The man had no idea he was being watched.
He must have thought Boots's, a little club in Philadelphia, would be a private place to meet his
girlfriend. Certainly his wife would never find him there. Hopefully her husband wouldn't find her
there. The man would show up, his girlfriend a half hour later, they would sit at the same table,
eat the same food, then leave at separate times. And the man never knew that Kenny Gamble and
Leon Huff took lunch at that same time, in that same club. He probably never knew that his
luncheon routine with his mistress was so unchanging and so distinctive that it caught Gamble and
Kenny Gamble still remembers those luncheons today. "There used to be a guy coming in the
same time every day to meet this girl. The guy would come in the club the same day, they'd play
the same song - "
They probably ate the same meal," added Leon Huff, his songwriting and business partner for 30 years.
"Then after they would leave," replied Gamble, "he would go one way, she would go the other
way. So one day, we just said, 'Me and Mrs. Jones.' That's what it was. And then we'd come
upstairs, got on the piano, wrote Me and Mrs. Jones."
"We didn't know what their personal lives were based on," said Huff, "we just saw two people
create this same pattern every day. So we started noticing, started laughing at it."
"But you know," finished Gamble, "it's just like today - it's all in the White House and everything.
When Paula Jones was on TV one day, they were playing Me and Mrs. Jones when she was
getting off the plane. That song was apropos for that situation."
Such were the songs of Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, arguably the most proficient and diverse
writers and producers of pop and soul music in the 1970's. Their songs of peace, love, social
conscience and turmoil sold millions of records, made superstars out of artists that had previously
toiled in obscurity, and created the sweet, sexy, stirring, socially conscious "Philly Soul" sound.
Today, the Philadelphia International studios is once again alive with action, as a new distribution
deal with EMI and a new stable of young artists are ready to bring the Philly Soul sound back to
the top of the charts.
Kenneth Gamble was born in 1943 in Philadelphia, and even as a young man, music was part of
his life (he cut his first records at penny arcade recording booths; he used to bring coffee to
WDAS morning personality Georgie Woods). In the late 1950's, he fronted a band called Kenny
Gamble and the Romeos, with keyboard player Thom Bell. They played and performed at all the
local clubs, and later added a new keyboardist in session musician Leon Huff. "Great, great band,
the Romeos," said Huff. "I just had to get in that band, because it was just such a great band.
They worked everywhere, they worked with a lot of famous recording stars. We didn't have any
records out yet, we were just that good. That was one of the best eras - me as a musician - that I
can remember in that career. Being a member of that band made me feel like I had learned my
craft as a keyboard player. The guys in the band were great musicians, really self-taught talented
guys, raw and they could play anything. So I had to get in that band, because everywhere they
worked at - when I got in as a member, the club stayed crowded, everybody came to hear us play
and hear Gamble sing. It was just a great unit."
"We learned a lot just being that unit," said Gamble, "we played in Philadelphia, the Delaware
Valley, doing a lot of road gigs with famous people, Chubby Checker, Little Anthony and the
Imperials, we did a lot of road gigs for a lot of different bands. It was a great experience, it was a
While with the Romeos, Gamble and Huff discovered they had a shared love of songwriting and
composing. "When me and Huff first got together, the first time we wrote, we must have wrote
ten songs. We were writing some songs for another group, the Sapphires. Ten songs in one
sitting. And it's been like that ever since."
During this time period, Gamble and Huff absorbed everything they could in the music industry -
songwriting, production, composition, arranging - whatever it took. Huff played keyboards for
Phil Spector and for the Ronettes; Gamble operated a record store on the corner of Broad and
South Streets. But they still kept in touch, writing songs and sharing ideas.
By 1964, Gamble and Huff had their first production credit, "The '81," a little-heard single by
Candy & the Kisses. "We wrote 'The '81,' Huff had the other side of that, 'Two Happy People.'
We were just starting to work in the studio. At that time, we weren't even producers then. We
were working with other people, Jerry Ross and Johnny Madera and Dave White, these were guys
who were producers, and we were just writers trying to be producers, trying to find out what a
producer does. And what we found out what a producer's responsibility was, then we became
"The '81" didn't hit the Top 40, but it did open new avenues for Gamble and Huff, and soon their
songs were being recorded by established artists - and then re-recorded by bigger artists. A song
they had written for Dee Dee Warwick, "I'm Gonna Make You Love Me," was later covered
note-for-note by the superstar pairing of the Supremes and the Temptations, and taken into the
Top 10. "We didn't work with the Temptations and the Supremes directly," said Gamble, "they
took that song from Dee Dee Warwick's record. Dee Dee's record came out and didn't do that
well. It was a good record, Dee Dee Warwick did a good job with it, but it just didn't happen.
One day I was riding home, and lo and behold, on the radio, they say there's a new record by
Diana Ross and the Supremes and the Temptations, 'I'm Gonna Make You Love Me,' and I
almost crashed the Ford. Hearing that song sung by them was beautiful, I enjoyed that, it was like
a lift. They took that song to where it needed to be."
"That was a standard to reach to," added Huff. "We wrote that song quick, in 15-20 minutes, so
it was just a good feeling with that song."
Gamble and Huff now had something on their resume - co-writing credit on a national hit. In
1966, they would "hit producer" to their resume.
In the mid-1960's, many of the Philadelphia music impressarios would gather for card games at
disc jockey Jerry Blavat's house on Overbrook Avenue. At one of those meetings, Blavat
suggested to Gamble that he should consider producing a local group, the Soul Survivors.
