FERN KINNEY-GROOVE ME.

FERN KINNEY-GROOVE ME.

After taking a break from music to raise her young family, Fern Kinney decided to mount her musical comeback. Little did she realize that she was about to release what not only what become a disco classic, but a song that would become synonymous with her and transform her career. That song was Groove Me, originally recorded by King Floyd, who Fern used to sing backing vocals for. By giving Groove Me Fern Kinney a makeover, maybe Fern’s fortunes would be transformed.

By 1979, Fern’s eleven-year career was hardly littered with commercial success and critical acclaim. Despite certainly not lacking in talent, Fern Kinney just hadn’t enjoyed the breaks other artists had. Now with disco at the height of its commercial success, other artists, including Anita Ward, had enjoyed career defining hits. Their careers, courtesy of disco blossomed. So too would Fern Kinney, when producer, songwriter and keyboardist Carson Whitsett suggested she sign to Malaco Records. At Malaco Records, Fern released a trio of albums between 1979 and 1982. The first of these was Groove Me, which will be rereleased by BBR Records on 25th March 2013.

Carson Whitsett knew Fern Kinney’s reputation and believed he could transform her career. He felt that he could work with Fern and that together, they could fulfill her potential. Disco, and in particular Euro Disco, would be Carson’s secret weapon. His inspiration for that would be Donna Summer’s I Feel Love and tracks like Amii Stewart’s cover of Eddie Floyd’s Knock On Wood. For Fern’s debut album, she too, would return to an old track. This was Groove Me, which had given King Floyd’s a huge hit. Little did they realize that it would kickstart Fern’s career. Together with six other tracks, this became Fern’s debut album Groove Me.

For Groove Me, King Floyd provided Groove Me and Baby Let Me Kiss You, while producer Carson Whitsett contributed Angel On The Ground and Sun, Moon, Rain.  B.A. Robertson and Terry Britten penned Under Fire, Michael Burton and Sylvia Robinson cowrote Pillow Talk. The other track was Kin Leray’s Together We Are Beautiful, which gave Fern a number one single in the UK.

Recording of Groove Me took place Malaco Studios, Jacksonville, Mississippi. The band included bassists Ran Griffin and Don Barrett, drummer and percussionists James Stroud and Blair Cunningham and guitars came courtesy of Dino Zimmerman and Fred Knobloch.Carson Whitsett played keyboards and synths, while Wolf Stephenson played syndrums. Together with a horn section and backing vocalists, the seven tracks that became Groove Me were recorded.

Before the release of Groove Me, a duet Fern recorded with Fredrick Knight was released as a single in October 1978. It failed to chart. Then when Groove Me was released as the lead single, it reached number fifty-four in the US Billboard 100, number twenty-six in the US Disco Charts. Sadly, disco was about to almost die. Suddenly, disco’s bubble had burst. Not only had popularity waned, but now disco sucked. The disco backlash had hit hard, after the events of Disco Demolition Night at Comiskey Park of 12th July 1979 in Chicago. After that, disco artists, records and labels weren’t popular. Indeed, on Groove Me’s release in September 1979, it failed to chart. Neither Baby Let Me Kiss You, released in October 1979, nor Together We Are Beautiful, released in February 1980 charted. Things were different in the UK.

When Sweet Life was released in November 1979, it failed to chart. So too did Groove Me, released in September 1979, and Baby Let Me Kiss You, released in November 1979 fail to chart. Then In February 1980, Together We Are Beautiful reached number one in the UK. Spurred on by this, non-album tracks I Want You Back was released in June 1980 and Movie Show was released in September 1980. Neither charted. However, Groove Me transformed in Fern Kinney’s career on both sides of the Atlantic. Why?

Listening back to Groove Me, it’s an album that should’ve been a bigger commercial success. It had the misfortune to be released as disco died. What many people missed, was a selection of seven disco and soulful tracks. Groove Me is nine-minutes of sensual disco and funk, complete with gospel tinged backing vocals. It’s one of two tracks written by Floyd Curtis. The other is another eight-minute epic Baby Let Me Kiss You. Washes of synths and keyboards provide a dramatic, driving arrangement. Fern’s urgent vocal is sassy, sensual and feisty.

Angel On The Ground was penned by producer Carson Whitsett. It’s a dance-floor friendly and soulful track. Swathes of lush strings are the perfect accompaniment for Fern’s vocal. Carson’s other contribution was a the country-tinged, Sun, Moon, Rain. It has a lovely understated arrangement, allowing Fern’s tender, deliberate and heartfelt vocal to take centre-stage. In doing so, Fern demonstrates her talent and versatility. For Fern Kinney, there was life after disco. 

Of the other three tracks, two stand out. Pillow Talk is given a Philly Soul makeover that’s truly delicious. Probably the standout track on Groove Me is Together We Are Beautiful. It’s a gorgeous ballad, delivered with tenderness and emotion by Fern. To me, that was a career defining vocal, in a style that offered more longevity than disco.

Although Fern Kinney released three albums for Malaco Records between 1979 and 1982, she didn’t enjoy the commercial success and critical acclaim that she might have. She was hugely talented, with a voice that’s emotive, expressive and laden with soul. Ironically, after the success of the single Groove Me, Fern billed as a disco artist. Almost ironically, disco died and became as popular as a rattlesnake in a lucky dip.

In truth, there was much more than disco to Fern Kinney. During the seven tracks on Groove Me, there’s everything from soul, country and balladry. Versatile is a better description of Fern Kinney. So marketing Fern forevermore as a disco artist was foolhardy and short-term. Anyone who listens to Groove Me, will realize that Fern Kinney. She’s at her very best on the non-disco tracks on Groove Me. Following Groove Me,  which will be rereleased by BBR Records on 25th March 2013, Fern Kinney never reached the same heights as Groove Me in the US and Together We Are Beautiful in the UK. Standout Tracks: Angel On The Ground, Pillow Talk, Together We Are Beautiful and Sun, Moon, Rain.

FERN KINNEY-GROOVE ME. 

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