For Yarbrough and Peoples, the saying about keeping the best until last is certainly true. Their fourth and final album Guilty, which was released in 1985, may not have been their most successful album, but Guilty, which will be released by BBR Records in September 2012 is perceived as their finest. Guilty was the end of a four album, four year journey that started with their 1981 debut album The Two of Us. It featured their US R&B number one single Don’t Stop the Music. The Two of Us reached number sixteen in the US Billboard 200 and number one in the US R&B Charts. Their 1983 followup Heartbeats didn’t fare as well. Heartbeats reached just number twenty-five in the US R&B Charts. Be A Winner, released in 1984, saw Yarbrough and Peoples’ fortunes improve, with Be A Winner, which number ninety in the US Billboard 200 and number six in the US R&B Charts. With their fortunes improving, Yarbrough and Peoples headed to the recording studios for what would prove to be the last time. However, at least they would be closing their career on a high with Guilty.

Childhood friends Cavin Yarbrough and Ailsa Peoples had known each other most of their lives. They went to the same school, church and music teacher in Dalls and both sang in church. After college, Ailsa Peoples settled down to a regular life, working a nine-to-five job, while Cavin Yarbrough sang in a band called Grand Theft. One night, three brothers Charlie, Robert and Ronnie Wilson, who together, were known as The Gap Band, were in the audience at one of Grand Theft’s shows. After the show, the Wilson’s offered Cavin a job playing keyboards and singing backing vocals on a tour they were doing with Leon Russel. Once the tour was over, Cavin returned home to Dallas and picked up with Grand Theft. Then in 1977 Ailsa Peoples sang with the band. Little did they know that Yarbrough and Peoples had just been born.

Three years later, The Gap Band swung through Dallas and Cavin caught up with them and asked them to listen to a tape he and Ailsa had made. Charlie Wilson was so impressed he took it up to Total Experience Records’ President Lonnie Simmons.  He was sleeping, but soon came to life once he heard the tape. Pleasantries and phone numbers were exchanged and nothing became of it. That was until Yarbrough and Peoples arrived at Total Experience Records offices in Los Angeles. Soon, a seven track demo was recorded, with a track called When the Music Stops just recorded to fill the tape. When it was retitled and renamed Don’t Stop the Music, 

Yarbrough and Peoples’ number one single was born. Three albums later, and Yarbrough and Peoples were back in the studio to record what would become their fourth and final album for Total Experience Records, Guilty. Only they didn’t realize that Guilty would be their last hurrah.

For their fourth album Guilty, the Total Experience Records’ team got work. Jonah Ellis wrote three tracks, while Jimmy Hamilton and Maurice Hayes of Prime Time, another Total Experience group cowrote Guilty together, and cowrote two tracks with Lonnie Simmons and Rick Adams cowrote two other tracks, including Let the Music Play On. Yarbrough and Peoples cowrote I’ll Give You Anything To Have You Back with Victor Hill and Everything with Oliver Scott. Ted Rabb of seventies group Hell Storm and Lonnie Simmons Total Experience Records’ President cowrote Who Is She. The nine tracks that would become Guilty would be recorded at Total Experience Recording Studios in Los Angeles.

At Total Experience Recording Studios, Yarbrough and Peoples were joined by many of Total Experience’s personnel. Both Yarbrough and Peoples sang lead and backing vocals, and played keyboards and synths. Ailsa also programmed drums and played piano. Among Total Experience’s personnel were Johan Ellis on lead and rhythm guitar, Jimmy Hamilton and Maurice Hayes on keyboards and synths, with Maurice also playing lead guitar. Joining the Total Experience staffers were bassist Victor “Widetrack” Hill, drummer James Gadson and percussionists Bernard Spears and Paulinho DaCosta. Julia and Maxine Waters would add their inimitable backing vocals on Guilty. When the nine tracks were completed, Guilty was released in December 1985. Little did anyone know, but Guilty would be Yarbrough and Peoples swansong.