Gamble and Huff arranged some recording time at Cameo-Parkway Studios, and brought the Soul
Survivors in to record a custom-written song, "Expressway To Your Heart." With its car-horn
introduction, thick bouncing bass, and plaintive, emotional vocals by Charles and Richard Ingui,
"Expressway To Your Heart" (Crimson 1010) drove up the charts to the Top 10.
"People were putting all kinds of sound effects on records during those days," said Huff. "With
"Expressway," it seemed like cars would just be good for them."
"And it worked," replied Gamble.
"Yeah it worked, it worked good."
"You were dealing with a white artist being produced by so-called 'black' producers," said
Gamble, "and that was something that people couldn't understand. But we knew basically what
we were doing, we were basically interested in the talents - when they were working around here
in Philadelphia, every club they worked in, they had lines around the corner. Before they ever had
a record out, they had a following in Philadelphia. That brought our attention. The Soul
Survivors were wonderful people. We still see them now and again. They're very talented, they
were like the Young Rascals, and like the Righteous Brothers."
With "Expressway To Your Heart" selling millions of copies, Gamble and Huff continued to
freelance songs and production work, creating pop tunes for artists whose records were in a
creative slump. Dusty Springfield, Joe South, Wilson Pickett, Laura Nyro - all these artists
received successful Gamble-Huff songs, production work - or both. "We called Jerry Wexler at
Atlantic Records," said Gamble, "and told them we have a for Archie Bell, who already had a tune
called 'Tighten Up.' We went to New York, and got with Jerry Wexler. They didn't have a
direction for Archie Bell anyway, because 'Tighten Up' was like a left field hit. We came up with
'I Can't Stop Dancing' (Atlantic 2534) and we went up there and recorded it in the Altantic
studios. We took our band, the Romeos, Carl Chambers, Roland Chambers, all of us. And we
cut 'I Can't Stop Dancing.'"
"We were the Drells on that record," Huff said with a smile. "We thought it was a great deal to
work in Atlantic Studios. When I first walked into Atlantic Records, I was thrilled to death. It
was something you read about, and people that you read about and thought you knew before you
actually met them. So going into Atlantic, we were going into some heavy territory in terms of
black music. We used to read their names on a lot of records - Ahmet Ertegun and Jerry Wexler
and Lieber and Stoller, they were heavies. So when you get a chance to actually meet them, let
alone working with them, then you feel as though you've made some strides in your career."
Another stride came when Gamble and Huff began a successful collaboration with Jerry Butler.
The former lead singer of the Impressions had not had a hit in some time, and in fact was reduced
to recording a syrupy version of his original debut hit "For Your Precious Love." One night,
Butler was performing at Pep's, a popular club in Philadelphia that was adjacent to Kenny
Gamble's record store. "I went into Pep's one day, and said 'Jerry, we've got some songs for you,
we'd like you to listen to them.' We played for him a song called 'Lost, But Found In The Nick of
Time.' It was nice, it had a nice bass line to it and everything."
"Plus," added Huff, "we had 'Expressway To Your Heart,' so people were starting to notice us a
"Jerry Butler had a lot to offer as a writer - he had written 'For Your Precious Love,' and had
written some great songs with Curtis Mayfield. We collaborated real well with him to write some
One of those collaborations, "Only The Strong Survive," became a monster hit on both the pop
and R&B charts. The earliest nuances of "Philly Soul" - meaty lyrics of family and survival; a
chorus of strings duetting with a thumping bass, and a melody borrowed from equal parts gospel,
soul and doo-wop - could be found in this song. But the record also rejuvenated Jerry Butler's
career and provided him with a new image - the "Iceman," someone that wouldn't give up, no
matter how many times she broke his heart.
"'Only The Strong Survive' was later covered by Elvis Presley," said Huff. "That was a big plus
for us, we were proud that Elvis covered that song."
After more successful writing and producing efforts, Gamble and Huff felt the time was right to
start their own record label. With financial help from the Krass Brothers clothing store, Gamble
Records was born. The song "(We'll Be) United" (Gamble 201) by a local doo-wop band with a
successful following, the Intruders, became the new label's first release. Another single,
"Cowboys To Girls" (Gamble 214) became a #1 R&B and Top 10 pop hit.
"I always loved the Intruders ever since I was in high school," said Gamble. "They were a
favorite in Philly for years. Something happened with their agreement with Mercury Records,
their production company didn't work out too good, so that left the Intruders without a deal. So
we pursued them, and that was the first group that we really started extensive rehearsals with.
We used to go over to Huff's house and rehearse all night long, writing songs together, "(We'll
Be) United," "Together," "Cowboys To Girls," all those songs, they were well-rehearsed."
"You know what inspired those rehearsals?" added Huff. "The Intruders could really sing. They
could harmonize - it wasn't really hard for us to rehearse them, once they got the parts, they knew
the parts. They had the best harmony - I listen to their records now, and their harmony was just
so good. And Little Sonny (Samuel Brown, the Intruders' lead vocalist) had such a unique voice.
I was listening to his songs the other day, and I haven't heard a voice like that since."
Even in those early years, Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff had a talented supporting cast of
musicians, writers, arrangers and singers. Thom Bell, who previously worked with Gamble and
Huff in the Romeos, was a classically-trained pianist since the age of six. Under Bell's
classically-trained ear, strings and horns and guitars decorated the Gamble-Huff compositions like
ornaments and tinsel on a Christmas tree. Bobby Martin's jazz background helped him arrange
spectacular horn sections for Gamble-Huff productions, and could keep the rhythm and
percussion flowing, no matter how complicated the melodies got.
