JOHN DAVIS MONSTER ORCHESTRA-NIGHT AND DAY.

JOHN DAVIS MONSTER ORCHESTRA-NIGHT AND DAY.

One of the phenomenon’s of the disco era, was the arrival of the disco orchestra. Obviously, the best known and without doubt, best, and most successful was The Salsoul Orchestra. They played their part in making Salsoul Records disco’s most successful and classic label. Other record companies, having seen the success Salsoul was enjoying, decided to climb onboard the disco bandwagon. Soon record companies were releasing singles and albums from other, newly formed disco orchestras. This included the THP Orchestra, the Mike Theodore Orchestra and the Charlie Calello Orchestra. For Sam Weiss, a veteran of the music industry, his newly founded record label SAM Records’ would have their very own disco orchestras, the John Davis Monster Orchestra, who’d release their debut album Night and Day in 1976. There would be many similarities between The Salsoul Orchestra and  the John Davis Monster Orchestra.

Sam Weiss founded SAM Records in Long Island City, New York in 1976. He was something of a veteran of the music industry. He’d been involved in the music industry since the late forties, when he and his brother Hy founded Parody Records. Although the company wasn’t a commercial success, and soon folded, the Weiss brothers persevered. Eight years later, in 1954, they founded Madison Records, which was primarily a vehicle for releasing R&B records. Soon, Madison was releasing soul, doo wop, pop, rock, soul and gospel. Madison continued right through until the late seventies. By then, Sam Weiss had founded Sam Records, which he specifically setup to cash in on disco’s popularity. Having founded SAM Records in 1976, the nascent label released it’s first release, Doris Troy’s Woman and The Ghetto. 1976 would also see the John Davis and The Monster Orchestra’s release their debut album Night and Day.

John Davis and The Monster Orchestra’s debut album Night and Day was a mixture of six cover versions of Cole Porter songs and two original tracks. Tell Me How You Like It was written by John Davis who cowrote I Can’t Stop with guitarist Craig Snyder. These two tracks joined covers of I Get A Kick, Night and Day, I’ve Got You Under My Skin, In the Still of the Night, You Do Something To Me and It’s D’lovely. This was Cole Porter, but given a disco twist by John Davis and The Monster Orchestra on Night and Day. Helping John Davis do this, were some legendary Philly musicians.

Some of the musicians that played on albums by The Salsoul Orchestra also were members of John Davis’ Monster Orchestra. This includes the rhythm section of bassist Michael “Sugar Bear” Foreman, drummer Charles Collins and guitarists Bobby “Electronic” Eli and Roland Chambers. Larry Washington played percussion, strings and horns came courtesy of Don Renaldo and backing vocals from the Sweethearts of Sigma, Carla Benson, Evette Benton and Barbara Ingram. Only guitarist Craig Snyder and John Davis, who played keyboards, flute and saxophone. He conducted the orchestra and produced Night and Day, which was released in 1976.

 

It was John Davis and The Monster Orchestra’s first single I Can’t Stop which was SAM Records’ first ever twelve inch single. It reached the top five in the US Charts. Night and Day was released to just minor success. However, by the time John Davis and The Monster Orchestra released their sophomore album

Opening John Davis and The Monster Orchestra’s debut album Night and Day, is the John Davis penned Tell Me How You Like It. Charles Collins drums and Michael “Sugar Bear” Foreman bass open the track, driving the arrangement along. They’re joined by Bobby “Electronic” Eli’s searing, guitar, layers of strings, percussion and punchy horns. This combination provides a funky, musical powerhouse. The Sweethearts of Sigma’s light, tender harmonies float in and out. They grow punchy, taking on an urgency. Soon, the arrangement becomes a musical juggernaut, driven along by Charles’ drums, Michael’s bass and Bobby’s guitar. Having got your attention, the Sweethearts of Sigma’s delicious harmonies continue to hold it as, their soulfulness proves the perfect foil to the orchestra’s fusion of disco and funk.  

