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Sullee forth (continued)

It’s hardly hardcore, but that’s not the sound he’s after — Sullee sings about parties because Sullee likes to party. Still, if this first single ends up bumping out of souped-up sound systems and open windows come spring, it’ll be a tribute to the bulldog tenacity of a father/son team playing the game hard. It’s not often these days that songs on independent labels explode big on the radio, especially not commercial pop stations. But they’re doing it this way because they knew that signing with a major label — and several big names were interested, says Bob — wouldn’t be smart business.

"He literally woulda been a slave to them four, five years, minimum! I mean, he woulda had to go platinum three times to see a paycheck. They woulda gave him a $50,000 or $100,000 signing bonus, but that would’ve been it!"

"You gotta pay that back," adds Sullee.

"And not only that," says Bob, "but anything they did, right, wrong, or indifferent, you gotta pay back."

"Let’s just say that this is our record company, including you," Sullee posits, gesturing around the table at the three of us. "And you and he go to have a meeting about me. Well, why not go have the meeting in New York at the Four Seasons?! Because," he waggles his finger, pointing at me as if I’m the CEO, "you’re not paying for it. It’s coming out of my money before I even see a check.

"On the other hand," he points at his dad, "I know he’s not going to the Four Seasons. Because I’m not gonna let him."

So they have their meetings in their Hingham kitchen. And that’s fine. Owning Old South End Records means they’ve got to be in it to win it — with this much of their own green sunk into the project, of course they do. But it also means that the Sullivans have complete control of who Sullee the musician is, and what he becomes. "We have distribution through Warner Brothers, so we have no problem getting the album out," Bob says. "The album will be distributed nationally, so that’s not a problem for us. So the only thing a major label can bring to us is more money. But then they just take it all back, so it doesn’t matter."

It also doesn’t matter, necessarily, that an artist is on an indie label, if he has the backing of someone like singer-songwriter-producer Teddy Riley. Riley, the "King of New Jack Swing," whose work with Bobby Brown, Wreckx-N-Effect, Jennifer Lopez, and his own Blackstreet has made him a hip-hop and R&B giant, heard about this white kid in Boston through a mutual friend, and he was intrigued. Sullee remembers taking a phone call last spring from Riley, just feet from where we’re sitting.

"My father said, ‘Teddy Riley’s on the phone.’ " He mimes a look of dumbstruck awe. "I’m like, ‘Hullo?’ I heard his voice, and I knew it was him. I’ve been listening to him since I was little." The Sullivans drove down to Riley’s studio in Virginia Beach. Sullee laid down some tracks. He hung out with Bustah Rhymes and Spliff Star. There was supposed to be a return visit for a month’s worth of work, but Riley’s a busy guy, and scheduling snafus nixed the plan. Instead, in May, Riley drove up to Massachusetts, winding his gargantuan mobile recording studio right down Hingham’s quiet seaside streets.

"A friend of mine sent me several demos, and I didn’t like them," Riley recalls. "Because of the mix they had. I said, ‘Y’know what? I don’t like the production, but I think I can fix it, and I can work with this kid, because he does have a hook, and he’s got something that stands out. What attracted me to him was his humbleness. He’s a very soft-spoken kid, but the attention automatically comes to him; when he gets on stage to show his talents, his talents speak for themselves. He’s gonna do pretty well. He’s gonna do really well. I think it’s going to be big, and I think it’s going to be great for him. Because of us being a family together."

"Teddy came up here and stayed at the house for a week," Sullee beams. "We invited everybody. Our whole house was open to whoever wanted to come. But when we had to do a session, nobody was allowed to talk. There had to be silence so we can record." With Riley in the studio-on-wheels and Sullee spitting rhymes in his parents’ basement, they set to work. "We hooked up the bus that was parked out front [to] a microphone downstairs in my room. And then we set up two computers, so we had a video conference. He could see me and I could see him, and we could really have a conversation to get the best music out."

Sullee had recorded an early prototype of It’s Time in 2003. But he calls it an "experiment," aimed at "finding a style for myself." ("None of ’em’s available now," Bob says. "We knew we were going back to the drawing board, and that wouldn’t have been fair. So what I did was I e-mailed all the people who bought it, and told ’em I’d replace it with the new one." That’s a tall order; he estimates that more than 10,000 copies were originally sold.)

It was during that recording session that the Sullivans met Billy Squier, the Wellesley Hills native whose guitar-heavy smash hits "My Kinda Lover" and "The Stroke" are the quintessence of ’80s FM-radio hard rock, and whose "The Big Beat" is one of the most-sampled tracks in hip-hop. Sullee was recording a song that sampled "The Stroke"; one of his engineers, who also moonlighted on the Howard Stern Show, met Squier at Stern’s studio and told him about this kid from Squier’s home state who was redoing one of his songs.

"He tells him, ‘I work with this kid, this white kid, this rapper out of Boston, and he just redid ‘The Stroke,’ " Bob Sullivan recalls. "[Squier] says. ‘You know something? I just got a letter from the attorneys to clear that. You got their telephone number? I’m going to call them.’ So he calls us, and says, ‘I’m not going to clear the sample. But I will ... go in the studio ... and work live with you.’ I think he liked the whole concept. The father, the son. Me trying to help him. He knows how tough the business is. He believed in us."

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Issue Date: December 17 - 23, 2004
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