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THE MANHATTANS – part 3 (1971 – 1979)

Read also:
The part 1
The part 2 (1964-1970)
Part 4 (1980-1989)
Part 5 (1988-2012)
The Manhattans Discography 1960-2012


“KISS AND SAY GOODBYE”

  “We thought that Kiss and Say Goodbye would be the wrong song to release, and we were very much upset with Columbia choosing a r&b-country song during the disco era... and how wrong we were!”  Sometimes there are surprising turns in making of a hit record, and above Mr. Winfred “Blue” Lovett (bass) reveals one piquant detail about the Manhattans’ signature song and a platinum single in 1976.  We’ll deal with that song profoundly later in this article, but in order to proceed chronologically we must go back and carry on where we left off at the end of the second part of the story.  The Manhattans had released their first album on DeLuxe, With These Hands, in 1970 and in December that year the long-time lead singer, George “Smitty” Smith passed, and the group needed a stable replacement.


GERALD ALSTON

  Gerald Alston (tenor) was born on November 8 in 1951 in Henderson, North Carolina.  In the sphere of soul music, Ben E. King is another famous native of that city.  Gerald’s nickname was “Smutman Brown” or simply “Smut.”  Gerald: “I think he was a dancer long ago, in the 40s – 50s.  Sonny Bivins’ father gave me that name.” 

  His parents – Geraldine and John, or better known as Reverend J.B. Alston – were both singers.  “My father had a gospel group that he sang in called the Gospel Brothers.”  John Alston sang in that group with his brothers and his wife’s brother.  “I don’t remember the group my mother was with, but she and her sisters and sister-in-laws sang together.”  A renowned bass singer, Johnny Fields of the Five Blind Boys of Alabama, is Gerald’s uncle.  Johnny passed away on November 12 in 2009 at 82.  Gerald and Shirley Alston-Reeves (born Shirley Owens) of the Shirelles are cousins, so there’s a lot of talent in the family.

  Gerald has four children.  Kyle used to play saxophone.  “Since he got out of school he hasn’t touched his saxophone, but he played it when he was in high school.  My younger son Todd sings and Calvin is a dancer.  He loves to dance.  My daughter, Donika Wells, is now 37.”

  Gerald’s wife for close to 30 years now is Edna Chew Alston, who in 1986 acted in a movie called Playing for Keeps.  “She dances and she does some acting.  Now she’s teaching in a Jersey City University.  She’s a dancing instructor in NJPAC Arts Education program.  She goes to different schools to teach the kids in art of dancing.”

  Still thirty-five years ago Gerald listed exercise, carpentry, gardening and cooking as his hobbies.  “That’s about it... kind of slowed down a little bit since then” (laughing).  Outside the Manhattans’ own repertoire, one of Gerald’s favourite songs is Midnight Train to Georgia.  “We used to sing that in our show.  That was one of out of all the songs that I did by somebody else.”

  For anybody even faintly familiar with Gerald’s history and music, the name of his all-time favourite artist doesn’t come as a surprise.  “Sam Cooke would have to be number one.  When I was a child, I used to like Mahalia Jackson.  Gladys Knight has always been one of my favourites.  Even though Luther Vandross and I were kind of in the same time frame, the late Luther Vandross is also one.”


Gerald Alston and the New Imperials: Photo courtesy of Gerald Alston

THE NEW IMPERIALS

  Gerald entered the music business while still in his teens.  “I had a group called Gerald Alston and the New Imperials.  It was in high school in ’64...’65.  We did record, but it was never released.  We would sing on weekends.  Friday and Saturday nights we’d sing as Gerald Alston & the New Imperials, and on Sundays we were the Gospel Jubilees.”

  The other members of the group were Edward “Dwight” Fields, Andrew Crews and James Smith.  “Dwight is working with us now, and he sings with us from time to time.  Andrew Crews was a bass singer.  He’s still singing and recording, and he has a group (www.myspace.com/carolinacrusaders).  James Smith is not singing now, but we see him from time to time.”

NEW LEAD FOR THE MANHATTANS

  Edward “Sonny” Bivins (tenor): “In 1970 we did a tour of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) in the south.  Unfortunately, it was around this very same time that our lead singer, George Smith, began to experience some medical problems.”

  Blue: “We were doing a tour in black colleges in the south and Gerald’s college we went to in that period, when George Smith had become very ill and Phil Terrell was travelling with us, so we could honour our contracts, because we were contracted to do these engagements and George Smith got very sick.  So in that time of doing the black colleges in the southeast of the U.S., Gerald Alston’s school was one of the ones in Henderson, North Carolina - Kittrell College.”

  Jeanie Scott: “They did a show in November 1970 in Henderson, where Gerald would go to college and where he had a little group called the New Imperials, and I think they opened the show for the Manhattans.  Gerald’s favourite singers those days were Little Anthony, Smitty and number one was Sam Cooke.  He always wanted to have a gospel group like the Soul Stirrers, before he got into the Manhattans.”

  Gerald: “They played at my college, while they were going to Dallas to team up with the Supremes.  They needed a sound system, and one of my professors at school asked me could they use our sound system.  I came in and set it up and I was singing, and they heard me sing – Blue, Richard Taylor, Phillip Terrell and the manager at the time, Hermine Hanlin – and asked me to sing on a show, and so I did.”

  Blue: “We heard him in sound-check.  His PA system was what we used to sing that night.  Phil Terrell was with us, too.  He was the lead singer.  He took over for George Smith.  We heard this young man singing When We Get Married, and we loved his voice.”

  Jeanie: “Smitty had a seizure that night and he couldn’t perform.  I do remember Smitty telling me that he met Gerald at a water fountain, taking a drink, at the college in Henderson and Smitty asked him to fill in, take his place.  After Smitty came home, the group decided to keep Gerald, because Smitty wasn’t well.”

  Gerald: “Smitty and I talked.  He was talking to me about singing with the group and I couldn’t understand why, but I didn’t know at the time Phillip Terrell was with them, because Smitty was sick.”

  Blue: “We found out later that Smitty wasn’t able to come back.  We were doing a tour with the Supremes after we left Gerald’s school, and our manager Hermine Hanlin called his home and spoke with his grandmother to see if it was possible for him to come out for us to audition him in Dallas, Texas.  While touring the state of Texas with the Supremes, Gerald flew out, rehearsed with us for a couple of nights and watched Phil Terrell on stage with us.  He watched from the audience to see what our stage plot looked like, and two weeks later he was singing with us.  The first show Gerald did officially with us was with the Dells, the Chi-lites and the Spinners two weeks later.”

  Phil Terrell: “The last time I was touring with the Manhattans was when we toured the south with the Supremes, all over Texas.  After I left there, that was the end of it, because I got a promotion in school.  I became vice principle, and I had a wife and a family then, too.  Gerald took my place.  He was just a fantastic entertainer.  He could really sing good.  He came with us to Texas and I showed him all the routines and everything.  I’ve been friend with him ever since.  He lives right here in Jersey City.”

  Gerald: “My first date that I worked with the group was in the Abbey Theater in Brooklyn, New York.  Smitty was there.  I didn’t know he was there.  When the curtain opened and they called us on stage and when I walked out on the stage, he was the first person I saw sitting in the front.  I wanted to please the audience, but I wanted to make sure that Smitty was happy, because he knew he couldn’t sing anymore.”

  “He came back to the dressing room that night and gave me a big hug and told me how good I sound.  He let me know he was satisfied with the work that I’ve done with his songs and the way I performed.  After then I remember it was like a sigh of relief, because everybody in the room got quiet, when he walked in” (laughing).

  Jeanie: “Smitty passed December 16, 1970.  Gerald sang three songs at the funeral, and then went on the road with the group in January 1971.  Phil Terrell and I grew close.  He was my buddy.  We became like a brother and sister, and he was the one friend I could talk with about Smitty after Smitty had passed away.  Phil became my confidant.  I love both him and his wife Willie – sweet, sincere, good people, who will always stay in my heart.”

  Kenny Kelly (tenor): “Smitty was a very good guy, a very nice and social guy.  He had that quality in his voice that he could sing anything.  He would give you his last dollar, if he had it.  He was a very kind-hearted person.”

I CAN’T STAND FOR YOU TO LEAVE ME

  Gerald is leading for the first time on I Can’t Stand for You to Leave Me (DeLuxe 136), the group’s first single in 1971.  This uptempo Northern-style ditty was produced by Bert Keyes and Myrna March and written by Martha Taylor.  Blue: “Martha is Richie Taylor’s wife.  Bert Keyes is excellent.  We did with him two singles, but no more than that.  At that particular time, those guys demanded a certain amount of money.  A lot of the producers liked us, like George Kerr and Bert Keyes.  They recorded us, because they saw potential in the Manhattans becoming successful.  They knew that we weren’t financially fit to give them what they really want.”

