APOLLO SATURDAY NIGHT / SATURDAY NIGHT AT THE UPTOWN (VARIOUS ARTISTS)
By the early ‘60s, Atlantic Records was starting to gain traction as one of the go-to labels in the world of R&B, thanks to the success of Ray Charles, The Drifters, Ruth Brown, Lavern Baker and The Coasters among others. As the genre was gaining more popularity, the label shrewdly chose to capture the excitement and energy of shows staged on the famous “chitlin’ circuit,” a term used to refer to a group of theaters in cities with a significant African-American population. And the two most essential stops on the circuit were The Uptown in Philadelphia and the world famous Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York. Atlantic recorded shows at the two venues in 1964, resulting in the two long-cherished live albums collected on this new twofer from Real Gone Music and SoulMusic Records.
The first of the two albums was Apollo Saturday Night, which presented four solo artists from the label – Otis Redding, Doris Troy, Rufus Thomas and headliner Ben E. King - and two groups, show-openers The Falcons (featuring Wilson Pickett) and The Coasters, playing before a packed house at the venue on 125th Street. With renowned saxophonist (and Atco recording artist in his own right) King Curtis as bandleader, each act performed their main hits of the day, with the exception of Troy, who had in fact been an usherette at the venue during her teen years. An encore brought everyone back onstage for a rousing version of Ray Charles’ “What’d I Say.” The bill at the Uptown had a similar mix of major hitmakers (The Drifters and The Vibrations) with others who were just making headway as R&B stars, most of whom, interestingly, did not record for Atlantic. Among them were New Jersey natives Patty & The Emblems, Washington D.C. group The Carltons, Patti Labelle & The Bluebelles, then on the verge of signing with Atlantic, and Barbara Lynn, who was recording for local Philadelphia label Jamie Records. The Atlantic acts included the L.A.-based Vibrations and Wilson Pickett, now no longer with The Falcons and just signed with the company, performing his hit “If You Need Me.” Atlantic’s mainstay group, The Drifters, understandably had the top spot and thrilled the audiences with a reprise of their classics “There Goes My Baby,” “On Broadway” and “Under the Boardwalk.” Just over 50 years after they were recorded, these two albums still pulse with the excitement and passion that made the Uptown and the Apollo world-famous venues. Liner notes are by noted UK author, R&B historian and Solar Radio broadcaster Clive Richardson…live soul at its finest! ~ Real Gone Music
Originally formed in 1964 and known as The Poets, the New York-based trio of Luther Simmons Jr., Tony Silvester and Donald McPherson recorded a couple of singles for RCA Records before a name change in 1968 to The Main Ingredient. Their first album, L.T.D. (from the initials of each member), was released in 1970 and consisted of six original songs penned by the group along with a medley of two songs written by Jimmy Webb, “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” and “Wichita Lineman,” both originally recorded by Glen Campbell; and a cover of The Beatles’ “Get Back.” Production was primarily by renowned arranger Bert DeCoteaux (who would later become a co-producer with Tony Silvester of hits for Ben E. King, Sister Sledge and others), with one track produced by acclaimed New York conductor/arranger Horace Ott. The album contained four singles, one of which, “You’ve Been My Inspiration,” was a Top 30 R&B hit. After a follow-up album, Tasteful Soul, the group self-produced their third release, 1971’s Black Seeds, which boasted two singles with “Black Seeds Keep On Growing,” a black empowerment anthem penned by McPherson, reaching No. 15 on the U.S. R&B charts. Sadly, after a sudden and unexpected illness, McPherson succumbed to leukemia before the LP was released. The album was dedicated to his memory by the two remaining members, who added Cuba Gooding, Sr. as their third member in 1972. ~ Real Gone Music
THE FIVE STAIRSTEPS: OUR FAMILY PORTRAIT / STAIRSTEPS
Formed in Chicago in 1965 and known initially as “The First Family Of Soul,” The Five Stairsteps consisted of Alohe Jean, Clarence Jr., James, Dennis and Kenneth (‘Keni’) Burke, and were managed by their father Clarence Sr., who also played bass behind them and co-wrote some of their material. After winning a talent contest at the famed Regal Theater, the group was introduced to the legendary Curtis Mayfield by Fred Cash of The Impressions, which led to their first recording contract with Mayfield’s Windy C label. Between 1966 and 1968, The Five Stairsteps had six pop and R&B charted singles, the most successful of which was “World of Fantasy.” After Windy C folded, the group continued their association with Curtom Records, distributed at the time by Buddah Records; in total, The Five Stairsteps cut two albums under Mayfield’s wing before switching to Buddah in 1968 for their first LP for the label, Our Family Portrait, with lead singer/primary composer Clarence Jr. and his father as co-producers. The album included two charted singles, “Something’s Missing” (R&B #17, Pop #88) and a cover of the doo-wop classic, “A Million to One” (R&B #28, Pop #68), a song written by Righteous Brother Bill Medley. Each member of the group took turns singing lead on various tunes, including the Burkes’ youngest son, Cubie (then just five years old). Released as “The 5 Stairsteps & Cubie,” the LP reached No. 20 on the R&B Albums chart and No. 195 on the Billboard 200 Albums chart.
In 1970, the group (minus Cubie) began working with producer/arranger Stan Vincent on the album Stairsteps. In addition to further Burke originals, there were two Beatles covers, “It’s Getting Better” and “Dear Prudence,” but it was the song originally issued as the flipside of the latter’s release as a single that would ensure the group’s place in music history. The bright and upbeat anthem “O-o-h Child” sold over a million copies, was certified gold and reached No. 8 on the Hot 100 and No. 14 on the R&B charts. The LP became a best-seller, No. 12 on the R&B Albums chart and No. 83 on the Billboard 200 Albums chart
Now reissued for the first time in their original form, these two classic soul albums appear together on this great release from Real Gone Music in association with SoulMusic Records along with three non-album singles: “Madame Mary” (a 1968 track produced and written by Curtis Mayfield and arranged by Donny Hathaway), “The Shadow of Your Love” from the Family Portrait sessions, and “America/Standing,” a Hot 100 charting single (#83) in 1970. Liner notes by renowned writer and soul music expert Kevin Goins include quotes from Keni Burke, producer Vincent and music industry veterans Cecil Holmes of Buddah Records and Curtom label co-founder Eddie Thomas. Remastered at Sony’s own Battery Studios in NYC.