After Monarch sponsored MUSEXPO, A&R Worldwide’s recent night of international live artists, we toasted the evening to a close in the heart of Hollywood. Our team kept the party rolling down the block with prolific composer and music producer Colin Wolfe. Searching for a spot with a late-night pour, Wolfe gave a “no big deal” nod to a nondescript building we passed, “It was right in there that Dre and I worked on ‘The Chronic.’ ”
That gave us all the kind of jawdrop one can learn to expect when in the company of Wolfe. He has a creative and jovial nature and carries himself with a friendly and down-to-earth style – even though he’s been working with some of the biggest names in music for decades.
The unassuming building in question was once the location of SOLAR Records and is now the home of Realsongs Dianne Warren Music Company – with a history of recordings from Babyface and Warren herself. Countless hip hop fans might pass the place right by without knowing it was the birthplace of one of the most seminal albums in rap history… with Colin Wolfe creating right at the heart of it.
21… Ways to Grow
If you own an instrument, the odds are that Colin can play it, but the first one he ever laid his fingers on was a piano. His first time at the keys was actually due to the urgings of two of his cousins – who are each blind… but that hadn’t stopped them from becoming wonders at many instruments themselves. Seeing their prowess was inspiring to Wolfe, and it wasn’t long before he was moving on to drums, bass, and guitar.
He was raised up on Earth Wind and Fire, The Ojays, and Curtis Mayfield. Colin’s love of music flourished as he studied the work of musicians he would later work with – like The Jackson 5 and Parliament-Funkadelic. He had even learned French horn and trumpet by the time of his first gig – a wild 6th grade lunchroom blast of “Day Tripper” at Baldwin Hills Elementary. High school added an appreciation of bassist John Paul Jones and the favorite band of this article’s writer, Led Zeppelin.
Wolfe wasn’t a year out of elementary school before he started landing his first professional gigs, providing the music for full shows like “The Fantasticks” and “Grease” for a nearby inner-city cultural center.
It was at the China Club in 1988, however, when Colin would make the impression that would truly catapult his career. He had been chosen to open for Jimmy ‘Z’ Zavala – an artist known for working with everyone from The Eurythmics to Etta James. Zavala had just started working with Ruthless Records. That connection made the evening lifechanging for Colin. It was the night he first played in front of Dr. Dre.
Let Me Ride
Immediately after, Dre took Wolfe under his wing to join him in his Torrance studio and work on material for the legendary N.W.A., “Sometimes Ren would stop by. Other times if was just me and Dre. The first thing we did was ‘100 Miles and Runnin.’ ” Wolfe has been running ever since – chasing every opportunity and working with some incredible musicians. When a fire in Dre’s Calabasas home moved their work into a Malibu beach house, Colin met Warren G – who also needed his help.
Colin’s career is a whirlwind of spectacular work leading to other amazing relationships like that – and there’s always a vibrant story with each one. He remembers drinking Heineken with Timothy Leary in the dressing room while he was on tour with Michelle Phillips. Wolfe has high-flying memories of another tour opening up for MC Hammer, “This was right in his heyday, that was a really crazy show.” The capper of it all was being part of the entourage that traveled on Hammer’s own 727 airplane.
Bass is perhaps the instrument on which Wolfe has performed his most acclaimed work. Beyond his own recordings, he’s also the credited bassist on tracks by N.W.A., Madonna, Boyz II Men, Janet Jackson, Monica, OutKast, TLC, and Michael Jackson. Colin’s tight and powerful bass work can be heard in recordings ranging in styles – everything from Aretha Franklin’s “A Rose Is Still A Rose” to “Possibly Maybe” by Björk.
CrazySexyCool In Atlanta
Colin’s career often took him outside his LA home, but what landed him in Georgia for seven years was a fruitful relationship with Dallas Austin – the prolific producer who has worked with everyone from Bell Biv DeVoe and Paula Abdul to Lionel Ritchie and Orville Peck, “It was a good time to be in Atlanta. It was just booming. Kris Kross, Usher, and Toni Braxton had just come out… then the Olympics came through!” Wolfe’s partnership with Austin would lead to work with artists like Monica, TLC, and many more.
