A Conversation With Michelle John And Sharon White
The BV’s! Sharon White and Michelle John were gracious enough to give Where’s Eric! some of their time backstage at Madison Square Garden before what was perhaps the last proper Eric Clapton concert in the USA on 3 May 2015. Both vocalists have toured and recorded with EC for more than a decade. So, it was less of an interview and more of a conversation between old mates with some questions thrown in for good measure. Below are highlights from the wide ranging discussion. The full text will appear in the next issue of Where’s Eric! Magazine (though we spared readers the parts about shoes, hair, makeup and the best places to bargain hunt in Manhattan).
The interview was conducted by long-time WE! staff, Barry Fisch and Linda Wnek. Back in 2007, Barry conducted the first interview with Sharon and Michelle along with WE! Editor, Tony Edser. It appeared in Issue 40 of the magazine.
BF: What did you think of Friday night’s show?
MJ: Thought it was really really good, but, the sound. There were sound issues for us.
BF: It sounded great in the hall.
MJ: Everybody said that in the hall it sounded great, but for us, on stage, it was quite difficult where we were. It took a minute to kind of settle.
BF: Well to my ears, you couldn’t tell you weren’t hearing yourselves. You seemed to be right on the money throughout.
LW: I thought it sounded great, too. Overall, the Garden has sounded so much better since the renovation. Steve hits his kit so hard and there used to be horrible slap back. There was none of that Friday night.
MJ: You know the other thing is as well, if you noticed, when the other guitarists come on they’re right in front of me and Shar. So at some points we only have to deal with Eric, then we have Johnny (Mayer) which is another guitar right in front of us, then when Derek and Doyle come out there’s TWO guitars in front of us….see what I’m saying? It’s a whole other change in the sound for us.
BF: You’re not used to having so many changes going on unless it’s Crossroads or something.
SW: But we can handle it!
SW: As Eric said when we first joined, when asked how are the new BV’s? “LOUD!!” That is how we were described when we first got here. So we handle it!
BF: So you were here in New York City rehearsing for a week. What went down then? Did the special guests come in and rehearse?
MJ: Yes. First we had a couple of days ourselves. When you’ve had a long break it takes a minute for everyone to get settled again. You’ve got to re-familiarize yourself with the songs, and obviously doing a couple of different things. So it takes us a couple of days to sort of settle in. And also to catch up with each other…how’s the kids, how’s this, how’s that, I’ve got a headache, you know (laughs). But that’s all part of the bonding process.
SW: I don’t think we have a lot of rehearsal, because when we come in, from day one, it’s like we just pick up from where we left off.
BF: Like riding a bicycle.
SW: Yes. We also had an extra day booked for rehearsals in case we needed it, and I think even before the last day Eric already said it’s tight, we’re good.
BF: I thought “Let It Rain” was my favorite part of the show.
SW: Really? I also said that too.
MJ: I enjoyed that moment. We’re in agreement there Barry!
SW: It was great to have Doyle and Derek, like old times.
BF: 2007 wasn’t it?
MJ: They’re like our naughty brothers on the tour. We were always getting up to mischief.
LW: Did you get up to any mischief in New York?
MJ: We haven’t had time! The wives and husbands and partners are here so we can’t do that anymore (laughs).
SW: But we miss them man, they’re our brothers. Oh my gosh.
BF: Michelle, tell us what the Unity Radio Project is all about.
MJ: The Unity Radio Project is about a radio station that really promotes up and coming artists. It’s trying to create a platform just to support musicians; artists that are new that can’t really get on to mainstream radio as it stands. I’ve been doing some work with them and they’ve been supporting and promoting my music. It’s been very very cool!
LW: How do we listen?
MJ: It’s online at unityradioonline.com
BF: Michelle, tell us about the Ronnie Scott’s gig.
