By December 1978, disco was at the peak of its popularity. So should T-Connection. They should’ve been riding the crest of the disco wave. They weren’t. That age old problem, the difficult second album had tripped them up. Their had career started so well. Magic released in April 1977 reached number 109 in the US Billboard 200 and number thirty-two in the US R&B Charts. It featured two hit singles, including Do What You Wanna, which reached number one in the US Disco Charts. Then came the difficult second album On Fire.
On Fire proved to be a somewhat ironic title for T-Connection’s sophomore album. T-Connection weren’t On Fire. Released in 1978, On Fire stalled at number 139 in the US Billboard 200 and number forty in the US R&B Charts. They’d failed to build on the momentum of Magic. Instead, they’d changed direction musically. Whereas Magic was a delicious fusion of disco, funk and soul, full of social comment and love songs, T-Connection was a much more lightweight, commercial album. Here, was another case of second album syndrome. T-Connection’s career was at a crossroads. Their third album T-Connection, which will be rereleased by WEA Japan on 4th February 2014, could make or break the band. Which was it?
For T-Connection, the band’s founder Theophilus T. Oakley wrote four songs and cowrote three songs. He penned Coming Back For More, Funky Lady, Saturday Night and Love Supreme. Guitarist David Mackey and Theophilus cowrote At Midnight and Midnight Train, while Theophilus and Montgomery Kemp wrote Funkannection. Kurt Oakley contributed Don’t The Stop The Music, the other track on T-Connection. These eight tracks were recorded at Studio Sound Center Recordings in Miami, Florida.
At Studio Sound Center Recordings T-Connection were joined by producer Cory Wade. Theophilus T. Oakley sang lead vocals and played keyboards. He was joined by the rest of T-Connection. This included the rhythm section of bassist Kurt Oakley, drummer Berkeley Van Byrd and guitarists Monty Brown and David Mackey. Tony Flowers the other member of T-Connection added percussion. Strings and horns were arranged by Bert Dovo. Once the eight songs were recorded, T-Connection was released in December 1978. Would T-Connection revive the group’s ailing fortunes?
When T-Connection was released in December 1978, it reached number fifty-one in the US Billboard 200 and number twenty in the US R&B Charts. Chosen as the lead single was At Midnight. Released in December 1978, it reached number fifty-six in the US Billboard 100, number thirty-two in the US R&B Charts and number three in the US Disco Charts. In the UK, At Midnight reached just number fifty-three. Saturday Night was then released as a single in February 1979. It reached number twenty-eight in the US R&B Charts and number forty-one in the UK. T-Connection had transformed the group’s career. Not only was it their most successful album, but featured two hit singles in the US and UK. What made T-Connection such a successful album? That’s what I’ll now tell you.
Opening T-Connection is the mid-tempo, uber funky Funkannection. It’s similar to a couple of tracks on Magic. There’s P-Funk and proto-rap influences to the track. Here, T-Connection’s rhythm section get busy. Along with chiming guitars, they produce the funkiest of licks. Theophilus’ vocal veers between proto-rap and a sultry vamp. Urgent bursts of harmonies and handclaps accompany him. As searing guitars, slap bass and keyboards provide the backdrop, to this slice of good time funky music.
Coming Back For More is the first of four tracks Theophilus T. Oakley wrote. Driven along by a bounding, bubbling bass line, funk and soul meet head on. This is what T-Connection do so well. Their rhythm section, keyboards and percussion provide a funky backdrop for Theophilus’ sultry, soulful vamp. He sings call and response. Soaring, soulful harmonies accompany him. As he struts his way through this tale of love gone wrong, you’d think he hadn’t a care in the world.
Funky Lady sees T-Connection up the ante. This track surpasses everything that’s gone before. Tough and funk, T-Connection showcase their inconsiderable skills. Referencing Parliament, Funkadelic, The Temptations and Isley Brothers a vintage slice of funk unfolds. As usual, the rhythm section are at the heart of the action. They up the funk factor to eleven. Joining them are chiming guitars, clavinet and bursts of blazing horns which punctuate the arrangement. As for Theophilus, he struts his way through the track. His vocal is feisty and sassy, as soulful, sweeping and sometimes sassy harmonies respond to his call. When all this is combined, it’s one of the funkiest ladies you’ll met.
