Sometimes, fate plays an important part in the success of an artist, album or in the case of Saloul Records, a record label. This was the case when Ken Cayre met vibes virtuoso Vince Montana Jr. Ken Cayre wanted to import the Philly Sound to his nascent record label, Salsoul, while coincidentally, Vince Montana Jr, approached Salsoul with the idea of bringing a Latin vocal to Mericana, another of Salsoul’s labels. When Ken and Vince met, Ken explained that he was looking for an orchestra similar to Philadelphia International Records’ legendary house-band M.F.S.B. Having explained his vision to Vince, Ken wrote Vince a cheque and in return, Vince would deliver three songs where the Philly Sound was fused a Latin, salsa influence. Without even looking at the cheque, Vince headed back to Philadelphia to record the three songs with some of Philly’s finest musicians. On the bus back to Philly, Vince looked at the cheque, and found it was for $10,000. With some of Philly’s legendary musicians, three tracks were recorded, Nice Vibes, Dance A Little Bit Closer and Salsoul Hustle. After these tracks were delivered to Ken Cayre, he took Salsoul Hustle to CBS who’d first refusal on Salsoul releases. Unluckily for CBS, they were busy releasing albums by Bob Dylan and Barbara Streisand. CBS passed on Salsoul Hustle, as did Atlantic and Polydor Records. So Salsoul released and distributed Salsoul Hustle and immediately, Salsoul had a hit single on their hands. This meant Salsoul needed more songs, enough for an album. That album would become The Salsoul Orchestra’s debut album The Salsoul Orchestra which will be released on 17th September 2012. Then fate would intervene again, and Ken Cayre had his orchestra.

Less than a hundred miles away from Salsoul’s New York headquarters in Philadelphia, problems were afoot at Philadelphia International Records. Gamble and Huff were locked in a dispute with Philadelphia International Records’ legendary house band M.F.S.B. over money. When this dispute couldn’t be resolved, members of M.F.S.B. remembering the proverb “the workman is worthy of his hire” quit Philadelphia International Records and headed to New York where they became The Salsoul Orchestra. In one fell swoop, Ken Cayre had his orchestra and the Philly Sound all in one. Little did Ken Cayre know it, he had just signed the musicians that would make Salsoul the greatest label in disco’s history. These musicians had played on all of Philadelphia International Records’ successful albums and had played on the three tracks Vince Montana Jr. had initially recorded for Ken Cayre. That was the best $10,000 Ken Cayre ever spend. With The Salsoul Orchestra established, they set about recording their debut album The Salsoul Orchestra.

When many of the members of M.F.S.B. left Philadelphia International Records, it was if their creativity was unleashed. Although many of the musicians were experienced arrangers, producers and songwriters, at Philadelphia International they hadn’t many opportunities write, arranger or produce. Suddenly at Salsoul, guitarist Norman Harris and bassist Ron Baker of the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section were writing, arranging and producing tracks, and so were keyboard players Ron “Have Mercy” Kersey, Bunny Sigler. This outpouring of creativity started on The Salsoul Orchestra’s debut album The Salsoul Orchestra.

For The Salsoul Orchestra’s debut album The Salsoul Orchestra, Vince Montana Jr. wrote four of the eight tracks while arranging six tracks and producing the entire album. Get Happy and Tale of Three Cities were written and arranged by bassist Ron Baker, of the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section. The other two tracks were cover versions. Tangerine was written by Johnny Mercer and Victor Schertzinger, while Victor Young and Edward Heyman cowrote Love Letters. These eight tracks would be recorded in the familiar surroundings of Philadelphia’s Sigma Sound Studios.

Previous recording sessions at Philly’s Sigma Sound Studios featuring the personnel that played on The Salsoul Orchestra were as M.F.S.B. and saw them playing on classic albums including Billy Paul’s 360 degrees of Billy Paul, The O’Jays Backstabbers, Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes’ Black And Blue and M.F.S.B’s Love Is the Message and many, many more. Now they’d left Philadelphia International Records and employ of Gamble and Huff, they were back as The Salsoul Orchestra and possibly, with a point to prove to their old employers that “the workman is worthy of his hire,” 

Among The Salsoul Orchestra’s personnel were the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section, providing the album’s heartbeat. They were joined by guitarists Bobby Eli and T.J. Tindall, bassist Gordon Edwards and drummer Charles Collins. Vince Montana Jr. added vibes and percussion, while Larry Washington played percussion and Ron “Have Mercy” Kersey Carlton “Cotton” Kent keyboards. Jack Faith played flute and piccolo, while violinist Don Renaldo was part of the string and horn section. Adding backing vocals were the legendary Sweethearts of Sigma, Carla Benson, Barbara Ingram and Evette Benton who’d featured on so many Philadelphia International Records’ albums and would go on to feature on many Salsoul albums. With so many talented musicians and backing vocalists, plus Vince Montana Jr. producing The Salsoul Orchestra, the album was soon recorded and ready for release.

