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THE MANHATTANS – part 5 (1988 – 2012)


Read also:
The part 1
The part 2 (1964-1970)
The part 3 (1971-1979)
The part 4 (1980-1989)
The Manhattans Discography 1960-2012

  Gerald Alston: “First of all, Motown was the company I really wanted to be with, and sometimes it’s time to make a change.  It had nothing to do with the group situation.  At one point it became work instead of performing and enjoying it.  Once it became a job, I stepped away for awhile.  I wanted to do something different.  I wanted to try a solo career, and I did it.  I have no regrets about it.  It wasn’t a major success, but it was a success for me.  I had a chance to be out on my own and to be in control of what I wanted to do.”

  Gerald had been contemplating embarking on a solo career for quite a long time, until finally in 1988 he signed with TAJ Records, which Motown then acquired and distributed.  TAJ was Bill Dern’s label, and Gerald knew Bill since 1984.  Gerald: “I met Bill through our management.  Bill was working in our manager’s office.  Mervyn Dash became my manager later.  Basically we all worked together.  It was sort of a management collaboration that we had, when I went solo.”

  Born in 1945, William Dern became president of Bill Dern Management in 1976 for six years, when he was dealing mainly with jazz artists.  Later he worked as vice president of TWM Management in the first half of the 80s and managed the Manhattans along with Kool & the Gang and Dr. John.  Later in the 80s he managed, among others, New Edition and Sister Sledge, and in the 90s, besides working as a manager for numerous artists, he became the consultant and executive producer for the Temptations and the Four Tops.  Today he’s the general manager of Hyena Records and Big Deal Records.


GERALD ALSTON

  Bill is also credited as the executive producer on Gerald’s self-titled debut solo album on TAJ/Motown, recorded in Nevada and California and released in the latter part of 1988.  Those days Bill managed also a hit making trio out of Los Angeles called By All Means (an interview with one of the members, Mikelyn Roderick, at http://www.soulexpress.net/mikelynroderick_interview.htm), so it’s no wonder he invited their producer, Stan Sheppard, and lead vocalist, James Varner, to produce Gerald’s set.

  On the album, Gerald Alston (MOT-6265), you can spot familiar names among the  musicians, such as Paul Jackson, Jr. on guitar, Paulinho Da Costa on percussion, Fred Washington on bass and Gerald Albright on sax on two tracks.

  Horns and strings were arranged by Gene Page.  Gerald: “It was a wonderful experience.  He was a great arranger and producer... just a beautiful sound.”  James Varner played keyboards and took care of the drum programming.  On background vocals you can enjoy By All Means, Alfie Silas and the Waters sisters.  Those days Gerald mentioned that they deliberately chose female backing singers to prevent any comparison with the Manhattans.

TAKE ME WHERE YOU WANT TO

  Most of the songs were composed by the producers, Stan and James, with some help from Gerald himself.  The opener, a steady down-tempo song called Take Me where you want to (by Sheppard-Varner-Alan Stokes), was chosen for the first single.  There seems to be now more edge to Gerald’s singing, and at the end of the song he lets loose and practically takes us to church.  “That was the first song that I recorded for that album, and I did it one take.  It was just one of those songs that touched me inside.” 

  A gentle ballad, which grows into an intense delivery, titled Still in Love with Loving You (by Gerald - Johnny Burton - John “Skip” Anderson) was placed on the flip side of the single and it appeared also on the European vinyl pressing of the album, as well as on the CD.  The single landed at # 6 on Billboard’s “Hot Black Singles” charts.

  As the second single the company released a scorcher named You Laid Your Love on Me – penned by Gerald, Stan and James - which in early 1989 stalled at # 41 on the aforementioned charts.  For the European album and the CD they added also an extended version of the song.  “They were trying to do something up-tempo, but I think a mistake was made.  They should have chosen Stay a Little While.”  Here I wholeheartedly agree with Gerald, because this emotive, pleading soul ballad would have been a perfect follow-up to Take Me where you want to.  When the song was finally released as the fourth single off the album, it was already too late for it to make any waves.

  The third single was a cover of the Eagles’ # 8 pop hit in 1980, I Can’t Tell You Why, and Gerald really puts his heart and soul into this slow song.  “I think that was a great song.  We did a video on it, and I think it just didn’t get the support to make it bigger.”  The single crept into # 52-black.


MIDNIGHT ANGEL

  Besides You Laid Your Love on Me, there are two more movers on the album, the groovy I Come Alive When I’m with You and the driving Activated, which was released as a single in the U.K. in 1988.  The rest four tracks are all delightful down-tempo numbers.  Let’s Try Love Again grows from tender opening notes into Gerald’s powerful vocalizing, whereas Midnight Angel is the most melodic song on the set and close to the traditional Manhattans style.  Gerald composed it together with Gloria Sklerov.  “I met Gloria 25-30 years ago, and we were writing some songs together and that was one of the songs we wrote.”  Gerald wrote this beautiful love serenade especially for his wife, Edna.  Gloria is an Emmy Award-winning songwriter (www.weddingmusiccentral.com/about-us).

  Another tuneful song is called I’ve Waited All Night, and this floater is peppered with Gerald Albright’s sax.  This time Gerald’s writing partner was Royal Bayyan aka Royal Jackson (www.myspace.com/4royalbayyan).  The closing song is the cover of the Carpenters’ gold hit in 1970, We’ve Only Just Begun.  It’s a richly improvised, slowed-down and almost unrecognizable version.  “That was my idea.  I’ve always loved it.  We had been singing it on our shows, so we thought it’d be good to put it on the record.”

  The LP peaked at # 18 on Billboard’s “Top Black Albums” charts, and at that time Gerald was disappointed at the record not hitting gold, “but the groundwork is done.”  It took almost two years for TAJ/Motown to come up with the follow-up album, Open Invitation (MOTD 6298), in late 1990.


SLOW MOTION

  For this set Stan Sheppard and James Varner produced only three opening songs, because they were busy with other productions.  A romantic and sensual ballad called Slow Motion (Stan Sheppard – Aaron Smith) had hit the streets already prior to the release of the album.  “I thought it was a great song.  That was my second big single after Take Me where you want to.”  The song became Gerald’s biggest solo hit soaring to # 3 on Billboard’s charts, which were now renamed “Hot R&B Singles.”  Instead of Jimmy Varner, on this track Aaron Smith handles the keyboards and drum programming, and on background vocals we can hear By All Means, Alfie Silas, Crystal Wilson and Penny Wilson.

  Getting Back into Love was another Sheppard & Varner collaboration, and this moody, almost like a late-night ballad turned into a success, too, peaking at # 6-r&b in early 1991.  Here Gerald once again lets loose towards the end of the song, and Gerald Albright’s sax accompanies with finesse.  “It was a different song for me at first.  Stan Sheppard and Jimmy Varner wrote and produced it.  It was a great song.  It wasn’t like taking me in another direction, but it was like just doing something a little different for taking me out of the group sound and finally doing songs that identified me without changing my style.”  The third power ballad from Stan and Jimmy was Don’t You Know How I Feel

  James Anthony Carmichael of the Commodores and Lionel Richie fame was assigned by Motown Records to produce four tracks on Gerald’s album.  On his tracks he used Jeff Porcaro, a founding member of Toto, as the drummer.  Soon after this, in 1992 at the age of 38, Jeff died from a heart attack.  On background vocals James mostly used Deborah Thomas and Marva King.

