“Good music is good music” is an obvious maxim, according to Indianapolis entertainment legend Geno Shelton. But there have been some welcome and some less-welcome changes in the R&B/soul scene in Naptown over the last 30 years.
The ’70s and ’80s were a time of R&B and funk bands, but that has changed. “You can’t name a [local] R&B band anymore. It’s a thing of the past,” Shelton says.
Shelton first arrived in Indianapolis in 1985, having worked as a DJ in college and professionally in western Michigan. Arriving here, he worked for another local music legend, Jay Johnson, at WTLC for almost 12 years.
“When I first arrived here, the R&B/soul cats like After 7 were around doing their thing,” he says. Shelton also speaks warmly of the members of Manchild, from which Babyface Edmonds and Reggie Griffin emerged. “Some of those guys are still around,” he says, though not necessary as a group. But by the mid-’90s onward, there was a major shift locally, just as there was a shift in music nationally. The number of R&B groups declined, the number of venues declined and the amount and quality of electronic enhancements dramatically increased.
“I used to do the Vogue, and there were lots of live R&B bands. In the ’80s into the ’90s, there was more live entertainment. Music meant something,” Shelton says. “But by the mid-’90s, there were less R&B acts and more DJs. Now it’s all electronic.”
That’s not to say there aren’t good DJs in town, because there are plenty, Shelton admits. It’s just that sound has changed, as have the number of live music venues in town.
“You [used to be able to] go to the Excalibur every day of the week and hear a live R&B act,” Shelton says of the former R&B/soul club in the massive gray stone edifice on the northeast corner of 21st and Meridian streets. “You can’t do that anymore.”
Shelton is now the entertainment director for Indiana Black Expo and has brought top-flight entertainers to IBE’s Summer Celebration by the truckload, including Erykah Badu earlier this year.