BAKER, HARRIS, YOUNG-B-H-Y.
BAKER, HARRIS, YOUNG-B-H-Y.
By 1979 Ron Baker, Norman Harris and Earl Young were still the hardest working and most in-demand rhythm section in music. They were currently part of The Salsoul Orchestra and accompanying artists like the undisputed Queen of Disco, Loleatta Holloway, First Choice and Double Exposure. They’d done everything, from writing, arranging and producing artists. Norman Harris was even running his own record company Gold Mind Records, a subsidiary of Salsoul Records. Sadly, Gold Mind Records was in trouble, and soon, would become part of Salsoul. However, although the greatest rhythm section in music had done pretty much everything in music, the only thing they still had to do was release an album. This was soon to change, when Baker, Harris, Young released their debut album B-H-Y in 1979.
Change was also on the agenda at Salsoul, with the label changing since 1978. The changes at Salsoul were in many people’s opinion, not necessary for the best. Whereas previously, musicians like Norman Harris had produced albums, the Cayres had decided to allow DJs to not just to remix individual tracks, but whole albums. Remixers were even producing albums, some of whom were non-musicians.This divided opinion even within Salsoul. Norman Harris and Vince Montana Jr, who in 1978 had split from Salsoul weren’t convinced by the merits of the remixer. Even Baker, Harris, Young’s debut album B-H-Y would feature four tracks that had been remixed by DJ Bobby Guttadaro. Would these remixed tracks help make B-H-Y which was recently released by BBR Records a commercial success?
When Ron Baker, Norman Harris and Earl Young set about recording B-H-Y, they been making music together since the sixties. They’d worked with some of the biggest artists and producers. From playing on Thom Bell’s productions of The Delfonics, The Stylistics and Detroit Spinners, Baker, Harris, Young then went to work with two other legendary Philadelphia producers Gamble and Huff. As part of M.F.S.B., Baker, Harris, Young played on some of Philadelphia International Records’ most critically acclaimed and commercially successful albums. This included Billy Paul’s 360 Degrees of Billy Paul, The O’Jays Backstabbers, Ship Ahoy and Family Reunion, Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes’ I Miss You, Black and Blue and Wake Up Everybody and The Three Degrees’ The Three Degrees and International. Then in 1975, after a dispute with Gamble and Huff over money, many of M.F.S.B. left Philadelphia International, heading less than one-hundred miles away to New York, where they became part of The Salsoul Orchestra.
At Salsoul, Baker, Harris, Young flourished and were just as busy, if not busier. By 1979, they’d played on just about everything Salsoul released. Indeed, Baker, Harris, Young played on Salsoul’s greatest albums, including albums by The Salsoul Orchestra, Loleatta Holloway, First Choice, Double Exposure Carol Williams and Chora. On many of these albums, many of the personnel that appear on B-H-Y. These were some of Baker, Harris, Young’s Philly based friends, that among their number included singers, songwriters, arrangers and producers. They would all play their part in B-H-Y.
For B-H-Y Ron Baker wrote one track, Come As You Are, while Norman Harris cowrote two tracks with Eugene Curry. They were Handle Me With Love and Care and Take My Body Now. Earl Young cowrote three tracks with Bruce Gray, We Funk the Best, Marathon Dance and I Just Wanna Funk (With You). Together with Bruce Grey and Doug Getschal’s Touch Me While I Touch You and Brian Evans, these eight tracks comprised B-H-Y. Recording would take place in the familiar surroundings of Sigma Sound Studios.
Accompanying Baker, Harris, Young at Sigma Sound Studios were bassist Jimmy Williams and guitarists Ronnie “the Hawk” James, Bobby “electronic” Eli, Harold Wade, Brian Evans and T.J. Tindall. Adding The Salsoul Orchestra’s percussive sound were Larry Washington and Bobby Conga on congas, while Carlton “Cotton” Kent played keyboards and Eugene “Lambchop” Curry synths. Don Renaldo and His Strings and Horns were key to the “Salsoul” sound. Adding backing vocals were the legendary Sweethearts of Sigma, Carla Benson, Barbara Ingram and Evette Benton, plus Ron Tyson. Taking charge of lead vocals would be Ron Tyson and Bruce Grey. The eight tracks on B-H-Y were produced by Baker, Harris, Young, with George Bussey, Bruce Grey and Leon Mitchell helping out with arranging duties. Once the eight tracks were recorded, B-H-Y was set for release in 1979.