TELL ME THIS NIGHT WON’T END


  A light and tender song titled I’ll Go Crazy was co-written by Vesta Williams.  “Vesta and I worked together.  We had the same management for awhile.  We went to Rio together and we did a little tour here in the States, and it was very good.”  A catchy beat-ballad called Never Give Up had been cut by Kool & the Gang a year earlier. 

  Tell Me This Night Won’t End (by Lorrin Smokey Bates – Ray Fuller – Percy Bady) was chosen for the third single off the album (# 69-r&b).  This sweet and melodic ballad, which only shocks with a rock guitar solo in the middle, is actually a duet with a singer-songwriter by the name of Brenda Russell, who had scored with Piano in the Dark and Get Here on A&M in 1988.  “That came through my manager.  He knew Brenda and he thought we would be a great team together.  Mervyn Dash reached out for her, and she agreed to do it, and I really enjoyed working with Brenda.”

  The fourth and final song James produced for the album was a slow-to-mid-tempo ditty called Still In Love, which was co-written by Mark Holden, a 58-year old Australian singer, actor and songwriter, who in soul circles is probably best remembered by Lady Soul for the Temptations in 1986.

  Levi Seacer, Jr., who has worked with such artists as Prince, Sheila E, Pointer Sisters and Sounds of Blackness, produced the rest two tracks for the set.  He also handles all the instruments.  The title track, Open Invitation, is the only uptempo song on the album and it was co-written by Norma Jean Wright, and one of the background singers on it is Alex Brown

  The concluding song is a cover of Chuck Jackson’s 1962 hit, Any Day Now.  Recorded in Minnesota, the song is arranged to a faster tempo, and - although it lacks the wistfulness and drama of the original recording – it succeeds in conveying the feeling of despair and desolation, so essential to the song.  “I think that was Debbie Sandridge’s idea.  She was the A&R of the TAJ Records at the time.”  Debbie, who is credited as the executive producer on Gerald’s album, is still active in music.  After six years with Motown, she worked seven years with Diana Ross, before becoming a director at McNally Smith College of Music in Minneapolis.

  Open Invitation fared a bit better than its predecessor, as it reached # 14 on Billboard’s “Top R&B Albums” charts.  In terms of soulfulness it really is an impressive set.  There’s not a dud on display.  Again the European release had two extra tracks (Nothing Can Change and Almost There), which later will appear on Gerald’s third American album.  “I think it was a pretty good album.  I think it wasn’t as good as the first album, even though we got a big single out of it, Slow Motion, but overall I think the first one was a better album.  On that album we really took our time.”


HELL OF A SITUATION

  Again two years passed before the next album, Always in the Mood (on Motown 6353, no TAJ anymore), was released in late 1992.  Again Debbie Sandridge is credited as the executive producer and again Stan Sheppard and Jimmy Varner produced the first three tracks, and Jimmy plays all the instruments.

  The opener is an oft-covered Al Green’s toe-tapper from 1972 titled Love and Happiness, and here again By All Means is backing up Gerald.  The first single, however, was track number two, a powerful soul ballad called Hell of a Situation (Backroom Conversation), written by Stan and Jimmy.  “It was a story-tell like Kiss and Say Goodbye.  People could identify with it.”  Unfortunately this passionate song struggled only to # 28-r&b.  The third track was Jimmy’s hooky beat-ballad named Good to Go.

  Nick Martinelli produced half of the tracks on the set.  “He was a pleasure to work with.  He took his time.  He really worked with you, and he had a great way of working.  You couldn’t come in and not know the song, or you would not sing that day.  You would come in after you knew it.  That’s the way he recorded, and I really appreciated that.”

  Those days Nick was an in-demand producer, who in the 1980s and ‘90s worked with Loose Ends, Five Star, Stephanie Mills, Teddy Pendergrass, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Miki Howard, Regina Belle, Phyllis Hyman and Diana Ross, to name a few. 

  Recorded in Miami, Florida, Send for Me, a classy slowie written by Sam Dees and Ron Kersey, was tested as the second single, but only to a moderate success - # 40-r&b in 1993.  The song had been a bigger hit (# 16-soul) for Atlantic Starr in 1981.  “We talked about it, and we thought it was a good song, and Nick Martinelli had produced it on Atlantic Starr.  When we were talking about it, he said ‘I’m glad I had the opportunity to do it on you’, because he knew my voice and he knew, where he wanted to go.  We just put it together, and it was a great song to do.  I’ve always liked it.  I’ve sung it a couple of times on our show.”


PEACE OF MIND


  Nick produced a powerful, gospel-infused gem of a ballad called Peace of Mind, with a real live rhythm section and an 8-piece strong choir.  “Barbara Morr and I and Mark Chapman (on the pic right) wrote that.  We were just trying to do something with a gospel feel.  Betty Wright and her daughter sang on it.”  Besides Betty there are also Cynthia Biggs and Donna Allen contributing.  In part 4 of our story we already introduced Barbara Morr.  Barbara: “The song is filled with many more metaphors than the other songs due to the collaboration with Mark Chapman.” 

  Mark Chapman: “I co-wrote a song with Gerald Alston and Barbara for the Manhattans called You’re Gonna Love Being Loved by Me (on the Too Hot to Stop It album in 1985, and the b-side of the Columbia 04754 single) and Peace of Mind, a ballad on Gerald’s solo album, Always in the Mood.  I considered meeting and working with Gerald to be a high point in my career, actually the fulfilment of a dream.  I had been an ardent fan of his and the Manhattans.  I consider him to be as fine a singer as I have ever heard.  I wore out those Manhattans albums while living in Nashville.”

  “In Nashville Tommy Cogbill was the most memorable player I knew down there.  We were friends.  I even lent him my bass on occasion for recording.  He died much too soon.  The last guy I played gigs with out of Nashville, before I moved to NYC, was Eddie Hinton.  He has been overlooked, I think, considering what great playing he did.”

  “I was lucky to connect with Gerald and Barbara after moving to NYC in 1983.  Previous to meeting them, I had songs recorded by the Sweet Inspirations on the RSO LP Hot Butterfly in 1979 and by the Newcomers, a Memphis group on Mercury, produced by Allen Jones.  In 1986 I had a song cut by Third World, World of Uncertainty on Columbia’s Sense of Purpose LP that did well enough internationally to be included in a greatest hits compilation.  More obscurely, Barbara and I wrote a song that was recorded by Billy Scott and the Party Prophets in 1999 and was released in a compilation Bad Boys of Beach, volume 2, distributed by WalMart, Amazon etc.  We only learned of this recently, since no-one bothered to alert us, or pay any royalties.  This is a classic r&b record business situation.”

  The title song, Always in the Mood, is an easy dancer, written by Thomas Snow and Gerry Goffin.  Gerald: “The song was submitted to Motown and Nick Martinelli.  Gigi Worth, the young lady came in and did it with us.”  Ed Calle does a fine sax solo on this poppy ditty.

  The guitarist in these Nick’s session, Randy Bowland, wrote a lilting ballad called Someone like You, while Gerald and Jeff Franzel, a New York based pianist and songwriter (e.g. Don’t Rush Me by Taylor Dayne in 1988), wrote a heartfelt, big ballad named I Appreciate Your Love, which had Dee Dee Wilde and Eugene Wilde on background vocals.

NOTHING CAN CHANGE (THE LOVE WE SHARED BEFORE)

  Another song Gerald and Barbara Morr wrote together was a melodic mid-pacer called Nothing Can Change (the Love We Shared Before).  Gerald: “Douglas Grisby III produced that one.  We did the arrangement on that with Nick Martinelli. Doug was a big guy.  I haven’t seen him for awhile.”   Barbara: “It was pulled from the international version of Gerald’s previous album.  It became a big hit in England and then in the rest of Europe, so it was put on the domestic version of Gerald’s third album.”

