VINCE MONTANA JR-FAREWELL TO A TRUE MUSICAL INNOVATOR.

VINCE MONTANA JR-FAREWELL TO A TRUE MUSICAL INNOVATOR.

Vince Montana Jr. who passed away on 13th April 2013, aged eighty-five, was one of the most innovative, influential and pioneering musicians in the history of popular music. However, referring to Vince as a musician is an understatement. He was also a songwriter, conductor, arranger and producer. Born on February 1928, in South Philadelphia, Vince’s first exposure to music came at school, when a teacher encouraged him to play orchestra bells for a play called The Celebrated Waltz. After that, Vince was hooked on music, mastering drums, vibes, chimes, marimba and tympani. Although Vince was a true multi-instrumentalist, he’s best known as a vibes player, whose early career saw him play with some musical legends.

At the start of Vince’s career, he began playing in some of Philly’s jazz clubs. For a young musician, this was the perfect musical grounding. Vince played alongside jazz legends like Charlie Parker and Sarah Vaughan. This allowed Vince to hone his talents. After this, Vince was heading further afield.

During the fifties and early sixties, Vince was traveled across America. There were stopovers in many cities, including Las Vegas, where Vince and the rest of the band played popular songs of the day. Then when Vince returned to Philly in the early sixties, his career changed.

Having returned to Philly, Vince became a session musician. He worked on sessions for the Cameo Parkway label. This included sessions for Chubby Checker. Later in the sixties, Vince would encounter a producer who like Vince, would become one of the architects of Philly Soul.

One of the first sessions where Vince worked with producer Thom Bell was The Delfonics’ 1968 album La La Means I Love You. By 1968, Vince was forty and a hugely experienced and versatile musician. This would stand him in good stead for the future. Vince would later work with Thom Bell on albums by The Stylistics and The Spinners. He also worked on albums by Dusty Springfield and Wilson Pickett. After this, Vince would work with two other architects of Philly Soul.

When Gamble and Huff founded Philadelphia International Records in 1971, Vince Montana Jr. was a member of Philadelphia International Records legendary house-band M.F.S.B. Vince also worked as a songwriter, arranger and producer. His role at Philadelphia International Records can’t be underestimated. He was an innovator, pioneer and visionary. Vince  on many classic Philadelphia International Records’ releases. This includes Billy Paul’s 360 Degrees of Billy Paul, The O’Jays Back Stabbers, Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes’ Black and Blue and M.F.S.B’s M.F.S.B. During this time, Vince was writing, arranging and producing tracks for Philadelphia International Records. He more that played his part in transforming Philadelphia International Records into the most successful and influential label in soul music. Like the rest of M.F.S.B. Vince was constantly working as a session musician, arranger, producer and songwriter.

During Vince’s time at Philadelphia International Records, what was essentially M.F.S.B, provided the backdrop for what would become some of Philly Soul’s greatest recordings.  This included albums by Laura Nyro, Joe Simon, Barbara Mason, First Choice, The Manhattans, B.B King, Major Harris, Blue Magic, Ecstasy, Passion and Pain and Charles Mann. Many of M.F.S.B. were now forging careers as arrangers and producers, including Norman Harris, Bobby “Electronic” Eli and Vince. Then just as Philadelphia International Records had established a reputation as soul’s premier label, many of M.F.S.B. left the label.

For much of 1975, Gamble and Huff had been locked in a dispute with Philadelphia International Records’ legendary house band M.F.S.B. over money. Coincidentally, around this time, Vince met Ken Cayre, one of three brothers who owned Salsoul Records. Vince had a Latin vocal group he felt would be perfect for Salsoul subsidiary Mericana. Ken Cayre was wasn’t looking to sign another Latin group. What wanted, was to import the Philly Sound to Salsoul. So, when Ken and Vince met, Ken explained that he was looking for an orchestra similar to Philadelphia International Records’ legendary house-band M.F.S.B. Having explained his vision to Vince, Ken wrote Vince a cheque and in return, Vince would deliver three songs where the Philly Sound was fused a Latin, salsa influence. Without even looking at the cheque, Vince headed back to Philadelphia to record the three songs with some of Philly’s finest musicians. 

