Soul Serenade: The 8th Day, “She’s Not Just Another Woman”

The 8th DayAfter nine years and well over 400 columns, I’ve decided to change Soul Serenade from a weekly to an occasional column. Obviously, there are more than enough classic soul records to fuel a column like this for a lifetime but the truth is that while the column’s title mentions a specific song what I’ve really been doing is telling the stories of the artists behind the songs. And while many artists had multiple hits, how many times can you tell the same story? Are there artists who I’ve never covered? Of course. The 8th Day is one such group and I’ll certainly find more. But the fact is they’re harder to come by on a weekly basis. I hope you’ll continue to join me on this journey albeit on a bit more infrequent basis.

In 1967, the songwriting and production team of Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier, and Eddie Holland left Motown in an acrimonious dispute with Motown owner Berry Gordy, Jr. The trio formed their own family of record labels that included the Hotwax, Music Merchant, and Invictus imprints. The roster of these labels was mostly made up of groups that were assembled for the occasion. They were either supergroups or lineups that were pieced together for a specific record. Often the members of the groups didn’t even know each other or hadn’t worked together before being called on to record for one of the labels.

The story of the 8th Day begins with another group that was recording for Holland-Dozier-Holland, 100 Proof (Aged in Soul). 100 Proof itself had been assembled by Holland-Dozier-Holland and the lineup included Steve Mancha, Eddie Holiday, and Joe Stubbs (brother of Levi Stubbs). The group had scored an R&B hit with “Too Many Cooks Spoil the Soup” but then scored really big with a crossover smash called “Somebody’s Been Sleeping In My Bed” which reached #8 on the pop chart and sold a million copies of the Hotwax release. The label decided it would be a good idea to release a 100 Proof album to capitalize on the success of the single.

The 8th Day

“She’s Not Just Another Woman” was a cut on the album and anyone with ears could tell that it was a hit. The song was written by Holland-Dozier-Holland but because of their ongoing dispute with Gordy, it was credited to C. Wilson and Ronald Dunbar. DJs started playing the track off the album. The problem was that “Somebody’s Been Sleeping” was still rolling up the charts and the label didn’t want anything, such as a new single by the same group, to get in the way. That’s where the 8th Day came in. It was simply a matter of changing the group’s name on the label of the single and releasing it on Invictus instead of Hotwax. That is 100 Proof’s Steve Mancha singing lead on “She Not Just Another Woman.” Sure enough, it was a hit, reaching #11 on the pop chart in 1971.

There was one little problem: there was no 8th Day. When the second 8th Day single, “You Got to Crawl (Before You Walk)” began to find some chart success, that problem had to be resolved, and quickly. Holland-Dozier-Holland did what they had done so well before and simply assembled a group for the occasion. The lineup included Melvin Davis, Tony Newsome, Lyman Woodard, Larry Hutchison, Ron Bykowski, Michael Anthony, Bruce Nazarian, Jerry Paul, Lynn Harter, Carol Stallings, and Anita Sherman. Now that there was an actual band, 8th Day recorded two more singles for Invictus but while “Eeny-Meeny-Miny-Mo (Three’s a Crowd)” and “If I Could See the Light” both reached the R&B Top 30, it wasn’t enough to keep the band together.

Holland-Dozier-Holland are often credited for their brilliant songwriting and production but it seems that they were also pretty adept at assembling talent and providing songs for their put-together groups to take up the charts.

Soul Serenade: Roberta Flack And Donny Hathaway, “The Closer I Get To You”

Roberta Flack and Donny HathawayWhen an artist dies too young it is always tempting to mourn not only the loss of his or her spirit but also the loss of the great work they might have done had they lived. Such is the case with Donny Hathaway whose premature loss robbed the world of what would have undoubtedly been the great music he would have made. If there can be said to be a silver lining it is that Hathaway left us with some wonderful work including a magnificent series of duets with Roberta Flack that will endure forever.

“The Closer I Get to You” wasn’t supposed to be a duet. The song was written by Reggie Lucas and James Mtume, both of whom were members of Flack’s touring band. They offered it to producer Joe Ferla, who produced the track along with Flack and Gene McDaniel, for inclusion on Flack’s album Blue Lights in the Basement. David Franklin was Flack’s manager and it was his idea to re-write the song to include Hathaway. Five years earlier, Flack and Hathaway, friends since they attended Howard University together, had collaborated on an acclaimed self-titled album of duets.

