Having released two albums for Aware, 1973s Loleatta and 1974s Cry To Me, Loleatta Holloway, the former Queen Of Gospel, released her final single for Aware, Only A Fool. Released in 1975, the single wasn’t a commercial success. That wasn’t the end of Loleatta’s woes. Michael Thevis, owner of Aware was wanted by the F.B.I. He decided to go on the run. Not long after this, Aware became insolvent and Loleatta Holloway found herself without a label. Ironically, that proved to be something of a blessing in disguise. After all, Loleatta was about to be transformed from Southern Soul singer to the undisputed Queen Of Disco. The man who transformed Loleatta Holloway’s career was Norman Harris.
Following Aware’s insolvency in 1975, Loleatta signed to Norman Harris’ new label Gold Mind, a subsidiary of Salsoul. Norman Harris was the guitarist in the legendary Philadelphia rhythm section Baker, Harris, Young, and one of the best arrangers and producers of the seventies. Through Norman’s production vehicle The Harris Machine, Loleatta would have access to some of the most talented songwriters, arrangers, producers and musicians. This would prove crucial in getting Loleatta’s career back on track. After all, Loleatta was just starting to make a breakthrough before Aware’s demise.
Previously, Loleatta had released two albums on the Atlanta soul label Aware, 1973s Loleatta and 1975s Cry To Me. Then just as Loleatta’s career was taking off, tragedy struck. Cry To Me had been released as the lead single from Loleatta’s second album, reaching number sixty-eight in the US Billboard 100 and number ten in the US R&B Charts. Before Aware could build on this success, Aware went out of business. Without a label, Loleatta Holloway was at the proverbial musical crossroads. Fortunately, Loleatta’s was about to meet the man who would transform her career and turn her into the Queen of Disco. The first step in that process was releasing her Gold Mind Records debut Loleatta, which was recently rereleased by BBR Records.
By 1976, when Norman Harris signed Loleatta Holloway to Gold Mind, he was something of a musical veteran. Norman Harris is one of the men who helped shape the Philly Sound. He was guitarist in the legendary Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section, along with bassist Ron Baker and drummer Earl Young. He played on Thom Bell’s sessions for producers Thom Bell and then Gamble and Huff at Philadelphia International Records. From Thom Bell’s sessions for The Delfonics and later The Detroit Spinners, Norman Harris was a founding member of M.F.S.B., Philadelphia International Records legendary house-band. During his time as a member of M.F.S.B. Norman played on albums by Billy Paul, The O’Jays and Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes. As a member M.F.S.B. Norman played on several M.F.S.B. albums Then in 1975, when members of M.F.S.B. were involved in a financial dispute with Gamble and Huff, many of M.F.S.B. left Philadelphia International Records, becoming the Saloul Orchestra. One of these musicians was Norman Harris, whose considerable talents flourished at Salsoul, with one of the beneficiaries of Norman’s talents Loleatta Holloway.
Having signed Loleatta Holloway to Gold Mind, Norman Harris and The Harris Machine started working on Loleatta’s debut album for Gold Mine Loleatta. The Harris Machine was Norman’s production vehicle, a collection of Philly based songwriters, producers, arrangers and musicians. Four of the tracks on Loleatta were written by member of The Harris Machine. Norman cowrote four tracks, including Hit and Run, We’re Getting Stronger (the Longer We Stay Together), Dreamin’ and Ripped Off with Ron Tyson and Allan Felder. The other four tracks on Loleatta included the Sam Dees and Sandra Drayton penned Worn Out Broken Heart and a cover of Curtis Mayfield’s What Now. The other two tracks chosen for Loleatta were Ben Raleigh and Bob Halley’s That’s How Heartaches Are Made and Floyd Smith’s Is It Just A Man’s Way? These eight tracks that comprised Loleatta would be recorded at two studios.
For recording of Loleatta, the sessions took place during two separate sessions in Philadelphia and Chicago. At Sigma Sound Studios in Philadelphia, five tracks were recorded by The Salsoul Orchestra that included the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section, guitarists Bobby “Electronic” Eli, T.J. Tindall and Roland Chambers. Ron “Have Mercy” Kersey played keyboards, Vince Montana Jr, vibes, Larry Washington congas and percussion, flautist Jack Faith plus Don Renaldo’s strings and horns. Adding backing vocals were the legendary Sweethearts of Sigma, Carla Benson, Barbara Ingram and Evette Benton. While five tracks were recorded at Sigma Sound, three were recorded in Chicago.
Over in the Windy City of Chicago, at Paragon Studios, a different band, The Chicago Company, played on the other three tracks. Guitarist Bobby “Electronic” Eli was joined by drummer Quentin Joseph and bassist Bernard Reed. Keyboard player John Bishop and Emanuel Willis on congas were joined by a full horn, woodwind and string section. At Paragon Studios, the three tracks We’re Getting Stronger (the Longer We Stay Together), Is It Just A Man’s Way and What Now were recorded. Now Loleatta, Loleatta Holloway’s third album and debut for new label Gold Mind was ready for release. With a quite different sound from her previous album Cry To Me, would Loleatta prove a commercial success?
