DISCO RECHARGE-JOHN DAVIS AND THE MONSTER ORCHESTRA-NIGHT AND DAY AND UP JUMPED THE DEVIL.
DISCO RECHARGE-JOHN DAVIS AND THE MONSTER ORCHESTRA-NIGHT AND DAY AND UP JUMPED THE DEVIL.
One of the phenomenon’s of the disco era, was the arrival of the disco orchestra. Obviously, the best known and without doubt, best, and most successful was The Salsoul Orchestra. It was founded by Vince Montana Jr, in 1975 and played an important part in making Salsoul Records disco’s most successful label. Following the success of The Salsoul Orchestra’s 1975 eponymous album, a whole host of disco orchestras were formed.
This included the THP Orchestra, the Mike Theodore Orchestra and the Charlie Calello Orchestra. Soon, they were signed to record companies and were releasing singles and albums. Sam Weiss, a veteran of the music industry, had just founded his own record label in 1976 and wanted his own own disco orchestras.
There was a reason for this. Sam Weiss’ newly founded record label, SAM Records, had been setup to cash in on disco’s popularity.
Sam Weiss founded SAM Records in Long Island City, New York in 1976. He was something of a veteran of the music industry. He’d been involved in the music industry since the late forties, when he and his brother Hy, founded Parody Records. Although the company wasn’t a commercial success, and soon folded, the Weiss brothers persevered.
Eight years later, in 1954, the Weiss brothers founded Madison Records. It was primarily a vehicle for releasing R&B records. Soon, Madison was releasing soul, doo wop, pop, rock, soul and gospel. Madison continued right through until the late seventies. By then, Sam Weiss had founded Sam Records.
Realising that disco was about become hugely popular, Sam setup SAM Records. He made no bones about it. SAM Records was specifically setup to cash in on disco’s popularity. So he set about signing artists to SAM Records’ roster. One of SAM Records first signings was the disco orchestra Sam wanted.
It was founded by John Davis, a Philly born musician, producer and bandleader. He’d recently formed his own disco orchestra, John Davis and The Monster Orchestra. Sam signed John Davis and The Monster Orchestra to SAM Records.
John Davis and The Monster Orchestra featured many of Philly finest musicians. Some of them were also part of The Salsoul Orchestra. This would continue to be the case. That’s why when John Davis and The Monster Orchestra released their 1976 debut album Night and Day, people would remark upon the similarities between the two orchestra’s sound.
Night and Day was released in 1976. It’s one of two albums to feature on the recently released volume of Disco Recharge, John Davis and The Monster Orchestra-Night and Day and Up Jumped The Devil. This is one of two double albums recently released by Harmless Records in their occasional Disco Recharge series.
As regular readers will remember, the Disco Recharge series was a regular occurrence. Mr. Pink dug deep into his disco vaults and rediscovered some hidden disco gems. The all of a sudden, the releases dried up. Releases were scheduled and cancelled. This became a regular occurrence. I was constantly asked by readers what was going on with the Disco Recharge series. All my attempts to find out what was going on fell on deaf ears.
After that, very few volumes of Disco Recharge were released. When they were released, many of my readers told me that trying to get a copy wasn’t easy. One of my regular readers who managed to get copies of the John Davis and The Monster Orchestra CDs. They kindly sent me copies of them as a belated birthday present. Disco one features Night and Day and disc two, Up Jumped The Devil. There’s also a variety of singles and remixes. These two albums played an important part in the SAM Records story, which began in 1976.
Having founded SAM Records in 1976, the nascent label released it’s first release, Doris Troy’s Woman and The Ghetto. Later in 1976, John Davis and The Monster Orchestra released their debut album Night and Day.
Night and Day.
John Davis and The Monster Orchestra’s debut album Night and Day was a mixture of six cover versions of Cole Porter songs and two original tracks. Tell Me How You Like It was written by John Davis who cowrote I Can’t Stop with guitarist Craig Snyder. These two tracks joined covers of I Get A Kick, Night and Day, I’ve Got You Under My Skin, In the Still of the Night, You Do Something To Me and It’s D’lovely. This was Cole Porter, but given a disco twist by John Davis and The Monster Orchestra on Night and Day. Helping John Davis do this, were some legendary Philly musicians.