  Bert Keyes – a musician, arranger, writer, producer and conductor - entered the business already in the 40s as a pianist, and from the early 50s his jazzy style with increasing inclination towards rhythm & blues appeared on singles on such labels as Savoy and Rama and Coed, and on those labels he worked with many other artists, too.  His contributions were more and more appreciated in the 60s and especially in the New York area, where he composed and arranged for numerous artists and worked for labels like Atlantic.  One of the songs he co-wrote those days was Love on a Two-Way Street, first cut by Lezli Valentine and later by the Moments.  Besides uptown soul, Bert stretched out to pop, blues and other genres, too.  He took interest in movie scores in the 70s and 80s, and passed away in 1987.

  Gerald: “Myrna March was a songwriter.  She wrote quite a few songs, and she and Bert Keyes were collaborating together.  I had not known her prior to those DeLuxe sessions.”  Later Gerald and Myrna would write together for the Manhattans.  Myrna Fox March was not only a writer, but an actress, singer and recording artist in her own right, as well. Starting in the 50s, she recorded for such labels as Liberty, Warwick, Strand, Roulette, Kapp and Agape/King – first jazzy show tunes and standards and later uptown pop.  You can find some of her songs on YouTube.  Later she concentrated on composing and managing other artists.  She died of cancer of the lung in 1997.

  The flip side to I Can’t Stand for You to Leave Me is Myrna’s and Bert’s song called Do You Ever, which starts as a tender ballad but grows into a big and dramatic number, but unfortunately neither side charted.


A MILLION TO ONE

  The next DeLuxe single, released in late 1971, paved the way for upcoming Manhattans smashes later in the 70s.  A Million to One already has many of the basic elements that the future success sound was built on.  It’s a slowly swaying melodic and beautiful ballad, written by Teddy Randazzo and his first wife, Victoria Pike.

  Gerald: “Teddy did a lot of writing for us back in the 70s.  Basically it was done with his arrangements.  Teddy would send us a demo, but what he did was considered a record, because his demo was just about final.  All I had to do was sing on it.  The arranger just did the arrangements over again.”

  The single peaked at # 47-soul and # 114-pop, and, although it didn’t break into the hot-100, this single was closest to the crossover the group had enjoyed so far.  Gerald: “In later years, when we did the American Bandstand, we did Kiss and Say Goodbye and A Million to One.”  Kenny Kelly: “We felt that was the direction we wanted to go in.  It gave our career a boost.  Teddy’s a very good producer and a nice guy to work with.  He seemed to be able to put his hand on the pulse of the group.”

  One of the basic elements was Gerald’s singing.  Blue: “Gerald had that kind of style.  His voice was more pop than mine and Smitty’s.  He had that crossover voice.  Hermine Hamlin worked for Teddy Randazzo as a secretary.  She was able to get Teddy to come in and produce for us.”  You can listen to Sonny Bivins’ comments on this single on YouTube in an interview conducted by Mike Boone (at “Chancellor of Soul Interviews Sonny Bivins Of The Manhattans Pt3”).

  A Million to One, as well as the flip – a slightly less graceful ballad called Cry If You Wanna Cry – were both produced by “Make Music Prod.”, which is Myrna March and Bert Keyes, and arranged by the latter.

TEDDY RANDAZZO

  Alessandro Randazzo was born on May 13 in 1935 in Brooklyn.  In the early 50s he joined a white harmony group of the Italian origin named the Three Chuckles, and in 1954 they scored with a tender ballad called Runaround - originally on the Boulevard label - with Teddy on lead.  Followed by Times Two, I Love You, And the Angels Sing and a complete album, they hooked up with Alan Freed, who invited them to perform in the Rock, Rock, Rock film in 1956.

  Soon after that Teddy left for a solo career, toured with Alan Freed’s revues, appeared in other rock ‘n roll movies and cut such solo hits as Little Serenade, The Way of a Clown and Big Wide World between 1957 and ’63.

  In spite of his numerous solo recordings (on Vik, Colpix, ABC, Buddah, Paramount...) - and as a lead with Oliver & the Twisters, too - it was, however, Teddy’s excellent songwriting, his lush and rich arrangements and production work that he’s best remembered for.  One big admirer of Teddy and his crew was another musical genius, Mr. Thom Bell, who reminisces of their work on the Royalettes ’65 song, It’s Gonna Take a Miracle: “Teddy Randazzo and Bobby Weinstein did that song (add Lou Stallman, still).  I love their writing.  And I love the arranging that Don Costa does for Little Anthony & the Imperials.  That was the first guy that turned me on – Don Costa!  They had I’m on the Outside (Looking In), Hurt So Bad, Goin’ out of My Head... After that came Burt Bacharach, another one I loved.  They were applying their classical training, I believe, to so-called r&b, modern music.”  Teddy also had two labels of his own, Satin and Buttercup, in the 60s and 70s.

  In his senior years, after marrying Rosemary “Shelly” Kunewa, Teddy concentrated on the island music and resided a lot in Hawaii.  His most famous album from those days was Honolulu City Lights.  He passed away on November 21 in 2003 in New York, and he and his long-time writing buddy, Bobby Weinstein, were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2007.

ONE LIFE TO LIVE

  Blue Lovett wrote a beautiful and haunting ballad called One Life to Live, which the company released first as a long version, and then as a shorter one two months later.  Gerald: “They took the rap off, like they did with Kiss and Say Goodbye later.  Pop stations played it without the rap, and r&b stations played it with the rap.”

  Gradually approaching their winning formula music-wise, Blue raps in the beginning and midway through Gerald takes over and they are backed with delicious doowop harmonies.  Blue: “I did the rap first, and then came Isaac Hayes and Barry White after I started that.  I never got credit for that one, I betcha” (laughing).

  This fascinating song became the Manhattans’ first top-ten record on the r&b side (# 3-soul, # 102-pop), and it was produced by Hal Neely, Bob Riley and Bobby Smith.  Kenny: “Bob Riley was the promotion man.”  Gerald: “Bobby Smith owned the studio we were recording in, in Macon, Georgia.  A Million to One was recorded in New York, and One Life to Live was recorded in Macon, Georgia.  I think we did some clean-up work in Nashville.”  Blue: “We did things in Macon, Georgia, where James Brown did his recordings.  We did some things in Nashville, but not in Memphis.  Neely, Riley and Smith were the in-house producers.  I did the arrangements, although they got the credit for it.”  Hal Neely was the former vice president at King, and he was now working for Starday Records in Nashville.

  Blue wrote another sweet and pretty ballad for the b-side called It’s the Only Way, and those days in one interview he said that he pictured Glen Campbell singing it.  Blue: “Glen Campbell I wanted Kiss and Say Goodbye for.  Back then I was into listening a lot to country things.  Lionel Richie jumped the gun on me, but I had been listening for three or four years.  I liked a lot of things Glen Campbell was doing... and Charley Pride.”

  One Life to Live brought the group ever closer to the crossover border.  Kenny: “Somebody should do that song all over again.”  Gerald: “A lot of our songs were big in the southeast.  One Life to Live and A Million to One r-e-a-l-l-y opened us up in the south, and in later years it started spreading across the country, but they were the catalyst to get us a lot of play in the south.”  Blue: “One Life to Live was the song that put us in a situation to be signed by the CBS Records.  They liked it.  They liked the direction the Manhattans was going in and they signed us in 1972.”

THE SECOND DE LUXE ALBUM

  A Million to One (DLP 12004) was not only the second, but also the last Manhattans album on the DeLuxe label.  Released in August 1972, it appeared on the Billboard soul charts in early November and stayed there for fifteen weeks, peaking at # 35.  The producers were Neely-Riley-Smith plus “Hoss” Allen.  The listed arrangers are Macon Staff, Charlie Chalmers and Chuck Sagle.  Alongside Nashville and Macon studios, also Sam Phillips Studio in Memphis is credited, but the group never cut its vocals there.

  The album contains, besides the four sides above, three songs from the past (Fever, Do You Ever and I Can’t Stand for You to Leave Me) and one song, Back Up, which was to be released as the next single in December 1972.  In the afterglow of One Life to Live, also Back Up climbed quite high on the charts (# 19-soul, # 107-pop), although it differs a lot from its predecessor.  Written by Kenneth Kelly, the funky Back Up again bears a resemblance to the Temptations psychedelic style, which calls for lead-sharing.  Kenny: “Bob Marley picked that song up and they did it again.”

  The four non-single sides include You on My Mind, a cute ballad written by Sonny Bivins, and Strange Old World, a rather messy beater, which comes from Richard Taylor’s pen.  Ronnie Lee Hayes, one of the musicians on the session, wrote the uptempo Blackbird, which would appear again on an album two years later, and finally there’s a psychedelic rock-dancer titled Teenage Liberation, composed by Sonny, Kenny, K. Nash and Carl Reid.