Unfortunately, Hathaway had spent the intervening years battling clinical depression and it often required him to be hospitalized. In fact, but when the time came to record “The Closer I Get to You” Hathaway was too ill to travel from his home in Chicago to New York for the session. As a result, Flack had to record the vocals with a stand-in session singer. The track was then sent to Chicago where Hathaway added his part before sending the track back to New York to be mixed.

“The Closer I Get to You” was released as a single by Atlantic Records in February 1978. It climbed to the top spot on the R&B chart while reaching #2 on the Billboard 100. Hathaway and Flack were nominated for a Grammy Award for the duet. Among the many accolades that the track received was one from the BBC‘s Lewis Dene who called it a “soul masterpiece.”

Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway

Less than a year later, Donny Hathaway was dead. At the time of his death, he had just begun work with Flack on another album of duets. While his voice was reportedly in fine shape, he began acting irrationally in the studio. The recording session for the day and Hathaway returned to his hotel where he apparently leaped to his death from his 15th-floor room. His death was ruled a suicide although some friends were troubled by the conclusion since Hathaway’s career was just being resurrected.

A devastated Roberta Flack included a few of the duets that had been finished on her next album which was called Roberta Flack Featuring Donny Hathaway. Flack also vowed that “The Closer I Get to You” would always be dedicated to Hathaway and that all proceeds from the single would go to Hathaway’s widow and two children.
After Hathaway’s death, Flack spoke to Jet Magazine:

I tried to reach out to Donny. That’s how we managed to do the song we did last year. I felt this need because I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t save him, I knew he was sick. But I knew when he sat down at that piano and sang for me it was like it was eight or nine years ago because he sang and played his ass off.

The video for “The Closer I Get to You” was made after Hathaway was gone. The quality here isn’t great but you can see that his absence was handled by having the camera focus on a photo of Hathaway that is on a table behind Flack as she sits at the piano.

Soul Serenade: Linda Creed, Songwriter

Linda Creed“Linda Creed was such a sweet young lady. She started out wanting to be a singer and she wasn’t a bad singer but she was a great, great writer. All you have to do is listen to her lyrics like on “Betcha By Golly, Wow.” Listen to those lyrics and see how she was able to make those lyrics like that. Look at her lyrics on “I’m Stone In Love With You.” These are great concepts. Her and Tommy Bell were meant for each other.”Kenny Gamble

You may not know her name and yet she was responsible, in part, for some of your favorite records. The more you learn about Linda Creed, the more you realize just how extraordinary her journey was from the Mt. Airy section of Philadelphia to the top of the pop and soul charts. Her journey was as unlikely as it was spectacular.

Creed was born Linda Epstein in Philadelphia in 1948 and attended the city’s Germantown High School. Her ambition was to be a singer and she was still in high school when she realized that ambition by singing in a group called Raw Soul. Among the venues that the group played were the Philadelphia Athletic Club and Sid Booker’s Highline Lounge.

When she finished high school, Creed, like so many others before her, headed up the Turnpike to New York City to realize her dreams. She got a music business job working as a secretary for Mills music and in her spare time she worked on developing her lyric writing skills. But her dreams, like those of so many before her, died on the streets on the Big Apple and she returned home to Philadelphia, feeling defeated, eight months later.

All was not lost, however. Creed refused to give up and she was only 22 years old when her break came as Dusty Springfield recorded Creed’s song “Free Girl.” At around that time, Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff had gotten Philadelphia International Records off the ground and had formed a subsidiary company called Mighty Three Music. The third member of the trio was songwriter/arranger Thom Bell. Creed was signed to Mighty Three Music and she began working on songs with Bell. In 1971, Bell was producing the Stylistics and one of the songs they chose to record was a Bell/Creed composition called “Stop, Look, Listen (To Your Heart).” The single was a hit, reaching #6 on the Billboard R&B chart and crossing over to Top 40 success on the pop chart.

It was the beginning of an incredibly successful collaboration between Creed, Bell, and the Stylistics. Other collaborations included the hits “You Are Everything,” “Betcha by Golly, Wow,” “Break Up to Make Up,” “People Make the World Go Round,” “You Make Me Feel Brand New,” and “I’m Stone in Love with You,” the latter written with Anthony Bell. But the Stylistics were not the only group who had success with Bell/Creed songs. Bell also worked with the Spinners and they had hits with “Ghetto Child,” “I’m Coming Home” (with lyrics that were inspired by Creed’s time in New York), “Living a Little, Laughing a Little,” and “The Rubberband Man,” all written by Bell and Creed.

