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10 September 2013

Willing and Able: Margaret Cox Talks 2 Beautiful Nights

  Margaret Cox has been one of the hardest working women on the Minneapolis music scene for nearly 40 years.
  She was born in Kenitra, Morocco and her family moved to Minneapolis when she was 7 years old. Cox began her career in 1975, while still in her early teens, singing in nightclubs. She worked in several local bands and was later tapped to join the band Lipps, Inc, along with Melanie Rosales, best known for the massive hit "Funkytown" in 1980, after the departure of lead singer Cynthia Jonson, for the group's final album 4.
   Cox found her greatest success when Jesse Johnson recruited her as the lead singer for the group Ta Mara and the Seen in the 1980s (along with band members Oliver Leiber, Gina Fellicetta, Keith Woodson Cox and Jamie Chez). The group found immediate success in 1985 with their first single "Everybody Dance," a Billboard Top 40 pop hit and Top 5 R&B hit.
The group released a second album, Blueberry Gossip, in 1988.
  She recorded several songs in the late 1980s for the MC Flash project, written and  produced by Prince, considered by many hardcore fans as one of the greatest associated artists albums never released. A later Prince-produced song "Standing at the Altar" was released as a single on the Paisley Park compilation album 1-800-NEW-FUNK in 1994. In addition,  she has also worked with musical legends such as Bonnie Raitt and Mavis Staples. 
Cox independently released a solo album entitled Margie's Little Demo and her band The Legendary Combo (formerly known as Dr. Mambo’s Combo) currently has a longstanding gig Sundays and Mondays at Bunker’s Music Bar and Grill in Minneapolis.
    K Nicola Dyes recently conducted a telephone interview with Cox where the singer discussed why plans for a third Ta Mara and the Seen album fell through, her experiences in the music business and some things from her past she would do differently:

  What I remember of Morocco
...I remember I was very young. My father was in the navy. (I remember) being so happy to be with my mother and father.

  When my family moved to Minneapolis... it was really wonderful. My neighborhood in southeast Minneapolis (had people) of every color of the rainbow. It was very liberal. I had a really nice time, had lots of friends and great schools. I had a nice childhood.

  I started singing in bands in 1975-- mostly nightclubs and weddings—and my first band was called Perception. We did a lot of late shows and that always made it tough to go to morning classes.
  We started playing at a club called Bootlegger Sam's in Dinkytown, a wonderful nightclub and it was really fun. (The band) played a mixture of Top 40 rock and some old soul, mostly Top 40. I think we were doing Fleetwood Mac, we did some Sly and the Family Stone and some hard rock like (songs by) Boston and Kansas.

  My family taught tell the truth and be true...They taught me to love all races. That was one really beautiful thing about my family and where I grew up: I loved that I had friends of every color. I must say that was a good time in my life.

  The music scene in Minneapolis in the 1980s...that was something. That was really, really incredible. I joined the Doug Maynard Band and Bonnie Raitt hired us to be her opening band. We toured with her. That was in 1980, 1981 and 1982.
  I also sang with Lipps, Inc. The band had a hit with “Funkytown,” (with lead singer Cynthia Johnson). I  joined after “Funkytown.” We had some minor hits (in 1983 on the album 4).
  All this time of course, Prince was hitting the airwaves. Then Prince and The Time did their movie (“Purple Rain,” released in 1984). I met Jesse Johnson in 1985 and I signed with A&M Records. (The first single) “Everybody Dance” made it to #24 on (Billboard Hot 100) Pop charts and made it to #3 on the (Billboard) R&B charts.
  We did lots of shows here in Minneapolis and we recorded the second album (Blueberry Gossip) in L.A. in 1988. Blueberry Gossip did not do that well. It did okay on the R&B charts, but, did not cross over to the Pop charts.
   Dr. Mambo's Combo got together in early 1988.

  Margie's Little Demo (is) something that I'm proud of. I've always known I was a good songwriter. I wrote a song (“I Need You,” co-written with Jesse Johnson), when he and I were working together for Paula Abdul's “Forever Your Girl” album.
  I was lucky to get background singers…on some of my songs (and) I got good guitar players—because, I don't play guitar worth anything. I play keyboards and I love to program drum machines.
  I'm real proud of (the album), because, it not only shows my songwriting ability, but, it also shows my musicianship as well. 

  I never thought that I wouldn't be a rock star. I never thought that I would get this far without a smash hit.

  The Legendary Combo...just a smokin', funky, incredible band... We started way back. We are lucky to hold down a house gig for a long time. 

