Before changing their name to Double Exposure, the Philadelphia quartet of James Williams, Joseph Harris, Charles Whittington and Leonard “Butch” Davis were known as United Image. The group had formed back in the sixties, whilst the four members of United Image were still in high school. Through their lifelong friendship with legendary Philadelphia guitarist, songwriter, arranger and producer Norman Harris, of the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section Double Exposure signed to Salsoul Records. Double Exposure’s career at Salsoul started with their 1976 album Ten Percent, which was recorded at Philly’s Sigma Sound Studios and became one of Salsoul’s most commercially successful albums. The singles released from Ten Percent, the title-track Ten Percent, Everyman and My Love Is Free became Salsoul classics and firmly established Double Exposure as one of Salsoul’s rising stars. After the success of Ten Percent, Double Exposure set about recording their second album for Salsoul, Fourplay, which would be released in 1978. By the time recording of Fourplay got underway things were starting to change at Salsoul, with people leaving The Salsoul Orchestra who’d so successfully accompanied Double Exposure on Ten Percent. One of the people leaving was Vince Montana Jr. after a dispute with the Cayre’s over royalties. Over the next few years Salsoul would become a very different label, with many of the classic lineup of The Salsoul Orchestra leaving. They were more than musicians though, with many of them songwriters, arrangers and producers. These changes meant Fourplay features a very different lineup of The Salsoul Orchestra. There was no Ron Baker on bass, Earl Young on drums or Vince Montana Jr. on vibes. How would thee changes affect Double Exposure’s second album Fourplay?
It had been two years since Tenpercent had been released, but there was a good reason for the gap between albums. Double Exposure had found alleged discrepancies regarding their bookings and management expenses. Salsoul didn’t want to start recording another until album until the problems were resolved. So the momentum Double Exposure built up after the success of Tenpercent wasn’t built upon. Eventually, the problems were resolved, Double Exposure were able to get back to doing what they were good at, making music.
With the problems regarding discrepancies in their bookings and management expenses resolved, Double Exposure started work on their second album. For Double Exposure’s second album Fourplay many of Philly’s greatest songwriters, musicians, arrangers and producers would play their part in the album. One of them was Norman Harris, of the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section and guitarist for M.F.S.B. and The Salsoul Orchestra. Norman was also a successful songwriter, arranger and producer. He cowrote and produced two tracks on Fourplay. These were I Declare War which he cowrote with James Hendricks and Mikki Farra, while Norman cowrote Newsy Neighbour with Alan Felder. Ronnie Tyson and Eddie Moore cowrote Handy Man and Falling In Love, while Bunny Sigler wrote Why Do I Have To Leave. Bruce Gray wrote cowrote Perfect Love and wrote There Is No Reason. The eight tracks that featured on Fourplay would be recorded at Philly’s Sigma Sound Studios, with a quite different lineup of The Salsoul Orchestra.
Accompanying Double Exposure at Sigma Sound Studios were The Salsoul Orchestra which didn’t feature Ron Baker on bass, Earl Young on drums or Vince Montana Jr. on vibes. The rhythm section comprised bassists Jimmy Williams and Raymond Earl, drummers Scotty Miller and Keith Benson, while the guitarists included Norman Harris, Bobby “Electronic” Eli, T.J. Tindall and Edward Moore. Larry Washington and James Walker played congas, while Ron “Have Mercy” Kersey, Bunny Sigler, Bruce Hawkes, Bruce Gray and Cotton Kent played keyboards. Don Renaldo took charge of the strings and horns, while The Sweethearts of Sigma Evette Benton, Carla Benson and Barbara Ingram were now called The Philadelphia Angels. The eight tracks on Fourplay were arranged and produced by some familiar Philly faces. Norman Harris, Ron “Have Mercy” Kersey, Ron Tyson produced two tracks apiece while Bunny Sigler and Bruce Hawkes both produced tracks. With Fourplay ready for release in 1978, would it match the success of Tenpercent?
When Fourplay was released in 1978 it failed to chart. Worse was to come when none of the singles released from Fourplay charted. One of these singles was the Norman Harris produced Newsy Neighbours. Fourplay had failed to replicate the success of Tenpercent. Why was that, and did Fourplay deserve to fare better commercially than it actually did? That’s what I’ll tell you, when after I’ve told you about the music on Fourplay.
Fourplay opens with I Declare War arranged by Leon Mitchell and produced by Norman Harris. The track has a dramatic, uptempo sound and grabs your attention from the opening bars. A pounding rhythm section drives the tracks along while searing guitars and cascading strings combine. As the bass and drums anchors the track, providing its pulsating heartbeat, Jimmy Williams unleashes a vocal that’s a mixture of power and passion. His vocal is accompanied by the tightest of soulful harmonies. Not only do the strings add a contrasting sound, but they add to the drama of the funky rhythm section, sizzling guitars and keyboards. It’s one of these tracks that longer it progresses, the more the drama increases and the better the song gets. Key to the track are Double Exposure’s vocals and harmonies, The Salsoul Orchestra’s performance and Norman Harris’ production. Together, they get Fourplay off to the perfect start.
Handy Man is another uptempo tracks, which Eddie Moore cowrote with Ron Tyson, who produced the track. It’s a track not short of hooks and features some of the peerless harmonies. The rhythm section, blazing horns and keyboards combine with Double Exposure’s close, cascading harmonies. Jimmy Williams makes the track his own, delivering the vocal with a sassy, swagger. He’s accompanied by joyous, soaring harmonies, as The Salsoul Orchestra produce one of their best performances on Fourplay. Again, the pounding bass helps anchor the track, while Norman Harris jazz-tinged guitar combines with flourishes of piano and a myriad of rasping horns and sweeping strings. The result is a joyful, hook-laden song that’s truly irresistible.
