Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Vintage Articles:
Sylvester Changes - by Douglas Price //
The Advocate - October 19, 1977

One week ago on December 16th marked 25 years since Sylvester's untimely death, from AIDS complications in 1988. Not that it hasn't been said before, but that someone who was not only openly gay, but as unapologetically individual as Sylvester could become one of disco's biggest stars, if there was anyone that symbolized disco at its most liberating, it was Sylvester..

Given the strides in LGBT visibility over the past decade, and having been the subject of documentaries, tribute shows and more recently, a long overdue reissue of his Greatest Hits; despite the 25 years since his death, his legacy and impact still feel as relevant as ever. Thinking about Sylvester lately, I began looking through my files and found this interview with Douglas Price from the October 19, 1977 issue of The Advocate..

Pre-Mighty Real, this interview captures a fairly pivotal moment in his career, having just released his eponymous album, his first for Fantasy, its cover image of a dapper suited Sylvester marked a fairly major departure from the days of the Cockettes and The Hot Band (even if the butch drag never did stick). Discussing his ambitions, like playing the San Francisco Opera House (which he eventually did), Sylvester seemed to be just on the verge of taking off and both artist and interviewer seemed to know it. Eminently quotable, those who have read Joshua Gamson's excellent biography - The Fabulous Sylvester will likely recognize a few quotes taken from this interview. If one didn't realize how perfectly suited that title was, if this interview was any indication, 'fabulous' also appears to have been one of his most well-used adjectives in conversation.

Before I give out any more spoilers, read on and enjoy...

______________________________




Sylvester Changes by Douglas Price

"Changes... Lord I'm so tired of changes." But change seems to be the catalyst behind a singing career that has taken Sylvester from the raunchy drag days of the Cockettes' haphazard appearances at San Francisco's Palace Theatre to one-night stands in cabarets as the blackest Egyptian "queen" since Cleopatra; resplendent with feathered headresses, gold and silver trappings of the gaudiest proportions, to hot pants, sequins and more glitter.

Glitter and outrage: terms synonymous with a man possessing a voice that can range from down-and-out gospel to cool blues and jazz. Tender lyrics ... hot pulsating disco rhythm ... all delivered in a strikingly clear falsetto that belongs to Sylvester alone.

Those lucky enough to have followed his often erratic career see the changes. New changes: new album, a new record company, a new manager, a big new band, a new look ... toned down from the old days but nonetheless electrifying. And backing him up are two of the most talented women to hit the musical scene in some time. Their show saturates the audience with the real love of performing.

This man of changes lives quietly with his lover in a pleasant apartment tucked on the side of Twin Peaks overlooking Castro Village in San Francisco, his adopted home. No sequined curtains at the windows, no glitter on the ceiling; instead a quiet place to live surrounded by the things he loves. Most noticeable is a collection of his photographs grouped family-style around those of Lena Horne, Ivy Anderson, Billie Holiday and Josephine Baker. "They're my idols" he says quickly.

On the balcony two five-month-old Borzois are lounging against the San Francisco skyline. "One is Uri and the other is Festoff. Actually pets are my first real love," Sylvester says. "I love to train them to be perfect. Not show dogs, but to stand right and look good and go prancing around town looking fabulous!"

Prancing around and looking fabulous. It sounds like your life. It's all show biz isn't it?

Every day. My fantasies are my realities. I live that way ... then I'm happy. When I conform too much it makes me nervous.

Besides the changes in your management and band, are there any other changes?

Yeah, changes in myself. Changes from the old days. I'm more settled now ... less outrageous, I think, in the way that I think.

Less outrageous than in the days of total outrage, the Cockettes? Where are the Cockettes now?

I have no idea. That's all in the past. Their only claim to fame was the Cockettes and a lot of them never evolved any further than that. To me that's something in the past. That's something that happened along with my big Egyptian shows or blues shows. People who saw them got it; those who didn't, missed it. They can't be recaptured. The Cockettes died in New York and that was it. You don't die in New York ... in music, theatre, or whatever. That's when I decided I'd have to crank here in San Francisco again.

Why San Francisco instead of Los Angeles?

I grew up in L.A. and hated it. It's an awful place for artists and musicians. It's hard there. You could work your whole life and not get where you want. I was out of place. It was too straight ... too strange all the time.

I came to San Francisco and loved it. I saw things and met people I would have never known in Los Angeles because it was hush-hush or you had to belong to a certain clique to be involved. When I came here, everybody - the fabulous ones, the poor ones, the queens, the straights - were all carrying on together, having a good time. Moving to San Francisco was the turn in my life as far as my own personal liberation.

You speak of your personal liberation. What is that?

I strongly believe that I can do anything I want to any time I want to do it. I couldn't be that way in Los Angeles. Here I can do anything.

Was your early life centered in the black ghetto?

No! [laughter] A lot of people would generally associate me with that, but I don't know anything about it. I never knew what it was like not to have money, because I always had it, and when I got it I always went out and spent it on fabulous things. I wasn't from a general poor black family ... not at all.

Are you pleased with the new album?

Yes. The new album is the only one I've made that I like. I never listen to my own records. We don't play any of them here. I do play certain songs on this one. My favorite is "Tipsong."

You have aligned yourself with two great backup singers. Where did you meet them?

I went through auditions for three days. Martha [Wash] came first and I fell in love with her. I went through some more people, but they couldn't cut it. I finally went to Martha and asked her if she had a friend who was big like her and could sing like her, and she said, "Yeah." I met Izora [Rhodes] the next night and we rehearsed in the back of my V.W. van and we've been together ever since - a little over a year now.

How did the connection with Fantasy Records come about?

I met Nancy Pitts from Honey Records Productions at the Palms Cafe. She liked the show and told me she'd been looking for an act like mine. Then I met Harvey Fuqua. They came to the next show I did at Elephant Walk and were completely blown away. They told me they wanted to do this and do that and I said "Sure, all this time we've been looking for a manager; looking for a record company; looking, working and striving for this one goal." That night I thought, "Fuck it. I'm not going to be bothered. If it's going to come, it'll come. If not, I'm not going to die." That was my attitude. Lo and behold, everything I'd been looking for and working for did come. The negotiations and demo tapes were done; they came to me and asked how much money I wanted and I told them. They came back and said I could have this, this and this, and I started working on the album literally before the contracts were signed. That's how much faith they had in me. Before I knew it, the album was done and we were doing a thousand records a day. God, its been two months now and the record is number 20 on the charts.

Has success finally come for Sylvester?

Yeah, but I'm still not excited about it. I don't know when I'll get excited. At first I thought I'd be excited when I heard it on more than one radio station. Now they're coming in at three or four a day and it still doesn't excite me.

Do you think it is important that more gay entertainers begin to speak out on issues concerning human rights and stop hiding in the closet?

Oh God, yes.

Why don't they?

Why don't they? They must be scared, I guess - scared of themselves or the publicity. It might hurt their careers, especially if they're established from the past. But now it's O.K. No one really cares. My God, look at me. When I first went on the road I went to Kenosha, Wisconsin; Des Moines, Iowa; Duncan, Alabama; places like that. God, I had platinum hair down to my waist, birdseed tits, glittered high heels, and I was ragging and carrying on just like I was in San Francisco. I don't think you ever have to come right out and say "Look, I'm a homosexual; I'm gay; I do this; I do that." People should do what they have to do to make themselves secure. But when the time comes for a personal stand against bigotry, then I think people should get together. I am against discrimination on all levels, not just the gay level. My parents never taught me to hate or dislike or disrespect anyone.