RAINBOW WEEK

  By the time the group was already on greener pastures, DeLuxe put out still two more singles in 1973.  The first one is actually quite good.  Rainbow Week is a big dramatic ballad, written by Robert S. Riley, Sr.  Blue: “That’s Bob Riley, our head promotion man.  We would often put one of his songs on the back side of a 45.  He was out of Nashville.”  Gerald: “We recorded it, when we were in the process of going to Columbia.” 

  The flip side, Loneliness, had been released already in 1970, and similarly the last single, Do You Ever, had hit the streets two years earlier, but the company succeeded in cashing in on the group’s first big hit at the same time on Columbia, so Do You Ever peaked at # 40-soul.  The b-side, If My Heart Could Speak, again derived from 1970.

FROM DE LUXE TO COLUMBIA

  Already in October 1968 Starday Records, a country label out of Nashville, had purchased King Records with its subsidiary labels – including DeLuxe - and soon after that the King-Starday catalogue was sold to Lin Broadcasting, also based in Nashville.  James Brown’s contract and entire catalogue was sold to Polydor in 1971, and after awhile the whole company was absorbed by Leiber & Stoller’s, Hal Neely’s and Freddy Bienstock’s (a music publisher) Tennessee Recording and Publishing, which meant that King-Starday turned more or less into a reissue company.  Finally the master recordings were purchased by Moe Lyttle’s Nashville-based company called GML, Inc. in 1975.

  Sonny: “after King-Starday lost their main artist, who was James Brown, it was like a domino effect.”  Kenny: “I just feel that the mechanics in that whole DeLuxe situation could have been a lot stronger than it was, because I believe we had a lot of material that was good, but it never got the opportunity to take its rightful place in the market.”

  Gerald: “It was time to move forward.  I think they had taken us as far as they could take us, and I think it was just time for us to move on.  The two songs that I still do on stage from those early days are Can I and When We’re Made as One.”

  In late 1972 the group signed a worldwide contract with Columbia and recorded for that company for the next fifteen years.  Sonny: “This is what the phrase ‘paying your dues’ meant.  All the hard work and the hours of rehearsing things over and over again until we had it perfected had finally paid off – the final piece of the puzzle had been laid and the picture was complete.  We were afforded so many great opportunities at Columbia.  We had the opportunity to work on our own productions in the studio alongside the phenomenal writing team of Gamble & Huff and producer Bobby Martin.  We even recorded at Sigma Sound Studio in Philadelphia, and back then that was the ultimate.  The studio had more hits coming out of there than anywhere else at the time.  Sigma was the East Coast’s Motown.”

  Blue: “We were approached by Mickey Eichner.  He was an exec over at Columbia Records.  He heard One Life to Live.  They were looking for a group of our calibre between Clive Davis and Mickey Eichner.  They signed us with Columbia Records.  Clive Davis was in charge of everything at that time at Columbia.”  In the 60s Mickey was heading Jubilee Records, before becoming A&R executive and senior vice president at Columbia.

  Blue: “After we got with Columbia, we wanted Thom Bell very badly, but we weren’t able to get him.  He was busy doing things with the Stylistics and different people.  Gamble and Huff were doing everybody – the O’Jays, Lou Rawls, everybody... and they didn’t have time to fit us in. We instead got Bobby Martin, who was excellent.  We wanted somebody from Philadelphia International, and Bobby Martin was an arranger with Gamble and Huff.”


BOBBY MARTIN

  Gerald: “I met Bobby Martin, when we signed with Columbia.  I had heard about him, because he had produced and arranged for the O’Jays, the Three Degrees, Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes... He was a great producer.  He allowed us to express ourselves.  We were able to have more say in our sessions.”

  Robert L. Martin has a jazz background, and he has been playing vibes ever since the mid-40s.  In the early days he played, also piano, in several jazz and r&b groups and with such luminaries as Lionel Hampton.  In the 50s Bobby landed with the Lynn Hope Combo in Philadelphia, decided to stay there and started working in the record business in the early 60s as a songwriter, musician, arranger, conductor and producer; also occasional vocalist.

  In the early 60s he produced and arranged for the Dreamlovers and Patti LaBelle & the Bluebelles, and later in that decade worked mainly as an arranged for the Intruders, Archie Bell & the Drells, Jerry Butler and the Intrigues.

  In the 70s he collaborated a lot with Gamble & Huff and arranged and at times also produced dozens and dozens of big Philly hits for such artists as Wilson Pickett, the Ebonys, Joe Simon, Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, the O’Jays, Billy Paul, MFSB, Lou Rawls, Teddy Pendergrass and many, many more.

  This Grammy Award winner, who was also inducted into the Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall Of Fame, moved to California in 1977 and those days, among others, he worked with the Jacksons, Bee Gees and Diana Ross.  From the 80s onwards he did a lot of sampling and remixing of his past projects, and he’s still active today and releases new material in California, as you can read at http://bobbymartinproductions.com.  There are also a lot of interviews with him on YouTube. 


THERE’S NO ME WITHOUT YOU

  The debut single on Columbia was a sophisticated and beautiful ballad called There’s No Me without You, and it set the pattern for the Manhattans’ other upcoming, magnificent and romantic ballads with Blue’s bass, Gerald’s lead and subtle doowop-based harmonizing creating a perfect blend.  The song was written by Edward Bivins.  Sonny: “That song I wrote for my wife-to-be, Amy; the whole picture of life - a home, dreams, plans for the future, hurt, pain... so I put all that together.  And the song evolved into what it became.  You never know, how big a song is gonna be.  I just thought it was a song everybody could relate to.”

  The song, which is one of Gerald’s favourites, became their biggest record so far.  Released in April 1973, on Billboard’s soul charts it climbed up to # 3 – as One Life to Live had done almost a year ago – but in the hot-100 it peaked at # 43, which was the highest position for the group on the pop side up to that point.

  Kenny: “I sincerely think that it could have been a lot bigger than it was.  I think it could have been another Kiss and Say Goodbye, if they had put the muscle behind There’s No Me without You like they had behind Kiss and Say Goodbye.  I think we would have had more mileage in terms of discography than we did.”

  Blue: “It changed things dramatically for the Manhattans.  We made our first trip to California, to the West Coast.  We did all the major TV shows – Soul Train and all that.  It was a career-changer for us.”

  Gerald: “It gave us the shot in the arm.  That year there was an international convention in San Francisco, and we performed there.  That opened up a lot of doors for us.  It opened up Europe – England, Holland, Belgium.  We were able to travel and do those places.”

  To make the single even more perfect, on the b-side they placed a haunting and very melodic slowie named I’m Not a Run Around, produced by Teddy Randazzo and written by him and Roger Joyce.  Gerald: “Teddy was a guy that brought you the full production.  He was a great person to work with.  You had a chance to express yourself with him as well.”  Blue: “Teddy Randazzo was the best there ever lived.  He was a master.”  Kenny: “I think Teddy Randazzo’s materials were more pop than the materials that Bobby Martin did.”


Drummer Larry James from the Manhattans road band. Larry was later known as the lead of Fat Larry's Band. Photo courtesy of Jeanie Scott

THE EPONYMOUS ALBUM

  Three months later the album by the same name was released.  There’s No Me without You reached # 19-soul and # 150-pop.  The eight tracks that Bobby Martin produced were cut at Sigma Sound in Philadelphia.  Gerald: “It was a very nice atmosphere.  It was very difficult to get in, because you had all the Philadelphia International stars recording over there and other artists as well.  We would have to go in sometimes to record five or six songs in one day.  Whatever we didn’t finish, we had to come three or four months later to finish.  We couldn’t come back in a week or so, that’s how booked up it was.  We had to do as much as we could each time we went in.”

  In August for the follow-up single they picked up from the album a pretty and sophisticated song called You’d Better Believe It (# 18-soul, # 77-pop), which was written by John Fowlkes and Roger Genger.  Blue: “They gave us the opportunity to rehearsal over at Jersey City, and we awarded them by putting one of their songs on our album.”  Gerald: “Mr. Genger owned the studio we rehearsed at.  We had a key, and we rehearsed any day we wanted, and he never charged us.”


  The b-side was a funky number titled Soul Train, and it was composed by Blue and four members of the group called Little Harlem.  Blue: “Sly Stone was my favourite back then.  He turned the music around completely.  A lot of my writings that was uptempo music was based on a lot of things that I heard from Sly & the Family Stone.” 

  Gerald: “Little Harlem was our road band.  They travelled with us everywhere.”  Kenny: “We hand-picked the members.  It wasn’t a band that somebody gave us.  Initially it was Gregory Gaskins.  He was our first musician, and around him we built the other ones.  Our initial musicians came out of Philadelphia, and then we started picking up musicians from Jersey City; those who we felt were qualified to be with us.  We wanted them to have their own identity as well.”  Sonny: “They were a great bunch of guys to work with.”

