When most people think of Philadelphia International Records, they think of The O’Jays, Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes, Billy Paul, The Three Degrees and Teddy Pendergrass. However, there’s much, much more to Philadelphia International Records than just these artists. Granted they were among Philadelphia International Records’ most successful artists, but they tell only part of the story. These are just a  few of the chapters in the long and illustrious history of Philadelphia International Records and the history of Philly Soul. Dig deeper, and the journey through Philadelphia International Records’ back catalogue becomes a voyage of discovery. For every Billy Paul, Teddy Pendergrass and Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes, there are artists whose music wasn’t as commercially successful. Examples include the Intruders, Spiritual Connection, Bunny Sigler, Monk Montgomery and Anthony White. To that list you could add Dick Jensen, who released just three singles and his one album on Philadelphia International Records. That album was 1973s Dick Jensen, which will be rereleased by BBR Records on 31st January 2013, forty years after its release. Dick Jensen was quite unlike anything Philadelphia International Records had released since its inception in 1971. Mind you, Dick Jensen was no ordinary singer.

Dick Jensen was born in 1942, in Kalihi, on the island of Oahu, the third largest of the Hawaiian Islands. Fittingly, he island of Oahu is known as the gathering place. Its capital is Honolulu, where during the sixties and seventies, people would gather to hear Dick Jensen sing. After graduating from the Farrington High School, Dick Jensen embarked upon a career in music. Using the stage name Lance Curtis, Dick became one of the biggest acts in Hawaii. Then in 1966, Dick went from being a star in Hawaii, to becoming an international star.

The Rollings Stones were looking for someone to open for them during their 1966 American tour. This was where Dick Jensen came in. With Dick opening for The Rollings Stones, his music was heard by a much wider, audience. The man known as “The Giant” mesmerized audiences, singing and dancing. Now Dick was on his way to international fame. He signed to with Don Costa Productions and soon, was dividing his time between Hawaii and Las Vegas. Then in 1969, Dick released his debut album.

White Hot Soul was Dick Jensen’s debut album, released in 1969 on Probe, a subsidiary of ABC Records. Probe seemed a strange choice of label for Dick. Most of their roster were either psychedelic or Prog Rock bands. Still, it was an opportunity for Dick’s music to reach a much wider audience. On the release of White Hot Soul, the album wasn’t a commercial success. Despite this, Dick’s career was progressing. He appeared on the Ed Sullivan show, and was quickly garnering a reputation as one of the most charismatic performers live. As a new decade dawned, Dick’s fortunes changed.

In 1970, Dick made his New York debut. at the Century Plaza. He was now spending time in New York, Las Vegas, Hawaii, Hollywood and Puerto Rico. Then in 1971, two men who’d just founded their own record label decided ti sign Dick Jensen.

Gamble and Huff had founded their own label, Philadelphia International Records, IN 1971. By the time Dick released his first single for Philadelphia International Records, they’d only released three previous singles. Going Up the Mountain, released in May 1971 as ZS7-3504 was the nascent label’s fourth release. On the flip side was Cheers To Love. Like Going Up the Mountain, Cheers To Love was penned by Gamble and Huff. Although Going Up the Mountain failed to chart, by the time Dick released his sophomore album Dick Jensen in 1973, Philadelphia International Records was one of the most successful record companies in America. Between 1971, when Dick released his Going Up the Mountain and 1973, when Dick Jensen was released,  Philadelphia International Records had released many critically acclaimed and commercially successful albums. So for an artist looking to make a commercial breakthrough, this was the perfect label.

For Dick’s sophomore album Dick Jensen, Gamble and Huff cowrote seven of the songs. Thom Bell and Linda Creed penned 32nd Street and Bunny Sigler and Phil Hurtt cowrote Shall We Gather By the Water. The other track was a cover of Chuck Jackson and Luther Dixon’s I Don’t Want To Cry. Recording of Dick Jensen took place at Philly’s Sigma Sound Studios, where the Philly Sound was born in the late sixties.

