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PRINCE PHILLIP  MITCHELL – THE SINGER

PART  III (1977 - 2016)


Prince Phillip Mitchell together with Heikki Suosalo at Porretta Soul Festival, 2015 (Photo by Juhani Laikkoja)

  In spite of his six single releases on Shout, Hi and Event labels in the first half of the 1970s, Phillip concentrated more on song-writing those days and some of his most memorable compositions were created during that period.  I defy any soul music fan not to be moved even a little bit when listening to such songs as Starting All over Again, It Hurts So Good, Be Strong Enough to Hold On, It Be’s That Way Sometimes, Oh La De Da, Carry Me, A Star in the Ghetto and The Only Time You Say You Love Me.


ONCE I’VE BEEN THERE

  In terms of released and also charted solo recordings, Phillip’s career really took off in 1977, and it roughly includes three active periods with leaner years in between.  Phillip Mitchell: “I was performing locally at Louisville, Kentucky.  I was performing regularly at this club called Actors Theatre.  Downstairs we had a bar called The Starving Artist.  I was performing there, and my cousin, Wanda Mitchell, brought Aki Aleong to hear me sing.  He was a movie actor of some sorts and the manager of Roy Ayers.  He wanted me to work with him and asked me, if I had any songs that they could use for Norman Connors.  So I said ‘probably yes’.  He wanted to sign me to manage me, so I signed a management agreement with him.  He put me with Norman Connors, who was flying high in the charts with You Are My Starship.  He asked me, if I would be interested in fronting the band as the lead singer, and that’s how that came about.  During the process I wrote Once I’ve Been There and Destination Moon.”


  By this time Phillip had founded a publishing company called Hot Stuff Music, and those two songs on Norman’s Romantic Journey album were published under that banner.  Once I’ve Been There is a fast floater and full of disco fire.  The single - as well as the whole album - was produced by Skip Drinkwater and Norman’s arrangement secured the track a rich orchestration.  At an almost opposite end, Destination Moon is a haunting down-tempo song, and there’s still one more track where Phillip sings co-lead with Eleanore Mills on a romantic and soulful ballad called For You Everything, written by Mack Lynn and Jerry Peters.  Interestingly, Once I’ve Been There was transformed into an electronic, deep house cover by East West Connection on Chillifunk Records out of the U.K. in 2000.

  Norman Connors is a jazz drummer, who was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  He first recorded at the age of twenty in 1967, played with many jazz luminaries and eventually became a bandleader himself, too.   In the 70s he trespassed on the soul field aided by such vocalists as Phyllis Hyman, Jean Carn, Dee Dee Bridgewater and Glenn Jones.  He hit highest with You Are My Starship (# 4-soul / # 27-pop), where he had Michael Henderson singing lead in 1976.  Phillip actually replaced Michael in Norman’s band.  Also a producer, arranger and composer, today Norman still tours and works actively in the smooth jazz genre.


MAKE IT GOOD

  “I had a friend, Bunny Nigilo, who’s passed away now.  She knew Jerry Greenberg.  They grew up and they were good friends.  She had been talking Jerry about me.  He asked her to submit some music to him, and that’s when I wrote A Star in the Ghetto for the Average White Band and Ben E. King.  Jerry sent me a letter saying ‘it’s a great song’ and if I would allow for them to record it on AWB and Ben E. King, and I said ‘sure’.  When I sent them the demo, they were impressed with my voice, and eventually Aki helped me to sign with Atlantic Records.  My lawyer Bill Krasilovsky drew up the contract.”

  Phillip signed with Atlantic in September 1977 and stayed with the company for three years.  Phillip wrote all eight songs on his debut album in 1978 called Make It Good.  He also produced the set and arranged it along with Paul Riser and McKinley Jackson.  Recorded in Hollywood, you can spot many familiar names among the musicians: John Barnes, Ronnie Coleman and Sylvester Rivers on keyboards, James Gadson on drums, Eddie Watkins, Jr. on bass, Jack Ashford and Paulinho Da Costa on percussion and Lee Ritenour, Wah Wah Watson and Phillip’s dear friend from 20 years back, Billy Clements, on guitar.  “Already when I hooked up with Norman Connors, I brought Billy with me.”  Add to the list still as many as fourteen horn players, including Ernie Watts on sax, a string section and the Jones Girls Shirley, Brenda and Valorie – on background vocals.

