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Soul Express DVD Review

By Heikki Suosalo

THE DRAMATICS

BIGGEST HITS LIVE DVD


US Soul Concerts DVD, 2009
DVD plays in all regions
1) Introduction: Medley 2) Hey You! Get off My Mountain 3) Watcha See Is Whatcha Get 4) I Can't Get Over You 5) You're Fooling You 6) Door to Your Heart 7) Treat Me Like a Man (Dramatics' Theme Song) 8) Just Shopping (Not Buying Anything) 9) Shake It Well 10) I Cried All the Way Home 11) Ocean of Thoughts & Dreams 12) My Ship Won't Sail Without You 13) (I'm Going by) The Stars in Your Eyes 14) And I Panicked 15) Welcome Back Home 16) Stop Your Weeping 17) Thankful for Your Love 18) Fall in Love, Lady Love 19) Doggy Dogg World 20) In the Rain 21) Fell for You 22) James Brown Medley 23) Me and Mrs. Jones 24) Be My Girl 25) A Dramatics Introductions / Toast to the Fool Medley 26) Key to the World 27) Get up and Get Down
Bonus features:
28) Sound Check 29) Ron Banks Intevrview 30) L.J. Reynolds Interview 31) Willie "Sugar Bear" Ford Interview 32) WInzell Kelly & Michael Brock Interview 32) Larry "Squirrel" Demps Interview

Buy this DVD from our online shop - DVD plays in all regions!

  Produced by Darryl Payne and the Dramatics themselves, The Dramatics/Biggest Hits Live (Soul Concerts DVD 1053; 27 songs, 2 h 12 min.) is the first-ever concert DVD by the group.  Ron Banks: “It was shot late last year in the Poconos in Pennsylvania.  We gave them more than our usual program.  They have more songs on there than they would get on stage.  We extended to it, because we knew we were filming.”

  L.J. Reynolds: “I think it’s a great DVD.  It was something that needed to be done.  At this point of the Dramatics’ career, we’re almost at the end of basically what we want to be in our lives, so we put it in one big baggage and we called it Biggest Hits Live.  We had a CD called Greatest Hits Live, and it was greater than the greatest.  It was the biggest.  So we picked up the biggest, and I’m just glad that it came out real good.” (The Dramatics discography is available at http://www.soulexpress.net/dramatics_discography.htm).

  In the Introduction Medley the opening words are recited by Joseph “Hotdog” Williams, then Maurice Watts walks in as the announcer, after which the 7-piece orchestra (3 horns) sets the groove for the five guys to hit Hey You! Get off My Mountain.  After that it’s one hit after another: Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get, I Can’t Get Over You, Shake It Well, The Stars in Your Eyes, And I Panicked, Welcome Back Home, In the Rain, Fell for You, Me and Mrs. Jones, Be My Girl

  Besides those big sellers they’ve decided to include some other favourites, too.  Door to Your Heart, Stop Your Weeping and Key to the World are L.J.’s showcases, whereas on Just Shopping he’s joined by Ron and on Thankful for Your Love by Winzell KellyMichael Brock joins in on I Cried All the Way Home and Fall in Love, Lady Love, Willie Ford is best featured on Ocean of Thoughts & Drams, and all five harmonize on Treat Me Like a Man, “the Dramatics’ Theme Song”.  Some lively action takes place during such numbers as Doggy Dogg World, James Brown Medley and the finale, Get up and Get down.

  My copy of the DVD didn’t contain any booklet and there was no information whatsoever besides the song list and a list of the bonus features on the cover, so I had to pick up the musicians’ names from the film itself.  Dewayne Lomax is on drums, Wendell Lucas is on bass (my short interview with him appeared in our # 4/2002 printed issue), Raymond Johnson is on keys and Aaron Willis, Jr. is on lead guitar.  Aaron is the son of “Little Sonny” Willis, a blues singer and harmonica player out of Detroit.  Marvin Weatherspoon did the keyboard string overdubs.  The listed horn players are John Douglas, Bunny Clyde, Marty Montgomery and Charles Jones, which actually makes more than I saw on stage.

  The very concert runs for over an hour, and the bonuses double the total running time.  First we have a chance to attend the sound check (25 minutes) and then we can watch Darryl Payne’s interviews with not only the five current members of the group but also with an honorary ex-member, Larry “Squirrel” Demps (40 minutes).

  Ron: “It’s a good DVD and the response to this has been amazing.  They love it.  They love the production of it.  We did a great job producing it, to make sure we gave them ‘A1’ quality.  That’s the bottom line – how the public feels about it.  We’re selling the DVDs at our live performances and we autograph them.”

  On this DVD one cannot, however, sense the interplay between the audience and the group.  L.J.: “I made the decision to tone the audience down, so people can hear the DVD, because not only is it the DVD, it’s also a CD as well.  A lot of times, when you listen to a live album and you hear a lot of the audience yelling through, you don’t get the opportunity to really hear everything that’s on a record.  So you know that the audience is there, but you’re going to hear more music, you’re going to hear more track, you’re going to hear more vocals what you would hear, if you had the crowd yelling a lot.”

  Ron: “The energy and total performance probably in our earlier years definitely would have been greater.  Now I’ve got a DVD of a live performance of the Dramatics back in 1976–’77 that is really unbelievable.  I’m looking forward to releasing it.  Also before the year is out, we are going to release a classic Dramatics song that was actually a remake that’s never been released.”

  There’s a new fresh CD in the pipeline, too.  L.J.: “It’s really a great CD.  We got a song called Bad Girl, and you can listen to it at www.albellpresents.com (only don’t believe the Dramatics bio on there – HS).  We’re going in a not totally different direction for the Dramatics, but we’re going in a new direction.  If you try to sing the way you did in the 1970s, it’s not going to work.  We’re just reaching out at a broader audience in a sense, and still maintain our sound and what we’re known for, which is ballads and love songs.  We have an audience now thirty on up.  We’re not making a major change in our music.  We’re still singing about love and we’re singing about passion – and we’re SINGING.”

  L.J.’s latest gospel album, The Message, was released last year.  L.J.: “It’s been doing very good.  I’ve got a great response in the gospel industry and in the record industry.  The album has reached out even to the unbelievers, and the record has been a blessing for me.  I didn’t record the gospel album to make a million dollars.  I recorded it, because it was a message from God.  Every song on the CD has a message.  I’m very proud of it.”

  Earlier there’s also been talk about a book and a movie of the career of the group.  Ron: “They are coming close to coming to fruition.  It’s just a matter of financing and coming to the agreement of who’s going to do the production and all that.  We’re maybe 65 % in with that right now.  We still got a way to go with it.”

  Ron: “I’m working with many of our educators around the country here in the United States.  We’re trying to implement a learning program in urban school districts.  Our children are the future of tomorrow.  Technology is proving to be a viable way to upgrade and educate our future.  I do believe that due to proper education our children will make better decisions and stop some of this killing, and we start respecting one another.”

  L.J.: “We’re still out there trying to be a part of the music industry.  We know that there’s a big change in the industry.  Things are not the same anymore.  There are no more record shops.  Record companies are struggling to stay afloat.  A lot of these companies are making changes, and we’re learning how to adapt to the industry, learn how to make money and to make friends in a lot of different ways.  We call it intellectual property.”

  Ron: “The last few years have been exceptional years for us.  We truly enjoy still performing all over the world.  As long as God gives us the strength, we have the desire to make certain that you all enjoy the night of music with us.” (www.myspace.com/therealdramatics).

(Interviews conducted on May 26 and 31 in 2009.  Acknowledgements also to Iris Smith).

Heikki Suosalo


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