Bunny Sigler wrote and produced Why Do I Have To Leave, which features a trademark Jack Faith arrangement. The tempo is dropped way down, with a sultry saxophone combining with a slow, thoughtful rhythm section and sweeping, swirling strings. As horns rasp, Jimmy delivers a heartfelt, impassioned vocal, while a dramatic rhythm section, emotive Hammond organ and tight harmonies accompany him. Rasping horns and piano add to the drama and emotion, while Jimmy lays bare his soul. He delivers a gut-wrenching, heartfelt vocal, as The Salsoul Orchestra combine drama, emotion and beauty, while fusing soul and jazz seamlessly.
Falling In Love produced by Ron Tyson and arranged by Jack Faith closes Side One of Fourplay. There’s a real Philly Sound to the track, which is another irresistible, uptempo track. After The Salsoul Orchestra tease you, pounding drums see the track burst into life. Double Exposure add heartfelt harmonies while strings cascade, horns rasp and the rhythm section add the track’s pounding heartbeat. Jimmy Williams’ emotive, heartfelt delivery is accompanied by soaring harmonies, while a glorious arrangement unfolds. With the combination of the rhythm section, dancing strings and blazing horns, Double Exposure bring Side One of Fourplay to dramatic, impassioned and irresistible close.
Newsy Neighbours originally recorded by First Choice on Philly Groove Records opens Side Two of Fourplay. It was written by Alan Felder and Norman Harris, who arranged and produced the track. The track literally bursts into life with The Salsoul Orchestra in full flight. Lush strings dance with delight, as the rhythm section provide the track’s pounding, dramatic heartbeat accompanied by a piano, guitars and rasping horns. Jimmy Williams’ delivery is a powerful, sassy vamp with cascading harmonies accompany him. Meanwhile, The Salsoul Orchestra have brought their A-game, playing their part in what is a six minute musical roller-coaster, that you must climb on board at least once.
Perfect Lover sees Ron “Have Mercy” Kersey taking charge of the producer’s chair for the first of two consecutive tracks. It’s another ballad, where swathes of the lushest strings, Norman Harris’ chiming guitar, the rhythm section and blazing horns set the scene for Jimmy’s vocal. He embarks on one his most heartfelt, impassioned and emotional vocals. Both the arrangement and harmonies compliment his vocal. Ron’s uses strings to tug at the heartstrings and the rhythm section to create a dramatic backdrop. When Jimmy Williams vocal is added to the arrangement, that really is the icing on a very beautiful, more-ish cake that you’ll want more than one slice of.
There Is No Reason sees arranger and producer Ron “Have Mercy” Kersey take Double Exposure in the direction of funk. It’s by far the funkiest track on Fourplay. From the get-go, it’s funky with a capital F. A jazz-tinged piano gives way to the funk-laden rhythm section, growling horns and piano as Jimmy delivers a throaty, sassy vocal. The harmonies are louder and punchier, while The Salsoul Orchestra provide the funkiest of backdrops for Jimmy growling, feisty vocal. Although it’s very definitely the rhythm section and horns driving the track along, the piano lends a helping hand. Ron uses the piano during jazzy breakdowns, before letting the funky arrangement explode. This is something of a masterstroke and you anticipate and relish these breakdowns then the explosion of funky music that follows.
Closing Fourplay is There’s Something Missing, a ballad arranged and produced by Bruce Hawkes. With the rhythm section, braying horns and shimmering, quivering strings combining to create a dynamic, dramatic backdrop for Double Exposure’s vocals. They’re tender and heartfelt, with equally subtle, heartfelt harmonies. The arrangement unfolds in waves, resulting in a combination of beauty and drama. With the growling horns, cascading strings, searlng guitars and piano combining with Jimmy Williams’ impassioned vocal, it’s a beautiful combination and the perfect way to close Fourplay.
Although Double Exposure’s second album Fourplay wasn’t a commercial success, there’s nothing whatsoever wrong with the music on Fourplay. From the opening bars of I Declare War until the closing notes of There’s Something Missing Double Exposure combine a compelling collection of uptempo dance tracks and ballads. Truly, while there isn’t a bad track on Fourplay, there aren’t any hits like Ten Percent, Everyman and My Love Is Free. Even though the standard of music is still high on Fourplay, the two year gap between albums didn’t help Double Exposure. By 1978, they’d become the forgotten men of Salsoul. This meant people weren’t anticipating Double Exposure’s second album. Once Double Exposure resolved the problem regarding the financial discrepancies, they discovered things had changed at Salsoul.
Sadly, things and people had changed at Salsoul in the two years since Double Exposure released Tenpercent. So when Double Exposure returned to the Sigma Sound Studios, Salsoul Records was changing. People had left Salsoul, including Vince Montana Jr, and neither Ron Baker nor Earl Young played on Fourplay. Losing three key musicians was quite a loss for Double Exposure. Even without this trio, Fourplay featured some fantastic music. Of the eight tracks on Fourplay, Handy Man, Falling In Love and Newsy Neighbours are irresistible, hook-laden dance tracks, while Why Do I Have To Leave, Perfect Lover and There’s Something Missing are gut-wrenching heartfelt ballads. With music as good as this, then it’s no wonder that thirty-four years later, Fourplay, Double Exposure’s second album has a timeless sound. While it might not be the classic album that Double Exposure’s debut album Tenpercent was, Fourplay is a still a thoroughly enjoyable, musical journey with Double Exposure as your tour guide. Standout Tracks: Handy Man, Why Do I Have To Leave, Falling In Love and Newsy Neighbours.