When Cole Porter wrote I Get A Kick Out of You, he would never expect it to be given a disco twist. Cascading strings, a pounding rhythm section and high kicking horns unite before The Sweethearts of Sigma ensure the song swings. Their harmonies are tender and soulful, but grow in power and funkiness. Swathes of the lushest strings join their harmonies, which grow punchy, lick the horns. Bobby “Electronic” Eli adds a funky wah-wah guitar as the rhythm section provide a relentless and furiously, funky heartbeat. When this is combined with the Sweethearts of Sigma’s harmonies, the result is Cole Porter, but not as we know it. Instead, his music is given a delicious makeover, where funk, Philly soulful and disco unite.

The title-track Night and Day is the second of six Cole Porter songs. Percussion, wah-wah guitars and the rhythm section unite, before dancing strings and blazing horns enter, mixing funk and disco. Then, with a holler, the soulfulness arrives. It comes courtesy of the Sweethearts of Sigma. They add tight, impassioned harmonies, which grow punchy and powerful. With a whoop they take their leave, but you hope it’s not for long. Soon, they’re back, proving the perfect contrast the power and majesty of the orchestra. Like other disco orchestras, the sound is grand, laden in strings and horns, with a pounding, dance-floor friendly heartbeat. For me, the Sweethearts of Sigma provide a contrast and what is the finishing touch. This is the icing on a very moreish cake, one that’s delicious, one you long to eat at once, but instead, decide to savor its delights and subtleties slowly. After each listen, some subtlety or secret reveals itself and only then, do you discover just how rich a musical cake this truly is.

I’ve Got You Under My Skin is given a similar treatment to I Got A Kick Out of You. Layers of lush strings sweep and swirl, horns rasp and the rhythm section add a pounding, funky beat complete with Bobby “Electronic” Eli’s wah-wah guitar. At breakneck speed the arrangement unfolds, revealing elements of soul and jazz, plus plenty of funk and disco. When the Sweethearts of Sigma’s harmonies enter, they’re soulfulness personified. Their tight, impassioned harmonies are joined by percussion aplenty, braying horns, cascading strings and a funky Philly rhythm section. Sometimes, the harmonies become punchy and dramatic, highlighting and accentuating Cole Porter’s lyrics, It’s like the Sweethearts of Sigma are paying homage to Cole Porter’s genius, their delivery soulful and jazzy. Indeed, without their contribution this wouldn’t be anything like as good. So good is this track, that’s one of the real highlights of Night and Day. 

I Can’t Stop opens Side Two of Night and Day.  John Davis cowrote the track with guitarist Craig Snyder. The song almost explodes into life. A thunderous, funky rhythm section, searing guitar, growling horns and the lushest strings combine. With a flourish of strings, Philly songbirds the Sweethearts of Sigma add soulful and heartfelt, then sassy and breathy harmonies. Their harmonies are replaced by washes of wailing Hammond organ, punchy grizzled horns and dancing strings. Later, the Sweethearts of Sigma add soaring, dramatic and punchy harmonies, before the rhythm section give a musical masterclass, fusing funk and disco. Bassist Michael “Sugar Bear” Foreman and drummer Charles Collins add a pounding, funky backbeat, while guitarist Bobby “Electronic” Eli’s playing is funky, flashy and confident. He uses his trademark effects well, as John Davis and The Monster Orchestra get Side Two of Night and Day off to an explosive, funky and electric start.

Bursts of dramatic horns open In the Still of the Night, before percussion, keyboards and luscious strings float in. Although still funky, thanks to horns and rhythm section, there’s a slightly more understated sound. The Sweethearts of Sigma’s harmonies are heartfelt and tender, floating in and out. Later, Bobby “Electronic” Eli shows how he got his nickname. He puts his effects and trickery to good use, before Sweethearts of Sigma float back in atop swirling strings. Then Bobby’s guitar, keyboards and the rhythm section give another musical masterclass, against a sensual, backdrop, complete with moans and groans. From there, the track heads to its dramatic climax.

