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INside Story: Indiana’s music scene, Part 1

That Hoosier sound. No matter what form it takes, it has become a staple in the world of music.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — If you want to understand where the music scene is and where it’s going, first you have to understand where it’s been. For more than 40 years, Geno “DJ Geno”, Shelton, and Sid “Uncle Jamz” Johnson have had the best seats in the house. DJ Geno remembers how Indiana’s music scene first captured his ears.

“When I came here to see all of these live bands that Indianapolis had, it was just amazing to me,” Shelton said. However, something else Indianapolis was becoming known for didn’t sit right with him.

“Indianapolis had a nickname called Naptownand it used to drive me nuts,” he said. “I was so upset by it because I’d heard that the story behind that was that it was not because of Indianapolis, but the fact that they thought we were napping.”

One show at a time, he felt he could help change that narrative. “I just wanted the city to be live, and just always to be thought of as a live place,” Shelton said.

Meanwhile, there was some noise being made around an R&B group out of Indianapolis calledManchild.” Around that time, Sid Johnson made a connection with a member of the group who we would all come to know as Kenny Edmonds, also known as “Babyface.” He also ended up running into Bobby Lovelace, the leader of the music group, “Midnight Star.”

“I was given the nickname of ‘Uncle Jamz’ by Bobby Lovelace,” Johnson recalled. Johnson along with Edmonds, Bo Watson, and Belinda Lipscomb penned the lyrics to one of the group’s greatest hits: “Slow Jam.”

The classic R&B ballad was one of several hits on the group’s “No Parking on the Dance Floor” album. Johnson remembers the idea behind the classic love song stemming from a simple radio request.

“We [used to] call up the DJ up on the radio, feeling in that kind of mood saying ‘hey man, why don’t you play a slow jam tonight for me and my baby?’” he recalled. “So it was like, perfect.”

Magic, like what “Slow Jam” created, is what keeps Johnson and Shelton active in music today. They now both serve as mentors and managers for the next generation of talented musicians.

One talent they both have been impressed by in recent years is Indianapolis R&B and pop artist, Damon Karl.

“It was the vocal tone and the fact that he had an acoustic guitar around his neck which reminded me of someone that’s a very good friend of mine,” Johnson said. That friend was Babyface. Karl admitted that when he started drawing comparisons to one of his heroes.

“He has his own highway here, I mean, come on,” Karl laughed while in awe. In 2022, he’s earned multiple opportunities to open up for Babyface in concert. “It’s an incredible experience to open up for someone that’s a legend here, that’s a legend all over the world,” he said.

It has given him a motivation to live up to the hype and make his own mark. “[Fans] need to know I’m willing and ready to work, to put in that work, and create that good R&B music that we need today,” Karl said. “I think I have that power to bring it back with my music.”

He’s built confidence by being put around other legends, but remained humble with people like Shelton and Johnson in his corner. Karl describes what his music mentors give him as “legendary advice.”

Johnson and Shelton both believe that Karl is just one of many of Indiana’s music talent that can stack up against anyone around the country. “I mean, you have talent in country, pop, rock, R&B, Hip-Hop and jazz,” Johnson said. “We need to find a way to make the world realize that Indiana has it going on.”