The Manhattans band photo courtesy of Jeanie Scott

WISH THAT YOU WERE MINE

  A lush and slightly melancholic ballad named Wish That You Were Mine was released by the end of 1973, and it only reached # 19-soul, although it had potential to a higher ranking.  It was written by Blue and it’s also one of his favourites among the Manhattans recordings.  Blue: “It should have been the second single after There’s No Me without You, but the record company chose to go another route and it didn’t do as well for us.  They chose You’d Better Believe It.  One of the leading disc jockeys back then chose Wish That You Were Mine and when Columbia Records finally released it as a single, it was a little too late.”


  A mid-tempo toe-tapper called It’s So Hard Loving You was placed on the flip.  This ditty was penned by Blue and Charles Reed.  Blue: “Charles was a member of our road band.  He was also the brother-in-law of Smitty, George Smith.”  Jeanie: “Charles met Smitty’s sister Gloria while playing with the Manhattans and staying at Smitty’s mother’s house with us.  Also the rest of the band stayed there, when they were in town.  Charles and Gloria later married and had a daughter Dana, but have long since divorced.  We all called him ‘Cheese’.  That was his nickname.  He was from Philadelphia, as well as the drummer, Larry “Dusty” James, later known for his group, Fat Larry’s Band.”

  The b-sides of the two singles that the group released in 1974 were also culled from the album.  A poignant and mellow ballad titled The Other Side of Me is credited to Gerald and Blue.  Gerald: “The Other Side of Me was actually written with Sonny Bivins.  That has been wrong for long, and we never really got a chance to correct it.  I think we were at the Apollo Theater, when we wrote that.  Sonny would take the guitar with him sometimes.  He would start playing this melody, and I would just start singing it, and it developed from there.  The story of the song is that you’re looking at the other side of yourself, by looking in the mirror.”

  Sonny: “I’m sure everybody can relate to hurt, when a relationship goes bad.  You start questioning everything.  Why it happened?  Could you have changed anything?  What will you do next?  But at the end of the day, life goes on.”

  The other b-side, The Day the Robin Sang to Me, is a pretty and sunny mid-tempo song, written by Kenneth Kelly.  Kenny: “I was sitting in my living room and looking out of the window, and I was just reflecting that scenery.”


Charles "Cheese" Read and Kenny Nash
(photo courtesy of Jeanie Scott)

WE MADE IT

  On the album there were only two songs that weren’t put out as single sides.  Blue wrote a melodic, post-doowop ballad named We Made It.  Blue: “I had written that, because it was so many people back in the day during the 50s and 60s, early 70s, who didn’t believe we could make it and who didn’t believe that we were real and sincere in what we were doing.  That was a message to those who didn’t believe.  It was also referring to a couple, a married couple or an engaged couple.  So you could take it anyway you wanted, but I actually had written it about the Manhattans’ life, in general.  It was something that we were always thrown down or people turned their backs on us, and I finally felt that after this stage in our lives, signing with Columbia Records, that we made it.”

  The other song that Teddy Randazzo produced in New York and co-wrote, besides I’m Not a Run Around, was a pretty and melodic slowie titled Falling Apart at the Seams.  His writing partners this time were Victoria Pike and Souren Mozian.  Blue: “It should have been a single.  Back then, if you didn’t do million on each single, they gave you a limit of three songs out of an album.  If the first three didn’t do double-platinum, they had you record another album back then.”

  There’s No Me without You was a great Columbia debut album, which according to Blue the group co-produced with Bobby Martin.  Sonny: “It was a well-rounded LP.  I loved the song We Made It, and also Wish That You Were Mine, and Kenny’s song The Day the Robin Sang to Me.  Great songs!”

  Kenny: “It was a good album.  It was our first opportunity with a major label, and we wanted to try to put forward our best performance.  We played a very big part in putting it together, not just going to the microphone singing, but also in terms of the music, the mixing, producing, engineering...  We got a chance to do all of that.  So it was like an initiation process, at least from my perspective, because I began to see the mechanics behind what really goes on.”

  Gerald: “I think in this industry it’s all about timing.  You can have great material, but if the timing is wrong, it doesn’t mean a thing.  Had it been released at an earlier time, I think it would have been a bigger hit and our album would probably have gone gold, and it would have gone gold fast.”

  “I think it was one of our best albums.  Every song on there, we had time to really, really sit down and rehearse with the group.  I remember we used to go down to our manager’s office and we would rehearse those songs.  The same thing we did with Teddy - I remember going down to Teddy’s house and rehearsing on different songs the same way.”


BOBBY ELI

  In Philly, at Sigma, Bobby Martin used the renowned MFSB musicians, such as Norman Harris on guitar, Ron Kersey on piano, Vince Montana on vibe, Ronnie Baker on bass, Earl Young on drums and Larry Washington on conga.  Bobby Eli, the guitar virtuoso, was an integral part of the rhythm section.

  Bobby: “I met the Manhattans, when Smitty was still in the group - so that would have to be around 1968 - at the Apollo Theater in New York.  I was playing guitar with the Vibrations, and they were on the same show.  I started working in the studio with Bobby Martin in ’73, and I was really impressed with Gerald’s voice.  I couldn’t believe how good he was and how much he reminded me of young Sam Cooke.”

  “They had a female manager called Hermine Hanlin at the time.  I remember her and Mickey Eichner, who was vice president A&R Columbia and he was the one, who signed them, and from early on he always came to the studio to the sessions.”

  “Bobby Martin was, in my opinion, the perfect producer for them.  He kind of really fit like a glove.  He was a good choice because of his soulful approach.  His style was a little more earthy than Thom Bell.  It’s amazing, how everything just sort of fell into place, especially when Kiss and Say Goodbye came along.”

  Bobby plays on each album Bobby Martin produced for the Manhattans in the 70s.  Bobby: “I love the Manhattans.  They’ve been through a lot of ups and downs over the years, but I think their name stands for itself.  They’re going to go down in history as being one of the best Philadelphia groups not being from Philadelphia.”

  Gerald: “Bobby to me was THE guitar player.  We had other guitar players, but Bobby was the one that put that extra colour that you needed.  I remember him sitting there, and he was so cool.  Whenever Bobby Martin needed that extra little touch or something, he’d go to Bobby Eli and he just put it in there.”  (You can read my feature on Bobby Eli in our printed paper # 3/2003).

CARLA BENSON


  Occasionally on background vocals they had two of the Sweethearts of Sigma, or the Sweeties, as the trio of Carla Benson, Barbara Ingram and Evette Benton was also known.  Carla: “Actually Evette didn’t do the Manhattans projects.  It was just me and Barbara.  I believe we did two songs in two different sessions.  I mostly remember There’s No Me without You, because the note they wanted on the word ‘you’ was so high, and I nailed it!”

  “Blue was always there.  I remember Blue being very professional, very sure about what he wanted and how he wanted it and exactly what he wanted us to sing.  I remember how kind Blue was and what a beautiful smile he had... and such a gentleman.  We never worked with the Manhattans on the road, and I never understood why we were there in the studio, because those guys could really sing.  But I wasn’t complaining either.  It was a privilege and an honour to work with the fabulous Manhattans.  I am humbled and honoured to this day, whenever I think about it.”  (You can read my feature on Carla Benson in our printed paper # 1/2004).

SUMMERTIME IN THE CITY

  Sonny on the year of 1973: “we really worked a lot that first year at Columbia.  Between recording in the studio and live performances, everything was moving so fast that we hardly had a minute to catch our breath.  And time off – ha, what was that?  Our manager, Ms. Hermin Hanlin, was going to make sure that the name of the Manhattans was going to be fresh in everybody’s mind.  She wanted to make us the cornerstone for vocal groups in the entertainment industry.  At that point I felt like it couldn’t get any better – wrong!”

  In the early summer of 1974 Summertime in the City was released.  This mid-tempo, darkish dancer was written by Blue, and again it bears a resemblance to those psychedelic tracks that Norman Whitfield used to produce on the Temptations.  Blue: “If you’ve been to New York, you can understand what that song is about... the hustle and hot summers in that city – that was my vision on that song.  I didn’t even know it was a single.  Columbia had the control over choosing singles, not the Manhattans.”  Columbia chose wrongly, because the single stalled at # 45-soul.


BUNNY SIGLER

  A pleading soul ballad called Don’t Take Your Love fared better and it was actually the first top-40 song for the group on Billboard’s hot-100 (# 7-soul, # 37-pop) in late 1974.  This melodic and classy song was written by Allan Felder, Ron Kersey and Bunny Sigler.  Gerald: “I think Bunny submitted it to Bobby Martin, and Bobby played it for us, and that’s how we even met Bunny for the first time.”

  Bunny: “We wrote the song especially for the Manhattans.  Bobby Martin was the main producer on that.  Bobby knew that I write love songs and I had written many for the O’Jays, so he came to me for that kind of song.  In the session I played the piano.”