In a song on the album, "I Tried to Forget You," you say, "You can have everything and be a king or a queen on a throne, but you still ain't nobody, baby, when you've got to sit there all alone."

It's true. Do you know where that came from? When I went to Europe I thought it was going to be the turning point of my life. I went by myself, which was awful. I really don't like being by myself. And there I was with all these things to see, places to go, and no one to share the experience with. No one for a second opinion. No one to say, "Look at that - isn't that fabulous?" So I came home and just started to work and its been going on ever since.

Why do you just use one name?

Because it's my trip, first of all. Nothing goes on with the band or the show that isn't from my head or energy. Before, when I gave all the credit to everyone, I'd get too many attitudes and couldn't really depend on anyone. I can always depend on myself. I will always know my material. I will always sing. I will always dress. So I decided since I'm doing all the work, I might as well let it just be me. All the way the responsibility is on me.

When you are working a show, you have an uncanny way of making people in the
audience, especially friends, feel as though you are singing directly to them.


God, I am. I always sing to people I know or a familiar face. Even when the audience gets really big, I have to have someone to work off. All I need to know is that one person gets it and then it works. Sometimes I just make a visual contact with someone and it takes up right there. Everyone sees me directing this attention at this one person and they think I'm cruising, but I'm not. Sometimes I'm just not physically up to doing a show, but the energy comes from the audience and I always get into it and figure I'll give it all 'cause I've got one more show to do.

Have San Franciscans seen the last of Sylvester in the gay bars on Sunday afternoons?

I'm afraid so, yes. It's sad in a way, 'cause I would always like a place where I could play for people for free. Like the Castro area. It is where I live, and performing in my neighborhood was my dream - like a workshop for new material. I got closer to people than ever before because I've always been afraid to be close to people. What people think scares me. I know they're going to think it anyway, but it really makes me nervous.

Where do you go from here?

The world. Everywhere that will take me. Anywhere. I'll play anywhere, anytime, to anyone. We're going to New York, Canada and probably Europe this fall. But first I'm going to have my birthday party in San Francisco at someplace fabulous like the Fairmont or the St. Francis, where lots of people can come and spend thousands on a big, big party. It's The Big One for me.

The Big One?

Yeah, my last birthday party. I can't say which one because most people ask how old I am and I just say I'm in my 20's, which I am. But this will be my last birthday party. I go to the lab shortly after, so I'll be ageless.

What do you want most to happen with your career

For it to be comfortable and not too demanding. But it's going to be. It's already started. I have no real projections except I want to play the San Francisco Opera House. I am - and I'm saying this - I am going to play the opera house! It's going to be a fabulous show with a full orchestra, lots of costumes, lots of lighting and lots of everything. Lots! And whenever you think you have too much, you should put on more, just to be safe.

Then the glitter, tinsel, outrage isn't gone?

No. Like I said, there's the streets and there's the stage. I just would not wear anything on the stage I wear on the streets. It is part of the illusion I want to create for an audience. So glitter and sparkle and lighting will always be there in some form. I always encourage people to smoke at my shows so that the lights will do little fuzzy things, because it creates a softness for me on the stage.

In other words, the theatricality of performing happens for you as much as for the audience?

Oh sure. I always get off on my shows. Even the bad ones. I've had shows I thought were awful, but there is always something to learn. I'm very critical of myself and the show. But if something goes wrong, I've learned to control it. Now I just burst out laughing.

Are there regrets looking back at 10 years of good times?

Yeah, I should have saved some money, but I don't really regret not saving it because I had fabulous times with all of it. Now I'm thinking of business ventures and investing my money.

In what?

Condominiums. Oh, and I'm going to open a chain of mortuaries. I really am. I'm going to open them, not work in them, although I did that for two years in Los Angeles. I was a cosmetician. I'll start off with one and have the best service available. I'm going to have Mercedes instead of Cadillacs. I am going to have a special hearse made by the Mercedes Benz Co. I will call it "Death with Dignity." Then I'll buy condominiums and live on a hill in San Francisco where I can see everything.
..............................

For a man who has spent the better part of his life making his fantasies his reality, it is hard to believe that Sylvester won't attain whatever goals he sets for himself. His show and album attest to that; they are as unique as the man himself: a person and product of his own invention, not perhaps for every taste; but for others there is no performer who can get down and sing with such style. He says it all in the last cut on the new album:

I don't care where you're going
I don't care where you've been
Going to keep you in my heart to be my friend
I'm going to love you more and more
'Cause I just want you to be my friend
And it's never too late, never too late ■


______________________________

LINKS:
sylvester - official website
facebook: sylvester (official fan page)
twitter: welovesylvester (official feed)
discogs: sylvester - s/t lp
youtube: sylvester - mighty real (music doc short)
rate your music: venue: the palms cafe - 1977 sylvester performances
uncle donald's castro street: the elephant walk (1975-1995)
mighty real - a fabulous sylvester musical
goodreads: the fabulous sylvester: the legend, the music, the seventies in san francisco by joshua gamson

CATEGORIES: VINTAGE ARTICLES, INTERVIEWS

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

It's a better than good time..


Recently I was tipped off by reissue consultant Donald Cleveland (who, for the record, was not involved in this particular project) to the quiet release of the full 12 minute Walter Gibbons acetate mix of Gladys Knight and the Pips' "It's A Better Than Good Time," as a bonus track on the Funkytown Grooves reissue of their "The One and Only" (1978, Buddah) album, just last month. For those who may be unaware, the Walter Gibbons mix of "It's A Better Than Good Time," is (or at least was), in both of its versions, one of the more coveted items among disco collectors. Originally released only in Canada as a 12" through Buddah's Canadian licensee, Quality Records, the released 12" version of Walter's mix ran at around half the time of the acetate mix, having been edited down to 6.53. However sought-after that Canadian 12" was (which has appeared on at least two compilations so far, mastered from vinyl - Strut Records' Bob Blank retrospective "The Blank Generation" and Joey Negro's "The Soul of Disco, Vol. 2"), the real rarity was the Sunshine Sound acetate, which until recently was the only place where Walter's full mix had surfaced. While the Funkytown Grooves reissue bills it as 'previously unreleased,' that's perhaps only partially true. The 12 minute acetate mix had appeared previously (and to much greater fanfare) on Strut Records' Walter Gibbons retrospective - "Jungle Music" (2010, Strut) a few years ago. That version was understandably lacking in sound quality, having been mastered from the acetate (which was also in mono). The Funkytown Grooves reissue however, is the very first time it has appeared in stereo, on CD directly from the master tapes, which like many disco masters from this time, had been assumed either lost or destroyed. That being said, while kudos are in order for the people at Battery Studios and Funkytown Grooves for bringing this forward, it's too bad they missed an opportunity here and neglected to mention Walter's name in the tracklist, anonymously calling it a 'full extended mix' instead and furthermore, repeating the typo from the Canadian 12" in the credits, attributing the mix to Walter 'Gibbens,' instead of Gibbons.

Written and produced by British writer Tony Macaulay, (who had come to prominence in the bubblegum era with songs like "Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)" and "Build Me Up Buttercup") and originally released as the single off "The One and Only," right at the acrimonious end of their tenure with Buddah, it's not entirely clear whether "The One and Only" was an actual album project they had embarked on, or whether these were leftover sessions cobbled together by the label. Whatever the case, this record had come out at what was likely the most tumultuous time in the group's history. With the flurry of back-and-forth suits and countersuits with Gladys (and eventually CBS - who signed her while still under contract) on one side, and Buddah, its then parent company Arista and their respective presidents, Art Kass and Clive Davis on the other, the lawsuits seemed to completely overshadow whatever music they were releasing at the time. As an example, in one issue of Billboard, the full-page ad (pictured here) trumpeting the album's release would appear, along with an article on the very next page, seemingly cancelling out all the hype - detailing the latest developments in the Gladys-Buddah suit.