Joe Tarsia, an engineer at Cameo-Parkway Studios who turned the dials for Chubby Checker,
Bybby Rydell, the Orlons and the Dovells, later became Gamble and Huff's engineer of choice
("Cowboys To Girls" was the first Gamble-Huff song Tarsia engineered). In 1968, when
Cameo-Parkway went bankrupt, Tarsia built his own recording studio, Sigma Sound Studios, near
the Philadelphia Convention Center. Gamble and Huff produced Jerry Butler's single "Only The
Strong Survive" at Sigma Sound; it was the first of many songs they would produce at the corner
of North 12th and Race streets. "We were always working with Joe Tarsia," said Gamble. "We
worked with him even before Sigma Sound started, at Cameo-Parkway."
Gamble and Huff also acquired a stable of writers and producers from Cameo-Parkway. Bunny
Sigler, whose 1967 Top 20 R&B hit with "Let The Good Times Roll and Feels So Good," was
rising up the charts when Cameo-Parkway went bankrupt, signed on with Gamble and Huff,
initially as a singer. "We used to be over at the Marion Theater, that used to be called the
Schubert Theater," remembered Sigler. "Allan Klein bought Cameo-Parkway, and I was left in
limbo for a while. While I was waiting to get contracts straightened out, I was walking around
the halls of the Schubert Theater, singing and playing the guitars. At the time, I was studying
martial arts, and when you first study, you get all crazy, you start punching the walls and stuff.
Someone would come in the office and said, who is this crazy guy in the hallway doing karate - so
to get me out of the hall, Gamble told me to go in a room and start writing for somebody. The
first song I wrote was for Wilson Pickett, 'International Playboy.' And I've been writing ever
While the Intruders had hits on Gamble Records, a second label, Neptune, was created in 1968 for
distribution through the Chess/Checker/Cadet label. Before long, Gamble and Huff had
assembled a small stable of artists for Neptune, including jazz singer Billy Paul; the female trio
called The Three Degrees; and a Canton, Ohio quartet originally signed to Imperial, the O'Jays.
The partnership between Chess and Neptune produced some R&B hits, but before the Neptune
artists could really establish themselves, Chess president Leonard Chess passed away.
"Our original distribution deal with Chess started out great," said Gamble. "But when Leonard
Chess passed away, things got more complicated. And at that time, independent distrubtion was
drying up. There wasn't much independent distribution out there. So we tried to find another
And this time they wanted a major label. Independent distribution meant you were only as
successful as your last single; albums that could be played on progressive FM stations meant more
musical diversity, as well as financial stability. While Gamble and Huff were looking for another
distributor for their music, major labels in the early 1970's were looking for as many R&B artists
as they could find. Labels like RCA and Warner Bros. and Columbia and A&M were discovering
what Atlantic and Motown and Stax/Volt already knew - R&B artists that are well-promoted and
supported by major labels will return big hits and bigger profits. By 1972, Gamble and Huff met
with Clive Davis, the head of CBS, and the three hammered out a new deal. Gamble and Huff
would produce and record new R&B artists that would receive distribution through CBS. The
corporate giant, in turn, gave Gamble and Huff an advance for $75,000 for 15 singles, and
$25,000 per album.
"Clive Davis was the kind of a record guy who knew what was going on in the music business,"
said Huff. "So I think Clive Davis was aware of Gamble and Huff's independent track record as
producers/songwriters. Clive Davis knew about our talents, and he knew about our consistency,
because we were pretty consistent with our production company. And I think he was more
excited about starting a relationship with us, as we were with him. Because Clive Davis respects
talent. It's a proven factor today. I think Clive was looking for us, more so than we were looking
for national distribution."
Within weeks, the old Cameo-Parkway building at 309 South Broad Street now had a new
musical tenant - Philadelphia International Records. Gamble and Huff brought all their talent
from their Neptune and Gamble labels - The O'Jays, The Three Degrees, The Intruders and Billy
Paul - and went to work.
The O'Jays had performed on stage for years, first as the Triumphs, then in Cleveland as the
Mascots (where they took the name "The O'Jays" to honor Eddie O'Jay, the local disc jockey that
gave them their first break). They had some early R&B hits on the Imperial and Bell labels, songs
like "I'll Be Sweeter Tomorrow (Than I Was Today)" and "Lipstick Traces (On A Cigarette)."
By 1972, they were a lean, mean trio of Walter Williams, William Powell and Eddie Levert, and
Gamble and Huff wanted a song for them that would, with PIR's new distribution deal, make the
"The O'Jays," said Gamble, "was a group that had had hits before, Lipstick Traces and stuff like
that. They were like the Intruders to me, a favorite group of mine. I used to see them all the time
at the Uptown. So me and Huff said, 'these guys have got great voices, they just need great
songs.' They seemed to be the kind of act that would lend towards our songwriting, and so what
we decided to do, we went up to Cleveland, me and Huff, we went to talk to them, we played
some songs for them, and worked with them, and we sorta blended together immediately."
By July 1972, Leon Huff wrote the song "Back Stabbers" with Gene McFadden and John
Whitehead, two former members of Otis Redding's touring band The Epsilons who were hired by
Gamble and Huff for their songwriting abilities. "We had to almost force the O'Jays to sing it,"
said Gamble, "they didn't like it. When I first heard it, I said 'hey, this is a smash.' I felt it, when
they were doing it. And the O'Jays said, 'naw, we don't like that one.' But then we said 'Let's try
it, and and see what happens.'"
From the first rat-a-tat-a-tat pounding of Leon Huff's fingers on that one piano key, to the
classical-yet-soulful orchestrations of Thom Bell, to the musical background by a 42-piece house
orchestra culled from the Romeos, club musicians and the Philadelphia Symphony, to Eddie
Levert's impassioned plea that somebody get these knives out of his back, "Back Stabbers" was a
#1 R&B hit, a Top 5 pop hit, and a clarion call to Detroit and Memphis and New York and
Muscle Shoals - there was a new home of soul music, in the shadow of William Penn's statue.
