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THE MANHATTANS – part 4 (1980 – 1989)


Read also:
The part 1
The part 2 (1964-1970)
The part 3 (1971-1979)
The part 5 (1988-2012)
The Manhattans Discography 1960-2012

“It was a song that we were working on at home, at the basement studio, and we were just doing some creation on some things, Paul Richmond and myself, and it just kind of came about.  Sometimes things just happen.”  According to Leo Graham’s reminiscence above, the Grammy-winning Shining Star came into existence almost by accident.  Leo was the producer and co-writer of this beautiful and haunting gem of a ballad, one of the most memorable love serenades in our music.

  In 1980 the Manhattans in the line-up of Gerald Alston, Edward “Sonny” Bivins, Kenny Kelly and Windfred “Blue” Lovett were still basking in the afterglow of their success in the previous decade, when the group garnered as many as 10 top-ten soul records, highlighting in one platinum single - Kiss and Say Goodbye - and two gold albums, The Manhattans and It Feels So Good. 

  Kenny Kelly: “With our relationship with our manager and CBS we became professionals at what we were doing.  We learned the business.  We learned management.  We learned booking.  We learned negotiations.  We learned promoting.  It was a grooming process for us from the beginning of the 70s all the way to ’79.  Our determination that we were showing was an inspiration to the people we were working with, and they gave us an opportunity to move forward.”   

  As the new decade dawned, the group came up with another smash!


  Leo Graham, Jr. was born in Stuttgart, Arkansas, in 1941.  Leo: “I started out, when I was very young in high school and in singing groups around the city of Chicago, and I started to learn instruments.  I moved to Chicago from Arkansas, when I was very young.  I’ve lived in Chicago most of my life.”

  Besides the Manhattans, Leo is best known for his three-decade-long partnership with the late Tyrone Davis.  “I first started out as a songwriter.  I had the fortune and pleasure of writing a song called I Keep Coming Back (on Dakar 616 in 1970), which was the b-side of Turn Back the Hands of Time.  I was the co-writer on that with a gentleman named Floyd Smith.  That was the first song I wrote, when I started out writing songs.  We were very close with Tyrone.  We were like brothers – like with Blue.  After I started with Blue, we got very, very close... as well as with the other guys – Gerald, Kenny and Sonny.”

  Tyrone Davis: “Leo met me.  He knew Floyd Smith.  They were writing together.  He was just trying to do something, before he met me.  Nobody knew anything about Leo Graham.  After he started writing for me, he did such a good job that I wanted him to produce me.  He became my producer, when we did the album Turning Point” (Soul Express # 3/95: The Tyrone Davis story, part 1). 

  Leo: “I think it was around 1974-75, when I started working at Curtom Records, owned by Curtis Mayfield.  I was a songwriter there for a couple of years, and I signed there to do a record of my own, too, which never happened.  I also did some things with Linda Clifford for Curtom Records.”  Linda recorded for Curtom and RSO six albums between 1977 and ’80, and Linda and Leo worked together still later on Capitol in the early 80s.

  Leo: “After the Turning Point album was so successful, Tyrone changed companies because of some things that went on internally between him and Brunswick and Dakar.  We signed with Columbia Records around 1976.  I met the Manhattans after I did a couple of albums with Tyrone Davis on Columbia Records.” 

  Leo and Tyrone cut altogether seven albums for Columbia between 1976 and ’81, and they found their biggest success during this period with such songs as Give it Up (Turn it Loose), This I Swear and In the Mood.  Leo: “The Manhattans were also signed to Columbia.  There was an A&R person with Columbia Records, Joe McEwen, and he approached me possibly doing something for them, and I agreed.” 

  Blue Lovett: “Leo’s the best.  He sings every line to Gerald Alston, and he knows what he wants... a very polished producer.  And not only Leo Graham, but you’d have to mention Paul Richmond, who actually did the music.  Paul Richmond was Leo’s partner.  He was a bass player.  He’s a musician.  Between him and Leo, the melody was Paul, I think, and the lyrics were Leo Graham.”

  Gerald Alston: “It was a pleasure to work with him.  Leo was very articulate.  He wanted a certain way, and that’s how he worked.  He worked to perfection.  He was an easy guy to work with and he made you comfortable.”


  Leo Graham: “Paul Richmond was a bass player and we were songwriters together on a number of songs.  He was an excellent bass player.  As a producer of these songs I would hire Paul to play bass on all of these things, and he did a fantastic job on them.  I met through him a group that Tyrone and I were producing called Amuzement Park.  We did an album on them, which I still have somewhere in the can that I need to try to release at some point.”

