Often, Lady Luck has played her part in the success of artists and record labels. Back in 1978 Norman Harris’ Gold Mind Records was struggling financially. Without a major distributor the outlook was bleak for his beloved record label, even though it was a subsidiary of Saloul Records. What Norman Harris would give for a million selling single or album. Instantly this musical genius’ problems would be solved. Then ironically, Norman brought a group to Salsoul who’d record a million-selling album…Instant Funk. Sadly, he wouldn’t be involved in their success.

New Jersey band Instant Funk began their career as a backing band for artists like Bunny Sigler and The Manhattans, and later worked for Philly legends like The O’Jays, The Three Degrees, Dexter Wansell and Archie Bell and The Drells. It wasn’t until 1976 that Instant Funk’s recording career began, releasing their debut album Get Down With the Philly Sound for Gamble and Huff’s T.S.O.P. label. Three years later, when Instant Funk now signed to Salsoul, released their second album Instant Funk. On Instant Funk, which will be rereleased by BBR Records on 17th September 2012, was a song that would become a dance classic, selling one-million copies and totally transforming the career of Instant Funk. That song was I Got My Mind Made Up (You Can Get It Girl), which became one of Salsoul’s biggest selling singles. Before I tell you about Instant Funk’s second album Instant Funk, I’ll tell you about the background the album.

After releasing their debut album Get Down With the Philly Sound for Gamble and Huff’s T.S.O.P. label which failed commercially, Instant Funk found themselves without a record label. So Instant Funk returned to their role as backing band, accompanying the legendary Queen of Disco Loleatta Holloway on her Queen of The Night album for Gold Mind Records. Having played their part in Queen of The Night’s success, Norman Harris, Instant Funk played on another Gold Mind Records album, Double Exposure’s second album Fourplay. Soon they were playing on any album Bunny Sigler was involved in at Salsoul. While Bunny was playing a bigger role at Salsoul, one of the men responsible for Salsoul’s success was having problem with a Salsoul subsidiary Gold Mind Records.

By 1978, Norman Harris’ label Gold Mind Records was in financial trouble. Gold Mind didn’t have a major distributor, despite being a subsidiary of Salsoul. By 1979, Salsoul took over Gold Mind and Gold Mind was no longer an independent label. Ironically, if Norman Harris had managed to release Instant Funk’s second album Instant Funk, his troubles would’ve been over. Sadly, that wasn’t the case and the course of musical history and Norman Harris’ career changed.

With Instant Funk signed to Salsoul, they set about recording their Salsoul debut Instant Funk. On Instant Funk were eight tracks, with Bunny Sigler playing a huge role in the album and its success. He wrote two track and cowrote three other songs. Bunny wrote one of the singles Crying and I’ll Be Doggone, while cowroting Don’t You Wanna Party and Wide World of Sports, plus Dark Vader with his brother Jimmy Sigler. Instant Funk bassist Raymond Earl, drummer Scotty Miller and guitarist Scotty Miller cowrote  the million-seller I Got My Mind Made Up (You Can Get It Girl) and You Say You Want Me To Stay, while co-writing Don’t You Wanna Party and Wide World of Sports with Bunny. These tracks and Never Let It Go made up Instant Funk, which was recorded at three studios in Philly.

For recording of their Salsoul debut, Instant Funk, the seven members of Instant Funk headed to Philadelphia. Once there, they recorded the eight tracks at three studios, Sigma Sound Studios, Alpha International and Philadelphia Music Works. The Sigler brothers Bunny and Jimmy played piano and organ on Instant Funk, with James Carmichael singing lead and backing vocals. Unlike other Salsoul artists, Instant Funk were a band, so didn’t need The Salsoul Orchestra. They laid the tracks down and soon, Instant Funk was ready for release.