Needless to say, it hardly seemed like a better than good time for much of anything. With all the ensuing legal action apparently preventing Gladys and the Pips from working together until 1980, if the whole thing wasn't messy enough, this was also happening in the midst of the divorce and ensuing custody battle between Gladys and her then husband Barry Hankerson (uncle of the late Aaliyah and one time manager of R. Kelly and with whom Gladys co-starred in their ill-fated film together, Pipe Dreams). Reflecting back on the brink of her and The Pips' return in 1980, Gladys would call this time "the worst period we've ever had in our entire career....the foundation [of] my family, my career.. everything just started shaking at once."

As far as the song itself goes, I had first come across it over a decade ago, when I had found a copy of Gladys Knight's first 'solo' record - "Miss Gladys Knight" (1978, Buddah). Even though I had no idea about the Walter Gibbons connection at the time, but having been after anything even remotely disco, it was this very song with the slightly altered title "It's A Better Than Good Time (Disco)" that prompted me to buy the record. Again, given that she was on the outs with her label, not sure if "Miss Gladys Knight" was actually intended to be Gladys' first 'solo' album, or just a bunch of leftover sessions assembled together (or in the case of this song, recycled) to make an album and/or fulfill a contractual obligation. Either way, I'd lean slightly towards the latter, since I remember being somewhat disappointed by it at the time. For an album that was supposed to be Gladys' debut as a soloist, the whole thing felt far too dull and pedestrian, and as far as "It's A Better Than Good Time," which was singled out as the album's disco showpiece, I have to admit, at the time the song (essentially a duller mix of the same one on "The One and Only") didn't strike me as anything special at the time, certainly not enough to redeem the record, or rise above anything else on it.

It wasn't until several years later, hearing about the how legendary its Walter Gibbons mix was, and the sums it commanded online (cut to me thinking: "that song? really!?") and later, finally hearing it for myself on someone's disco mix, that I finally realized what everyone was raving about. Listening back now, while the differences didn't render it unrecognizable, this is still one of those cases where this song's legendary status can't be attributed simply to its rarity, but true to Gibbons' form, to the fact that it's a genuinely excellent example of how a good extended mix can be more than just an excuse for extra dancing or mixing time, but how utterly transformative it could be in the hands of someone with the right amount of sensitivity and creativity.




Gladys Knight and the Pips - It's A Better Than Good Time (Full Walter Gibbons Mix)
 

While some are quick to point out Walter's awkward edits in places (one at the 6.09 mark, another at 6.48), what ultimately redeems it is the way he gave space to the vocals and the music; building and breaking down the song, amplifying all the emotion he could wring out of Gladys' voice. What Walter did not only gently deconstructed the layers of production, but also highlighted the feeling of the song in a way that the original version wasn't entirely able to. Take a line like "you could say I'm the classic case, my own thoughtlessness thrown back in my face," - which suddenly revealed itself on Walter's mix, but had completely passed me by on the LP, despite being one of the song's heavier lines. It's like all of the extra space - the subtle string passages, the newly prominent guitar and percussion, and all the ways he deployed the lead and background vocals gave extra opportunities for the song - its groove and the soulful touch of Gladys' voice to really sink in and make itself felt. After a little while, I can safely say that those awkward edits barely even registered to my ears. In spite of the whole thing running some twelve minutes, there's nothing about what Walter did that feels forced, arbitrary or overdone, like its length was not simply a consequence of a desperate disco extension, but simply the time that it took for a story to be told and for the song's emotions to be fully conveyed.

Apparently Walter's mixes of "It's A Better Than Good Time" and its B-side "Saved by the Grace of Your Love," a bit of gospel inspired disco-soul (which sounded like something Walter would have gone back to in his born-again days) which is also included on the reissue, were set to be part of an album Buddah was planning called "Dancing With Gladys," a companion of sorts to the "Dancin' With Melba" album they had released on Melba Moore (also reissued by Funkytown Grooves not long ago) - a collection of tracks from their Buddah back-catalogues remixed for disco play. Reported only briefly in one of Barry Lederer's Disco Mix columns in Billboard, given all that was going on, its release was more than likely thwarted by all the legal wrangling surrounding Gladys and Buddah at the time (and may also partly explain why the original Gibbons 12" only surfaced in Canada). Not sure if this means that there may be other mixes by Walter or anyone else from this project still lying in the vaults; for the moment though, while those who were lucky enough to have had an acetate copy of this all these years may find their copies significantly devalued, I think most of us can be grateful that this particular mix has been salvaged and is now fully available for everyone to enjoy, the way it was meant to be heard.

PURCHASE:

gladys knight and the pips - the one and only (expanded cd edition)
FUNKYTOWNGROOVES | AMAZON.COM | DUSTY GROOVE

PREVIOUS RELATED ENTRIES:
disco delivery #64: melba moore - burn (1978, epic) (saturday april 14, 2012)
r.i.p. loleatta holloway (tuesday march 11, 2011)
whitney does loleatta (friday august 7, 2009)
disco delivery #36: loleatta holloway - queen of the night (1978, gold mind/salsoul) (wednesday february 28, 2007)

LINKS:
discogs: gladys knight and the pips - it's a better than good time (sunshine sound acetate)
discogs: gladys knight and the pips - it's a better than good time (canadian 12")
discogs: gladys knight and the pips - the one and only (lp)
discogs: gladys knight and the pips - the one and only (expanded edition)
discogs: walter gibbons
djhistory: walter gibbons
tim lawrence: disco madness: walter gibbons and the legacy of turntablism and remixology (from the journal of popular music studies)
tony macaulay - official site
google books: billboard - closeup: gladys knight and the pips - the one and only (august 19, 1978)
google books: billboard - gladys knight and cbs face buddha records suit (august 19, 1978)
google books: jet magazine - gladys knight and pips file $23 million claim (may 25, 1978)
google books: jet magazine - gladys knight names brother, cousins, 2 disc cos. in $28 million suit (november 23, 1978)

CATEGORIES: MINI DELIVERIES, RECENT REISSUES AND RELEASES

Disco Delivery 3.0

Anyone whose visited the site in the past week or so may have noticed some visual changes here lately. It has been six years since I last made any major changes to the blog's appearance, so I figured an refresh was long overdue. It had been brought to my attention not long ago, how hard on the eyes the high contrast white-on-black of the previous layout could be. Since things can be a little text-heavy around here, I figured that was the first thing I needed to change. Still wanted to keep things as clean and simple as possible, but also take advantage of some of the new blogger features to help better navigate through the archives (see the Archive Navigation link, on the top bar) and as well, to connect this, the main blog, to all of my various Disco Delivery social media accounts (on the right).

While posts have been sporadic here, I've been thinking of moving this blog a little further along, from the mp3 blog which it started out as, to more of a personal disco archive (which it sort of is at this point, anyway). In the past several years, while researching things both disco and non-disco related, I've accumulated a bit of a digital scrapbook of vintage disco articles and visuals, so I hope to gradually share parts of that here in the very near future.

While some tweaks are still in order (I still have to clean up and organize the graveyard of on the right panel) I hope the new look here agrees with you all..

CATEGORIES: MISCELLANEOUS POSTS

Friday, November 08, 2013

21 years ago today..