Linda CreedCreed got married in 1972 and her string of hits continued with tracks by Johnny Mathis (“Life is a Song Worth Singing,” later covered by Teddy Pendergrass), Phyllis Hyman (“Old Friend”), and others. In 1976, Creed and her husband, along with their baby daughter, left Philadelphia to live in Los Angeles. The future must have seemed bright but there were dark clouds on the horizon. That same year, Creed underwent a radical mastectomy after being diagnosed with breast cancer.

Not long after the surgery, Creed was asked to write the lyrics for a song (Michael Masser wrote the music) that would appear in a film that was being made about the life of Muhammed Ali. The song, first a hit for George Benson and then turned into an even bigger hit by Whitney Houston ten years later, was “The Greatest Love of All.”

By 1980, Creed and her family, which now included a second daughter, were back in Philadelphia. There, she had more success with Pendergrass (“Hold Me,” a duet with Houston), Johnny Gill (“Half Crazy”), and others. Over the years Creed’s songs have been covered by artists including Roberta Flack, Rod Stewart, Smokey Robinson, and Michael Jackson.

Whitney Houston’s version of “The Greatest Love of All” was released on March 18, 1986. Linda Creed lost her long battle with cancer less than one month later. I would like to think she knew that her lyrics, which were written while she was struggling with cancer and dealt with trying to cope with the challenges that life brings, helped to take the single to the top of the charts. It was one last beautiful message that Creed left us as her all-too-short life came to an end at the age of 38. A short life surely, but just as surely one of incredible achievement.

In 1992, Linda Creed was posthumously elected to the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

Soul Serenade: Teddy Pendergrass, “Love T.K.O.”

Teddy PendergrassHave you seen the new Showtime documentary Teddy Pendergrass: If You Don’t Know Me? I recommend it with a bit of reservation related to some rather dubious accusations that are thrown around by people who may, or may not, be reliable. The documentary tells the tragic story of a star who rose from humble beginnings to the verge of superstardom only to be disabled in a terrible automobile accident. But the film’s most important message and the one that makes it worthwhile viewing is that Pendergrass, in a wheelchair, his career seemingly over and intent on suicide, chose life.

Pendergrass grew up on the mean streets of North Philadelphia. He and his mother had moved there from South Carolina when Pendergrass was an infant. His father Jesse left the family early on and was later stabbed to death. The young Pendergrass began singing in church and had dreams of becoming a pastor, a dream he realized when he became an ordained minister at the age of ten. Around the same time, Pendergrass began to play the drums.

Pendergrass attended high school in North Philadelphia but dropped out in his junior year to pursue a career in music. He released one single, “Angel With Muddy Feet,” but it didn’t gain any traction. Pendergrass played drums for a number of local bands eventually landing in one called the Cadillacs (not the same group as the popular Cadillacs of New York City). At that time, Harold Melvin had founded a group called the Blue Notes and in 1970, when he heard Pendergrass play, Melvin asked him to become the group’s drummer. The Blue Notes hadn’t been able to find much success at that point. Then, one night Pendergrass sang along with the group from his drum chair. Melvin knew a good voice when he heard it and he moved Pendergrass from the drum set behind the group to the lead singer position center stage.

Things changed quickly for the Blue Notes after that and in 1971 they signed with Gamble and Huff’s Philadelphia International Records. The first Blue Notes single for P.I.R. was a ballad called “I Miss You.” The song had been intended for the Dells but when they rejected it, Kenny Gamble, with the similarity of Pendergrass’ voice with that of Dells lead Marvin Junior in mind, chose Pendergrass to sing lead on the track with fellow Blue Note Lloyd Parks handling the falsetto parts and Harold Melvin himself handling an early rap part at the end of the song. “I Miss You” was a major hit on the R&B chart, reaching #4 while almost making it into the Top 50 on the pop chart. Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes were on their way but much bigger things were still ahead.

The second Blue Notes single was once again a song originally intended for another artist, in this case, Labelle. A scheduling conflict prevented the Philadelphia trio from recording the song and it fell into the lap of the Blue Notes. It was a huge break for the group because “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” was one of Gamble and Huff’s most magnificent creations. The resulting single rose to the top of the R&B chart hit the Top 10 on the pop chart and made Teddy Pendergrass a star. There was just one problem — most people thought that the guy out front with the big voice was Harold Melvin.

