The Soulful Influence of Philadelphia International Records
We examine the huge impact that Gamble and Huff’s Philadelphia International Records had on soul and R&B music via Toolroom’s latest WEISS single I Need Some, which samples The Jones Girls’ iconic 1979 hit You Gonna Make Me Love Somebody Else.
WORDS: DANNY TURNER
INTRODUCTION TO PHILLY SOUL
The city of Philadelphia has had an immense influence on dance music culture. In particular, Philly soul, which emanated during the mid-‘60s offering a hybrid of soul, gospel, jazz and the raw emotion of R&B. Popularised over the following two decades, Philly soul was characterised by lush instrumentation, sliding hi-hat rhythms and horns, laying a path for the emergence of disco and urban contemporary music.
Production team Gamble and Huff were considered to be the chief architects of the genre, which would go on to dominate the American musical landscape. As the masterminds behind the Philadelphia International Records (PIR) label, Gamble and Huff wrote and produced an astonishing 175 gold and platinum records.
Born in Philadelphia, Kenneth Gamble and Leon A. Huff, from Camden, New Jersey, are known as the songwriting production team credited for developing the Philly soul sound. Gamble would first team up with keyboard player Huff as session players on the Candy & The Kisses funk/soul track The 81 in 1964. However, it would be another three years before the duo would co-produce soul/R&B group The Soul Survivors’ Top 5 hit Expressway to Your Heart.
In the early ‘70s, Gamble and Huff began working with major artists from Atlantic Records such as Wilson Pickett, Dusty Springfield and girl group The Sweet Inspirations. With a solid track record of hits behind them, the duo then scoped out Berry Gordy’s Motown Records with a view to rivalling them through the establishment of Philadelphia International Records (PIR).
Throughout the decade, PIR released era-defining soul hits emphasised by lavish orchestral instrumentation, heavy bass and driving percussion. These included classics such as Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes’ If You Don’t Know Me by Now, The O’Jays’ Love Train, The Three Degrees’ When Will I See You Again and the Billy Paul track Me and Mrs Jones.
The O’Jays – Love Train
Billy Paul – Me and Mrs Jones
Most of the label’s records were made by a pool of 30 studio musicians named Mother Father Sister Brother working from Philadelphia’s Sigma Sound Studios. Other best-selling acts included The Intruders, Teddy Pendergrass, Patti LaBelle and Lou Rawls.
So successful was PIR, that by the mid-‘70s it had largely overtaken the success of Motown. At that point, Gamble and Huff were the No. 1 producers of their era, their influence stretching well beyond the confines of the Philly Soul sound.
One of PIR’s most successful artists was The Jones Girls – a trio of sisters that had a string of hit singles throughout the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. Toolroom spoke to vocalist Shirley Jones about her experience joining such a prestigious label: “Words cannot really describe the feeling. My sisters and I were-wide eyed newbies used to being in the background, but when we first arrived at 309 South Broad St, we went upstairs, looked around, got our schedules and went across the street to the Fantasy restaurant owned by Kenny’s mom and were welcomed to the company by The O’Jays, Teddy Pendergrass, Billy Paul, Jean Carne and others. We were on cloud nine that entire day.”
The Jones Girls worked with Gamble and Huff on hit singles such as You Gonna Make Me Love Somebody Else, Who Can I Run To and Nights over Egypt, as Shirley reminisces: “Kenny’s writing and Huffs’ tracks were a match made in heaven and I learned so much about how to create melodies. We expected hit records, but had no idea that those hits would transcend generations – and for that I am forever grateful. You Gonna Make Me Love Somebody Else was our first single and first gold record, which was extraordinary. Gamble and Huff had that song ready when we arrived and we all felt it would be a hit with the lyrics, throbbing bass line and lilting backgrounds.”
The Jones Girl – You Gonna Make Me Love Somebody Else
Toolroom signing Richard Dinsdale (aka WEISS) is no stranger to the Philly sound. His latest single, I Need Some, samples The Jones Girls’ hit You Gonna Make Me Love Somebody Else and the house producer is a massive fan of the soul era: “Motown Records is my main go-to for soul and disco, but I do like to delve into the odd Philadelphia International track now and again because it was known for showcasing the Philly soul founded on the gospel, doo-wop and soul music of the time.When I’m buying old records I’m always looking at the Philadelphia section and looking out for artists such as The Jones Girls, MFSB, The O’Jays and The Three Degrees. With more than 170 gold and platinum records behind them, you know you can’t go wrong picking a PIR record out from the crate.”
WEISS feat. The Jones Girls – I Need Some
We asked Dinsdale what gave him the idea to sample The Jones Girls’ track: “I always loved listening to this record as a kid and when I went through my pile of Philly records it jumped out at me and I thought I could definitely do something with it. There were particular bits I wanted to sample, like the catchy vocal part in the breaks, which worked well being looped on a 4-bar throughout the track. It’s tough sometimes to use a small part of a track in a way that gives the rest of it enough energy, but if you get it you just know straight away”.
Elaborating on how the track was pieced together: “Once I had the loops in place I filtered down the original, layering on a separate track under the main loop to add the bass, but it didn’t have much bottom end so I ended up replaying the bass notes to give it more sub. I also put the original on another track, stripping the bottom end and adding a phase about 5db below, which tickled underneath but added more dynamism to the original loop.”
Shirley Jones was more than happy to endorse WEISS’s reinterpretation of her classic sisterhood hit: “I directed the guys to the people at Warner Chappell to get the necessary clearances. Funny story – we always thought You Gonna Make Me was too slow to be such a big disco or R&B pop hit, but that question is cleared up with this WEISS remake. I love it!!!”
Although the Philly soul sound had begun to decline by the tail end of the ‘80s, its audience whittled away by disco, ironically, and the return of rock to the American mainstream, Gamble and Huff still retained enough star power to produce The Jacksons’ debut single and first two albums for CBS subsidiary, Epic.
The Jacksons – I Want You Back
Prior to the label’s closure, PIR would only release a handful of tracks throughout the ‘90s yet Gamble and Huff continued to produce artists for other labels, adding to their astonishing 3,000-strong catalogue of songs. In 1999, the illustrious duo were honoured with a prestigious Grammy Trustees Award and later inducted into the Dance Music Hall of Fame. As of today, Gamble and Huff continue to write songs from their home base in South Philadelphia.