I thought I'd dust off the blog long enough to commemorate this day - marking 21 years since Lawrence Philpot, better known as Larry Levan, perhaps one of the most legendary of disco DJs, passed away in 1992. I've often thought about why a singular figure like Larry Levan has come to have such a deep resonance with many people, including myself, who've come to appreciate disco long after the fact, people who were far too young to experience disco at its height, or even the Paradise Garage while it was still around. The reasons are undoubtedly many, and I could probably go on for pages and pages about the possible whys and hows, so I'll mercifully leave that for another time.. Simply put however, it's probably safe to say that Larry Levan has become a symbol of artistry and authenticity in a genre that has long been derided as anything but, and of what so many DJs dream of and aspire to. To command a loyal following and inspire the kind of loyalty that would allow that audience, that following, to let you take them wherever you want to, night after night..

Recently, while looking around on Soundcloud, I had found a 1 hour and 17 minute live recording of one of his sets at the Paradise Garage apparently from 1979 (although this recording contains tracks released later, so I suppose the time frame is debatable, whether this was even Larry at all has also been up for debate). Some might recognize the first part of the mix as Disc 2 of the "Larry Levan Live at the Paradise Garage" (2000, West End/Strut) double album that, speaking for myself, played a huge part in introducing me to the legacy of Larry and The Garage as a teenager, and was most certainly, in those days when file sharing and social networking had yet to really take off, the first time I had ever heard a genuine live disco mix. Not that he didn't and doesn't have his critics, who have sometimes bemoaned the lack of technical precision in his mixes. In fact after mixing things here pretty tightly in the first half, he takes a break from it in the second, playing full songs in their entirety. Ultimately though listening to Larry here and elsewhere proves, in my estimation, that time and time again, selection and feeling will always trump pure precision..



Larry Levan - Live set at the Paradise Garage (1979)

While the circumstances of Larry's final years were a long way away from the reverence his name inspires today, West End Records' founder and Paradise Garage backer Mel Cheren has a chapter in his autobiography from 2000 - "Keep On Dancin' - My Life & The Paradise Garage" about Larry's final years which despite a final triumphant stand in Japan, was a sad, emotional and sometimes frustrating read. It was often a picture of Larry at his lowest - penniless, professionally directionless and hooked on drugs. Towards the end of the chapter, Mel, who himself is no longer with us, nonetheless summed things up as succinctly and poignantly as probably anyone else has in the past two decades..

"We gave something to the world. Larry gave something that resonates to this day. Yes there are ghosts, yes there are many regrets. There were mistakes. But there is music, and joy, and acceptance and love. And today all over the world people remember. Young people, who were never there in person, are there today in spirit, dancing and singing, expressing their own hopes and dreams. That's what we gave... We could have done better. But then again, we could have done much worse."

While the clock is ticking on the last physical vestige of the Paradise Garage, there's currently a campaign to commemorate a section of King Street in Manhattan in honour of Larry Levan, much like Chicago has done for Larry's old friend - Godfather of House, Frankie Knuckles. Currently there's a petition going around trying to make that happen, which is just over halfway to its initial goal, and may just be worth some consideration..

PREVIOUS RELATED ENTRIES:
DISCO DELIVERY #65: MS. SHARON RIDLEY - FULL MOON (1978, TABU/CBS) (SATURDAY FEBRUARY 23, 2013)
I'M VERY SUPERFICIAL, I HATE EVERYTHING OFFICIAL.. (TUESDAY SEPTEMBER 15, 2009)
R.I.P. MEL CHEREN (FRIDAY DECEMBER 7, 2007)
THE GODFATHER OF DISCO (FRIDAY JUNE 15, 2007)
DISCO DELIVERY #38: PATRICK ADAMS PRESENTS PHREEK (1978, ATLANTIC) (THURSDAY MARCH 29, 2007)
BLACK AND WHITE RAINBOWS, COLOURFUL SHADOWS.. (THURSDAY SEPTEMBER 28, 2006)
DISCO DELIVERY #12: DAMON HARRIS - SILK (1978 WMOT/FANTASY) (FRIDAY MARCH 24, 2006)
THE FIRST DELIVERY: THE SUPREMES - MARY, SCHERRIE & SUSAYE (1976, MOTOWN) (TUESDAY JANUARY 10, 2006)

LINKS:
WIKIPEDIA: LARRY LEVAN
DISCOGS: LARRY LEVAN
FACEBOOK: LARRY LEVAN
DISCOMUSIC.COM: LARRY LEVAN
NPR - REMEMBERING THE JIMI HENDRIX OF DANCE MUSIC (BY MICHAELANGELO MATOS) (DECEMBER 6, 2011)
GLOBAL DARKNESS - LARRY LEVAN (1954-1992) REMEMBERING A LEGEND (BY RAVEN FOX)
DEEPHOUSEPAGE.COM: LARRY LEVAN
WIKIPEDIA: PARADISE GARAGE
FACEBOOK: PARADISE GARAGE
DISCO-DISCO.COM: PARADISE GARAGE
DISCOMUSIC.COM - PARADISE GARAGE
A GARAGE TRIBUTE
PARADISEGARAGE.NET
GOODREADS: KEEP ON DANCIN - MY LIFE AND THE PARADISE GARAGE (BY MEL CHEREN & GABRIEL ROTELLO
NEW YORK MAGAZINE - NIGHTLIFE: PARADISE LOST (BY ETHAN BROWN) (JULY 24, 2000)
FACT: WATCH A TWO-HOUR VIDEO OF LEGENDARY NEW YORK CLUB THE PARADISE GARAGE'S 1987 CLOSING PARTY (MAY 31, 2013)
FACEBOOK: CREATING LANDMARK STATUS FOR 84 KING STREET (PARADISE GARAGE)
CURBED: NEW YORK - DEVELOPMENT WATCH (WEDNESDAY JANUARY 16, 2013)
CAUSES.COM - RENAME A SECTION OF KING STREET NYC TO LARRY LEVAN STREET
FACEBOOK: LARRY LEVAN WAY

CATEGORIES: IN MEMORIAM.., MIX FIX

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Disco Delivery Mix #1: Disco Pride




A little overwhelmed by all the things happening on Pride/Canada Day long weekend here in Toronto, and I'm still keeping my schedule pretty light, all things considered. Tonight, to quote Fab - "the biggest disco queen of the 21st Century," Hard Ton is performing at the Hotnuts party, which judging from the videos, promises to be all kinds of mindfucking awesome insanity that I'm not even sure I'm going to be ready for. Also, the people at the 519 Community Centre, in their Green Space right in the heart of the gay village are reserving Sunday (same day as the parade) for their first Disco Disco event, bringing in legendary Montreal Disco DJ, Robert Ouimet who was perhaps the most influential disco DJ in Canada back in the day. For a little background, there's a great interview with the man in Cashbox Canada (yes, evidently they still exist!). Along with local DJ boys A Digital Needle and Phil V (even if you don't know him by name, you've probably seen him dancing), Canadian disco diva Patsy Gallant will be topping things off with a special performance in the evening. So glad Monday's a holiday..

With all the pride week stuff happening; in the last few days or so I got the inkling to put together a Pride-themed mix. Honestly, I've never recorded a mix before, and while I have Traktor (which I've barely used), I unfortunately still don't have the DJ controller to go with it yet, so apologies for the lack of actual mixing involved. As well, being new to things, these are mostly full songs too, so it's a bit of a doozy. Hope those of you who do listen will find the selections interesting, anyway.

Disco Pride Mix by Disco Delivery on Mixcloud


Given the pride theme, most selections have been chosen for both obvious and not so obvious gay themes/references and general relevance (and occasional campiness). Some are well-worn gay disco staples (hat-tip to Rev. Carl), others are not. Either way, happy listening and happy pride!