  Barbara: “My collaboration with Gerald Alston has been extremely rewarding, first and foremost, because Gerald is one of the world’s greatest singers and it is an honour to have his performance involved with my writing.  With Gerald’s singing style in mind, I have wanted to contribute that which compliments and enhances his voice and gives him room to give his own soulful, personal performance.  Our songs are generally considered to be very melodic, hooky and tight in construction.”

  “I have had twenty songs recorded by major artists, with Am I Losing You being the most successful.  It was also a hit in Europe, Japan and South Africa.  Gerald and I wrote We’ve Come All the Way to Love, which we produced for Ray, Goodman & Brown” (on Panoramic Records in 1984).  Do You Love Him, one of Barbara’s songs, was released on Phyllis Hyman’s posthumous CD, In Between the Heartaches.  In recent years Barbara has been engaged in writing music for commercials, too, both for American and Hispanic markets.  “As a singer-songwriter and with my band, I have performed all over the New York metropolitan area, LA, and several European venues including Oslo, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Gothenburg, Malmo, and Basel.  I continue to write songs and work in music for advertising.  I also teach voice, do vocal coaching, and teach piano and song-writing.”


  The concluding song on Always in the Mood is a poignant and melodic ballad titled Almost There, written by Gerald, Eric Mercury and Ira Antelis.  Gerald: “The three of us wrote that together.  I did it live, when I toured with Natalie Cole back in 1992, and the audience loved it.”  Cut in Chicago and produced by Eric and Ira, string arrangements were created by Gene Page.

  For the European release of the album they took Nothing Can Change and Almost There off, because those two songs were included already on the European pressing of Open Invitation.  As compensation they added five new tracks.  First there was a remix of Any Day Now, then a European team of Rutti & Gilbert produced two mid-tempo songs, One Touch (Full of Love) and I’m Still in Love with You.  Finally Camelle Hinds and Simon Trounce produced in London two jazzy tracks, the mid-tempo What’s the Color of Love and the faster World of Ours.


STAY THE NIGHT

  Like clockwork, after a lapse of two years Gerald’s next album hit the streets in late 1994.  It was entitled 1st Class only and released on Street Life Records out of California.  Street Life was formed in December 1993 as a sub-label to Scotti Bros, and some of the other artists on this imprint included Nikki Kixx, China, Yella, the Comrads and Craig Mack.  Executive producers on Gerald’s album were Emerson “EJ” Jackson, a bassist/singer/producer, and Kevin Evans, president of the urban music division of Scotti Bros./Street Life Records.  Chuck Gullo was the head of the entire company those days.


  There were as many as five production units working on this set.  Gi aka Robert Grissett, Jr. together with Gerald were honoured with the first single release, a beat-ballad titled Stay the Night (# 69-r&b), written by Gi, Gerald, Erica McFarland and Richard Redd.  Gerald: “Gi was a young man out of L.A.  That was my first time meeting him, but he did a great job.”  Besides producing and writing, Gi also plays all the instruments and he did the programming on the track.  Gi’s and Gerald’s second production collaboration is a mid-tempo number with a heavy beat called Just Say Yes Tonight.

  The second unit – Gregory Charley and John Winston – is better known as Kiara, a Detroit duo, which was formed in the early 80s and had such top-ten r&b hits as The Best of Me, This Time, Every Little Time and You’re Right about That on Arista in the late 80s/early 90s.  Recorded in Detroit, the twosome produced four self-written songs on Gerald, and three of those tunes had appeared already on their own recent set, Conditions of the Heart.  A dreamy ballad called Devote All My Time – with Dave McMurray on sax – was released as the second single in 1995, and it scraped to # 81-r&b.  The other three Kiara songs were a light mid-tempo ballad named Tell Me, a laid-back floater titled I Believe and a mellow and melodic slowie called Willin to be Thrillin.

  Sam Sims (www.officialsamsims.com) is best known as a smooth jazz bass player, who has worked with numerous luminaries, and he co-wrote and produced two songs for Gerald.  “I think Sam played with Janet Jackson at the time.  He was a very good producer.  These guys knew what they wanted, we came in and that was it.”  Recorded in Atlanta with a live rhythm section, Nothin Better is a mid-tempo, soft floater, which Sam had produced on Rodney Mannsfield a year earlier (actually you can find the original instrumental version of this song on smooth jazz sax player Boney James's Trust album - by the name of Kyoto; ed. note.).  The second mid-pacer, Mirror Mirror, was cut in New York.

  The two songs that the ever-reliable Michael J. Powell produced on Gerald were again cut in Detroit.  “I was hooked up with Michael through my manager at the time.  He was a great producer and he allowed me to be myself.”  Both songs – I’m Going Crazy and The Best Is Yet to Come (by Gerald and Jeff Franzel) – are gently flowing ballads.

  There’s still one more song on 1st Class only, produced by Magic, and it may ring a bell.  Gerald decided to remake the Manhattans’ platinum single from 18 years back, Kiss and Say Goodbye.  The writer, Winfred “Blue” Lovett, again opens the song with his inimitable monologue, but this time the track is arranged to a much heavier beat and it takes off some of the smoothness and beauty of this gem of a song  “Magic was in the camp with the Whispers, and he produced his arrangement of it.  We thought it was nice, but I still like the original better.”  The musician/singer/producer Magic Mendez http://magicmendez.com became later the lead of Unified Tribe.

  Gerald’s fourth solo album wasn’t exactly a big seller.  It spent only one week on the r&b charts and hit # 93.  It was a soothing and entertaining album, but, on the other hand, there were no real sparks on it.  “The industry was changing – to hip-hop and such – and we just never were able to get off the ground, and I didn’t do anything for awhile.” 

HARD TO SAY

  In addition to his solo records, Gerald also made visits on other artists’ albums and cut duets.  Lori Perry was a member of a quartet of sisters called Perri, and alongside working with the group Lori later also launched her solo career.  Lori and Gerald sang together on Raymond Jones’ nice mid-tempo dancer called Hard to Say.  “That was for the movie, Do the Right Thing by Spike Lee.  I enjoyed that, and the movie was good, although in the picture they took my part off (laughing)... but I liked the song.”  The song was released not only on the soundtrack on Motown 6272 in 1989, but also as a single (Motown 2034).

  In 1989 Motown released a compilation entitled Christmas Cheers from Motown (6292), and - along with such artists as Smokey Robinson, Johnny Gill and the Temptations – Gerald is featured on two songs.  Christmas Presence is a duet with Shanice Wilson (www.shaniceonline.com) - remember I Love Your Smile in 1991?  “That was an experience!  She was a young lady, but she has a voice that’s unbelievable.  I remember we were singing the song in the studio in L.A., when my part came to sing after she did her part, and I was so taken away with her voice that I forgot where to come in.  I was totally amazed at her voice.  Her mother, Crystal, is on background vocals.”  Indeed, the song starts as a gently ballad, but towards the end Shanice and Gerald take us to church.


  Gerald’s second Christmas song is his gospel-infused rendition of O Holy Night, which later appeared also on another compilation, Christmas Time with Motown (520254), in 1995.  “O Holy Night has always been a favourite of mine, and we wanted to try and make it a little different.  Bill Dern did the producing on that.  We got the choir together from my church, and it worked out great.  I get a lot of airplay around Christmas time with O Holy Night.”

