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Anyone who’s seen Ty Causey work a room with his trademark tenor and sexy, Marvin Gaye-inspired style would never believe that this successful, independent musician started out singing into a friend’s ear.
Causey, whose seventh full-length album, False Faces (reviewed on page 8 of this issue), just dropped this month, was painfully shy as a boy and, while devout, often asked to stay home from church to avoid singing in the choir. It didn’t work, and neither did his efforts at anonymity. The friend whose ear he sang into (because he was too timid even to face forward) told the musical director of Fort Wayne’s True Love Baptist Church that he had to hear Causey sing. That man, Marshall White (now director of the Voices of Unity Choir) was the first of many to discover Causey’s boundless talents. Soon, the once shy kid was soloing regularly in front of revival crowds all over the United States.
“I knew I wanted to be a singer,” Causey told me in a recent phone interview. “I wasn’t sure I wanted to stay with gospel, though. As much as I love it, I loved jazz and R&B more.”
Fast forward a few years and Causey was singing in a four-part harmony group called the Collaboration when Najee, an acclaimed R&B sax star, and singers Freddie Jackson and Melissa Morgan swung through town as part of their Tasty Love tour. This would prove to be the second time Causey stunned someone with his voice. Najee’s manager sought out Causey in the Embassy crowd that night and asked if he and the rest of the Collaboration would sing for him in his hotel room.
“He asked us to audition, right there on the spot, a cappella,” Causey said. “He really liked what he heard and asked me if I’d send him a solo demo. Great news, right? Except I had no demo. No solo work at all.”
The phrase “independent musician” is thrown around a great deal these days as a way to describe everything from one-man bands to artists signed to modest labels, but Causey just might be the most independent musician you’ll ever meet. The fact that he had no demo tape to give Najee’s manager did not discourage him. A writer of poetry since his teens, he took a George Duke instrumental song from his shelf, wrote words to it and recorded himself singing along. Then, because he knew it took at least two songs to make a demo, he performed his own version of “Me and Mrs. Jones,” with a karaoke machine as backup.
The result thrilled Najee who asked Causey to fly out to Oakland, California and work with him on his own demo and later, the album Morning Tenderness. By then good friends, Najee and Causey met up for a week, this time in Studio City, to record several songs for the CD. Najee gave Causey some music to work with and asked him to “come up with the rest of the magic.”
“That was a lot of pressure right there,” Causey said. “I couldn’t think of anything for two straight days, and I only had three days left. I read my Bible for inspiration. I did a lot of pacing. Finally, one night I fell into a deep sleep and woke up the next morning, and it just came to me. The song was there, and I recorded it into this little cassette I always carried with me. Later I knocked on Najee’s door and told him I had it. He loved it. He said, ‘Let’s record it right now.’”
That song turned out to be “Just for You,” and Causey’s magic earned him a spot on Najee’s world tour where fan reaction helped solidify for him his choice to devote his life to music.
“Lots of people came up to me during that tour and said, ‘How can we buy your CD? Where can we get it?’ I didn’t have a CD of my own, but I decided then and there never to tour again without something to show for myself. That’s why I’m so prolific. That’s why I’m on album number seven now.”
After the tour with Najee, Causey came home to Fort Wayne, determined to record his own album. The only problem was he couldn’t play any instruments, and his musician friends were all tied up with other projects.
Enter Emma, Causey’s mother and, arguably, his biggest fan.
“My mom decided to take me to Sweetwater and buy me a keyboard,” Causey said. “I didn’t know anything about keyboards, but I knew I needed one that would do it all, and I tried to talk my mom out of it for a while. I didn’t want to waste her money, but she said, ‘You’re smart. I believe in you. You can figure it out.’ At first it just sat in the basement because I was so intimidated by the thing, but eventually I did figure it out because I didn’t want to let my mom down.”
Causey christened the keyboard “Emma” in honor of his mother and used it to record his debut album, N-Tysing, in 2004. He followed that album, which made many “best-of” lists that year, with Love Notes in 2005 and Expressions in 2007. By then, Causey was making a living off of his music. Having worked odd jobs for years as a way to finance his passion, he could finally concentrate solely on his music, and that allowed him to put out Body Language in 2008, True Love in Motion in 2009 and Down II Earth in 2010.
That kind of output is undeniably impressive, but for Causey quality trumps quantity every time. “Every album’s a progression. Every album’s an opportunity for growth,” he said. “False Faces just came out three weeks ago, and I’m already working on my next album, exploring things I’d wanted to do on the last CD but couldn’t somehow.”
The title False Faces is an allusion to people one often meets in the music industry, name-droppers who make a lot of hollow promises before disappearing from your life forever. Causey has met a number of just such people in his career, but as an independent musician who’s happy to call Fort Wayne, Indiana home, he’s been able to minimize their impact on his life and focus on what’s important: the music.
“That’s really what it all comes down to. Passion. Passion and love and hard work. Investing in yourself, too, believing in yourself.”
After roughly 20 years in the business, Causey should know, and now this veteran serves as a role model and mentor to many on the Fort Wayne scene, including up-and-comer Fatima Washington. What other advice does he have for young men and women who, like Causey, are dreaming of the kind of life he’s been able to achieve?
“You can dream all day long, but if you don’t execute, all it will be is a dream. This business isn’t for everyone. You have to have heart, you have to have devotion and you need to have confidence and invest in yourself when no one else will. Get a computer, get a microphone and get to work.”