Blaze are rare artists in this business whose music is truly timeless. You can play their remix of Cold Cut featuring Lisa Stansfield’s pop dance hit, “People Hold On”, and it still sounds as fresh as it did 16 years ago. Within their own track, “Can’t Win for Losing”, you can find lyrics that are forever relevant. Their catalog totals over one hundred and sixty published works, making it the largest catalog produced by any single entity in the genre. As artists and businessmen, they have been involved in almost every facet of the music business—producing, performing, managing, owning and promoting clubs, and distributing music. Not many can come close to the artistry and business of Blaze.
Josh Milan, Kevin Hedge and Chris Herbert started writing music together in 1984. Kevin and Chris are childhood friends, and Josh was a member of the church Chris attended. Chris is a vocalist who wanted to record. Josh is a natural musician who played with the church choir. Kevin is a DJ who spun locally at parties around their native Newark, New Jersey. The three decided to form a production team after Chris introduced Josh to Kevin. He encouraged them to become a recording group. “I don’t really remember when we agreed on the name,” says Hedge. “It was probably an unconscious effort to get close to the idea of Earth, Wind & Fire.” In the beginning, the three would meet in Kevin’s bedroom for writing sessions. This is where they layed the foundation for what they are now most respected – great, spiritually uplifting songs. “Songs have always been our main production focus.” Josh Milan explains. “It’s the lyrics and melodies of our musical heroes that have influenced us the most.” Blaze have influences that range from Stevie Wonder, James Taylor, John Coltrane and beyond. It’s the combination of deeply soulful melodies–their blend of Afro, Jazz, Soul and Gospel– and the positive world views in their lyrics that makes most people compare them to the legendary Earth, Wind & Fire.
”Before it was called ‘house’, it was called ‘club music’,” Hedge says. “It was the music that our older siblings danced to in the clubs.” Clubs like Zanzibar and The Paradise Garage were pounding the New York metro area with a special brand of disco. This music was a little deeper and more edgy than the disco that was pronounced “dead” in 1979. It was more electronic and fundamentally R&B based. Superstar DJs like Larry Levan and Tony Humphries entertained thousands of partygoers weekly, spinning this heavy NY sound. From the late ‘70s to the late ‘80s, this was the music that ruled the clubs and, even more important, the airwaves.
The trio started to develop demo recordings in the style of the day’s popular club music. With “DJ” Kevin at the controls, Josh “the piano man” on the synthesizer and the “lead vocal” stylings of Chris, they turned out song after song for other artists and producers to record. Some included “This Time” by Colonel Abrams knock off Hunter Hayes, “One Man” by Chanelle and “Reachin’” by Phase II. The three ultimately signed their first record deal with the newly formed Quark records in 1985, producing three major club hits of the time; “Whatcha Gonna Do”, “If You Should Need A Friend” and “Can’t Win For Losing”.
The Blaze sound caught the ear of then Motown Vice-president of A&R, Timmy Regisford, who immediately put them to work on numerous Motown projects. “These guys were making productions that were raw enough to move the club, but always kept the integrity of the songs,” says Regisford on Blaze. By now, the Blaze sound was capturing the spirit of dancers in the clubs and the hearts of radio listeners in New York. With so many original productions receiving commercial success, the team was in high demand as remix producers and overdub musicians for other remixers. As remixers, Blaze have worked on projects for Diana Ross, Aretha Franklin, Macy Gray, Jamiroquai, Lisa Stansfield, Babyface, and countless others. As overdub musicians, they have worked with DJ/producers David Morales, Frankie Knuckles, Timmy Regisford, Masters at Work and many others. It was at this point that Regisford decided it was time to take it to the next level. He invited Kevin, Chris and Josh to record a full-length album for the soul music icon, Motown. “25 Years Later”, Blazes’ first long player, was critically acclaimed upon its initial release in 1991 and has since went on to become one of house music’s’ classic albums. “This was the first time we had the time and the budget to experiment with sounds, equipment, and live instruments.” Kevin notes, “This project allowed us to try out the song writing and production styles of our musical heroes.” When listening to “25 Years Later”, you can hear all of Blazes’ influences as well as their signature soulful house sound. Josh reflects, “We really didn’t know what we were doing. We just tried to emulate the productions of artist like Donnie Hathaway, Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield and the many others, who created the soul music of the seventies.” What’s most impressive about this work is they wrote into the lyrics and the interludes concept, over riding theme, a story of a slain civil rights leader who was to be the reincarnation of Malcolm X.