  As an example of versatility, Gerald sings on a mid-tempo, melodic and laid-back reggae song called Sugar, which also features Soprano.  “That was done for a French movie.  I liked it.  It was a different experience for me, but I enjoyed it.”  Bronu Coulais was the score composer and producer on the soundtrack Comme un Aimant (“like a magnet”) on No Sellout 48779 in 2000.

RIGHT BY MY SIDE

  One of the most beautiful songs Gerald recorded during his solo spell was called Right by my Side.  Co-written by Stanley Clarke, this lovely serenade was released on the Stanley Clarke/George Duke project “3” (Epic 46012, in 1990).  “I wished a million times, over and over again, that Motown had gotten George Duke to produce one of my albums.  It would have been sensational.  He made me feel comfortable.  Sometimes, when a producer gets too excited about the artist’s voice, he loses focus of what he’s doing.  George was focused.  I think back then he would have been the perfect producer for one of my CDs.”

  In the world of r&b there’s also another gentleman by the name of Gerald Alston.  This namesake was one of the members of the quintet called Classic Example, which released a self-titled CD on Boston Int. Records/Hollywood (61333) in 1992, for the most part produced by Maurice Starr.

  On YouTube you can still watch an almost 14-minute-long clip of the play Chaos - shot in June 2011 - where Gerald and Glenn Jones are having a singing battle over Leslie Dupree.  Gerald sings There’s No Me without You.  “I did one night in the play Chaos.  My cousin recommended me to do the thing.”

  Gerald is listed as one of the vocalists on Stick Me for My Riches, which appeared on Wu-Tang Clan’s CD “8 Diagrams” in 2007.  “It’s all wrong.  The song was not done for Wu-Tang. Illegally Wu-Tang put that record on the album.  I did it for a friend of mine, who was putting a movie together, and we invited a gentleman from Wu-Tang to do a rap on the record.  They took the record, mixed it and I never got paid for it.  I never got anything for it.  No respect at all!  I didn’t give my right for that song to be put on anybody’s album.”

  “When I was doing my solo career, I did a lot of work in Europe.  In ’91 I did a European tour with Whitney Houston.  We did Wembley, two days in Manchester, we did Rotterdam, Scotland, Germany and France.  I opened for her... a great show!  I also toured England with Natalie Cole.  I toured here in the States with Anita Baker, and I also toured with Stephanie Mills.  I toured with divas.  All of them were very nice to work with.”  Gerald’s official website can be found at www.gerald-alston.com.

BLUE LOVETT

  As stated in the previous part of the Manhattans story, the New Year’s Eve of 1990 was the last day for Blue in the group, before he had to step aside for awhile.  Blue: “I didn’t retire.  I was forced to get out of the business by health-wise.  I took a leave of absence, so to speak.  At that particular time, my blood pressure was very high and the advice of my doctor was to take a break.” 

  Already in the 80s Blue produced new and upcoming talent for his Blue and Love Lee labels (for details, please see part 4 of the story) and during his 2 ½-year hiatus in the early 90s he continued in this field.  Blue: “I worked with the Bolton Brothers out of Hattiesburg, Mississippi.  We did two albums.  The gospel field was a new field for me.  We did a live CD on them, and it did pretty okay, but I wasn’t that familiar with the distribution and markets in the gospel field.”  Blue actually worked on two live CDs for the group, Live in Mobile in 1996 and Live in Mobile, vol. 2 two years later on Blackberry Records.

  I have sidetracked a few times in this story before by presenting artists and music figures that were someway related to the Manhattans or the label they were on – Joe Evans, other Carnival recording artists such as Lee Williams and Phil Terrell, also Teddy Randazzo, Bobby Martin, Bobby Eli, Carla Benson, Bunny Sigler, Leo Graham etc. – so let’s add James Bolton to the list, as well.

THE BOLTON BROTHERS

  James Bolton was born on January 11th in 1960.  The exact place was a small town called McLain in Greene County, Mississippi, 37 miles to the southeast of Hattiesburg.  James: “We even don’t have a red light there anymore and no 4-way stop.”  Altogether there were twenty children in the Bolton family – twelve girls and eight boys – and in the mid-fifties the family formed its first gospel group called the Wearyland Singers.  James became a member of their next group, the Gospel Soul Singers, formed in 1965, and this time with some cousins joining in, too.  “At that time in the group there were fifteen of us.”  Finally, when the Bolton Brothers was formed in 1976, there were seven members in the first line-up, and James was one of them.

  James: “I met Blue some thirty years ago.  George Ray was doing management back then, and he was also a promoter.  He heard me sing and thought I was pretty good.  George sent a tape on me for Blue to hear me sing.  Blue then took me on the road.  He took me to Japan – to Tokyo and Yokohama – in the late 80s.  Of course, I was into gospel music, but he still treated me like a king.  After Gerald left, he offered me the position.  In Atlanta he told me that whenever you’re ready, you got the job.  So I must have been alright.  He gave me a lot of training, and we became great friends.”

  Under Control was the first, 9-track album by James Bolton and the Bolton Brothers in 1991 on Giant Records (CD 02845) out of Forest, MS.  “It was produced by a guy named David Huff.  Since then I’ve done two more CDs by myself.”  David is also a guitarist of David & the Giants fame.

  “Live in Mobile was a CD and video shoot back in 1995-96.  Blue helped us a lot in choreography and vocal training.”  Interestingly, Blue isn’t credited anywhere on the set.  “He didn’t want to be mentioned, but he would give us a lot of vocal coaching.”

  Blue also wrote or co-wrote some songs for the brothers – such as Call Somebody Please, We Must Come Together, When Are My People Coming Home? – but all of them were not recorded.  “We started recording When Are My People Coming Home, but we never finished the recording.”

  The Bolton Brothers cut one more live CD for Blackberry, Revival in Atlanta, in 2001, and since then Blackberry has released a compilation titled One More Time in 2007.  Blackberry was a label that belonged to another gospel outfit, the Williams Brothers.  One interesting detail is that one of the biggest songs for the Bolton Brothers has been If You Move, I’ll fall, which is credited to three Williams brothers.  It is actually the same song that all the soul music lovers know by the Dells from their ’73 album, produced by Don Davis, and there the song was credited to James Dean and William Lloyd Wooten.  The Williams Brothers have recorded the song themselves, too.

  “Standing on the Promise is the latest project on the Bolton Brothers.  It’s brand new.  We started our own label for it, Now Faith Records.  Today it’s five brothers.  We perform a lot on Friday nights, on Saturdays and sometimes we get together on Sundays.  We have a lot of fans.  We stay as busy as we want to be in the United States” (laughing). 


JAMES BOLTON

  Not only as the lead for the Bolton Brothers, but also in the capacity of a solo singer James has created quite a following.  His second solo CD, Three Times My Saviour (Musicssippi Entertainment; 73 min.), was released about five years ago and again it was produced by David Huff.  Shawn Williams, who also plays drums on the album, is credited as a co-producer.  Recorded at Huff Recording Studio out of Forest, MS, James wrote or co-wrote eleven songs out of the fifteen on display.

  On many tracks – This Is Where I Belong, There Is No Secret, I want to be Right, Just Let Me Show You, Lord We Worship you - James’ masculine baritone singing grows into intense delivery and his voice radiates soulfulness and occasionally gruff power.  There are some familiar tunes, such as Three Times My Saviour – inspired by Lionel Richie’s Three Times a Lady – and Hold Out Until the End, inspired by the Hartfield Brothers, and the three tracks that are owned by Giant Records (Here’s My Heart, He’ll Be There and Love Has a Place) are all quite soft and melodic floaters and probably derive from earlier sessions.