"Back Stabbers" was the O'Jays' first top 10 on the pop charts; their second release, a
Gamble-Huff collaboration called "992 Arguments," became a solid R&B hit. But it was the third
release, "Love Train," that gave the O'Jays their first across-the-board #1 hit. "I knew 'Love
Train' was special when we were rehearsing it," said Huff, "writing it ourselves, me playing it and
Gamble singing it. Right up against the wall in Gamble's office, that's where the piano was. We
wrote a lot in Gamble's office."
"'Love Train' was about the world," replied Gamble. "It was like peace in the world, people
getting together. That's what our whole thing was, all our music was about, people uniting, living
together in peace and harmony, and having fun."
"The way it was grooving, and we were writing it - the way I was playing it and the way Gamble
was singing it, the words were just flowing out, like a spontaneous thing. All those elements - "
"We could have put more countries in it," smiled Gamble.
If the O'Jays were the socially conscious voice of Philadelphia International, Harold Melvin and
the Blue Notes were the emotional voice. A popular Philadelphia doo-wop group for 20 years,
with R&B hits on the Josie, Value and Landa labels, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes signed
with Philadelphia International in 1972.
"Gamble was connected with the Blue Notes really closely," remembered Huff. "Most of those
guys' home was in Philly, especially Harold's. It was very special, goes way back. Harold Melvin
was always connected with good singing groups, so sooner or later it was a natural thing for us to
"I know that Harold had been constantly trying to find a lead singer. Me and Huff would always
tell him to replace this person, replace that person, he was trying to put the right group together.
One day I came into the office and Huff said, 'Man, I just rehearsed Harold's drummer on this
song, "I Miss You," and he sounds great.'"
That drummer, Teddy Pendergrass, became the lead vocalist for the Blue Notes. His distinctive
singing voice, which coated emotion and sensuality and passion into every syllable, was just the
hook to bring Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes to the top of the pop and soul charts. "Harold
Melvin was a guy who could take three ordinary people and make a group out of them," said
Gamble. "You didn't have to sing that good either, with Harold. You could dance, have some
showmanship or whatever. Harold Melvin was a very extremely talented person in putting
together these groups."
And the songs for Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes played to their strengths - hit songs like "If
You Don't Know Me By Now," "Yesterday I Had The Blues," "The Love I Lost" and "Bad
Luck" - songs that showcased the Blue Notes' harmonies and Teddy Pendergrass' impassioned
Behind groups like the O'Jays and Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, behind Billy Paul and the
Intruders and the other Philadelphia International artists, was a top-notch house band that evolved
from Gamble and Huff's old band, the Romeos. Whereas Motown had the Van Dyke Six, and
Stax had Booker T and the M.G.'s, MFSB (Mother, Father, Sister, Brother) played on not only
the Philadelphia International hits, but also on tracks by the Spinners, the Delfonics, the Stylistics,
and other bands who visited the Sigma Sound studios. MFSB evolved from Gamble and Huff's
old band, the Romeos. They played under various names in the late 1960's - as the "Music
Makers," they had a charting hit with an instrumental version of the Intruders' "(We'll Be)
United." As Cliff Nobles & Co., they had a Top 5 hit with "The Horse." "MFSB was the
Romeos," said Huff, "It was just built on with horns and strings. They played for a lot of people,
and they would get the same results that they did when they were with us. As time went on,
people were coming from all over the world, trying to get with what they thought was the Philly
Sound with this band."
"Musicians could make a good living in Philadelphia playing different records," added Gamble.
"There were sessions almost every night. There were a lot of producers in this town that would
use certain select guys. Thank God I was one of them. The majority of the records that were
being made in Philly were being played the Romeos. We were what you would call the prime
musicians here in Philly, just like if you would go anywhere else, Motown, New York, you had
prime musicians. It was not a clique, but if you were a good musician, people just wanted to use
"Plus the musicians played on a couple of hit records. If you played on a couple of hit records,
then everybody would want the musician to play on them. It was a lot of work, but it all paid off,
and we worked hard to put that stuff together. We worked hard to write those songs, and we had
a good distributor in CBS. All the pieces fit at that time, everything was there."
"When the Romeos split up for a while," said Huff, "they all went to play for some really strong
artists. Carl Chambers went with Gladys Knight and Steve Wonder, Roland Chambers went with
Marvin Gaye, and Gamble and I just went off into our thing."
"Roland Chambers was here from time to time, then we had Roland Harris, Ronnie Baker, Earl
Young, and MFSB kept moving."
And by 1974, MFSB had a hit of their own. "Don Cornelius was a friend of ours," said Gamble,
"he used to put all of our acts on Soul Train. We talked to him once or twice, told him that we
had a theme song for him. He came into Philly one Saturday, came into the studio, and we cut
two different versions of the song, but it didn't come off right. The second day, we had a
sing-along part - 'Soul Train, Soul Train,' and then we came up with that base line, and that was it.
We cut the track, and then we put the Three Degrees on it. We were trying to break the Three
Degrees and trying to get them going, so we thought this would help them."
The "Soul Train" theme was so popular that Gamble and Huff released it as a single, "TSOP (The
Sound Of Philadelphia)," which shot to #1 on almost every chart it entered. The song's name
change not only reflected the music of Philadelphia and of MFSB, but it also represented the
sound and spirit of the City of Brotherly Love - it was freedom at Independence Hall, the
vibrations of the Liberty Bell, the locomotive rhythm of a SEPTA subway train, the ebb and flow
of a Flyers wrist shot and a Phillies triple and a Sixers layup. When Dick Clark hosted American
Bandstand from Philadelphia, the common phrase was that it had a good beat and you can dance
to it. With "TSOP," the beat was spectacular and you couldn't sit still to it.