CATEGORIES: DISCO DELIVERY MIXES

Friday, May 31, 2013

Mix Fix #2: Beam Me Up presents Kon


One of the nice things about relocating to Toronto have been the disco parties (among other things) that happen here on a fairly regular basis, which range in size and frequency, but are usually successful at getting me out of the apartment every now and then. Lately, local edit/DJ duo A Digital Needle along with local producer/DJ/musician Cyclist, have been turning out one of the big local disco events to watch. In the year or so that I've been going to their monthly bash - Beam Me Up, their party has only gotten bigger, as has their local reputation, garnering some glowing write-ups in the local press..

Recently, the Beam Me Up boys have been taking things to the next logical level, bringing in some international disco specialists for their events, starting this past April with a well-received engagement with Al Kent of Million Dollar Disco. This weekend, they're bringing primo disco editor and digger Kon (Kon & Amir, BBE) to Toronto for a disco jam at the BLK BOX. In anticipation, the Beam Me Up boys have put together an hour-long warm up mix to get the people ready..



Admittedly, having been a bit of a purist and not having paid a whole lot of attention to the re-edit scene, I have to thank these guys for making me check out Kon's edits, which are generally a few cuts above the rest. As one of those cats who have access to multitrack masters, he's turned out some truly impressive cuts that even edit skeptics like myself can embrace. Check Kon's Soundcloud and his mix for Gilles Peterson on BBC Radio 6 (from his look on the edit scene, last April) for a little preview..




LINKS:
RESIDENT ADVISOR: KON @ BLK BOX (TORONTO - SATURDAY JUNE 1, 2013)
FACEBOOK: KON @ BLK BOX (TORONTO - SATURDAY JUNE 1, 2013)
SOUNDCLOUD: A DIGITAL NEEDLE
SOUNDCLOUD: CYCLIST
SOUNDCLOUD: BEAM ME UP
TWITTER: A DIGITAL NEEDLE
PLAYIN' FOR KEEPS (KON'S BLOG)
LEANROCK: STAYING ON TRACK WITH DJ KON (OCTOBER 25, 2011)
OKAYPLAYER: MUSICAL REVIVAL - DIGGING FOR TREASURE WITH KON & AMIR (MAY 17, 2010)
TORONTO STANDARD: A NIGHT AT THE DISCO (BY JOSH SHERMAN) (MAY 14, 2013)
THE GRID: THE NIGHT SHIFT: DISCO LIVES! (BY PAUL AGUIRRE-LIVINGSTON) (MONDAY DECEMBER 12, 2013)

CATEGORIES: MIX FIX, NUDISCO

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Gino Soccio speaks


One time, while at a bookstore in Calgary, I recall perusing through a volume on The Top 100 Greatest Canadian Albums, wondering, hoping perhaps, that they'd have something to say on Gino Soccio's "Outline" (1980, RFC/Celebration) somewhere in those 100 albums. After flipping through page after page after page, hoping to find something, then flipping back to the table of contents just in case I had missed something; sadly, no dice. How there would be nothing on an album like "Outline," possibly one of the most revered albums to come out of the booming Montreal disco scene on a list of 100 great Canadian albums, not at #1, #57, or even #99 felt like a pretty bold omission (among many others, it seems). While any list that positions itself as 'definitive' is always prone to biases, the prevailing mythology of Canadian music being what it is - unwaveringly tied to the Neil Youngs, Joni Mitchells, Guess Whos and various other white guys in rock bands, its omission wasn't exactly a surprise, but surely something of an injustice.

As far as Gino Soccio goes, in spite of being behind what have to be some of the greatest disco records to come out of Canada, his story and whereabouts have been, for quite some time, one of the great mysteries in disco. Amid rumours that the man had gone crazy, that he had retired to a quiet life working for the government, embittered by the music business (at least this is partially true), one dedicated fan even went so far as to launch a search campaign of sorts to find out. Not long ago, partially through the efforts of that fan's campaign, Gino showed up on YouTube, posting a few unreleased tracks (one of them dating back to the early 2000s). Though still very much an enigma, there was little from the man himself as to what ever happened to him, what prompted his exit from the music business or what he'd been up to ever since.

Waxpoetics: Invisible Man (by Jered Stuffco)

Just recently, Toronto musician Jered Stuffco, (one half of DVAS) took things a few steps further and completed a story on Gino for the latest issue of Waxpoetics (#55 - with Daft Punk on the cover). Most likely Gino's first published interview in at least a couple of decades, Stuffco talked not only to Soccio himself, but to other major players in his career and in the disco business of the day - RFC founder Ray Caviano (a casualty of the disco fast lane, but still alive!), John Driscoll of Quality Records, producer Peter Alves, and vocalist Erma Shaw. While the man doesn't compromise his current anonymity; the piece, apparently in the works for two years, goes further than just about anything else out there in revealing who he his, his unwavering evangelical passion (to take the article's description) for disco, and some of the personal struggles and music business excesses that put an end to all of it.

Though the man appears to have been burned by the business, whether or not he ever does anything else musically, as one of the brightest producers to emerge from the disco scene, at a time when many had begun to write it off, he will always have a solid place in disco and among disco's devotees. Read through to the very end for what is probably one of the greatest quotes on disco from one of its prime practitioners.

PREVIOUS RELATED ENTRIES:
FUNKYTOWN, MONTREAL (WEDNESDAY OCTOBER 21, 2009)
VINCE ALETTI'S DISCO FILES (WEDNESDAY FEBRUARY 4, 2009)
DISCO DELIVERY #46: GUY LAFLEUR - LAFLEUR! (1979, UNISON SPORTS) (SATURDAY OCTOBER 27, 2007)
MUTUAL... PHYSICAL... ATTRACTION (FRIDAY DECEMBER 1, 2006)
DISCO DELIVERY #9: KAREN SILVER - HOLD ON I'M COMIN' (1979, QUALITY/ARISTA) (FRIDAY MARCH 3, 2006)

LINKS:
WAXPOETICS: INVISIBLE MAN (BY JERED STUFFCO) (WEDNESDAY MAY 29, 2013)
DISCOGS: GINO SOCCIO
YOUTUBE: GINOSOCCIO1955
BEAT ELECTRIC: RFC/ATLANTIC (WEDNESDAY DECEMBER 30, 2009)
DJHISTORY - BREAKING ARTIFICIAL BARRIERS BY GINO SOCCIO
TOMSMUCKER.NET - GINO SOCCIO'S AMERIDISCO HIGH (JUNE 25, 1979)

CATEGORIES: CAN-CON DISCO, INTERVIEWS, WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO..

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Vincent Montana, Jr. (1928-2013)


I'm well overdue with this, but out of all the people in the music world, particularly those associated with the soul and disco worlds who have passed recently like Damon Harris, once of The Temptations; Major Harris of The Delfonics, Bobbie Smith of The Spinners and most recently, Richie Havens, I couldn't possibly let the passing of Vince Montana, on April 13th go unacknowledged here. As a vibraphonist, arranger and producer, if there was anyone whose work and pedigree spoke to the high level of musicianship that underlined so much of what made and still makes disco as foundational as it is, it's Vince Montana. One of the key members of MFSB's first generation lineup, which was essentially Philly International and by extension, Philly Soul's house band, having either played on, or arranged a number of Philly Soul standards, going back to The Delfonics' "La La Means I Love You," like many of the musicians who graced the Philly sound, and later many disco sessions, Vince came with a background rich in musical experience. Having been a working musician since his teens, rooted in Jazz, having played with the likes of Charlie Parker and Clifford Brown, by the time Montana would put together The Salsoul Orchestra, with many moonlighting Philly and Latin players; Vince, by then pushing 50, was more than a seasoned pro..