ONE ON ONE

  The title track, Make It Good, is a beat-ballad with a slight Marvin Gaye feel in the sound, and similarly If I Can’t Be Your Man (7:16) is another haunting, slow-to-mid-tempo song.  The beat picks up some on You’ll Throw Bricks at Him

  The opening track, however, is Phillip’s own reading of Star in the Ghetto, which in the fall of 1977 had gone up to # 25 on Billboard’s Hot Soul Singles charts by AWB and Ben E. King.  Clocking in at 7:12, Phillip’s track is an exhilarating, funky dancer with a social message and an opening monologue.  One of the artists, who covered the song later, was the Estiban from Canada on his L.A. Walk album in 1980.

  Two singles were culled from the album.  One on One is the highest entry on the soul charts in Phillip’s career, as this vibrating and compelling disco dancer hit # 32 in the summer of 1978.  It was backed with a highly emotional, plaintive and soulful ballad called Only Smoke Remains, which has to be the cream cut on the album.  “It’s always hard for me to pick up a favourite, because I obviously like everything pretty much that I write.  But if I have to pick a favourite on this album, I think Falling from Heaven is a good one, but I like Only Smoke Remains, because the vocal on that is different.  It’s apart from what I’m used to doing.  I do a lot of standards.  I sing from Barbara Streisand to Lou Rawls, and that’s the side of me most people don’t know.  When I come abroad, I only do the favourites everybody wants to hear me sing.”

  Falling from Heaven that Phillip is referring to above is the B-side of the second single.  It’s a heartfelt ballad, on which Phillip once more excels on vocals.  To make a great double-sider, they put on the plug side another gentle ballad called You’re All I Got in the World, but unfortunately this gem of a single didn’t chart anymore.  For some strange reason also the whole Make It Good album flopped, which really is a pity, because it’s a high-class LP and there’s not a single dud among those eight tracks.


Ray Barretto's Can You Feel It was reissued by Expansion together with the album Eye Of The Beholder

WHAT PART OF HEAVEN DO YOU COME FROM?

  Ray Barretto (1929-2006) is a Latin jazz musician, who played mostly congas, percussion and drums.  He started off in Charlie Parker’s band and then played with Tito Puente and numerous others prior to forming his own orchestra.  His biggest hit was a novelty number called El Watusi in 1963 (on Tico; # 17-Hot / # 17-r&b).  He cut tens of albums, and his third Atlantic LP in 1978 was entitled Can You Feel It?  Phillip was a guest vocalist on one track, which was also released as a single.  Produced by Ray and Raymond Silva and written by Phillip, What Part of Heaven do you come from? is an atmospheric, sweet and melodic ballad.

  “While I was in New York attending my Atlantic Records press party, I was asked by Jerry Greenberg to write a song for Ray Barretto.  Ray was currently in the studio recording his Can You Feel It album.  I had previously written What Part of Heaven Did you come from and thought it would be a great addition to this album.  This song has no significant story behind its creation.  However, as a song-writer I tend to be inspired by simply the idea and subject matter of whatever I decide to create.”


TOP OF THE LINE

  Although Phillip travelled to cut records to different studios across the country, his home base remained Louisville, Kentucky.  For his second Atlantic album, Top of the Line in 1979, he visited not only Philadelphia but also Muscle Shoals Sound Studios again.  Only this time the address wasn’t 3614 Jackson Highway anymore, instead they had relocated to a big building by the Tennessee River.  Jimmy Johnson: “That was what we used to call the naval reserve.  Phillip came back and did a lot of stuff with us after our contract was over with him.”  Jimmy is referring to the writer’s contract that Phillip and Muscle Shoals Sound signed in April 1970 (see part II of the story).

  Again Phillip wrote all eight songs on the album as well as produced and co-arranged the whole set.  The Jones Girls provide again the background vocals, and strings and horns are orchestrated by McKinley Jackson with the exception of two tracks (Top of the Line, In Between Lovers), where Philly’s Jack Faith is in charge.  Phillip: “Top of the Line and In Between Lovers were both recorded in Philadelphia and overdubbed in Muscle Shoals, and in Los Angeles, California.”


  Of Phillip’s old Muscle Shoals musician buddies Jimmy Johnson (guitar), David Hood (bass) and Roger Hawkins (drums) are still there – plus Randy McCormick on piano - and on the Philly side you can discover such names as Bruce Hawes on piano, Larry Washington on congas, bongos and percussion, Mike Sugarbear Foreman on bass and John Ingram on drums. 