  Backing music is provided for the most part by a real live rhythm section on this mainly down-tempo, inspirational set, where brothers and other family members contribute vocally on two songs, a mid-tempo gospel beater called Glad To Be In the Service and a gentle and melodic ballad titled It’s Just a Dream.  There’s even one country-tinged waltz, (They Treated Jesus Like a) Tramp On the Street


  James’ recent solo CD, He’s All I Need, woos also younger audience with more contemporary urban beats and even rap... and the unfortunate autotune, on a duet with Kellye Huff.  Personally I hate autotune.  Good singers like James don’t really need it.  On this CD James, however, has mainly a live rhythm section backing him up and there’s a full sound throughout - including my favourite r&b instrument, the saxophone. 

  In the more traditional vein, there are slow and rousing testimonies, such as My, My, My... the Lord been good to me and He’s All I Need/Bright Side.  There are also a few smooth and very tuneful songs like the country-tinged You Saved My Life and the tender and sensitive My Heart Belongs to You.  A couple of tunes James had cut already earlier, Just to Know Him and He’s Coming Back – this time turned into a rocker by David Huff.  Altogether I recommend give this CD a listen, because it’s very solid inspirational music.

  Today James and Blue are still friends.  “We didn’t depart.  We just kind of lost contact, with me having my own CD and doing my thing.  We’ve always been great friends.  Blue was really a big plus for me.  He opened a lot of doors for me.” (http://jamesboltonministries.com).


SONNY BIVINS

  After Gerald embarked on a solo career in 1988, Blue took a hiatus at the end of 1990 and Kenny Kelly went on to work in a schooling system and retail (see the end of our previous part 4), one of the founding members that was still around, Sonny Bivins, was suddenly out there alone.  Sonny: “In 1990 Roger Harris was the replacement for Gerald Alston, and he was a background singer with Regina Belle and with the Manhattans, before Gerald went solo.  After Blue and Kenny retired that left Roger and myself, so I had to look for replacements fast. I already had some performances lined up within the next month or so, and through my prayers everything fell into place – Charles, Harsey and then Al.”

  Sonny formed a group in the line-up of himself (baritone), Roger Harris (lead), Alvin Pazant (bass), Harsey Hemphill (1st tenor) and Charles Hardy (2nd tenor)Charles: “Having a mother Dorothy Sebastian that was a chorus line dancer at the original Cotton Club and Apollo Theater, and a godfather Rev. William E. Lee, I think God planned for me to be in the entertainment business.”  Charles is of Indian decent, Pequet Indian tribe.  “I was introduced to the Manhattans in the late 70s through my cousin Walter “Scooter” Collins, their wardrobe manager, who took me on the road with him and I became very close to ‘Uncle Sonny’.  I would become an assistant to Scooter.”

  “I found out Gerald knew a lot of my family members, who were from Henderson, North Carolina... just like Gerald.  Blue and Kenny were always very nice to me.  I learned a lot from them.  Harsey and I grew up together in Mount Vernon, New York, and started singing together, when he was five years old and I was seven years old.  That’s forty-seven years as singing partners - first in his family quartet group, the Morning Star Gospel Singers, then in a local band called Sky’s the Limit that recorded under De-Lite Records (Your Love Runs Free in 1982).  Also we did a lot of studio background vocals for different artists.  When Scooter called me and asked, if we wanted to audition for the Manhattans, we just went and did our thing, got the positions and have been here with Uncle Sonny for the last twenty-two years.”

  Alvin Pazant had earlier in his career played trumpet with the Lionel Hampton Orchestra, had worked as the musical director for Melba Moore and had performed and recorded as the Pazant Brothers & Beaufort Express in the 60s, 70s and 80s for GWP, Priscilla, Vigor, Vanguard (an album entitled Loose and Juicy) and P.M.P. Records.

  His brother, Edward Pazant, also has ties with Sonny’s group.  Sonny: “Edward is an East Coast Jazz Hall of Famer and a saxophone and woodwind specialist.  He is the older brother of Al, and he’s not a member of the Manhattans.  He is one of the musicians that accompany the band that plays for the Manhattans.”

  In 1991 Roger Harris left the group and Wade Taylor became their new lead singer for a short period.  Sonny: “Wade came to us by way of our MC at the time, Oscar “Flame n’ King” Richardson, if I’m not mistaken.  Wade was in a local band.  He was doing a lot of studio work also.  He had a regular job, so I knew he wasn’t going to be with the group for a long time, unless we were working a lot.  He reminded me of Philippé Wynne of the Spinners... very down-to-earth personality, always had a kind word for everyone he met.”  Already in 1991 Wade was replaced by Lee Williams (for his bio, please see the 2nd part of the story).


THE MANHATTANS NOW

  The group in the line-up of Lee, Harsey, Charles, Al and Sonny released one album called The Manhattans Now (HRC-4010) on Hektoen Recording Corp. out of New York in 1994.  The label was owned by Michael D. Hektoen.  Sonny: Our manager Gerald Delet and Mike Hektoen were business partners.  Mike had owned Media Sound Studios in NYC for years.  That was one of the biggest recording studios on the east coast.  When the idea came up to record the group, Gerry told me he had a partner he wanted me to meet.  We sat down, talked over the whole picture of what I wanted to do and the direction I wanted to take the group in.  The deal was made and the project was under way.” 

  Michael D. Hektoen had worked as Executive Vice President of TWM Management in the late 70s, President of Media Sound Studios in the 80s and for the last ten years as CEO of RockSTAR Music Corporation.  He’s been listed as executive producer on many artists’ albums, including Tramaine and Aurra in the 80s.

  Produced by Stephen C. Washington of the Ohio Players, Slave, Aurra etc. fame, besides keys and guitars in terms of live instruments there’s Ed Pazant on saxophone solos and Al Pazant on trumpet solos.

    The album is divided into “This Side” and “That Side”.  “This” is more relaxed, doowopish, late-night mood music, whereas “That” offers smooth and melodic dancers.  On this 12-tracker, Lee sings lead on all except three songs.  Sonny and Al wrote and share lead on a romantic slowie with a long bass monologue called Just for Tonight.  Harsey is the co-lead on a tuneful slow-to-mid-pacer named The One Who Adores you and they all share lead on the poppy Save the Best for Last.

  The co-writer on Hey Lady and Wonderful, two uptempo songs, was Rusty Cloud.  Sonny: “Rusty produced, arranged and did the music for those songs.  We met Rusty through Lee, and Al knew him, too... a great musician and person to work with.”

  The album opens with a rather laid-back but accumulative reading of A Change Is Gonna Come and Sam Cooke is covered also on the relaxed and sax-driven versions of Touch the Hem of His Garment and Having a Party.   There’s also one nostalgic Manhattans medley of There’s No Me without You & Kiss and Say Goodbye & Shining Star, but unfortunately the machines tend to push through too audibly in the instrumentation.

  The concluding song, Midnite Lovin’ is a melodic and energetic mover.  Sonny: “It was a song written by our MC at the time, Oscar Richardson.  ‘King’, as he is known to everybody, is the owner of PMP Studios in Harlem, New York.  We rehearsed there and had the auditions for the new members of the group back in 1990.  I knew King from the 60s and he now is the manager of the Legendary Intruders.  We keep in touch with him still.”  Besides “Legendary”, there are also other line-ups of the Intruders and tribute groups working on the scene these days. 

