues & Soul, they're still around and they started earlier than we did - I think in '66 - but they went out of business for a while.
"They came back again as a website for a couple of years and now they've finally got a print mag out again, so they've had a bit of an unbroken run of late... But there aren't many like us and there weren't that many like us beforehand, even when times were considerably better. These days we're almost the last man standing."
To learn more about Echoes, visit the magazine's official website.
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