  Paul Edward Richmond was a member of the Amuzement Park Band, who at one point was backing up Tyrone Davis and the Impressions.  The group put out two albums (produced by Dunn Pearson and David Wolinski) and singles on Our Gang and Atlantic Records in the first half of the 80s.  Later Paul would work with many artists, including the Dells, L.V. Johnson, Marshall Thompson (of the Chi-lites) and Willie Clayton.

  Leo: “We started out with James Mack maybe in 1975, when we did Turning Point.  That was the first thing I produced.  James Mack arranged all my stuff.  He was a very, very smart guy and he helped me a whole lot in early part of my career.”

  James L. Mack was born in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, in 1929, and moved to Chicago at the age of five.  The first instrument he learned to play was flute.  Classically trained at Roosevelt University, he later taught music at Crane Junior College and afterwards at Harold Washington College.  He started doing arrangements for Carl Davis on Brunswick Records in the late 60s and from mid-70s for Leo Graham on Tyrone Davis’ records.  Besides Tyrone, he has worked as an arranger, producer or musician with Curtis Mayfield, Jerry Butler, Loleatta Holloway, Eugene Record, Ramsey Lewis, Nancy Wilson and many, many others.  He passed away in Athens, Greece, on August 6 in 2006 after suffering a pulmonary embolism.


  Produced by Leo Graham, written by Leo and Paul Richmond and arranged by James Mack, in the spring of 1980 the infectious and slightly country-tinged Shining Star hit gold and peaked at # 4-soul and # 5-pop.  Also in the U.K. it crept to # 45 in July. 

  Gerald: “I liked it when I first heard it, but everybody in the group didn’t like it when they first heard it.  They didn’t think it was a bad song, but they just figured it was a country song... and ‘we ain’t singing country’.  Once we heard it produced and heard how it was going, everybody fell in love with it.”  Sonny Bivins: “It sounded like a country & western song, especially with the guitar open line... but you see the results.”

  With Leo the group cut their records at the renowned Universal Studios in Chicago.  Blue: “Leo Graham had his program together.  He knows what he wants, and he’s on time.  Chicago was ‘one-two-three, and we’re out’, but everybody involved was very satisfied with the work over there.”  Gerald: “Leo was a producer that was very patient.  He took time to show you.  If he wanted some song in a certain way, he would come right out and sing it to you.”  Kenny Kelly: “I think the attitude was different in Chicago than it was in Philadelphia, at Sigma.  It was a little more relaxed.”


  The success of the song reached its festive climax on February 25 in 1981, when the 23rd Grammy Awards were held in Radio City Music Hall in New York City and Shining Star became number one in the category of “Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal.”

  Blue: “It changed our career dramatically.  It put us on the map, I think, forever.  It opened doors and venues that we had never been before, crossed over into the pop market... and being recognized by our peers.  The competition that night was Roberta Flack, Donny Hathaway, Jackson 5, the Commodores and the Spinners.  For us to come out number one with that competition was really an accomplishment.”

  Kenny Kelly: “It was definitely a step up.  We worked more and gained a lot of recognition.  We got an opportunity to polish our act, so that we could be more competitive.  We were able to acquire some of the things that we wanted in life, like homes and cars.  We were able to reach a wider audience than we had previously, internationally.”

  As an example, in March 1981 the group toured Japan for the first time.  Gerald: “We have a lot of fans in Japan.  Japan is another country that we do very well in.  The fans know the records.  Even though they can’t speak English, they were able to sing the songs with us, and they just loved and supported us.”

  Leo: “I got a lot more offers to do some things at some point that I didn’t quite get around doing.  Shining Star brought about some interest from Columbia executives and they made me an offer to do something with Champaign.  We started out with just three songs, but Columbia was so pleased that they signed up the group to do the whole album, so I did a whole album on them.” 

  Champaign was an interracial septet out of Champaign, Illinois.  Produced by Leo and for the most part arranged by James Mack, their album titled How ‘Bout us was released in 1981 (# 14-soul, # 53-pop), and the title track evolved into a respectable single hit (# 4-soul, # 12-pop).  Their two follow-up albums on Columbia – Modern Heart (’83) and Woman in Flames (’84) - were self-produced without Leo’s involvement anymore.


  On the flipside of the huge Shining Star there’s a strong and dramatic ballad titled I’ll Never Run Away from Love Again, which makes the single an impressive double-sider.  The b-side was written by Gerald and Barbara Morr.  Gerald: “I think my manager, Hermi Hanlin, introduced me to Barbara.  She wrote Am I Losing You (in ’78 with Alvin Fields and Douglas Stender).  Hermi said she thought it would be a good match, and so Barbara and I started working together.”

