Interviews

Published on September 21st, 2019 | by Percy Crawford

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Dave Tolliver (Of Men At Large) Remakes Gerald Levert’s ‘Baby I’m Ready’; Announces Tour On The Way!

Dave Tolliver’s career spans over 27-years with Gold and Platinum records to his credit. And the big man, with the big voice from Cleveland, Ohio is just getting started.

Men At Large burst onto the scene in 1992 with their self-titled album, “Men At Large.” Founded by R&B legend, Gerald Levert, the duo not only proudly boasted their size, but showcased big voices to match. That album produced one of the greatest dedication songs ever made, “So Alone.” “So Alone” was a tribute to, Dave Tolliver’s mom who had passed away and pulled on the heartstrings of anyone who gave the record a spin. It reached #5 on the Billboard 100 for R&B/Hip Hop singles. In 1994 they released their sophomore album, “One Size Fits All,” which featured, “Don’t Cry,” a collaboration with R&B heavyweights, Gerald Levert and Keith Sweat. They would release two more studio albums with the last being released in 2007. The consistent member of the group, Dave Tolliver looks to embark on a solo career and he’s off to a great start. He leaned on the man that discovered them in the early 90’s for his first single, remaking, Gerald Levert’s, “Baby I’m Ready.”

I recently spoke with, Mr. Tolliver to discuss the single, the popularity of, “So Alone” and why he feels “Men At Large” deserves a slot on TV One’s “Unsung!”

How’s it going, brother?

Dave Tolliver: Everything is good. I can’t complain. Nobody want to hear that mess, man. I’m great.

Gerald Levert’s catalog is timeless, plentiful and impactful. What made, “Baby I’m Ready” the song you wanted to touch and remake?

Dave Tolliver: I think that one was the one that resonated the most with me and the good times we had with him. When we were fist starting out and we were on tour with him all the time, that was just the record that he would be singing, and the ladies would be going crazy. We’d be on the side of the stage, learning and watching. He would look to us and give you that head movement like, “Come here,” and he would hand us mics. Every time he was somewhere, he would have a mic for us to come out and just bond. And when I came to Atlanta, I was doing independent stuff, and nobody knew… they knew my records, but they didn’t know my records and they weren’t really adamant about learning them and playing them; even though they are simple. Long story short, I started singing, “Baby I’m Ready.” When I showed up for one of the showcases or the live music nights, they knew to put that on. I was like, “Man, I need to go ahead and record this,” because the response I was getting from it was crazy.

You definitely didn’t do it a disservice and I like it because you put your own spin to it. That could be dangerous sometimes when you’re touching a classic. What made you deliver it in the manner in which you did?

Dave Tolliver: I knew that I would get acceptance. I just kind of knew that because I felt like if anybody had rite of passage it was me. I just wanted to do it my way because that’s what he would have expected from me. He wouldn’t have expected me to mimic what he did. He would have wanted me to do it my way. I kept its essence true to form as far as the skeletons of the song, but I put, Dave Tolliver on there, ya dig.

That was a must. And for the people that don’t know, Gerald Levert discovered, “Men At Large.” Was that just a Cleveland connection or is it deeper than that?

Dave Tolliver: It was by a Cleveland connection. The first time he saw us, man was in 1986 in Cleveland. One of the DJ’s that work for this radio station was doing music. He sang and had a concert and then he had an after party at his crib. We were at the crib and Gerald came. We would always run around with this Casio keyboard with tape on the back to hold the batteries in. I’m going to condense it for you, he came, we sang, and he was like, “Yo, I’m gonna hook ya’ll up.” That was in ’86 when, “Pop Pop Pop” first started coming on. That was the biggest throwdown. Knowing what I know about the business, I know it’s not easy to just jump in and help somebody like that. Not for everybody. Some people, yeah, but not for everybody.

I didn’t see him again for like 3-years, man. They were touring and doing their thing and blowing up. At that time, I was dancing for a group called, “Johnny O and the Sorcerer Crew.” Me and my homeboy, Leon Cloyd [Bay Bay], who passed away about a year ago. We used to call ourselves, “Big Steps.” We were in a studio and we were coming out of the house and Gerald was coming in and he was like, “Yo, I had been looking for you. I have this idea for a group with 3-big guys that can sing, dance and were cute.” Two weeks later we went to the studio, we auditioned, and it took us about 3-years to get everything together; touring with him before our stuff dropped. We were going through all of the business stuff and rehearsing and making sure that we were the best that we could be. And in May of 1992, that first single dropped, “Use Me.”

