Damon C. Scott - "Look Right Through"

by Bruce Pollock

They're Playing My Song is a column by Bruce Pollock, where he gets the story behind the one song that had the greatest impact on a particular artist or songwriter's career. Here, he speaks with Damon C. Scott.

"Look Right Through" (MK Remix)

Artist: Storm Queen (vocals by Damon C. Scott)
Writer/Producer: Morgan Geist
Year: 2013
Chart Position: #1 UK Singles/Dance
In the tradition of Darlene Love (20 Feet from Stardom), more people know Damon C. Scott's voice than his face. In the tradition of Stephen Segerman (Searching for Sugar Man), more people overseas know Damon C. Scott's name than here in the United States, where his fame is largely limited to the subway platform at East 86th Street and Broadway in New York City.

In the tradition of both of these unsung heroes of American pop music, Scott has been the subject of a fine documentary (Damon at 86th Street by the talented young filmmaker Emily Sheskin). Even in England, where he sang lead on the 2013 track "Look Right Through," that entered both the UK Singles and Dance charts at #1, the name Damon Scott might earn him nothing more than a double-take, since it also belongs to the ventriloquist winner of Britain's Got Talent in 2007."I have to tell people I'm Damon C. Scott, not Damon Scott," says the affable son of Sherry Scott, the original vocalist in Earth, Wind & Fire. "Because Damon Scott is a guy that sticks his hand up a monkey's ass."

Although officially credited as Storm Queen (the creation of techno DJ Morgan Geist), the singer of "Look Right Through" is one of house music's best kept secrets. "I'm the voice on 20 to 30 tracks that are on people's computers and nobody knows who I am," says Scott, who also sang on Geist's earlier releases, "Let's Make Mistakes" and "It Goes On."

But the name Storm Queen belongs to Geist, and the mysterious Geist, who previously sniffed fame in the House Music world as a part of Metro Area, has a serious aversion to the spotlight. Originally recorded and released and largely forgotten in 2010, the 2013 MK (Mark Kinchen) remix of "Look Right Through" brought the world to his doorstep anyway. It briefly shined a light on Scott as well, who shares no such aversion. "For something to be called #1 with my voice on it, oh, man, that's a crazy dream," he said. "I toured all through Europe and the UK and Denmark and Spain and Ireland. I mean, for a kid that came from the street, overcoming drugs and seven years in prison, that's pretty big."

But obviously not as big as it could have been or should have been. Certainly not big enough to rescue him from his day job singing in the subway station. "Genuinely, Morgan is a very calm mannered and gentle person," Scott explained. "I never had any problems with him business-wise. All the way up until there was a #1 hit song. Around that time he and I were on the phone and I'm saying, 'Hey, why are these people from England calling me telling me that this is a hit song? Why didn't you call me? Why am I not going on tour with you? Why are you not doing the Storm Queen thing?' And he was like, 'Oh, we'll figure it out.' He kind of gave me the brush off after that. I think he tried to do the right thing, but it got away from him, because he stopped being the one handling the business."
Damon C. Scott:
My career started in front of the Art Institute of Chicago, where I would play at lunch hour. One day someone came out of the Art Institute and said, "Man, why are you not down in the subway? You could do so much better there." So I started coming down to the subway with my drum. The secret to succeeding as a subway singer is location. If you're able to have a good location of maybe 200,000 people rotating through, hearing you sing, and maybe one or two hundred of them deciding to give you something, that's a good ratio. Once I find an amicable place to present what I do in a professional manner, and if I don't have any legal problem with it, I will probably make $200-$300 in a day.

When I got to New York I discovered that East 86th Street happened to be one of the nicer areas to perform. It's one station and there's a track on one side and a track on the other side and the 6 train upstairs. But at least it's not noisy, unless the noise is me. Because you got a train that comes in, stops, takes off. You've got another train that comes in, stops, takes off, and that's it, every three to five minutes. So I got three to five minutes of reverb echo silence that I can do anything with and I'm a very talented person, especially when you put that together with popular songs and the rhythm of an African djembe drum being used like a hip-hop beat machine that covers jazz, blues, and everything else.

