Between 1974 and 1977, Tavares enjoyed a trio of million selling US R&B number one singles with She’s Gone, It Only Takes A Minute and Whodunnit. These were just three of ten of Tavares’ ten singles that have Tavares a top ten US R&B single. That’s not forgetting the Grammy winning More Than A Woman, which featured on the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. It seemed that Tavares could do no wrong. Scratch below the surface and this wasn’t the case. Tavares’ third and fourth albums 1975s In the City and 1976s Sky High, were their two most commercially successful albums. After that, Tavares next two albums weren’t as successful. From 1977s Love Storm sales decreased. Future Bound released in 1978, reaching just number 155 in the US Billboard 200 and number fifty-five in the US R&B Charts. This was their least successful album since their 1974 debut album Check It Out. Something had to change, and this would be their sound. Tavares decided to head back to their soul and R&B roots. The man who would reshape Tavares’ sound was Bobby Martin, one of Philadelphia International Records’ best arrangers and now a successful and sought after producer. Tasked with reshaping Tavares’ sound, and taking them back to their soul and R&B roots, could Bobby Martin help rejuvenate Tavares’ career on Madam Butterfly which will be rereleased on 20th August 2012 by SoulMusic Records.
With Tavares seeking a return to their R&B and soul roots on Madam Butterfly. Bobby Martin put together a team of talented songwriters. Bobby Martin brought in Sam Dees and the songwriting team of Len Ron Hanks and Zane Grey. Sam Dees wrote three tracks, while Hanks and Grey contributed what would the two singles, Straight From the Heart and Never Had A Love Like This Before. Kenneth Stover wrote I’m Back For More and cowrote the title-track Madame Butterfly with Johnny Simon. Benorce Blackmon wrote One Telephone Call Away, while Joe D. Reaves and Lonnie E. Reaves cowrote Positive Forces. With nine tracks that took Tavares back to their soul and R&B roots, Bobby Martin put together a band to record what would become Madam Butterfly.
One of the first musicians Bobby called upon was Ron “Have Mercy” Kersey, a former member of M.F.S.B. from Bobby’s Philadelphia International Records days. He’d play piano, electric piano, clavinet, Wurlitzer and Melodica. Joining Ron was a rhythm section of drummer Gaylord Birch, bassist David Shields and guitarist Benorce Blackmon. They were joined by vibes player Don Moore, Melvin D. Webb on congas, bongos, percussion and drums and a full string and horn section. Bobby Martin and Ron “Have Mercy” Kersey would arrange the nine tracks on Madam Butterfly, while the Tavares’ brothers would share the vocal duties. With Tavares being given a Philly Sound makeover on Madam Butterfly by Bobby Martin, would this reshaping of their sound rejuvenate their career?
Never Had A Love Like This Before was chosen as the lead single from Madam Butterfly, reaching number five in the US R&B Charts. This gave Tavares their first US R&B top ten single since Whodunnit in 1977. When Madame Butterfly was released, it reached number ninety-two in the US Billboard 200 and number thirteen in the US R&B Charts. Madame Butterfly was Tavares’ most successful album in the US R&B Charts since 1975s In the City. Straight From the Heart was then released as a single, reaching number seventy-seven in the US R&B Charts. The only disappointment was when Let Me Heal the Bruises failed to chart. Overall, Bobby Martin had achieved what he’d set out to do with Tavares on Madam Butterfly. He’d taken them back to the R&B and soul routes, resulting in two hit singles and a top twenty album in the US R&B Charts. With this return to Tavares’ roots, what does the music on n Madam Butterfly sound like? That’s what I’ll now tell you.
Opening Madam Butterfly is the second single released from the Straight From the Heart. This is one of two tracks written by the Hanks and Grey songwriting team. It’s an uptempo, funky dance track. Cascading, dancing strings, punchy, blazing horns and the rhythm section combine with Ron “Have Mercy” Kersey’s keyboards. They provide a powerful, dramatic backdrop for Pooch Tavares lead vocal. His brothers add punchy, soaring harmonies, against the backdrop of ever-present dancing strings, punchy horns and driving, funky rhythm section. Later, Pooch vamps his way through a prolonged, percussive breakdown, against a joyous, riotous backdrop. The result is the perfect start to Madam Butterfly. Producer Bobby Martin’s makes his mark straight away, with a dramatic, uplifting and funky dance-track that grabs your attention and won’t let go.
Games, Games is one of three tracks from one of the most underrated singer and songwriters Sam Dees. This is ballad, tinged in sadness and emotion, something Sam Dees does so well. Chubby and Butch share the lead vocal, getting across the sadness and heartache of the games people play in relationships. As the rest of Tavares add tight harmonies, the rhythm section, guitars and keyboards combine. Benorce Blackmon almost weeps sympathetically, producing a heartachingly beautiful sound. Not quite as beautiful as the vocals and harmonies, that get across the Sam Dees emotive and quite beautiful lyrics.
Kenneth Stover and Johnny Simon cowrote the title-track Madam Butterfly. Bobby Martin’s arrangement draws upon his Philly roots, combining lush strings and piano with the rhythm section and guitars. They create a dramatic, punchy arrangement that’s perfect for Chubby and Butch’s heartfelt and impassioned vocals. Their vocals soar powerfully, matching the drama of the arrangement. Tight, soulful harmonies sweep in, joining the lushest of strings and rhythm section that punctuate the arrangement dramatically. Here, Tavares make a return to their soulful roots, mixing emotion power and passion, with the help of Bobby Martin. Not only does he demonstrate just how talented a producer he was, but how he was the right man to help Tavares return to their roots.