Pendergrass kept leading the way on subsequent Blue Notes hits like “The Love I Lost,” “Bad Luck,” “Wake Up Everybody,” and “Don’t Leave Me This Way.” At some point, Pendergrass became unhappy with the way Melvin was handling the group’s finances, i.e. paying himself much more than the other group members, including Pendergrass. At the same time, Pendergrass was upset that he wasn’t getting the recognition that he had earned as the lead voice on all of those hits. He asked that the group be renamed Teddy Pendergrass & the Blue Notes but Melvin wasn’t having it and in 1975, Pendergrass left the group to pursue a solo career.

Teddy Pendergrass on his own was an immediate star. Continuing to work with Gamble and Huff, the self-titled Teddy Pendergrass debut album, which included the hit singles “I Don’t Love You Anymore,” and “The Whole Town’s Laughing at Me,” went platinum in 1977. The following year the album Life is a Song Worth Singing, did even better with the singles “Only You” and especially the smash hit “Close the Door” spurring sales. The latter song was the one that turned Pendergrass into an undeniable sex symbol.

The next album, Teddy, topped the R&B chart for eight weeks helped by the songs “Come Go With Me,” “Turn Off the Lights,” and “Do Me.” After the Live Coast to Coast album, Pendergrass released the perhaps his greatest album, TP. The album included massively popular tracks like “Feel the Fire,” a duet with Stephanie Mills, the Ashford and Simpson song “Is It Still Good To Ya,” and the classic “Love T.K.O,” a song written by Cecil Womack and Gip Noble, Jr. and first recorded by David Oliver. The Pendergrass cover reached #2 on the Billboard R&B chart and skirted the Top 40 on the pop chart. By 1982, Pendergrass, with his four consecutive platinum albums, was perhaps the biggest star in R&B rivaling even giants like Marvin Gaye. In light of his crossover success, some in the media were even referring to him as the “black Elvis.”

Teddy PendergrassWith Pendergrass at the peak of his success, on the verge of becoming an international superstar, fate intervened. On the night of March 18, 1982, Pendergrass was driving his Rolls Royce in Philadelphia. In the passenger seat was a performer named Tenika Watson who Pendergrass met earlier that evening. Pendergrass lost control of the car and hit a tree. He and his passenger were trapped in the wreckage for 45 minutes. Watson, who was later revealed to be transgender, walked away with scratches. Pendergrass had been struck in the chest by a dome in the center of the steering wheel, a decorative feature. The blow severed his spinal cord and he was left a quadriplegic.

Unsurprisingly, Pendergrass became depressed in the wake of the accident. He spoke about committing suicide. Desperately looking for a way to prevent Pendergrass from taking his own life his psychiatrist, a quadriplegic himself, hit on the idea of holding a mock funeral so that Pendergrass could see how much he meant to his family and friends. The radical approach worked and Pendergrass emerged from the ceremony determined to live.

Still, it wasn’t going to be easy. Pendergrass was determined to continue his career and with the help of his doctor, an apparatus was created that when worn would help Pendergrass find enough air to sing. But his contract with P.I.R. had expired and other record labels had no interest in signing him given his physical condition. In 1984, Pendergrass finally got a new record deal and released the album Love Language. The album got as far as #38 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was certified as a Gold album.

One of the most emotional moments in popular music history came on July 13, 1985, at the Live Aid concert in Philadelphia. Pendergrass had chosen a daunting venue for his return to live performance and he was so nervous that he almost didn’t go through with it. But when he rolled out on stage in his wheelchair during Ashford and Simpson’s set the ovation from his hometown crowd that greeted him seemed to go on forever. Together with his old friends he performed a tearful version of “Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand),” a song that had been a huge hit for Diana Ross and couldn’t have been more appropriate for the moment.

By 1988, Pendergrass was back on top of the charts with the single “Joy” and in 1994 he had another hit, albeit one of his last, with “Believe in Love.” Four years later, Pendergrass published his autobiography Truly Blessed. In 2002, he turned his Power of Love concert which had taken place at the Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles into the live album From Teddy, With Love. In 2006, Pendergrass announced that he would retire from the music business although he did return to perform at the Teddy 25: A Celebration of Life, Hope & Possibilities concert the following year. The concert marked the 25th anniversary of the accident while also raising money for the charity that Pendergrass had established.