  The first time I met Prince...I'll never forget it. I was singing with Sue Ann Carwell and we were opening up for a Prince show here in Minneapolis. This was way back-- before I even worked with him-- in 1982.
   Carwell, Melanie Rosales, another singer that I love dearly, and I were backstage and we were eating. They had some food for us backstage and we were hanging out with the guys in Sue Ann's band.
  Prince came in and sat down with a bodyguard. Sue Ann already knew him. She was chummy like “Hey, how are you doing?” went up hugged him and talked with him. I met him and shook his hand. He was sitting down and his bodyguard was standing next to him and he said “Nice to meet you.” He shook my hand. He was very nice and quiet… He's always been a quiet dude.
  Then I went and ate a bunch of food that was on this buffet. I was eating and then I realized that I was making a pig of myself (laughs).
  I was a little embarrassed that, after I met him, I went and ate all this food in front of him. I remember thinking “Oh God, what did I do that for?” But, I'm sure he understood. I was hungry! (Laughs).
  It was just a one-off show. He would do a lot of those here in Minneapolis. We were lucky to get to see him more often, maybe than the rest of the world, because, of course, he was from Minneapolis. He would do a lot of shows, just out of the blue. I think he has always used shows as a way to rehearse and write new songs.

 "American Bandstand..." oh man, yeah. I wore these clothes that were made by Sylvia, a really great dressmaker in Minneapolis, that Jesse (Johnson) knew. She put a hole in the dress that went over my right thigh--there was a hole with some lace there-- a see-through area.
  I did my show on "American Bandstand" and got to talk to Dick Clark. When I was talking to him, he said “Oh, I like your dress. I like your outfit and your coat.” I said “Thanks.” I looked down and the hole had moved a little bit to the middle of my body and it was showing some things. I said “Oh no!” I quickly pulled it over to the side again, but, I was so embarrassed. I don't know how much people saw. That (part of the) experience was embarrassing…
  We were ecstatic, we couldn't believe how much fun we were going to have and we did, we had so much fun. It was better that I could even imagine. It was really uplifting. I thought “Hey, I finally made it big!” (Laughs).

  "Everybody Dance,” that was a great dance groove for the time. The groove was really something and it was well produced and recorded. My singing was light and airy, because, that was the style then.
  If I would've sang with my funky Chaka (Khan) voice or Aretha (Franklin) voice, it wouldn’t have fit the tune. You know? So, I sang it a little lighter and “airier.” That worked. It went with the song really well. It was a stylized song. (Jesse Johnson) wrote that by himself.

  Margaret Cox on the single “Affection,” by Ta Mara and The Seen: "I can honestly say that is my favorite Ta Mara and The Seen song.  That's the best. That was written by Jesse (Johnson) and the bass player for his band, Gerry Hubbard. He definitely wrote at least 50 percent of that song. He and Jesse both put that song together. That was wonderful.
  I am an animal lover and that tiger in the video could sense that about me. He liked me. So, I wasn't afraid of him… Everybody else was just out of their mind scared.  The whole band would leave every time they would start to shoot scenes (with the tiger). They would just take off. The place would be empty and I was like “What? He's a pussycat.”

  I used to think you had to be rich to be happy.

  The music business is tough. You've got to have a good manager and I never did have a really good manager.

   I always thought that I wouldn't go to college, because, I would be busy becoming a rock star. I was always an A student. I always loved school. I have taken some college courses. I took the first one online.
  Being in the limelight...oh, I love it! I feel like that's where I was born to be. I love it. It's fun.

  “Saturday Night Live”...oh man, was that a blast! I got to meet all those funny comedians. I wore the shortest dress/skirt known to womankind. I didn't think I could wear a skirt that short, but, I got away with it somehow. I guess.
  Prince was just on fire, he put on a great show. I got to meet Patrice Rushen. She was in Prince's band at that time. For me to be in his band at the same time Rushen was in his band was just heavenly.
  We were touring Europe right after that, but, that was kind of the kick-off show before we toured. I got to tour Europe with Prince and he had hired The Combo to be Mavis Staples'  band. We played all her songs. I sang background and danced around. She sang the tunes and it was a beautiful thing.

   I took risks when I got out of my contract with Jesse Johnson and got out of my contract with Prince. I took risks and they were not good risks. Risks can be bad if you don't know what you're doing.