  Barbara Morr (on the pic above) was born and raised in Salt Lake City, Utah.  Barbara: “I started studying piano at age four.  I performed in recitals all during my childhood and was considered a prodigy.  As I got older, I was also very involved in music at school, as a pianist and singer, performing, accompanying, singing in glee clubs, a cappella choir, madrigals as well as doing musical shows and musical programs in the community.  I wrote my first song for my high school, sung by the ‘a cappella’ choir at my graduation, which is still the school song at East High School in Salt Lake.”

  Barbara kept herself busy with music at the University of Utah singing, recording, travelling, creating musical shows, studying piano with Oscar Wagner and composition with Ned Rorem.  “I was the improvisational composer and accompanist for the Virginia Tanner Children’s Dance Theater and I also did the summer master piano program at the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara, California, and played the Grieg Concerto in A Minor with the symphony there.”

  After graduation Barbara moved to New York to work in popular music and music for advertising.  “Within six months I had met the current group of ‘jingle singers’ and was singing on commercials and record sessions as a background singer on a regular basis.  I did that for ten years before becoming a songwriter and being asked to join Love Zager, a boutique production, writing and publishing house.”

  Barbara’s first song that was released on record was Love Is Holding On – co-penned by Betsy Durkin Matthes – on Cissy Houston’s self-titled album on Private Stock in 1977, produced by Michael Zager.  It was also the b-side to Cissy’s charted single, Tomorrow.  The above-mentioned classic ballad, Am I Losing You by the Manhattans, which Barbara co-wrote, scored a great success in early 1978.  Barbara: “Although I have been primarily a music writer, at least in the beginning, it wasn’t long before I was writing lyrics.  I had a large catalogue with Love Zager and on some songs I just wrote music, and others were more integrated with all the writers contributing to music – melody and chords – and lyrics.  Sometimes it would happen with Gerald, for instance, that he would bring an idea with a few lines of lyrics and melody and although we would collaborate to write the song, primarily I would write the chords and be a major part of finishing the melody and lyrics.  There is also the style that is being considered, while the song is being written.  It wasn’t then like it is today, where you instantly program the song while you are writing, but we were considering styles and ideas for the demo we would make when the song is finished.”


  Hot on the heels of the smash single the Manhattans released an album named After Midnight, which – similarly to Shining Star - also stroke gold (# 4-soul, # 24-pop).  It had as many as five production units working on it, but for the follow-up single to Shining Star they trusted Leo Graham’s craftsmanship again.  Written by Leo and James Mack, Girl of My Dream was once more a gentle and sweet ballad, but it wasn’t distinctive enough and it lacked the irresistible hook of its predecessor.  In the summer of 1980 it climbed up only to # 30-soul, with no pop show.

  Sonny: “You never know how the public is going to receive a song, let alone how the song is going to be promoted.  You just hope for the best.”  Leo: “I know that that one got a very little attention.” 

  Blue: “It was a B-cut.  It wasn’t nearly as big as Shining Star.  We had no say in the face of it.  They felt like it was a crossover song.  They felt like it was a pop song.  I guess they imagined the Manhattans was on its way over to the pop side of the charts, but they were wrong.”

  Gerald: “I think if Girl of My Dream had got more airplay, it would have done better.  We still sing it on our show today.  Not all the time.  We vary.  We do different shows in different areas.  Basically now we do our hits, some of the old stuff like Kiss and Say Goodbye, Shining Star, We Never Danced to a Love Song, It Feels So Good, I Kinda Miss You, Hurt, Wish That You Were Mine – stuff like that.

  Girl of My Dream was backed with a slow and soulful movie song called The Closer You Are, which all the four members collectively wrote and produced under their Scorpicorn Music, Inc.  Jack Urbant was the arranger.  Gerald: “A lot of the songs we had back then turned into a hit, but a lot of the songs were album cuts.  We sold more albums than we did singles, and some of those album cuts were songs that the people played all the time.”

  The third song that Leo Graham produced for the album was another soft and atmospheric ballad called It’s Not the Same.


  Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter produced and Benjamin Wright arranged two songs for the album, and one of them - the self-written, fast and poppy It Couldn’t Hurt - was actually the only uptempo track on the record.

  The 63-year-old Dennis Earle Lambert ( enjoyed his peak period in music in the 70s, working first for ABC, but he kept on writing and producing big hits into the late 80.  He scored with such soul artists as the Four Tops (Ain’t No Woman, Keeper of the Castle), Tavares (She’s Gone, It Only Takes a Minute), Dennis Edwards (Don’t Look any Further), the Commodores (Nightshift) and Natalie Cole (Pink Cadillac).  He found success also with numerous country, pop and rock acts – e.g. Glen Campbell (Rhinestow Cowboy), the Righteous Brothers (Rock and Roll Heaven), Player (Baby Come Back) – and he even cut an album on himself in 1972, Bags and Things.

