Well, when you write a song, it's, um, it's,
it's real deep. You, your concentration level is focused. And you don't have
no distractions. You can't have distractions when you're writing a song,
because you're actually really putting your, you're putting your all into
it. So it's hard to show how you write a song unless you actually really are
writing a song.
If you were let's say playing
the opening notes and I understand that you were writing songs you were
really trying to customize them.
So did you write "For The Love of Money"
for the O'Jays?
We wrote "For The Love Of
Money" for the O'Jays. In fact what we used to try to do is tailor make the
songs for the artists, so that, um, that each artist that we had basically
sounded different. None of the songs and none of the artists sounded alike.
They all sounded different, they all did different styles. Even though most
of their instrumentation and then the people were the same, but the songs
were different. So we sort of tailor made, you can get the same tailor to
make clothes for everybody, but he makes them different. That's the way we
did with songs, custom made songs for different artists.
I understand because you're so gifted as a singer, and you
I mean, I sing all right.
He gets his point across.
Yeah, I get the point across. I mean, I'm not no singer, because if I was a
singer then I'd have sang all them songs. See, I'm basically a songwriter,
But the edge is, a person that can
Yeah, I can, well, what we
used to do is --
You know, it's like
A style, you see, basically that's what it
is you know. A singer got to have a lot of heart. You know, he's gotta go
out there and really want to be on stage in front of a lot of people. We
used to work on a stage, but you know, that was never really my, my desire
to do it like that.
One of the things I
understand, this is again Joe Tarsia telling me this, is that when you work
on a song, you would actually, as you were vocalizing, pulling the words
together in the style of that artist you were designing for.
That's true. We would try to write songs that would fit,
uh, the artist's personality, and also too it was, well, shaping, shaping
their careers and trying to give them longevity. Because the songs that we
were writing were songs that we felt that everybody could sing. And they
were not just a hit record, these were hit songs. And so that's the way it
turned out that these songs were still around today. I mean 20, 25 years,
and you still hear these songs on the radio every day. So it was songs that
we were really concentrating on. And we had good singers, singing great
What was special about Eddie Levert? His
voice and his way of singing?
He was powerful,
that's the word I want to use. Is, uh, Eddie was, Eddie could stir up people
with that voice. I've seen him do it, you know, in his concerts. Eddie was,
uh, he was a se-, serious performer. A no nonsense entertainer Eddie Levert.
And I enjoy watching him in the studio. He has that same level of energy
that you see him perform on concerts is in the studio when he's overdubbing
his voice on the songs.
I wonder if you could
play for me just the first few bars of "For The Love Of Money" and if you
could give me an example of how you put those lyrics together, in Eddie's
Well, see it wasn't really for, it
wasn't just for Eddie. See, it was for the O'Jays, for a group, so Walter is
as integral a part of the singing process as Eddie was. A lot of people see
Eddie because he's a little more flamboyant or whatever. But Walter was
really the voice that stabilized the group also too. So he played a very
important part and um -- And what a lot of people didn't know, in the
background, Walter not only sang his tenor part, but he sang bass, he sang
three or four different parts, he also sang lead. So he, so he and Eddie
together was like a good team together, you know. So, um ... They were
great. And "For The Love Of Money" is really basically, uh, is basically
background. It was like a catchy thing, you know, money, money, money,
that's what it was. One of those hooks, that's what it was.
One of the things that really distinguishes your music is
you seem to be very attracted to these unusual voices. When you were looking
for people to sign, what was that it attracted you.
I think their uniqueness. They're different, you
I'm sorry, I just need you to start that
Well, the uniqueness of a person's voice
and I guess the character had a lot to do with it. You know, like even back
during the days of the Intruders, Little Sonny had a voice, and still has a
voice that, I mean, I haven't heard a voice like it yet. You know, Eddie
Levert has got a real unique voice. I mean, Lou Rawls.
Patti LaBelle. All of these people were, um, you know, and many of the other
ones that we worked with, like Archie Bell --
Archie Bell and the Drells.
