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From Soul Express 4/1996


Some of you might have seen Kenny, because in the past he's been to Germany, Holland, France and England. Now he has his first solo album, This Is R&B, released on MCK Records out of Hartford, Connecticut. "MCK, that's my wife Mattie, who's the vice-president, my daughter Candice and me. We own the record company along with two other gentlemen out of Philadelphia, who own the studio where I did `Without You'. Their names are Nate Cephas and Bill Howard. We're working now on some material with a young man called T.E. Soul. He has a gospel album that's kinda different. It reminds you of James Brown kind of thing."

The CD starts with a monologue, on which Kenny names some of the great, past names of our music, and also to Boyz II Men. "It's a tribute to pioneers of r&b music. I sort of put that in there, because a lot of us forget, who opened the doors for the type of music we call r&b. I also wanted the younger people to know that if it wasn't for people like the older people, there wouldn't be Boyz II Men."

I'm So Proud was written by Cecil Womack and originally done by Johnnie Taylor for Beverly Glen in '82. There's a connection here. "At one time I used to be on a label here in the States called ABC Dunhill, and Otis Smith (the head of Beverly Glen) was the one that found the group I was with, The Hitch Hikers."

Without You is a lush ballad, duetted with Linda Darnelle. "That was written by a beautiful songwriter in Philadelphia who owns part of the studio there, where all the Philadelphia sound was first created, before it went to Sigma Sound. His name is Warren Cooper. Linda Darnelle is new, and we're getting ready to release a single on her. We're doing a remake of a song by Barbara Mason called `Yes, I'm Ready'."

We all remember David Ruffin's '75 # 1 hit, Walk Away From Love, which appears here also as a more contemporary dance `remix'. "I think David Ruffin was one of the all-time greatest lead singers with any vocal group."

Can't Let You Go is a restrained slowie, which vocally breaks wide open towards the end of the song. That was written by a guy in Miami, Florida, who used to be the music director for KC & The Sunshine Band. His name is Gary King. He also helped to produce some stuff with Donna Allen. The last time I heard Donna had made a soundtrack to a movie. We used to be in the same management company, but I haven't seen her for four years now."

Your Love Is On The One is a busy, contemporary dancer. "That was also written and produced, along with me, by Gary King. We wanted to do something different in the album, not to make too much of re-makes."

I Believe In You And Me was a small single success for The Four Tops on Casablanca in '82, and vocally Kenny a bit reminds me of Levi Stubbs here. "Also Whitney Houston has it out now. Levi Stubbs is also a great vocalist in any era. That particular song is sentimental, because when my wife and I got married, that was the song I sang to her at our wedding."

There's Nothing is another modern dancer with a piece of rap included. "That was also written by Gary King. The rapper is also from Miami. He's a young guy named Amilio."

Members Only was Bobby Bland's first Malaco success in '85, and here, to me anyway, Kenny with his gravelly southern voice beats Bobby, and produces another of my top-three cuts of '96. "`Members Only' is the single that we're getting ready to release, and that record is tearing up across the southern parts of the United States, like down in Baltimore, Virginia, Tennessee. I think Bobby Blue Bland is one of the greatest blues singers that ever graced the States and ever recorded. `Members Only' is a record that everybody can relate to. That's going to be the first single off the album, and we are also doing a video on it." It is also Kenny's own favourite track on the album along with Walk Away From Love and I Believe In You And Me.

Closer I Get To You was a gold record for Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway back in '78. "That has been a favourite song of mine. I recorded it with a very soulful young lady by the name of Lady Ashley. She's got a record deal, I think, with Columbia."

In the sleeve-notes Kenny also thanks Reverend Warren Garrison and Alvin Carter, Jr. "Warren is a friend of mine that, when I was weak in finances, came and helped me out. Alvin Carter is my band leader. I have a band here, and we do a whole show. I use trumpet, tenor saxophone, two keyboards, guitar, bass, drums and three background singers. Alvin is my music director and drummer."

Kenny was born in 18.9. 1943 in Baltimore, Maryland, near Washington D.C. "When I was a child, I fell in love with The Count Basie Orchestra. I used to love jazz, and also gospel, like the great Mahalia Jackson, Sam Cooke, when he was with The Soul Stirrers, and The Five Blind Boys. I was sort of influenced by those people, and a r&b singer by the name of Little Willie John. He inspired me along with Jackie Wilson." Kenny's number one today is Teddy Pendergrass.

Kenny's recording career spans almost four decades soon. "I did a ballad called `Tears In My Eyes' in Baltimore. The original was on Spar Records (Spar 101 in '60, b/w Do The Hully-Gully), then we re-did it and put it on Zenette Records (Zenette 101 in '61, the same b-side). We recorded that in a r&b radio station in Baltimore called WSID. The guy, who owned the record label, was called Bill Sparky Mullen. He was the first person to record me and manage me.

"Then I hooked up with Atlantic Records. I did a song called `Show Me Your Monkey' in New York. It was on Ru-Jac Records (later also on De-Jac 1254 in '63, b/w Time), but it was distributed by Atlantic. On that record the background singers was a group called The Sweet Inspirations: Cissy Houston, Dee Dee Warwick and Judy Clay.

I took a sort of hiatus after that. I performed and I had a little tv show in Washington D.C. I was just promoting and doing things of that nature."

Next Kenny appears on Arctic Records in the late sixties. "The first one I did was called `Anything You Want' (Arctic 131 in '67, b/w Ain't Gonna Cry Over One Girl) and written by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff. The label was owned by a disc jockey out of Philadelphia called Jimmy Bishop. Ain't Gonna Cry was a ballad written by Kenny Gamble." For his second Arctic outing Kenny covered Looking For A Love and These Arms Of Mine (Arctic 139 in '68).

After that I took a long hiatus, and around '76 I joined the group called The Hitch Hikers. There was a guy, who really started the group in Baltimore named James Gilyard. He was the bass player and the music director. In the meantime, before the group, what I did was try to write and work on my own tv show. I did commercials and stuff like that."

The group released one album called simply The Hitch Hikers, and from it they pulled a single in '77 called You Are Making A Big Mistake (ABC 12248, b/w Don't Wanna Leave Without You). "I Think they also released a song, I'm not sure, called `Rollin' Dice'. We were produced by a guy named Paul Leka. Paul was working for Columbia Records at the time, but he was also an independent producer. He had produced a group called Steam, and he also produced `Mr. Tambourine Man'. That album did pretty well. We made a little money out of that one. Also we went to Europe. That was back in the seventies, when groups were self-contained."

Before this new CD, there's only one single from the eighties. "I did a remake of a song by Eddie Floyd called `Never Found A Girl'. It's on Million Dollar Records. I did that around '86. After that I moved from Baltimore to New England, which is up here where I am now, in Connecticut. I just started singing around here and producing other acts, promoting r&b shows and decided to get my own record company. That's how this album came about." -Heikki Suosalo

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