Accompanying Dick Jensen were Philadelphia International Records’ legendary house-band M.F.S.B. This included This included a rhythm section of Baker, Harris, Young and guitarist Bobby “Electronic” Eli, T.J. Tindall and Roland Chambers. They were joined by vibes virtuoso, Vince Montana Jr, Larry Washington on congas and bongos, organist Lenny Pakula and pianist Leon Huff. Add to that Don Renaldo’s Swinging Strings and Horns and The Sweethearts of Sigma, Carla Benson, Evette Benton and Barbara Ingram. Arrangers included Vince Montana Jr, Norman Harris and Bobby Martin, while Bunny Sigler, Thom Bell and Gamble and Huff produced the ten tracks that became Dick Jensen, which was released in 1973.

On the release of Dick Jensen in February 1972, the album failed to chart. Neither of the singles charted. Penny For Your Thoughts was released in March 1973 and Peace of Mind in March 1974. Only I Don’t Want To Cry was released in the UK, but failed to chart. This must have been bitterly disappointing for Dick, and everyone at Philadelphia International Records. Gamble and Huff were used to success. They’d become the hottest songwriting and production team of the seventies and weren’t use to failure. So why wasn’t Dick Jensen a commercial success? That’s what I’ll tell you after I’ve told you about the music on Dick Jensen.

Opening Dick Jensen is A Penny For Your Thoughts, one of seven Gamble and Huff penned and produced tracks and arranged by Vince Montana Jr. Straight away, you realise that this isn’t what you’d expect from an album baring the Philadelphia International Records’ logo. Instead, there’s a much more MOR sound, but with a delicious Philly Sound makeover. The arrangement has an understated, jazzy sound. Just rasping horns, the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section and Lenny Pakula’s Hammond organ combine, before Dick’s heartfelt vocal enters. The Sweethearts of Sigma harmonies are the perfect foil for Dick. With flourishes of strings for company, they tenderly and sweetly answer his call. Norman Harris adds some crystalline jazz-tinged guitar, while horns growl and strings sweep as the arrangement swings along, with Philly Soul, MOR and jazz seamlessly and quite beautifully.

I Don’t Want To Cry sees the tempo increase, allowing Dick and M.F.S.B. to showcase their versatility. With strings swirling frantically and Baker, Harris, Young driving the arrangement along the song explodes into life. Dick’s vocal is much more soulful, delivered with power, passion and emotion. Swathes of strings dance, horns growl and bursts of Earl Young’s thunderous drums add drama. Leon Huff adds boogie woogie piano, while Larry Washington’s bongos and congos adds to the drama. Gospel infused soaring harmonies from The Sweethearts of Sigma, are the finishing touch to this stomping slice of soul.

Three Cheers To Love was written and produced by Gamble and Huff and arranged by one of Philadelphia International Records’ best arrangers, Bobby Martin. It’s a slow, emotive ballad. This is perfect for Dick’s style of delivery. Swathes of the lushest strings and tender, impassioned harmonies from The Sweethearts of Sigma, accompany Dick’s fervent, inspired vocal. He lays bare his soul, delivering the vocal with equal parts of power, emotion and drama. Then there’s Norman Harris’ pensive guitar, bursts of grizzled horns and the strings. They tug at your heartstrings, reflecting the emotion and sincerity in Dick’s vocal and The Sweethearts of Sigma’s harmonies.

Fat Mama is a slice of driving music where jazz, funk and R&B are fused. From the get-go, Dick embarks on a vamp. This he does against a backdrop of Larry Washington’s bongos and congas, piano and Ron Baker’s bass which drives the arrangement along. Blazing horns, stabs of Lenny Pakula’s Hammond organ and flamboyant flourishes of piano combine with searing guitars, as Dick’s vocal becomes a frenzied, vamp. He seems to be taking inspiration from Little Richard, Jackie Wilson and James Brown. It shows a very different side to Dick’s music, and is a tantalizing glimpse of what Dick Jensen live must have sounded like.

Norman Harris arranged New York City’s A Lonely Town. Vince Montana Jr’s vibes, quivering strings and a slow, pensive Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section combine with Dick’s heartbroken vocal. His voice is tender, but filed with sadness. Baker, Harris, Young add a burst of drama, and taking his lead from them Dick’s vocal grows in power and emotion. His vocal is filled hurt, as he tells the story of a musician leaving behind the woman he loves, to head to New York to make a breakthrough in the music industry. Dick brings meaning to the lyrics, his despairing vocal begging, pleading “please let me in.” When his vocal grows in power, you can sense his hurt and heartache. He’s nearly giving up hope. Then at just the right time, harmonies sweep in, while drums add drama, reflecting his pain and hurt. Not only is this the best ballad on Dick Jensen, but the best track, and one of the most moving, powerful songs you’ll hear in a long time.