Before Guilty was released in December 1985, the title-track Guilty was released in November 1985. It gave Yarbrough and Peoples another top ten US R&B single, reaching number two and number fifty-three in the UK. On the release of Guilty a month later, it reached number thirteen in the US R&B Charts. I Wouldn’t Lie, released in April 1986, added to Yarbrough and Peoples’ tally of top ten hit, reaching number six in the US R&B Charts, number ninety-three in the US Billboard 100 and number thirty-four in the US Dance Charts. Over in the UK, it was a minor hit, reaching number sixty-one. The final single was Wrapped Around Your Finger, which reached number forty-six in the US R&B Charts in July 1986. Three hit singles, two of which reached the US R&B top ten and a hit album in Guilty was the perfect way to end Yarbrough and Peoples’ career. By 1986, they didn’t know Guilty was their last album. That proved to be the case and Guilty is their finest album, as you’ll realize, when I tell you about it.

Opening Guilty is the title-track and hit single Guilty, produced by Jimmy Hamilton. Synths, drums and the rest of the rhythm section combine with Ailsa’s impassioned, heartfelt vocal. She brings the lyrics to life, singing them as if she means them. Harmonies cascade, the perfect reply to Ailsa’s vocal. They’re accompanied by stabs of squelchy synths, drum rolls and a sprinkling of percussion. Together they help Yarbrough and Peoples provide the perfect response to Alexander O’Neal’s hit Innocent. This is a much sweeter, very beautiful and just as heartfelt.

I Wouldn’t Lie was the second single released from Guilty. From the get-go, the arrangement has a bold, dramatic sound, one that’s not unlike other Total Experience albums. Stabs and flourishes of synths usher in the drums, with the drummer using his whole kit before Ailsa delivers an emotive vocal, filled with sincerity. Cavin responds to her call, his vocal gentler, and not as confident. This suits the song. Meanwhile, the rhythm section drive the track along, with the drums quicker and the synths sometimes playing a less prominent role. Still they play their part in the track’s sound and success, fusing pop hooks with R&B and eighties electronic music.

Jonah Ellis wrote and produced three tracks on Guilty and Wrapped Around Your Finger is by far the best. The arrangement has a much more understated sound, with the space left between the beats and synths filled by a guitar that create a melancholy sound. This is perfect for Ailsa’s vocal. It’s delivered in bursts, growing in power and passion, while swathes of harmonies elegantly cascade, revealing their soulful beauty. They’re not only the perfect accompaniment for Ailsa’s vocal, but provide a contrast to her vocal that’s a mixture of power, soulfulness and beauty. What makes this track one of the highlights of Guilty is the change in style and tempo, and something Miles Davis always said was important, the space between the notes.

Let The Music Play On sees a return to the earlier style and sees Cavin Yarbrough take charge of the lead vocal. His vocal hasn’t the same presence as Ailsa’s and soon, she takes charge of the vocal. They proceed to share the lead vocal, with Ailsa sometimes adjusting her vocal, so not to overpower Cavin’s. Synths swirl while the rhythm section provide the arrangement’s funky heartbeat and together with a sprinkling of percussion create a uptempo backdrop where pop and funk unite. As, guitars riff and chime, stabs of keyboards add drama and Ailsa and Cavin feed off each other, one driving the other to greater heights. By the end of the track you wonder why a track this good, wasn’t released as a single. With it’s fusion of funk and pop, it has hit written all over it.

Anytime picks up where Let The Music Play On left off. Washes of synths, flourishes of keyboards and chiming, wah-wah guitars are combined creating another fusion of pop and funk. Ailsa takes charge of the lead vocal, delivering it in a feisty, sassy style. Cavin gets in on the act, his vocal matching Ailsa’s sass every step of the way. Meanwhile, the synths, keyboards and rhythm section provide a relentlessly pounding, funky backdrop. They’re helped along by percussion, wah-wah guitars and  then a Hammond organ, as one of the funkiest track on Guilty unfolds. When Yarbrough and Peoples’ sassy vocals are added, this is one delicious slice of funky music that swings and then some.

