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Profile: Philadelphia International

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A typical Philadelphia International 45

A typical Philadelphia International 45

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Founded:

1971 (Philadelphia, PA) by Kenneth Gamble (b. August 11, 1943, Philadelphia, PA) and Leon Huff (b. April 8, 1942, Camden, NJ)

Associated Labels:

Philadelphia International, Excel, Gamble, Neptune, TSOP, Golden Fleece

Famous Artists:

The O'Jays, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, Billy Paul, The Intruders, MFSB, The Three Degrees, Lou Rawls, Teddy Pendergrass, Instant Funk, The Jacksons, The Trammps, People's Choice, McFadden and Whitehead

Contributions to music:

  • A crucial link in the development of R&B and its eventual mutation into disco
  • Created a sweet but funky mixture of pop, funk, and R&B that had massive crossover appeal
  • The Gamble-Huff team were pop's first self-contained label owners/producers/songwriters
  • Second only to Motown as the most successful black-owned label of its era
  • Along with Atlantic's Thom Bell, created the genre of "Philly Soul"
  • Employed the legendary MFSB house band
  • Assembled a stable of vocalists who influenced R&B tremendously

Early years:

Gamble and Huff were both orbiting around the edges of the Philly music industry when they met in 1962 at the local Shubert Theatre. They formed a successful production and songwriting partnership a few years later, which first bore fruit nationally with a pair of big hits: 1967's "Expressway To Your Heart" by the Soul Survivors (a group formed by the duo), and '68's "Cowboys To Girls" by the Intruders, which hinted at future Philly soul. Encouraged, the duo formed the Neptune and Gamble labels.

Success:

In 1971, due to the declining fortunes of the Neptune label's distributor, Chess, Gamble and Huff signed a deal with CBS to distribute their own Motown-inspired label. The first big PIR hit was 1972's "Back Stabbers" by the O'Jays, a vocal group who'd been kicking around since 1958 without any major pop success. From there the hits followed -- many written by the duo and mostly recorded at Philly's Sigma Sound with PIR house band MFSB (which stood for "Mother, Father, Sister, Brother").

Later years:

The rise of disco didn't hurt PIR the way it did other soul labels. Gamble and Huff had, after all, helped create the sound. But a series of unfortunate events -- a 1975 payola scandal, artists leaving for bigger deals, and a 1982 car crash which left former Blue Notes singer Teddy Pendergrass a paraplegic -- effectively ended the label's prominence as a self-contained unit. It continues today, as do Gamble and Huff, but the Philly Soul sound they helped birth is now a page in musical history.

Other facts:

  • Early Gamble-Huff compositions include "I Can't Stop Dancing," Archie Bell and the Drells; "Only The Strong Survive," Jerry Butler; "I'm Gonna Make You Love Me," The Supremes and The Temptations, "Don't Let The Green Grass Fool You," Wilson Pickett, and "Drowning In The Sea Of Love" by Joe Simon
  • Huff plays piano on Danny and the Juniors' "At The Hop" and Len Barry's "1-2-3"
  • As Cliff Nobles and Co. MFSB had a hit with 1967's "The Horse"
  • MFSB's "TSOP" is, with updates, the theme song for Soul Train"

Landmarks:

212 N. 12th Street, Philadelphia, PA (Sigma Sound Studios); 309 S. Broad Street, Philadelphia, PA (offices)

Famous Songs, Albums, and Chart Hits:


Biggest hits:
  • "Love Train," "Back Stabbers," "For The Love Of Money," "I Love Music," "992 Arguments," "Use Ta Be My Girl," The O'Jays
  • "If You Don't Know Me By Now," "The Love I Lost," "Wake Up Everybody," "Bad Luck," "I Miss You," Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes
  • "Close The Door," "Turn Off The Lights," "Love T.K.O.," Teddy Pendergrass
  • "Lady Love," "You'll Never Find Another Love Like Mine," Lou Rawls
  • "TSOP (The Sound Of Philadelphia)," MFSB
  • "When Will I See You Again," The Three Degrees
  • "Cowboys To Girls," "I'll Always Love My Mama," The Intruders
  • "Me And Mrs. Jones," Billy Paul
  • "Ain't No Stoppin' Us Now," McFadden and Whitehead
  • "Enjoy Yourself," "Show You The Way To Go," The Jacksons
  • "Do It Any Way You Wanna," People's Choice
  • "You Gonna Make Me Love Somebody Else," The Jones Girls

Essential albums:
  • The O'Jays in Philadelphia (1969), Back Stabbers (1972), Ship Ahoy (1973), The O'Jays
  • Black and Blue (1973), To Be True (1975), Wake Up Everybody (1975), Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes
  • Teddy Pendergrass (1977), Life Is a Song Worth Singing (1978), Teddy (1979), Teddy Pendergrass
  • All Things in Time (1976), Unmistakably Lou (1977), When You Hear Lou, You've Heard It All (1977), Lou Rawls
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