February 1st, 2012
Label: Sony Legacy
Formats: CD, MP3
Release date: January 31, 2012
Golden Gate Groove documents a unique and legendary moment in history— a CBS Records Convention at the San Francisco Fairmont Hotel on July 27, 1973. That evening, 1500 music industry mavens listened to the “Sound of Philadephia” via artists signed to Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff’s Philadelphia International Records. Shelved in the vault for decades, the tapes from that concert were recently discovered and mastered for this CD. The sound quality is so crisp and clear it is, to use the cliché, like you are at the convention yourself.
The concert, hosted by the late, great Soul Train founder Don Cornelius, featured all four of the label’s acts that had recently crossed over to the pop charts with songs written by P.I.R.’s founders. The O’Jays, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, Billy Paul and the Three Degrees all give impressive performances of their hits, backed by the 35 member M.F.S.B. studio orchestra (including Huff on piano and Thom Bell on organ). Joe Tarsia, the famous Sigma Sound Studios engineer, was flown in and he taped the show from a recording truck positioned on the street outside the hotel, which explains the excellent sound.
There are quite a few great moments to highlight on this recording. Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes give a perfect heartfelt performance of their hit “If You Don’t Know Me By Now,” while the Three Degrees bring an immeasurably sassy rendition of “Dirty Ol’ Man” which they direct at all the major label suit-wearers in the audience. Even Billy Paul’s performance of “Me and Mrs. Jones,” which is definitely rougher around the edges than the other performances, is still powerful, simply through the force of his phrasing and delivery. The O’Jays closed the P.I.R. showcase with “a rousing rendition of “Love Train” that brought down the house, and brought the trio back for an encore as normally refined CBS personnel were standing on furniture and banging dinnerware . . . 1000 people developing a love train from the ballroom out into the hotel”—quoted from the outstanding liner notes by Ashley Kahn.
Kahn also places the event in context by illuminating the marketing aspects of the industry in the early ‘70s, particularly through interviews with Harry Coombs, a promotions man for CBS and P.I.R. In November 1971, CBS created a fledgling “Special Markets” department (headed by Logan Westbrooks) to focus on R&B (i.e., Black) product. By the conclusion of 1973, in part due to the success of P.I.R., Columbia/CBS was well on its way to becoming the hottest R&B label in the industry. The concert documented in Golden Gate Groove was a promotional tool to get CBS sales teams behind the product—a venture that was wildly successful, leading to the formation of black music divisions at other labels.
For listeners who are nostalgic for the Philadelphia sound of the 1970s, Golden Gate Groove takes us right back to the glory days; for listeners who are just being introduced to P.I.R., this album presents the artists at their best. And for those who are interested in the history of the music industry, this concert offers an insider’s peak at the heady days of soul music marketing and promotional events.
Editor’s note: the AAAMC holds several collections documenting the growth of black music divisions within major labels, including the Logan Westbrooks Collection.
Reviewed by Dorothy Berry
Review Genre(s): Rhythm & Blues, Soul, Funk