The best way to describe Slick, who released their eponymous debut album Slick in 1979, on Fantasty WMOT Records, are a disco supergroup. Slick were a collaboration between legendary Philly backing vocalists The Sweethearts of Sigma, members of Ingram and Fat Larry’s Band. Between them, the members of Slick were no strangers to disco and funk, which they fused on their two albums Slick and 1980s Go For It. Indeed, Slick comprised vastly experienced musicians and backing vocalists. Given this all-star lineup, it’s no surprise that Slick’s fusion of disco and funk proved both commercially successful and popular, as you’ll discover when I tell you about Slick’s debut album Slick.
Slick was the latest in a long line of disco collaborations. It’s no exaggeration to call Slick a supergroup, with members of Fat Larry’s Band and Ingram joining The Sweethearts of Sigma, there was no shortage of talented musicians and vocalists.
Ingram were one of many groups that were formed in Philly during the seventies. Previously, Ingram previously been known as The Ingram Family, which was fitting as they were a family group. Before that, The Ingram Family had been called The Ecstasies. This family group, and had released two albums, 1976s The Ingram Kingdom and 1977s That’s All. Billy, Jimmy, Timmy, John and Norman Ingram were all members of Slick. So too, was Barbara Ingram.
Barbara Ingram had established her reputation with Evette Benton and Carla Benson. They were known as The Sweethearts of Sigma, Philly’s legendary backing vocals. The Sweethearts of Sigma had worked most of the Philly Soul sessions of the seventies. Whether it was Billy Paul, The O’Jays, The Stylistics, Blue Magic, Major Harris or Barbara Mason, The Sweethearts of Sigma’s inimitable backing vocals featured on these albums. Then in 1976, The Sweethearts of Sigma had become the voice of The Salsoul Orchestra. Completing the lineup of Slick, were three members of Fat Larry’s band.
Three members of Fat Larry’s Band featured in Slick. They were bassist Jimmy LaBes, guitarist Tony Middleton and percussionist Larry James. Fat Larry’s Band had enjoyed commercial success, releasing four albums between 1976 and 1980. Their debut was 1976s Feel It, with 1977s Off The Wall, 1978s Spacin’ Out and Lookin’ For Love released in 1979. Now they were joining forces with The Sweethearts of Sigma and members of Ingram. The result was Slick’s debut album Slick.
Five tracks became Slick. Larry and Doris James penned Space Bass with Len Barry. Billy and Jimmy Ingram penned Feelin’ Good, while Butch Ingram wrote Put Your Pants On. Butch and Len Barry penned The Whole World’s Dancin’ and Sexy Cream with Doris James and Len Barry. These five tracks became Slick and were recorded at Philly’s Alpha International Studios.
At Philly’s Alpha International Studios, Slick recorded the five tracks that became Slick. The rhythm section featured drummer John Ingram, bassist Jimmy Williams and Jimmy LaBes, plus Tony Middleton, Ronnie James and Billy Ingram. Jimmy Ingram played keyboards, synths and flute, while Larry James added percussion. Timmy Ingram contributed congas, percussion, timbales, trumpet and alto saxophone, John Mimms played trombone and Sylvester Middleton trumpet. The Sweethearts of Sigma sang backing vocals, while Barbara Ingram and Doris James sang lead vocals. Once Slick was completed, it was released in 1979.
1979 wasn’t the best year to release a disco album. Slick fared well in clubs, but failed to chart. Two singles were released, with Space Bass reaching number sixteen in the UK. Sexy Cream was then banned from UK radio. This didn’t help sales of the single or album. What didn’t help sales of Slick was disco fall in popularity. Maybe if Slick had been released a year earlier, it would’ve fared better. Instead, Slick remains a hidden gem in disco’s history, as you’ll realize when I tell you about the music on Slick.
Space Bass, a seven-minute epic opens Slick. Thunderous drums, a funk-laden bass, congas and percussion combine before guitars chime and strings dance in appreciation. They signal the arrival of The Sweethearts of Sigma’s sweet, tender harmonies. Their tenderness and subtly are a contrast to the rest of the arrangement which is pulsating, pounding and dramatic. Synths sweep in, adding a space-age sound to the arrangement. By now, the drama has grown, as Funk, disco and Latin music combine seamlessly. Musical genres unite, as the track takes on an experimental, innovative sound. It’s as if Slick are preparing for disco’s demise and planning for music post-disco. In doing so, they look to Europe for inspiration, mixing technology and a Euro Disco influence to their innovative fusion of disco, funk and Latin percussion.