  I always wanted to work with Prince. I recorded the (MC Flash) album in 1990. Why wasn't it released? That's a mystery to me. I know that Prince was having a hard time with Warner Bros. (Records) and they were shutting down everything he tried to do. It was shelved and there it sits --in “The Vault”-- gathering dust. I loved everything on there. I can't even pick a (favorite) song. He wrote some great tunes, some rockin’ stuff.
  After the MC Flash album, we (later) recorded “Standing at the Altar,” which was released on the album 1-800-NEW-FUNK. That's when I was Margie Cox. (I recorded) a few songs, the main one being “Standing at the Altar.” I thought (the songs) were going to be for a Margie Cox album. 
  He was having troubles with Warner Bros. at that time. He was having his own trouble with his label and, so, I think that "Standing at the Altar" was the single that he was hoping to get me a new (record) deal with. It was only successful as a single and we weren't able to get a new record deal for me, because, of his problems with Warner Bros.  (The song) did pretty well. I didn't make a whole lot of money, but, I made a few thousand bucks.
  I was always under contract to Prince (during the time she recorded with him). My lawyer said let's just try to get to out of this and move on. Prince didn't want to let me go. I was happy about that. To this day, I wish I hadn’t, because, my lawyer wasn't able to get me another (contract).
  I had a studio in my basement and I started writing tunes. I put them down on a disc. It took me a few years to get it all done. I printed 500 copies to see if I could sell them myself and I did. It's called Margie's Little Demo. This year I printed up another 500 and I've sold almost all of them.

  I've learned not too act so quickly or to act in anger or in spite, because, really, when I go back to it, I shouldn't have broken away from Jesse so quickly... We had a misunderstanding and I wish we would have resolved it, because, it just ended up kind of fizzling out. I think we might have been able to put out a third (Ta Mara and The Seen) CD called Tuff Girl. It was something we were working on. The first song we did was “Tuff Girl” and that made it on to (the album) Blueberry Gossip. It was an extra song that we were thinking of using for a third album.
  I think if we had of released it, the third time might have been the charm. 

  When my contract ended with Prince was when I began to be fearful. My lawyer/manager was not moving us forward as I had hoped. That was a mistake. I have made a couple of big bad ones.

  My musical influences...I could narrow it to three or four. When I was a child, The Beatles were a big influence on me. Stevie Wonder. Sly and the Family Stone. I would say Prince and Chaka Khan. Good old rock and soul.       
  Anything that's funky catches my ear; it's gotta be funky. Jesse Johnson and Prince were definitely funky, so, I was happy to be working with them. Aretha and Chaka had the kind of voices that just made me so excited. I started singing along and thinking “Wow, I think I can do this.”
   I was so very lucky that I was raised by a voice teacher. She (Cox's mother) taught voice. She taught at the University of Minnesota  and all my life she taught at home. So, I got to hear that everyday (when) I went home.

  Songwriting is important to me. It's in my blood. Songwriting is an art that I had as child, but, from working with Jesse Johnson and Prince I was able to really learn a lot more about songwriting, so, that I was able to make my own CD.

  I define freedom...I'm lucky to be living in America. I have my own house. I was able to buy my own home. That, right there, is a big freedom for me. Freedom is something that I feel lucky to have.

  Musicians never get up early in the morning. At least not most of the ones I know. I think that's a pretty true statement for the most part.

  I've been through poor management. I've been through some poor business agreements and consequently some poor financial times. But, through music--maybe music helps-- I've been able to keep happy, basically.

  There's no limit... I guess there is no limit to what I can do musically. There's no limit to what The Legendary Combo can do musically. There's no limit to my strength. I still have a good strong voice and a good strong body. So, there's really no limit to me…yet. I can still do it! (Laughs).

  I want people to remember...hmmm. That's a hard one. What do I want people to remember? I guess I want them to remember...boy, oh, boy. That's tough. I want them to remember Margaret Cox and when they come to Minneapolis, look her up sometime, look for her at Bunkers (Music Bar and Grill).

  The Legendary Combo performs from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. Sundays and Mondays at Bunkers Music Bar and Grill, 761 Washington Ave. N., Minneapolis. For more information call (612) 338-8188 or visit

  To purchase the album Margie's Little Demo, visit

Stay Beautiful, Kristi

 Like us on Facebook: Dyes Got the Answers 2 Ur ?s and Beautiful Nights.


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  2. It's interesting reading these interviews. Everyone's biggest regret is leaving Prince and thinking they could succeed on their own at the same or similar level. Youth, ego and sometimes listening to the wrong people can make anyone a fool on any given day. Wish you well, Margaret.

  3. Nice interview. Geez, I miss Prince so much.

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