After touring with bands and playing at such incredible venues and cities as Wimbley Arena, most of the Caribbean islands and major cities in the U.S. Following their tour, Blaze returned home to start businesses that included real estate, car services, retail stores and nightclubs (Kevin and Josh co-owned and promoted the Club Shelter in NYC). During this time, Chris decided to continue his career in the now popular hip-hop/R&B music genre, leaving Josh and Kevin to further their careers by writing and producing for other artists and vocalists. “We took this time to reflect on where we had been and what we had done, but moreover where we were going,” says Milan. “It was during this period that we (now only Josh and Kevin) began to find other voices.” Kevin quips, “We really crafted some of the production and writing tricks we are known for today, during that time.”
Hedge and Milan went on to produce three more albums under the Blaze banner: “Basic Blaze” on Slip-n-Slide/UK, “Natural Blaze: The James Toney Jr. Project” on Life Line/Japan and “Spiritually Speaking” on Slip-n-Slide/UK. Also, you will find many compilation albums that comprise some of Blazes’ greatest hits, a few are: “6 Hubert St.” on Avex/Japan, “Pure Blaze” on Easy Street/US, “Blaze Productions” on Playhouse/Germany and “Spiritually Speaking…Then and Now” on West End/US. In 1995,
Blaze scored their biggest writing success with a song called “Hideaway” performed by De’lacy. The song reached the top ten on the UK charts and was added to a vast array of compilations, racking up sales in the millions. Josh and Kevin also penned charts hits for Amira “Desire” and themselves with the #1 dance hit, “Breathe”. This helped to maintain the duo to become one of the most sought after writing, production and remix teams in the business.
After many years of requests from their fans, Kevin and Josh have again started to play and perform their brand of house music live as DJs, musicians and vocalists. “When we do the DJ gigs, we like to add something special to it,” Milan tells us, “We try to give our fans a full experience. While Kevin spins, I add live instrumentation and vocals over the records. We even do a mini-performance of some of the more popular Blaze songs.” Kevin says, “I’ve always been a DJ and love that I can spin records to entertain people.” To see Blaze live is truly a unique experience. No other DJ can double as a live performance artist, performing the hits you know them for as well as rocking the party with the hippest soulful sounds.
”You get the full package, a DJ and a [performance].” explains Iko, a Japanese promoter.
Today, Blaze are involved in various other productions and businesses. Currently, the two have partnered with the “God Father of Disco”, Mel Cheren, to re-launch his seminal dance imprint, West End Records. “I feel Kevin and Josh’s music is the perfect match for West End’s legacy. They produce danceable R&B songs. Not only are they great artist, but they are also good businessmen,” Cheren proudly announces. “Our goal is to do what the label has always done – release great music that will stand the test of time,” says Hedge, who serves as president. Musically, the group has collaborated with super DJ/Producer Louie Vega (one half of the production team Masters at Work) to assist him with producing his first solo album, “Elements of Life”. Vega on Blaze states, “Blaze are pioneers in our house music community. I’ve been lucky enough to watch them become masters as songwriters, producers and artists. I was honored to work with them on the songs ‘Elements of Life’ and ‘Brand New Day’. In retrospect, I learned a valuable musical lesson from my experiences with Blaze. There were more emotions inside of me that needed to be expressed, but it couldn’t grow without the fostering I received from so many people, beginning with Blaze
” Finally, after 19 years on the scene, Josh Milan and Kevin Hedge are just as current as they were then, producing relevant hits today as they did back in 1985. “We see ourselves as tools being used by the universe helping to bring lyrical messages and melodies to the world,” Kevin explains, “Music is communication. Ideas come to us from the spirit of creation.” The Blaze Jazz album will be our next gift from the Creator. Blazing the past, present and future.