THE SOUL MAP, VOLUME III: PHILLY’S SECRET WEAPON
By Michael – Louis Ingram, Editor – in – Chief
(Editor’s Note: In 1968, the city of Vancouver, British Columbia, in an act of extreme pettiness, phased out R&B/soul music over its air waves. While these miserable, mean – spirited, misguided myrmidons masturbated in their moment of glory, the world moved on…)
PHILADELPHIA (www.basnnewsroom.com) As The Power of Soul made its way around the world, that science of sound was making profound transitions across North America…
Doo – wop was giving way to the allure of ‘sexy soul’ but all translations of popular music were now being affected as soul was easing its way in; and while these efforts were being denied out West, the East – was becoming a cultural beast!
Four brothers from Philly would help springboard popular music as they took Old School – and put it in a brand new place:
Sam “Big Sonny” Brown, Eugene “Bird” Daughtry, Robert “Big Sonny” Edwards and Philip Terry gave it try; while waxing and relaxing ’bout days gone by…
The result, “Cowboys To Girls” was the right groove for the right time resonating across all formats, and as soon as you could say, “I remember…”
The song had become a certified gold million – seller.
Songwriters Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, who had known the members of The Intruders since the early 1960s, had a notion about what a sound influenced by themselves would sound like.
With the inclusion of The Blue Notes (also with a doo – wop pedigree laced in the 1950s) and the O’Jays (named for a then – Ohio area radio personality), Gamble and Huff had a foundation to carry out their creative intentions…
However, as Tony Montana would say, “you gotta getta da money” – and the promise of financial futures were on the shoulders of The Intruders as they stepped up to bat…and knocked that shit out the park!
The hit facilitated Gamble and Huff’s getting the seed money to form Philadelphia International Records, which came online in 1971. From the 1970s to the mid-1980s, the label produced soulful, original, dance music and grooves running from gospel to funk.
MEANWHILE…IN ANOTHER PART OF TOWN…
William Hart meets future boss Stan Watson while working in a barbershop, Watson, who would one day start the label Philly Groove Records, introduces Hart and his group to the man who become the heartbeat of Sexy Soul.
Thom Bell would change the game for everyone in the genre with his superior arranging. Watson introduced Bell to the Hart Brothers, and in 1966, caught everyone off guard with this two minute ‘warning’ of more beauty to come:
“He Don’t Really Love You” was the perfect tease of the Bell/Hart connection; and everyone wanted more. The use of timpani and other percussion not normally connected to pop music were utilized. They would get their wish a year later with a lyric inspired by Hart’s young son…
“La – La Means I Love You” became a million selling hit; and their debut album effort, done in 1968 under the same title, also charted in the Top 100 for pop and R&B. From 1969 – 1974, the pairing of Hart’s clear and clean falsetto and Bell’s classical flavor turned every one of their efforts into a concept album; the emotion stirred by Bell’s amazing arrangements became a blueprint for love of any age…
Bell had set the bar high; and when issues with Philly Groove caused him to step away from The Delfonics – and step toward The Stylistics, whose falsetto tenor, Russell Thompkins, Jr. offered similar possibilities as Hart…
With Sexy Soul becoming more in demand and the charts acknowledging them as bona fide editions to some Top 40 playlists nationwide, Philadelphia became the home base for the genre via acts like Blue Magic, The Futures, and this group who seized upon Bell’s classical imprint:
The Ebonys’ “You’re The Reason Why” delivered aria-like power, drama and clarity from lead tenor David Beasley. He feasted on Bell’s melody, greeting it with forte’ attacks and swells worthy of any operatic tenor in this three minute testament to love…
Bell’s impact would carry further as The Spinners left Motown and he would produce them during their greatest period of success. Although lead singer Philippe Wynne wasn’t a falsetto tenor, his full range was wonderfully exploited during their span of charting. Linda Creed would partner up with Bell and become a great songwriting team:
The Spinners’ success also reminded everyone that Bell had become pop music ‘s Everyman – arranger, producer, songwriter – and an all around musical bad ass!
Now that Bell had become this not-so-secret weapon, the question wasn’t who could match him, but who would be inspired by him?
One such answer to this came from Memphis…via Detroit:
Tony Hester embraced this in putting The Dramatics on their first (and, imho best) album, “Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get.” Their ‘Ode To Booty’, “Hot Pants In The Summertime,” was cleverly arranged by Hester and allowed the group to swoop and dip their way into the hearts of their growing fan base. Hester’s arrangement on “In The Rain” was one of a kind in its creativity and build up for Ron Banks and his charges;
This was ‘slow drag’ personified.
MEANWHILE, BACK AT THE BEGGING…
The Delfonics and Bell would affect the future of another local group, Blue Magic. Singer Randy Cain introduced them to producer/arranger Norman Harris. Harris, who made an impact with The Mellow Moods (“Tell Love Hello”) used emerging lead singer Ted “Wizard” Mills as his muse, creating a nice catalog of ballads and dance tracks as they stepped into the disco era – including the only love – themed album conceived around Hallowe’en, “Thirteen Blue Magic Lane.”
The Whatnauts, the other half of the Stang Records tag team, distinguished themselves vocally as they nailed this “knee pads special” in 1971:
The Boogie Down was begging as well. The group Butterscotch dropped a classic when they recorded “Something Has Got To Change.” Their members (Brooks, Charbonier, Melendez and Ortiz are also part of the Latin Soul element we will speak on later.) This ballad make excellent use of minimal strings and maximum vocal coloring – which put you in the blue light bulb lit basement even in the light of day!
The Baltimore/Washington, DC would also speak up with The Unifics. Formed at Howard University, the five man group whose 1968 mega hit “Court of Love” was arranged by a very young Donny Hathaway. They got “justice” in the studio and on the road, garnering a reputation as a very entertaining live act.
Because history seems to never respect Black music or musicians, I can’t say whether or not Thom Bell will get his proper due with The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame for being the major influence he was on popular music; I will say no one man on the other side of the microphone this side of Quincy Jones – generated such an impact.
(Editor’s Note: Thom Bell is a member of the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame.)
Next Time: Latin Soul – and on the way to O-H-I-O.
always outnumbered…never outgunned.