Inside the Philadelphia International studios, writers worked day and night to compose the best
songs. Dexter Wansel had originally signed with PIR as a member of the band Yellow Sunshine.
He later stayed with the company as a writer and arranger. "What people can't forget is that it
was really Gamble and Huff, and Thom Bell. Here were three music giants - they didn't have to
relinquish any production or writing, because essentially they could do it themselves. Being here
with those guys, for me, was a real eye-opener. If I wanted to compete as an arranger - guess
who I was competing with. I was competing against Thom Bell, I was competing against Jack
Faith, Vince Montana, Bobby Martin - and as a writer, I was competing against Bunny Sigler and
Gamble and Huff and Thom Bell and Linda Creed and Joe Jefferson, all these great writers. It
was a great place to create, and a great time to be creative."
It was an extended family, bound together by not only blood, but by hard work, rehearals into the
middle of the night so that when recording time came, the singers knew the words cold.
Everything had to be synchronized - even in the engineering booth. "They used to have ten guys
in here," said Craig White, a current engineer for Philadelphia International, "before we had
automation, where you could control all the mixing through a computer. You had four or five
guys in here, grabbing a group of faders. Everybody was responsible for three or four tracks.
You had to do your moves correctly, or else you had to go back to the beginning and do it again."
"We were rehearsal fools," said Leon Huff. "We rehearsed, rehearsed, rehearsed. Great results
come from that. I don't where all that energy came from - the energy that was put into those
rehearsals, I don't know if the average man can hold out from all those long hours. We rehearsed
for hours and hours and hours, and stay up half the night listening to the rehearsal on the tape.
We didn't get to bed until 3, 4 in the morning. But I wasn't tired. There was another kind of
energy. And then you've got to get up and be in the studio at 10:00. And that's how that cycle
was. I don't care how late you stayed out, how late you hung out, but you better be in the studio
ready to perform the next day. It was regimented. What made it easy was the love for it."
"A lot of people say when you go into the studio, you just have to sing," said Bunny Sigler. "But
Eddie Levert and William Powell of the O'Jays were performing in the studio. If you hear them,
you could almost see them performing. One of the songs I wrote for them, "Just Let Me Make
Love," we tried to make that have a live sound in the studio. I remember Gamble saying that
Eddie Levert performs - when you hear him, you can see him perform."
By the end of 1974 Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff and Thom Bell were the top three pop and soul
producers, having placed more than 20 hits on the charts that year (Bell's production credits
included the Stylistics and the Spinners, who recorded for other labels). Two years after its
creation, Philadelphia International was the second-largest African-American owned company in
USA, just behind Motown. PIR's songs were also reaching an appreciative international audience
- although the Three Degrees had a major hit in America with "When Will I See You Again," the
trio's song was so popular in England that, during a stop on their European tour, the Three
Degrees were presented a gold record by Her Highness, Princess Anne.
Within the music industry, other artists were trying to mine that same Philly hitmaking sound -
whether it meant David Bowie or Todd Rundgren recording at Sigma Sound Studios or at the
newly-refurbished Philadelphia International Studios; whether it meant "borrowing" MFSB for a
track or two; copping beats, riffs and even whole introductions (the intro to the Eagles' "Take It
To The Limit" does sound suspiciously similar to "If You Don't Know Me By Now").
Such an explosion of popular music from Philadelphia International was also noticed by other
people - the United States government. In 1975, Gamble and Huff, along with some of their
partners and business associates, were charged with providing money and gifts to various disc
jockeys in exchange for favorable airplay. "I think it made us stronger musically," said Huff. "We
felt that we hadn't done anything wrong. I think it was unfair what they were doing, but they got
their reasons for doing whatever they were doing."
And the O'Jays sung Gamble and Huff's latest compositions into the Top 10. "For The Love of
Money" (PIR 3544), featured a devastating wa-wah guitar and a backward-echoed chorus (the
O'Jays' vocals were recorded, then the tape was flipped over and played backwards. One of the
recording channels was left open, creating a recorded echo. Then the tape was flipped over again,
creating the "fade-in" chorus). Another track, "Rich Get Richer," from the O'Jays' Survival
album, took its inspiration from Ferdinand Lundberg's book The Rich and the Super-Rich.
In 1976, Gamble and Huff were brought into court to answer payola charges. The government
was out for blood - earlier in the year, four executives at Brunswick Records were convicted of
mail fraud and conspiracy in a similar payola scandal. According to Variety, Gamble admitted he
had given "gratuities" to some radio station employees - some clothing, airline tickets and cash -
but denied that it was for favorable airplay. But rather than risk a jury trial (especially after the
Brunswick convictions), Gamble and Huff's parent company, Assorted Music, pleaded nolo
contendere in exchange for dismissal of most of the indictment and a $45,000 fine.
Their legal battle behind them, Gamble and Huff went back to creating hits at Philadelphia
International. But now their own artists were suffering from internal problems.
William Powell of the O'Jays had been battling cancer, and by the mid-1970's could no longer
tour. He continued to record with the O'Jays, but was replaced on tour by Sammy Strain, a
former member of Little Anthony and the Imperials. On May 26, 1977, William Powell finally
walked from his Canton home up the stairway to heaven.
Meanwhile, Teddy Pendergrass wanted to leave the Blue Notes for a solo career. Harold Melvin
took his band to ABC Records, while Gamble and Huff signed Pendergrass to a solo contract.