Like other Cole Porter songs on Night and Day, You Do Something To Me is given a complete makeover. Staying true to the song’s heritage are layers of the lushest strings. They’re joined by growling horns, a pounding, thunderous rhythm section that provides the funk quotient. When the Sweethearts of Sigma harmonies enter, they’re light, tight, tender and timeless. You can imagine them singing the song in a jazzy style just as well. These harmonies float amidst the strings, taken on a journey where musical genres unite. Later, the harmonies become sassy and feisty, as funk, disco, Philly Soul and jazz unite. This seamless fusion of genres results in a track that’s dance-floor friendly, beautiful and laden with hooks. Thirty-six years later, the song still has a truly timeless sound.

Closing Night and Day is It’s D’lovely, which open with a Charleston sound, courtesy of the Sweethearts of Sigma’s harmonies. Woodwind, muted horns, lush strings and the rhythm section roll back the years, mixing delicious old time jazz sound with a dance-floor friendly sound. Rather than disco dancers, you think of flappers dancing in art deco dance-halls to an orchestra of musicians wearing dinner suits. It’s a musical trip down memory lane, complete with sound effects and the Sweethearts of Sigma’s harmonies give a thirties makeover. It allows the John Davis Monster Orchestra to close their debut album Night and Day with a vintage sound, that pays homage to Cole Porter, but with a subtle twist. In doing so, they paint vivid pictures of yesteryear, when Cole Porter was in his pomp. This seems a fitting tribute to one of America’s great composers.

Given the similarities with the personnel involved in both The Salsoul Orchestra and the John Davis Monster Orchestra, it’s no surprise that there are many similarities in the sound, style and quality of music on Night and Day. This was very similar to what was going on with The Salsoul Orchestra. All that John Davis was missing was the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section and vibes virtuoso Vince Montana Jr. Instead, John Davis had a rhythm section of bassist Michael “Sugar Bear” Foreman, drummer Charles Collins and guitarist Roland Chambers. They all played in The Salsoul Orchestra, alongside Bobby “Electronic” Eli, percussionist Larry Washington, Don Renaldo’s Strings and Horns and the Sweethearts of Sigma, Carla Benson, Evette Benton and Barbara Ingram. With so many of the same personnel, involved in The Salsoul Orchestra and the John Davis Monster Orchestra, what was needed was someone who was a visionary and innovator like Norman Harris or Vince Montana Jr. That’s where John Davis came in. He brought everything together, resulting in an innovative combination of two new songs and six cover versions Cole Porter songs. This became Night and Day, which marked the debut of the John Davis Monster Orchestra. 

Following Night and Day, the John Davis Monster Orchestra went on to release three further albums between 1977 and 1979. Up Jumped the Devil followed in 1977, with 1978s Ain’t That Enough For You and then The Monster Strikes Back in 1979. By then, disco was no longer as popular, having almost died on the 12th July 1979, at Comiskey Park, Chicago. However, the album that launched one of the great disco orchestras was Night and Day. Its success was down to John Davis bringing together some of the most talented, creative and versatile musicians and backing vocals. Most of them came from one city, that provided the soundtrack to the seventies…Philly. 

Of all the Philly musical legends, three vocalists played a huge part in Night and Day’s success. They were the Sweethearts of Sigma. Their harmonies were key to the sound and success of Night and Day. Without their harmonies, Night and Day wouldn’t have been as good an album. Add to musical equation Don Renaldo’s Strings and Horns, plus the combined talents of musicians like Bobby “Electronic” Eli, Roland Chambers and Larry Washington, then Night and Day proved to be a majestic fusion of disco, funk, Philly Soul and jazz. Thirty-six years later, and Night and Day, the debut album from the John Davis Monster Orchestra is one of the best albums released by a disco orchestra, which is blessed with a truly, timeless sound. Standout Tracks: I Get A Kick Out of You, Night and Day, I’ve Got You Under My Skin and You Do Something To Me.

JOHN DAVIS MONSTER ORCHESTRA-NIGHT AND DAY.

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