Most of the musicians that played on Night and Day were members of The Salsoul Orchestra. They would also become members of John Davis and The Monster Orchestra. This includes the rhythm section of bassist Michael “Sugar Bear” Foreman, drummer Charles Collins and guitarists Bobby “Electronic” Eli and Roland Chambers. Other members of The Salsoul Orchestra included percussionist Larry Washington, Don Renaldo who supplied the strings and horns and backing vocalists the Sweethearts of Sigma, Carla Benson, Evette Benton and Barbara Ingram. Only guitarist Craig Snyder and John Davis, who played keyboards, flute and saxophone. He conducted the orchestra and produced Night and Day, which was released in 1976.
Before the release of Night and Day, John Davis and The Monster Orchestra’s first single I Can’t Stop, became SAM Records’ first ever twelve inch single. It reached number eight in the Dance Music/Club Play Charts. Much more successful was the other single, Night and Day. Not only did it reach number four in the Dance Music/Club Play Charts, but reached number one in the Disco charts. Despite this, the single Night and Day stalled at number 100 in the US Billboard 100 charts. That’s better than the album Night and Day did. On its released, Night and Day failed to chart. This was disappointing for Sam Weiss. He’d hoped to jump onto disco bandwagon with Night and Day, which I’ll tell you about.
Opening John Davis and The Monster Orchestra’s debut album Night and Day, is the John Davis penned Tell Me How You Like It. Charles Collins drums and Michael “Sugar Bear” Foreman bass open the track, driving the arrangement along. They’re joined by Bobby “Electronic” Eli’s searing, guitar, layers of strings, percussion and punchy horns. This combination provides a funky, musical powerhouse. The Sweethearts of Sigma’s light, tender harmonies float in and out. They grow punchy, taking on an urgency. Soon, the arrangement becomes a musical juggernaut, driven along by Charles’ drums, Michael’s bass and Bobby’s guitar. Having got your attention, the Sweethearts of Sigma’s delicious harmonies continue to hold it as, their soulfulness proves the perfect foil to the orchestra’s fusion of disco and funk.
When Cole Porter wrote I Get A Kick Out of You, he would never expect it to be given a disco twist. Cascading strings, a pounding rhythm section and high kicking horns unite before The Sweethearts of Sigma ensure the song swings. Their harmonies are tender and soulful, but grow in power and funkiness. Swathes of the lushest strings join their harmonies, which grow punchy, lick the horns. Bobby “Electronic” Eli adds a funky wah-wah guitar as the rhythm section provide a relentless and furiously, funky heartbeat. When this is combined with the Sweethearts of Sigma’s harmonies, the result is Cole Porter, but not as we know it. Instead, his music is given a delicious makeover, where funk, Philly Soul and disco unite.
Night and Day is the second of six Cole Porter songs. Percussion, wah-wah guitars and the rhythm section unite, before dancing strings and blazing horns enter, mixing funk and disco. Then, with a holler, the soulfulness arrives. It comes courtesy of the Sweethearts of Sigma. They add tight, impassioned harmonies, which grow punchy and powerful. With a whoop they take their leave, but you hope it’s not for long. Soon, they’re back, proving the perfect contrast the power and majesty of the orchestra. Like other disco orchestras, the sound is grand, laden in strings and horns, with a pounding, dance-floor friendly heartbeat. For me, the Sweethearts of Sigma provide a contrast and what is the finishing touch. This is the icing on a very moreish cake, one that’s delicious, one you long to eat at once, but instead, decide to savour its delights and subtleties slowly. After each listen, some subtlety or secret reveals itself and only then, do you discover just how rich a musical cake this truly is.
I’ve Got You Under My Skin is given a similar treatment to I Got A Kick Out of You. Layers of lush strings sweep and swirl, horns rasp and the rhythm section add a pounding, funky beat complete with Bobby “Electronic” Eli’s wah-wah guitar. At breakneck speed the arrangement unfolds, revealing elements of soul and jazz, plus plenty of funk and disco. When the Sweethearts of Sigma’s harmonies enter, they’re soulfulness personified. Their tight, impassioned harmonies are joined by percussion aplenty, braying horns, cascading strings and a funky Philly rhythm section. Sometimes, the harmonies become punchy and dramatic, highlighting and accentuating Cole Porter’s lyrics, It’s like the Sweethearts of Sigma are paying homage to Cole Porter’s genius, their delivery soulful and jazzy. Indeed, without their contribution this wouldn’t be anything like as good. So good is this track, that’s one of the real highlights of Night and Day.