With The Salsoul Orchestra’s first release Salsoul Hustle having reached number seventy-six in the US Billboard 100 and number forty-four in the US R&B Charts in August 1975, Ken Cayre needed more songs recorded. So when The Salsoul Orchestra’s debut album The Salsoul Orchestra was released in November 1975, it proved a huge success, reaching number fourteen in the US Billboard 200, number twenty in the US R&B Charts and number four in the US Disco Charts. Tangerine was also released as a single in November 1975, reaching eighteen in the US Billboard 100, number thirty-six in the US R&B Charts and number six in the US Disco Charts. You’re Just the Right Size was then released as a single in April 1976, eighty-eight in the US Billboard 100 and number seventy-six in the US R&B Charts. Saying The Salsoul Orchestra’s debut album The Salsoul Orchestra was a commercial success is something of an understatement. Although it sold over one-million copies in the US, it wasn’t certified gold as Salsoul weren’t certified by the Record Industry Association of America. Even though The Salsoul Orchestra missed out on a gold disc, their debut album The Salsoul Orchestra would become a Salsoul classic, as you’ll realize, when I tell you about the music on The Salsoul Orchestra.

Opening The Salsoul Orchestra is the track that launched The Salsoul Orchestra and Salsoul Records, The Salsoul Hustle. Written, arranged and produced by Vince Montana Jr, which gave The Salsoul Orchestra their first hit single. With a pounding, funky Baker, Harris, Young key to the track’s hustle sound, percussion, searing and guitars join the arrangement, before the lushest of sweeping, swirling strings enter. They’re joined by Vince Montana Jr’s vibes and stabs of growling, blazing horns. By now, The Salsoul Orchestra have kicked loose and are in full flow. It’s a hugely impressive sound. Strings dance with joy, quivering and shivering, while stabs of horns and the pounding rhythm section create the track’s pulsating heartbeat. Later, Vince lays down a vibes solo, before Bobby “Electronic” Eli, not to be outdone, unleashed a searing guitar solo. All the time, they’re accompanied by the some of Philly’s greatest musicians. Together, they create a classic track, one where disco, funk and Philly Soul unite and a track that’s truly breathtaking and spellbinding.

Get Happy is one of two tracks written and arranged by Ron Baker of the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section, who’d been playing together since the sixties. A jaunty, jazzy piano solo opens the track, before strings cascade, horns rasp and the rhythm section anchor the track. Ron Baker’s bass and Earl Young’s drum unite as one creating a powerful, pulsating heartbeat. Meanwhile, the strings are and horns are key to the arrangement. Strings dancing with joy, combine seamlessly with bursts of growling horns. Together they create a hypnotic sounding arrangement that’s joyous and uplifting. Sadly, the track’s only three minutes long and you can’t help but press play again, so good is the track. 

Chicago Bus Stop (Ooh I Love It) continues in the same vein as the previous track, with an irresistibly, joyous and uplifting sound. This track features the Sweethearts of Sigma adding breathy, sassy vocals. The Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section lock into a funky groove, while keyboards, guitars and percussion are joined by sassy, sensual vocals from the Sweethearts of Sigma. A sultry alto saxophone enters, as strings, sweep and swirl as the breathy vocal drifts in and out. Dramatic stabs of growling horns accompany the saxophone, and the rhythm section never miss a beat. They’re responsible for the mesmeric, almost hypnotic backdrop, while flourishes of woodwind and a myriad of percussion give the arrangement a Latin flavor. Here, funk meets disco with a twist of Latin flavor and Philly Soul added for good measure, as only The Salsoul Orchestra could, that is with style, flair and a flourish.

You’re Just the Right Size was written, arranged and produced by Vince Montana Jr. and later was recorded by Charo. Here the Sweethearts of Sigma provide sultry, sensuous vocals. They’re’ accompanied the pounding, dramatic Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section, growling horns and lush strings. Soon, The Salsoul Orchestra have hit their stride and are in full flight, showing why they were the best house-band of the seventies. As Ron Baker’s bass anchors the track, swathes of the lushest strings shiver and quiver, keyboards and blazing horns provide the backdrop to the sensual, sultry vamp. This results in one of the highlights of The Salsoul Orchestra. Good as Charo’s later version was, and it was one of the highlights of her album, this version is much, much better and demonstrates just how innovative Vince Montana Jr. Although this is similar in style and sound to Donna Summer’s Love To Love, this is a better track.

Tangerine is a cover of a track written by Johnny Mercer and Victor Schertzinger and demonstrates how The Salsoul Orchestra during Vince Montana Jr’s time could reinvent a track. It’s quite unlike the previous tracks and sees a new twist on an old standard. A combination of cascading strings, rasping horns and jazz-tinged Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section combine before the Sweethearts of Sigma add joyous whoops. They then add tight, soulful harmonies, as Ron Baker’s bass and Earl Young’s drums anchor the track. Later, Norman Harris add a peerless jazzy guitar solo, before Jack Faith takes centre-stage. He plays a flute solo accompanied by “bop-e-doo-wop” harmonies from the Sweethearts of Sigma, that are the perfect accompaniment. All these parts are like the pieces of a jazzy jigsaw, a jigsaw that’s enchanting, beguiling and a reminder of another age, when music was very different. Maybe if they’d been born in a different era, The Salsoul Orchestra would’ve played music like this?