  Dennis’ main producing and writing partner throughout these years, starting from the late 60s, was Brian August Potter (  Today Brian, among other things, composes children’s music.

  The other song Dennis and Brian produced was a heavy soul ballad titled Cloudy, With a Chance of Tears, written by Estelle Levitt and the late Jerry Ragovoy.  Gerald: “That was a very good song, but unfortunately it just didn’t get the play and the publicity we needed on it to make it happen.  Jerry wasn’t on the session.  We met him at one event, but we never really worked with him, per se.”

  Blue: “I love the song.  I love the production... very nice work.  In those days I don’t think there was anything wrong with any of the producers, any of the writers.  Everything was running smoothly.  When you got a Grammy and you got a hit record, number one on the charts - songs like Kiss and Say Goodbye - everything seems to run smoothly.”

  Jerry Ragovoy, an ingenious songwriter and producer, passed away recently, on July 13, after suffering a stroke.  He was 80.  Starting in the early 50s, he wrote or co-wrote and/or produced many unforgettable soul classics, mostly in the 60s, such as Cry Baby (Garnet Mimms), Time Is on My Side (Irma Thomas), I Learned It All the Hard Way (Howard Tate), Stay with Me (Lorraine Ellison) and Piece of My Heart (Erma Franklin) – not to mention Miriam Makeba’s Pata Pata on the world music side. 


  Norman Harris and the Manhattans produced together three tracks for the album and they were cut back at the Sigma Sound Studios in Philadelphia.  Blue: “It was a very busy studio, because Lou Rawls, the O’Jays, the Blue Notes, the Stylistics... everybody worked in the same studio, and we had to actually wait for our turn.  We laid the rhythm tracks, go home and wait for thirty days, go back and do the background vocals, come back fifteen days later, do the lead vocals, come back, do the mixing...  Hours were hard to get and they had to fit us in.  Whenever you had a day to record, you had to do everything within that day, and get it done.”  Sonny: “Sigma was the East Coast Motown.  It was absolutely wonderful to work with Norman Harris, Jack Faith and Vince Montana there.”

  Norman Ray Harris, a native of Philadelphia, passed away untimely in 1987, at only 39, due to cardiovascular disease.  This guitarist, producer, arranger, songwriter and even a label owner (Gold Mind) was a founding member of MFSB’s rhythm section and the Baker-Harris-Young production team and among the many artists he closely worked with there were First Choice, Loleatta Holloway, Eddie Holman, Love Committee, Trammps, Blue Magic and his cousin, Major Harris.

  Norman’s and the Manhattans’ first collaboration in production is a medley of two ballads the group originally cut for DeLuxe in the early 70s.  Written by Kenny and Blue, respectively, If My Heart Could Speak and One Life to Live are performed in a neo-doowop style.  Blue: “That was Vernon Slaughter’s idea.  He was the head promotion man with CBS Records, and he lives out here in Arizona with me.”

  The rich orchestration on this delightful remake is provided by its arranger, Vince Montana, Jr., another Philly native and another prominent member of MFSB.  Born in 1928, Vince’s first love in music was jazz.  After a stint in Las Vegas, he returned to Philadelphia to work for Cameo-Parkway in the early 60s and later for Gamble & Huff.  This vibraphonist/percussionist/producer/arranger/composer and a recording artist in his own right as well is, however, best known for conducting and heading the Salsoul Orchestra in the latter half of the 70s.  Gerald: “Vince played on all of our stuff with the Sigma Sound Orchestra.”

  Norman Harris arranged and co-produced with the group Blue’s smooth ballad called Just As Long as I Have You, which distantly reminds you of the music Thom Bell used to create for the Spinners in the 70s.  Blue: “I don’t remember what motivated me to write that, but it was a B-cut also – never an A-cut.  I was hoping for it to be an A-song, but it was just another album song.”

  The third track Norman and the group produced together was I’ll Never Run Away From Love Again, Gerald’s and Barbara’s melodic and enjoyable song that had already appeared on the flip to Shining Star, and this time the arranger was Jack Faith, who had been one of the driving forces already on the group’s previous Love Talk album in 1979.

   John R. Faith, first a flautist and saxophone player out of Philadelphia, became one of Gamble’s & Huff’s mainstays and, besides producing and writing, he did arrangements for almost all of their PIR artists, including Jerry Butler, Jean Carn, the Jones Girls, Patti LaBelle, McFadden & Whitehead, the O’Jays, Billy Paul, Teddy Pendergrass and the Three Degrees.  He passed away in late 2009.

