FOLLOW US ON: follow us in feedly
GET THE NEWSLETTER
CONTACT US
Get Down with ‘The Philly Sound’: The Ultimate Guide to Philadelphia Soul Music
03.30.2017
12:57 pm
Topics:
Tags:


 
I’ve known Jason Thornton for most of my life. He’s one of the world’s consummate crate diggers and has amassed (and sold and then amassed again) a vinyl collection of epic proportions. He started collecting Elvis’ Sun Records 45s with his father when he was six years old, the two of them scouring garage sales and junk stores panning for plastic gold. By the time he was twelve, he was already an otaku-level “sophisticate” when it came to music, especially classic soul and doo-wop, rockabilly and what is now called “old skool” rap and hip-hop, but was then still a brand new thing. When I met him, he was part of a group of older record-obsessed friends in my hometown of Wheeling, WV. From time to time, when he was still in high school, he’d stay on my couch in New York and spend a few days vacuuming up amazing and obscure finds in lower Manhattan’s record stores with the zeal of a first-time visitor from Japan plotting out his record shopping with ruthlessly military efficiency.

Fast forward a… uh “few” years (okay thirty of them) and he’s a married middle-aged graphic designer working in the Boston area. In recent years Jason (the designer) and his partner Dave Moore (the writer/editor) an Englishman based in Spain have been publishing the well-respected There’s That Beat, a rare soul music fanzine. They were asked by the Swedish book publisher Premium Publishing to channel their expertise into a book on the history of Philadelphia’s music makers and the result is the absolutely mind-bogglingly detailed and comprehensive—not to mention freaking massive—guide to the City of Brotherly Love’s music scene ever published The Philly Sound: Philadelphia Soul Music and its R&B: From Gospel & Bandstand to TSOP. Chock full of rare photos, label scans, sheet music covers, vintage print ads and lots and lots of great stories, it’s hard to imagine how anyone could ever come along and top this truly definitive volume in the future. It’s nearly 700 pages, printed in color on thick glossy paper and weighs more than my dog, so I’m guessing about ten pounds.

And that’s the problem. For reasons related to the shipping costs of such a huge book, Amazon opted not to take on The Philly Sound: Philadelphia Soul Music and its R&B: From Gospel & Bandstand to TSOP, but you can buy it directly from the authors at the There’s That Beat  website.

I asked Jason and Dave some questions via email.

Dangerous Minds: A “music city”—be that Detroit, Chicago, Nashville, New York, Los Angeles, London or Kingston, Jamaica—presupposes an infrastructure to support the business and practical side of things (recording studios, a pool of good musicians, record labels, venues, radio stations, etc). What made Philly such a “strange attractor” for soul musicians?

Jason Thornton: Like most industrial cities, Philadelphia drew lots of black people from the south to seek jobs. Those people brought their talents up north to help create some incredible music, many honing their craft in church and under streetlamps. With the invention of the 45rpm record, it became very inexpensive for people to cut a record and get it into the marketplace. On top of that, the popularity of American Bandstand, a show that started locally and went national, was inspiring people to rush into recording studios and try for that unique exposure. Philadelphia was also a major distribution point for records getting out into the world and Dick Clark was financially linked to distributorships and record labels, not to mention all of the great influential DJs from the many radio stations that catered to black audiences. With all those factors combined, Philadelphia had the perfect terroir for all sorts of music and all of the vehicles in place to help it thrive.

Dave Moore: It was the city’s emergence as a pivotal gospel center via the music of The Ward Sisters, and The Dixie Hummingbirds, alongside Billie Holiday’s blues recordings during the era of the “race records”  that first put the city’s black artists on the musical map. With the rock ‘n’ roll explosion of the 50s, white record label owners were looking for white interpreters of this musical phenomenon and Philadelphia-born Bernie Lowe’s Cameo and later Parkway, identified the Italian teen idol as being a great commercial vehicle. His company dominated the record market on the back of American Bandstand with an artist roster that included Frankie Avalon, Bobby Rydell and Fabian.

After the Beatles and the British Invasion just about destroyed Cameo/Parkway’s business, waiting in the wings with a new kind of black music were the likes of Maurice Bailey Jr., Kenny Gamble, Joe Stevenson, Leon Huff, Thom Bell, Luther Randolph, Johnny Stiles and Weldon A McDougal III, John Madara and David White, Richard Barrett and Wally Osborne.  During the early sixties these musical entrepreneurs along with others, created a platform that delivered many of the classic Philly soul records of its golden era.  With one eye on Detroit’s successful Motown company,  the city’s musical landscape was sculpted by these people, some more successfully than others. The pinnacle of Philadelphia’s second musical coming came about when Joe Tarsia purchased a building on N 12th St just round the corner from 309 Broad St (the old Cameo Studio).