MJ: Yes! It was awesome! I mean obviously I’ve done Ronnie Scott’s a number of times as a backing singer, which is great, but to actually do my own night was super fantastic! It was great, the musicians were great…..it’s like playing here (Madison Square Garden). There’s certain kudos about playing the Garden. So many great people have played there. So I felt like “yeah!”
BF: Like you’ve made it to that level.
MJ: Yeah. It’s like a little step up. I’m just now trying not to step down! (laughs). But it was incredible and I got a lot of support that night which is fantastic.
BF: Do you think that will happen again?
MJ: Yeah, they asked me to come back in August I think.
BF: Shar, what follow up to “Sensual”, that magnificent single you had can we expect?
SW: Right now I’ve been doing so many things. Since my dear mother passed on, my album came to a grinding halt. I started it before she passed (2012). And during her passing, even while she was in hospital I was still doing the album, but it has come to a halt at the moment.
MJ: Just for a moment!
SW: It won’t resume until sometime this year, and I expect to have it out early next year (2016).
BF: Michelle, anything more coming since you’re EP “Little Me”?
MJ: In July I’ll be putting out a single, and then the album hopefully to be released in September.
LW: Will this be for download or will there be a physical CD?
MJ: Both. You kind of do well with physical at gigs. People tend to buy your CDs at shows.
BF: Another thing I know you’re involved in is the “Oh No She Didn’t, Oh Yes She Did”. Tell us about that.
MJ: Basically what it is, in the UK music scene, because Shar and I have been around for a while, we do have a lot of up and coming singers that want to reach out to us and get advice, practical help, because I do a lot of vocal coaching and workshops and whatever. I thought you know what, there’s no platform, especially for young women, so I decided to create a platform with my own personal journey (with me going through domestic violence and all this kind of thing) and have a bit of a heart and passion for women, you know? So I thought there’s no platform (in the UK anyway) for us to have like a girls night where women come whether they do poetry or music or acoustic or whatever. So I thought why don’t I just do it then? So that’s what I started to do.
BF: So what is it like once a month? A showcase?
MJ: Yes. Like a showcase. The whole thing is just about supporting each other and trying to create a bit of a network supporting other women’s music. You know what goes on, it can be very catty and bitchy.
SW: It’s not just music. Even to talk about their personal life; if someone says they had a shit night last night or a problem with their husband. It’s not like Christian based, its very community based.
MJ: We really want it to be an empowering evening. So we have people that have got a lot of experience in the business and absolute newcomers, so there’s a whole balance; there’s a bit of giving back, you know what I mean? By just using arts to kind of bridge that gap. We’ve had artists come down and sell their art; we’ve got ladies who’ve created beautiful jewelry. And it’s been growing, which we didn’t expect.
BF: Are these being recorded at all?
MJ: Yeah we’re having them filmed. And we actually had Channel 4, one of the TV networks come down and film a night. So they’re talking to me about doing a bit of a music show on one of the satellites, which I just never expected! So it’s really cool. I’ve been offered a radio show as well. So I’m kind of like I never expected this and it was not my plan. I just did something because I thought it was the right thing to do.
BF: So it’s snowballing into something much bigger.
SW: And she did “Bring Back Our Girls” which was very good.
MJ: We did a charity single to highlight the girls that were stolen in Nigeria. So I just managed to get about 65 women and we had it mixed and mastered at Abbey Road and everything.
SW: It was 100 women. There were about 100 of us.
MJ: It was not that it was a plan, but it had taken on its own energy and it was really cool!
BF: Wow, that’s wonderful!
SW: So you try and take this platform and you try and do something positive with it.
BF: So the two of you have been……
MJ: Oh my god a bloody marriage this is!
BF: The two of you have been a constant in Eric’s band for all this time as other musicians come and go. How long has it been?
MJ: Twelve years.
BF: What are some memorable moments? I ask because we’re now in this coming to an end phase, so now would be a good time for some reflection perhaps.