Loleatta followed a similar pattern to Cry To Me on its release in 1977, with the singles proving commercially successful while Loleatta didn’t chart. Dreamin’ was the first single released from Loleatta, reaching number seventy-two in the US Billboard 100 and number three in the US Dance Charts. When Hit and Run was originally released, it reached number fifty-six in the US R&B Charts and number three in the US Dance Charts. Then when Walter Gibbons remixed Hit and Run, it went on to sell over 300,000 copies, giving Loleatta a surprise hit single. However, on Loleatta, you’re able to hear the original version of Hit and Run, plus Dreamin,’ We’re Getting Stronger (the Longer We Stay Together) and That’s How Heartaches Are Made. However, what’s made Loleatta an album that several generations of music fans have discovered and cherished? That’s what I’ll now tell you, when I tell you about the music on Loleatta, Loleatta Holloway’s third album and debut for new label Gold Mind.
Opening Loleatta is a Hit and Run one of Loleatta’s tracks that’s become a favorite for remixers. It gave Loleatta a surprise hit single, selling over 300,000 copies. Since then, it’s become one of Loleatta’s best known songs. The unmistakable sound of The Salsoul Orchestra in full flight opens Hit and Run. This includes the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section, sweeping swirling strings, bursts of blazing horns and Bobby “Electronic” Eli’s guitar. Then comes Loleatta singing that familiar opening line:“now I may be an old fashioned country girl.” By now everything’s right with the world. Loleatta embarks upon a sassy, sultry vamp. She mixes power and passion, while percussion, guitars, blazing horns and Vince Montana’s vibes accompany the rhythm section. Tight, cooing punchy backing vocals from the Sweethearts of Sigma augment Loleatta’s powerful vamp. Meanwhile, strings cascade, punchy horns kick and the greatest rhythm section of the seventies provide the track’s heartbeat. Together, Loleatta Holloway the greatest diva of the disco era, and the multitalented Salsoul Orchestra, make this not just a Salsoul classic, but one of the greatest tracks of the disco era.
On Is It Just a Man’s Way, Loleatta returns to her Southern Soul roots. The song was written by Floyd Smith and arranged and produced by Ron “Have Mercy” Kersey. Rasping horns, the lushest of strings and a slow, dramatic Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section combine, before a cymbal reverberates and Loleatta delivers a heartfelt vocal, full of heartache and hurt. She’s been heartbroken by her cheating man, so the swathes of strings, bursts of rasping horns, Norman Harris’ jazz tinged guitars and Vince Montana Jr.’s vibes that accompany Loleatta provide the perfect emotive backdrop. Here, you hear a very different Salsoul Orchestra, one that demonstrates their versatility and talent. Similarly, the Loleatta Holloway you hear show’s she too is just as comfortable returning to her soulful roots, and in doing so, delivers one of the most impassioned, emotive tracks on Loleatta.
We’re Getting Stronger (The Longer We Stay Together) was one of three tracks recorded in Chicago, with a different band. Bobby “Electronic” Eli was the only musician to play on both sessions. Even without The Salsoul Orchestra the quality of music doesn’t suffer. As the track opens, Loleatta scats while braying horns, cascading strings and a pounding rhythm section accompany her. Stabs of keyboards and Bobby “Electronic” Eli’s a searing guitar accompany Loleatta’s powerful, passionate vocal. Her vocal soars, displaying a wide vocal range and incredible control, while backing vocalists accompany her. Swathes of strings dance above her vocal, as she vamps her way through the track. It’s an inspirational, uplifting performance from Loleatta, on a track that for far too long, has been a hidden gem of Loleatta’s back-catalogue.
Dreamin’ is another of the four tracks that Norman Harris cowrote with Ron Tyson and Allan Felder. Norman arranged and produced the track, while Loleatta gives one of the best performances of her career. Larry Washington’s congas give way to grand strings that sweep and swirl, before the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section, guitars and blazing horns. Loleatta struts centre-stage, her vocal sassy and fiery. She combines controlled power and confidence, while the Sweethearts of Sigma add sweet, soaring backing vocals. With the pounding rhythm section, punchy blazing horns and dancing strings accompanying Loleatta she gives one of sassiest, feistiest performances, settling into the roll of disco diva as if born for the roll. Little did she know that as another of her tracks puts it “The Greatest Performance Of My Life.” That was certainly case.