  Sonny: “I felt the CD could have been promoted better.  The selection of material could have been better also.  But I enjoyed recording that CD.”  Charles: “In my personal opinion the CD was ok and we needed to put something out that would bring the Manhattans name back into circulation.  We got very good responses from the places we played, so that wasn’t the problem.  We were on a limited budget, so we had to do with what we had... and it turned out pretty nice.  We got some learning experience from it.  All in all it was a good project working together for the first time in the studio.”

  The Manhattans Now remained their sole album, because the contract with Hektoen Records was up in 1996, and the group decided not to renew it.  Instead the group formed Manhattans Entertainment, Inc. for bookings, management, PR, marketing, merchandise, recording, videos, movies and investments in charity projects.  Sonny: “We wanted to start our own corporation.  This way the Manhattans could choose who they wanted to work with in all musical and business fields.  There comes a time, when you have to control your own destiny.”

  In 1998 Sonny’s group performed at the White House Christmas party for Bill and Hillary Clinton.  Sonny: “We received a personal letter from the president thanking us for being a part of the celebration at the White House.  This time around personally for me was different than the inauguration for President Carter in the 70s.  We had a lot of fun.  What an honour!”  Charles: “As a kid I went on a school trip to DC, saw the monuments and all the sites.  But to perform for the president of the United States is an once-in-a-lifetime thing.”  Harsey: “That’s something you will be able to tell your kids, grandkids and great-grands.  It’s a lifetime experience I will always remember.”

  Since then Sonny’s group has been touring – quite a lot overseas, too – and they’ve also performed in such plays as Girl, He Ain’t Worth It and Chicken Shack.  Sonny: “Being that I am not physically able at this time to perform with the group and I am at the rehabilitation center due to hip surgery and rehab from surgery, the line-up still remains with the other four members.  I have turned everything over to Charles to run the group and conduct every aspect that I was doing for Manhattan Entertainment, Inc.  Charles is consulted and mentored by my best friend, Mr. Toye Kates Jr., who is still a part of the Manhattans family and in who I have the utmost trust and respect for.  He was the road manager for the Manhattans in the 60s.”

  Sonny: “Classic soul music will never die.  It’s just like life infinity.  The artist may pass on but the music – if you’re listening to it, talking about it or have lived it or living it now – continues to multiply through new generations of people that it is bestowed upon.”  You’ll find the website of Sonny’s group at www.themanhattans.net.


THE REUNION TOUR

  Gerald: “We knew our 30th anniversary was coming up.  The late Al Goodman from Ray, Goodman & Brown gave me a call and said ‘why don’t you get Blue and the guys together for a 30-year reunion and put a band together’.  So I gave Blue a call and Blue agreed to it, and I called Sonny and I called Kenny.  Kenny couldn’t come back at the time, and Sonny had formed his own group and he didn’t want to come back and put it together.  So in 1993 Blue and I just got two other guys, and we started working.  All we wanted to do was 30th year reunion.  If it worked, we’d stay together, if it didn’t, we would just go our separate ways.  When we got back, everything just fell in its place.  In our first rehearsal choreography just came back to us, vocal parts came back to us, and turned out that Blue and I missed working together.”

  The first two guys Blue and Gerald invited to replace Sonny and Kenny were Eban Brown and Roger Harris.  Yes, the very same Roger Harris, who replaced Gerald in 1988 and was the lead vocalist on the Sweet Talk album on Valley Vue in 1989 and then went on to sing lead in Sonny’s group for awhile after Blue and Kenny had left.  Blue: “Roger had been a background singer for Gerald at one time, when Gerald was doing his solo career.  When I left, I didn’t keep up what was happening with the Manhattans or anyone else.  I was told that Roger eventually left the Manhattans as lead singer and some months after that joined background singers with Gerald Alston.” 

  Gerald: “I don’t know what really happened with the group after I left, but I think evidently it wasn’t that good.  Roger sang on the road for me on the background for a couple of times, but never on record.  I chose him for our reunion group, because he knew the songs and he did background very good.  When you’re trying to do the business, you like to forget about personal issues and you’re trying to make money, and we worked good together.” 

  To summarize Roger’s “Manhattans career”, he sang lead in the Manhattans in 1988-90 and carried on as the lead in Sonny’s new group still in 1991, then became a background singer for Gerald Alston on the road and finally was chosen to be a member in the reunion group for a minute in 1993.

  Eban Brown (www.ebanbrownmusic.net ), on the other hand, is a whole different story.  Although turning only 40 on June 14, you could call him a trouper in the field of those male vocal groups that specialize in sweet soul music – not in age or in singing years, but in the number of groups he’s been singing with.  Before his short spell with Blue and Gerald in 1993 he had been with Ray, Goodman & Brown in the early 90s for two and a half years, and later he became a member of Wilbert Hart’s Delphonics - William Hart headed the Delfonics those days – prior to his solo career and singing lead with the Stylistics.  It seems that not many of these classic soul music groups succeeded in avoiding splitting into two or more sets.  For instance, the original lead and indisputably the most renowned voice in the Stylistics, Mr. Russell Thomkins, Jr. is heading his own New Stylistics these days.

  Gerald: “Eban is a lead singer, and his voice wouldn’t fit the Manhattans lead singing.  He worked with us and - when he found his way to go - he gave notice and we brought in Troy May and then Dave Tyson.


TROY MAY

  Troy Joseph May was born on March 17 in 1965 in Camp LeJeune, North Carolina, a Marine Corps base.  Troy: “I moved to Brooklyn, New York, roughly in 1967, when I was two years old.  My father sang in a doowop group.  They never became famous.  They were just known in the neighbourhood.  Now I live in Alabama.  I moved here two years ago, to be closer to family.  My daughters are 16 and 22.”

  “In Brooklyn I first went to Julia Richmond High School.  There’s a famous school called The School of Performing Arts.  I auditioned for that school, but at the time they were full and I couldn’t get in.  So I found out about Julia Richmond.  They had a Talent Unlimited program, so I went to that school instead.  After that it was Medgar Evers College.  I went there for five semesters, and then I went to Hunter College.”

  “Talent Unlimited program exposed me to a lot of people in the business, so once I came out of school I had friends who were already in the business like James Simmons, who used to be the guitar player for the Manhattans.  Eventually he introduced me to Mr. Lovett, and he decided to manage my career for a short period of time.  That would have to be around ’91-’92.”

  Those days Troy used to cut demos.  “It was a group of producers and a gentleman by the name of Tony Prendatt, who was producing Third World at the time.  He asked me to sing a few songs to present them to Third World to see if they liked them.  I did that for a very short time as well.  That was around the same time, ’91-’92.  I made quite a few recordings, but I actually never got a label deal.  Nothing was ever released.”

  “In 1994 I joined the Manhattans.  Mr. Lovett said they were back on the road – I believe in ’93 – and one of the gentlemen, Roger Harris, left the group, so he asked me to take his place.  It was only supposed to be no more than maybe for a couple of months... and here it is, eighteen years later (laughing).  Blue was already trying to establish my career in the recording industry.  He said ‘why don’t you just join us for a little bit, for a couple of weeks to get your feet wet in the market and then we go from there’.”

  “It’s been an absolute high.  For the past almost twenty years it’s been absolute blast.  We’re family, and most of the time we’re laughing and joking.  We have a genuine love and respect for each other, and it comes across on stage.”