MJ: That’s really really hard. What’s really memorable to me is like when I started with Eric my son was four years old. Some of Eric’s daughters weren’t born yet. I think Julie was born. I think Ella was born maybe that year we started with Eric. So what’s really funny is every year when we do the Albert Hall all the kids come and you see them all together and after five minutes they’re the best of friends again. It’s just very weird now when you see them and you know, the girls have a little make-up, my son’s got hair on his chin, do you know what I mean? So that kind of makes you know….bloody hell we’ve been here a while! So the things like this that we’ve done with the family, the kids and all.
SW: My memorable moments….the thing that will always stay with me I think is just this past year when Eric first started singing “Tears in Heaven”. I didn’t think as long as we were here that he would ever sing that; we’ve been here twelve years. So that. The first time he sang that on stage Michelle and I were a mess. We were literally brought to tears up there. Thank god that Dave had the lights dark! We managed to get through it, but for me….I looked at Michelle, she looked at me, her face was wet, mine was wet and we had to keep pressing through. We sang “Tears in Heaven” with Eric. We were always told he will never do it. We were here for that moment.
BF: Do you have any inkling as to why he chose to bring it back?
SW: I was talking to Michelle; I asked that question why. I think she did say it was about him doing it in the style. Do you remember that Michelle? The style of how he was doing it; to kind of take the edge off.
MJ: Make it happier. I don’t think anyone ever gets over a thing like that, but I think there comes a time when you make peace with it. So I think now, doing the song in that reggae style, in his mind and his words, it makes it happier. It puts a more joyful spirit on it. I think it now takes on another meaning.
BF: Time heals.
MJ: Time heals you know.
SW: That’s right.
MJ: So, that’s quite big.
SW: That’s my most memorable moment. It will always be.
BF: So if this is it then, what happens next? Will you be working together with other people?
MJ: We do work together with other people.
BF: But will it continue?
MJ: Absolutely, whenever the opportunities come. And we both do our own things and we both support each other.
SW: But never say never. For me, and I think I can speak for Michelle, it’s NOT the end. I never say it’s the end.
MJ: Whenever he says that anyway we both say, whatever.
BF: But he wrote it in the tour program this time.
SW: That’s the tour program! (Everybody laughs). We’re in the book! We’re in the drudge!
BF: The reality!
SW: This is the book. For me, I don’t think it’s closed. But Eric also has a family who loves him dearly and yes, he will be spending time with them as well. So far it’s been a beautiful, beautiful journey with Eric.
BF: This has been like a family in and of itself.
BF: So if it really comes to an end it will be breaking up.
SW: And we’ve worked with some amazing musicians. Billy Preston! And Billy hit us because he was rehearsing before he was going to join us on tour and that’s when we heard that he had passed.
MJ: Because he was going to be a part of the tour and it was like he died about two months before the tour started, so that was quite sad you know.
SW: He was a great musician. And for Paul to be singing “You Are So Beautiful” as well. Michelle and I, we were messed up there again. Eric was saying in rehearsal he doesn’t know why we didn’t sing it with Billy.
MJ: It was just an oversight wasn’t it?
SW: So it was great that he dedicated it to Billy the other night.
BF: One last question….is there anything you’d like to say to the Eric Clapton fans now that (let’s assume) the touring is over. You’ve been all over the world meeting people; and so friendly and accessible as you guys are. I see all the photos, so is there anything you’d want to say to everybody?
SW: What I’d like to say to the Eric Clapton fans is thank you for embracing us. It was hard in the beginning. We took over from two amazing women, Tessa (Niles) and Katie (Kisoon); we didn’t want to take anything away from them. We know how loyal Clapton’s fans are, so thank you for embracing us and accepting us into the family!
MJ: I would echo that. I would also say thank you to everyone that supports us as well as individuals because that’s very very cool. You know, we love what we do and we just hope that whatever we do is respectful of the music, respectful of Eric, and we’ll see you guys down the road!