Portland-based Pleasure spent several years honing their style and sound before Wayne Henderson of The Crusaders “discovered” them. Pleasure were formed in 1972, after a merger of two high school bands, Franchise and The Soul Masters. Franchise were led by guitarist and vocalist Marlon McClain. Their music was a fusion of disco and rock. The Soul Masters, whose music was jazz-tinged and soulful, were led by Donald Hepburn. These two groups became one, Pleasure.
For two years, Pleasure played around the Portland area. They soon attracted a following locally. Word started to spread further afield about Pleasure. No wonder. Every band who swung through Portland were handed a copy of Pleasure’s demo. Grover Washington Jr. received a copy. Liking what he heard, he told Wayne Henderson of The Crusaders about Pleasure.
Wayne Henderson headed to a club in Portland, where he heard Pleasure. Straight away, he realized Pleasure were a band with a big future. Wayne recommended Pleasure to Fantasy Records, a forward thinking and successful label, always keen to sign talented artists and groups. Pleasure were certainly talented and keen to sign to the label groups like The Blackbyrds called home. Now signed to Fantasy Records, Pleasure released six albums between 1975 and 1980. Their fifth album, 1979s Future Now, which was recently released by BGP, marked a change in sound, style and fortune for Pleasure.
Having signed to Fantasy Records, they hooked up with The Crusaders’ trombonist Wayne Henderson. Wayne would produce their first four albums. Their debut album was 1975s Dust Yourself Off. Most of Dust Yourself Off, was written by Pleasure. The exception was Midnight At The Oasis, which was given an uber funky makeover. On its release in July 1975,Dust Yourself Off reached just number fifty-four in the US R&B Charts. For a debut album, this was a positive start to Pleasure’s career.
Pleasure’s sophomore album was 1976s Accept No Substitutes, which reached number 162 in the US Billboard 200 and number thirty-two in the US R&B Charts. Accept No Substitutes featured Pleasure’s first hit single. Ghettos of The Mind reached number seventy-one in the US R&B Charts. It seemed Pleasure’s music was reaching a wider audience.
This proved to be the case with Pleasure’s third album Joyous, released in 1977. Not only did Joyous reach number 113 in the US Billboard 200 and number thirty-four in the US R&B Charts, but featured an anthemic track. This was the title-track Joyous, which reached number thirty-five in the US R&B Charts. Since then, this anthemic track has been a dance-floor favorite. Having released their most successful single and album, the future looked bright for Pleasure.
That wasn’t the case. 1978s Get To The Feeling was the last album produced by Wayne Henderson. Rather than building on the momentum of previous albums, it stalled at number 119 in the US Billboard 200 and number forty-two in the US R&B Charts. Get To The Feeling didn’t even feature a hit single. Pleasure had a problem. Their music seemed to have stood still while music changed. Maybe Pleasure and Wayne Henderson’s partnership having run its course? Either that or they’d run out of ideas. Regardless of what the problem was, changes were made.
Out went producer Wayne Henderson. Replacing him was Phil Kaffel, who co-produced their fifth album Future Now with Pleasure’s guitarist Marlon McLain. This marked the beginning of a new chapter in Pleasure’s career.
For Future Now, Pleasure got to work. They came up with ten new songs. Nathaniel Phillips penned Departure and with Bruce Smith wrote Space Is The Place and Glide. Bruce and Nathaniel the cowrote Universal a.k.a. Universal Thing with Douglas Lewis. Michael Hepburn and Marlon McMcLain proved a potent songwriting partnership. They penned Strong Love and Nothin’ To It, then cowrote Future Now with Ched Debham and finally, cowrote Dedication To The Past with Bruce Carter and Nathaniel Phillips. Keyboardist Donald Hepburn wrote The Real Thing and cowrote Thoughts Of Old Flames with Bruce Smith. These ten tracks became Future Now.
Recording of Future Now took place at Fantasy Studios, Berkeley, California. Producing Future Now was Phil Kaffel and Marlon McLain. The lineup of Pleasure featured a rhythm section of drummer Bruce Carter, bassist Nathaniel Phillips and guitarist Marlon McLain. Donald and Michael Hepburn played keyboards, Bruce Smith percussion, Denis Springer soprano and tenor saxophone and Tony Collins flugelhorn and trumpet. They were joined by session musicians. Trombonists included Lew McCreary and Bill Reichenbach, while Larry Williams played alto and soprano saxophone. Tim Gorman and Jeff Lorber added synths, while The Waters Sisters sang backing vocals. Once Future Now was recorded, it was released in 1979.
On the release of Future Now, it struck a chord. Reaching number sixty-seven in the US Billboard 200 and number twenty-seven in the US R&B Charts, Future Now was Pleasure’s most successful album. The success didn’t stop there. Glide was released as a single, reaching number fifty-five in the US Billboard 200 and number ten in the US R&B Charts. This was Pleasure’s most successful single. A musical double whammy, Pleasure’s decision to change producers for the recording of Future Now which I’ll tell you about, was vindicated.
Departure opens Future Now. It’s a forty-five minute musical amuse bouche, where Future stretch their musical muscles. At breakneck speed, banks of prog rock keyboards join the funk supplied by Pleasure’s rhythm section. Too soon, this genre-melting track is over.
Chiming guitars and tender harmonies combine as the laid-back and soulful sound of Future Now emerges from your speakers. Soon, it’s all change. As the rhythm section provide a pulsating heartbeat, scorching rock guitars and popping bass accompany Michael. Mysteriously, he tells us “we are not alone” and encourages us to “open our mind…we’re from another time and place…Future Now.” Soulful and impassioned described his vocal. It’s delivered against a dramatic backdrop, where rock, funk and soul melt into one. Add in the sci-fi lyrics, and an intriguing, genre-melting track unfolds.