  “The Manhattans is a great group.  Gerald is a great singer.  I wish I had done more things with them.  A lot of times, when politics get involved with cutting with different groups and some people won’t let other people get involved, a lot of different things go down.  On the Manhattans, somebody else had the production thing, and I was doing so much.  I was writing with Gamble and Huff, for their company, and then I did stuff with Norman Harris and Allan Felder.  You learn as you go along.  You finish one group, you go to another group.”  Blue: “Bunny is one of the best in the business, a fantastic writer.”


THAT’S HOW MUCH I LOVE YOU

  Almost simultaneously with the Don’t Take Your Love single, the second Columbia album titled That’s How Much I Love You was released.  The title song, an uptempo and melodic disco cut, was again composed by Bunny and Allan Felder but this time the third writer was Norman Harris.  Bunny: “I call it dance music.  It’s all funk.  It all depends on the time of the year what they’re calling it.”

   Surprisingly, the song wasn’t released as a single.  Gerald: “CBS would select things.  They would ask us what we liked.  We would tell them what we liked, they would look at it and something they liked and they would come up with a decision of which one they would release.”

  Bunny himself is still very active these days.  Bunny: “I’m back to recording.  I have a single out called You Never Know (available also on YouTube).  I have been in the studio cutting Instant Funk, and I’m cutting myself.  They have a new band in Philadelphia, which is musicians, who have played with all the top artists from Stevie Wonder to Alicia Keys, to Beyoncé... all the big acts.  It’s called the Urban Guerilla Orchestra.  They did a show with War and they were so good that when War came on people were walking out.  They play everybody’s music better than the people, but they needed original material, so I wrote four songs for them.”

  Self-evidently the two preceding singles – Summertime in the City and Don’t Take Your Love – were the opening tracks on the album.  Sonny: “The extended version of Don’t Take Your Love from Me was on the LP.  Blue has more of a talking part.  The 45 is shorter.”  On the A-side there are also two songs that Teddy Randazzo co-wrote, a beautiful soul waltz called Save Our Goodbyes and a melodic mid-pacer titled I Don’t Want to Pay the Price of Losing You.

  The B-side of the album surprised many a Manhattans fan.  When signing the group, Columbia had also purchased the old DeLuxe masters, and now they placed five of those older songs – including Blackbird, Strange Old World and Fever – on the flip side.  Gerald: “I think during that time they needed an album and I think we may have been a little behind schedule.  So we did five new songs and they used five other songs, because they had bought our catalogue from Starday-King.”

  Kenny: “We really didn’t have a choice in that.  That decision was made above our heads.  We as the members of the group only had a certain amount of power.  We couldn’t tell the record company ‘no, we don’t want you to do that’.  We could just express our displeasure about the decisions.  I think that space could have been utilized much more effectively.”  Blue: “I think they were trying to milk every song that we had done, tried to get everything while we were riding hot.”

A CHANGE IS GONNA COME

  One of those old tracks was a version of Sam Cooke’s A Change Is Gonna Come, which is a rather lame interpretation and not as inspired as Gerald’s later renditions.  Gerald: “We didn’t have time to prepare at Starday-King like we did at Columbia.  We recorded that song and our guitar player, Charles Reed, did the arrangement for that.  We were in Macon, Georgia, for a week or ten days, and we worked and recorded, while we were there.  We got to the studio to record, to start an album, and James Brown was in the studio.  I remember us sitting out waiting for him to finish his last session, and we didn’t get in until that night.  We really didn’t have time to put it together like we wanted to.”  Blue’s funky dancer named Nursery Rhymes closes the album.

  On the sleeve it says “produced by Manhattans Production, Inc. & Bobby Martin” and Mickey Eichner is credited as an executive producer.  Blue: “Hermine Hanlin was our manager, but Mickey Eichner and Hermine were great friends.  The record company would send one of the execs out to make sure that she wasn’t wasting time on your recording sessions, that every hour was accounted for, so Mickey was there as an exec producer.  He didn’t do any of the music.  He was just there to see that we didn’t waste any time and there was no overcharging.”

  ”Gerald: “Bobby Martin would cut the tracks.  We would go down the same day he cut tracks, and we would do our vocals behind those tracks.  Like I said, a lot of times when we were there (at Sigma) we didn’t have much time.  He would make a rough of the tracks.  Then we’d go in and I would do a scratch lead and then we’d do background vocals and I’d come back and do the lead.”

  Kenny: “Reflecting back over, I think That’s How Much I Love You was an album that sort of put us into a more pop thing.  It was one of those transitional albums.”  At any rate, it wasn’t as successful as its predecessor, floundering only to # 59-soul and # 160-pop.

HURT

  An achingly beautiful arrangement by Bobby Martin and delivery by the Manhattans gave the cover of an old Al Jacobs & Jimmie Crane song called Hurt a boost to hit # 10-soul and # 97-pop after its April 1975 release.  The song was originally recorded by Roy Hamilton in 1954, and since then at least Timi Yuro (in ’61) and a country singer Juice Newton (’85) have scored with it. 

  Kenny: “I thought it was a good song.  Elvis Presley did it.  Little Anthony did it.  We turned around and did it.  Each time somebody did it, it became a hit.”  The Manhattans’ version went as high as # 4 on the U.K. charts, but only in October 1976 after its release behind Kiss and Say Goodbye.  Gerald: “Mickey Eichner chose that song.  That song became a silver disc in Holland and England, I believe.”

  Blue: “What we tried to do on each of our albums is to go back and get a couple of tunes and standards.  That’s what our vision was, anyway.  Hurt was very big in Europe and Canada.”

KISS AND SAY GOODBYE

  Kiss and Say Goodbye is the Manhattans’ signature song.  Recorded at the same time as Hurt, the song was released only in March 1976 and it hit the pole position in Billboard’s hot-100 for two weeks on July 24 and # 1 also on the soul chart for one week on May 22.  In the U.K. it shot up to # 4 in June 1976.  It also became the second single in the music history, after Johnnie Taylor’s Disco Lady, to be certified platinum for sales of two million.  It sold altogether over four million copies.

  This poignant and beautiful country-soul song about a love triangle was written by Blue.  Blue: “I used to get my songs a lot of times while I was asleep, and I would wake up with the melody in my head, go back to sleep and when I woke up for good I’d lost the song.  So this particular song, I woke up in the middle of the night, I went into my den and sat down on the keyboards, so I wouldn’t forget it.  I wrote it down and recorded it a little bit to start it off in the morning.  When I woke up, I finished it.”

  “I didn’t write this for the Manhattans.  I wrote it for a country artist, like Glen Campbell or Charlie Pride.  Back then they were with Columbia Records also.  At that time I was more into writing than anything, and I couldn’t vision the Manhattans singing a country song like this.  My first arrangement of this was a country arrangement.”

  Gerald: “We didn’t like it, because we thought it was a country & western song... which it is – and turned out to be our biggest hit!  Shining Star was another perfect example as well.  It was a c&w tune.  Our biggest hits were c&w tunes.”

  Bobby Eli: “In the beginning the guitar introduction, which I played, had sort of a little country kind of feel to it.  I just did it from the top of my head.  It just kind of hit me at the time.  After we finished the track and we’re on our way to the control room, Ronnie Baker, the bass player, got up and started laughing.  He said ‘man, what’s with this country & western shit’, and he took his music paper and made believe he’s wiping his butt with it.  He said ‘he-he-he-he, it’s gonna never sell’.”

  Kenny: “I think it was a phenomenal song.  Initially we never chose it to be an A-side.  The company chose that.  We liked the tune, but we didn’t like it as an A-side.”  Blue: “That was a disco era, and we didn’t want a ballad during a disco era.”

  During the time of the release of the single Blue said in an interview that “I did the background parts.  Bobby Martin did the arrangement.  He and I sat together and I showed him how I wanted the rhythm to go.  Then I talked to out lead singer, Gerald.  He’s a real soulful, gospel guy, and I told him I wanted it straight.  I heard this as a strictly country-type thing, sung by a black person.”

  According to LeBaron Taylor, head of CBS’s black music division, CBS emphasized releasing a first single from an upcoming album with white as well as black appeal.  The ideal was to break it on black radio, build sales into the half million range, and then aim this “hit” at “mainstream” audiences (Nelson George: The Death of Rhythm & Blues).

  Kiss and Say Goodbye sold nearly a million in the black market before it crossed over.  Blue: “In the U.S. back then, if you’re an African-American r&b artist, your records would have to go to number one on r&b stations with a bullet for the pop stations even to recognize it.  So we proved not only it was a r&b hit, a country hit – it was also a pop hit.  At one time one of the country artists recorded Kiss and Say Goodbye and I just happened to go to a country station and look at it, and he had put down a different writer and a different publisher and we had to put that right.”

  “I was just disappointed with a pitch problem.  Musicians can hear it, but Columbia again was right.  They didn’t want us to go back in and touch it.  They wanted to send it out just as it was, and it worked.  It was some off-pitch parts in the background.  It made me grit my teeth.  My skin would crawl.”