“So Alone” is such a timeless and perfectly executed song, does it feel like it has been 27-years since its release and are you surprised by its impact?

Dave Tolliver: It seems like it was just yesterday, man. Time is moving so fast. It’s so much stuff going on in my life throughout the years, I don’t even remember half of the stuff that happened back then. But it just seems like it all happens so fast. I have a son that is a senior in college and a daughter will be starting high school next year. It’s like, where did all the time go? It’s crazy.

This record though, I think the reason why it still resonates today, and people hear it and they fall in love with it… I think when they find out the true meaning of what the song was about. It wasn’t really a love song. I was singing to my mother. My mother had passed away. I think when people found out about that, it became a staple like the, Spinners song, the “Sadie” record. Everybody loves their mom, good, bad or indifferent. Even if your mom is like the worse crackhead on the street, for some reason you just can’t let her go. You dig what I’m saying?

No doubt!

Dave Tolliver: Everybody love their momma, brother. Ain’t nobody going to love you like your momma.

The crazy part about it, it took me a few years to realize that it was a dedication to your mom because you have to get really caught up in the lyrics to hear the shout out to her.

Dave Tolliver: Yeah man. I think it got through eventually because it was a song like, “Love,” by Musiq Soulchild. Cats that were born in the 70’s and 80’s, they used to call their ladies, “momma.” “Come here, momma.” But I was really talking to my momma. “Can’t nobody take your place. There will never be another like you.” But it still relates to those same subject matters. I’ve had people on the road come up to me like, “Man, I used to get so much ass off of that.” And I used to be like, “That’s dope. But you know that was about my mom?” “Oh, my bad dog. I’m sorry.” And I would never get mad. It’s like, “Man, it’s good.” I would just tell them the true meaning behind the song.

I’m not sure if you check YouTube, but it has over 3-million views and all of the comments are people posting the date of when they lost a loved one and others saying that they cry every time they hear the song. That’s powerful.

Dave Tolliver: It’s a blessing, man. I had to tell one of my more famous counterparts who was complaining about how his phone was always ringing. I said, “Dude, you better be worried about when your phone stop ringing because for groups like us, sometimes the phone rings and sometimes the phone don’t.” You have to take every win, every loss, every struggle, every victory as a blessing because you could not be doing it. I’m just really grateful and honored that people are still rocking with that song. And there are younger cats who are really getting into it too. I think it’s amazing. When they cry to it, you can tell them I cry with them.

Every year my birthday comes, July 30th… that was the last time that I saw my mother in 1990. So, 3-days later next time I saw her, she was on the slab. So, I cry with them. Still to this day, when we perform the song, sometimes I get emotional. June 7th in Cincinnati in Washington Park, I kind of got emotional. The band was going, the crowd was going crazy, and I kind of loss it a little bit, couple of tears or whatever. It’s been that many years, but that pain never goes away. You just have to lean on the happy times that ya’ll had, man. If there were any happy times that you had, you just have to lean on those and know that life goes on. You have to keep moving forward because if you sit still everybody going to pass you by. They are going to sit with you on that day of mourning. The repass. Get all of that free liquor and food and then everything else keeps revolving and keeps going. You have to live your best life, be exemplary of what your mom or whoever it is that you’re representing going forward and just live life the best that you can without hurting people.

What lessons did you learn from being around, Gerald Levert?

Dave Tolliver: I learned that he was a consummate professional and the only way to win is to keep working nonstop. Another thing that I learned from him, it’s not really something positive, but trusting your own information. A lot of times, there were conflict within the camp because somebody said this, or somebody said that. Without really finding out the truth, you would just jump on the side of where the information came from. That was one thing I learned, and just being a perfectionist when you’re writing and making your music, so when you leave the microphone, you leave it smoking, man. That’s what I try to do. If you see my videos of me singing live or just playing around, I leave it smoking, man. That’s what you’re supposed to do. I burn it down.

We have to get, “Men At Large” on TV One’s “Unsung.” I know that’s something you have been vocal about. Let me ask you this because I feel I always learn something new from that show. What would we learn about, “Men At Large” that we didn’t previously know from a show like, “Unsung?”