Don’t Stop The Music picks up where Funky Lady left off. Driven along by the bass, stabs of growling horns, chiming guitars and piano provide the backdrop to Theophilus’ vocal. This is his best vocal so far. He seems to sing within himself. His vocal is heartfelt and soulful. So too are the harmonies, which are reminiscent of The Temptations. They’re smooth and soar above the arrangement. Stabs of horns, piano and the funky rhythm section join forces, bringing back memories of The Commodores, Isley Brothers and Earth Wind and Fire at their best.
Saturday Night sees Kirkwood Oakley unleash a peerless slap bass solo before Chic style guitars and the lushes of disco strings sweep in. They too, have a Chic “sound.” At last, T-Connection are revisiting the disco of Magic. As Theophilus delivers a vocal that’s full of sass and bravado, a bubbling bass provides the heartbeat. Stabs of braying horns, quivering strings and bursts of harmonies accompany him. Later, cooing, oohing harmonies add an unforgettable reminder of the heady, hedonistic days of disco.
At Midnight is another slice of Disco Magic from T-Connection. It literally bursts into life. Disco strings and urgent bursts of rasping horns are joined by a pulsating, funky heartbeat. Add to that a sprinkling of percussion and Theophilus’ emotive vocal. Mixing power and passion, he vamps his way through the track. Providing a perfect foil are sweeping, soaring harmonies. They rise like a phoenix from the ashes. During a breakdown the arrangement is pared back to just the percussion and rhythm section. From there, the arrangement rebuilds. Later, the arrangement is stripped bare again. Just the rhythm section and piano deliver a funk masterclass, before this opus heads to its dramatic crescendo.
Midnight Train is a fusion of musical genres. Everything from funk, pop, soul and disco combine. It’s a track that’s more in common with On Fire than Magic. Having said that, it’s not short of poppy hooks. Driven along by Kirkwood Oakley’s bass, drums pound and swathes of lush strings sweep and swirl. Theophilus’ vocal is tender and pensive, referencing soul and pop. As for the arrangement, it’s a fusion of disco and funk. Dance-floor friendly, poppy and soulful, hooks certainly aren’t in short-supply.
Closing T-Connection is Love Supreme, the only ballad on the album. This is a shame, as T-Connection do ballads really well. Just melancholy keyboards are joined by lush strings, crystalline guitars and the rhythm section. They set the scene for Theophilus’ tender, impassioned vocal. Accompanied by tight, heartfelt harmonies, T-Connection sounding not unlike Earth, Wind and Fire, close T-Connection on a soulful high. Indeed, so good is this track, that I’d say it’s the highlight of the album.
Having started their career on a high with Magic, T-Connection’s career stalled with their second album. Sophomore albums are notoriously hard. The temptation is to try something new. That’s what T-Connection did. It didn’t work. Whereas Magic was a delicious fusion of disco, funk and soul On Fire was a much more commercial sounding album. A collection of pop, rock, disco and soul, On Fire smoldered its way to number 139 in the US Billboard 200 and number forty in the US R&B Charts. For T-Connection, this was a disaster. They were left looking like another one trick pony. Their career was at the crossroads. If their third album flopped, it was game over for T-Connection.
Luckily for T-Connection, they returned to what they did so well. They fused disco, funk and soul. Of the eight tracks, there’s three funk and three disco tracks. Midnight Train is a fusion of musical genres. Love Supreme which closes T-Connection, is a beautiful ballad, one of the best the group recorded. Drawing inspiration from Chic, Funkadelic, Parliament, The Temptations and Earth Wind and Fire T-Connection released the most successful album of their career so far. Then there was the small matter of two hit singles in the US and UK. T-Connection’s comeback was complete. They weren’t out of the woods yet.
Just seven months later, the disco bubble burst. Suddenly, disco was as welcome as rattlesnake in a lucky dip. For a group who part of their success was down to disco, things weren’t looking good for T-Connection. However, T-Connection didn’t crash and burn. Instead, they adapted and released four further albums. Sadly, they never scaled the heights that T-Connection, which will be rereleased by WEA Japan on 4th February 2014 reached. T-Connection was T-Connection’s most successful album. Along with their debut album Magic, T-Connection finds T-Connection On Fire. Standout Tracks: Don’t Stop The Music, Saturday Night, At Midnight and Love Supreme.