Universal a.k.a. Universal Thing sees Pleasure’s rhythm section get busy. Nathaniel Phillips’ bass is at the heart of arrangement. His fingers fly up and down the fretboard, never missing a note. Neither does Marlon McClain on guitar. A swaggering vocal, seems to be telling the second part of a the story. It’s equal parts sass and feisty. Chiming guitars or sweeping harmonies answer his call. Bursts of blazing horns and synths provide contrasts, as the track heads to a dramatic ending.
Spacious describes the introduction to Space Is The Place, a track that’s not unlike a musical journey. Marlon’s chiming guitar is panned hard right. Meanwhile, sharp bursts of wah-wah-esque guitars and bubbling bass join forces. Again, space is left. Gradually, the spaces are filled. As for the vocal, it’s needy. Michael wants, pleads to take you on a journey. Subtle horns, rhythm section and wah-wah guitar are your guide. They weave their way across an arrangement where jazz, funk, soul and rock combine. Later, session musician Douglas Lewis steals the show with a blistering guitar solo. Truly, it’s peerless. After that, the arrangement takes on a space-age sound, as we reach our destination.
Rolls of drums, guitars and percussion open the melancholy sounding Strong Love. Soon, the melancholia disappears. That’s thanks to the heartfelt vocal and sweeping harmonies. Then there’s an arrangement. Sudden changes in tempo, where things get funky are the perfect accompaniment to the joyous, soaring harmonies. All this plays a part in a track that’s mildly funky, and full of poppy hooks.
There’s a harder, funkier sound to The Real Thing. That’s no bad thing. Driven along by blazing horns, rhythm section and keyboards, the vocal veers between dramatic and deliberate. Soon, it’s sassy and full of bravado. Harmonies sweep in adding poppy hooks. Chiming guitars answer the vocal, while strident horns and the vampish vocal ensure the song swings and is “The Real Thing.”
Nothin’ To It allows bassist Nathaniel Phillips to showcase his skills. Pounding drums and washes of synths accompany him. It’s as if Pleasure are just jamming. Having found a groove, the tender, heartfelt vocal sits above the arrangement. From there, sci-fi synths, searing rocky guitars and braying horns are dropped in as doo wop, jazz, funk, soul and rock meet head on, during a track that sometimes, sounds experimental.
Thoughts Of Old Flames is the standout track on Future Now. Its soulful beauty grabs your attention. The vocal is a tender impassioned plea, while the arrangement is a spacious and melodic. What unfolds is a stunning fusion of jazz, funk and soul. Pleasure play with care and subtlety on this downtempo delight. Just the rhythm section, percussion and keyboards combine. Later, a sultry horn adds the finishing touch to what’s not just the highlight of Future Now, but a timeless track.
Glide reached number fifty-five in the US Billboard 200 and number ten in the US R&B Charts. This was Pleasure’s most successful single. Good as the track is, it’s not the best track on Future Now. Thoughts Of Old Flames is. Here, Nathaniel Phillips is let loose with his bubbling bass. Drums crack, guitars chime and washes of synths sit above the arrangement. They give the track a space-age, sci-fi sound. The vocal is delivered urgently, accompanied by punchy harmonies. Crucial to this fusion of soul and funk is the combination of bassist and Nathaniel Phillips and guitarist Marlon McLain. Not for the first time on Future Now, are they at the heart of a song’s success.
Thirty-five-seconds long, Dedication To The Past is aptly titled. Screaming rock guitars and a pounding rhythm section fade away into the distance. It may have seemed like a Dedication To The Past, but like the music of Pleasure, has stood the test of time.
Making the decision to dispense with the services of producer Wayne Henderson couldn’t have been easy. It had to be done. 1978s Get To The Feeling saw the momentum Pleasure had built up over three albums stall. Maybe the partnership of Wayne and Pleasure had run its course. Possibly, for both parties, it was best to make a clean break. Wayne had discovered and nurtured Pleasure. He helped them to establish a reputation as one of the hottest new bands. Fusing funk, soul, jazz and rock, things looked good for three albums. Four albums was one too many. So, Wayne left and Phil Kaffel and Marlon McLain were co-producers of Future Now.
Future Now marked a change in sound and style. There was still funk, soul, jazz and rock. On Future Now, the music took on a space-age, experimental sound. This shines through on several songs, thanks to the Moog and Prophet synths. Another change was that Future would be a “concept” album. The subject matter of the concept album was space. Through Future Now, Universal Thing and Space Is The Place, a mini concept album unfolds. For two parts it works, despite the indisputable quality of Space Is The Place, it fails to bring the story to a conclusion. That’s not the end of Future Now.
From there Strong Love and The Real Thing are best described as dance-floor friendly and funky. Nothin’ To It is a genre-melting track and Thoughts Of Old Flame the true highlight of the album. Then there’s Glide, which gave Pleasure the biggest single of their career. Closing Future Now, was Dedication To The Past which bookended the album nicely. It was another musical amuse bouche. That closed the second chapter in Pleasure’s career.
After Future Now, Pleasure released just one further album for Fantasy Records. That was 1980s Special Things, which stalled at number ninety-seven in the US Billboard 200 and number twenty-seven in the US R&B Charts. Pleasure then signed to RCA and released Give It Up in 1981. It reached a disappointing number 164 in the US Billboard 200 and number thirty in the US R&B Charts. That was the last album Pleasure released. Looking back, Future Now, which was recently released by BGP, represented the most successful period of Pleasure’s seven album career. Standout Tracks: Departure, Space Is The Place, Strong Love and Thoughts Of Old Flames.