For more than fifty years, The Three Degrees have been synonymous with the sound of Philadelphia R&B. The group was formed in Philly in 1963 and released its first album on the Roulette label in 1970. Over the course of the decades, the trio’s membership has fluctuated considerably, but The Three Degrees’ harmonious sound has remained a constant. SoulMusic Records and Cherry Red have teamed up for the March 4 release of the group’s thirteenth studio album, and first since 2009. Strategy: Our Tribute to Philadelphia brings The Three Degrees full circle with a selection of their favorite songs from the golden age of Philly soul and disco.
The first iteration of The Three Degrees formed in Philadelphia in 1963 with Fayette Pinkney, Linda Turner and Shirley Porter, though before the year was out, Janet Harmon and Helen Scott had replaced Turner and Porter. Further changes ensued throughout the decade, and only Pinkney was still in the group by the time of its signing to New York-based Roulette Records in 1970. This line-up of the group, with Pinkney, Sheila Ferguson and Valerie Holiday, is perhaps the “classic” line-up best-known for the Philadelphia International Records (PIR) recordings that sent the group up the charts including the sultry 1974 smash “When Will I See You Again.” Helen Scott returned to the fold in 1976 upon the group’s departure from PIR, and has remained a vital part of the line-up since then.
Since 2011, The Three Degrees’ roster has remained consistent with Helen Scott, Valerie Holiday (member since 1967) and Freddie Pool (who joined in 2011). Scott, Holiday and Pool recorded Strategy a bit south of the City of Brotherly Love, at Atlanta, Georgia’s Down in Deep Studios. Buzz Amato, who has worked with the group on previous projects including the 1989 album Three Degrees…And Holding, produced the new set which features a rhythm section joined by live horns and strings to recapture The Sound of Philadelphia. The vocal trio’s tone is a bit smokier and more burnished than on the classic Three Degrees recordings, but the tight harmony blend and soulful, spirited sensibility remains intact.
All but one of the tracks on Strategy was first recorded for Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff’s PIR label. The album takes its title from the McFadden and Whitehead-penned “Strategy,” introduced in 1979 by Archie Bell and the Drells. Another McFadden and Whitehead classic, “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now,” is also featured on the album alongside six tracks written or co-written by Gamble and Huff: Billy Paul’s “Me and Mrs. Jones” (as “Me and Mr. Jones”), The O’Jays’ “Love Train,” Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes’ “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” and “Don’t’ Leave Me This Way,” Lou Rawls’ “You’ll Never Find (Another Love Like Mine)” and MFSB’s “T.S.O.P. (The Sound of Philadelphia).” The latter, of course, originally featured The Three Degrees. The album is rounded out by The Trampps’ “Disco Inferno,” written by Leroy Green and Ron Kersey and produced by the triumvirate of Ron Baker, Norman Harris and the group’s Earl Young. Mention should be made of the many arrangers whose orchestrations serve as the blueprint for the charts heard here, including Bobby Martin, Jack Faith, Ron Kersey, Thom Bell, John Usry, Jr. and Norman Harris, as well as to the original members of PIR’s fabled “house band,” MFSB.
The Three Degrees’ Strategy is a faithful and vibrant tribute to some of the greatest, and most enduring, soul and disco of all time, from one of the era’s most defining groups. It’s attractively housed in a digipak including an eight-page color booklet of credits, photographs and acknowledgments. This musical journey back in time will be available on March 4 in the U.K. and March 11 in the U.S. from SoulMusic Records and Cherry Red Group. You can pre-order at the links below!
- Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now
- Me and Mr. Jones
- Love Train
- Disco Inferno
- IF You Don’t Know Me By Now
- Don’t Leave Me This Way
- You’ll Never Find (Another Love Like Mine)
- S.O.P. (The Sound of Philadelphia)