JAMIE FOXX’S NEW CD, “UNPREDICTABLE,” should not be lumped with Don Johnson’s Heartbeat and Eddie Murphy’s How Could It Be as a crappy-album-by-an-actor-who-thinks-he-can-sing. In fact, years before he scored an Oscar for his dead-on portrayal of Ray Charles, Foxx was already an accomplished pianist, earning paychecks at fifteen as the musical director of the New Hope Baptist Church in his hometown of Terrell, Texas. Recently – encouraged by his buddy Kanye West – Foxx, 38, sang the hooks on two chart-topping singles, Twista’s “Slow Jamz” and West’s “Gold Digger.” Foxx hopes to ride that momentum with Unpredictable, a seductive R&B album that features guest spots from Mary J. Blige, Common and Ludacris. Foxx, in Los Angeles on the set of his next film, Dreamgirls, tears himself away from watching The Jerry Springer Show to chat.
What is your earliest musical memory?
Back when there were music variety shows on TV – The Flip Wilson Show, The Sammy Davis Jr. Show – I remember Tom Jones singing “It’s Not Unusual.” I was about six, and Tom Jones was the shit. He had a lot of women on his show, in little tight outfits with bell-bottoms. My grandmother also had a jukebox that played 45s. We had the Isley Brothers in there, and James Brown’s “Mother Popcorn Part 1.” Flip it over for “Mother Popcorn Part 2.”
Did you get into 8-track tapes?
Yeah, man. I had a boombox for 8-tracks called Panasonic Platinum. Earth, Wind and Fire did the commercial [sings in falsetto]: “Platinum ahh-ha! Panasonic Platinum.” You could carry it around with you, strap it on your back. I rode around with it on my ten-speed for as long as the batteries would last.
When did you write your first song?
Oh, man. Since I was ten I’ve been writing songs that never rhymed. I finally figured that out.
What took you so long?
Uh … Oscars? [Laughs]
As a teenager, did you ever take a road trip to see a concert?
The one trip I went on was to Texas Stadium to see the Jacksons’ Victory tour. I was in high school. We had to send money orders to get our tickets, and we lucked out – we were so close to the stage that we could feel the heat of the pyrotechnics. When the Jacksons came out, they did this Excalibur thing: They pulled the sword out of the stone and killed all these big animals. Then Michael came down the stairs and went into “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’.” I remember people were just passing out – grown men, women, everybody.
Have you ever serenaded the ladies?
I’ve serenaded a couple of girls. Some of them worked out and some didn’t.
Would you please elaborate on one that didn’t?
I was in college, and I serenaded a babe to her face. I went over there and tried to get my thing on. I sang the James Ingram song “She Loves Me” to her face, trying to get it on. She’s like, “That’s nice, OK, I’m out.” It didn’t work out, but I was hot. I still do it now if I get the urge to. If I catch Halle Berry or Mariah Carey, I’ll put my bid in.
Do you really think Mariah is hot?
You know what makes her hot? She’s hot! Selling records and doin’ her thing – she’s got her swagger back.
What records do you play for their seductive value?
I’ll tell you what’ll get it crackin’. You got to have a Prince record called “Do Me, Baby.” You got to have Heatwave’s “Always and Forever.” The whole archive of Luther Vandross will get it going. If you haven’t picked up that tribute album to him – with Aretha Franklin, Usher and Alicia Keys doin’ the Vandross – you better.
What’s your most vivid memory of your time spent with Ray Charles?
Playing the blues with him. And him telling me what went on in his life, being an open book when I asked him questions about the women and the drugs and about being so far ahead of his time. I’ll remember how simple he was – there was no “star” thing. He told me, “Y’know, Jamie, if you can play the blues, baby, you can do anything.” He was a gentle man – I could tell he was getting ready to move on to the next phase of his existence, on the other side.
Have you ever tripped on acid and listened to music?
That’s for another interview. [Imitating a preacher] Got to stay clean here, brother!
What’s the best song on your record?
Hmm. “3 Letter Word.” The whole thing has so much drama to it. You know when you hear a song and you can already see a video for it? It’s like that. It’s about this guy going to rehab because he’s oversexed, and he’s trying to figure out how to get over it.
If you could choose any band to back you up, who’d be in it?
Wow, that would be incredible! Sheila E on the drums, Herbie Hancock on the keys, Earth, Wind and Fire singing backup vocals, Prince and Slash on guitar, Randy Jackson on percussion, Wayman Tisdale on bass, Kenny G on the sax with Branford Marsalis, and Wynton Marsalis on trumpet.
Did you say Wayman Tisdale, the former basketball player, and Kenny G?
Wayman can play, brother, and that’s it. And Kenny G is crazy!