But Philadelphia International survived and continued to grow through all this turmoil. New
voices joined the label and began working with Gamble and Huff. Lou Rawls had been a
professional singer for 20 years (that's his voice backing up Sam Cooke on "Bring It On Home To
Me"), but had no Top 10 hits to his credit. By the summer of 1976, Rawls had his first Top 5 hit
with "You'll Never Find (Another Love Like Mine)," a Gamble-Huff collaboration that showcased
Rawls' sweet baritone with a funky beat and effective strings. "I remember we went to a club in
New York," said Huff, "where Lou was playing at. At that time, a guy was working with us,
Jimmy Bishop, he was in touch with Lou Rawls, and so he had pulled a lot of those pieces
together. We had the right song for him at the right time - 'You'll Never Find Another Love Like
Mine.' That whole album was like a tailor-made suit for him."
"We always went after great voices," added Gamble, "and he had one of the great voices, and it
felt like it was time for him to get another hit."
In 1976, Detroit and Philadelphia met as one when the Jacksons entered 309 South Broad Street
for the first of two Gamble-Huff produced albums. "Epic asked us if we wanted to produce the
Jacksons," said Gamble. "In reality, we were trying to sign the Jacksons ourselves to our own
label. No question we were trying to do that. But CBS had deeper pockets than ours. Those
songs were released on a combined label, that's the first time they ever did that. The house band,
MFSB, that played on that first album. The Jacksons didn't play, they just sang on the album."
"I think Tito played on one thing," replied Huff, "maracas or something like that. He did play on
a couple of the things they did for themselves. They did cut a couple of songs on that album."
"It was a whole new world for all of them. They came into our world, Philly International was a
different environment for them. They were welcome to participate in the production, they
produced a couple of songs on their albums, so they had a lot more freedom here. It was trying
times for them too, because Jermaine had just left the group, they were going through just a little
bit of controversy there. Me and Huff, we had the songs for them, and that's the easy part.
Getting in the studio and getting the right songs. I enjoyed working with Michael, because he had
his own ideas about how he wanted himself to sound."
"Michael made our job a little eaiser. He was very clever. Plus, he could sing."
In 1977, Philadelphia International collaborated again with CBS Records, this time for a special
neighborhood beautification campaign. Gamble and Huff, along with the entire PIR stable of
singers and composers, created a single called "Let's Clean Up The Ghetto" (PIR 3627). Sales of
the single and accompanying album (which included classic tracks from artists like Lou Rawls,
Billy Paul, Teddy Pendergrass and the Intruders) were used to finance inner-city cleanup projects.
Young people were hired to pick up garbage, paint over graffiti, and sweep dirty streets in their
neighborhood. The successful project was later endorsed by the mayors of Chicago, Los Angeles,
Memphis and Atlanta.
According to Variety, Philadelphia mayor Frank Rizzo refused to participate in his hometown
corporation's campaign, taking offense to the song's lyrics "You can no longer depend on the man
downtown," as well as the use of the word "ghetto" to describe the inner city. Despite Rizzo's
objections, PIR's campaign received statewide support and a proclamation from Pennsylvania
governor Milton Shapp.
But as the 1970's rolled on, the hits were getting harder and harder to break. With the exception
of the O'Jays and Teddy Pendergrass (whose solo efforts were bought by millions of swooning
women), the releases on Philadelphia International were quick rockets rather than sustaining
candles. The duo who co-wrote "Back Stabbers," Gene McFadden and John Whitehead,
produced and sang their own Top 10 hit in 1979, "Ain't No Stoppin' Us Now" (PIR 3681). A
sister group, the Jones Girls, nabbed a Top 40 hit in "You're Gonna Make Me Love Somebody
Else" (PIR 3681).
Meanwhile, the Gamble and Huff catalog was being mined by other labels. Thelma Houston
recorded a note-for-note orchestration of Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes' "Don't Leave Me
This Way" and took it to number one on the pop and soul charts. The California group Tierra
created a medley of the Intruders' "Together" and "Cowboys To Girls," hitting the Top 40 in
1981. Even the O'Jays mined the old Gamble and Huff library, and came up with "Use Ta Be My
Girl" (PIR 3642), a Top 10 smash.
Other groups weren't content with just nabbing a song here and there - they wanted to capture
that Philly Sound that Gamble and Huff and Thom Bell and MFSB and Joe Tarsia created. In
Hialeah, Florida, TK Records created a mixture of Philly Soul and salsa, which culminated in a
series of hits for KC and the Sunshine Band. In New York, producers like Jacques Morali were
taking MFSB orchestrations and packing them onto high-hat disco beats. Giorgio Morodor tried
to replicate Earl Young's signature drum patterns and created a series of early synth-pop hits for
Donna Summer and Blondie. Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers snatched the thumping bass and
funky beats, and the Chic organization took root. It was as if Gamble and Huff were competing
for radio time against their own students.
But Gamble and Huff didn't give up. This time, they allowed their in-house staff to come up with
new ideas and fresh concepts - even if it meant overseeing the production of their top artists.
Dexter Wansel remembers the day he got permission, along with Nick Ashford and Valerie
Simpson, to co-produce Teddy Pendergrass. "I did an album for Teddy Pendergrass named TP.