  Tired of the Single Life could be best described as a classic Manhattans ballad with Gerald’s pleading lead, Blue’s monologue and other essential elements in their right place.  The song was written by Robert S. Riley, Sr., produced by Bert de Coteaux, and it derived from an earlier, a late 70s session.  Blue: “Bob Riley was a national promotion man for us.  He was an independent promotion guy, and we made sure we did one of his songs on every album we did from the early 70s throughout before he passed away.”

  Gerald: “Bert was another person easy to work with.  He allowed artists to be themselves.  He’d tell you what he wanted to hear and once you got it what he was trying to show you, then you’re on your own.  He was a very nice gentleman.”

  After Midnight is an apt title for the album, because it offers dreamy and downtempo music to create favourable atmosphere for romantic, after-hours moments.  Kenny: “I thought it was a good piece of work from us.”  Sonny: “Like all our records we knew that if we put our best foot forward, good things would come out in the end.”


  Blue makes a guest appearance on Jackie Moore’s remake of Love Won’t Let Me Wait (on Columbia 11363 in 1980; # 78-soul).  Blue: “I did that on the side.  I knew Jackie for years and it was no problem.”

  The song was picked from Jackie’s With Your Love album (C 36455), which was produced and arranged by Bobby Eli.  Bobby also produced, arranged and co-wrote together with Vinnie Barrett Major Harris’ original reading of the song, which went gold on Atlantic in 1975.  Bobby: “We just thought that a Barry White kind of sexy spoken part would be nice for Jackie’s record and since we were both friends with Blue, I called him and that was it.” 

  After playing a lot behind the Manhattans in their sessions at Sigma in the 70s, this Blue’s rap, however, remains the last musical contact Bobby’s had with them, so far.  “Although always friends, I didn’t work with the Manhattans any more, although I would love to produce them in the near future, as Gerald is one of my all-time favourite singers.”

  The next Manhattans single in late ’80 was a pleasant mid-tempo floater titled I’ll Never Find Another (Find another Like you), penned by Leo Graham and Paul Richmond.  Blue: “That’s the number two song that we do on our show.”  Leo: “It was getting a lot of attention.  It was on its way up the Billboard charts, and then... I don’t know what happened, as far as the internal working within the record company along with the management and so forth, but things stopped moving forward.”  The single, however, managed to climb up to # 12-soul and # 109-pop.

  On the b-side there was another mid-tempo floater, only softer than I’ll never find another, called Rendezvous.  Leo: “A lot of people don’t give that song a lot of attention either, but that’s a good one.”

  Unfortunately the next single, released in early 1981, got lost altogether.  Written by Leo and Paul again, Do You Really Mean Goodbye is a melancholic and achingly beautiful ballad, one of the hidden gems.  Blue: “I love that song.  It had a little country-flavour to it also.”  Leo: “A lot of the stuff that we were doing for our artists was to try to extend their career, and naturally I always tried to get a hit and something appealing to the people.”  Kenny: “Those three were nice pop songs, but I think it drifted away from our essence.”

  Both I’ll Never Find Another, and Do You Really Mean Goodbye were available – besides on forty-fives - only on the Manhattans Greatest Hits album, released in November 1980 (# 18-soul, # 87-pop).  The rest eight tracks on the album were all earlier top-ten soul hits for the group between 1973 (There’s No Me without you) and ’80 (Shining Star).


  The single for the summer 1981 was named Just One Moment Away (# 19-soul), and it’s a relaxed and cool downtempo number, written naturally by Leo and Paul.  Leo: “Real smooth.”  Blue: “That’s a good song.  I love it.  It was a big turntable hit, but nothing ever to sell records.  Places in New York played it, because it had a nice beat and groove to it, but it was never a bona fide hit.” 

  The song was backed with a classy and melodic country-soul ballad called When I Leave Tomorrow, written by Gerald with Barbara Morr.  Gerald: “I was in Seattle, I was listening to One in a Million and an idea came to my mind.  Entertainers have a reputation of meeting women all over, groupies or whatever.  The idea of the song was that this entertainer met somebody that really was nice, but he knew he’d never see her again.  It was a positive song.  He cared about her, but he knew he had to move on.”

  Barbara: “We developed a soul ballad style, in addition to writing some mid-tempo songs, and were written up in Billboard in 1982 – after writing When I Leave Tomorrow – as driving the sound of the Manhattans with, what they labelled as, country gospel fusion.”

  Both of these sides appear on the album titled Black Tie (# 21-soul, # 86-pop), which was released almost simultaneously with the single in June 1981.  This time there’s only one production unit - Mr. Leo Graham.  Blue: “That was his gift, because he got a Grammy for us.  That was a gift from the Manhattans and CBS Records - he should have the next album himself.”

