THE PHILLY SOUND
Philadelphia Soul Music and it's RnB Roots:
From Gospel & Bandstand to TSOP
When, in 2011 I was approached by Premium Publishing enquiring as to whether I fancied writing a book about soul music I had no idea just what a committment I was about to undertake and how it would take over my life for the next, almost 6 years! With my affinity with the sound and musical creators of Philadelphia's golden eras the subject was too much of a lure for me to turn down and I embarked on a journey that would deliver a series of ups and downs similar to a Blackpool Pleasure Beach roller coaster! Wandering around Philly in the rain, knocking on doors and trying to explain what a middle-aged Englishman, who lived in Spain and was writing about American music, often caused a raised eyebrow to say the least! Over the next half decade, many countless transalantic telephone conversations took place, some lasting hours on end though the night with many of Philadelphia's musical movers and shakers and, combined with a number of fact finding research trips to the City Of Brotherly Love, in the New Year of 2016 I felt I could see light at the end of the tunnel. Jason, my US compatriot on There's That Beat! and the guy behind the graphic layout of the magazine and the book was beavering away in order to ensure that the information was presented in a way that we both felt was equal to the production values of the music we both loved.
Now came the hardest task of all, having garnered reams of notes the size of Winston Churchill's : " The History Of The English Speaking Peoples" and hours of taped conversations with people with tales to tell, Wilhelm (my publisher) and I spent many evenings polishing up, enhancing, inserting and deleting both text and images to try and make the book 'readable'. Whilst we were doing this of course I kept on researching and the frustration of deciding what to insert and what not to insert was enough to drive a teetotal monk to drink! A good example of this frustration came about when a week before the final copy was due at the printers I finally tracked down the members of The United Four of Harthon fame, via the neice of a member. It transpired that all four of them were still alive although not still singing in any capacity. I scrambled to hold the presses whilst I did the interviews but alas, it proved a fruitless task as the trigger had already been pulled and the presses were rolling. Needless to say, the info is safely stored and may well appear in later editions.
In addition to these snippets of course there are other artists, records, labels and stories that also failed make the final cut. At 700 full glossy, A4 sized full color pages there came a time when it became obvious that the book couldn't physically contain everything we wanted in it. Therefore, the decision was made to 'publish and be damned' in September 2016.
The final result was a critically acclaimed, beautifully presented, detailed history of Philadelphia's soulful musical past. From the early days of pioneering America's darker history, the book relates the city's role in all the differing and developing black music genres right up to the glory days of Mighty Three Music and "The Sound Of Philadelphia". It's a journey that encompasses the struggle of Philadelphia's black population in tandem with it's musical heritage, including many of the city's leading lights. The musical lives of The Jubilee Singers, Billie Holiday, Clara Ward, the Dixie Hummingbirds Lee Andrews, Max Leon, Harold Robinson, Jerry Ragovoy, Jimmy Wisner, Billy Jackson, David White & John Madara, Morris Bailey, Wally Osborne, Joe Stevenson, Jerry Ross, Bobby Martin, and of course Thom Bell, Leon Huff and Kenny Gamble are all explored in detail alongside investigations of record labels including Arctic, Cameo Parkway, Womar, Jamie, Guyden, Merben, Philly Groove, Harthon, Virtue, Del Val and a whole host of others. (For a peek inside the pages simply click on the video clip below).
In amongst the thrilling experience of interviewing my heroes and absorbing the city's bygone era through their tales there is also a sadder aspect as the journey unfolds. Having visited the Phildelphia International Studio and Offices and Sigma Sound on a number of occasions it was devastating to learn that both locations are have now disappeared and have been lost to future generations. For a relatively new country that lusts after a heritage, it seems pretty short sighted to me that some of the iconic locations relating to the nations huge contribution made by the US to music worlwide should be allowed to fall under the developers wrecking ball. Detroit woke up to that fact and the Motown Museum is at least a nod to a gloried past and Memphis delivered the recreation of The Stax/Satellite building which has gone from strength to strength. Alas in Philly, no such monument draws the tourist or passing visitor. An effort has been made via the Philadelphia Music Alliance's: 'Walk Of Fame', a series of brass plaques encased on the pavement along the famed Broad St but most people walk past without realising what they are treading on.
I guess from a personal perspective at least, those of us that had the pleasure of visiting these legendary places before they disappeared have the memories to cherish.
As far as the book is concerned, it has been extremely well received, both in Philadelphia and in general soul circles and when you get a cheque off Leon Huff on behalf of himself and Kenny Gamble along with a short private note congratulating all involved, then the fact that commercially it was almost a complete disaster almost fades into insignificance. The book is now enjoying a second print run and can be purchased from me in UK or Europewide and Jason in the US. My contact details are:
Email: [email protected]
or you can visit the The Philly Book's facebook page at
'Til next time...........Dave