Pendergrass faced colon cancer surgery in 2009. The surgery was successful but several weeks later he was back in the hospital with respiratory problems. On January 13, 2010, Teddy Pendergrass died at a hospital in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, not far from where he had grown up. On that day we lost one of the greatest voices of our time. Pendergrass was only 59 years old at the time of his death but by choosing life all of those years earlier he was able to enjoy the love of his family, friends, and fans for many years after his accident.

Soul Serenade: Harold Melvin And The Bluenotes, “If You Don’t Know Me By Now”

Harold Melvin and the BluenotesAlright, I admit it. There’s more Philly Soul covered in this column than music from any other soul capitol. There are a few reasons for that, the primary one being that when I was a kid in Atlantic City it was the music that the Philadelphia kids brought with them to the Jersey shore that made me love soul music in the first place. To this day, across all the years, it remains my favorite music. So this week I’m back with a Philly Soul record that was not only a huge hit but also represents all of the best aspects of the sound.

Great Philly Soul begins with the song and so many of them were the creations of Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff. “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” is one of them. The record was a smash for Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes but it wasn’t intended for them in the first place. Gamble and Huff had another Philadelphia group, Labelle, in mind when they wrote the song. For one reason or another, Labelle passed on the song and that’s when the writer/producers turned to Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes.

They were the Charlemagnes when they got together but by 1954 they were the Blue Notes and they had a long hard road ahead. They had some hits, albeit minor ones, with “My Hero” in 1960, and “Get Out (and Let Me Cry)” in 1965. The tide began to turn for the group when they recruited a drummer named Teddy Pendergrass to play in their backing band in 1970. The Bluenotes lead singer at the time was John Atkins but he left the group the same year the Pendergrass came on board. This led to Pendergrass, who had previously been a member of The Cadillacs (not the well-known Cadillacs from New York) being elevated to the lead singer role. That group, with Melvin, Pendergrass, Bernard Wilson, Lawrence Brown, and Lloyd Parks, was signed to Gamble and Huff’s Philadelphia International label in 1972. It was the same year that they released their breakout smash “If You Don’t Know Me By Now.”

The record, which featured an unforgettable Pendergrass vocal, was released on September 11, 1972. It quickly moved up the charts until it was on top of the R&B chart and at #3 on the pop chart. As big a hit as it was for the Bluenotes, 17 years later the English band Simply Red took it even higher. Their version made it all the way to the #1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100. The RIAA named “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” one of the Songs of the Century.

Harold Melvin and the BluenotesThe Bluenotes had been together in one form or another for 20 years when they first had major success and it didn’t end there. They dropped one hit after another including “The Love I Lost,” “Wake Up Everybody,” “Bad Luck,” and “Don’t Leave Me This Way.” Despite their success, the lineup continued to change and that situation went critical when Pendergrass, at the height of the Bluenotes success, left for a solo career. Melvin led them forward but the departure of Pendergrass was a blow from which they never really recovered. Still, Melvin led an ever-changing lineup until his death in 1997. Pendergrass had a. massively successful solo career until he was paralyzed in a car accident in 1982. Although he recovered enough to return to recording and performance, it was never really the same. Teddy Pendergrass died from respiratory failure in 2010.

No discussion of Philly Soul or the glory years of Philadelphia International Records will ever be complete without recognition of Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes.

Soul Serenade: Dobie Gray, “Drift Away”

Dobie GrayFor a pop songwriter, the gold standard is a song that has a chorus that people can sing along to. That kind of thing not only goes a long way toward having the song becoming a hit but also gives it longevity. If your chorus is catchy enough people are likely to still be singing it years later. Having spent some time in bars with jukeboxes and live bands I think it’s fair to say that “Drift Away” qualifies as one of those songs.

Lawrence Darrow Brown was born in 1940 into a family of sharecroppers in Texas. His grandfather was a Baptist minister which is how Brown first became inspired by gospel music. He moved to Los Angeles when he was in his early 20s with an eye on an acting career but it isn’t easy to break into the Hollywood scene so Brown turned to singing to make some money while he was waiting for his chance.

Brown recorded for several labels during this period, under several names. One of the people he encountered was a guy named Sonny Bono who thought the independent label Stripe Records would be a good fit for Brown. Once he signed on the people at the label suggested the name Dobie Gray which was inspired by the then-popular TV show The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis.