I met the producer David Levy at 86th Street, and David asked me if I'd like to earn a few dollars by doing studio work, not really owning much of what I do, but just doing work for hire. As we got to a certain point, he introduced me to his friend, Morgan Geist, and I started doing the same type of thing for Morgan. I'd go over to his studio in Queens, New York, and he would pay me 50-60 bucks, and I would just sing down certain tracks.

When I sang on "Look Right Through" in 2010 it was just another song. It had no special significance to me and it had no special significance to him, either. I did it in two takes and I never thought it sounded the best it could have. I thought it was kind of horrible that he wanted to use that take. He said, "Don't even worry about it. I'm just putting this stuff down. I probably won't even make back the money I'm giving you right now." When he said that, I said, "You know, you shouldn't think that way about the stuff I'm doing with you, because I'm on an upward trajectory. I'm someone going somewhere, so anything I do is going to be worth more than what you think in the long run." He said, "Okay, we'll see."

I had called the famous house music label, Nervous Records, and tried to get them to sign me so that I could do an album as Damon C. Scott. They said absolutely no to that. But then when Storm Queen went to #1, and I got a call from a booking agency in the UK, Nervous Records signed me to a publishing deal and a management contract. I'm trying to get them to terminate these contracts, which they are hesitant to do, because they know I've been constantly working and that one day there's some things that are going to start registering, if they haven't already. If they have, I don't know how to extract these things without going into a full audit just to find out if they've collected anything on my behalf. What's even worse is that still I'm chasing down the connections the booking agency had with producers and writers that they put me in contact with as the vocalist of Storm Queen.

It's probably my own knuckleheadedness that I didn't actually secure the information from the booking agency myself about who these producers were and how to contact them. But neither did my manager, who was more of a high-class secretary. He took the calls coming from the booking agents, found out how much the gigs were and calculated his 15-20% out of it. I didn't do any gigs anywhere because of him. I haven't been on any TV here. I mean, I was #1 in Europe and as soon as I got back to the US, he should have had me on every TV station in the country, saying, "Here's a guy from the subway in your country who's a huge success somewhere else." He didn't do any of that work. Why was I not a part of that?

Usually I don't harp on things if I can't do nothing about it. It will pass. It'll almost be out of my memory before you could even bring it up again. Because I know it's going to take somebody who really knows the business to find out the truth about this. Right now no one will help me figure out why I can't make any money off of this song. Is it because it was big in Europe but it was recorded in the United States, where singers can't get royalties? I understand that I signed off on "Look Right Through," "Let's Make Mistakes," "It Goes On," and some other songs I did for Morgan Geist as works for hire. Does that law in the United States blanket the whole industry throughout the world so that I will never make any money off of this song because it was a work for hire? I don't know enough of the law or the rule about it to say anything different.

So I'm just kind of screwed, when it comes to this whole thing. Even when it was big in 2013, we spent so much time arguing back and forth with the lawyers saying what we can and can't do, that I was hindered big time. That's when I found out I couldn't take on the name Storm Queen. I could tour as Damon C. Scott, but if you wanted to call me Storm anything, you'd have to call me Storm King.

Now I'm just trying to keep my head to the sky and be very positive. I still get to play in Europe. I just returned from Gibraltar in March. I could go back there if I had a consistent booking agent, which I don't. I could go back there if I had a real manager, which I don't. I could go back there when I have my next #1 song, which is going to come from somewhere, I just know it is. But these people that I dealt with before only wanted me because at that time I was #1. Last year the gigs that we got were under a secondary agent who probably pulled out all of his resources to get me some shows.

Recently I've done a song called "Carry On," with this group I was working with while I was in London called Mob Culture.

That song is being worked up in the media and in the industry right now in any way it can be. It's been released since May and there's some things going on with it. This time, I am every part of "Carry On." It was produced by Mob Culture, but I wrote the lyrics. So we are 50/50 partners on that song. I even created my own record company Great Scott Records LLC. If there's any song that has backing and momentum going right now, that's the one.

June 26, 2015
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Comments: 1

  • Damon C.scott from Atlanta,ga.There are some things that I wish where edited from this conversation but its the truth. However, I should have kept some financial points to myself. Afraid this interview really makes me look like " I see why Morgan dissed him". Not happy.
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