Thursday, February 25, 2010

More On Philly

Some of your early comments regarding the recent arson fire at Philadelphia International Records:

Kent -
Not sure if you're on Randy Alexander's list, but here's the press release with reaction from Gamble & Huff. Sad that that someone feels the need to do this.
Be Well,

For Immediate Release
Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Legendary Rock and Roll Hall of Famers and Hitmakers Eager to Uncover Cause of Blaze which Destroyed their Home of 40 Years; Vow to Rebuild Major Tourist Attraction Where Michael Jackson, Teddy Pendergrass, Patti LaBelle, the O’Jays, Lou Rawls, Chubby Checker and Dozens More Created Worldwide Smash Hits

PHILADELPHIA – Describing the burned-out remains of their historic “Sound of Philadelphia” offices as “total devastation,” legendary Rock and Roll Hall of Fame songwriter-producers Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff held a press conference today to express their outrage and sorrow from seeing the iconic birthplace of Philly Soul Music ravaged early Sunday by a fire termed “suspicious” by officials.

Despite the extensive damage to the third-floor at 309 S. Broad St., where the Philadelphia International Records (PIR) offices and recording studio are located and the fire apparently originated, Gamble & Huff vow to rebuild their home of 40 years, a major tourist attraction where Michael Jackson, Teddy Pendergrass, Patti LaBelle, the O’Jays, Lou Rawls, Chubby Checker and dozens more created worldwide smash hits.

“Ain’t no stoppin’ us now,” said the seminal R&B songwriting team, citing the title of the McFadden & Whitehead classic that was part of the Gamble-Huff/PIR music machine which generated over 100 Gold and Platinum records and over 70 #1 hits, including “Love Train” by the O’Jays, “Me & Mrs. Jones” (Billy Paul), “if You Don’t” Me By Now” (Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes) and “Enjoy Yourself” by the Jacksons.

“Our space has been violated by someone who chose to set fire to it,” said Gamble & Huff in a joint statement. “But what’s most important is that we will build it again and continue to rebuild. Nothing is going to stop us.”

Following a preliminary survey of the monumental brick building, which they first took over in 1970 with legendary producer and songwriter Thom Bell in 1970, Gamble & Huff estimated they have lost approximately 40 percent of the memorabilia that adorned the walls, filled their offices and was kept in storage closets. The losses include numerous Gold and Platinum records and PIR’s personal inventory of CDs by Teddy Pendergrass, Michael Jackson and the Jacksons, Patti LaBelle and Lou Rawls.

“Some of the things we lost in the fire are irreplaceable,” said Gamble & Huff. “We will know better in the days ahead what our total losses will be.”

Gamble & Huff consider it a “blessing” that the third floor recording studio, where countless hit songs were partially created in conjunction with Sigma Sound Studios, appears to have suffered the least damage and may have been completely saved. Its functionality will ultimately be determined by fire officials and PIR technicians.

In recent years, the Philadelphia International Record offices has become a major tourist destination in the City of Philadelphia. From school children to celebrity VIPs, Philadelphia International Records has continually hosted visitors eager to see the historic rooms and hallways where the legendary “Sound of Philadelphia” music was created. The offices and recording studios also have been the site of several film documentaries and television specials and media visits, as well as special receptions, including a recent event honoring Motown founder and friend Berry Gordy. Gamble & Huff also originated their recent radio series on Sirius XM from the third floor recording studios.

As the corporate office for Gamble & Huff, the building has been serving primarily as the source of the vast music catalog’s worldwide licensing. Their music has been featured prominently in television programs ("The Apprentice"), films ("The Nutty Professor") and advertising spots (Coors, Verizon, Old Navy, The Gap) for more than 30 years, entering the musical DNA of contemporary culture

Prior to the PIR era, this also was the building where Chubby Checker recorded “The Twist” and Dee Dee Sharp recorded “The Mashed Potato” as the home of the legendary Cameo-Parkway record label.

Gamble & Huff are determined to “get to the bottom of this” to find out who was responsible and why this “suspicious” fire broke out in the building that “has been our home for the last 40 years and also has been a refuge for so many other artists and singers. It’s been a tremendous part of our lives.”

“The No. 1 thing that went through our minds as we walked through the facility is that thankfully, no one was hurt. After all the years our building has been there, we’ve never had any problems that come close to this. The devastation is just horrible. It’s unbelievable.”