Let Me Heal the Bruises written by Sam Dees was the third single released from Madam Butterfly, but the only single not to chart. The track has a real Sam Dees sound. Tiny’s pleading, heartfelt vocal is delivered against swathes of emotive strings, keyboards and a slow, thoughtful rhythm section. Harmonies sweep in, soulful and heartfelt in equal measures, while Tiny’s vocal is sincere and impassioned. Towards the end of the track, Bobby Martin builds the arrangement using the strings. This is hugely effective and proves to be a real masterstroke. Of all the ballads on the album, this is the best.
Never Had A Love Like This Before was the single that gave Tavares a number five single in the US R&B Charts. From the track’s opening bars, you realize something special is about to unfold. Again Bobby Martin uses strings effectively, placing them at the heart of the arrangement. He adds to the strings, percussion, congas, keyboards and guitars. They give the track a real Philly Sound. Punchy harmonies augment the lead vocal, which is shared by Butch, Tiny and Pooch. Each of them deliver the vocal with joy and emotion, accompanied by some of the best harmonies on Madam Butterfly. Later, bursts of rasping horns punctuate what is one of Bobby Martin’s best arrangements on Madam Butterfly. Here, everything falls perfectly into place. Tavares’s vocal, the band’s performance and the production are flawless. It’s no wonder this proved so successful as a single.
Benorce Blackmon wrote One Telephone Call Away, a track that’s quite unlike the previous tracks. For a band going back to their R&B and soul roots, it works well. A harmonica, pounding rhythm section and keyboards accompany rousing vocal that opens the track. Chubby and Pooch share the lead vocal, while strings dance and cascade, as the rhythm section create the track’s powerful, pounding and dramatic heartbeat. The vocals are a mixture of power, passion and drama, sometimes sounding needy and insecure. This allows Tavares to showcase their considerable vocal versatility and talents, as they shake off their disco past.
My Love Calls is the last of the trio of Sam Dees penned tracks. This is the perfect track for Tavares’ return to their roots, a slow, emotive ballad. Just the rhythm section, guitars, percussion, keyboards and lush strings combine, before Pooch’s heartfelt vocal enters. Equally heartfelt, soulful harmonies sweep in, while Benorce Blackmon’s guiar chimes. Bobby Martin’s slow, beautiful arrangement, with its use of strings, guitars and harmonies is perfect for Sam Dees lyrics. The harmonies just cascade above the arrangement, augmenting Pooch’s fervent, impassioned delivery. His delivery even reminds me of Sam Dees. Like Let Me Heal the Bruises, My Love Calls is a gorgeous ballad, which brings out the best in Tavares, as they return to their soulful past.
While the previous track was an impassioned ballad, Positive Forces demonstrates another side of Tavares. It’s an uptempo track, with Tiny taking charge of the lead vocal. The track bursts into life, with Tavares’ harmonies accompanied by the rhythm section, sweeping swirling strings and growling horns. Bobby Martin throws a curveball, with the arrangement almost pausing. He’s only teasing though, with the arrangement continuing in a similar vein. Rasping horns, dancing strings, keyboards and pounding rhythm section accompany Tiny as he struts his way through the track. His vocal is a mixture of sass and confidence, while punchy harmonies accompany him. Although very different from the previous track, it shows how versatile a group Tavares were.
Closing Madam Butterfly is I’m Back For More, a track where Tavares fuse funk and soul. The funky influence is apparent when the track opens with growling horns, swirling strings, keyboards and a funky rhythm section combining. Things change when Tiny and Butch share the vocal. Out goes the funk, replaced by a more soulful sound. The lush strings are key to the sound, along with sweeping, soaring harmonies and Ron “Have Mercy” Kersey’s keyboards. Throughout the track funk and soul are combined, with blazing horns added towards the end, as Tavares end Madam Butterfly on a high.
Tavares’ decision to go back to their soul and R&B roots on Madam Butterfly, and their decision to bring in Bobby Martin to produce the album was something of a masterstroke. He transformed Tavares’ sound, taking them back to the sound of their early albums. This resulted in Madam Butterfly becoming Tavares’ most successful album since 1975s In the City. Similarly, Never Had A Love Like This gave Tavares their first US R&B top ten single since Whodunnit in 1977. Later in 1979, Tavares’ decision to move away from the disco sound of the previous albums, looked like a masterstroke. After the Disco Sucks movement attempted to destroy disco on Disco Demolition Night at Comiskey Park, Chicago, in July 1979, disco became something of a hot potato. Neither record companies, nor record buyers were interested in disco albums. So, Tavares’ decision to return to their roots meant they were one step ahead of their contemporaries. Suddenly, disco was deeply unpopular and unfashionable. Luckily Tavares were no longer a disco group. Instead, they were a soul and R&B group, starting with Madam Butterfly. Of their last three albums, Madam Butterfly surpassed both Love Storm and Future Bound. However, much of the credit for the success of Madam Butterfly must go to producer Bobby Martin. He brought in the right songwriters in Sam Dees and songwriting team of Len Ron Hanks and Zane Grey. The he put together a band that were capable of helping him give Tavares a Philly Sound makeover. With Ron “Have Mercy” Kersey at his side, Madam Butterfly which will be rereleased on 20th August 2012 by SoulMusic Records, saw Bobby Martin transform Tavares from disco group back to their soulful, R&B roots. Madam Butterfly, the result of Bobby Martin and Tavares’ collaboration resulted in one of the best and most successful albums of Tavares career. Standout Tracks: Games, Games, Let Me Heal the Bruises, Never Had A Love Like This Before and My Love Calls.