Following the trials and tribulations that surrounded Double Exposure’s sophomore album Fourplay, Locker Room their third and final album, which was recently released by Octave Records, proved to relatively plain sailing. Having released their debut album Ten Percent in 1976, there was a two year delay with the followup. This was due to alleged discrepancies regarding Double Exposure’s bookings and management expenses. Salsoul didn’t want to start recording another until album until the problems were resolved. So the momentum Double Exposure built up after the success of Ten Percent wasn’t built upon. Once the problems were resolved work began on their sophomore album Fourplay.

Then when Fourplay was released, neither the album, nor the singles charted. After the success of Ten Percent, and singles like Ten Percent, Everyman and My Love Is Free, Double Exposure looked like being Salsoul’s next big success. With Norman Harris at the peak of his creative powers, and Salsoul benefiting from the combined talents of some of the greatest musicians, songwriters, arrangers and producers, Salsoul circa 1976, was one of the most successful labels of the disco era. However, things started to change. 

Vince Montana Jr. left Salsoul after a dispute with the Carey’s over royalties. Suddenly, The Salsoul Orchestra lost its founder and conductor. Then the Careys decided the future was DJs remixing not just singles, but whole albums. Some of these DJs weren’t musically trained. No. They’d sit with an engineer, who’d take charge of the technical side of things. This is how some of the remixes took shape. Then there was the controversy over Larry Levan’s remixes.  Some people within the music industry alleged that Larry didn’t actually remix some of the remixes he’s credited with. With the arrival of the supposed superstar DJ-remixers, personnel changed. The all-star lineup that graced early Salsoul Orchestra albums dwindled. By 1979, when Double Exposure released Locker Room, Salsoul was a very different label.

By the time the quartet of James Williams, Joseph Harris, Charles Wittington and Leonard “Butch” Davis set about recording their third album Locker Room, they needed a successful album, or at least a hit single. To help them with this, were some of Salsoul’s A-Team. Ron Baker wrote two tracks, I Got the Hots (For Ya) and Where Have You Been All My Life. Bruce Hawkes and Pat Cooper wrote Can We Be In Love, while James and Bunny Sigler cowrote I Wish That I Could Make Love To You. The other two tracks were Ice Cold Love, penned by Buddy Turner, Jerry Atkins and Johnny Bellmon and Why Do We Have To Go Our Separate Ways written by Brian Evans and Cheryl Dickerson. These six tracks would be recorded at Sigma Sound Studios with The Salsoul Orchestra accompanying Double Exposure. 

Accompanying Double Exposure at Sigma Sound Studios were The Salsoul Orchestra which featured a rhythm section of bassist Ron Baker, drummers Early Young, Keith Benson and Scotty Miller and guitarist Norman Harris, Bobby “Electronic” Eli and T.J. Tindall. Larry Washington and Bobby Conga played congas, while Ron “Have Mercy” Kersey, Bunny Sigler, Bruce Hawkes, Bruce Gray and Carlton “Cotton” Kent played keyboards. Don Renaldo took charge of the strings and horns while The Sweethearts of Sigma Evette Benton, Carla Benson and Barbara Ingram added backing vocals. Arranging and production was split between a number of arrangers and producers, while the DJs remixed the six tracks to give it a dance-floor friendly sound. Once Double Exposure’s third album Locker Room was completed, it was released in July 1979, just when disco nearly died.

July 1979 wasn’t the best month to release an album by a group whose music was synonymous with disco. On 12th July 1979, Disco Demolition Night took place at Comiskey Park, Chicago, when thousands of disco records were blown up by the zealots of the Disco Sucks movement. After that, disco was no longer as popular. Suddenly, record labels, record shops and record buyers were no longer interested in the delights disco had to offer. So it’s no surprise that neither Locker Room, nor the single I Got the Hots (For Ya) charted. It was a case of history repeating itself. Locker Room’s predecessor Fourplay had failed to chart. However, in the case of Locker Room, it was just a case of an album being released at the wrong time, as you’ll realize, when I tell you about the album.

Opening Locker Room is the Ron Baker arranged, penned and produced I Got The Hots (For You), which was the only single released from Locker Room. It has a very different sound to previous Double Exposure songs. The Philly Sound of previous albums is replaced by a tougher, funkier sound. Handclaps give way to Ron’s pounding bass, thunderous drums, a piano riff and then blazing horns. Percussion is added before Double Exposure add punchy harmonies, complete with whoops and hollers. Horns growl as the rhythm section add tougher funkier backdrop. Then when Jimmy’s vocal enters, it veers between tenderness and powerful. Harmonies sweep in, offering the same contrasting sound, and similarly, The Salsoul Orchestra veer from funky to soulful. For seven minutes, Double Exposure’s sound is transformed by Ron Baker. It’s a remarkable transformation and results in a funky, yet remarkably soulful and timeless sounding track, where thankfully, Double Exposure never quite shake off their Philly roots. 

