His birth name is Kenneth Edmonds, but he's best known as "Babyface" or simply "Face."
He's even better known by the sound of his songs. Babyface is the brains behind some of pop music's biggest hits, with songwriting and production credits including "I'll Make Love to You" and "End of the Road" by Boyz II Men each of which set records for the most consecutive weeks on top of Billboard's pop singles charts.
Babyface's résumé in the studio reads like a who's who of pop music superstars: Madonna, Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Diana Ross, Eric Clapton, Al Green, Mariah Carey. And that's just the short list.
Babyface has also found considerable success as a performer, known for such hit slow jams as "Whip Appeal" and "When Can I See You Again." He's now on a solo tour that brings him to the Cache Creek Casino Resort on Saturday night.
Babyface is working on a solo album and dividing his time in the studio with sessions for Alicia Keys and Celine Dion. Plus, he recently signed up to be a guest mentor on NBC's "The Voice."
That's to say, Babyface is a pretty busy guy, but he was able to squeeze in some time to talk about his latest projects and the secrets behind his success.
Where do you feel most comfortable on stage performing or in the studio in a producer's chair?
I'm comfortable in both places when it's going on. I'm cool where I'm at. I think what happens most naturally is being in the studio. It takes a little more effort when I go on stage. It takes a second to get into that moment again. I haven't been on the road since November, so I have to get back into the rhythm of it all.
What components need to be there for a successful collaboration in the studio?
Initially, you have to have a good song. It has to be something the artist is excited about doing, even if they're not. They might say, "I dunno," at first. You have to give them a vision to see what it's going to be turned into.
Other than that, it's the process. Some like to work, and some are lazy and don't like to put in work, and don't like the fact they were pushed more than they normally are. I don't know if artists get pushed as much these days with their vocal abilities.
Because if something isn't perfect, they can just rely on Auto-Tune software and studio tricks, right?
Exactly. That's the engineer's part as well. They say, "If it's not good enough, we'll just fix it." Sometimes, Auto-Tuning isn't everything. You have some artists today that refuse to be Auto-Tuned. They want to do it for real. No question, Auto-Tune is a bad word to a lot of artists. Some really need it, and (some) don't want it.
You've worked with some of the biggest artists in pop music history, and some of its biggest personalities as well. What's your approach to working with an artist and trying to connect with them?
You do have to take every artist as an individual. Not the same thing works on everyone. Going in there with that attitude helps immediately. Understanding who they are, that's a big deal to make that connection.
In some cases it's good to sit down and talk. If you just go in and don't have that conversation, it's hard to make that contact. They might also have a certain perception of who you are, even as a producer. A lot of times, people come in and will be very nervous. That's amazing to me.
Has anyone made you nervous?
Stevie Wonder. Michael Jackson. With every artist, I hope I'm good and don't suck. You have to get in that zone of what you're there for. Music is what it's all about and coming from the heart. Once you're in that zone, you're equal with no matter who it is. It's not always easy to get there, but once you're there, it's all good.
You've signed up as a mentor for this season of "The Voice." What will you be emphasizing with the young artist you're coaching?
I'll be working with Cee Lo's team, and I'll kind of do what I do all the time. I'll be giving my opinion of an artist, in terms of ability and what they can do to better themselves.
I've been doing this a long time. Before the studio, I put a good deal of my life playing in clubs and performing, so it's the things that help them shine.
It's all important. You have to sing, but can have a singer that's not necessarily the best but performs well and with a lot of heart. That can often eclipse (anything). It's all about the heart to me.
And what can people expect from your latest live show?
In the past couple years I've been going on the road and having fun with that. I have a great band, and we've been doing a lot of songs from the past, and go through a medley of songs I've written for other artists.
Most of the time, when people think "Babyface" they think it's a night of love songs, but it's quite different. There's a lot of energy and a lot of fun. We laugh and have a good walk down memory lane.
KENNETH "BABYFACE" EDMONDS
What: An evening of R&B hits from one of pop music's most successful songwriters and producers
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Where: Club 88 at Cache Creek Casino Resort, 14455 Highway 16, Brooks
Contact: (800) 772-2243, cachecreek.com