With Joe’s expertise as a sound engineer, the foundations of MFSB coming together at Frank Virtue’s Studio and Gamble and Huff enjoying success with the Intruder singles, the fuse of Philadelphia’s rocketing success was lit. International hits by Billy Paul, the O’Jays. Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes, McFadden And Whitehead, Jerry Butler, The Jones Girls all ensured that Gamble and Huff’s “The Sound Of Philadelphia” took pride of place in the city’s musical achievements.
 

 
Over the decades who were the power players of Philly Soul?

Dave Moore: I guess the guys who really rose to the top of the city’s musical hierarchy are probably identified in three distinct groupings during the timeline of the 50s to the 70s.

Firstly, in the ‘50s, there were those that enjoyed the initial pop success i.e. Bernie Lowe, Kal Man and Dave Appell via America’s teenage awakening years and Dick Clark’s ascendancy with Bandstand. Although not all soulful outings, the labels they established would prove useful apprenticeships for many of the city’s future soul stars.

The 60s saw the emergence of the black influence both in front of and also behind the microphones and mixing board.  Jimmy Bishop’s WDAS radio show put him on top of the promotion pile and his Arctic label was unlucky not to recreate Berry Gordy’s success with Motown. Jerry Ross was enjoying much success with a number of acts and labels and the decline of Cameo/Parkway saw openings for Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff and Thom Bell amongst a swathe of young ambitious entrepreneurs.

As the 70s emerged the undisputed crown kings of Philly Soul were The Mighty Three:  Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff and Thom Bell.  Joe Tarsia had created the perfect cauldron at Sigma Sound Studios and with MFSB (and particularly Ronnie Baker, Norman Harris and Earl Young as its heartbeat), delivering unrivaled talent, The Mighty Three drove the juggernaut that was a worldwide international success: The Sound Of Philadelphia.     
 

Leon Huff, Thom Bell and Kenny Gamble

What are some songs that best exemplify the Philadephia sound? What was “the TSOP”?

Dave Moore: “The Sound Of Philadelphia” has become synonymous with the green record label bearing the same name owned by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff. They could certainly lay a strong claim to be so. The music created by their company via Joe Tarsia’s Sigma Sound Studio was certainly an identifiable and unique sound of the time incorporating lush arrangements, bongo-driven intros, lavish string components and of course with the backing voices of the Sweethearts of Sigma, MFSB’s skills were allowed to breathe fully. If I had to select a solitary song that exemplified this cauldron of talent I’d plump for The O’Jays’ “I Love Music.” Comprising a tell-tale intro, metronome-like drumming from Earl Young, plus effervescent vocals from a real iconic singing group, the whole ensemble are at the top of their creative game.   
 
Much more after the jump…

READ ON
Posted by Richard Metzger
|
03.30.2017
12:57 pm
|
‘Jesus’ arrested for refusing to leave Apple Store
05.04.2016
11:41 am
Topics:
Tags:


 
His real name is Michael Grant, but residents of the city that made the Philly cheesesteak sandwich famous simply refer to him as “Philly Jesus.” On Monday evening around 6 p.m. Philly Jesus was checking his emails at an Apple Store on Walnut Street in Philadelphia when management asked him to leave.

Philly Jesus refused to leave, so the Philly store manager called the Philly police.

Police arrived in due course and requested that Grant leave the premises. According to police, Grant refused to leave and was creating a disturbance. Grant was taken into custody and charged with Defiant Trespassing and Disorderly Conduct.

It is not known whether Jesus was updating his JDate profile or not. However, if nothing else, the incident establishes that Jesus is not a Windows user.

This is not the first time the Philly J-Man has been arrested. In 2014 Grant was arrested at Dilworth Plaza for Disorderly Conduct and Failure to Disperse. Grant’s contention at the time was that he was misunderstood; he said he doesn’t ask for money, but he does accept tips.
 

 
Photos: Jen A. Miller; via Arbroath

Posted by Martin Schneider
|
05.04.2016
11:41 am
|
Miniature recreations of Philadelphia’s vanishing urban artifacts
07.21.2015
11:41 am
Topics:
Tags:

A miniature replica of The Forum
A miniature replica of The Forum XXX Theater in Philadelphia (RIP)
 
Long-time Philadelphia resident and artist Drew Leshko, has created incredibly detailed miniature versions of some of his city’s decaying architecture.
 