I’ll Give Anything To Have You Back sees the tempo drop, but the drama and emotion increase. Big bold spacious drums, a slapped funky bass and flourishes of keyboards give way to Ailsa’s tender, heartfelt vocal. Soon, Cavin’s vocal enters. His vocal has power and presence, as backing vocalists offer a contrast, and in doing so, add to the beauty and emotion of the track. Again, the success of the song is down to a change in style and space being left within the arrangement. Combine this with some intelligent use of keyboards, drums and harmonies by producer Cavin Yarbrough and you’ve the recipe for a gorgeous, soulful song, where both their vocals play equally important parts.

Everything sees synths and crisp, punchy drums combining to create a real eighties’ sounding backdrop. It’s impossible for this to have been recorded any other decade. Having said that, the arrangement works with the vocal. Both Cavin and Ailsa’s vocals are impassioned and sung with feeling, feeling that brings meaning to the lyrics. Combine that with the relentless marching beat that’s omnipresent and while this is very different from the previous track, it still has the power to move you and evoke emotions within you. Any music that can do that works. 

It’s all change with Who Is She which has a real Pointer Sisters’ sound and influence to it. This is obvious from the opening bars. Flourishes of keyboards, Nashville guitars and a driving beat accompanies Ailsa’s enthusiastic, energetic vocal. She grabs the track and in Southern drawl delivers her vocal to the choppy arrangement. Her vocal is feisty and confident, with a harmonica, guitars and harmonies giving the track a country feel, although sometimes, the track heads of in the direction of gospel. With all these influences thrown in the melting pot, the result is a storming track, with Ailsa playing the role of a woman scorned to a tee.

Closing Guilty and Yarbrough and Peoples’ recording career is A Closer Love Affair, written and produced by Jonah Ellis. Gentle, tender keyboards and guitars combine as Cavin’s vocal enters. By then, you’re wondering where you’ve heard the track before. Then it hits you, that this is Peaches and Herb’s Reunited rewritten. Compare the two tracks side by side, I have and you’ll hear the glaring similarities. Regardless of the rights and wrongs of this, it’s another gorgeous track, with a really understated arrangement. Chiming guitars, a pounding funky bass, bursts of dramatic drums and and lush strings combine as the arrangement grows. Yarbrough and Peoples combine to create one of their best vocals on Guilty. In doing so, they bring their recording career to a quite beautiful ending, albeit with a little help from Peaches and Herb.

Guilty was a perfect ending to Yarbrough and Peoples’ recording career. Not only was it a commercial success, but spawned two top ten US R&B hits and featured an eclectic, and consistently selection of music. There’s everything from dance tracks, to soulful ballads and more than a few funky selections. During the nine tracks that comprise Guilty, there’s everything from soul, funk, eighties electronic music, plus gospel and country. For me, Yarbrough and Peoples were at their best on two of the tracks that had the least Total Experience “sound.” These were the slow balladry of Wrapped Around Your Finger and I’ll Give Anything To Have You Back. Having said that, the fusion of funk and pop that is Let the Music Play On, quite simply have been released as a single. Not doing so, cost Yarbrough and Peoples a hit single in my opinion. However, Guilty gave Yarbrough and Peoples one of their biggest singles and quite rightly so. It gets Guilty off to a glorious start, while A Closer Love Affair beautifully bookends the Guilty. It’s a gorgeous ballad, that sounds as if it was inspired by Peaches and Herb’s Reunited. In between these two tracks, there’s something for everyone, whether it’s soul, funk or dance you’re after Yarbrough and Peoples have something for you on Guilty, which will be rereleased in September 2012, by BBR Records. 

After Guilty was released, Yarbrough and Peoples began work on a fifth album. By then they’d emerged from the shadow of The Gap Band, becoming Total Experience Records’ biggest band. Then Total Experience finished their distribution deal with RCA. WIth no distributor and Yarbrough and Peoples under contract and working on what’s thought to be some of the best songs of their career, Lonnie Simmons allowed Yarbrough and Peoples to leave the label. After struggling to find another label in a rapidly changing recording industry, Yarbrough and Peoples’ wisely, quit while they were ahead. Unlike other artists, they didn’t wait for their career to peter out. Instead, and many other artists could learn from Yarbrough and Peoples, they quit at the top, leaving Guilty to be the album that drew time on their four year, four album career. Standout Tracks: Guilty, Wrapped Around Your Finger, Let the Music Play On and I’ll Give Anything To Have You Back.


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