Barbara Ingram takes charge of lead vocals on Feelin’ Good, which closes Side One of Slick. Again, the pounding beat has a Euro Disco influence. Melancholy woodwind, rasping horns and bubbling synths combine, before The Sweethearts of Sigma add their joyous harmonies. With a jazz piano and slapped bass for company, Barbara steps forward and delivers a confident, assured vocal. Carla and Evette add harmonies and handclaps, their sweet, jazzy vocals the perfect foil. When her vocal drops out, a percussion and a bass bound across the arrangement. Spurred on, Barbara delivers a strident, diva-esque vocal. She unleashes a powerful, heartfelt, soaring vocal. Harmonies soulfully, soar, while the arrangement pounds along. Jazz, funk, disco and Euro Disco are combined, as Barbara and the other Sweethearts of Sigma deliver a vocal and harmonic masterclass, on what is, the highlight of Slick.
Sexy Cream, which opens Side Two of Slick, was the second single from Slick, but was banned from UK radio in 1979. The rhythm section, buzzing synths and percussion combine elements of funk and Euro Disco with Latin percussion. Soon, strings dance centre-stage, as The Sweethearts of Sigma add punchy, sassy harmonies. Doris James delivers a sensual, teasing vocal. Meanwhile, horns growl and kick, strings sweep and swirl and the rhythm section create a pounding, pulsating beat. The thunderous bass is at the heart of the action, while Doris moans and groans her way through the track. Equally sassy and sensual harmonies prove the perfect foil for Doris, as funk, Euro Disco and soulful harmonies combine to create a timeless dance-floor track.
Put Your Pants On was written by Butch Ingram and produced by Billy Kennedy. Handclaps and tough, funky keyboards open the arrangement, before sassy, harmonies from The Sweethearts of Sigma enter. They’re joined by a pounding bass and growling horns as a hypnotic, uber funky track unfolds. A myriad of Latin percussion and then the best bass line on Slick unfolds. Sometimes, the track reminds me of Rolls Royce’s Car Wash or Donna Summer’s Bad Girls. Later, punchy harmonies, braying horns, handclaps and percussion join cascading strings, as a captivating, hypnotic and Latin-tinged track unfolds.
Closing Slick is The Whole World’s Dancin.’ Thunderous drums open a track which is a fusion of musical styles and influences. It’s a bit like Voyage’s Fly Away. While Voyage took a whole album to do this, Slick manage the same thing in five minutes. Listen carefully, and a melting pot of musical influences unfolds. Whether it’s Latin, Caribbean, Eastern European, African or Asian, all these influences are within this musical melting pot. To that, add disco, Euro Disco, funk and soul. Uplifting, joyous and infectiously catchy, never mind around the world in eighty days, Slick’s journey is quicker, joyous and laden with hooks.
Given that Slick were an all-star band, made up of members of Fat Larry’s Band and Ingram, with The Sweethearts of Sigma adding harmonies, it’s no surprise that Slick was such a good album. Unlike many albums released at this time, Slick has stood the test of time. Indeed, it’s no exaggeration to say that Slick is a timeless, hidden gem of an album. Slick was no ordinary disco album. Quite the opposite. Instead, Slick is an album that looks to the future.
It’s as if Slick are preparing for disco’s demise and planning for music post-disco. In doing so, they look to Europe for inspiration, mixing technology and a Euro Disco influence to their innovative fusion of disco, funk, Philly Soul, Euro Disco and Latin percussion. In doing so, they prolonged their career, proving there was life after disco’s demise. Like many other disco albums, Slick was a fusion of musical genres.
The crowning glory are The Sweethearts of Sigma’s harmonies. Their inimitable harmonies are the finishing touch to the album. While the band are tight and multi-talented, The Sweethearts of Sigma lifted Slick to the next level. From the opening bars of Space Bass right through to the closing notes of The Whole World’s Dancin,’ Slick have your attention. They take you an a journey through musical genres and influences. Hooks are in plentiful supply, as Slick’s all-star lineup of musicians and vocalists make their memorable debut on Slick, a real hidden gem of an album, where musical influences and genres are fused to create a hidden disco gem. Standout Tracks: Space Bass, Feelin’ Good, Sexy Cream and Put Your Pants On.