  Phillip: “It was my idea to record in both Muscle Shoals and Philadelphia.  I was curious as to what I could create combining the incredibly funky style of the Muscle Shoals Rhythm section with the sweet soulful melodic Philadelphia musicians together.”


The "naval reserve" as called by Jimmy Johnson.

IF IT AIN’T LOVE, IT’LL GO AWAY

  The first single off the album is a standard disco dancer named Let’s Get Wet, which scraped the bottom of the soul charts at # 90 in the summer of 1979, whereas the flip titled Paying the Price is more moderate in beat but more melodic and attractive as a whole.  The follow-up, an emotional soul ballad called If It Ain’t Love, It’ll Go Away fared a bit better as it stalled at # 76 towards the end of 1979.  It’s such a classy song that still in 2013 they created a new video around it:

  On the flip there’s a joyous, feel-good and catchy dancer titled I’m so Happy, which still today is part of Phillip’s stage repertoire.  There exist also a version by Brenda Holloway, which has appeared at least on three later compilations (My Love Is Your Love on Bestway Records in 2004, Here Comes the Night Owl in 2000 on Goldmine Soul Supply and When I’m Gone – The Best of Brenda Holloway).  “I have no knowledge about the Brenda Holloway version of my song I’m So Happy, other than to say whoever was responsible for its recording and production did not follow proper procedures by getting my permission to record it.”

Similarly to Let’s Get Wet, also Use Your Body is aimed at discos, although this light toe-tapper charms with a more infectious groove.  The title tune, Top of the Line, is a mellow mid-tempo floater, whereas on the “quiet fire” front there’s In Between Lovers, a soft and peaceful number, and Highlight of My Life, which is more of a “at dusk” song - very melodic, romantic and tender.  Phillip: “My favourites would be I’m so Happy, Top of the Line and Highlight of My Life is right up there.  Nobody pays attention to that but me.”


  In spite of its indisputable merits, the Top of the Line LP sank almost without trace.  Fortunately now both of these albums are available in CD formats, released in 2007 by Rhino/Atlantic.  “It was a mess.  They didn’t promote my music.  They couldn’t break an egg.  I went to a music convention in Los Angeles.  I believe it was in 1978.  There were all the record executives and promotional departments of all the record companies.  I walked in the front door of the Billboard hotel, and the promoters and people high up in record companies had copies of my records, and I’m thinking ‘what’s going on’.  One guy from Epic Records said ‘I want you to know that you’ve got the hottest album’.  ‘What?’  I had more people from other record companies promoting my Atlantic album than Atlantic.” 

  “At that time they had three or four heads of promotion, and they couldn’t get nothing done, and that’s what happened with Make it Good and Top of the Line albums.  I put a lot of heart and soul into those two albums, and on the top of that I found out that Aki, who was my manager, had gone behind my back and he was trying to get Atlantic to pay him 3 million dollars if he wanted to pick up my option on the contract, and they said ‘no’.”


FANCY THIS

  Phillip’s singing could still be heard in 1980, when he cut a duet with Millie Jackson on her I Had to Say It album on Spring Records.  Fancy this is a catchy and poppy mid-tempo toe-tapper, which was written by Al BreVard and Millie herself and it was recorded – surprise, surprise! - at the Muscle Shoals Studios.  “It was a spare of the moment kind of decision by Millie Jackson that I accompany her on Fancy this.”

  Depressed about Aki’s betrayal, Atlantic’s non-promotion and disappointed in music industry as a whole, Phillip stepped down for a few years.  “I did nothing.  I just had to renew.  It was a rough time for me.”  Still today Phillip gets very emotional when just thinking about those years.


DEVASTATION

  The beginning of Phillip’s second active period in recording took place in 1986, when he signed with the Atlanta-based Ichiban Records.  “I had met John Abbey earlier and he called me and asked me, if I’d be interested in recording for his label, and I said ‘yes’.”


  The first Ichiban album, Devastation, was cut – you guessed it! – at Muscle Shoals.  “I love that album.  That was the best album I’ve done!”  All songs produced and written by Phillip, he also created the rhythm arrangements together with the Muscle Shoals Sound Rhythm Section.  Jimmy Johnson and Pete Carr were on guitar, David Hood on bass, Clayton Ivey and Barry Beckett on keyboards, Roger Hawkins on drums and Brandon Barnes on synthesizer, and here it must be pointed out that the strings and horns are quite delicately programmed. 