Miniature version of the Revival Temple in Philadelphia
Revival Temple
 
Inspired by subjects found in his own neighborhood, Leshko’s goal was to enlighten people to the ever-encroaching gentrification of his city by preserving structures and objects in miniature form that have been a part of his community for many decades. Especially structures that will soon be replaced by shinier, newer buildings or businesses. Using a layering technique, Leshko carves his three-dimensional relics out of paper and wood and creates 1:12 scale replicas of fading local attractions like the “Set- it-Up-Go-Go-Bar” (which is still open), XXX movie theater “The Forum” (RIP), or everyday objects like dumpsters decorated with bumper stickers, signs, long gone businesses or other reminders of the past.
 
Close up of miniature/phone and stickers (finger for scale)
 
Wherever you might be reading this, it’s likely that in the very recent past you have said goodbye to yet another part of your own town’s cultural heritage. And there seems to be no stopping this disturbing, profit-driven trend. Thanks to an artist like Leshko, a piece of that heritage will live on and be remembered by those who grew up with them, and will hopefully serve as a reminder to future residents of cities like Philadelphia that preserving our past has as much to do with ensuring our future as anything else.
 
Miniature of The World Famous Set it Off Go-Go Bar
Miniature of The World Famous Set-it-Off-Go-Go-Bar in Philadelphia
 
United Check Cashing miniature replica
United Check Cashing
 
More miniature Philly after the jump…

READ ON
Posted by Cherrybomb
|
07.21.2015
11:41 am
|
Philadelphia commuters treated to unexpected bursts of high-speed color
05.15.2014
10:29 am
Topics:
Tags:

Katharina Grosse
 
For the past two weeks, rail commuters in the greater Philadelphia area have been speeding past brief bursts of startling day-Glo color, standing out in the otherwise typical greys and browns of a major Eastern metropolis. The project, underwritten by the City of Philadelphia’s Mural Arts Program, is the handiwork of noted German artist Katharina Grosse, and it’s intended to give a little aesthetic jolt to the doubtless sleepy train ride passengers take every morning.
 
Katharina Grosse
 
The work exists on seven sites between the North Philadelphia Station and the 30th Street Station downtown, which conveniently serves trains from the Amtrak, SEPTA and NJ Transit rail networks—so plenty of people will see the installation. As the artist says, “I need the brilliance of color to get close to people, to stir up a sense of life experience and heighten their sense of presence.”
 
Katharina Grosse
 
Vaguely (but not derivatively) reminiscent of Christo’s massive interventions, the work bears the somewhat trying-too-hard name psychylustro, and seems more than anything else a temporal version of those nifty anamorphic 3D sidewalk paintings you’ve seen—the angles of the lime green paint splatters on the sprawling building at “site 7” near the North Philadelphia Station seem specifically tailored to be more arresting when viewed from the moving train.

Grosse has specialized in ambitious large-scale works that fall somewhere between site-specific installation art and architecture; it’s not too much of a stretch to call her an abstract architect. Based on my perusal of the small selection of artworks shown at the bottom of this page, psychylustro seems to be a more successful work than the others shown because of its utilitarian pop and also the requirement to use bold colors—in my estimation, anyway.

The sites represent a cross-section of urban decay, including an old railroad trestle and an abandoned warehouse with trees today popping through its collapsed roof, and the colors—bright orange, lime green, hot pink—were surely chosen to stand out. Curator Liz Thomas observes that the work’s purpose is to inject “a beautiful disruption into a daily routine” and to provoke “an experience that asks people to think about this space that they hurtle through every day.”

Grosse intentionally declined to protect the exposed paint with sealant, so the inevitable months-long process of decay has, well, already begun. Eventually the lime-green warehouse will fade and become besmirched by some form of urban grime. Honestly, I hope it doesn’t end up being an eyesore, because in its current form it’s quite something.
 
Katharina Grosse
 
Katharina Grosse
 
Katharina Grosse
 
Katharina Grosse
 
Katharina Grosse
 
Katharina Grosse
 
Katharina Grosse
 
Katharina Grosse
 
Katharina Grosse
 
Here’s a playful time-lapse video documenting the creation of a hot-pink site. I’d love to see video from the train! But so far there isn’t anything like that on YouTube.
 

 
via Designboom

Posted by Martin Schneider
|
05.15.2014
10:29 am
|