He may have acquired his name at Stripe but he accomplished little else. Success didn’t come until 1963 when he was recording for Core-Dak and it was a modest success at that. The single “Look at Me” climbed to the not-too-lofty position of #91 on the Billboard Hot 100. Two years later, however, Gray struck gold with his #13 hit “The In Crowd.” With the legendary Wrecking Crew backing him up, Gray hit the Hot 100 again with the follow-up, “See You at the Go-Go.” But things dried up for a while, a long while, after that.

Gray kept recording for small labels and he even got some of that acting work he’d come to L.A. for in the first place. He spent 2 1/2 years in the cast of the L.A. production of the musical Hair.

Do you remember Jethro from The Beverly Hillbillies? He was played by Max Baer, Jr. and after his acting career, Baer became quite a successful manager. One of his clients was a band called Pollution that had formed in 1970 and included Gray as the lead singer. The band recorded two albums that didn’t make much noise and by 1972 Gray had signed with Decca Records. He prepared to work on an album for the label to be recorded in Nashville with Mentor Williams as producer. Williams was the brother of the very successful songwriter Paul Williams with whom Gray had recorded some demos earlier.

Dobie Gray

One of the songs they recorded in Nashville was “Drift Away” which featured that indelible chorus as well as some fine guitar work from Reggie Young. The song was written by Mentor Williams and first recorded by John Henry Kurtz in 1972. The following year it became a #5 smash for Gray, selling a million copies and earning a Gold Record. Gray followed it up with his cover of “Loving Arms” which did respectable but not spectacular business, reaching #61.

By then Decca had been enfolded into MCA Records and Gray made three albums for the label. None of them was very successful, a problem Gray felt was caused by the fact that MCA “didn’t know where to place a black guy in country music.” Now a permanent Nashville resident, Gray signed with Capricorn records and had modest success with his last two solo singles, “If Love Must Go” (#78), and “You Can Do It” (#37). During this time, Gray toured in Australia, Europe, and after persuading the authorities to allow him to play to integrated audiences, South Africa.

Gray recorded for Capitol Records in the 1980s and had some success on the country charts. He continued to tour and release albums in the 1990s. Unexpectedly, “Drift Away” became a hit all over again when Gray recorded a new version of the song with the band Uncle Kracker in 2003. The new version made it all the way to #9 on the Hot 100 that year and spent an incredible 28 weeks at the top of the Adult Contemporary chart.

Dobie Gray died in Nashville in 2011. He was 71 years old. And we’re still singing that chorus.

Soul Serenade: The Delfonics, “Ready Or Not Here I Come (Can’t Hide From Love)

The DelfonicsDo you remember when you first fell in love with Philly Soul? For me, it was in 1968 because that was the year when the Delfonics’ “La La Means I Love You” came pouring out of radio speakers everywhere to offer a balm in a very troubled time. There had certainly been great Philly Soul records before. Several of the Intruders hits come to mind but there was something so magical about the Delfonics sound that it transcended everything else.
I remember seeing the Delfonics on television around that time. Their stage presence was as unique and special as their sound. Into a world that was in love with the Motown way of performance, the powerful athletic movement embodied in the live appearance of the Temptations came this trio with slow angular moves that owed more to modern ballet than anything else. And there were no slick suits either. Instead, the Delfonics appeared in turtlenecks and bell bottoms. It was as if Philadelphia meant to announce, as if such an announcement was necessary, ‘hey, we ain’t Detroit.’

The Delfonics released two new singles in the wake of “La La.” Both of them did alright, “I’m Sorry” reaching #42 on the charts and “Break Your Promise” doing a little better at #35. Both songs had been written, just as “La La” had been, by producer Thom Bell along with William Hart, who sang lead on the hits. The original Delfonics trio also included Hart’s brother Wilbert and Randy Cain. That was the classic lineup.

The Delfonics

Next up came a single that wasn’t a hit any bigger than the previous two singles but, clocking in at just over two minutes, it made a lasting impression. “Ready or Not Here I Come (Can’t Hide From Love)” was again written by Bell and Hart. It was released by Philly Groove Records on October 22, 1968 (the record just celebrated its 50th anniversary) and rose to #35 on the pop chart and #14 on the R&B chart.

