Golden Philly soul
Street corner harmonies highlight a great ‘70s soul show in Oroville
“Old school will never die,” Cuba Gooding Sr. said to hundreds of friends in Oroville last Friday night. Gooding is not only the father of an Academy Award winner, he is the long-time voice of The Main Ingredient. The New York trio shared the stage with five other velvet-throated, love-stirring vocal groups that made up the ‘70s Soul Show at Gold Country Casino.
Joining The Main Ingredient, whose set centered around its 1972 million-seller, “Everybody Plays the Fool,” were the Chi-Lites and The Persuaders, as well as three Philly soul outfits: Harold Melvin’s Blue Notes, The Delfonics and The Stylistics, who headlined the show.
Taking an all-killer, no-filler stance, each group stayed on-stage for the time it took to perform its classics and no more. The show was all about rekindling 30-year-old memories, and all of the selections were from the pre-disco era. The crowd, many of whom were brought up on AM radio, relished the opportunity to take a step back in time. The fact that few of the performers were original members of these bands could cause hardcore purists to scrunch their noses, but for the fans in attendance the fun wasn’t tarnished a bit.
The stars of the show were The Stylistics, who originally formed in 1968 and found success with a parade of hits by renowned composer Thom Bell and Songwriter Hall of Fame lyricist Linda Creed. Today, The Stylistics is a vocal quartet backed by The Style Orchestra (guitar, bass, two keyboards, drums and a three-man horn section). Offering their trademark soaring arrangements and falsetto-fueled vocals, The Stylistics closed the evening with an hour-long set that featured two original singers: Herbie Murrell and Airrion Love. Eban Brown, just 29, handled the silky-smooth falsetto lead vocals after taking over the high-octave reins two years ago from founding member Russell Thompkins Jr.
Brown, who also sang with The Manhattans and The Delfonics, is clearly a student of Philly soul. The credibility of this “youngster” was never in question as The Stylistics carved out a set that featured all their 10 Top-40 pop hits (the group had 19 Top-40 R&B-chart hits), including “You Are Everything,” “Betcha By Golly, Wow,” “I’m Stone in Love With You” and “Break Up to Make Up.” They also ran through “People Make the World Go Round,” a song with still-valid social commentary, and Dionne Warwick’s “You’ll Never Get to Heaven (If You Break My Heart).” The Stylistics sent the audience on its way with perhaps their most memorable love song, “You Make Me Feel Brand New.”
Back to the start of the show, The Persuaders opened the festivities with a 10-minute performance that chiefly consisted of one song, the timeless 1971 hit, “It’s a Thin Line Between Love And Hate.”
Next, the melodic Delfonics, dressed in dark-blue sequined silk suits, got the crowd’s mojo going with a set that included their two Top-10 pop hits, 1968’s “La-La Means I Love You” and 1970’s “Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time),” which turned into an audience participation number. The set also included “Love Won’t Let Me Wait,” which was technically a Major Harris hit, as it was released during Harris’ time as a solo artist after he left the Delfonics for a time in the mid-'70s.
Next up were Harold Melvin’s Blue Notes, whose most famous former member, Teddy Pendergrass, had a very successful solo career after leaving the group in 1976. Though Harold Melvin passed away in 1997, a fact that most of the crowd was probably unaware of, the group did a fine job singing its hits and sashaying around the stage in royal-blue suits. The Blue Notes sang their three early-'70s pop hits: “If You Don’t Know Me By Now,” “Bad Luck” and “The Love I Lost.” In addition, another Philadelphia performer, singer Sharon Paige, came out to sing “Hope That We Can Be Together,” a bawdy, sassy number she originally recorded with Melvin.
The Main Ingredient stepped onto the stage next, and Cuba Gooding Sr. led the trio in a set that included the aforementioned “Everybody Plays the Fool,” as well as “Just Don’t Want To Be Lonely.” Gooding also got one of the night’s biggest ovations when he announced his forthcoming CD release, saying, “We can still make records without using profanity and saying negative things.”
Chicago’s Chi-Lites, who originally formed in 1960 as the Hi-Lites, came on next, dressed like Chicago mobsters of the ‘20s in black suits with white pinstripes and black and white hats. The group delighted the audience, singing its most famous street-corner-harmony numbers, “Have You Seen Her” and “Oh Girl.”
The 3-hour-plus show was a class act. The sound was great, and the house band (all five warm-up acts used the same backup ensemble) laid down a crisp, powerful backbone to more than 20 golden oldies.