I Can’t Stop is a track John Davis cowrote with guitarist Craig Snyder. The song almost explodes into life. A thunderous, funky rhythm section, searing guitar, growling horns and the lushest strings combine. With a flourish of strings, Philly songbirds the Sweethearts of Sigma add soulful and heartfelt, then sassy and breathy harmonies. Their harmonies are replaced by washes of wailing Hammond organ, punchy grizzled horns and dancing strings. Later, the Sweethearts of Sigma add soaring, dramatic and punchy harmonies, before the rhythm section give a musical masterclass, fusing funk and disco. Bassist Michael “Sugar Bear” Foreman and drummer Charles Collins add a pounding, funky backbeat, while guitarist Bobby “Electronic” Eli’s playing is funky, flashy and confident. He uses his trademark effects well, as John Davis and The Monster Orchestra get Side Two of Night and Day off to an explosive, funky and electric start.
Bursts of dramatic horns open In the Still of the Night, before percussion, keyboards and luscious strings float in. Although still funky, thanks to horns and rhythm section, there’s a slightly more understated sound. The Sweethearts of Sigma’s harmonies are heartfelt and tender, floating in and out. Later, Bobby “Electronic” Eli shows how he got his nickname. He puts his effects and trickery to good use, before Sweethearts of Sigma float back in atop swirling strings. Then Bobby’s guitar, keyboards and the rhythm section give another musical masterclass, against a sensual, backdrop, complete with moans and groans. From there, the track heads to its dramatic climax.
Like other Cole Porter songs on Night and Day, You Do Something To Me is given a complete makeover. Staying true to the song’s heritage are layers of the lushest strings. They’re joined by growling horns, a pounding, thunderous rhythm section that provides the funk quotient. When the Sweethearts of Sigma harmonies enter, they’re light, tight, tender and timeless. You can imagine them singing the song in a jazzy style just as well. These harmonies float amidst the strings, taken on a journey where musical genres unite. Later, the harmonies become sassy and feisty, as funk, disco, Philly Soul and jazz unite. This seamless fusion of genres results in a track that’s dance-floor friendly, beautiful and laden with hooks. Thirty-six years later, the song still has a truly timeless sound.
Closing Night and Day is It’s D’lovely, which open with a Charleston sound, courtesy of the Sweethearts of Sigma’s harmonies. Woodwind, muted horns, lush strings and the rhythm section roll back the years, mixing delicious old time jazz sound with a dance-floor friendly sound. Rather than disco dancers, you think of flappers dancing in art deco dance-halls to an orchestra of musicians wearing dinner suits. It’s a musical trip down memory lane, complete with sound effects and the Sweethearts of Sigma’s harmonies give a thirties makeover. It allows the John Davis Monster Orchestra to close their debut album Night and Day with a vintage sound, that pays homage to Cole Porter, but with a subtle twist. In doing so, they paint vivid pictures of yesteryear, when Cole Porter was in his pomp. This seems a fitting tribute to one of America’s great composers.
Given the similarities with the personnel involved in both The Salsoul Orchestra and the John Davis Monster Orchestra, it’s no surprise that there are many similarities in the quality of music and the sound of Night and Day. This was very similar to what was going on with The Salsoul Orchestra. All that John Davis was missing was the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section and vibes virtuoso Vince Montana Jr. Instead, John Davis had a rhythm section of bassist Michael “Sugar Bear” Foreman, drummer Charles Collins and guitarist Roland Chambers. They all played in The Salsoul Orchestra, alongside Bobby “Electronic” Eli, percussionist Larry Washington, Don Renaldo’s Strings and Horns and the Sweethearts of Sigma, Carla Benson, Evette Benton and Barbara Ingram. With so many of the same personnel, involved in The Salsoul Orchestra and the John Davis Monster Orchestra, what was needed was someone who was a visionary and innovator like Norman Harris or Vince Montana Jr. That’s where John Davis came in.
He brought everything together, resulting in an innovative combination of two new songs and six cover versions Cole Porter songs. This became Night and Day, which marked the debut of the John Davis Monster Orchestra.