Gamble & Huff wrote over 3,000 songs within 35 years, including R&B #1 hits, pop #1 hits, gold and platinum records, Grammy winners and BMI songwriters' awards honorees. Featured prominently in television programs ("The Apprentice"), films ("The Nutty Professor") and advertising spots (Verizon, Old Navy, The Gap) for more than 30 years, Gamble and Huff's songs have entered the musical DNA of contemporary culture. In fact, one of their songs is played on the radio somewhere in the world every 13.5 minutes. With a stable core of artists led by the O'Jays, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, Billy Paul, MFSB and the Three Degrees, Gamble and Huff co-founded Philadelphia International Records and created monster hits almost from the first day of its inception. Songs they have written and produced together, like "Back Stabbers," "Love Train," "For The Love Of Money," "If You Don't Know Me By Now," "Cowboys to Girls," "Don't Leave Me This Way," "Enjoy Yourself," "I'm Gonna Make You Love Me," "Only the Strong Survive" and "TSOP," have received songwriters' awards from Broadcast Music International (BMI). All told, the Gamble-Huff/PIR music machine has generated over 100 Gold and Platinum records and over 70 #1 hits.

In 1999, four years after being inducted into the National Academy of Songwriters' Hall of Fame, Gamble & Huff were honored by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences with the Trustees Award for their extensive body of work, both as producer and songwriter, and their contribution to the entire fabric of popular music. In 2008, Gamble & Huff were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Gamble & Huff also have appeared on American Idol in a show devoted entirely to their music, and have been inducted twice into the Dance Music Hall of Fame and the R&B Hall of Fame.

Randy Alexander - Randex Communications

This is GREAT, Kent!
Give me a day or so to try to get a one or two line response from all the acts touring as part of the Cameo / Parkway Reunion. I'm going to send you "THE" very first Demo ever cut by Cameo and Bernie Lowe ... of BUTTERFLY -- the label's first big hit ... which hit # 1 on Billboard by March of 1957. Of course, Cameo Records (later Cameo - Parkway) began with Charlie Gracie, Sr., and I don't believe anyone at that time really knew this would become the largest independent label in the United States until Motown eclipsed them by 1963 / 64. It's amazing to review the number of artists who walked through that door of opportunity ... and how the Cameo - Parkway Era would evolve into Philly International and another historic chapter in pop music history! -- Chas., Jr

I also heard from film maker Shawn Swords, who told me that they are currently working on a "Wages Of Spin" sequel that will pick up the story in 1963 - 1964 and carry it forward through the early '70's when Philadelphia International Records, led by Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff and Thom Bell, reinvented "The Sound Of Philadelphia" for a whole new generation of fans. We can't WAIT to see this one ... please keep us posted, Shawn! (kk)

>>>I remember my father Hy telling me how he got a call from Bernie Lowe early in Cameo / Parkway's history, and that they were just about to record this new group called the 'Rays' and a song called "Silhouettes". It wasn't but less than an hour later that Bernie showed up at the station with an acetate of the recording and five one hundred dollar bills. After Hy played it on the cue monitor and liked it, he played it on the air. In fact he played it three time in a row. The phones lit up, and the song was an instant smash. (Sam Lyt)

OK, here's the scoop on this one. "Silhouettes" was first recorded for the "XYZ" Record Company. (No, that's not a joke ... that was the REAL name of the company ... a single was pressed as XYZ 102 in 1957!) It didn't go anywhere and the track was ultimately re-recorded. (Prior to this recording, The Rays cut some tracks for Chess Records, which also failed to make the charts.) The charted hit single was INDEED released on Cameo (Cameo 117) and it went all the way to #3 on the Billboard Chart later that same year ... one of the first big doo-wop hits (and a classic ever since!) You are correct in that Frank Slay and Bob Crewe wrote and produced the song. According to the liner notes from the Cameo / Parkway CD Box Set, Bernie Lowe purchased the completed master from Crewe and Slay and released it on his Cameo label. (Maybe the master was cut at Swan??? Frank Slay recorded for the label ... and also wrote or co-wrote many of Freddy Cannon's hits ... so I suppose THAT's a possibility ... but in either event, it was Cameo Records who enjoyed the hit.) kk

By the way, I found this piece in an old Jerry Osborne "Mr. Music" column on this same topic:

DEAR JERRY: Who were members of the Rays, the vocal group who did “Silhouettes”? What other songs did they make?
— Karen from Glendale, Calif.