I Got My Mind Made Up (You Can Get It Girl) was released in December 1978, reaching number twenty in the US Billboard 100 and number one in the US R&B Charts and US Disco Charts. When Instant Funk was released on January 1979 the success continued. It reached number twelve in the US Billboard 200 and number one in the US R&B Charts and US Disco Charts. Crying was released as a single in May 1979, reaching just number forty-one in the US R&B Charts. If only Instant Funk had been released earlier, Norman Harris’ Gold Mind Records would’ve been saved. That sadly wasn’t to be. However, Salsoul had a new superstar, but what made Instant Funk such a hugely successful album?

Opening Instant Funk is I Got My Mind Made Up (You Can Get It Girl), the single which launched their career selling over one-million copies. It was later sampled by many artists, including De La Soul on A Rollerskating Jam Named Saturdays. That familiar opening where punchy horns kick, before Instant Funk’s rhythm section combine with synths, tight harmonies, before a flourish of keyboards, ushers in James Carmichael’s punchy, sassy lead vocal. An equally sassy female vocal replies in disbelief to James’ vocal. Punchy harmonies add to the hook-laden sound, before James delivers a heartfelt vocal. Meanwhile, Instant Funk fuse percussion, a loping bass line, punchy drums and harmonies as the synths buzz. Breathy backing vocals accompany the really soulful lilting vocal, before midway through the track, a breakdown is like a musical curveball. When the track rebuilds, you’ve another two minutes to revel in this glorious funk classic, where Latin, funk, soul and disco combine seamlessly. No wonder this was Instant Funk’s biggest hit.

Hot on the heels of one Instant Funk classic comes another, Crying which is my favorite track from Instant Funk. A pounding rhythm section then drum rolls combine with tight, soulful harmonies as the piano drives the track along and James delivers his most impassioned vocal on Instant Funk. He’s accompanied by sweeping harmonies and synths, while horns growl and rasp, as the rhythm section drive the track along at breakneck speed. By now James and the rest of Instant Funk are delivering a soulful masterclass as he vamps his way through the track. The horns and harmonies add the finishing touch to Crying, which deserved to have been a much bigger commercial success than it was, given its outstanding quality and soulfulness.

Never Let It Go Away sees a real change in style, with Instant Funk dropping the tempo and a quite beautiful track unfolding. Warm, melodic keyboards, weeping electric guitar and the lushest of strings give way to a dramatic piano solo and a heartfelt, impassioned vocal from James. Horns blaze, while the rhythm section create the track’s sometimes, dramatic heartbeat. James’ vocal is at the forefront of the arrangement, while the horns, rhythm section, keyboards and meandering piano create a dramatic, emotive and hugely moving backdrop. Occasional harmonies join this myriad of dramatic and emotional music, while James Carmichael delivers one of his best vocals on Instant Funk. With music as soulful, moving and emotive as this, it’s no wonder Instant Funk was a huge success.

After the detour via heartbreakingly sad soul, Instant Funk get back to their good-time, party sound. They sound as if they’re having a ball on Don’t You Want To Party. The track explodes into life, with Instant Funk mixing the funkiest of pounding rhythm section, with stabs of punchy horns, piano, percussion and keyboards. James’ vocal is joyous, full of life and promises of good times, while the rest of Instant Funk add riotous, joyful backing vocals. Instant Funk show that while Salsoul was primarily a disco and soul label, they could funk it up with the best of bands, throwing down the gantlet to the new generation of funk bands. Anything funk giants like Funkadelic, Parliament and War could do, so could Instant Funk. It takes just one listen to this track to realize that. 

Riotous applause opens Wide World of Sports as if the Philadelphia Eagles had just scored a touchdown in the Super Bowl. Instead, Instant Funk unleash a sizzling slice of jazz funk that unfolds at breathtaking speed. This is very different from previous tracks, with the rhythm section, stabs of blazing horns, percussion and piano combining seamlessly. There’s even a twist of Latin music thrown in for good measure, with the applause seemingly roaring for more of this dramatic, roller coaster journey through jazz, funk and Latin music. It shows the versatility of Instant Funk, that they can go fuse soul, funk and jazz funk and in the space of three songs, switch seamlessly from genre to genre, and be just as comfortable playing each genre. 

