Every Friday night we smooth our way into the weekend with music, the universal language. These selections demonstrate that despite what is being passed off as art today, there is plenty of really good music available. Come along and enjoy.
Unless you’ve been hanging out in a cave somewhere you know about Sunday.
Philadelphia vs. New England.
The big game is our musical theme this week. Music from and/or about Philly and Boston.
We start in Pennsylvania.
Remember “Soul Train”? The TV show featured a popular theme song written by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff who created the Philly Sound. TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia) opened the weekly program geared towards black music, fashion and dance. Performing the theme was MFSB, Mother Father Sister Brother, an ensemble of dozens of studio musicians.
70disco.com writes this about MFSB:
If the great Black music at the ’70s is now considered Old School then surely maestros Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff are the reigning deans of the university. As the principal producers/composers of their own label, Philadelphia International (or is it R&B U?), Gamble and Huff imbued their releases for such noteworthy artists as the Uri Billy Paul and Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes with a driving, full-bodied, orchestral approach of funky rhythms and swirling strings which became best-known worldwide as the “Philly Sound.”
While Gamble and Huff were the architects of this lush soul from the City of Brotherly Love, the building blocks, the background for these thrilling compositions, were laid down by a group of great musicians based at Philadelphia’s Sigma Sound Studios. They were an assembly of talent, an instrumental unit so strong, they had to be given their own opportunity in the spotlight. An exciting melodic hybrid of swing. classical, jazz add R&B, their name was Mother, Father, Sister, Brother or, to put it more succinctly, MFSB.
Quality craftsmen were allowed to explore, expand a song’s inner meaning while galloping from a smokin’ jazz quintet to a 30-piece orchestra in a heartbeat. The group was velvet with a spine, a Love Unlimited Orchestra with grit. They consistently surprised with a theatrical flair.
Perfect for a Super Bowl party? I think so.
Next it’s onto New England where the Patriots play their home games in Foxboro, 22 miles southwest of Boston.
The Irish have a long history in Boston. Today some 23 percent of Boston’s population claim Irish ancestry— and many hold positions of power and influence in politics, society and industry. Boston is a center of Irish-American culture and history.
That includes the Boston Pops Orchestra, now in its 132nd season of entertaining audiences. Civil War veteran Henry Lee Higginson began the Pops in 1885, calling the birth of the orchestra “the dream of my life.” His intent was to play during warm months, performing light classics and popular music. Higginson insisted that when Symphony Hall became the new home of the Pops in 1901 the rows of seats for concerts would be replaced by tables and chairs. the tradition holds true today as patrons sit at enjoying food and drink.
The Pops have done a few Irish-centered albums, but I thought this rather imposing selection with former Pops conductor John Williams would be more appropriate for this Sunday’s battle on the turf.
Now back to more of that “Philly Sound.”
A few weeks ago we included a track by longtime guitarist Larry Carlton.
We won’t repeat his amazing story, but if you want to read about it you can here.
In 2011 Carlton released “Larry Carlton Plays the Sound of Philadelphia” that highlighted the guitarist’s renditions of material from the songbooks of Gamble & Huff and Thom Bell, who wrote a string of successful hits for The Spinners, Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, The O’Jays and other soul and R&B artists.
Why such an album?
“Every song was a great pop song. Every song was a hit.”
Billy Terrell produced the album, and at first, wanted to sign a singer to do the vocals. But then according to Carlton, Terrell changed his mind.
“Either he didn’t find the right vocalist or he just got turned off to that idea,” said Carlton. “And that’s when my name came up. ‘What if we had Larry Carlton do these as instrumentals?’ The tracks were done. The arrangements were meticulous. That’s how it came about. He came to me and said, ‘Hey, man, would you want to be the voice, except do it instrumentally.’ And I said, ‘Of course, great songs.’”
One of the songs Carlton paid tribute to was the first hit for the O’Jays, from 1972, “Back Stabbers” written by Gene McFadden, John Whitehead, and Leon Huff. The inspiration came from problems Whitehead was having with both family and friends.
The original single starts with a piano roll that Huff played.
Huff told National Public Radio “‘Back Stabbers sounds like something eerie, so that roll was like something horrible, because that’s what back stabbers are. It reflected that type of drama.”
Carlton’s track opens the same way.
Time now for a Boston component.
You’re expecting Boston and “More Than a Feeling” aren’t you?
Well that wouldn’t be too original would it?
Not a bad choice. But no.
When we first started this Friday night blog years ago we made sure the music was always smooth and mellow. We’ve changed as you will see and hear.
Bill Chase was from Boston. The incredibly talented trumpeter not surprisingly at one time played in Milwaukee-native Woody Herman’s Thundering Herd. Herman was not one of the big bands that played what was called “sweet” music. He wasn’t happy unless his blaring delivery was parting your hair in ten different directions.
Chase formed his own jazz-rock band and had a hit in 1971 that Chase co-wrote with lead vocalist Terry Richards. Many a high school and college band has performed this at football games.
In 1974, Bill Chase chartered a plane to take him and three band members to a performance in Jackson, Minnesota. The weather was not good. There was a low ceiling and the airport in Jackson didn’t have adequate communications equipment. The plane went down, but was not found until the next day. There were no survivors.
Chase was 39.
That’s it for this week.
Have a SUPER weekend.
Our close features another trumpeter on fire.
The year is 1980. Sylvester Stallone had a very clear vision of what he wanted a statue of ROCKY to be in Philadelphia. The Philly hero is poised with his arms over his head to represent the stage in his career when he is the victor.
The ROCKY statue is now at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, standing on a grassy knoll adjacent to the famous steps leading to the museum. Visitors from all over the world visit every day.
The New York Times reported in 1976 that in the previous years Sylvester Stallone had a total savings of $106 and a pregnant wife.
Stallone then lived out a Hollywood story, using a grand total of 3 1/2 days to write a screenplay about Rocky Balboa, a lovable underdog fighter who comes oh so close to being the heavyweight champion of the world.
”If macho means I like to look good and feel strong and shoot guns in the woods, yes, I’m macho,” said Stallone at the time, which sounds like it would trigger quite the debate today.
”I don’t think that even women’s lib wants all men to become limp-wristed librarians. I don’t know what is happening to men these days. There’s a trend toward a sleek, subdued sophistication and a lack of participation in sports. In discos, men and women look almost alike, and if you were a little bleary-eyed, you’d get them mixed up. I think it’s wrong, and I think women are unhappy about it. There doesn’t seem to be enough real men to go around.”
Remember, that was 1976.
The movie won the Academy Award for Best Picture. Stallone became an overnight star.
The theme song for the movie, the “Theme from Rocky”, was composed by Bill Conti, and the single went all the way to #1 on the Billboard chart.
While Conti’s version was rising up the chart, jazz trumpeter Maynard Ferguson, also known for his scorching horn had his own, call it if you will, disco rendition getting airplay.
Ironically Ferguson played at one time with our previous performer, Bill Chase.
Ferguson’s “Rocky” went to #28. Don’t laugh. That was considered significant coming come from a jazz artist in those days.
And one more time. Could you get away with playing this at a Super Bowl party? Easily.
Enjoy Super Bowl Sunday!
(and fly Eagles fly)