  Gerald: “It wasn’t complete vocally.  I had to do my lead vocals over and we never got a chance to do it over.  They just mixed it and released it as it was.  But it showed the human side of us recording, because totally perfect songs for me don’t show the human side.  I didn’t realise it until later on.  It shows we have feelings.”

  Columbia released two single versions, a “full version” and a “single edit.”  Blue: “Pop stations didn’t like the rap the way I was talking, like Barry White, Isaac Hayes or Lou Rawls.  They didn’t like that talking in the beginning.  They felt it would sell better, if it was without the rap.  I was fine with that.  Whatever would sell records that was fine.”

  The company also released an X-rated version of the song (Columbia As 263).  Blue: “Mickey Eichner had me do an X-rated recording.  Promotionally we sent the X-rated out to r&b stations before the original single came out, just to hype them, to get them ready.  Everybody was excited and it was an excellent idea from Mickey.  I Kinda Miss You also had an X-rated version” (on the flip).  Kiss and Say Goodbye was also released as a 12” maxi-single on Columbia 10506.

  On the b-side of Kiss and Say Goodbye they placed Bob Riley’s melodic and lush ballad called Wonderful World of Love, which had been cut in Macon, Georgia.  Two of the many artists that have covered Kiss and Say Goodbye are N-Phase (in ’94) and UB40 (in 2005).  You can watch live video clips of the Manhattans singing the song on YouTube, as well as performances of I Kinda Miss You, Shining Star, Crazy and You Send Me

  Gerald: “Kiss was our biggest hit.  It opened the doors for us.  I think it was a great song, and I realised that that was what we needed and Columbia made the right choice at the time.  We thought it was the worst choice, but it worked and I’m very happy that it did.”

  Sonny: “To say we were elated would be an understatement.  The song was a smash hit in the middle of the disco era during 1976.  That year we were nominated for an American Music Award for that song.”  They also toured Britain and U.S. Armed forces bases in Germany in early ’77.


THE MANHATTANS ALBUM

  In the spring of 1976, right behind Kiss and Say Goodbye, Columbia released the third, self-titled album by the group on the label.  Carried by the huge hit single, the album peaked at # 6-soul and # 16-pop, which still today is the highest Billboard’s “TOP LPs” position for the group.  It stayed on the charts for half a year and became their first gold album, another remarkable achievement for the group.  Sonny: “With the success of Kiss, the LP was going to be big.  That’s the way we felt, and it went gold.”  It hit # 37 in the U.K. charts.

  The ten-track set was produced by both Manhattans Productions, Inc. & Bobby Martin, and the Manhattans with Bert deCoteaux.  Bobby arranged and cut his tracks at Sigma Sound Studios in Philadelphia, whereas Bert arranged and cut his material at Columbia Recording Studios in New York.  Those days Bert was hot with Ben E. King and Supernatural Thing.

  Bert deCoteaux is a producer/arranger/writer and keyboard player out of New York, who has worked with numerous artists throughout the years.  Besides Ben E. King there are Sister Sledge, Diana Ross, Marlena Shaw, Millie Jackson, B.B. King, Bloodstone, Ace Spectrum, Albert King, Dr. Feelgood, Ramsey Lewis, Crown Heights Affair, Z.Z. Hill and Main Ingredient.  He passed away in 2005.

  Gerald: “Bert was good to work with.  He was reserved, but he knew his stuff.  He had a great taste.”  Kenny: “I thought Bobby Martin could have done that by himself.  As I said, there were some decisions we weren’t able to deal with.  I just felt that Bobby’s choice of material, the approach to his whole production and attitude were a lot more comfortable for me to work with him than Bert deCoteaux.  We felt like Bobby was one of the boys.”

  Bobby Eli: “In one session for that album Bobby Martin was standing there counting off the song and he poked himself in the eye with a drum stick.  He was holding a drumstick like a baton... but everybody laughed about it.”

  The album kicks off with a pleasant and airy Philly type of a dancer called Searching for Love, which Bobby produced and Mikki Farrow, Bruce Gray and Allan Felder wrote.  A romantic ballad named We’ll Have Forever to Love came from Sonny’s pen.  Sonny: “...just the feelings we all have, when were in love; that we will be with that someone forever, but it doesn’t always work out that way.  But that’s life, and you have to move on.”

  Take It or Leave It is a peaceful ballad, which Evie Sands co-wrote and which originally appeared on her Estate of Mind album in 1974.  Gerald: “I like that song.  I remember, when Mickey Eichner brought it to us, I loved it from the beginning.  And I really enjoyed listening to Evie Sands sing it.”

  Reasons is a song from Earth, Wind & Fire’s That’s the Way of the World album in 1975, and Bert produced it for the Manhattans.  Blue: “We tried to get a cover song on every one of our albums.”  The closing track on the A-side is Blue’s catchy and effortless dancer titled How Can Anything So Good Be So Bad for You, again produced by Bert.

  If You’re Ever Gonna Love Me is a classy and moody ballad, which has been cut by G.C. Cameron, Freddie North and Bobby Sheen, too.  The song was written by Frank Johnson, also known as Frank-o, a recording artist in his own right and a brilliant Southern soul writer and producer.  Frank: “I wrote If You’re Ever Gonna Love Me for G.C. Cameron on Motown Records.  He recorded it and released it.  Then Wishbone Productions pitched it to CBS, for the Manhattans.”

  Finally La La La Wish upon a Star was a poppy and melodic, “sing-along” ballad from Teddy Randazzo, Victoria Pike and Roger Joyce.  As a whole, The Manhattans offers melodic, beautiful and romantic music.  Also the two uptempo cuts are quite irresistible.  With smooth harmony, Blue’s monologues, Gerald’s leads and full orchestration, the group carved its niche and cemented their winning formula.  Kenny: “I thought it was a very good album.  I thought the artwork on it was very unique.  The photographer (Shig Ikeda) was very creative in his conceptualization.” 

RICHARD TAYLOR

  “Ricky” or “Richie” Taylor (baritone) went to Snyder High with George Smith in the 50s, served together with Sonny Bivins in the Air Force in Germany in the late 50s and became a permanent member of the Manhattans in the early 60s.  It was, however, right after Kiss and Say Goodbye in 1976 that Richard left the group.

  Sonny: “He left due to personal religious beliefs.  He became Abdul Rashid Talhal.  For a while we kept a mic-stand in his place on stage, but after about a year or so we knew he wasn’t coming back and the Manhattans became a quartet.  He was just a real nice, happy-go-lucky guy... hell of a singer, too.  Richard, Smitty and I were very close and it hurt me now that both of my dearest friends were gone from the group.”

  Blue: “He still sang on the album, but he became an orthodox Muslim, and his religion and his thoughts were not into music and the things that we were doing, so we gave him from April to December.  He left in April 1976.  He quit.  He didn’t want any more of it, he couldn’t take touring.  He was deeply into his religion, and we had to honour this, and we respected it.  So the four of us went on by ourselves and we had the door open for him till the end of the year, but he never wanted to come back.”

  Kenny: “Richard was a nice guy.  He was the heaviest out of us all.  Richard was more or less the street guy of the group.  He knew the streets very well.  He taught us a lot of things (laughing), and he loved to sing.  When we started working together, Richard was always the last one to come to the table, so to speak.  If we had to go somewhere and we had to be there at a particular time, Richard was the last one.  But once he got there, he was serious about what it was he was there for.”

  Jeanie Scott: “Richard used to come by the house and visit us sometimes after Smitty got sick and was out of the group.  Richie marched to the beat of a different drummer, you could say.  Just when they hit success, he dropped out of the group to become a Muslim and it was very confusing for Kenny and the fellows.  Richard Taylor’s wife, Martha Taylor, was a songwriter.  She wrote a couple of the Manhattans’ songs.”  I Can’t Stand for You to Leave Me on DeLuxe in 1971 was one of those songs.

  Phil Terrell: “He was a very nice person.  He was a lot of fun also, but he was more to the point of things.”  Blue: “He has three kids.  Everybody loved Richie.  He was very comical.  He had you laughing all the time – always doing cracks with people, fooling and joking with somebody.  On depressing days he would help us realise how far we had come.” 

  “On the day Kiss and Say Goodbye was released and we reached the top-10, he retired for religious reasons.  The longer we went and the hotter we became as far as travelling abroad and doing bigger things, he seemed to pull more in different direction.  He didn’t want to deal with the riffraff, the crazy things happening in the music business.  He was sort of pulling away, like being a minister more or less.  He didn’t want to sing anymore.”

  Richard left the music business altogether, and he passed away on December 7 in 1987 in Kansas City.  Blue: “We were told it was cancer.  We were in Japan, and we got a phone call from one of his brothers, who told us he had just died.  Before any of his family could get out to Kansas City, being a Muslim, they had buried him already.”

