Just 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!
That new dimension is revealed on The Salsoul Records Story via songs recorded between 1975 and 1979. These ten lengthy, up-tempo floor-fillers don’t tell the entire story of Salsoul, but present a vivid cross-section of the music that made the label such a memorable one. At its most basic level, Salsoul fused the sweeping, sophisticated style of “Philly soul” with Latin-inspired dance beats, building on the proto-disco styled pioneered at PIR. But The Salsoul Records Story, remastered by Justin Smith and annotated by Christian John Wikane, touches on the various strands of dance music that made Salsoul shine.
Four tracks have been selected from the body of work written (or co-written), arranged and conducted by Vince Montana, who truly came into his own at Salsoul. The opening “Runaway,” from The Salsoul Orchestra featuring vocalist Loleatta Holloway, is a bolt of energy that hasn’t lost a whit of its power in the thirty-five years since its release. Holloway’s sassy vocals were the perfect match for the lushly effervescent track. “Yes, I’m gonna mess around,” Holloway authoritatively announces, “’cause that’s the way I want to be!” The impossibly catchy and eminently danceable song boasts a killer chorus (“Runaway, you better not hesitate! Better hurry, don’t wait now! Runaway, before you find it’s too late!”) and an orchestra that pulls out all of the stops: tight guitar licks, symphonic strings, assertive brass, flourishes of flute and, about three minutes in, a vibraphone solo from Montana. This grand production builds to a crescendo with a bit of vocal scatting and the string section at its most cinematic, swirling around those joyous vibes. “I’m just not the settling kind,” Holloway sings on the empowering track; neither was the Salsoul Orchestra.
New Jersey-born Carol Williams was one of Salsoul’s earliest signings, scoring a big hit (somewhat improbably!) with the swingin’ sixties standard “More,” disco-style. She’s represented on The Salsoul Records Story with 1976’s shimmering “Love is You,” on which Montana left plenty of room over its near-eight minutes for instrumental stretching including a salsa-flavored drum break. The song’s potent groove was seized upon by Italian DJ Cristiano Spiller in 2000; his “Groovejet (If This Ain’t Love)” was largely built upon samples of the Williams hit. Montana’s rapport with Salsoul’s female vocalists is also in evident on “Dance a Little Bit Closer” from the album by Charo and the Salsoul Orchestra entitled (what else?) Cuchi-Cuchi. The Love Boat favorite captured the zeitgeist of the era with the brassy song, on which she was joined by the soaring harmonies of the Sweethearts of Sigma. (The trio was so-named for their role sweetening numerous tracks recorded at the home of Philadelphia soul, Joe Tarsia’s Sigma Sound Studios.) Charo, also an accomplished guitarist, breathily coos in Spanish on Montana’s lavishly arranged production.
The final Montana track to be included on the compilation is a variation on a theme, so to speak. The bandleader penned “Chicago Bus Stop (Ooh, I Love It)” for the Salsoul Orchestra’s 1975 debut album which marshaled the forces of some 42 players. In 1983, Shep Pettibone remixed and remodeled the song as “Ooh, I Love It (Love Break),” dropping the sung requests to “do the bus stop” in favor of “Let’s take a love break!” He added grunts and a fresh style but retained the original’s forceful strings and the “Ooh, I love it” refrain along with other instrumental touches.
Norman Harris, the guitarist-producer-arranger equally at home with the sweet soul of Blue Magic and the disco-funk of The Trammps, set up his Gold Mind label at Salsoul, teaming with his usual production partners Ronnie Baker and Earl Young for two more songs here. First Choice’s “Doctor Love” and Loleatta Holloway’s “Dreamin’” both hailed from 1977 and the writing team of Harris, Ron Tyson and Allan Felder. The sly “Doctor Love” accentuated the girl group gifts of Rochelle Fleming, Annette Guest and Ursula Herring, while the blissful “Dreamin’” married the singer’s passionate vocal to the kind of sprawling arrangement typical of Harris’ Philadelphia soul. Intricate and exciting, “Dreamin’” was pure no-nonsense soul that blurs the lines of disco, pop and funk: “You better give up or you’ll never win/You’re just dreamin’ of him/While he’s dreamin’ of me!”