Loleatta Holloway and Vince Montana, Jr.
(courtesy: Facebook)
With him and Joe Bataan as the artists who ushered in the landmark Salsoul label, with his own Salsoul Orchestra as the flagship act, while he (and Bataan) would have misgivings about the Salsoul experience, being embroiled in royalty disputes with them for far longer than he had worked for them; the Salsoul Orchestra, which he freely acknowledged, would give him the platform to, as he put it, "do something for himself," giving him a level of name recognition which remained elusive while working in Jazz and even later for Gamble & Huff.

After leaving Salsoul, Vince would have another strong run on the Atlantic label, with his own Goody Goody album (featuring his daughter, Jazz singer Denise Montana on vocals) and two records for his own Montana Orchestra (one of which I had written about here back in November 2006). Even after disco, Vince remained active well into the 1980s and up into the 2000s, releasing music on his own Philly Sound Works label, and arranging records for the Pet Shop Boys, Robin S., Randy Crawford and for Masters at Work's Nuyorican Soul in the late 90s.

Disco Delivery #28: Montana - A Dance Fantasy Inspired by Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1978, Atlantic)

Among the posted tributes from his peers and collaborators on his Facebook fanpage, guitarist Bobby Eli in his own message would say that the Philly sound to him was "soul music dressed up in a tuxedo.., a sound that was topped off by the beauty of Vince Montana's masterful vibes. Vince's contributions through his arrangements and his touch on the vibraphone, riding atop many Philly productions (Kirk DeGiorgio's 2 hour tribute mix at RBMA Radio is a good primer) was undoubtedly one of the main elements which helped give the Philly sound that extra touch of class. As both Bobby and Vince emphasize in their interview for the 1995 WGBH-BBC Rock & Roll documentary series, the Philly sound, which gave birth to the Disco sound, more than being just the sound of a place, a label or even of a group of producers, was the sound of the musicians, like Vince, Bobby, Earl Young, Norman Harris, Larry Washington (among others) and the unique individual style and talent each of them brought to it.


While Vince didn't seem like the kind of person who lacked a healthy ego (his arguments with Tom Moulton certainly speak to that), nothing can take away the impact of his talent and contributions to the world of disco and beyond. As he had said in his 2011 interview with Robbie Busch (which they recently re-published online, in tribute) for Waxpoetics magazine's Philly Issue: "at my funeral they are going to play my stuff. I’ve told my children, 'Don’t ever let them forget my music.' I’ve put a lot of time and my life into my music."

Having lived that life of music well into his 80s, with a body of work and musicianship that continues to touch generations of listeners, hopefully it's a wish that will continue to remain well-kept.

In closing, his daughter, Eileen, who according to his obituary in the South Jersey Courier-Post had been maintaining his web/social media presence, had put together an incredible archive of video footage on his official YouTube account, including this 1978 TV performance of "Warp Factor II," taken from his "A Dance Fantasy Inspired by Close Encounters of the Third Kind" LP. Without a band or an orchestra, just improvising on the vibes to the recorded track; to see and hear him here is to witness a master at work..


Vince Montana, Jr. "Warp Factor II" - The Steel Pier Show (1978)
Uploaded by MontanaPSW

Once again, here's to you Vince! Rest in Peace.

PREVIOUS RELATED ENTRIES:
R.I.P. LOLEATTA HOLLOWAY (1946-2011) (TUESDAY MARCH 11, 2011)
COCKTAILS AT THE DISCO LOUNGE.. (MONDAY JUNE 11, 2007)
DISCO DELIVERY #28: MONTANA - A DANCE FANTASY INSPIRED BY CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (1978, ATLANTIC) (SUNDAY NOVEMBER 12, 2006)

LINKS:
FACEBOOK: VINCENT MONTANA, JR. OFFICIAL FANPAGE
COURIER-POST: RENOWNED CHERRY HILL MUSICIAN MONTANA WAS 'JUST DAD' (BY ANDY MCNEIL) (APRIL 19, 2013)
RED BULL MUSIC ACADEMY RADIO: KIRK DEGIORGIO - TRIBUTE TO VINCENT MONTANA, JR.
VVN NEWS: PASSINGS: VINCENT MONTANA, JR. OF TSOP AND FOUNDER OF THE SALSOUL ORCHESTRA (TUESDAY APRIL 16, 2013)
HIPHOP DX: MFSB MEMBER VINCE MONTANA JR. PASSES AWAY, LEAVES HIP HOP LEGACY (BY JAKE PAINE) (APRIL 16, 2013)
DANGEROUS MINDS: RIP DISCO LEGEND VINCENT MONTANA, JR, KING OF VIBES (BY NIALL O'CONGHAILE) (APRIL 15, 2013)
GREG WILSON - BEING A DJ: VINCENT MONTANA, JR. (APRIL 15, 2013)
HIFI MAGAZINE: RIP VINCENT MONTANA, JR. (BY J. MATTHEW COBB) (APRIL 14, 2013)
5 MAGAZINE: VINCENT MONTANA, JR., PIONEER OF THE PHILADELPHIA SOUND PASSED AWAY TODAY (BY TERRY MATTHEW) (APRIL 14, 2013)
THE KEY (XPN 88.5): RIP VINCE MONTANA, JR. (MEMBER OF MFSB AND FOUNDER OF THE SALSOUL ORCHESTRA) (BY BRUCE WARREN) (APRIL 13, 2013)
SOUL SOURCE: PHILLY LEGEND VINCE MONTANA PASSES (APRIL 13, 2013)
WGBH OPENVAULT: INTERVIEW WITH BOBBY ELI AND VINCE MONTANA (VIDEO)
WAXPOETICS: HEAVY VIBES - AN INTERVIEW WITH VINCENT MONTANA, JR. (BY ROBBIE BUSCH)
DISCOMUSIC.COM: INTERVIEW/PROFILE - VINCENT MONTANA, JR.
DJHISTORY: INTERVIEWS - VINCE MONTANA
ELECTRONIC BEATS: VINCENT'S GOT SO MUCH SOUL (AN INTERVIEW WITH VINCENT MONTANA, JR.) (WEB ARCHIVE)

CATEGORIES: IN MEMORIAM.., RE-DELIVERIES, VISUAL DISCO

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Disco Delivery #65:
Ms. Sharon Ridley - Full Moon (1978, Tabu/CBS)



"the sun is going down and the truth is the night..."

Sharon Ridley - You Beat Me To The Punch
Sharon Ridley - Just You and Me (Walking Along Together)
Sharon Ridley - Changin'
Sharon Ridley - Forever Yours
Sharon Ridley - Ode To My Daddy
Sharon Ridley - Ain't That Peculiar
Sharon Ridley - Guess I'm Gonna Have To Say Goodbye
Sharon Ridley - Nothing Else Means More To Me Than Our Love
Sharon Ridley - Full Moon

Out of the 60 some Disco Delivery posts thus far, this is probably the one which has the least in actual disco. In fact this record probably has more in common with quiet storm than disco itself, yet in that time between Smokey Robinson's coinage of the very term 'quiet storm' and its peak with the rise of Anita Baker and Luther Vandross, in one of those musical accidents that exists completely outside the official channels of promotion and hype; the lone single off this record - “Changin’” would end up finding its greatest audience through the skills of DJ heavyweights like Larry Levan, Robbie Leslie, Roy Thode and Bobby Viteritti in the gay discos. It would be one of the songs that would become emblematic of perhaps its most innovative height, when the gay disco scene existed not so much with a finger on the pulse, but in some ways, perhaps beyond it altogether.

