Bringing Miles Davis’ famously lost album Rubberband back from the vault after more than three decades was a labor of love for producers Randy Hall and Zane Giles — and for Davis’ nephew Vince Wilburn Jr., who played drums on the session.
“It’s something (Davis) wanted to do, so I think he’d be happy we’re getting it out,” Wilburn says of the 11-song set, whose “So Emotional,” featuring vocals by Lalah Hathaway, is premiering exclusively below. Rubberband was started during October of 1985, after Davis left Columbia Records and signed with Warner Bros. It was to be his first release for his new home, but Rubberband was shelved when label executives thought its contemporary R&B and pop flavor would be too radical of a pivot, and the trumpeter instead teamed with Tommy LiPuma and Marcus Miller for 1986’s equally polarizing Tutu.
“Hopefully (Rubberband) can reach the audiences he wanted to,” Wilburn says. “AT the time the MTV thing was really prevalent. Uncle Miles used to look at MTV with the sound down, and if he saw a group he dug he’d turn the sound up and call the label and have them send him the record — Scritti Politti to Mr. Mister, Toto, Cameo, Prince, Michael Jackson. That’s the sound he was digging. He called my friend Randy Hall and said, ‘Randy, I want a pop hit.’ That’s how the Rubberband project started.”
But Wilburn is quick to defend Davis’ intentions as genuine. “People think he was just selling out, but it’s not selling out. It’s something he really wanted to do,” Wilburn says. “He felt he wanted to go in that direction. It was his intention, just like it was his idea to do (Jackson’s) ‘Human Nature’ and (Cyndi Lauper’s) ‘Time After Time’ later on.”
Wilburn, Hall and Giles added some additional musical elements to the original Rubberband tracks, but the primary work done on the release — due out Sept. 6 — was adding vocalists Hathaway, Ledisi (“Rubberband of Life”) and Hall himself on “I Love What We Make Together.” Wilburn says Chaka Khan, who was supposed to be part of the sessions 34 years ago, KEM and Bruno Mars were also considered. “I had a little bit of reservation about having a (musical) conversation with someone who’s not here to have the conversation with,” notes Hathaway, who considers herself “a bit of a Miles historian.” “But to be on a record with Miles Davis, I took that chance. (Wilburn) assured me about what they were trying to do and they thought I would be the right person to augment the story that’s already there, so I was happy to do it.”
The original sessions, meanwhile, were “very organic but very under the direction of Uncle Miles,” Wilburn remembers. “We’d bring in sketches and Uncle Miles would kind of go home with the dailies and shape them. The tape was always running; He always said it was an idea inside an idea, and it just shaped itself.” Meanwhile the Davis estate is looking at other vaulted projects to finish off and put out, including a full-length collaboration with Prince. There’s also, he says, “enough material for a Rubberband Part 2,” as well as “tons” of material still in the Sony Music vaults.
“What we have to do is be selective, because you want to do it with the audience in mind, what they want to hear,” Wilburn says. “You don’t want to just keep putting out reissues and rehash music. That’s boring. And you lose the audience that way.”