After one Ron Baker penned track, Ron follows this up with another, Where Have You Been All My Life. It’s more like what you’d expect from Double Exposure. Philly Soul, harmonies, lush strings, rasping horns and Baker, Harris, Young, what more can you ask for? The Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section, rasping horns and swathes of lush strings accompany Jimmy’s heartfelt, impassioned vocal. He grabs the song, injecting sheer soulfulness, while the rest of Double Exposure add flowing, sweeping harmonies. They drift in and out, as strings dance joyously and horns growl. Meanwhile, Baker, Harris, Young provide the arrangement’s heartbeat and Bobby “Electronic” Eli adds some of his magic. By the end of the track, it’s an example of what Salsoul did so well, a track whose hook-laden sound is guaranteed to lift your spirits and make your life feel a whole lot better.

Bruce Hawkes another Salsoul veteran takes charge of arranging and production duties on Can We Be In Love. Double Exposure drop the tempo, with swathes of shivering, quivering strings and wistful horns accompanying Jimmy’s lead vocal. He lays bare his soul, while Norman Harris’ jazz-tinged guitar, woodwind and rasping horns meander above the arrangement. Harmonies are tight, heartfelt, revealing their beauty and soulfulness while Earl Young’s drums add drama. From their the drama and emotion grows, heading into overdrive, guaranteed to toy and tease your emotions. Soul and jazz are combined by Bruce Hawkes as, The Salsoul Orchestra create an arrangement where drama, emotion and beauty is fused. For their part, Double Exposure combine heartfelt harmonies and a tour de force of a lead vocal from Jimmy Williams.

Ron “Have Mercy” Kersey arranged and produced Ice Cold Love another of the funkier tracks. From the get-go, a thunderous rhythm section, growling horns, and handclaps and searing, sizzling guitars combine to create an arrangement that races along like an express train heading between Philly and New York. Jimmy delivers the lyrics with emotion, as if believing every word. Punchy harmonies accompany his vocal, as his vocal becomes a vamp. During a breakdown, melodic keyboards, the funkiest of rhythm section, handclaps and percussion rebuild the arrangement as Jimmy and punchy harmonies unite to take the track to its dramatic, impassioned and uber funky crescendo.

Jimmy and Bunny Sigler cowrote I Wish That I Could Make Love To You, which Bunny produces and Jack Faith arranges. It doesn’t take long to realise this is a Jack Faith arrangement. His name is written all over it. Just lone pounding drums and then shakers enter before the arrangement builds. Keyboards, swathes of dancing strings and the rhythm section join forces. Jack builds the drama and sense of anticipation. After ninety-seconds, impassioned harmonies enter and Jimmy delivers a vocal that’s from his heart. It’s delivered with feeling and passion, cooing harmonies accompanying it. Soon, swathes of strings combine with Jimmy’s vocal and some of the best harmonies on Locker Room. The longer the arrangement progresses, the better it gets. By the end of the track, you realise that this is quite simply a glittering gem of a track whose soulful delights should’ve been released as a single. 

Closing Locker Room is Why Do We Have To Go Our Separate Ways, arranged and produced by Ron “Have Mercy” Kersey. A real curveball is thrown, when a searing, riffing, rocky guitar weaves its way across the arrangement. For company, it has a slow moody rhythm section and Hammond organ. Then Jimmy’s vocal replaces the guitar. His vocal is full of sadness and regret, with harmonies that reflect the drama, emotion and heartache in Jimmy’s vocal. They combine with an arrangement that grows in power and drama. Soon, the song becomes an emotional roller coaster. Key to this is a vocal that’s so convincing you almost believe Jimmy’s reliving the hurt and pain he’s singing about. This is hugely soulful, heartfelt and dramatic and showcases Double Exposure’s soulful side. What you hear is a hugely talented, accomplished group, who by 1979, were in their prime, as this track proves. Sadly, that wasn’t to be the case.

Listening to Locker Room, and their two previous albums Ten Percent and Fourplay, you’d have though the best was still to come from Double Exposure. Locker Room featured six tracks where Double Exposure fused Philly Soul with a tougher, funkier sound that saw their music change. Despite changing sound on the opening track I Got The Hots (For You) and Ice Cold Love, Double Exposure stuck to their Philly Sound on the other four tracks. The result was an album that saw Double Exposure back at their best. While Locker Room failed to chart, it had the misfortune to be released the month disco almost died.

Even a classic album could’ve slipped by unnoticed during this time. Granted this made it two albums in a row from Double Exposure that had failed to chart. Despite this, they were releasing some of the best music of their career. Maybe if Double Exposure hadn’t lost a year to the legal dispute, they’d have been able to build on the momentum and success of Ten Percent. Then they could’ve released the followup Fourplay earlier and Locker Room wouldn’t have been released as the Disco Sucks campaign came to an ugly head. You’d have thought it was worthwhile rethinking Double Exposure’s future, and giving them another opportunity to replicate the success of Ten Percent. Tragically, that wasn’t the case. Indeed. Locker Room, just six soulful, sometimes funky tracks, was the Salsoul swan-song from the quartet of James Williams, Joseph Harris, Charles Wittington and Leonard “Butch” Davis. After Locker Room, Double Exposure left Salsoul and never revisited the heights and success of Ten Percent. Locker Room remains a glistening gem, hidden in the Salsoul Records’ back-catalogue, which is well worth discovering and hearing the Salsoul swan-song from four of its most-talented, soulful sons. Standout Tracks: I Got The Hots (For You), Where Have You Been All My Life, I Wish That I Could Make Love To You and Why Do We Have To Go Our Separate Ways.


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