32nd Street was penned by Linda Creed and Thom Bell, who produced the track. Dramatic. That’s the only way to describe the introduction. Strings quiver and cascade, horns bray and growl, joining ethereal harmonies from The Sweethearts of Sigma and Baker, Harris, Young. Once they reach a dramatic crescendo, Dick’s vocal takes charge. His reading is every bit as dramatic, powerful and emotive. With rasping horns, sweeping harmonies and flourishes of strings Dick delivers a vocal which is enthralling and captivating, guaranteed to have you spellbound and mesmerized.

Going Up On The Mountain is quite different from other tracks. Released in 1971 as a single, it has a late sixties sound. The choppy arrangement unfolds at breakneck speed, driven along by Baker, Harris, Young and searing guitars. Dick’s vocal is gospel-tinged, just like The Sweethearts of Sigma’s harmonies. They provide the perfect accompaniment, as Dick and The Sweethearts of Sigma testify their way through this track fusing Philly Soul, gospel, country, R&B and rocky guitars.

There’s no drop in tempo on Peace Of Mind. It joyously bursts into life. Don Renaldo’s Swinging Strings and Horns join Baker, Harris, Young in setting the scene for Dick’s vocal. A flourish of piano signals Dick to deliver a quick, joyous and swinging vocal. The Sweethearts of Sigma add cooing, sweeping harmonies as Dick becomes a crooner, delivering one of his best vocals. Similarly, M.F.S.B. and The Sweethearts of Sigma produce peerless performances during this joyous, hook laden track, that just swings.

Shall We Gather By The Water sees Earl Young’s drums and waves of Lenny Pakula’s Hammond organ combine. Dick becomes a preacher, weaving his spell over you. Then, Dick and M.F.S.B. kick loose and the arrangement reveals its secrets. Horns growl, strings sweep and swirl as Dick powerfully and passionately vamps, with The Sweethearts of Sigma for company. Their tight, tender and deeply soulful harmonies and M.F.S.B. in full flight are an impressive sound, as Dick Jensen preaches his way through the track, making believers out of everyone who hears the song.

Closing Dick Jensen is Tamika (Come Back Later), the last of the seven tracks Gamble and Huff wrote and produced. Strings cascade urgently, while Baker, Harris, Young add drama and horns bray. They produce an urgent, uptempo arrangement. Dick’s vocal is quick, emotive and powerful. It’s also filled with drama, just like the arrangement. Bursts of thunderous drums, flourishes of piano, percussion and searing guitar match Dick every step of the way, ending Dick Jensen on a dramatic, emotive high.

It’s nearly forty years since Philadelphia International Records released Dick Jensen. Sadly, Dick Jensen wasn’t the most successful album Philadelphia International Records released. Maybe the problem was that Dick wasn’t the usual type of artist Philadelphia International Records. Rather than a soul singer like Billy Paul, Dick Jensen’s music was very different. It ranges from pop and easy listening right through to jazz, pop, gospel and soul. This makes Dick Jensen one of the most captivating and enthralling albums Philadelphia International Records released. You never know what direction the album is heading. That’s what makes Dick Jensen such a compelling album.

While Dick Jensen wasn’t the typical Philadelphia International Records’ signing, his music was given a Philly Sound makeover. With M.F.S.B. and The Sweethearts of Sigma accompanying Dick, there’s a real Philly Sound to the album. That’s the thread that runs through Dick Jensen. Although Dick Jensen wasn’t the type of album you’d expect Philadelphia International Records to release, just like any other album with that famous Philadelphia International Records logo on it, it has one thing in common…quality. From the opening bars of A Penny For Your Thoughts, right through to Tamika (Come Back Later), there’s no drop in quality. Neither Dick Jensen, nor M.F.S.B. miss a beat. Since its release, Dick Jensen which will be rereleased by BBR Records on 31st January 2013, has been an overlooked, hidden gem in Philadelphia International Records. Hopefully, forty years after its release, Dick Jensen will find a much wider, more appreciative audience and introduce the music of “The Giant” to a new generation of listeners. Standout Tracks: A Penny For Your Thoughts, New York City’s A Lonely Town, Peace Of Mind and Shall We Gather By The Water.


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