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Archive for the ‘First Choice’ Category

Heart and Salsoul: BBR Reissues First Choice, Loleatta Holloway, Baker-Harris-Young and Love Committee

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B-H-YOne could call bassist Ronnie Baker, guitarist Norman Harris and drummer Earl Young unsung heroes, but it’s not quite accurate to describe the triumvirate of musicians, songwriters, producers and arrangers as unsung.  Individually or collectively, Baker, Harris and Young helmed productions by Blue Magic, The Trammps, First Choice, Ben E. King, Eddie Kendricks, The Whispers, The Persuaders, and so many more.  As part of its ongoing series restoring the Salsoul Records catalogue to R&B supremacy, Big Break Records has recently reissued four albums that, in part or in full, boast the Baker-Harris-Young imprimatur.  All boast comprehensive liner notes in well-designed booklets loaded with photos and artwork, upgraded sound, original Salsoul-style labels, and numerous bonus tracks.

Earl Young’s unmistakable drums are often said to have invented the sound of disco as he infused the use of the hi-hat cymbal into his playing on such landmark tracks for Philadelphia International Records as Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes’ “The Love I Lost.”  His trademark style is at the root of B-H-Y, the 1979 Salsoul release which put the production team front and center (CDBBR 0223).  Recorded at Philly’s Sigma Sound with regulars Bobby Eli and T.J. Tindall (guitars), Larry Washington (congas), the Sweethearts of Sigma (backing vocals) and Don Renaldo’s Horns and Strings, B-H-Y is a coda of sorts to the team’s incredibly productive tenure at Salsoul.  Baker, Harris and Young had all followed Vince Montana out of the halls of PIR and to the upstart New York label, challenging Gamble and Huff for dancefloor supremacy.  But by 1980, naysayers had pronounced disco dead (not quite true!) and Harris had done the unexpected and returned to the Philadelphia International fold, releasing his one and only solo album, The Harris Machine.

For one of their final major flings at Salsoul, B-H-Y turned out a set of eight funk and disco-flavored originals tailored for both the disco and the bedroom.  The compositions aren’t up to the standards of the team’s finest, but the production values are as strong as ever.  Norman Harris, always a virtuosic talent whose best work can compare favorably to that of Thom Bell or Bobby Martin, was in charge of B-H-Y’s highlights.  Produced, arranged and co-written by Harris, the melodic “Handle Me with Love and Care” has the signature Philly horns and strings over a pulsating, Love Unlimited-style track.  Ron Tyson, of The Ethics and The Temptations, joins with the Sweethearts for the sexy “Take My Body Now,” produced by Harris and arranged by George Bussey.  If Harris helmed the album’s two most soulful songs, Earl Young produced its two edgiest tracks.  “I Just Want to Funk (With You)” and “We Funk the Beat” both take a page from the Parliament-Funkadelic playbook.  Bruce Gray (songwriter of First Choice’s “Let No Man Put Asunder”) co-wrote and sings lead vocals on “I Just Want to Funk (With You)” as well as his own production of “Touch Me While I’m Touching You.”  B-H-Y ends with the exclamation, “B-H-Y, flying high!” and even if B-H-Y isn’t their finest hour, it’s worth a listen for disco and Philly soul connoisseurs.  Big Break has treated the album with love and care in this edition remastered by reissue producer Wayne A. Dickson and annotated by Stephen SPAZ Schnee.  One bonus track has been added, the 12-inch mix of the brassy, grooving album opener “Come As You Are.”  Bring your dancing shoes!

After the jump, we’re spinning BBR’s expanded reissues from Loleatta Holloway, First Choice and Love Committee!  Plus: full track listings with discography, and order links for all four titles! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

July 10, 2013 at 10:13

Dance A Little Bit Closer: Gold Legion Uncovers “The Salsoul Records Story”

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Salsoul Records StoryJust in case you didn’t already know, there’s plenty of gold to be found from the Gold Legion label.  Since its inception, Gold Legion has reissued and remastered classic disco records from master tape sources, adding copious annotation and bonus tracks to flesh out the stories behind the music.  Some of Gold Legion’s previous releases have been dedicated to iconic singer-actress-model Grace Jones, “Turn the Beat Around” diva Vicki Sue Robinson, The Emotions as produced by Maurice White and Charles Stepney, Blondie’s Debbie Harry, and Oscar and Grammy-winning producers Paul Jabara and Giorgio Moroder.    Lesser known but no less worthy artists have also received the Gold Legion treatment including Philadelphia-created session group The Ritchie Family, singer-songwriter Teri DeSario (who counted Barry Gibb and KC and the Sunshine Band’s Richard Casey among her collaborators), Canadian chanteuse France Joli, and club favorite and Moroder associate Suzi Lane.  In 2011, Gold Legion’s Disco Discography Vol. 1 brought together eleven tracks to show the diversity and depth of the disco revolution.  In essence, all of Gold Legion’s releases have shared that aim.  Two new compilations, each dedicated to an individual label from the disco era, continue the celebration of the spirit and soul of the genre.  We’ll take a look at one of those two today!