Prior to this, Sharon Ridley had been a collaborator of the late Van McCoy, pre-Hustle, having recorded an earlier album with McCoy as producer, "Stay Awhile With Me" in 1971 for industry impresario Clarence Avant's ill-fated Sussex label. While Avant remains one of the most powerful figures in the music industry today; prior to the label’s messy bankruptcy, through Sussex, Avant had brought artists like Zulema, Bill Withers, Dennis Coffey and the much lauded Sixto Rodriguez - subject of the recent award-winning documentary "Searching for Sugar Man" to the forefront. After her Sussex album, aside from a couple of solo singles, Van McCoy and Ridley apparently inked what was optimistically called a “long-term recording contract” as reported in Billboard and Variety with Joel Diamond's Silver Blue label, apparently as a duo act, which never fully materialized (perhaps due to the take off of Van McCoy's own career) beyond a lone single - “I’m In Your Corner,” in 1973.

Not long after the demise of Sussex, Clarence Avant would go off on his next label venture, establishing Tabu Records. Prior to their success with the SOS Band and Jam & Lewis protégés Cherrelle and Alexander O’Neal, Tabu’s roster at the time was dominated by their breakout act, Brainstorm along with Trini jazz guitarist Michael Boothman and noted film composer Lalo Schifrin. Also among the label’s roster were former Sussex acts Jim Gold (who, like Sixto Rodriguez, was produced by Dennis Coffey and Mike Theodore who’d go on to make their own mark in disco) and Sharon Ridley. Ridley, it seems, would be among those who would have little mileage with the label, recording this lone album for Tabu before seemingly retreating from the industry altogether.

Like many others, I had first heard of Sharon Ridley through "Changin'," a ballad that would become without question, one of the penultimate classics in the great morning music/sleaze tradition in the gay discos. Sleaze, for those who may not be familiar, was not necessarily named for being ‘sleazy’ as the name may have implied, but for the slower, melodic, often emotional vocal quality of the early morning cool-down sets, of love songs extolling both its agony and ecstasy in what is perhaps one of the ultimate testimonials to the artistry of the DJs who championed it.

Initially though, for me it was purely by proxy. In 2001, at a time when I was just beginning to fully acquaint myself with disco, my first time hearing “Changin’” was through Linda Clifford’s Ralphi Rosario-produced cover. Combining some of the major forces of the disco era: the late Mel Cheren, founder of West End Records then in the process of reinvigorating his long dormant label with one of the top divas of disco, Linda Clifford, covering one of both Mel and Larry Levan's favourite songs, Linda Clifford's version was something of a landmark release at the time. With its attendant 8 remix single package, it seemed specially targeted to both back in the day disco queens and their turn of the millennium circuit party forerunners. Even though I didn’t exactly fall into either of those categories, having already known and loved many of Linda Clifford’s classic records by that time, along with their then recent package of Larry Levan’s West End remixes, I wasn't about to pass this one over.

When I finally heard and compared Sharon Ridley’s version for myself, not knowing anything about 'sleaze', I had been surprised at how completely unlike the Linda Clifford remake it was. Despite the overarching sense of conceptual continuity between them; with Linda’s peak hour versions giving off sass where Sharon was reflective, Sharon and Linda’s takes feel almost like opposite versions of the same song. Not to slight Linda Clifford in this case, but while perhaps a creative way to school (then) new audiences about a great singer, label and legacy; the emotional power of Ridley’s version remained then and still today undiminished in all its heartfelt, understated early morning glory.

Finally having bought a copy of Sharon's "Full Moon" album nearly a decade later, in late 2010, only served to deepen my appreciation for “Changin’” and the wider work of Ms. Ridley. Not having heard anything else from the album, it was practically a blind buy on my part (and hardly the cheapest of them either), but like the best of them, "Full Moon" has become more than just another record I own, but one of those special records that one takes to their heart.

Produced by Jerry Peters, a producer whose credits have spanned across both the R&B and Jazz worlds for artists like Phyllis Hyman, Syreeta, Deniece Williams, Ronnie Foster, Gene Harris and perhaps most notably in the disco world - Tabu labelmates Brainstorm and their hit “Lovin’ Is Really My Game,” this album feels slotted right in the middle of the disco-funk of Brainstorm and the fusion jazz of some of the other Tabu acts of the time. Peters surrounds these songs the kind of backing that takes his jazz experience and his work with the likes of Hyman and Williams, into crafting what have to be the richest, warmest surroundings ever given to Sharon’s voice.

At around 6 and a half minutes in length, longer than any of the other songs on the album, “Changin’” seems to have been singled out early on as one of the album’s centrepieces. From its opening notes and Sharon’s gently drawn-out phrasing, if there was ever an ideal theme for the sleaze ethos, or the agony and ecstasy of love and the many complex and conflicting emotions at the end of a relationship, it is this. As a portrait of the end of love - the gratitude, the regret, the good and bad memories; listening to Sharon feel her way through these lyrics makes this seem like a guide to the relationship grieving process in song. As music journalist Brian Chin once described it, Ridley’s vocals “convey regret, but she doesn't sound all that broken-hearted." While there’s a definite sadness here, it’s not of the kind of sadness that renders the woman completely hopeless without her long-gone love, nor is it the sadness of the wronged woman who comes out utterly self-reliant and defiant, wishing she never loved at all, but the sadness that comes with the end of any relationship that has been invested with love, a love that had changed, but won’t - that can’t - simply extinguish itself, even when it has run its inevitable course. This is a song for those endings when the road apart seems daunting, but the emotional reality of the situation, even more so; for all those endings and new beginnings, when love is no longer enough and there's no choice but to move on; with sadness, perhaps, but without regret.

Although "Changin'" never did receive a 12" single release when it originally came out (both a Canadian 12" and another in the Mixed Masters series came later), an extended 8.56 edit, originally done for Hot Tracks in 1984 does exist, which has since been circulating on a bootlegged white label 12".

As far as cover versions go, aside from Linda Clifford’s 2001 version, the late Esther Phillips would cover this song a few years later on her album “Good Black Is Hard to Crack” (1981, Mercury), produced by Benny Golson. In 2004, rapper Xzibit and producer Thayod Ausar would sample the opening notes of “Changin’” for the track “Back 2 The Way It Was” on Xzibit's album "Weapons of Mass Destruction" (2004, Columbia).

Although as the first version released, I've always considered Sharon Ridley’s version the original; one of the writers of the song, James McClelland - better known in Soul circles as Jesse James, recorded the earliest version of this song. Then titled, “I Feel Your Love Changing,” James had recorded his version in 1975 while under contract to the 20th Century label, which remained unreleased until 2010, when the Soul Junction label in the UK released it on 7”, later including it on their compilation of James' work, “Let Me Show You” (2012, Soul Junction).


Jesse James - I Feel Your Love Changing
Uploaded by Mark Speakman


James’ version, straddling the line between the rougher, rawer Northern Soul sound and the more polished sheen of 70's Modern Soul, also carries some subtle and not so subtle differences in interpretation. Where Sharon’s interpretation was, to a point, more impartial; a plea for a mature, even amicable parting of ways amid the sadness, James’ version feels like an impassioned plea to salvage what has been broken. Though Sharon may have portrayed a woman who was wronged, whatever her feelings, she doesn’t necessarily place herself as a victim here. Sharon seems to approach the song as a woman who's made her choice and is at peace with it; whereas James’ version, with its desperate vocal, feels more like a portrait of a man's inner turmoil; grappling with all the changes he's been put through, knows he's at a crossroads, but not quite ready to leave it all behind. Perhaps one of the reasons why the writing credits differ slightly across both the Jesse James and Sharon Ridley versions. While James McClelland/Jesse James is credited on both, producer Jerry Peters and background singer Lynn Mack get additional credit on Sharon’s version. Musical similarities notwithstanding, while they may not be entirely different songs altogether, they’re not entirely the same, either.