Another Gamble and Huff alumnus, Bunny Sigler, turned in some of the most exciting work of his career at Salsoul. Sigler sang and produced – but didn’t write – “By the Way You Dance (I Knew It Was You),” a 1979 tale of love at the disco. The song was written by members of Instant Funk, a nine-person band Sigler brought to Philadelphia International and then to Salsoul; the group lived up to its moniker with some of the grittiest, most muscular licks laid down at either label. Though it naturally has a pulsating beat, “By the Way You Dance” is otherwise dissimilar to the smoother grooves laid down by Montana and company, with orchestral sweetening nowhere in sight. Indeed, the sound of Salsoul was a-changin’ as the seventies made way for the “me” decade and a very different dance-R&B style. By 1979’s Salsoul Orchestra record Street Sense, Montana had stepped down from the podium.
The Salsoul Records Story includes another track of ’79 vintage from the Cuban percussionist Candido Camero. His “Jingo” is a jazzy, primarily instrumental piece which influenced dance and house music to come with its throbbing, hypnotic rhythms. Candido’s version of Babatunde Olatunji’s composition was produced by Joe Cain, a mainstay of the Latin music community. Of course, that community was, and is, an integral part of the tapestry of New York itself, so it’s fitting that Salsoul took Steve Karmen’s famous “I Love New York” jingle and expanded it into a disco anthem credited to “Metropolis.” Co-producers Thor Baldursson and Tom Moulton cut the basic track in Munich and added strings, vocals and horns at Sigma Sound, resulting in a cross-cultural celebration of the city that never sleeps. Another track that reveals the diversity of the Salsoul label is “Rio de Janeiro,” a chart-topper written and produced by Billy Terrell for singer Gary Criss. Much as Peter Allen had in 1976 with “I Go to Rio,” Criss and Terrell found the siren call of the tropical destination impossible to resist. The song’s sprawling arrangement takes a brief respite from the beat with just dramatic, swelling strings at its conclusion, a fitting reminder of how well the Cayre Brothers’ label integrated various strains of music and arrangement into something unmistakably Salsoul.
The handsomely-designed package includes a fond reminiscence by Bobby Eli, who elucidates the key differences (and similarities) between MFSB and The Salsoul Orchestra. Christian John Wikane has written the wonderful track-by-track liner notes which also incorporate discographical information for each song. Wikane’s affection for the material is evident; he also penned the notes for Big Break Records’ definitive 2012 reissue of The Salsoul Orchestra containing five bonus tracks. (All four of Big Break’s recent Salsoul titles are well worth your attention.) As this single-disc release can only scratch the surface of the label’s catalogue, one hopes that more themed titles – perhaps concentrating on a particular group, arranger, producer, or style – might be on the way from Gold Legion.
The legacy of Salsoul sometimes lingers in the shadow of “big brother” Philadelphia International despite their deep connection. Gold Legion’s The Salsoul Records Story sheds some invaluable light on the vibrant sounds influenced by the twin spirits of New York and Philadelphia.
You can order The Salsoul Records Story at the Amazon link below or directly from Gold Legion! And stay tuned for a review of Gold Legion’s The TK Records Story coming soon!
Various Artists, The Salsoul Records Story (Gold Legion 670945 62452 6, 2013)
- Runaway – The Salsoul Orchestra feat. Loleatta Holloway
- Doctor Love – First Choice
- Rio De Janeiro – Gary Criss
- I Love New York – Metropolis
- Dance a Little Bit Closer – Charo and the Salsoul Orchestra
- Love is You – Carol Williams
- By the Way You Dance (I Knew It Was You) – Bunny Sigler
- Jingo – Candido
- Ooh, I Love It (Love Break) – The Salsoul Orchestra
- Dreamin’ – Loleatta Holloway
Track 1 originally released on The Salsoul Orchestra, Magic Journey, Salsoul SZS-5515, 1979
Track 2 originally released on First Choice, Delusions, Gold Mind GZS-7501, 1977
Track 3 originally released on Salsoul single 12” SG2059, 1978
Track 4 originally released on Metropolis, The Greatest Show on Earth, Salsoul SA-8511, 1978
Track 5 originally released on Charo and the Salsoul Orchestra, Cuchi-Cuchi, Salsoul SSLP-1501, 1977
Track 6 originally released on Carol Williams, ‘lectric Lady, Salsoul SZS-5506, 1976
Track 7 originally released on Bunny Sigler, I’ve Always Wanted to Sing…Not Just Write Songs, Gold Mind GA-9503, 1979
Track 8 originally released on Candido, Dancin’ and Prancin’, Salsoul SA-8520, 1979
Track 9 originally released on The Salsoul Orchestra, SZS-5501, 1975, remixed as Salsoul single SG-391, 1983
Track 10 originally released on Loleatta Holloway, Loleatta, Gold Mind GZS-7500, 1977