The Salsoul Records Story (Gold Legion 670945 62452 6) features ten selections from the catalogue of the New York independent label that gave new life and a new identity to a famous instrumental aggregation.  Philadelphia’s MFSB Orchestra had been experiencing some growing pains.  The “house orchestra” of Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff’s Philadelphia International Records, MFSB had grown restless by mid-1975.  The group was world-renowned, having sent records from The O’Jays, Billy Paul, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, The Stylistics and The Spinners to the top of the pop and R&B charts.  But certain vocal members felt they weren’t receiving adequate appreciation – and compensation – from Gamble and Huff’s empire.  At PIR, highly individual musicians emerged who could coalesce into an unmistakably sweet, funky and rapturous whole: people like Jack Faith (flute), Earl Young (drums), Ronnie Baker (bass), Bobby “Electronic” Eli, Norman Harris and T.J. Tindall (guitars), Ron Kersey (keyboards), Larry Washington (percussion), Vince Montana, Jr. (vibes) and Don Renaldo (strings and horns).  When Montana struck a deal with New York’s enterprising Cayre Brothers to helm The Salsoul Orchestra for the newly-christened Salsoul Records, he brought along those key MFSB players with him.  Some continued to also work for PIR, such as Faith, Eli and Renaldo, and some eventually returned to the Gamble and Huff fold, like Harris.  But at Salsoul, “The Sound of Philadelphia” took on a new dimension.

After the jump, there’s much more on The Salsoul Records Story including the complete track listing and order links! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

March 21, 2013 at 11:12

Do The (Salsoul) Hustle: Big Break Celebrates Salsoul Records Legacy with Four Reissues

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By 1975, Philadelphia soul had become too big even for the City of Brotherly Love.  In the first half of the decade, Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff had, along with the third member of their Mighty Three, Thom Bell, reinvented the sound of soul music.  The Pennsylvania city had become synonymous with sweeping strings, punchy horns and the hi-hat cymbal of drummer Earl Young, offering up music that could be dramatic, sweet and funky, sometimes all within the same three-minute song!  Bell had long kept a foot outside the Philadelphia International Records offices with his productions for Atlantic, Columbia, Avco and other labels, even while contributing arrangements for Gamble and Huff, especially in PIR’s early years.  The crème of the Philly crop, though, could be found at Joe Tarsia’s Sigma Sound Studios playing in MFSB (Mother Father Sister Brother).  PIR’s house orchestra, MFSB backed the likes of Billy Paul, The O’Jays, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, and the Three Degrees for Gamble and Huff, and The Stylistics and The Spinners for Bell.  Eventually, though, individual musicians and arrangers desired to step out of the Mighty Three’s shadow.  Norman Harris, Ronnie Baker, Earl Young, Bobby Martin, Bobby Eli and a certain Vincent Montana, Jr. all began to strike out on their own, bringing their individual spins to the already-familiar orchestral, proto-disco sound.  Enter Joe, Ken and Stan Cayre, the three brothers behind New York’s Mericana Records label.

What happened next is currently being surveyed on CD by Cherry Red’s Big Break Records imprint.  The Cayres went on to form Salsoul Records, still one of the most beloved labels in dance, disco and R&B circles.  Yet, until now, the mightily impressive Salsoul catalogue has never gotten the same kind of lavish treatment on CD as PIR’s for any number of reasons.  Likely high among those reasons is the fact that the label hasn’t always had a major distributor, as the Cayres were initially turned down by CBS, Atlantic and Polydor!  The existing CDs hardly seemed aimed at collectors, lacking deluxe packaging and fidelity to the original albums.  Finally, though, this new reissue series aims to restore Salsoul to its rightful place in the soul music pantheon.  Big Break has just launched its Salsoul campaign with four classic titles from the company’s catalogue, from The Salsoul Orchestra, First Choice, Instant Funk and Double Exposure, respectively.  Each title has been definitively expanded with bonus tracks and new liner notes, allowing this music to be explored and enjoyed once more.  (It’s no coincidence that Big Break has also been reissuing a number of PIR titles, including last month’s Love is the Message from the original MFSB line-up, featuring many of the players who went on to form the Salsoul Orchestra.)

After the jump: we pick up with the Salsoul story and take a look at all four titles! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

October 15, 2012 at 10:02