  A gentle and soulful ballad named You’re Gonna Come Back to Love was chosen for the first single, and in the early 1987 it peaked at # 74 on Billboard’s Hot Black Singles charts.  It was backed by an easy dancer called In Her Own Way, co-written by Olivia Kirby.  “Olivia Kirby is my former guitar player that played in my band many years ago, and we wrote several songs together including I Can’t Get Used to Sleeping by myself.

  A melancholic and touching soul ballad titled I Taught Her Everything She Knows was the follow-up, but as impressive as the song and the performance were unfortunately it ended up as being a no-show on the charts.  The Show Must Go On on the flip was a tuneful mid-tempo ditty.

  Body Shop, which Latimore had cut earlier, is an up-tempo beater, while on the pulsating I Can’t Get Used to Sleeping by Myself tempo comes down a bit.  There are still two gorgeous songs on the album.  She Was My Lady is a melodic and touching ballad with a slight country leaning and This Is Our Song is a big ballad, very dramatic and impressive.  It was co-written by Lamont Rowan, one of the Rowan Brothers, who used to sing backup for Phillip in Louisville.

  “The best way for me to explain the songs on the Devastation album is to say that music totally dominates my life – everything I see, hear and feel translates to music.  Most songs that I write are merely from a concept and rarely derive from actual true life experiences, but those songs were very personal to me being that I had just gone through a very emotional loss of love during that period of my life... so these songs are true-to-life experiences.”


LONER

  It took as many as five years for the second Ichiban album to emerge.  “It has nothing to do with the artist.  We don’t make that decision.  It’s a frequently asked question, why this or that artist stopped recording, but it’s the record companies that decide when they want to put your music out, or when they want to record you again, or whatever...  I also got very sick in Atlanta.  I was unconscious like two weeks, but they got me back.  I suffered from amnesia for about a year.”

  Again produced, arranged and written by Phillip, on Loner (1991) there are many of the same Muscle Shoals musicians as on the previous album.  “While the Cat’s away, Can’t Nobody Love You Better than me and Loner were the tracks recorded at Kala Studios in Atlanta.”  Starting from Scratch is a melodic and laid-back down-tempo song, which was put out as a single.  “That’s my favourite cut on the whole album.”  For the flip they chose a sensual mid-tempo number called Come to Bed, which Denise LaSalle also recorded.

  On Loner there are both nice dancers (While the Cat’s away, Nothing Hurts like Love), melodic mid-pacers (Can’t Nobody Love You Better than me) and mellow but emotional ballads (Never Let her down, You Did What You Had to Do).  The title track, however, is the cream cut.  With Ted Dortch on sax, this poignant ballad gradually grows into a powerful and highly soulful finale.  To counterbalance that gem, the last track on the album is a strange jam with a reggae beat called She’s a Party Animal,   Loner was also a good album, although more light and poppy than Devastation

  “I loved that album, too.  The songs on my Loner album clearly reflects a recovery from the loss I suffered during that devastating period, as clearly indicated in the words of the songs Starting from Scratch and Can’t Nobody Love You Better than me, and for that matter all of the songs on this album.”


JUST THE BEGINNING

  Right after Loner Phillip retired from the business for the second time.  “In the 1990s and 2000s I didn’t do much in music.  I opened a nightclub back home, so I was in a nightclub business for a while, and just kind of didn’t do much.  The name of my night club was Mingler’s, and I operated it from the year 1998 to the year of 2000.   I needed time to get out of the business and do something different, and that’s what I did.”

  There exists also a video of Free for All, which Phillip cut for Ian Levine.  “The video of Free for All that I shot for Ian Levine should have never been released.  Mr. Levine conned me into doing this video by saying it was a British documentary film, which was a lie.  I later found out that he and his cronies had released box sets of my video all across Europe for monetary gain.  He has never paid a cent of royalties and has no contractual agreement to release anything on me.”

