The Salsoul Orchestra were formed in 1974 by members of Philadelphia International Records’ legendary studio band M.F.S.B. They left Philadelphia International Records after a dispute with Gamble and Huff over finances. Gamble and Huff’s loss would prove to be Salsoul’s gain. It’s fair to say that between their formation in 1974 and when band was disbanded in 1982, The Salsoul Orchestra were at the heart of everything Salsoul released. Musicians that included the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section, guitarist Bobby Eli, percussionist Larry Washington, vibes virtuoso Vince Montana and Don Renaldo’s strings and horns played on most of Salsoul’s releases. However, The Salsoul Orchestra were much more than a studio band, and were a hugely successful group in their own right. Before I tell you about the music on How High, I’ll tell you about The Salsoul Orchestra’s recording career up until the release of How High which will be rereleased on BBR Records on 28th April 2014.

Having formed in 1974, The Salsoul Orchestra released their self titled debut album The Salsoul Orchestra in 1975. It reached number fourteen in the US Billboard 200 and number twenty in the US R&B Charts. Key to the album’s sound and success were the personnel, especially the former members of M.F.S.B. They were transformed, with Vince Montana Jr. and Ron Baker now writing and arranging tracks, whereas at Philadelphia International Records, they were seen as just part of M.F.S.B. Their talents flourished at Salsoul. Little did they realise that this was just the first step on a remarkable seven year journey.

1976 proved to be a busy year for The Salsoul Orchestra. Not only did they release the followup to The Salsoul Orchestra, Nice ‘N’ Nasty, but released their own Christmas album Christmas Jollies. Nice ‘N’ Nasty was released in October 1976, reaching number sixty-one in the US Billboard 200 and number twenty-three in the US R&B Charts. A month later, Christmas Jollies was released in November 1976. It proved to be a bigger success, reaching number forty-eight in the US Billboard 200 and number thirty-eight in the US R&B Charts. Never before or after, will have Santa enjoyed a Sleigh Ride like the one on Christmas Jollies. 

After releasing two albums in 1976, The Salsoul Orchestra would release a further two albums in 1977. Magic Journey was released in June 1977, featuring classics like Runaway and Magic Bird of Fire. It reached number sixty-one in the US Billboard 200 and number fifty-one in the US R&B Charts. Magic Bird of Fire gave The Salsoul Orchestra a number three hit single in the US Dance Charts. The other album The Salsoul Orchestra were involved were by Charo and The Salsoul Orchestra. Although Cuchi-Cuchi wasn’t strictly an album by The Saloul Orchestra, Cuchi-Cuchi reached number 100 in the US Billboard 200 and featured the sultry single Dance A Little Bit Closer.

By 1978, The Salsoul Orchestra had settled into the routine of releasing two albums a year. Their first release of 1978 was Up The Yellow Brick Road, which saw The Salsoul Orchestra reinvent Ease On Down the Road,  Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Fiddler On the Roof and a medley of tracks from West Side Story. These tracks were given a disco makeover on Up The Yellow Brick Road, reaching number 117 in the US Billboard 200 and number fifty-two in the US R&B Charts. The next album from The Salsoul Orchestra would be How High, their sixth studio album.

For their sixth studio album How High, there was one major change in The Salsoul Orchestra’s lineup. Vince Montana Jr. had left The Salsoul Orchestra, so the band were without its former leader. Six tracks had been written for How High. Bunny Sigler wrote one track and cowrote two other tracks, one with his brother James. Ron Baker wrote Have A Good Time, while Edward Moore and Ron Tyson cowrote Stop and Think. Along with the title-track How High, written by Colin Horton Jennings and Steve O’Donnell, The Salsoul Orchestra headed to the familiar territory of Philadelphia’s Sigma Sound Studios for recording of How High.

At Sigma Sound Studios, over twenty musicians and backing vocalists would appear on How High. This included the Baker, Harris. Young rhythm section, guitarist Bobby Eli, percussionist Larry Washington, keyboard player Dennis Richardson and Don Renaldo’s strings and horns. Adding backing vocals were Philly’s legendary backing vocalists The Sweethearts of Sigma, plus Ron Tyson and Bunny Sigler. Ron Baker, Bunny Sigler and Ron Tyson would all produce tracks on How High, with Lenny Pakula, Tee Scott and Larry Davis arranging these tracks. With How High recorded, the album would be released later in 1978.

When How High was released in 1978, the album didn’t prove as successful as previous Salsoul Orchestra albums. Why that proved to be the case is something of a mystery. There certainly wasn’t anything wrong with the music. The only difference was that Vince Montana Jr. was no longer at the helm of The Salsoul Orchestra. Given the multi-talented personnel that appear of How High, and were involved with the project, surely one man’s loss couldn’t make such a difference? Maybe, How High is one of these hidden gems of an album that somehow, aren’t the success their music deserves. Was that the case with How High? That’s what I’ll tell you, after I’ve told you about the music on How High?

How High opens with the title-track How High, written and produced by Colin Horton Jennings and Steve O’Donnell. Cognac were drafted in to add vocals to a track that literally bursts into life. The Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section provide the track’s heartbeat, while keyboards, percussion and Don Renaldo’s lush strings and growling horns signal the arrival of the vocal. Her vocal is a mixture of power and passion, with tight, soaring, soulful harmonies accompanying it. Vibes, Bobby Eli’s guitar, the pounding, funky rhythm section and percussion combine, while the horns blaze, growling and rasping, almost ever-present and crucial to the track’s sound and success. Together, with The Salsoul Orchestra and Cognac, How High gets the album of to a brilliant start, one that’s soulful and funky.