I KINDA MISS YOU

  Written again by Blue, as the next single in late 1976 they released another beautiful gem of a ballad called I Kinda Miss You, almost like a sequence to Kiss.  Blue: “It was like a follow-up, like an apology: I changed my mind.  I still miss you.  If I could get you back...”  This elegant song landed at # 7-soul and # 46-pop.  On the flip they had Sonny’s song called Gypsy Man.  Sonny: “It was mainly about the everyday life of being on the road as an entertainer.”

  In January 1977 the Manhattans performed at the Inaugural Ball at the White House for President Jimmy Carter.  Sonny: “What an honour! Not everybody gets to play for the President.  I had the pleasure of doing it twice, later at Christmas 1999 for President Clinton.”  Gerald: “That was great.  They had a lot of ball that night.  It was a big shot in the arm, and it was an honour for us.  We were the only one to perform there.  I think they had a jazz band or something before us, but basically it was us.”

  Blue: “Quite an experience!  Just to be considered for an Inaugural Ball was quite a privilege... one of the highlights of my career.”


IT FEELS SO GOOD

  In early 1977, the title song of the Manhattans’ next album, which had hit the streets already a month or so earlier, was released as the next single.  A tender soul ballad named It Feels So Good to Be Loved So Bad was again produced and co-written by Teddy Randazzo, and it raced to # 6-soul and # 66-pop.  Gerald: “That’s one of my favourite tunes, because that’s one of the songs that Teddy produced.  I loved working with Teddy.  Teddy played practically every instrument.” 

  “I remember one time, when I went to get the copy of a song to take to Bobby Martin, Teddy had an orchestra in his house.  He had a studio in his house, and he had an orchestra sitting right there in the living room.  They were putting strings and horns that night on a demo, finishing it up.  I remember when we gave it to Bobby Martin.  He said ‘what you want me to do with it’, because basically it was already done.”

  On the b-side they put Kenny Kelly’s pretty ballad titled Up on the Street (Where I Live).  Kenny: “It came from an experience of riding up on the street where I live.  I was in the manhole area and I was looking up the street, and I saw signs.  Everything in the song is related to me being in that manhole, looking at what I saw.”  Although in one article at the time it was printed that Kenny produced this song in Ohio on another group, he doesn’t agree with it.  Kenny: “If it’s produced on somebody else, they have done it without my knowledge.”

  Besides that title tune, the rest of the tracks on the It Feels So Good album were produced and arranged by Bobby Martin.  The Manhattans used the familiar pattern of their own group, Little Harlem, cutting the demo rhythm tracks and then Bobby arranging them for MFSB.  Sonny: “Great LP, and it felt so good, when we got a gold record out of it.”  Again decorating the album charts for about half a year, it crept to # 12-soul and # 68-pop.

  Sonny wrote Let’s Start It All over Again, a light and gentle slowie, which one could interpret as another chapter in the Kiss & I Kinda Miss You story.  Sonny: “It was just about being in and out of love, relationships.  I never meant it to be a sequence, but maybe it comes across like that.”

  Blue’s uptempo It’s You is a very pleasant and melodic, feel-good song.  Blue: “... had a little country flavour to that one, too.”  In the U.K. this song was released as a single, and it landed at # 43 in April 1977.  Blue also wrote a truly beautiful and haunting waltz called I’ll See You Tomorrow.  Blue: “that was a country song.”

  Sonny penned It Just Can’t Stay This Way, a slightly dramatic soul ballad.  Sonny: “There comes a time, when things aren’t going the right way.  You either live it, or change it.  But whatever you choose, it just can’t be like it was.”

  Another haunting and soothing gem of a slowie is Gerald’s and Sonny’s We Never Danced to a Love Song, one of Gerald’s favourites.  Gerald: “We wrote that in England. We were on a promotional tour.  I went to Sonny’s room one night, and again Sonny pulled out his guitar and started playing some melodies, and we wrote it in his room that night, came back home and recorded it.”  As a single in the summer of 1977 the song bounced up to # 10-soul and # 93-pop.

  Jeanie: “I remember when the Manhattans were rehearsing We Never Danced to a Love Song.  I was in the studio, where they practiced in Jersey City above the State Theater.  Another day, while I was over Kenny’s house chatting with him, I asked him about the change of direction.  He told me they were going a little for the country as Kenny Rogers had so much success with it at the time.”

  Blue’s Mind Your Business is a bit messy funk number and a big contrast to the rest of the program on the album.  Blue: “This was a message to people who get in other people’s business, who start bad rumours.  Columbia did the choosing of the songs, and they decided to put that on.”

  The closing slowie, Too Much for Me to Bear, was written by R.S. Riley, Sr. and it offers one of Gerald’s most impressive vocal performances on record.  Blue: “Bob Riley was our promotion man.  We would take his lyrics and put our own melodies to it.  He’d bring the song to us, just as a poem, and we would make the melodies for his songs.  I don’t think we took credit for writing on this, but a lot of times that’s what happened.  Bob passed many years ago.”

  Although a matter of taste, this writer feels that It Feels So Good is even better than its predecessor and considers it as one of the most romantic soul albums ever.  Almost all the melodies are written by the group members, there are a lot of Blue’s soothing recitations and to set you in the right late-night mood there are as many as eight slow songs on display.

AM I LOSING YOU

  In 1977 the group wrote songs for two movie soundtracks, “The Class of Miss MacMichael” and “Moving.”  Blue: “We went on a tour to Europe, and when we got to Germany they wanted to do a movie about a tour roadie.  They gave us the concept, and one night I just wrote the song Moving.  It was an overnight thing - real quick, as fast as I could - and they liked it, I guess, and put it on the soundtrack.  It was a national hit, only.”  Silvio Narizzano directed the ’78 comedy about Miss MacMichael, a teacher played by Glenda Jackson.  The composer/music score credits go to Stanley Myers.  A Manhattans song called The Closer You Are from that movie was released on their 1980 album.

  The very same year the Manhattans also received NATRA’s award, Outstanding Group of the Year, together with the Commodores.  Blue: “It was quite an honour again.  In fact, we were riding so high in 1977, it was unbelievable.  It was like a dream come true.  It was something that we, these high school guys, never visioned in our wildest dreams.”

  The group was also a popular live act, and throughout the years they had polished their stage performance.  Gerald: “We used to do white gloves and black light.  When you turned the lights out, all you could see is our hands going through the air.  We would do a choreography thing that we called ‘figure-8’.  It was very exciting, and the audience loved it.”

  Alvin Fields, Barbara Morr and Douglas Stender wrote the next classy ballad for the group - actually already 7th slow single in a row – called Am I Losing You.  The name Barbara Morr pops up later quite often in writer credits on songs for the Manhattans and Gerald Alston.  Blue: “It’s a terrific song.  We still get a lot of requests for that song now.”  Gerald: “After we finished that song, Barbara and I started writing together.”  In early 1978 the song flew in at # 6-soul and # 101-pop.  It was backed with Blue’s sweet, smooth and sentimental song named Movin’, from the German TV movie.


THERE’S NO GOOD IN GOODBYE

  The Manhattans’ early ’78 album, There’s No Good in Goodbye, wasn’t certified gold anymore and on Billboard’s album charts it peaked at # 18-soul and # 78-pop.  It was produced by Bobby Martin and the Manhattans and recorded at Total Experience Sound Studios in Hollywood, California.  Mixing was still done at Sigma in Philly, though.

  The title song, a powerful ballad with rich orchestration, was composed by Teddy Randazzo and Roger Joyce.  Gerald: “Teddy did the title song.  It never got play in this country.  It was one of those songs that Columbia just didn’t push.  It was a very big song for us in Europe, Far East, South Africa, Jamaica, all over Caribbean countries, but they never released it as a single.”

  Blue: “As sensational producer and arranger as Teddy was, he didn’t want to interfere with the marriage that we had with Bobby Martin, so a lot of times on things he had written he let Bobby hear his arrangements and collectively they would do it together.”

  On the album the title song was followed by a cover of the Casinos’ early ’67 hit, Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye.  This memorable tune was written by John D. Loudermilk, and on this version towards the end of the song the Manhattans burst into a fast and gospelly delivery.

  Tomorrow, a melodic slow song, derived from the musical Annie and it was a minor hit (# 74-soul) for Cissy Houston on Private Stock in ’77.  Blue: “She’s a very good friend.  We love her very much.  In Jamaica and the Islands they love that song, Tomorrow.”

  Share My Life is a smooth, middle-of-the-road slowie.  Gerald: Glenn Rockwell and Lloyd Donnelly wrote it.  Glenn was our percussionist at that time and Lloyd played bass for us.”

  The only fast track on the album, the sparkling Happiness, was written by Blue, and it was followed by one of Gerald’s favourites again, a tender and sweet serenade called You’re My Life, composed by Teddy Randazzo, Victoria Pike and Roger Joyce.  This is the only song on the album, where Teddy is credited as an arranger.  Bob Riley’s Goodbye Is the Saddest Word is a poignant ballad.  Blue: “Again, we put the melody to that.  He gave us the lyrics, and we put it together the best we could.”