Dave Tolliver: You will find out that we screwed ourselves. In the long run we would have had a greater body of work, on a more successful level, had we known about the business and had the right people around us to guide us. Instead of using the parent company representatives and stuff like that, their not working for you, their working for them. We had the same type of deal that, “Silk,” “TLC,” and Toni Braxton and all of them had. But they were all just smart enough to go back and renegotiate their deal. We didn’t do that, we thought that we were that hot… and we were, man. Two fat dudes coming out of Cleveland, cats were going crazy. Girls didn’t like big dudes back in the day. Heavy D kind of started it off, but they didn’t really like big dudes. And then we came out and started singing, it was like, “Oh shoot! I’m coming to your room after this.”

We didn’t grow up in impoverished situations. We had problems after the deal. That’s when everything went amuck, and everything went awry. I think those are the stories that are the, “Unsung” stories. A lot of guys that you see on, “Unsung” are stories are people that… I don’t want to say that they are in the mass pop, but they are still thriving a lot. And to me, unsung means, you never got your just do. People call us legends and this, that and the third, but I do not feel that we have gotten our just do. And a lot of times that goes with the body of work and me and my original partner, Jason [Champion], we separated halfway through it and I hooked up with another guy named, Gemini Porter. I don’t think people really accepted that switch. They accepted it, but they didn’t accept it. Because it was different.

And I’ll be honest, I love both of my bros, but it’s like, if you’ve been driving a Range Rover all of this time and then you go to a Volkswagen Beetle… it’s still a nice car, but that Range was so comfortable. And that’s the difference. Nothing against a Volkswagen, but the handling is different. And that’s how it differed in the way that things came out vocally and stage presence wise. It was going from a Range Rover to a Volkswagen. But I just felt like I could carry it, and because I had to and because I did, that’s what I’m really so focused on my solo stuff right now. Shout out to my man, Adrian Meeks at Song Source Musc Group (SSMG). Some guys really getting behind me to help me make my dream come true with this solo mission, man.

You are preparing to go on a, “Baby I’m Ready” tour. Is that something we could look forward to in the near future?

Dave Tolliver: What city are you in?

I’m right outside of New Orleans.

Dave Tolliver: If ya’ll book it, I’m coming. And that goes for any city, man. I’ve been doing shows for my fans, been doing stuff with, Lil G (from Silk). I probably won’t do anymore with him, but “Men At Large” is still up. I don’t ever turn down no money, period. Let’s get it. You got my personal number, call up the folks and tell them ya’ll need to get, “Men At Large” up in here. And we coming. And it ain’t going to break the bank. It’s going to be a nice price and we’re going to give a nice show. Especially if they mess around and get a band to play with us… it will go crazy and have people tearing clothes off.

I was already a huge fan of you brothers, but to find out you are a boxing fan, that put it over the top. So, I have to ask you, Cleveland’s own, Shawn Porter versus Errol Spence this weekend. Are you going with the hometown guy?

Dave Tolliver: I have a personal connection to this fight because, Kenny, Shawn’s dad, is like my brother. So, Shawn is like my little nephew. I watched these guys come from nothing to the success they are having now. When I tell you, Kenny used to have to go get the ring, set it up in the parking lot, take it down, bring it back when he was done, train his son, he was a single father. He did a damn good job, man. I’m going to be honest with you, it’s probably going to be a nomination for, “Fight of the Year!” People are underestimating, Shawn and I know that he’s ready. His dad used to train, Errol in the amateurs a little bit. So, they have a little insight on him. I can’t really pick a clear-cut winner. I’m always going to go with fam. It’s going to be a great fight. I’m supposed to go out there.

I appreciate your time, it’s been an honor and if you haven’t downloaded and listened to, Dave Tolliver’s rendition of, Gerald Levert’s, “Baby I’m Ready,” what are you waiting for. Is there anything else you want to add?

Dave Tolliver: You just said it, stream that’s single, “Baby I’m Ready,” get ready for the rerelease of my single, “Home,” off of Song Source Music Group. Shout out to Adrian Meeks again. And just follow me on social media at davemenatlarge. Keep supporting real music. My new name is, “The R&B Redeemer.” I’m trying to redeem R&B and make it a household thing again for everybody.


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