Have A Good Time written and produced by Ron Baker, takes over where How High left off. It’s another uptempo, uplifting and joyous track. Keyboards, the Baker, Harris, rhythm section, cascading strings and percussion combine before the sassy, strutting vocal enters. Strings cascade, horns rasp and handclaps punctate the arrangement, as the rhythm section drive the track along. Flourishes of keyboards  drift in and out of the track, before rocky guitars and Don Renaldo’s swinging, sweeping horns join in. By now, the track resembles a riotous party in a studio, with shrieks of joy and happiness accompanying the vocal. It’s impossible to resist this good time music. Not only is it uplifting and joyous, but it’s guaranteed to put a smile on your face.

Pounding drums, a funky bass and percussion combine as My Number’s Up begins to reveal its secrets, subtleties and surprises. Sizzling guitars are joined by the Sweethearts of Sigma, who take charge of the vocal. It’s delivered in sharp, urgent bursts, against a backdrop of lush strings, braying horns, pounding drums and percussion. Here, The Salsoul Orchestra seamless fuse funk, disco, soul and Latin music. This Latin influence is most noticeable in the arrangement’s percussive sound, especially during the lengthy breakdowns. Even the vocal is tinged with a Latin influence. Later, the band improvise and explore the nuances and subtleties of the track demonstrating just how versatile and talented the members of The Salsoul Orchestra truly were.

Straight away, when I’ll Keep You Warm begins, it’s apparent the influence the Salsoul sound had on house music. With the percussion, sound effects and pounding rhythm section, it’s a sound that was “borrowed” by several generation of house producers. Growling horns and lush cascading strings signal the arrival of The Sweethearts of Sigma and Bunny Sigler’s vocal. As the sweet, soulful vocals sweep in, disco strings, blazing horns, Latin percussion and Disco greatest rhythm section provide a powerful, dramatic and pulsating heartbeat. For nearly eight minutes, The Salsoul Orchestra and Sweethearts of Sigma take you on compelling, captivating and pulsating, Latin tinged musical journey, that demonstrates why no other label or house band came close to Salsoul and The Salsoul Orchestra. Not only were they peerless, but influenced several generations of producers.

Punchy, blazing horns and a pounding rhythm section open Resorts International, before the Sweethearts of Sigma’s beckoning vocals enter. Don Renaldo’s dancing strings and growling horns, plus the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section play important roles in the arrangement. Along with guitars, percussion, keyboards and harmonies, a track that fuses a variety of influences reveals its beauty and glories. Funk, soul and disco are combined with elements of big band music and even doo wop vocals. They unite as one, creating a dramatic, floaty and hook-laden, dance-floor friendly track.

Closing How High is Stop and Think, which is very different to the previous tracks. It has a much more understated sound. Percussion, lush strings, guitars, keyboards and rasping strings combine, while the rhythm section create the track’s slow, subtle heartbeat. Impassioned, tender harmonies, emotive strings, growling horns and chiming guitars all play their part in what is a quite beautiful arrangement. Eventually and gradually, the arrangement grows in power and drama. Once the track reaches its dramatic peak, things calm down, before rebuilding and unleashing another wave of powerful, dramatic music. This continues throughout the rest of the track, with The Salsoul Orchestra teasing and tantalizing you, springing surprises and subtleties, along with drama and beauty.

Although How High wasn’t as commercially successful as previous albums, there’s nothing whatsoever wrong with the music on the album. During the six tracks on How High, The Salsoul Orchestra fuse soul, funk, jazz, Latin music and disco seamlessly and peerlessly. The Salsoul Orchestra were peerless, and truly. had no equal. I’ve always wondered whether Gamble and Huff ever regretted allowing so many members of M.F.S.B. leave Philadelphia International Records. Surely the must have regretted losing such talented musicians as the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section, guitarist Bobby Eli, percussionist Larry Washington, vibes virtuoso Vince Montana and Don Renaldo’s strings and horns. Proof of just how multitalented a group of musicians The Salsoul Orchestra were can be found on How High.

Some members of The Salsoul Orchestra went from strength to strength at Saloul, becoming songwriters, arrangers and producers. It was as if all this talent was suddenly unleashed, with Salsoul providing an outlet for their talents. How High is proof of this. It was the first album since Vince Montana Jr., The Salsoul Orchestra’s leader had left the band. However, Ron Baker, Ron Kersey and Bunny Sigler stepped up to the mark, filling the void by either writing, arranging and producing tracks, This had been the case since The Salsoul Orchestra’s released their debut album in 1975. Since then, the members of The Salsoul Orchestra unleashed their creativity. All this potential just poured out, with many of Salsoul’s artists the fortunate beneficiaries of this talent.

Not only that, but The Salsoul Orchestra were one of Salsoul’s most successful artists. Between 1975 and 1982, they released a string of successful albums. This included  How High, The Salsoul Orchestra’s sixth album. How High is one of the The Salsoul Orchestra’s last great albums. How High is also a reminder why for many people,  The Salsoul’ Orchestra will always be remembered as one of disco’s greatest orchestras



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