Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff, the founders of Philadelphia International Records, met in 1964 while they were both playing as session musicians for various labels, including Philadelphia based Cameo-Parkway Records, whose building would later become home to Philadelphia International Records recording studio. In 1965, Huff joined Gamble’s band, The Romeos, a popular moniker at the time, by replacing future Philadelphia International Records producer and arranger Thom Bell on piano. Kenny Gamble and The Romeos had seen little success up to that point playing for their label, Arctic Records, and split up soon after.
When the Romeos disbanded, Gamble and Huff went on to start one of the first iterations of Philadelphia International Records (which they named Excel and Gamble) after a visit to Motown Records in Detroit, to scope out the Motown setup. The success of their biggest signing, The Intruders, brought attention to Gamble and Huff, which allowed them to create Neptune Records in 1969. Neptune Records, a more ambitious project for the duo, was financed by Chess Records, and allowed them to sign later Philadelphia International Records artists The O’Jays and The Three Degrees. When Chess Records changed ownership in 1969, Neptune Records folded. With the collapse of Neptune Records, Gamble and Huff transferred their signed artists onto a new project, Philadelphia International Records. Looking to attract new black acts to their label, but without the in-house know-how, Columbia Records was convinced to sign an exclusive production contract with Gamble and Huff’s new Philadelphia International Records.
The label was set up in connection with Mighty Three/Assorted Music, the music publishing company run by Gamble, Huff and another Philadelphia producer, Thom Bell, to showcase their songs.
The label’s major hits included: “TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia)” by MFSB, featuring The Three Degrees, 1974 (which was later used as one of the theme tunes for the TV dance-music show Soul Train); “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now” by McFadden & Whitehead (writers and producers with the label), 1979; “Back Stabbers” and “Love Train” by The O’Jays, 1972/3; “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” and “The Love I Lost” by Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes, 1972/3; “Me and Mrs. Jones” by Billy Paul, 1972; “When Will I See You Again” by The Three Degrees, 1974; and “You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine” by Lou Rawls, 1976.
The label had a distribution deal with CBS Records until 1984. Distribution of the catalog from 1976 onwards was then taken over by EMI Records, but CBS continued to distribute material recorded up to 1976. In 2007, Sony’s Legacy Recordings regained the rights to Philadelphia International’s full catalog and the following year, PIR/Legacy released a box set titled Love Train: The Sound of Philadelphia.
Most of the music released by the label was recorded and produced at Sigma Sound Studios in Philadelphia, with chief engineer and later studio owner Joe Tarsia recording many of the sessions. More than 30 resident studio musicians, known collectively as MFSB “Mother Father Sister Brother”, were based at this studio and backed up most of these recordings. Some of these musicians also acted as arrangers, writers or producers for Philadelphia International as well as for other labels recording in the city. They included Bobby Martin, Norman Harris, Thom Bell, Ronnie Baker, Vince Montana and later, Jack Faith and John Usry.
Gamble and Huff worked as independent producers with a series of artists in the late 1960s and early 1970s, including Jerry Butler, Wilson Pickett and Dusty Springfield. They also produced The Jacksons‘ first two albums for Epic/CBS after the group had left Motown in 1976. The first, titled The Jacksons featured the platinum-selling single “Enjoy Yourself“, and a second album, Goin’ Places followed in 1977. Although on CBS subsidiary Epic, both albums and the singles also carried a Philadelphia International logo.
In 1965, Gamble and Huff started an independent label, Excel Records. It was soon renamed Gamble Records and in 1972, was folded into Philadelphia International as a subsidiary. In 1974, the subsidiary’s name was changed to TSOP Records, from the aforementioned 1974 hit single, “TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia)”. Artists for Excel/Gamble/TSOP included Dee Dee Sharp, Archie Bell & the Drells, and The People’s Choice, who had a top 10 single on TSOP in 1976 with “Do It Any Way You Wanna.” Later signings to the Philly International roster in the 1980s and 1990s, included Patti Labelle, The Stylistics, Phyllis Hyman, and The Dells.
Between 1973 and 1975, Gamble and Huff also distributed a boutique label called Golden Fleece, set up by musicians Norman Harris, Ronnie Baker and Earl Young, which released the second album by The Trammps. G & H also had a short-lived subsidiary called Thunder Records. Created by Thom Bell, it only had two singles from Derek & Cyndi (You Bring Out the Best in Me/I’ll Do the Impossible for You) who were produced by Bell, and Fatback Band member Michael Walker whose single “I Got the Notion, You Got the Motion” was produced by his brother and The Spinners‘ member Philippe Wynne.
Narrator of History by;
Wa’Dell Jones: Artist/Producer/Singer/Songwriter/Video Director.
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2 thoughts on “THE SOUND OF PHILADELPHIA: PHILLY SOUL.”
Nice post – great summary of a fantastic legacy.
Keep it up!
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Thank you, I plan too….
BMI Pro. Member: 1179604
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