There's at least one connection between the Peninsula and the late, great Whitney Houston. Joseph Wooten, a musician who grew up in Newport News and who now plays keyboards for the Steve Miller Band, sang background vocals onone track of her self-titled debut album."Before Whitney Houston, nobody was singing that way," Wooten told Your News Now Buffalo. They were singing in what I call the Aretha Franklin school of singing or the Chaka Khan school of singing," Wooten said. "Whitney was the first one who sang that way. Now there's lots of them with Christina Aguilera, Beyonce, Mariah Carey, that whole way of singing is there because of Whitney."
Reached by phone in Buffalo, where he was speaking to public school students, the Denbigh High graduate elaborated on his connection with Houston.
The Wooten Brothers, the band comprised of Joseph and his siblings, signed with Arista Records at the same time as Houston, he said. They also shared a producer, Kashif.
Since Kashif was working with both acts, it was natural that the producer asked Joseph and his drumming brother Roy to add touches to Houston's record. Joseph ended up singing background vocals on her song "Thinking About You," included on Houston's 1985 debut. Roy played some percussion on "You Give Good Love" also from that album.
"She was already professional," Joseph said, thinking back to those days. "Her mother [Cissy Houston] was a professional, so Whitney was already a professional at beginning of her solo career. By that time she'd already sung a duet with Jermaine Jackson. So, among musicians, she was already known for having that great voice. I just got a chance to see it up close."
During that same era, Joseph Wooten also played in a band with Kashif. Wooten said he remembers a rehearsal where the producer arrived with a cassette scratch vocal proclaiming that it contained "the greatest R&B vocalist you've ever heard."
He played the tape of Houston and they could tell that he wasn't exaggerating. "Sure enough, it was some of the best," Wooten said. "To me, the rough vocal of that song was much better than the finished version that ended up on the album -- and the finished version was incredible. For the scratch version, she put her heart into it. The finished version was just more polished. The scratch vocal had more natural, raw one-take passion."
Wooten, who now lives in Nashville, said he didn't get the chance to hang out with Houston much. He did run into her from time to time during that time, though. "She was just a young, fun-loving person. I saw nothing bad," he said. "She and her friends were like normal 19 year olds. She was excited about what was coming.
"The thing that I really remember about Whitney is that she was just really good. When you heard her sing you knew that it was something special. She seemed to carry it well."