The Jackson 5 covered “Ready or Not” on their 1970 Third Album. Perhaps the biggest moment of afterlife for the song came when the Fugees interpolated it for their huge 1996 album The Score. The following year, Missy Elliott sampled “Ready or Not” for her song “Sock It 2 Me.” “Ready or Not” has also been sampled by Three 6 Mafia and Lil’ Kim among others.

Despite releasing some great records after “Ready or Not” the Delfonics only had big chart success one more time, that with “Didn’t I Blow Your Mind” a Top 10 single in 1970. Randy Cain left the Delfonics the following year and was replaced by Major Harris. An even bigger set back came when Thom Bell, who had such an important role in the success of the Delfonics as producer and songwriter, moved on to work with the Stylistics and the Spinners.

The Delfonics split up in 1975 but there are groups touring with some variation of that name right up to today include William “Poogie” Hart & the Delfonics, and Wilbert Hart, formerly of the Delfonics. Randy Cain passed away in 2009.

Soul Serenade: Rose Royce, “Car Wash”

Rose Royce







A little over four years ago I featured the L.A. band Rose Royce in this column. The focus of my story was their Top 5 1978 hit “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore.” But about a year earlier the band, which got their start in Watts under the name Total Concept Unlimited, had an even bigger hit when their debut single was included on the soundtrack album for the hit film Car Wash. The title track wasn’t the only Rose Royce hit from the Car Wash album either. “I Wanna Get Next to You” and “I’m Going Down” were also Top 10 R&B hits. But it was the “Car Wash” single that ascended to the very top of the Billboard Hot 100 as well as the R&B chart.

Car Wash (the film) was directed by Michael Schultz who was also responsible for the 1975 hit Cooley High. Schultz had the good sense to enlist the legendary Motown producer Norman Whitfield to produce the Car Wash soundtrack. Whitfield was hesitant at first but eventually he was swayed by two factors. First of all, the album would provide an opportunity for the new band, Rose Royce, that he had signed to his own label, TCU, in 1975. The other factor? Well, it was pretty apparent that the film and its accompanying soundtrack would be a financial windfall for those who were involved.

Legend has it that Whitfield had trouble coming up with a title track for the film until one day while playing basketball the idea came to him. It is said that he wrote the first draft of the lyrics for “Car Wash” on a paper bag from a fried chicken place. If you’ve seen the film, and who hasn’t, you know that the title song set the tone perfectly for it. Gwen Dickey a.k.a. Rose Norwalt sang lead for Rose Royce and she was ably assisted by guitarist Kenji Brown.

The “Car Wash” single sold two million copies and held down the #1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 for a week in January 1977. The entire Whitfield-produced album was comprised of Rose Royce songs and also spawned the two other aforementioned hits. That year, the Car Wash soundtrack album won a Grammy Award for Best Score Soundtrack Album.

Rose Royce continued to move forward with hits like “Do Your Dance,” “Ooh Boy,” “Wishing on a Star,” “I’m in Love (and I Love the Feeling),” and “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore” before releasing their final album in 1979. Dickey left the band the following year and it seemed to mark the end of the road for the band but the other members eventually reunited and had some success as a touring act.

Soul Serenade: Hot Chocolate, “You Sexy Thing”

Hot ChocolateThis week we travel across the Atlantic again to find our soul. You may recall that not too long ago I featured another great British soul band called the Foundations. This week I bring you Hot Chocolate and their indelible 1975 hit “You Sexy Thing.”
The band got together in 1968 and the original lineup included singer Errol Brown, guitar player Franklyn De Allie, drummer Jim King along with percussionist Patrick Olive and bass player Tony Wilson. One King, Jim, was soon replaced by another, Ian (no relation). The new King left too and was replaced by drummer Tony Connor. There was also a change at the guitar spot when De Allie was replaced by Harvey Hinsley.

They were originally dubbed the Hot Chocolate Band but that was soon shortened to merely Hot Chocolate by producer Mickie Most. Their first record deal was with Apple and it happened in a roundabout way. Hot Chocolate had recorded a reggae cover of John Lennon’s “Give Peace a Chance” without realizing that you needed permission to do such a thing. It didn’t take long for Apple to get on the phone to tell Brown that while he needed the ok from them it turned out the Lennon himself liked what he heard and that led to the record deal.