Ripped Off is a track that could’ve only been recorded by one label…Salsoul. Written by Norman Harris, Ron Tyson and Allan Felder the title describes perfectly what’s happened to Loleatta’s music, with every wannabe producer borrowing samples of her music. Layers of the lushest strings, growling horns, the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section and the Sweethearts of Sigma combine drama beauty before Loleatta’s vocal enters. Her vocal is slightly more subdued, perfect for the track, with the Sweethearts of Sigma adding some of the best harmonies on Loleatta. Ron Baker’s bass and Norman Harris guitar are at the heart of the track’s sound and success. Along with the dancing strings and growling horns, Loleatta’s vocal grows in power. She combines a passion, frustration and anger to give another outstanding vocal, while Norman Harris’ arrangement and production results in a track that’s soul, dance-floor friendly and laden with hooks.
Many times I’ve said how underrated a songwriter Sam Dees is, and further proof of this is Worn Out Broken Heart, which Sam wrote with Sandra Drayton. Recorded in Chicago and produced by Floyd Smith, it’s another chance for Loleatta to return to her soulful roots. Her whispered, heartfelt, half-spoken vocal is accompanied by keyboards, guitars and bursts of subtle horns, before drums signal the arrival of Loleatta’s heartbroken, emotive vocal. She sings the lyrics with feeling, from the heart, as if sharing the pain and hurt in the lyrics. Layers of strings, punchy horns and a dramatic rhythm section accompany her. Soaring, gospel-tinged backing vocalists add equally heartfelt harmonies and lush strings are key to the track’s beautiful, emotive sound.
That’s How Heartaches are Made is a track that’s been covered many times, but Loleatta delivers the definitive version. Mind you, with The Salsoul Orchestra and the Sweethearts of Sigma accompanying her, no wonder. Produced by Ron “Have Mercy” Kersey keyboards, vibes, the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section and lush strings combine to accompany Loleatta. Her vocal is full of emotion and passion, while the Sweethearts of Sigma add dramatic, soaring harmonies. Norman Harris lays down one of the best guitar solos on Loleatta. By now everything has just fallen into place and Loleatta, with The Salsoul Orchestra and the Sweethearts of Sigma’s help makes the song her own, as she makes another return to her Southern Soul roots.
Closing Loelatta is a cover version of Curtis Mayfield’s What Now recorded in Chicago by The Chicago Company. The tempo is slow, with just a slow bass, piano and shimmering strings combining with drums that provide the track’s heartbeat. When Loleatta enters, she unleashes that powerful, impassioned vocal. Subtle, distant horns rasp, emotive, strings sweep and occasional flourishes of piano accompany Loleatta, as the band realize that she’s the star and play around her vocal, allowing it to take centre stage. Here, the band sound different from the other two tracks they play on. This however, is the perfect for the song, as it adds to the drama and emotion of the track, as Loleatta closes her Gold Mind debut Loleatta on a dramatic, emotive and powerful high.
On Loleatta, Norman Harris and The Harris Machine, took Loleatta Holloway and transformed her from Southern Soul singer to the undisputed Queen of Salsoul. It was a remarkable transformation, and it seemed as if Loleatta had been born for this role. However, we shouldn’t be surprised at her newfound success, given the personnel that contributed towards the album. Some of the most talented songwriters, arrangers, producers, musicians and backing vocalists accompanied Loleatta Holloway. This included songwriters Ron Tyson and Allan Felder who cowrote four tracks with Norman Harris, who produced these four tracks. Arrangers included Ron Baker, Bruce Hawkes, Talmage Conway and Ron “Have Mercy” Kersey, who produced two tracks. Five of these tracks were recorded by The Salsoul Orchestra and three by The Chicago Company. The Salsoul Orchestra featured some of Philly’s greatest musicians, including the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section, guitarists Bobby “Electronic” Eli, Ron “Have Mercy” Kersey, Vince Montana Jr, Larry Washington, Jack Faith and Don Renaldo. Adding backing vocals were the legendary Sweethearts of Sigma backing vocalists. Then there’s the star of Loleatta, Loleatta Holloway.
Adding to the equation a hugely talented singer like Loleatta Holloway, who was part disco diva, part Southern Soul singer and everything was in place for Loleatta to become a classic album. While Loleatta may not have been a huge commercial success upon its release, Walter Gibbons remix of Hit and Run, gave Loleatta a surprise hit single, selling over 300,000 copies. Other top remixers like Tom Moulton and John Morales have gone on to remix Loleatta’s music, helping new generations of music lovers discover the music of Loleatta Holloway and albums like Loleatta, which was recently rereleased by BBR Record..
Little did Loleatta Holloway or members of The Harris Machine, or The Salsoul Orchestra realize the effect of Loleatta, Loleatta’s debut album for Gold Mind. Although Loleatta was recorded thirty-five years ago, it has a timeless sound and is a genuine classic album that would inspire several generations of producers. Not only did Loleatta launch Loleatta Holloway onto becoming the undisputed Queen of Salsoul, but in my opinion, the true Queen of Disco. Standout Tracks: Hit and Run, Is It Just a Man’s Way, Dreamin’ and Ripped Off.