After becoming a part of Austin’s production team… “You only went home to change clothes – and that might only be after a couple of days!” Colin spent countless hours at “D.A.R.P.” – the Dallas Austin Recording Projects – with the only break usually being Sunday dinners at Dallas’ mother’s house, “After a while I helped her cook some of the dishes. It was a great time to be in Atlanta. It was good to just be in the South and experience it. I love to get out of my comfort zone. Travel to other places. Be uncomfortable and be afraid and go for it, you know?”
Those years were packed with incredible relationships with some of the biggest names in pop history, “Madonna and I would go jogging for five or six miles and then we’d all go to the studio.” He remembers, during the recording of her album Bedtime Stories, marveling at Madonna finding her lyrics right there in the studio – often from her own personal journal of poems… or right off the top of her head.
Sometimes it’s the tiny details of working with giants – like early morning jogs with Madonna – that are the most fascinating to hear when asking Colin about his career. He remembers Michael Jackson as being the kind of guy that “wouldn’t just walk by you – he’d stop and talk to you in the kitchen and see how you were doin’. He’d work so hard. He was a beast.” Colin’s bass work can be heard on Jackson’s track, “This Time Around.”
Wolfe’s years at DARP were filled with stories of writing bass lines for Aretha Franklin and barbequing out front with one of his greatest heroes – George Clinton – “I’m a big Parliament-Funkadelic fan. The Chronic was heavily influenced by them, so it was in my blood. I was primed and ready for that one.” It was just another example of Colin getting to work with the very same legends that shaped his musical evolution as a kid. Colin’s bass is featured on Clinton’s “If Anybody Gets Funked Up (It’s Gonna Be You).”
Wild ‘n tha West
Eventually the momentum of Colin’s life shifted back to his Los Angeles home and working on projects of his own. Most of these lean heavily into commentary on current issues and “kind of everything that’s going on right now.” An example of that is “Shadows,” the newest single from his band, Sound – a rock and roll anthem trying to make sense of our current homeless crisis. Start following the band on Instagram.
Like with his work with Sound, Colin loves to join forces with powerful vocalists to match his musicianship. An amazing recent release that illustrates this is “16,” a soulful dedication to the real-life death of a young man lost to the corrupt NYC police and prison system. The track features vocals by H’Atina that are beautiful, haunting, and powerful. Find it here.
When Colin is working solo, however, it’s under the moniker “Soul Man” – his solo project of modern delta blues that focuses on a monthly Artist’s Showcase in the Los Angeles area. During the summer, he loves to open up his porch so people can enjoy his live music, “We call that ‘The Porch Series’ – we do it like a live rehearsal to get over the fear of playing in front of people. Just be loose and have fun and go for it.”
It wouldn’t be a Monarch feature, however, without asking Colin about wine – which is a whole other passion for him. His favorites belong to his good friend from high school, an old cross country teammate – Greg Brewer, of Brewer-Clifton Wines (a Wine Enthusiast Winemaker of the Year is a great friend to have). Together they organized a winery event called “Bubbles & Bass,” with Colin on bass and Greg himself on drums. It’s a groove oriented but melodic mix of sounds ranging from soul to jazz. A gorgeous night that personifies Monarch’s vibe — we’re sure it will delight all of your senses as well.
From wineries under the Los Olivos stars to the heavy bass power of The Chronic, Colin Wolfe is an artist who is always worth listening to. Be on the lookout for further collaborations between Wolfe and Monarch – we’ll be sure to make it a delicious pairing for the lips and ears as well.
For Kevin, being a writer has always required a great deal of wine. He never dreamed he’d be able to combine his love for the two. His screenwriting includes works for Paramount, MTV, Warner Brothers, 20th Century Fox, Bad Robot, and his role as Executive Story Editor on “Blood & Treasure,” an action adventure show on CBS and Amazon. Before that, his thirst for sketch comedy led to pieces for The Onion and National Lampoon – as well as the stages of UCB, HBO Workspace, Comedy Central Stage and festivals in San Francisco, NYC, Vancouver and beyond. He’s a write-at-home dad always ready for a winery road trip… especially a dog-friendly one.