Archie Bell and
the Drells. You know, these, Joe Simon, Wilson Pickett, all these, these
were people that we worked with, these people were unique and had, had a
certain ability to interpret songs and that's what, uh, Gamble and Huff
needed was a voice and an artist to interpret our songs. And bring them the
words and the music to life.
"Don't Let The
Green Grass Fool You."
How did that come about for Wilson
Boy. Well, "Don't Let The Green Grass
Fool You," we were um,, that's when we were independent producers, and we
were working with Atlantic Records.
Jerry Wexler and Ahmet Ertegun. And we
recorded Archie Bell first, and we did "I Can't Stop Dancing," "There's
Going To Be A Showdown," all of those records. And then the people from
Atlantic wanted us to record Dusty Springfield, Wilson Pickett, and the
Sweet Inspirations. So we cut all three of them. And um, Dusty Springfield,
we had a good album with her. We had a real good album with her. We did "A
Brand New Me" with her, which was a big record for her. And Wilson Pickett,
"Don't Let The Green Grass Fool You" was actually written by, uh, four guys,
called, we called them the Corner Boys, but they wrote the song. And I tell
you that was a, that was an exciting session.
That was an exciting session with an
exciting artist, Wilson Pickett.
Yeah, he'd scream.
When that session happened, how did he work with you? Who
set the pace there?
We set the pace. He
was anxious, very, very anxious, too anxious all the time. But he, we got
along good with him, we got along good with him. I think it was different
for him and it was different for us, you know, the type of artist that he
was, and we managed to get not only one hit out of him, we got two or three
hits out of him. We got "Engine Number Nine" and at that time we were
entitling all the albums "Wilson Pickett in Philadelphia" and "O'Jays in
Philadelphia" -- we were trying to build Philadelphia, so that album was
important to us. And that goes, Wilson Pickett that was a big record for
It didn't take him no time at
How did he, was he able to, because, you
work in so many different styles and one didn't necessarily associate the
Philly sound with Wilson Pickett.
Yeah, but we could do anything. We
could do any kind of music. We did any kind of music. We cut Joe Simon, we
cut Laura Nyro, we cut, uh, uh, we cut everybody, Patti, what about the Soul
Survivors? You know, I mean, we cut all kinds of acts, I mean, it's really
the songs. And so, but Wilson Pickett was --
It was a thrill to us.
This guy would take two
takes and that's it. And that's the kind of artist he was and that's the
kind of artist we like to work with, artists that were into it. He was into
it, you didn't have to coax him. He was like a --
Well, "Engine Number Nine" was like spontaneous. With the rhythm
section and, uh, striking that groove.
loved it. See, he loved music, he loved singing. And that's the kind of
artist you want to work with, an artist that loves in there
Well, for Wilson Picket, "Don't Let
The Green Grass Fool You" was a little different from other songs that he
did, "Mustang Sally" and whatever, because "Don't Let The Green Grass Fool
You" had a great sing-along to it, a melodic funk that it more or less like
had. So it was a good combination for Wilson.
Speaking of funk, where does funk fit in to your music?
Somewhere down there amongst those basses and drums, you
know, those bass line hooks. That's a word just to define a certain
Would you say that for me again, but
just say funk is a word that defines a certain feeling.
Okay. Now? Okay, funk is a word that most music people
use as a certain feeling that they get from a certain groove that happens
somewhere down amongst the bass and the drums. A guitar lick.
Where would James Brown fit into the whole funk
What a guy.
You ever seen James Brown perform you'll never forget it. I seen a show with
James Brown in his earlier days with um, Sam and Dave, it was on the same
show and that was like the battle of the bands. That was a, a lesson within
itself, if anybody was into like pure rhythm and blues, you know, like the
best, here in Philly at the Civic Center. Never forgot that show. Must've
stayed there all day just listening to that music and the way those
musicians was playing it, it's just unbelievable.
Did that filter into your approach to the music?
Yeah, certain feels. See, if, it made me say that, uh,
as a recording artist, you've got to have the ability to transform that
music from the studio to the stage, to entertain the public. So if you can
do that and create excitement for yourself it means more, more album sales,
more record sales, if you're a great entertainer, not just a recording
artist. A person that can go on that stage and, and rouse those people up,
that's a, that's a talent within itself. And then most of our artists did
When you were getting started, going back
to your early days in Philly, who was Dick Clark and how important was he to
Philly music at the time.