Tale of Three Cities is the second track penned and arranged by Ron Baker. It’s a slower and funkier track, probably the funkiest on the album. The pounding Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section drive the track along creating the fattest, funkiest beat. Earl Young’s drums sit on top of Ron Baker’s bass as Bobby “Electronic” Eli and Norman Harris show different styles of guitar playing. Norman’s style is jazzy, sparse and spacious, while Bobby’s is harder, showier and more reliant on effects.  Gradually, the arrangement shows its delights. Vince’s vibes, lush, cascading strings and growling horns combine, while Earl dramatically passionately pounds his drums. Later, a keyboard solo contrasts the tougher sound of the rhythm section, as do the strings. Then when The Salsoul Orchestra unite, and are in full flight, like they do here, that become a tight, dramatic and hugely funky band. Truly, they’re a band that’s peerless and capable of flitting seamless between musical style seamlessly.

Salsoul Rainbow is the fourth and final track Vince Montana Jr, wrote and sees the funk continue as the track opens. The Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section, percussion, wah-wah guitars and punchy harmonies from the Sweethearts of Sigma give way to the lushest of strings. Now disco and funk unite, with the strings adding to the disco influence. They’re joined by growling horns, a myriad of percussion, keyboards and wah-wah guitars, with occasional bursts of soaring backing vocals. Later, as the pulsating rhythm section provide the track’s heartbeat, a sultry saxophone solo and then keyboard solo are unleashed. They’re just the finishing touch to this pulsating fusion of disco, funk and Latin music.

Closing The Salsoul Orchestra’s debut album The Salsoul Orchestra is Love Letters, with Vince Montana Jr’s vibes at the heart of the arrangement from the get-go. He combines with the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section to create a shuffling rhythm, while emotive strings, percussion, bongos and congas combine. Vince’s vibes are ever-present and crucial to the track tugging at your heartstrings and emotions. There’s a real Latin sound and influence to the track, elements of jazz and lounge music can be heard. Although very different from the previous track, this track has one thing on common with much of The Salsoul Orchestra, its beauty and emotive sound. That’s no surprise though, as The Salsoul Orchestra were always capable of making some really stunning music, like they do throughout their debut album he Salsoul Orchestra,

Although The Salsoul Orchestra almost came about by accident, Ken Cayre must have given thanks to the musical Gods that he met Vince Montana Jr. Vince brought about Ken’s vision of Philly Soul fused with a Latin salsa influence. Through Vince Montana Jr, Ken Cayre got his orchestra and the Philadelphia based musicians he so admired. With the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section creating the The Salsoul Orchestra’s heartbeat on The Salsoul Orchestra and Philly legends like Bobby “Electronic” Eli, T.J. Tindall, Larry Washington Ron “Have Mercy,” Jack Faith, Don Renaldo and the Sweethearts of Sigma all featuring on The Salsoul Orchestra it’s no wonder the album was such a huge commercial success. During the eight tracks on The Salsoul Orchestra, disco, funk, jazz, Latin music and the Philly Sound were fused seamlessly creating a classic album. In the process, it launched Salsoul as a label, a label that would become the greatest of the disco era and one of the most important in musical history. The music on The Salsoul Orchestra is timeless, imaginative and innovative and gave birth to a new wave of disco orchestras. None of them could match The Salsoul Orchestra in full flight. After this, The Salsoul Orchestra would release ten more albums in the next seven years and accompany Salsoul’s roster of artists, including Loleatta Holloway, Double Exposure, Instant Funk and First Choice. These artists, with The Salsoul Orchestra’s help, would release some of the best albums not just of the disco era, but of the seventies. Like The Salsoul Orchestra’s debut album The Salsoul Orchestra, many of these albums are timeless, imaginative and innovative. 

What must The Salsoul Orchestra’s former employers Gamble and Huff must have thought when The Salsoul Orchestra released their debut album to critical acclaim and huge commercial success? Surely they must have rued the day they never realized “the workman is worthy of his hire.” Having lost some many key members of M.F.S.B. that left a huge void to be filled at Philadelphia International Records. Although they continued to releases critically acclaimed and commercially successful records, Salsoul would replicate Philadelphia International’s early success and sometimes, surpass the success of their late-seventies albums. After the release of The Salsoul Orchestra’s classic debut album The Salsoul Orchestra, which will be released on 17th September 2012, Salsoul went from strength to strength. Critically acclaimed, commercially successful and timeless albums followed, but the album that started everything of was The Salsoul Orchestra’s classic debut album The Salsoul Orchestra, one of The Salsoul Orchestra’s greatest albums…ever. Standout Tracks: Salsoul Hustle, Get Happy, Chicago Bus Stop (Ooh I Love It) and Tangerine.


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