Dark Vader was written by Jimmy and Bunny Sigler, with Jimmy Sigler and Sam Peaks arranging the track. There’s a space-age sound to the track, with synths and dark, moody spoken word vocal combining with stabs of horns, a thunderous rhythm section and percussion. Then Jimmy unleashes a fearsome, grizzled vocal in keeping with the track as this seven minute epic unfolds. Punchy harmonies are added, before normal service is resumed and Jimmy vamps his way through the track. Soon, a hugely catchy, dramatic track unfolds. With its bold, dramatic sound you’re drawn in and spellbound by Jimmy’s powerful, passionate vamp. The rest of Instant Funk add harmonies and create a hypnotic, funk-laden backdrop. They fuse buzzing synths, a pounding rhythm section, blazing horns and percussion, while later, pleading female harmonies augment Jimmy’s storming vamp. Truly, the word epic doesn’t begin to describe this track.

You Say You Want Me To Stay was written by Instant Funk bassist Raymond Earl, drummer Scotty Miller and guitarist Scotty Miller, with Kim Miller and Larry Davis arranging the track. While the pounding, funky rhythm section, growling horns and percussion combine with joyous harmonies creating a funky backdrop, James vocal is soulful. He unleashes another heartfelt, impassioned vocal, where power and passion are bedfellows. Meanwhile Instant Funk’s horn and rhythm section create an uber funky, dramatic backdrop. They add punchy, almost sensual harmonies that sound as if they belong on a Sly and The Family Stone album as Instant Funk combine a similar fusion of funk and soul.

Closing Instant Funk’s million-selling Salsoul debut Instant Funk is I’ll Be Doggone, where the funk and quality continue. Shrieks and yelps give way to Instant Funk’s rhythm section, waves and rolls of Hammond organ, growling horns and percussion. They combine to create a funky, dramatic and pounding arrangement before James’ delivers a vocal that owes much to James Brown. He delivers his vocal with power and desire, strutting his way through the track, while equally powerful, sassy harmonies accompany him. Stabs of horns and Hammond organ, thunderous drums and snarling harmonies are combined, as if realizing this was the track to close Instant Funk, Instant Funk kick loose. They raise their game, creating another slice their own unmistakable brand of funky music, that’s the perfect way to end Instant Funk.

Although when you think of labels that released funk music, you wouldn’t immediately think of Salsoul, Instant Funk proved that there was more to Salsoul than disco and Philly Soul. Instant Funk couldn’t have come at a better time for Salsoul, with disco having died at the hands of the Disco Sucks movement and Gold Mind Records’ financial problems. Ironically, if Instant Funk had been released earlier, Norman Harris’ financial problems at Gold Mind Records would’ve been over. Sadly, Norman was left high and dry, after doing so much for Salsoul. All his work, effort and genius went unrewarded. Now it was arrangers and producers like Bunny Sigler and Tom Moulton who were playing important parts in the next part of the Salsoul story. Bunny had already played an important part in Salsoul’s success, but now was playing a bigger role. While the artists he’d worked with had been successful, none had enjoyed the success that Instant Funk enjoyed. After spending years as a backing band and releasing just one previous album, Instant Funk hit the musical jackpot. Their fusion of soul, funk, disco, jazz and Latin was new, innovative and importantly, dance-floor friendly. It reinforced Salsoul as the premier dance label, but showed their music moving in a post-disco direction. With James Carmichael as Instant Funk’s frontman capable of delivering a song with the required passion, power, emotion and sass backed by some tight, talented and versatile musicians, it seemed strange that no label had spotted Instant Funk’s potential. One man did, Norman Harris and although Bunny Sigler produced Instant Funk, Norman deserves credit for recognizing their considerable talent. That talent which you can hear on Instant Funk’s Salsoul debut Instant Funk will be rereleased by BBR Records on 17th September 2012, would play an important part in the changing face of Salsoul Records in the post-disco musical landscape. Standout Tracks: I Got My Mind Made Up (You Can Get It Girl), Crying, Never Let It Go Away and Wide World of Sports.


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