Before B-H-Y was released in August 1979, Come As You Are was released in July 1979. The timing couldn’t have been worse. As of 12th July 1979, disco sucked. The Disco Sucks backlash hit. Anything vaguely disco related was affected. This included Come As You Are, which failed to chart. Things didn’t look good for B-H-Y, when it was released in August 1979. Sadly, it wasn’t the commercial success it had been hoped for. B-H-Y failed to chart. One small crumb of comfort was that We Funk the Best gave Baker, Harris, Young a minor chart hit. Released in October 1979, We Funk The Best only reached number eighty-six in the US R&B Charts. It seemed like B-H-Y had been released a year too late, with disco’s popularity on the wane. However, is Baker, Harris, Young’s debut album B-H-Y another of Salsoul’s hidden gems? That’s what I’ll tell you, after I’ve told you about the music on B-H-Y.
Opening Baker, Harris, Young’s debut album B-H-Y is the lead single Come As You Are. Written by Ron Baker and arranged by Ron Baker, Earl’s thunderous drums power the arrangement along while Norman adds some jazz-tinged guitar licks. Then, with a flourish of keyboards the track reveals its secrets. A piano, tender harmonies from the Sweethearts of Sigma enter and Baker, Harris, Young unleash a funky juggernaut. Don Renaldo’s strings and horns sweep and blaze, while Earl’s drums are matched by Ron’s bass. The Sweethearts of Sigma add their joyous, tight harmonies as a jazzy piano combine with Baker, Harris, Young’s funky rhythm section. Although they’re the star of the album, Baker, Harris, Young don’t mind letting the rest of the band take their turn centre-stage as they produce an uplifting, joyful track where funk, soul and jazz are fused brilliantly.
Norman Harris cowrote Handle Me With Love And Care with Eugene Curry and it’s a track that explodes into life. Earl’s drums are at the heart of the arrangement, powering it along. Norman’s familiar guitar combines with the lushest of strings, punchy growling horns and cascading, gentle harmonies from the Sweethearts of Sigma. They drift in and out the track, as it reveals its secrets. A synth plays an important role, but it’s the Baker, Harris, Young section who are at the heart of the track’s sound and success, with Earl and Ron providing the track’s pulsating disco heartbeat and Norman’s inimitable jazzy guitar playing sprinkled across the arrangement. Together with Don Renaldo’s luscious strings and growling horns and the contrasting beauty of the Sweethearts of Sigma, this is quite simply a glittering hidden gem from Salsoul’s vaults.
Earl Young and Bruce Gray cowrote three tracks and We Funk The Best is the first. The sound of an FM radio station that sounds as if it’s from the planet funk can be heard as an uber-funky track unfolds. With the funkiest of arrangements so far from Baker, Harris, Young, they combine synths that add a sci-fi sound, with Don Renaldo’s horns that blaze and growl. Meanwhile, the Sweethearts of Sigma add punchy, funky harmonies as Ron Tyson adds a foxy vocal. You’re taken on a journey into planet funk, with Earl’s drums and Ron’s pounding, slap bass for company. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable journey, one you must take at least once.
Marathon Dancer the second Earl Young and Bruce Grey penned track unravels at breakneck speed. The Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section combine with chiming guitars, percussion and soulful and sweeping harmonies from the Sweethearts of Sigma. They accompany Ron Tyson’s lead vocal as one of the quickest, dance-floor friendly tracks on B-H-Y unfolds. Then during a breakdown, Earl’s drums are joined by Larry Washington’s congas as the track rebuilds. Soon, the guitars, dancing strings and rasping horns have returned, with Ron’s bass matching Earl’s drums every step of the way. Hearing Baker, Harris, Young in full flight, with some of Philly’s finest musicians is a hugely impressive sound. Especially on a track as good as this.
Touch Me While I’m Touching You sees the tempo drop, just slightly though. Guitars riff, while Earl’s pounding drums provide the track’s pulse. Gradually, the track builds with stabs keyboards, handclaps and sassy harmonies from the Sweethearts of Sigma before Bruce Grey’s punchy lead vocal enters. Soon, his vocal becomes heartfelt and powerful and he’s accompanied by the Sweethearts of Sigma who add soaring harmonies. Don Renaldo’s strings sweep and swirl, while horns growl and rasp. Bruce’s vocal becomes a powerful vamp, as stabs of synths and flourishes of strings accompany him. Everything falls into place and a hugely catchy, dance-floor friendly track that’s soulful and certainly not short of hooks.