Of all the Philly musical legends, three vocalists played a huge part in Night and Day’s success. They were the Sweethearts of Sigma. Their harmonies were key to the sound and success of Night and Day. Without their harmonies, Night and Day wouldn’t have been as good an album. Add to musical equation Don Renaldo’s Strings and Horns, plus the combined talents of musicians like Bobby “Electronic” Eli, Roland Chambers and Larry Washington, then Night and Day proved to be a majestic fusion of disco, funk, Philly Soul and jazz. Thirty-eight years later, and Night and Day, the debut album from the John Davis Monster Orchestra is one of the best albums released by a disco orchestra. No wonder. Night and Day is blessed with a truly, timeless sound.
Following Night and Day, John Davis and The Monster Orchestra went on to release three further albums between 1977 and 1979. The first of these was 1977s Up Jumped The Devil.
Up Jumped The Devil.
For John Davis and The Monster Orchestra’s sophomore album, Up Jumped The Devil, John decided to change tack from their debut album Night and Day. While Night and Day had been six cover versions of Cole Porter songs and two original tracks, Up Jumped The Devil featured original songs. John wrote five of the seven songs and cowrote You Gotta Give It Time and Once Upon A Time with guitarist Craig Synder. These seven songs became Up Jumped The Devil, John Davis and The Monster Orchestra’s sophomore album. These songs were recorded at Philly’s Sigma Sound Studios by some familiar faces.
When recording of Up Jumped The Devil got underway, many of the same personnel that featured on Night and Day were present. They would also feature on albums by The Salsoul Orchestra. This includes the rhythm section of bassist Michael “Sugar Bear” Foreman, drummer Charles Collins and guitarist Dennis Harris. Larry Washington played percussion, while strings and horns came courtesy of Don Renaldo and backing vocals from The Sweethearts of Sigma, Carla Benson, Evette Benton and Barbara Ingram. Only guitarist Craig Snyder, bassist Vince Fay and drummer Jimmy Young hadn’t played with The Salsoul Orchestra. John Davis, played keyboards, flute and saxophone and sang the lead vocals. He conducted the orchestra and produced Up Jumped The Devil, which was released in 1977.
On the release of Up Jumped The Devil in 1977, John Davis and The Monster Orchestra’s sophomore album wasn’t a commercial success. It failed to chart. Only the title-track, Up Jumped The Devil was released as a single, but it never troubled the charts. Disco wasn’t proving as lucrative as Sam Weiss had hoped. Should Up Jumped The Devil Have been a commercial success though? That’s what I’ll tell you, when I tell you about the music on Up Jumped The Devil.
Up Jumped The Devil opens with the title-track, and single, Up Jumped The Devil. A pounding, uber funky, rhythm section, growling horns and percussion before John takes charge of the lead vocal. With The Sweethearts of Sigma, shakers, riffing, searing guitars and blazing horns for company, a dramatic slice of funk-tinged disco unfolds. Thunderous drums, sizzling guitars and grizzled, riffing horns prove the finishing touch and the perfect accompaniment to John and The Sweethearts of Sigma dramatic vocals. Having gotten your attention, you sense John Davis and The Monster Orchestra won’t let go.
We Can Fly sees disco combined with Philly Soul. Key to this, is his orchestra’s background. Many members of the orchestra and The Sweethearts of Sigma are from Philly. So, it’s no surprise the track’s Philly Sound, as the arrangement unfolds. The rhythm section and lush strings accompany John’s tender, soulful vocal. The Sweethearts of Sigma’s equally tender, soulful harmonies provide a perfect foil. Then chiming guitars, dancing strings, flourishes of keyboards and a pulsating rhythm section take charge, sweeping the arrangement along. Later, acoustic guitars weave their way across the arrangement. From there, the vocal drops in and out, teasing and tantalising, as disco and Philly Soul are combine seamlessly.
A thunderous, funky rhythm section opens You Gotta It Up. Then blazing horns, searing guitars and slap bass combine to create funk-laden backdrop. Urgent, sassy vocals from John and The Sweethearts of Sigma add to the tough, funky arrangement. Hollers, whoops and handclaps punctuating the arrangement. Then chiming guitars, percussion, high, kicking grizzled horns and the funkiest of rhythm section are unleashed. An added bonus is a searing, riffing guitar solo that dances across the funk laden arrangement, as John Davis and The Monster Orchestra demonstrate another side to the their music, one I’d love to hear much more of.