  However, on a general level Troy is worried about the current state of r&b music.  “I’m a huge fan of Marvin Gaye and I’m an old-school kind of person – Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight, the Manhattans...  As far as r&b music is concerned, there will always be the main foundation for r&b music.  Those classic soul songs will always be there.  They’ll last forever.  Even a lot of songs today are based on those songs of yesteryear.  But those artists – for one – are dying, which is very sad, and the second thing is that these artists are not being allowed to get recording deals, to continue on their recording careers.  If you do get one, the label’s not going to push you, so a lot of good music is just going to waste.  With the state of things today, a lot of groups from this era find more success on the road as opposed you find if you put out a record.  It’s tough to do.  The promoters are only going to pay you so much... depending on how your recording is doing today.  And if you haven’t had a record in years...”


DAVE TYSON

  David Lewis Tyson was born in Philadelphia, PA, on September 14 in 1959.  David: “My father was a nine-to-five working man.  I have four sisters and two brothers.  In my childhood our house was always full of music, and I used to sing on street-corners with some other guys for anybody, who wanted to hear me sing.  I would always show off and sing in front of the girls in the schoolyard.”

  One of David’s brothers is Ron Tyson, who’s been a member of the Temptations for close to thirty years now.  David: “I followed my brother.  My brother had a lot of groups, when I was growing up, and a lot of these groups were rehearsing in the basement of our house.”

  One of Ron’s groups was the Ethics, which was formed in 1967.  “It affected me a lot.  Every time he would play at the Uptown Theater in Philadelphia, my mom would take me and all the guys in the neighbourhood there.  I loved it.  I always wanted to be with my brother.  I cherished him a lot.”  From 1974 the Ethics would continue as Love Committee until 1980.

  “Later on I formed my own group, Final Touch, in 1987 and we won The African-American talent show at the Uptown Theater.  We made no recordings.  We were almost picked up by Hush Productions in New York, but that fell through.  We disbanded in 1991.”

  “Then I met Eugene “Lambchop” Curry in 1991.  He’s a keyboard player and he’s one of the best.  We wrote a lot of songs together, but we never did anything with them.”  Eugene is also a producer and he has written or co-written songs for numerous artists, such as Patti LaBelle (Somebody Loves You Baby) and the Dells (I Can’t Help Myself).  

  “Next I found out that Blue was looking for another singer for the Manhattans.  My brother knew that I could sing, and he asked me to call Blue.  Cholly Atkins was a legendary choreographer for step dancers.  Cholly called me up and explained me what to do, and after that I called Blue.  I met Blue at the Valley Forge Music Fair (in Denvon, Pennsylvania).  I met him backstage over there, we talked and I auditioned for him... and that was it.  That was when Blue and Gerald had the reunion tour.  I came in just as it started blowing up.  I took Eban Brown’s spot, when he left.”

  “I remember on some of my visits to the Uptown Theater the Manhattans were there.  I remember them come on stage and put the strobe light on, and then they would turn the lights out and put on a black light on hands and all you could see was white gloves.  They’re one of my favourites along with the Temptations, my brother’s group.  I just love singing with them.”

  “We have these ladies called the Manhattanettes (in Facebook under “Manhattans_East Coast Connection).  They keep us alive and in everybody’s mind.  These girls are tremendous.  They really do their job... and do it free.  They’re great and beautiful women.  I love them.” (www.davetyson.com).

R&B HALL OF FAME

  At the end of the decade the Manhattans were inducted into the Rhythm & Blues Hall of Fame.  The celebration took place in Los Angeles, California, in February 1999.  Sonny: “The R&B Hall of Fame and the Lifetime Achievement ‘Pioneer Award’ was for the same organization at the same time.  It was Chuck Jackson that really helped us get the recognition.  They inducted the original group of the 60s.  That was George “Smitty” Smith, Richard Taylor, Kenny Kelly, Blue Lovett and myself.  Gerald Alston, Lee Williams and Al Pazant were also in attendance.  As the Manhattans family, which we all are and will always be, it was a great honour to have bestowed upon the group.”

  Blue: “It was wonderful.  All of the big celebrities were in the audience – Bonnie Raitt, Bobby Womack, Lionel Richie...”  Gerald: “It was a wonderful celebration.  The original members were inducted.  We had a nice time.  We took a class picture together.  Sonny, myself, Blue and Kenny – we sang together.  We sang Follow Your Heart and Kiss and Say Goodbye.” 


LIVE FROM SOUTH AFRICA

  After the reunion tour took off in 1994, the Manhattans featuring Gerald Alston and Blue Lovett kept on performing throughout the 90s, also overseas.  Gerald: “We toured Europe.  We did Germany and the Netherlands.  We did Alaska and Japan.  We toured Okinawa, Quam, all of the Caribbean... and we got a home in South Africa.”

  Amazingly, during their thirty plus years of singing and recording the Manhattans never had a live album released.  Gerald: “I don’t know what the problem with Columbia was at the time, but we wanted to do a live album a long time ago, and they refused to do it.  In ’76 and ’77 we travelled off-and-on with a full orchestra, and they would not record a live album.”

  Blue: “Sony in South Africa approached us in ’96, when we went there to see President Mandela and South-Africans.  After our first show Sony came to our hotel and suggested to do a Live in South Africa CD, and we did.”  Gerald: “We went to South Africa for the first time.  All our records had been hits.  Our albums were gold, but people had never seen us.  Sony recorded a CD and released it in South Africa, and then a production company – Gerald Payne – bought the rights of it, and he released it in the U.S.  Sony still wouldn’t release it in the States, for whatever reason.”

  Blue: “We had serious problems with whoever released it in the States.  I was very disappointed in what transpired as far as royalty statements and everything else.  I complained big time to the president of Sony in South Africa, who eventually moved to London and couldn’t get into the fight with us to stop what was going on in the States.”

  Gerald: “We went to South Africa to do four nights and we ended up doing fifteen.  We sold out every venue.  It was amazing.  Even 10-12-year old knew our records, and we found out that during the apartheid a lot of the families would play our music and they passed the music down to their kids.  When we got there, they said ‘we’re gonna have a press conference’, and there was like 2000 or 3000 people waiting.  It was unbelievable.  The reception was so warm, so loving, and every time we go – every other year or so – to this day we get a wonderful reception.”

  In 1999 Live from South Africa (GWP 9913) was released in the U.S. on Classic World Productions, Inc.  This 73-minute-long CD contains 23 songs, mostly the Manhattans biggest hits, highlighting in We Never Danced to a Love Song, It Feels So Good, There’s No Good in Goodbye, Am I Losing You, I Kinda Miss You, Hurt, There’s No Me Without You, When We Are Made As One (almost a cappella), Don’t Take Your Love From Me and the grand finale of Shining Star and Kiss and Say Goodbye.

  A couple of Gerald’s solos are included – Slow Motion and Send for Me – as well as five outside songs, such as a fast dancer called Good Enough (by LA Reid-Babyface-Simmons), the hugely popular End of the Road by the same writers - platinum for Boyz II Men in ’92 – glued to Love Don’t Love Nobody, a hit for the Spinners in 1974.  Gerald: “We always used to do Love Don’t Love Nobody, when it first came out, and then we decided to put it back on the show and make a medley out of it.”

  Gerald, Blue, David and Troy are backed by their permanent band still today, East Coast Connection, consisting of Justice Butler (drums), Howie Robbins (keys), Colt Younger (keys), Mark Bowers (lead & rhythm guitar) and Jason Simons (bass guitar).  Blue: “There’s only one replacement since the CD.  Colt Younger came later.  He replaced Gary Mancinelli.”  Gerald: “Jason has been with the Manhattans since 1977.  He left for a minute, but he came back.  He’s the oldest band member we have – not in age but in number of years.”