And Teddy was coming off a double live album, and we had some stuff in the can that we were
going to put out. But I suggested to Gamble that Teddy needed fresh music out. Just to really
affirm his position as a great soul singer, he needed some fresh new material. The live album and
the album prior to that, they were a continuous flow of sound that was the same. And I felt he
needed fresh music, and Gamble was like 'okay, Huff's got to go out of town, and I'm going to be
busy, so why don't you dig in there and see what you can do.' It was like getting the keys to the
car. When Teddy found out that I was going to be overseeing at least half of the album, he was
like - why? And then I started spending a lot of time with him, and he chilled out after that, and
all said, it wound up to be maybe his biggest album, with 'Love T.K.O.', which I co-produced,
was one of the writers, and arranged, and the duets with Stephanie Mills. It was wonderful for
me, because it really let me know that instead of just doing a tune here or a tune there on some of
the albums, that I could really do it, produce and arrange a Top 10 album. It was a great school, I
feel like I've graduated here with a couple of doctor's degrees in arranging and producing and
When Gamble and Huff went away, it usually meant to Jamaica, away from the noise and the
hustle and bustle - where the duo could concentrate on their writing. "We wrote a lot of Teddy's
stuff in Jamaica," said Huff, "when we would go hide out in one of those villas down there. We'll
come back with 20-30 hit songs, because the atmosphere was away from a lot of everyday
distractions. By being away, me and Gamble were into ourselves. We'd go into this room down
there. We wouldn't do nothing but eat and sleep and wake up and write, go back, lay down.
That's like being in an area where there's nothing but songs, good food, good conversation, just
laying around, you'd be surprised what kind of songs you could write."
"No stress," added Gamble, "no phone calls, no nothing. Completely cut off. We'll come back
with some songs that people today have been dancing to for 20 years."
"And we were writing songs in Jamaica, writing songs for Teddy Pendergrass for his next album.
That's when we heard about the car crash, on the news."
In March 1982, Teddy Pendergrass was involved in a single-car accident, when his vehicle hit a
road divider outside Philadelphia. Although he was able to recover from the accident with his
voice intact, his body was paralyzed from the neck down. "A lot of people had called us by that
time," said Gamble. "That was a shock, but then again, it was not totally unexpected - he had
been having some reckless activity before then. At least two car crashes before then. We didn't
know how serious it was until a friend of ours told us how serious it was. We came back the next
day. We flew back in, went to the hospital and checked him out."
"I knew then he was in bad shape," added Huff, "this was not no joke. That was 16 years ago.
But he's been pretty strong about it, I think it was a wake-up call for all of us. It changed
everything, it changed a lot of things."
"Teddy Pendergrass was one of our biggest artists," said Gamble. "Perception-wise, it created a
new perception for the label. Even with our business dealings, it was different, because Teddy's
not being able to perform, Teddy not being able to record, and the uncertainty that was
happening. We had to readjust ourselves after that accident. That's why you never know what's
going to happen tomorrow."
"After Teddy's accident," said Huff, "our deal with CBS was terminated, and we went with
Capitol EMI. At that time, we still had the O'Jays, we picked up Phyllis Hyman and Shirley Jones
from the Jones Girls, and Patti Labelle (who had a #1 R&B hit with "If Only You Knew"). That's
about it, we had cut our roster all the way down. And then, we had a couple of good albums with
EMI - and when that was over, we basically tried to readjust and the industry changed so much,
the music changed, rap music was in, and sampling, and we basically were just trying to adjust."
"After Teddy's accident," remarked Gamble, "it seems like all the soulful male vocalists were
waiting for Teddy's momentum to slow down, because here comes Luther Vandross, and Prince,
and Michael Jackson. If it hadn't had happened, if it was still going on, we would still be kicking
out songs for Teddy. Because Teddy was one of the greatest solo male entertainers I've ever seen
on a stage."
While Gamble and Huff were out of the public eye, their hits weren't. In the last fifteen years,
their songs were re-recorded by the Communards ("Don't Leave Me This Way"), Simply Red ("If
You Don't Know Me By Now"), Heavy D and the Boyz ("Now That We've Found Love"), Nas
("I Remember," using the melody from "Cowboys To Girls"), and Daryl Hall and John Oates
("Love Train"). Meanwhile, Gamble and Huff continued to produce albums for groups like Third
World, the Young Soul Rebels, and Peaches & Herb. And today's R&B producers, from Jimmy
Jam and Terry Lewis, to L.A. and Babyface, to Puff Daddy and the Family, can all trace their
musical roots back to Gamble and Huff.
For years, it may have looked like the only activity on 309 South Broad Street was in an art
supply store on the first floor of the building. But Gamble and Huff were just getting their second
In 1988, Gamble and Huff, along with several other Philadelphia-based music industry colleagues,
co-founded The Philadelphia Music Foundation, whose goal is to recognize the music makers
from the City of Brotherly Love. Today, there are bronze plaques along both sidewalks of Broad
Street, each with the name of various artists and bands that once called Philadelphia their home.
Dick Clark has a plaque; so does Eugene Ormandy, conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra.
There's one for the Intruders, and Joan Jett has her name right over there, next to Boyz II Men.
And three of the architects of "Philly Soul" - Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff and Thom Bell - have
plaques next to each other, across the street from the Philadelphia International studios.
The awards kept coming - in 1989, Gamble and Huff received a Grammy when the Simply Red
rendition of "If You Don't Know Me By Now" received R&B Song of the Year accolades. In
1995, Gamble and Huff were inducted into the National Academy of Songwriters Hall of Fame.
Call up the BMI website some time and look up "Gamble" or "Huff" - there are more than 28
pages of songs they have written or co-written together.