  The final song on the set was chosen as their next single, but it only floundered to # 65-soul in the summer of 1978.  The song was a cover of Billy Joel’s Everybody Has a Dream, which derives from Billy’s platinum album called Stranger in ’77.  Gerald: “It was a big hit in the south, but not nationwide.  A lot of people down south loved it.  We were big in the South-East.”  The group took the song to church.  On the album the running time of their powerful and impressive delivery is 7:05.

  Blue: “When Billy Joel sent his rendition of it, we just added JFK and Martin Luther King.  We felt like we should honour our leaders in that particular song.”  Gerald: “I remember recording Everybody Has a Dream, and my voice cracked at one point and I told Bobby Martin ‘I want to do it again’, and Bobby said ‘no we’re gonna leave it just like it is because of the feeling you have on there.  You’ll be never able to recapture that feeling’... and it worked!”

  There’s No Good in Goodbye sounds almost as good as its magnificent predecessor.  It may take a little more time to absorb, but on this set there’s not a dud on display.  Gerald: “That’s the album that Columbia lost.  They didn’t remember that we recorded it (laughing).  That was one of our greatest albums, too.”  Sonny: “I like that LP.  We did a few Broadway songs, like from the play Annie.  That was a change as far as what we had been doing.  You like to challenge yourself sometimes.  I think it’s good for your craft as an entertainer.”

  Kenny: “I just felt that that album was too over the edge.  I think they were pushing to group too fast to the pop side and leaving the roots of what got us to where we were.  I think that album could have been laced with more things that sounded like the Manhattans.  You could have peppered some of those things into our albums later on, but at that particular junction I just thought the whole project was too pop.”

  At that time there was also talk about the group cutting a doowop album, but – although the Manhattans call themselves “progressive doowoppers” – that project never materialized.

HERE COMES THE HURT AGAIN

  A beautiful and melancholic ballad called Here Comes the Hurt Again was released as a single in early 1979, but for some strange reason this gem escaped the hot-100 altogether and appeared on Billboard’s soul chart only, stalling at # 29.  This was the second Frank Johnson song the group recorded.  Frank: “Here Comes the Hurt Again was pitched to the Manhattans, from Wishbone Productions in Muscle Shoals, Alabama.” Frank used to work as a staff writer at Wishbone.

  The b-side, Kenny Kelly’s Don’t Say Goodbye, didn’t appear on any album.  Kenny: “It’s a ballad, and it never really got any exposure.  I wasn’t mad, but I just felt that maybe somewhere on the line somebody could have played it.”


LOVE TALK

  Three production units worked on the Manhattans’ final 70s album titled Love Talk (# 20-soul, # 141-pop), but no Bobby Martin in sight this time.  Gerald: “By that time Bobby had moved away.  He was already in California, when we did the last album with him, There’s No Good in Goodbye.”  Blue: “We were then finished with Bobby Martin.  Bobby became very religious and he moved away from Philadelphia and the riffraff of Philadelphia and the Sigma Sound Studios.”  Bobby was working in California for A&M and was busy with L.T.D.  Already their first joint album in 1977, Something to Love, was certified gold and after that they reached the platinum level with both Togetherness (’78) and Devotion (’79).  Another group that Bobby concentrated on those days was Tavares (e.g. Madam Butterfly on Capitol in ’79).

  Released in March 1979, on Love Talk the Manhattans had the Sweethearts of Soul backing them again.  Blue: “They were sensational.  We did our version first, and they came in and did their part.”  Gerald: “Those ladies were awesome.”

  Bert deCoteaux and the Manhattans produced together and Bert arranged two songs that they cut in New York.  The opener, After You, is a melodic and smooth ballad, which some of you may remember as Cissy Houston’s gorgeous rendition on her Think it over album on Private Stock a year earlier.  I Just Wanna Be the One in Your Life, on the other hand, is a lighter and more poppy song, which the Waters had cut on Warner Bros. two years earlier.  Gerald: “Mickey Eichner brought a lot of cover songs to the group.”

  Scorpicon Music, Inc. produced three tracks, which were cut at Sigma.  Blue: “I’m a November guy and Gerald’s a November guy, so in astrology we’re Scorpios.  That’s our sign.  Sonny and Kenny were Capricorns, so we combined the two names.  It was our production company back then.”  Dennis Harris was the arranger on one and Mike Foreman on two tracks.  Bobby Eli: “Michael ‘Sugar Bear’ Foreman was a bass player, who played in the studio with us.  He passed away some years ago.”

  Dennis arranged Sonny’s “crying clown” ballad named That’s Not Part of the Show.  Sonny: “On stage the public sees you one way, but at the end of the day you’re just a human being like everyone else.  You go through everyday life situations.  That’s what I wanted the song to project.”

  Mike had his hand at the title song, Blue’s toe-tapper, what you could even call a neo-doowop dancer.  Mike’s second contribution was a medley of The Way We Were & Memories.  Sonny: “Nobody does it like Barbra Streisand, but we had a beautiful arrangement on those songs that we felt the public would like to hear.  So we did it and it really turned out good for us.”

  The Way We Were was a gold record for Barbra in 1973, and Gladys Knight also used it in her ’75 medley of The Way We Were & Try to RememberEgbert Van Alstyne and Gus Kahn wrote the tender Memories as early as in 1915.  Released as a single in the summer of 1979, the medley struggled to # 33-soul.  Blue: “We got a good response from that.  It didn’t do good sales-wise, but it’s one of the most requested songs on our show back then.  We did it live.  Mike Foreman, one of the guys in the MFSB band and a bass player for the Blue Notes for a long time, co-produced it and he tried to get that live effect.”

WE TRIED

  The third production team consisted of Jack Faith and the Manhattans, and the tracks were cut at Sigma.  Jack did the arrangements.  Gerald: “Jack was good.  You had a chance to express yourself as well.  He let you do your thing.”

  The Right Feeling at the Wrong Time is a beat-ballad, which had charted (# 58-soul, # 65-pop) for the group Hot on the Big Tree label in 1977.

  Devil in the Dark is a Mighty Three Music song, which verifies Philly quality of highest order.  This very slow and soft, moody song was written by Talmadge Gerald Conway, Allan Felder and Cary Grant Gilbert (you can read my feature on T.G. Conway in our printed paper # 3/2005).  Gerald: “Allan Felder and Jack Faith brought that song to us.” 

  Bobby Eli: “I remember Devil in the Dark.  I played on that.  My favourites among the Manhattans recordings?  I would have to say definitely Kiss and Say GoodbyeDon’t Take Your Love is another favourite.  I guess Hurt would be the next.  We Never Danced to a Love Song is another one.  I like the way they did Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye.  That’s a good remake of a classic song.”

  New York City is Blue’s perky disco dancer, and as a closing track there’s another tune from Blue, a passionate and intense deepie called We Tried – arguably the cream cut on the album.

  Although the group had earlier threatened to release a disco album, they luckily stuck to their own smooth and sweet style on Love Talk, which contains actually only two fast tracks.  Sonny: “That album was a very nice combination of songs – medium tempo and ballads.  We had fun with the song Love Talk.  You can hear us reminiscing about how we would sing in the bathroom for the echo sound.  That was our effects back then, hah-haa.”

  Kenny: “I don’t think the album did what it could have done based on the fact that it was again too poppish.  I understand that the people, who were behind it, tried to take us over to where the money was, but then again you can’t throw a kid in the water that doesn’t know how to swim and tell him to swim.  A lot of decisions were made above our heads.  We had to go along with those decisions based on the fact that it wasn’t our money that was spent.”

  Gerald: “Love Talk was a good album.  It was showing our progression, because CBS wanted to keep us in the ballad thing, and it was a different side of us.  We were, of course, a balladeer group and that was a major part of our success that we stayed true to what we were doing.  We wanted to try the disco stuff, but it was refused by CBS.  They wanted us to do just what we’ve been doing, and through the whole disco era we continued to sing our ballads.”

  In the 70s the Manhattans had nine top-ten songs on the soul charts - One Life to Live, There’s No Me without You, Don’t Take Your Love, Hurt, the platinum Kiss and Say Goodbye, I Kinda Miss You, It Feels So Good To Be Loved So Bad, We Never Danced to a Love Song and I’m I Losing You.  Add to that still two half-a-million selling albums – The Manhattans and It Feels So Good – and you can talk about a golden decade for the group.  But that wasn’t the end of it.  There was still a huge hit waiting just around the corner...

© Heikki Suosalo

Additional acknowledgements to Carla Benson, Bobby Eli, Frank Johnson, Tom Moulton and Bunny Sigler.

Read the Manhattans Discography here!

The part 1
The part 2 (1964-1970)
Part 4 (1980-1989)
Part 5 (1988-2012)

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