On the bus back to Philly, Vince looked at the cheque, and found it was for $10,000. With some of Philly’s legendary musicians, three tracks were recorded, Nice Vibes, Dance A Little Bit Closer and Salsoul Hustle. After these tracks were delivered to Ken Cayre, he took Salsoul Hustle to CBS who’d first refusal on Salsoul releases. Unluckily for CBS, they were busy releasing albums by Bob Dylan and Barbara Streisand. CBS passed on Salsoul Hustle, as did Atlantic and Polydor Records. So Salsoul released and distributed Salsoul Hustle and immediately, Salsoul had a hit single on their hands. This meant Salsoul needed more songs, enough for an album. To record this album, Ken Cayre required his disco orchestra. Luckily, the standoff between Gamble and Huff and M.F.S.B. was coming to a head.

The dispute between Gamble and Huff and M.F.S.B. couldn’t be described. So, M.F.S.B. decided they’d no option but to quit Philadelphia International Records. Their next stop was New York, where they became The Salsoul Orchestra. In one fell swoop, Ken Cayre had his orchestra and the Philly Sound all in one. Little did Ken Cayre know it, he had just signed the musicians that would make Salsoul the greatest label in disco’s history.

With Vince Montana Jr. arranging, conducting, producing and writing much of The Salsoul Orchstra’s material, they quickly became disco’s greatest orchestra. From the release of their 1975 debut album The Salsoul Orchestra, which sold over one-million copies, The Salsoul Orchestra’s music was commercially successful and critically acclaimed. Unfortunately, because Salsoul wasn’t a member of the R.I.A.A, The Salsoul Orchestra didn’t receive a gold disc. This was the start of Salsoul’s journey to becoming disco’s greatest orchestra.

Following The Salsoul Orchestra, Vince masterminded four further Salsoul Orchestra albums. This included 1976s Nice ‘N’ Nasty and Christmas Jollies, 1977s Magic Journey and 1978s Up The Yellow Brick Road. During the period between 1975 and 1975, Vince produced Charo and The Salsoul Orchestra’s Cuchi-Cuchi, The Salsoul Strings’ How Deep Is Your Love and Carol Williams’ ‘Lectric Lady. Vince also played on numerous other Salsoul Records’ releases, including Double Exposure, First Choice, Eddie Holman and Loleatta Holloway. The period between 1975 and 1978, was when Salsoul Records released its best music. At the heart of everything that was good was Vince Montana Jr. He played a crucial role in Salsoul Records’ success and played on their best releases. Sadly, after just three years, Vince left Salsoul

After The Salsoul Orchestra’s 1978 album Up The Yellow Brick Road, Vince left Salsoul. The problem was the deal Vince struck with the Cayres when he signed to Salsoul. It wasn’t exactly the most profitable deal Vince could’ve struck. With Vince onboard, he transformed Salsoul into disco’s most successful label. Vince became involved in a dispute with the Cayre’s over royalty payments. This lead to legal proceedings being launched and Vince leaving Salsoul. For Salsoul, this would be the end of the classic Salsoul era. However, for Vince, a new career awaited at Atlantic Records.

Following his departure from Salsoul and his signing to Atlantic Records, Vince launched The Montana Orchestra. One of Vince’s earliest releases was the 1978 album Vince Montana Jr. Presents Goody Goody, which featured Vince’s daugher Denise. Goody Goody saw Vince pickup where he’d left off at Salsoul. The music on Goody Goody was innovative and way ahead of the musical curve. One of the tracks was the classic Number One Deejay, which thirty-five years later, is a timeless disco classic. Equally cutting-edge was were a trio of albums from Montana. The trio of I Love Music, A Dance Fantasy/Warp Factor II and A Dance Fantasy Inspired By Close Encounters of The Third Kind. Like his time at Philadelphia International Records and Salsoul Records, Vince’s time at Atlantic demonstrated a musical genius at the peak of his powers. When he left Atlantic, Vince decided to form his own record label Philly Sound Works.

