Happy birthday to Kenny Gamble one half of these two giants who were equally as significant as the founders of Motown and STAX records because they created “The Sound Of Philadelphia” catapulting Philadelphia International Records into worldwide fame. Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff collaborated on a number of earlier R&B songs, but the pop hits did not arrive until 1966 with the Intruders and Soul Survivors’ We’ll Be United, Together, Cowboys To Girls, and Expressway To Your Heart among others.
They also wrote and produced Atlantic hits for Archie Bell & the Drells and Wilson Pickett. But most of all, they were instrumental in reviving the career of ex-VeeJay singer, Jerry Butler in 1967 with hits like Only The Strong Survive, What’s The Use Of Breaking Up and Hey Western Union Man on the Mercury record label. In 1969, the Neptune label was founded and distributed through Chess Records. Although Neptune released only four albums, it marked the starting point for Gamble and Huff’s collaboration. Upon a recommendation by the Intruders, they brought in the O’Jays and Thom Bell to join the label as an arranger, writer, producer and musician.
By 1971, Chess Records’ involvement with Soul Music declined, so Gamble and Huff signed a national distribution, music catalog and financial deal with CBS Records then changed the company name to Philadelphia International Records. Though no longer an independent record label, with distribution and financial issues behind them, their label was free to go in the positive message artistic directions it desired. What elements lead to the creation of their musical signature?
Gamble and Huff learned that a successful record label needed a strong cache of writers, musicians, arrangers and producers to maintain a stream of hits. They had the brilliance and luck to hire Gene McFadden and John Whitehead as associate producers and arrangers. Linda Creed joined Thom Bell to form a high-impact Soul Music writing, arranging and producing tandem at the company. Next, Gamble and Huff constructed a house band from accomplished session artists.
In keeping with their mission statement to deliver positive messages, they called their session band, Mother Father Sister Brother (MFSB) comprised of Roland Chambers and Norman Harris (guitars), Vince Montana (vibes), Ronnie Baker (bass) and Earl Young (drums). With such hits from:
The O’Jays with Back Stabbers, Love Train, and For the Love of Money. They recorded the Jacksons, Jerry Butler, and other prominent acts on the label: Billy Paul (Me and Mrs Jones) and Harold Melvin And The Blue Notes (If You Don’t Know Me By Now and The Love I Lost), Blue Magic, Teddy Pendergrass, Jean Carn, Lou Rawls, The Spinners (Could it Be That I’m Falling in Love), Stylistics (Betcha by Golly, Wow), The Hustle by Van McCoy. The Three Degrees, and Delfonics (Didn’t I Blow Your Mind This Time), Patti LaBelle’s release of I’m In Love Again that reached gold sales status. They were hugely validated when Don Cornelius, producer and host of Soul Train asked the Three Degrees to do vocals for the show’s new theme track, with instrumentals by MFSB.
Gamble and Huff puzzled together dance rhythms, orchestral arrangements, and positive topical lyrics that established a musical signature having sophisticated soulful orchestration. Philadelphia International Records became a force in the Soul Music market and even drew praise from its rivals. With all the ingredients in place – the rest is history. Thank you guys! And that’s my thought provoking perspective…