  Co-produced and arranged by James Mack and recorded at Universal Studios in Chicago, they list a whole lot of string and horn players for the album – on violins alone 27 musicians – and as a sign of moving along with the times there’s also one synthesizer player credited, Terry Fryer.

  Leo’s and Paul’s Let Your Love Come Down was chosen for the second single, but this mover with a pounding beat was somewhat lacking in tightness.  It was neither storming, nor easily flowing, but hanging loosely in between, and it floundered only to # 77-soul.  Leo: “That was just one of them funkier things that we were trying to do.”  Gerald: “CBS at that time did not support uptempo songs.”  Blue: “We had no choice in these matters.  It was a CBS call.  Executives or the A&R people at CBS had the control of choosing out of the 10-12-14 songs we did for an album what was going to be the single.”

  The b-side was a sentimental and dreamy but also slightly meandering slowie named I Wanta Thank You, and on this song, alongside Leo and Paul, they credit Brian Hines as one of the writers.  Leo: “Brian Hines was a friend of ours that just happened to come around the scene, when we were trying to create some ideas and some songs.  He had an idea, I would add something, Paul would add something, and then we just all put it together.  Paul was the bass player, and Brian was like a keyboard player and I played a little guitar on it.”


  The third single culled from the album - Honey, Honey (# 25-soul) – was an atmospheric slow song, not unlike Just One Moment Away.  Blue: “No sales, they didn’t do anything on that one.”  Written by Earl Kenneth King, Jr., the song had been a small hit for David Hudson (# 37-soul, # 57-pop) on the Miami-based Alston Records in the summer of 1980.  Leo: “Some of the songs were sent by the company, or they were picked up and approved by Blue and the guys in the Manhattans.  Most of the songs have to go by the artists, so they can say ‘hey, I like this song’.”

  Similarly to Do You Really Mean Goodbye, the Manhattans recorded those days another hidden gem that has easily stood the test of time - Blue’s beautiful and wistful ballad, When You See Me Laughing, which closed the A-side of the Black Tie album.  Blue: “I would like to do that over again.  That was a good song.”  Gerald: “That was a big song in one part of the country, in the northwest area, in the New England area... Massachusetts, Boston.  Actually it was a big song all over the country as an album cut.  Had it gotten played on the radio, I think it would have been a hit.”  If ever a song called for a single release, then When You See Me Laughing is the one. 

  Deep Water (by Jon Lind and Nan O’Byrne) and Gerald’s and Barbara’s song, Just Can’t Seem to Get next to You, make a nice and smooth downtempo medley, while the remaining melodic ballad, I Was Just Made for You, was again co-written by Jerry Ragovoy and sent to Leo by the company.  Blue: “Also a good song, but again a B-cut.  They were just album cuts, and that was it.  Nobody really actually got behind to push for that to be a single.”

  Black Tie was an entertaining and soothing album and again with only one fast track on display.  Sonny: “I liked the album very much, but there are not too many – if any – Manhattans projects I don’t like.” 

  Kenny: “They were good songs on Black Tie, but here again stepping away from our roots.  I assume they were trying to get us in a different type of showroom.  I felt that we could have been geared more toward what made us popular as opposed to the direction we were going in.”

  Gerald: “I think Black Tie was a good album, but at that time we just weren’t getting the support that we needed from our record company.  We recorded an album every eighteen months.  As years passed on, time just changed things and their interest was in other places that were producing more money.  Our budget wasn’t big enough.  There were always excuses.  There wasn’t enough money.  From then on, from that album, we went downhill till we left.”


  In the summer of 1983 the group, however, scored one more top-ten hit, when a catchy dancer called Crazy peaked at # 4-black and # 72-pop, which means that it was the biggest hit for the Manhattans since Shining Star three years earlier.  (Billboard changed the title of their R&B charts from “soul” to “black” in June 1982).  In the U.K. its highest placing was # 63.  The song was written, arranged and produced by John V. Anderson and Steven Richard Williams for Mighty M Productions Ltd., a company that was set up by Kashif, Paul Laurence and Morrie Brown in 1981.  It modelled itself on the Mighty Three Music by Philly’s Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff and Thom Bell a decade earlier.  Blue: “Skip Anderson was Luther Vandross’ keyboard player.”

  Recorded at Celestial Sounds in New York, the track features an 8-piece string section, saxophone by Lou Cortelezzi, John “Skip” Anderson on keys and Steve “Dave” Williams on guitars and those two handle also the synths and drum machine.  Gerald: Crazy was a turntable hit.  The main writer was Skip Anderson.  I worked with Skip and Dave and Morrie on that.  It was a good song, but it didn’t get the same response in our show as it did just on the radio.  Now people still like it and we use it as an opening song, and we get a good response.” 