Take My Body Now was the other Norman Harris and Eugene Curry penned track. It’s a track with “Made In Philadelphia” stamped all over it. This is the case from the opening bars. Ron Baker’s pounding, funky bass and Don Renaldo’s growling horns and lush strings are accompanied by impassioned harmonies from the Sweethearts of Sigma. Their tender harmonies are contrasted by Ron Tyson’s powerful, confident vocal. All the time, Baker, Harris, Young show why they were the greatest rhythm section of the seventies, as they lay down the track’s heartbeat. Ron’s bass playing is some of the best on B-H-Y and unites with Earl’s drums. Later, not to by outdone, Norman’s jazz-tinged guitar toys with the strings that cascade, dancing, as if in appreciation at the beauty of the Sweethearts of Sigma’s heartfelt harmonies. Together, Baker, Harris, Young and some of Philly’s finest musicians and Sweethearts of Sigma produce a track that’s dramatic, soulful and beautiful in equal measures.
I Just Want To Funk (With You) is the third of the Earl Young and Bruce Gray penned track, which they also arranged. There’s almost a P-Funk sound to the arrangement, with the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section responsible for the funk-laden beat. Earl’s thunderous drums, Ron’s slapped uber-funky bass and chiming guitar combine with blazing, braying horns as percussion and searing, riffing guitars combine. Meanwhile George Bussey’s vocal is a tough, sassy, growl, while the Sweethearts of Sigma add breathy, sassy harmonies as the toughest, funkiest track on B-H-Y reveals its glorious secrets.
Closing B-H-Y is Opus BHY where Baker, Harris, Young combine as the track begins. Norman’s chiming guitar, sweeping, swirling strings, rasping, growling horns combine and are joined by joyous harmonies from the Sweethearts of Sigma. As the track progresses, the arrangement grows in boldness and drama. Searing, sizzling guitars, bursts of braying horns, dancing strings and percussion all join the mix. In fact, everything that made Salsoul great is combined as soul, funk, jazz and disco are fused seamlessly. Sometimes, the track heads in the direction of jazz, before soulful harmonies and then a funky rhythm and horn section change things around. Then, all too soon, the after less than five majestic minutes, the track and B-H-Y is over, leaving just magical memories of some great music from three legends of music, Baker, Harris, Young.
Although B-H-Y wasn’t the commercial success it deserved to be, it’s one of these hidden gems in Salsoul Records’ back-catalogue that’s waiting to be unearthed. It joins albums like Carol Williams’ ‘Lectric Lady and Charo and The Salsoul Orchestra’s Cuchi Cuchi, two other glistening gems. B-H-Y allowed three legendary musicians, Ron Baker, Norman Harris and Earl Young the chance to showcase their combined talents at Salsoul. For too long, Baker, Harris, Young had been either playing on other people’s albums or writing, arranging and producing them. Granted they were able to showcase their talents on these albums, and on The Salsoul Orchestra albums. However, given how innovative, imaginative and talented Baker, Harris, Young were, this album was long overdue. Yes, they’d played together on albums by The Trammps, but nothing at Salsoul.
Unfortunately for Baker, Harris, Young, by the time B-H-Y was released, disco’s popularity was waning and indeed after August 12th 1979, disco had almost died at Comiskey Park in Chicago, at Disco Derby night. Maybe if B-H-Y had been released a year earlier, it might have been a bigger success. WIth its combination of disco, funk, Philly Soul and jazz, it showed how versatile Baker, Harris, Young were. Indeed in some songs, they seamless flit between genres, incorporating three genres within a song. If B-H-Y had been released earlier, then it could’ve been released on Norman Harris’ ailing Gold Mind Records and given the label a boost. Sadly, by 1979, Gold Mind was almost insolvent and had to be incorporated into Salsoul. All Norman’s work and effort was in vein, and he was left with nothing to show for it. So, with his two longtime friends Ron Baker and Earl Young, Norman Harris headed to the familiar surroundings of Sigma Sound Studios, with some of his Philly-based musical friends and the result was B-H-Y.
Sadly, there was no followup to B-H-Y which was recently rereleased by BBR Records. It’s the only album Baker, Harris, Young ever recorded for Salsoul or any other label. It’s a fitting memory to soul, funk and disco’s greatest rhythm section. Tragically, Norman Harris died in 1987, aged just forty and Ron Baker died in 1990, aged just forty-three. Both of hugely talented men died way too young, but left an everlasting legacy that is their music, including some of the best music of the Philly Sound and also the disco era. Of Baker, Harris, Young, only Earl Young is left, a true musical giant and the man who single-handedly invented the disco beat and with Ron Baker and Norman Harris created some of the greatest music of the disco era, on disco’s greatest label Salsoul. Standout Tracks: Come As You Are, Handle Me With Love and Care, Marathon Dancer and Take My Body Now.
BAKER, HARRIS, YOUNG-B-H-Y.