DEAR KAREN: Since a fellow Californian, Aana Pregliasco, of San Jose, asks almost exactly the same question, let's answer two for the price of one.
The featured vocalist you hear on “Silhouettes” is Harold “Hal” Miller. Other members of the Rays are Walter Ford, David (or Davey) Jones, and Harry James.
“Silhouettes” (Cameo 117), issued in late 1957, reached No. 1 on countless regional surveys, but stalled at No. 3 on Billboard.
Though not generally regarded a 1950s classic equal to “Silhouettes,” the flip side, “Daddy Cool,” got a tremendous amount of air play and charted right along with “Silhouettes.”
Neither of the follow-up Cameo singles landed at any position on any of the charts. They are “Triangle” (Cameo 128) a “Silhouettes” knock-off, and a smooth version of “Rags to Riches” (Cameo 133).
The Rays never had another hit in the '50s, though they did manage a pair of minor “moon” hits in the early '60s: “Mediterranean Moon” (XYZ 605) and “Magic Moon (Clair De Lune)” (XYZ 607).
IZ ZAT SO? As you see from today's musical ramblings, the two Rays hits from the '60s are on the XYZ label. Interestingly, “Silhouettes” first came out on XYZ (102) in mid-'57, but without success. Only when Cameo picked the tune up for national distribution did it hit pay dirt.
The XYZ original can now fetch $100 to $200 — about 10 times that of the Cameo single.

Hi Ya Kent ...
I would like to add a very close friend of mine to the mailing list ... we worked together for many years together here in Delaware, and like me, he is an oldies FREAK!!!! He will love the great things you do for all of us oldies lovers.
I sent him the mailing about the Philly Int. fire. He's from that area. He was bummed, but quite impressed with the attention you gave to the story.
Thanks Kent ... and keep up the GREAT work!
Thanks for the recommendation! Hope your buddy continues to enjoy Forgotten Hits! (kk)

And THIS update just in from Ron Smith:
City man charged in record-company fire
By Troy Graham
Inquirer Staff Writer
Investigators said a man charged yesterday with setting the Sunday-morning fire at Philadelphia International Records had been so drunk that they were amazed he had not passed out and perished in the flames.
Firefighters had to rescue 27-year-old Chris Cimini from the third floor of the building, at Broad and Spruce Streets.
Cimini, of the 2700 block of South Fairhill Street, was treated at a hospital, questioned, and released Sunday. A warrant for his arrest was issued later, and he surrendered with his lawyer yesterday.
The fire destroyed gold records and priceless photos, and damaged the building where artists such as Teddy Pendergrass and Patti LaBelle recorded some of their hits.
Chuck Gamble, a company vice president and nephew of songwriter Kenny Gamble's, estimated damage was "in the millions."
The fire spared the recording studio that spawned the Sound of Philadelphia, its walls covered in their original orange shag carpet.
The studio's master recordings are kept in a vault outside the city.
Cimini had no affiliation with the record company, owned by Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff, and Thom Bell.
In fact, police said, Cimini appears to have believed he was "somewhere familiar," such as a friend's apartment building, when he arrived at the record company about 6 a.m. Sunday after a night of drinking in Center City.
Surveillance video shows him knocking and banging on the door, and "acting intoxicated, because he is intoxicated," said Police Capt. John Gallagher of East Detectives and the Arson Response Team.
Eventually, Cimini kicked the door until he broke the glass and squirmed inside, Gallagher said.
Once inside, police said, Cimini set off a fire extinguisher and ignited items in a merchandize storage room about 7:30 a.m.
The extinguisher set off an alarm five to 10 minutes before Cimini set fire to the storage room, investigators said.
Gallagher would not say where Cimini believed he was or why he allegedly vandalized and torched the place.
He said Cimini was "cooperative to a degree" but declined to discuss what he had told investigators.
Gallagher said that Cimini had used a lighter to guide him around the darkened building, but that the fire had not started accidentally.
Cimini was charged with arson, burglary, and other offenses. Gallagher said he did not know the name of Cimini's lawyer, and court records were not available yesterday.
Gallagher also said that he didn't know Cimini's blood-alcohol level, but that he had been "intoxicated to the point where we were amazed . . . he didn't fall asleep."