Well, I think Dick
Clark was, um, was important to, uh, to the whole industry, not just to
Philadelphia, but to really the establishment of rock 'n' roll and, and
contemporary music into American culture. Bandstand became, became, made
rhythm and blues, rock 'n' roll --
A household, American culture. It came
right into the homes of everybody every day. I used to watch Bandstand just
about every day, especially when, you know, one of my favorite artists was
going to be on there. And uh, it was um, --
you was an artist, and you was on Bandstand, you though you finally
an institution, Bandstand.
your record, you knew you had a smash.
hard to get Black music played on American Bandstand or was it
Well, I think Black music has had its
struggles with getting exposure everywhere. Because all you got to do is go
back to the days, even during Bandstand, you know, they would play, uh, Hank
Ballard had "The Twist" out, but they really didn't play Hank Ballard's
"Twist," they played Chubby Checker's version of it. I mean, Little Richard
had um, "Lawdy Miss Clawdy" or --
"Good Golly Miss Molly," they
played Pat Boone's. Pat Boone recorded those songs also too, and they didn't
play Little Richard's. But eventually Little Richard's records and Hank
Ballard's records sort of won over. And so, Black music has had its, um, has
had its struggles because I think of the images that America wanted to
project. America had a certain image it wanted to project and, but it seems
as though that the people wanted something else, because they've accepted
the music and the people for what it is, you know, and that's a good
And well, for Black record to get on
Bandstand, it would have to be tremendous sales. For a Black record to get
Well, it had to be something
that Bandstand wanted. You know, even for a black person to get on
Bandstand, not a Black record, a black person to get on Bandstand and dance.
You know, I mean, you never seen no black and white people, I mean you never
see no mixed couples dancing on Bandstand. I mean, like today it's totally
different. You know, but Bandstand was pretty much a basic, mid-America
show. I mean, every now and then you would see a black couple on there, and
they would probably be introducing the new steps and things like that. You
know, most of those dances that they did on Bandstand basically came from
the black community.
Did you ever try to get
them to integrate?
Bandstand? I went up there
a couple of times to try to get in there. But I mean, I never got in
I enjoyed watching it a lot.
Yeah, I used to watch it every day, but I mean I never
got in there, and I don't even know nobody that ever got into Bandstand,
even to be honest with you there. You know, they had their regulars. They
had their regulars, and the people on Bandstand, they were stars themselves.
But they had a show here in Philadelphia called Mitch Thomas, which was like
a black version of Bandstand, which was very popular here in Philadelphia,
and you know, they had some great dancers on there, you know, where guys
would get on there do the ballroom and, I mean it was unbelievable, the kind
of dances that was on the show. So, you look at MTV today and you see, I
mean that kind of mentality, it don't even exist no more.
Well, considering how difficult it may have been for
black folks to get on American Bandstand, how important was Soul Train? Did
Soul Train impact on your ability to sell your music? Sorry, cut.
Talking about Soul Train, how important was that for the
marketing of music?
Soul Train to me was the
best presentation of music, period. Soul Train was the beginning of the
multi-ethnic, multicultural concept of America. Soul Train was, I mean you
had all types of people on Soul Train, dancing, beautiful people. And uh,
Soul Train represented what, what urban America was. Youth, beauty, you
know, wonderful dancers and great music. And we just happened to have, uh,
an opportunity to work with Don Cornelius and do the Soul Train theme, which
was beautiful for us, and um, was a great experience for us, and I'm just
glad that we was able to work with him and, uh, and with MFSB, the
orchestra, and the Soul Train theme, because it did a lot for us. That was a
number one record all around the world, that theme song from that dance
show. And so, Don Cornelius was exception. So he put it all together and I
think he helped market and merchandise and package, especially black acts in
a way that they've never been presented before. So that was comparable I
would say to Bandstand. And especially even with longevity, Soul Train was
Same thing, you be on Soul Train, and boy it was, sales would