As a new decade dawned, Vince decided to found his own label Philly Sound Works in the early eighties. By now, dance music had changed. Disco’s popularity nosedived in 1979. However, for a musical pioneer like Vince, this didn’t present any problem. All he had to do was adapt. This he did seamlessly, releasing his classic single Heavy Vibes in 1982. Heavy Vibes became a club classic, becoming a favorite of DJs and remixers. A year later, in 1983, an equally cutting-edge album Heavy Vibes followed. Like Heavy Vibes the single, the album was a favorite of DJs. Indeed, a new generation DJs and musicians would head to Philly to collaborate with Vince Montana Jr.

For the next thirty years, a new generations of DJs and artists collaborated with Vince Montana Jr. This included Masters At Work collaborated with Vince on their Nuyorican Soul and on India’s To Be In Love. There were also collaborations with Incognito, The Braxtons, Spiller, David Morales and the Pet Shop Boys. Suddenly, a new breed of DJs and artists were discovering a legend of Philly Soul and disco. Right up until just a few years before his death, Vince Montana was involved with what he loved…music. 

Right from his early days touring America as part of a jazz band, Vince Montana Jr’s life revolved around music. By the time Vince became a session musician at Philly’s Cameo Parkway, he’d honed his skills as a musician. Then he became part of Philadelphia International Records’ legendary house-band M.F.S.B. Vince was one of the most talented, versatile and innovative musicians at Philadelphia International Records. He more than played his part in transforming Philadelphia International Records into the most critically acclaimed and commercially successful soul label. At Philadelphia International Records he was much more than a musician. He was a songwriter, arranger and producer. His skills blossomed at Philadelphia International Records where he wrote, arranged and produced some of the most important music of the seventies. Then when Vince arrived at Salsoul Records, it was like an outpouring of creativity.

Between 1975 and 1978, Vince’s skills as a songwriter, arranger, conductor and producer, he played his part in transforming Salsoul into disco’s greatest label. For three years, Salsoul released some of the most innovative, influential music and successful music of the disco era. Vince more than played his part in the critical acclaim and commercial success Salsoul enjoyed. After Vince left Salsoul, he continued to enjoy critical acclaim and commercial success.

Right through the noughties, Vince Montana Jr. continued to influence a new generation of musicians and music lovers. Indeed, music critics and music lovers realized that Vince Montana Jr. was one of the most talented, innovative, influential and pioneering musicians in the history of modern music. Vince was fortunate to enjoy a long and illustrious career, one that’s lasted six decades. He was crucial in transforming Philadelphia International Records and then Salsoul Records into the most critically acclaimed and commercially successful labels of their time. Sadly, after a career lasting six decade, Vince Montana Jr. passed away on 13th April 2013. Several generations of music lovers will miss one of the most talented, creative, charismatic and forward thinking musicians of the past sixty years. Thankfully, Vince Montana Jr. left behind a rich legacy that further generations of music lovers will enjoy. That legacy is the music that Vince Montana Jr. played on, arranged, produced or wrote. Vince Montana Jr’s music is truly timeless and will forever live on, allowing further generations to discover the music of one of music’s great visionaries.

VINCE MONTANA JR-FAREWELL TO A TRUE MUSICAL INNOVATOR.

 

2 Comments

  1. Mel

    Derek,
    Incredible tribute!!! I hope this will be used as a CD liner notes when a tribute CD comes out!!! You are an amazing writer!!! I am glad you are well my friend.
    Take care!!

    • Hi Mel,

      Glad you liked my tribute to Vince Montana Jr. He was a true musical visionary and was one of the architects of Philly Soul and disco. I hope that sometime soon, a record company will releases a box set of his music from Cameo Parkway onwards.

      Best Wishes,
      Derek

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