Though "Changin'" completely eclipsed the rest of the record in terms of recognition, in the context of the album itself, the whole thing is so uniformly strong that not even a song like "Changin'" can completely overshadow anything else on offer here in terms of strength, quality or feeling. Though the record includes a couple of originally executed Smokey Robinson-penned Motown covers, the Robinson connection dovetailing ever so appropriately with its quiet storm credentials, opening with Mary Wells' "You Beat Me To The Punch" and later on in side two with a version of Marvin Gaye's "Ain't That Peculiar," the real moments here are the originals, which with the exception of "Changin'," were all written by Ridley herself, where the record's intimacy really takes shape. While "Changin'" was the invitation and the welcome, Sharon's songs are the full experience here. The album's centre, both literally and figuratively, "Forever Yours" and "Ode To My Daddy" are both delivered with a tenderness that manages to be both moving and personal without feeling overbearing. The latter - “Ode to My Daddy” - humble in title but as personal and specific as it gets, out of all the songs on the album, this is one which in it’s own unassuming way, cuts straight to the heart. Singing about grief as adeptly and sensitively as she sang about the parting of lovers in “Changin’;” as a eulogy in song, whether or not one has experienced the loss of a parent, her lyrics summarize the feelings of love, loss and regret with an emotional clarity and honesty that’ll take you there, to that moment, whether you’ve already been there or not.

"Forever Yours" is yet another, right on the heels of "Changin'" that's so good it felt practically wasted at only half the time. Having opened with the most splendorous of orchestral intros, carried forth with an impossible to forget "darling, forever.." refrain, it's one moment that felt like it deserved to be elaborated on just a bit more than its allotted three minutes (and probably would have had it not been the time limitations of vinyl). I, for one, would have gladly traded at least one of the album's Motown covers for a few more moments of this.

Ridley's ability to cultivate these moments of warmth and intimacy out of what seem to be the subjects of seemingly simple love songs is perhaps best experienced as she tells us how "Nothing Else Means More To Me Than Our Love." With all the attendant hopes, dreams and tender surrender of a love letter written to music, Ridley imbues a line like "the only love I found that lets me be me, that lets me feel free" with a knowing sincerity that would be almost innocent if her voice didn't carry the weight of someone who had seen and felt enough disappointment to know better. That she seems to hold back from a full vocal release until the very end only makes that emotional surrender feel all the more true.

Musically, the the jazz influence is most apparent on the title track, “Full Moon,” perfectly placed as the concluding track on the record. A song of escape and wild desire, appropriately enough, it’s perhaps the most musically adventurous song on the record with it and “Guess I’m Gonna Have to Say Goodbye” being the closest things to uptempo tracks on the album. Although perhaps too jazz-oriented for either to have any actual disco traction, both, particularly the former contain some of the record's most stunning, intricate guitar work.

Like many disco or disco-associated acts of a similar vintage, I had become fascinated not just by the music in this album, but also by the complete enigma that seemed to surround it. In this case, this wasn't some anonymous studio group or singer whose mystery was purely by design, this was someone who had crafted an intimate piece of work and then disappeared just as she had left her mark - perhaps not on any Billboard chart, but certainly in the hearts of the many early morning dancers who wound down long marathon nights at legendary venues like The Saint or the Paradise Garage (as divergent as they were) to the emotional currents of this song. The fact that this seemed to go without any sort of acknowledgement, of who Sharon Ridley was, what ever happened to her and whether or not she was aware of how many people loved and still treasure her song, only seemed to cement its emotional and material value.

Sharon Ridley had a special way with the material here, originals and covers alike - an easy, graceful sincerity; an approach which feels exceedingly rare, out of place and even down-right old-fashioned today, where most things tend to fall into either distant posturing, irony or overblown bombast. Meeting us half-way between the warmth of Brenda Russell and the smooth touch of Anita Baker, much like Russell and Baker, Ridley had an underrated ability to present songs in a way that can be both disarmingly personal and heartfelt without crossing over into cloying schmaltz. Paired with the production of Jerry Peters, they capture a sound here that's gentle and inviting yet still musically sharp.

While Sharon doesn’t seem to have much in the way of musical credits following the release of “Full Moon,” the lady is apparently still around, performing regularly as a jazz pianist in LA at least as recently as July of last year. Surely she must know she has some fans out there.

More recently the Demon Music Group in the UK, the same people behind the Harmless label and their excellent Disco Discharge and Disco Recharge series have acquired the license to the Tabu label catalogue. While a reissue program is in the works, set to kick off with some of the label's best known acts like the SOS band, Alexander O'Neal and Cherrelle, here's hoping the lingering boom in disco related reissues will also have them reaching back and revisiting this album so it too can be appreciated all over again. While “Full Moon” would end up in the 50-cent cut-out bins several years after its release, copies of the album have been known to fetch anywhere from $30-$90 US online in recent years. Which, admittedly, is nothing next to what people have paid for the bootleg white label of "Changin'."

Whether an album like this would have been better received if it had been released several years later is perhaps anyone’s guess, however nothing can take away from the hidden strength of this record and the gentle force of Ms. Sharon Ridley's vocals. For as far as they're concerned, time hasn't taken anything away here, it has only made their feeling all the more palpable. To paraphrase a bit from the old Tabu label slogan, this is one album that can be described as 'music, for those who listen.'


PREVIOUS RELATED ENTRIES:
DISCO DISCHARGE AND OTHER RECENT/UPCOMING DISCO RELEASES & REISSUES (FRIDAY SEPTEMBER 18, 2009)
CHANGE (THURSDAY NOVEMBER 6, 2008)
BOBBY VITERITTI - A NIGHT AT THE TROCADERO.. (SUNDAY SEPTEMBER 30, 2007)
IT JUST MIGHT TAKE ALL NIGHT.. (FRIDAY AUGUST 3, 2007)
DISCO DELIVERY #42: SOUTHERN EXPOSURE - HEADIN' SOUTH (1979, RCA) (MONDAY JUNE 4, 2007)
DEEP CUTS (WEDNESDAY APRIL 18, 2007)
DISCO DELIVERY #19: THE MIKE THEODORE ORCHESTRA - HIGH ON MAD MOUNTAIN (1979, WESTBOUND/ATLANTIC) (SUNDAY MAY 14, 2006)

LINKS:
DISCOGS: MS. (SHARON) RIDLEY - FULL MOON LP
DISCOGS: SHARON RIDLEY - CHANGIN' (BOOTLEG 12")
DISCOGS: JERRY PETERS
SOUL JUNCTION RECORDS: JESSE JAMES - I FEEL YOUR LOVE CHANGING 7"
DISCO VINYL: CHANGIN - MS. SHARON RIDLEY. THE ULTIMATE MORNING MUSIC SONG (MONDAY MAY 4, 2009)
THE ORIGINAL SOUL 4 LIFE: SHARON RIDLEY - FULL MOON (TUESDAY FEBRUARY 17, 2009)
BURP AND SLURP: DOWNTOWN IN THE NEW ORLEANS (JANUARY 11, 2012)
THE ENTERTAINMENT AGENCY - SHARON RIDLEY
PITCHFORK: THE QUIET STORM (BY ERIC HARVEY) (MAY 15, 2012)
FACEBOOK: TABU RECORDS OFFICIAL FACEBOOK PAGE (RE-BORN FOR 2013)

CATEGORIES: DISCO DELIVERIES, WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO..

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