El Debarge: “I Got My Willpower Back…”
Veteran R&B crooner, El DeBarge from the multi-talented DeBarge family led a string of mid-1980s Motown hits that included I Like It, Time Will Reveal and Rhythm of the Night. He also had solo hits, including Who’s Johnny, Real Love and Love Always, and joined with Barry White, Al B. Sure and James Ingram on Quincy Jones’s classic ballad The Secret Garden. But the hits stopped coming when DeBarge’s drug use took hold of him.
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DeBarge spent 13 months in a California prison on drug charges before his release in January 2009. His incarceration helped him end a two-decade addiction to heroin and crack.
“God saw fit to sit me down,” DeBarge says. “It was an answer to my prayers. I didn’t want to go to prison, and I don’t recommend it, but while I was there, I got my willpower back. And it put me back in touch with myself and my faith in God.”
When DeBarge got out, Pete Farmer, a veteran music executive who is now his manager, helped him get his life together and back into the studio. It was Farmer who persuaded Geffen chairman Ron Fair to take a chance on DeBarge. “They had put together an unbelievable group of songs, and I realized this was not an oldies-retread thing,” says Fair, who with Farmer is co-executive producer of Second Chance. “This guy’s new music is incredibly vital and powerful.”
The title track on Second Chance speaks to his redemption, while a second single, Joyful, reflects his “being joyful about life again, dealing with the everyday struggles with a sober mind.”
DeBarge says he has talked with his siblings about a reunion album, but nothing has panned out yet. He is proud that niece Kristinia DeBarge (James’ 20-year-old daughter) carried on the family business with her debut album, Exposed, last year. Two older brothers, Tommy and the late Bobby, led the ’70s Motown band Switch, and younger brother Chico also has a solo career. More important, the family’s support has helped him in his recovery.
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“Maintaining my sobriety is really not a problem because I didn’t want to be on drugs anyway,” he says. “I picked up a crack pipe when I was 25 years old because I wanted to try it, and it took me 22 years to un-try it. But it’s a wrap now. I lost all that time with a pipe in my mouth. Now it’s a mike to my mouth.”