  Now let’s be optimistic and declare Phillip’s third active recording period open.  As the first step two years ago he had his first record released in 23 years, when Just the Beginning came out on Soul 4 Real Records.  It’s a fluent and melodic dancer, which Phillip wrote already in the 70s and his original demo for the Rowan Brothers was released on the 2004 Grapevine CD (see part II of the story).  On the flip there’s another easy and snappy dancer called Something New to Do that Bobby Sheen had cut in 1972.  Recorded in Muscle Shoals, Louisville and Bilbao, Spain, the single is the real thing with authentic rhythm section, strings, horns and background vocals on it.  “I was in Spain to perform in 2014 and Alex Subinas, who was a promoter, asked me if I would consider recording two songs for him while I was there, and that’s what we did.”

  The single is like a breath of fresh air in today’s r&b music.  “Today it’s not r&b music.  It’s not music.  I don’t get anything from it.  They all sound alike.  As a songwriter I’m not inspired.  I’ve never been one who listens to radio and records.  I don’t want to lose what I’m doing and persuaded to do something that I don’t really want to fall into.  I thought that my kids are so straitlaced and not into this hip-hop.  Little did I know!  One of my sons - he’s 24 - is one of the biggest rappers in the Midwest.  He played me his CD and I couldn’t believe it.  But he’s really good.”

  “I probably have fifteen hundred songs that nobody has ever heard.  The record industry sucks, so I just do my own thing and choose whatever I want to do.  I’m going to be doing new music on my site.  I just launched my own record label, http://3rddynasty.com.  I do plan to do more recordings in the near future.”

DISCOGRAPHY

SINGLES

(label # / titles / Billboard # Hot soul or black or r&b / year)

BUDDAH

BDA 570) Once I’ve Been There (# 16) (1977)

Note: under NORMAN CONNORS – vocalist Prince Phillip Mitchell

Note: 12 “ on Disco 116 (Buddah)

ATLANTIC

3480) One On One (# 32) / Only Smoke Remains (1978)

3506) You’re All I Got In The World / Falling From Heaven

3524) What Part Of Heaven Do You Come From?

                      Note: under RAY BARRETTO

3569) Let’s Get Wet (# 90) / Paying The Price (1979)

                      Note: 12” of Let’s Get Wet on DK 4723 (Atlantic)

3587) If It Ain’t Love, It’ll Go Away (# 76) / I’m So Happy

ICHIBAN

111) You’re Gonna Come Back To Love (# 74) / In Her Own Way (1986)

117) I Taught Her Everything She Knows / The Show Must Go On (1987)

233) Starting From Scratch / Come To Bed (1991)

SOUL 4 REAL

S4R01)  Just The Beginning / Something New To Do (2014)

ALBUMS

(title / label # / Billboard # soul or black or r&b/pop / year)

NORMAN CONNORS: ROMANTIC JOURNEY (Buddah BDS 5682 / # 24/# 94) 1977

Once I’ve Been There / Destination Moon / For You Everything (a duet with Eleanore Mills)

PRINCE PHILLIP MITCHELL: MAKE IT GOOD (Atlantic 19160) 1978

Star In The Ghetto / You’re All I Got In The World / One On One / Falling From Heaven // You’ll Throw Bricks At Him / Make It Good / If I Can’t Be Your Man / Only Smoke Remains

 

RAY BARRETTO: CAN YOU FEEL IT? (Atlantic 19198) 1978

What Part Of Heaven Do You Come From?

PRINCE PHILLIP MITCHELL: TOP OF THE LINE (Atlantic 19231) 1979

Top Of The Line / Use Your Body / Highlight Of My Life / In Between Lovers // I’m So Happy / If It Ain’t Love, It’ll Go Away / Paying The Price / Let’s Get Wet

MILLIE JACKSON: I HAD TO SAY IT (Spring 6730 / # 25/#137) 1980

Fancy This (a duet between Millie and Prince Phillip Mitchell)

PRINCE PHILLIP MITCHELL: DEVASTATION (Ichiban 1004) 1986

Body Shop / She Was My Lady / I Taught Her Everything She Knows / The Show Must Go On // In Her Own Way / This Is Our Song / I Can’t Get Used To Sleeping By Myself / You’re Gonna Come Back To Love

LONER (Ichiban 1110) 1991

While The Cat’s Away / Starting From Scratch / Come To Bed / Can’t Nobody Love You Better Than Me / Never Let Her Down // Nothing Hurts Like Love / You Did What You Had To Do / Loner / She’s A Party Animal

 

(Acknowledgements to Prince Phillip Mitchell and additional ones to Bruce Hawes).

 

© Heikki Suosalo

Previous parts of the story:

Part 1 (1944-1970)
Part 2 (1970-1976)




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