In April 1998, Philadelphia International signed a new deal with EMI Distribution. Along with
greatest hits packages and previously unreleased catalog material from Teddy Pendergrass, the
O'Jays and Billy Paul, PIR was ready to release its first new recordings in a long time. First up is Forever With You, a collection of unreleased recordings from the late Phyllis Hyman. Besides the
songs that were written and/or produced by Gamble and Huff, Bunny Sigler, Dexter Wansel,
Narada Michael Walden, Linda Creed and Michael Masser - Phyllis Hyman herself co-wrote such
songs as "Strength of a Woman," "Come Right or Not At All," and "Tell Me What You're Gonna
"Songwriting was the greatest vehicle which Phyllis found to best express the depth of her
innermost self," said Gamble. "If you walked into a room with closed eyes and heard her sing one
note, you knew that it was the voice of the great Phyllis Hyman. It was her unique voice
resonating, as she sang from her soul ... which captured my attention and attracted me to her as an
One of the songs on Hyman's new album, "Funny How Love Goes," was converted from a solo
performance, into a duet with a new Philadelphia International artist, Damon. "Damon is the
most refreshing male vocalist to come through these doors in a long time," said Huff. "I was
hearing about him through Gamble first, Gamble was raving about him. Once I got to hear him as
a singer, then I said yeah, okay. This is the first time Gamble and I have been in the studio to
work on a project like this in a while, and this - "
"Damon's my man," interjected Gamble, "we've been working close. He's going to be an artist
that can compete in the marketplace."
"A friend of mine had the opportunity to come down here and do some recording with Bunny
Sigler and Kenny Gamble," said Damon, "to try to see if we could make things work. Try to
come up with some things in the studio. And from that point, there was some time in between,
time to get contracts and everything together. And all of a sudden, they came back down and
everybody was like, 'hold up man, hey - we can do something.' And it's been a pleasure. We have
over 37 songs recorded in a year and a half. So that's a lot of work from studio. The great
writers like Linda Creed have written in these rooms, these walls. I've heard tapes of old music
from her and Charlie Simmons, Gamble and Huff, Thom Bell, Dexter Wansel, I heard stuff with
Teddy Pendergrass, the Spinners, the O'Jays, McFadden and Whitehead, I can sit in the studio
sometimes and just absorb the history of this studio from the walls."
Also scheduled for release this year will be PIR's first hip-hop compilation album, produced and
overseen by Gamble and Huff - actually, Caliph "Poppa Chief" Gamble, Salahdeen Gamble and
Leon A. "Pops" Huff II. That's right, the sons are working in the family business.
"Not only do I cherish what our fathers did back in the day," said Caliph Gamble, "and currently
too, because the music will be here way past our generation, way past theirs. It's music that's a
legacy. Our generation and our area is current, it's going to be almost impossible for us to fill
their shoes on what they did, so whereas though I respect what they did, I'm taking full advantage
of the position that they allow for us. They created this establishment, it's up to us to keep it
moving or to let it die. And the only way I feel that we can keep it moving is to come up with
new and brighter sounds, like in our hearts. I want to get back into real music, I love the feel of
live instruments and real lyrics. I would like to incorporate all aspects of the technology we have
current, and the music that people used to groove back to in the day that got you on the dance
floor and made you want to buy it 25 years later. I'm not trying to have music where it might sell
in '99 and by the time 2001 comes out, nobody remembers my songs. I want that thing to be
moving way until my retirement. I want people to still be buying my songs that I made when I
first began, to the time when I can hopefully go to Jamaica to relax and write songs, like my father
and my uncle."
"When you've got a kid," said Huff, "when you've got children that grow up into a business,
they've been running through these halls since they were babies. I used to bring my son over here
before he could even learn how to walk good. A lot of times, when I used to have to baby sit
him, I'd bring him over to the studio. It was an environment. My father was a barber, that didn't
mean I had to be one. But the music is a different animal."
"I just took as it as an advantage to be in the music business myself," added "Pops" Huff. "I
wasn't like, oh my dad writes a whole lot of songs. I love music. He made me love music, now
I'm doing the same thing he was doing back in the day. So I'm him all over again in '98. The
thing that makes me feel good, makes me know my skills are up, my own dad, the man comes to
"I take pride in what my dad and Huff did," said Salahdeen Gamble. "They did some very
beautiful music. I want to come out with something of my own flavor, and bring it to the world,
something that I've got deep in my heart, because I know that music came from the heart. It came
from stuff they experienced in life. So what I want to do is tell people what we've been going
through and what we see, and we want to make people dance and have fun."
Athough it may have looked quiet on the outside, inside the building Philadelphia International is
back on track. The old guard is still there - Gamble, Huff, Dexter Wansel, Bunny Sigler - while
old favorites drop in, like Thom Bell and Billy Paul and Eddie Levert and Teddy Pendergrass.
And throughout all those years of hitmaking and music creation, Gamble and Huff never lost sight
of the one driving force - the music was the message, and the message is the music. "It was
destiny," said Gamble. "Destiny pulled us all together, the music just happened. All these different
people, you couldn't plan to pull all these people together. It all fell into place, because it was
meant to be. The proof of it was, when you look back on it, how did you do all that, in a 15-20
year period, so much music was produced and created. You wonder how all that happened.
There was no pre-planning for that."
"This is how I live with myself," said Huff, "when I go back and I'm in my solemn moods and I
think about different times spent writing these songs, in this room, it was electricity in here. It
was magic - if you want to use all those adjectives to explain the feeling that we generated as
humans in a room, putting something on a little tape, it was unbelievable. The feeling between
just a piano and a voice and a little tape recorder, was unbelievable. And I could tell basically
before the songs really got to the studio that would evolve into a record - "
"You could tell before they got there," added Gamble, "that they really had something - you could
tell when we wrote them, you could feel it."
"Because the artists used to say, man, if we called in the artist and Gamble would sing them the
song, and I would play them the song, and they would be in awe of what it would sound like - so
it was just a natural transition."
"And the music was so nice," replied Gamble. "Pleasant working conditions, everybody was
friendly towards one another, and the music was the object of everything, how to make that music