Unfortunately, the Beatles were breaking up at the time and it wasn’t long before Hot Chocolate and Apple Records went their separate ways. Then, in 1970, Most stepped in. He had a label called Rak and he signed Hot Chocolate. They released singles like “Love is Life,” “Emma,” “You Could Have Been a Lady,” and “I Believe in Love” all of which were substantial hits in the U.K.

In 1973, Hot Chocolate released a song about an interracial romance that was written by Brown and Wilson. The original version of “Brother Louie” was a Top 10 UK hit for Hot Chocolate and an even bigger hit when the American band Stories took their cover version to the top of the U.S. charts. Although they were already successful, the dawn of the disco era in the mid-’70s would take Hot Chocolate to the next level.

In 1975, “You Sexy Thing” took Hot Chocolate to the #3 spot on the U.S. charts. Three years later, “Every 1’s a Winner” did nearly as well, reaching #6 in the U.S. Although that was the last U.S. chart hit for Hot Chocolate they continued to have success with Top 10 U.K. hits like “No Doubt About It,” “Girl Crazy,” and “It Started With a Kiss.”

Eventually, chart success began to wane for Hot Chocolate but their music lived on through cover versions that artists like P.J. Harvey, Urge Overkill, and Sisters of Mercy added to their live sets. The writing was on the wall however when Brown and Ferguson left the band in 1986. Brown began a solo career and placed a couple of singles in the U.K. charts. By then, Hot Chocolate had disbanded but they reformed with a completely new lineup in 1992. The band continues to tour the U.K. and Europe.

Original Hot Chocolate vocalist and songwriter Errol Brown passed away in 2015 but not before he was awarded an MBE in 2003 and the Ivor Novello Award for his contribution to British music the following year. The enduring popularity of Hot Chocolate was confirmed when two of the band’s compilation albums reached the top spot on the U.K. album charts.

Soul Serenade: The Chairmen Of The Board, “Give Me Just A Little More Time”

Chairmen of the Board








I spend a lot of time traveling in my car between my current home in Rhode Island and my former home state of New Jersey. Last summer, I was delighted when SiriusXM added a channel called Carolina Shag which played the best of Carolina Beach Music. Unfortunately, after the summer SiriusXM removed the station from the radio airwaves and although you can still hear it online it’s just not the same as being able to listen in the car as you’re headed down the highway.

If you know anything about Beach Music you know that the Chairmen of the Board are the reigning kings of the genre. The group was led by General Johnson who was no stranger to musical success. Johnson had chart hits in the early 1960s with a group from New Orleans called the Showmen. Those hits included “It Will Stand” and “39-21-46” which itself is a Beach Music standard.

The idea for the Chairmen of the Board came from the songwriting and production team of Holland-Dozier-Holland which had left Motown Records in a contract dispute in 1967 and founded their own Invictus/Hot Wax label group. It was their concept to team Johnson with Eddie Custis, Danny Woods, and Harrison Kennedy. At first, the lead vocals were divided more or less evenly among the group but it wasn’t long before Johnson’s unique vocal style came to the fore.

Chairmen of the Board

“Give Me Just a Little More Time” was released in December 1969 and it rocketed up the chart to the #3 spot. By May of the following year, the record was a million-seller. Although “Give Me Just a Little More Time” was written by Holland-Dozier-Holland along with Ronald Dunbar, the ongoing lawsuit with Motown necessitated the use of the pseudonym Edythe Wayne in the songwriting credits. One thing that hadn’t changed for Holland-Dozier-Holland was their use of the Funk Brothers to supply the backing track just as they had done on all of those Motown hits.

While “Give Me Just a Little More Time” was the biggest hit for the Chairmen of the Board, it was not their only success. The group also scored with “(You’ve Got Me) Dangling on a String,” “Everything’s Tuesday” (the B-side of that single was the original version of “Patches” which was later a hit for Clarence Carter), and “Pay to the Piper.”

There were several lineup changes and solo albums by various members but Johnson kept the act alive until 1976 when he signed a deal with Arista Records as a solo artist. Two years later Johnson and Woods reformed the group adding Ken Knox to the lineup. They founded their own label, Surfside Records, and began their career as Beach Music kings. The label exists to this day and so do the Chairmen of the Board although Johnson passed away in 2010 and Woods passed away earlier this year. Knox now tours with Thomas Hunter and Brandon Stevens.

The North Carolina Music Hall of Fame inducted the Chairmen of the Board in 1999.