  Sonny: “Crazy was a change of pace.  We are balladeers, yes, but I know we were capable of singing just about anything.”  Kenny: “That was something different for us.  We were trying to go in a different type of direction with Crazy.  It was a good tune, but it wasn’t us.” 

  On the b-side they placed Leo Graham’s and Paul Richmond’s beat-ballad at a walking pace titled Love Is Gonna Find You, which Gerald sings in a higher register than normally.


  On the single front, the dance hit was followed by a more typical number for the Manhattans, a touching and tender love ballad called Forever By Your Side (# 30-black), released towards the end of 1983.  It was written and produced by Marc Blatte and Larry Gottlieb for Mighty M Productions and cut in New York.  Blue: “That’s a favourite of ours.  We do that on our shows.”  Gerald: “If Lionel Richie had recorded Forever by Your Side, it would have been a smash.”

  Produced and written by Skip Anderson and Steve Williams, Locked up in Your Love on the flip has a similar groove to Crazy, but it also bears a recognizable resemblance to the Whispers’ Solar sound.  Blue: “The Whispers got that idea from us with that Locked up in Your Love and different songs from that album.  We called the Whispers ‘the West Coast Manhattans’, because they loved our stuff and we loved theirs.”

  The album by the same name, Forever by Your Side, was released already in July 1983 (# 17-black, # 104-pop), and this time there were three production units creating the music.  The 4th Mighty M track was a ballad with a slowly bouncing beat named Start All Over Again (written by Richard Scher and Lotti Golden), and again you can’t help thinking of the Whispers.  Kenny: “It was a pleasure working with them (Mighty M), but it was different as opposed to working in the past.  Like I said, the direction we were taken in was taking us away from what we were all about.”

  Mighty M gave the group a fresh and updated sound on their four tracks, while the rest four cuts offered the loyal and long-standing fans more familiar and romantic material, only with a heavier beat this time.  Besides Love Is Gonna Find You, Leo Graham and James Mack produced I’m Ready to Love You Again, the last song on the album.  The Manhattans had a habit of closing their albums with beautiful, classic ballads, and this small gem certainly was no exception.  Leo: “The song was brought to me by the Manhattans themselves, and I’m not familiar with the writers (E. Skierov – M. Holden – P. Hamilton) or the history of the song other than the fact that it IS a beautiful song.”


  Leo co-produced with Morrie Brown and Joe McEwen and James Mack arranged Sam Dees’ subtle and classy ballad called Just the Lonely Talking Again.  Leo: “It was chosen by the Manhattans.”  Blue: “Sam Dees wrote that and Whitney Houston did it after us with the same arrangement.”  Whitney’s cover appeared on her platinum Whitney album in 1987.  The song was cut both at Universal Studios in Chicago (Leo and James) and Celestial Sounds in New York (Morrie and Joe).  Leo: “Different parts of the song were recorded at different times at different studios by different producers.  Stranger things have happened” (laughing).

  The earlier and quite popular Black Tie album was completely produced by Leo, but on Forever by Your Side he worked only on three tracks.  Leo: “Sometimes the company themselves will make changes in the way the things should be done.  Maybe I didn’t have enough songs for the whole album, but these other (Mighty M) guys were great songwriters and producers.  It wasn’t like I had a specific contract to do five albums.  It was just a per album situation.”  Those days Leo was busy with other acts, too – not only Tyrone Davis, Champaign and Linda Clifford, but also with Kokomo (Kokomo on Columbia in ’82) and Leon Bryant (Finders Keepers on De-Lite in ’84).

  At the time of the release of Forever By Your Side it was reported that the group first cut four songs with Leo Graham and James Mack in Chicago – as stated above, three are included on the album – then tracks with (the executive producer) Morrie Brown in New York and as many as nine songs with George Tobin in California.  Unfortunately, only one of those nine songs was released.  For some reason, such tremendous hit melodies as Blame It on Love and Just a Touch Away were given to Smokey Robinson.  The cuts by the Manhattans remain in the vaults somewhere.

  Since the late 70s George Tobin ( has made occasional big waves in producing and writing for a handful of pop and r&b acts, including Robert John, Kim Carnes, Natalie Cole, Smokey Robinson, New Edition and Tiffany.  The only song George and the Manhattans cut together that ended up on this album was a memorable beat-ballad spiced with Joel Peskin’s short saxophone solo called Lover’s Paradise.  George produced it with one of the co-writers and players, Mike Piccirillo.

  Blue: “His was one of those laid-back sessions, where we stayed in a studio one day and then we’re off two days.  Good session, good musicians, good selection of songs, but we just couldn’t get it together.  Dennis Edwards was his artist, and the Temptations, before he got us, because we listened to some tracks that Dennis had done and that we eventually recorded, but there were a lot of political situations there.”