Once Upon A Time soulfully and dramatically, closes Side One of Up Jumped The Devil. The arrangement is driven along by a funky, thunderous rhythm section, dancing strings and rasping horns. A flourish of keyboards signals the soulful entrance of John and The Sweethearts of Sigma. When they exit stage left, this is the signal for the drama to build. Blazing horns and the rhythm section take charge. Having taken the arrangement to a dramatic crescendo, the vocal returns. Then during a breakdown, percussion, horns and the rhythm section combine with breathy harmonies, before the arrangement bursts back into life, bringing the track to a soulful, dramatic close.
What was originally side two of Up Jumped The Devil is a three part disco medley. These medleys were hugely popular during the disco era. The Magic Is You (Main Theme) is the first movement of three. Hissing hi-hats, sharp, dramatic bursts of horns and flourishes of strings unite with percussion. Driving the arrangement along is the funky rhythm section and sizzling guitars. John’s vocal is powerful and joyous, with swathes of lush strings, growling horns and later, pizzicato strings for company. Providing the pulsating, uber funky heartbeat is a Philly rhythm section. They build the drama as a dance-floor classic unfolds. Adding to the drama are testifying harmonies from The Sweethearts of Sigma, sweeping, swirling strings and glorious riffing horns. What makes this medley even better, is there are two more parts to enjoy.
You’re The One picks up where the previous track left off. Percussion, congas, keyboards and the rhythm section combine. Choppy, wha-wah guitars and layers of strings join the fun, before the unmistakably, sweet and soulful sound of The Sweethearts of Sigma enters. They add urgent, then cooing harmonies, before John Davis vocal enters. He’s quite happy to play second fiddle to The Sweethearts of Sigma, given their sheer soulfulness. They play a crucial role in the track, making this pulsating tracks one of the most soulful on Up Jumped The Devil,
Closing Up Jumped The Devil is Recapitulation, the last track in the three part medley. This is one of the five tracks penned by the orchestra’s innovative leader. Horns growl, lush strings sway, sweep and swirl and the rhythm section provide a thunderous, pounding and pulsating beat. It’s as if John Davis and The Monster Orchestra are determined to close the album on a high. This they do. The Sweethearts of Sigma add their soulful, joyous contribution. Their harmonies soar and quiver, as they accompany John’s vocal. Again he seems content to let The Sweethearts of Sigma take centre-stage. So too do his orchestra. They provide a dramatic, funky and dance-floor friendly arrangement. Urgent bursts of horns, wah-wah guitars, flourishes of dancing strings and the pulsating arrangement combine to create a soulful, funky and dance-floor friendly dramatic high to Up Jumped The Devil.
That Up Jumped The Devil wasn’t a huge commercial success seems almost unjust. After all, here was John Davis and The Monster Orchestra, one of the greatest disco orchestra’s in full flight. It’s a joy to behold. Only The Salsoul Orchestra bettered the sound of John Davis and The Monster Orchestra in full flight. What made John Davis and The Monster Orchestra such a success was that John was a musical innovator and pioneer, just like Vince Montana Jr, who’d founded The Salsoul Orchestra and Norman Harris. Another part of John’s success was that he surrounded himself with hugely talented musicians and backing vocalists.
Many of these musicians and backing vocalists were from Philly, and played an important part in the success of Philadelphia International Records and later, Salsoul Records. They’d also feature on albums by The Salsoul Orchestra. Crucial to the success of John Davis and The Monster Orchestra musicians like the rhythm section of bassist Michael “Sugar Bear” Foreman, drummer Charles Collins and guitarist Dennis Harris. Then there’s percussionist Larry Washington, Don Renaldo and The Sweethearts of Sigma.
It was The Sweethearts of Sigma who transformed a good album into a great album. The Sweethearts of Sigma were the voice of The Salsoul Orchestra and The Salsoul Strings. Their backing vocals feature on every great album of the Philly Soul era. So, their contribution was crucial. Indeed, they were the perfect foil for John Davis, who wasn’t the greatest vocalist. He was a good, but not great vocalist. However, with The Sweethearts of Sigma accompanying him, his deficiencies were well hidden. They took charge, adding The Sweethearts of Sigma provided the finishing touch to Up Jumped The Devil. Not only did The Sweethearts of Sigma play an important part in the success of Up Jumped The Devil, but made it one of John Davis and The Monster Orchestra’s greatest albums and indeed, a real hidden gem and timeless classic of the disco era.
DISCO RECHARGE-JOHN DAVIS AND THE MONSTER ORCHESTRA-NIGHT AND DAY AND UP JUMPED THE DEVIL