TURN OUT THE STARS

  Gerald’s and Blue’s next CD in 2001, ...Even Now... (Beemark/Love Lee Rec. 8339), was recorded without David and Troy this time.  Blue: “It was first released on Beemark.  Hillary Johnson introduced me to a gentleman in San Jose, California, where he had a label.  They didn’t put money in promoting.  None of the stations would play us.  So I took it over a year later and put it on Love Lee Records, my label.”

  In 2003 Al Bell took over the distribution.  Blue: “Another bad story.  I never got paid.  He never did anything he was supposed to do.”  However, towards the end of 2003 the CD appeared shortly on Billboard’s r&b charts, first at # 83 and the next week still at #91.

  Although not being properly promoted and not hitting higher echelons of charts, for a classic soul music fan Even Now is one of the best albums of the 2000s.  Cut in ’99 at Buffalo Sound Studios in LA, it was produced and arranged by Ted Perlman (www.tedperlman.com).  Gerald: “I met Ted with Blue.  Ted worked with Stephanie Mills and he produced Ronald Isley.  He did a wonderful job with us.  Ted is a very, very good producer.”  Blue: “He’s one of the best producers that I’ve seen that hasn’t really got the recognition he should have got.”

  The set opens with a hooky beat-ballad titled Love Me Right, which Blue had earlier cut on Ted Williams out of California.  It is followed by Turn out the Stars, a gorgeous and achingly beautiful song co-written by Jim Weatherly and cut earlier at least by Travis Nelson in 1996.  Gerald: “When Blue and I heard it, we fell in love with it.  In fact, the demo that we had was by Ollie Woodson, but we just made it our own.  Then Ali Ollie released it later on himself.”

  Nites like this is a melodic and romantic, lilting song, written by Darrell Harvey and spiced with Gerald Albright’s sax in the instrumentation.  Incidentally, one other veteran player on this set is the late Billy Preston on organ.  Blue: “Darrell was an artist of mine out of Dallas, Texas.  He’s an excellent writer.  That’s one of my favourite songs.”  Gerald: “That was a beautiful tune.  A lot of the stuff that Blue produced was the stuff we would have done, had we been together.  Now we ended up using a few of the songs he had done on others.”  Nites like this was released as a single CD in 2001 on TOC/Orchard (3680148020). 

  Even Now – again by Darrell Harvey – is a swaying, gospel-infused ballad, with Blue’s monologues interspersed in the melody line, and one of the more famous songs on the set is a funky cover of Sly Stone’s Everyday People.  Gerald: “I think that was Ted’s idea.  We opened up our show with it for awhile, and people enjoyed it.  It was different for us, but it was a good song.”  On this track the Chicago Horns are backing up the two vocalists.  Blue: “Everything was hooked up by Ted.  His wife is Peggi Blu.  She is one of the American Idols’ coaches for the female singers today.  They won the Star Search, a TV show before American Idol.  They were from New York, but they remained in California after she won the Star Search.”

LET’S TRY LOVE


  Gerald and Peggi Blu (on the pic right) evoked highly emotional delivery on Let’s Try Love, a ballad Gerald had already cut on his first solo album.  Gerald: “Originally that song was supposed to be a duet with me and Vesta Williams.  Just a lot of things that should have happened at Motown fell through at the last minute, but nonetheless it was a good song and Gene Page did a wonderful job with the arrangement.”

  Ted Perlman co-wrote another light and melodic, lilting song (in the style of Nites like this) named Any Other Way, while Felicia Jefferson penned a tuneful beat-ballad called How Much More?, which kicks off with Blue’s unmistakable monologue.  Gerald: “Felicia and I did some writing together.  I did the demo for Felicia, and, when we got back together, we decided ‘well, why won’t I and Blue do it’.  That’s how it came about, and it was a beautiful tune.”  Felicia “F-Sharp” Jefferson has also written for Bobby Brown (Feelin’ Inside) and Veronica (Release Me).

  Carlos Lett wrote the poppy and melodic I Got It Right.  Gerald: “Carlos is out of Moss Point, Mississippi.  He’s an excellent guitar player, and he did a wonderful job on that tune.  That’s one of the songs that Blue also brought.”  They say that I Got It Right has become quite a popular wedding song these days.

  Lover’s Lullaby is an infectious slow-to-mid-tempo song to a marching beat, while Can You Take It is a gentle, atmospheric number with Blue’s late-night talking.  Blue: One of the background singers, Terry Bradford, co-wrote that.  We didn’t write ourselves but got all the writers for this CD from California, Nashville, Dallas...  We did a lot of work, and paid our own money for it.  We thought it was pretty good.  I guess – being of age – we didn’t get the airplay that we normally would get.  I think, if somebody like R Kelly or Chris Brown had recorded some of those songs, I’m sure they would have been super-hits.  A station in Washington DC – WHUR - put us on number five, but the competing station wouldn’t play us at all.  They couldn’t hear it.”

  Gerald: “That was one of the best albums we had ever recorded.  But it was an era of time, when the music was changing.  They weren’t listening to the songs that we were still singing.  It was the genre that people didn’t want to hear.”


MEN CRY TOO

  In 2008 Swamp Dogg released the CD one more time on his own S-D-E-G label with new tracks on it, and the gem among them is a beautiful ballad called Men Cry Too.  The same year Gerald released his impressive solo set entitled Gerald Alston Sings Sam Cooke, and you can read his own comments on both of those albums at http://www.soulexpress.net/deep308.htm#alston.

Already in 2003 Gerald was asked to be one of the performers at the Sam Cooke Tribute in Chicago and since then he’s done other similar tributes to Sam and - by Sam being his all-time number one idol – it was only a matter of time for Gerald to release a tribute album.

  Gerald also runs a company called Love Touring Co., Inc.  Gerald: “It’s just my company that deals with the group and with my solo work.  I don’t work in my name.  I work in my company’s name.”

  Blue: “We felt that Even Now was one of the greatest albums we did.  The writing is on the wall.  The O’Jays don’t get airplay anymore, neither do the Dells, the Chi-lites, the Stylistics... America’s not going to play us because of our ages.  To spend many hundreds of thousands doing another CD doesn’t make sense to me.  Unless you do Internet airplay, you’re not going to sell any product.  Then you got crooked distributors that don’t pay us any royalties.  It’s a bad situation.  It’s a discouraging situation.  Touring is still in our plans.  We’ve got some Vegas things happening in the summer.”

  Gerald: “Blue and I have been talking about recording, but if we record anything we’d have to do it independently, because not only us but the groups of our category just don’t have a place to go.  Whatever we do, we have to do it on our own.  I’m also in the process of doing and hopefully have my gospel album soon finished.”

  “I think our music, classic soul, never dies.  If you listen to the production that’s now coming back, it’s just the same thing repeated.  There may be some different ways to make it happen, but the chord changes are still the same.  Our music will always be around, because our music is true music.  We all sing about life, we all sing about reality – and you can’t beat that.  We want to leave a legacy of great music, family-orientated music that the young people can listen to.  We sing for the people, and our legacy of music speaks for itself.” (www.kissandsaygoodbye.com).

 

© Heikki Suosalo

Read the Manhattans Discography here!

Read also The part 1
The part 2 (1964-1970)
The part 3 (1971-1979)
The part 4 (1980-1989)
The Manhattans Discography 1960-2012

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