  Gerald: “George Tobin did a wonderful job, but again politically things fell apart and we didn’t use all the songs.  Lover’s Paradise was a great tune.  I think on the demo there was Dennis Edwards.  I guess it was a demo, because we never knew, but we did a song called Blame It on Love, which Smokey recorded and which was a great song.”

  Kenny: “We enjoyed working with him, but a lot of decisions were not ours to make.  That was in the hands of the people that were supposed to be taking us into a new genre.”


    In the credits to Forever by Your Side you can spot one interesting detail: “Management and Direction by Gerald Delet, President – TWM Management Services Ltd.”, later renamed World-Wide Entertainment Inc.  It meant that after having worked for twelve years with Hermine Hanlin, the group now changed managers.  Gerald: “The bottom line – she had taken us far as she could.”

  Blue: “She sued us after the Grammy’s.  It was a lot of financial difficulties there and it was time for us to divorce.”  Kenny: “It was an entanglement that we had to go through during that period of time.  As a result of that conflict that we had to resolve we ended up leaving her and taking on another.”

  The disagreement, which led to arbitration, arose from a clause in the ’76 partnership agreement according to which “Hanlin would be an equal business partner with the four group members and she would also serve as the group’s manager.  Thus, in addition to receiving a share in the partnership’s profits, Hanlin was also to receive a commission on the group’s personal appearances and a percentage of the proceeds from its music publishing activities.”

  Hermi played a small role in another sour incident, which affected Kenny most of all.  Jeanie Scott: “Somewhere around 1980 Kenny was doing a book on the Manhattans, and I had some albums and pictures that he didn’t have, so he asked me to borrow them to put them in the booklet.”

  Kenny: “It was a pamphlet, or a booklet.  It’s only fifteen pages.  It has cameo shots of the group, pictures of some of the countries we were in and out of, some of the album covers, the discography, bios, a piece on George Smith, pictures having taken with the Grammy in our office in New York...”

  “I showed it preliminary to my manager, Hermi Hanlin.  She said ‘oh, that’s a wonderful idea, we’ll put it in a safe and we’ll get back to it’.  She had this big safe in her office at her house.  After awhile I noticed that nothing was happening, so I went back there and said ‘I would like to have my booklet back’.  She gave it back to me, and after that came the court situation and we switched management.  That’s when I brought the idea back to the table again.  Perhaps I could get an insert put in one of our up-and-coming albums to let people know that a booklet on the Manhattans is giving them an opportunity to view all this information and photos about the group.”

  “It took me a long time to get that money pulled together to be able to arrive to that point.  Anyway, I had 3000 of them printed.  I presented my figures to the company, and, when I looked around, they had released the album.  I ended up having to sell the 3000, trying to recoup as much money as I could.”


  In 1983 Blue Lovett formed two labels, Blue Records and Love-Lee Records out of East Orange, New Jersey, to try his hand at producing and giving a push to new talent.  One was his own daughter, Desi, who cut a disco track called I Want to Be with You in ‘84.  Produced by Blue and A. Lee and backed with I’m Much Too Shy, the disc became mildly popular when released in the U.K. on Certain Records the next year.

  A group called Wish ( had two singles on Blue, Mr. D.J. in ’83 and Your Love a year later.  The latter was a pretty ballad (b/w You’re the One), produced, written and partially performed by Blue, whereas the uptempo Mr. D.J. again became a small hit in the U.K. on Streetwave Records.  Blue: “Wish was out of Delaware.  Those records didn’t do well at all, just mediocre.  I needed a bona fide distributor, which I didn’t have and I really didn’t have the money to put into it.  It didn’t work.”

  The guitarist for the Manhattans those days, John Burton, was one artist Blue wanted to cut, too.  Blue: “He’s on his own thing now.  He’s doing quite well as a single artist.”  A dance song titled Can’t Fight the Feeling by a lady called Sugar in ’86 was penned by Ron Banks and Raymond Johnson.  The late Ron Banks was one of the lead singers of the Dramatics.  Blue: “He and I collaborated on a lot of things.  We were great friends for years and years, and I needed music and he had it and we used it.”

  Blue: “Before ending the label, I recorded Regina Belle.  With me she auditioned for CBS Records.  I sent them some demos from our record company and Please Be Mine was one of the songs I recorded for her on Blue Records and it was chosen on her first album.”  This pleading beat-ballad, written by Blue, Regina and Kevin Marshall, appeared on her All by Myself album on Columbia 40537 in 1987.


  The next Manhattans record in early 1985 was Gerald’s heartfelt rendition of Sam Cooke’s ’57 gold hit, You Send Me.  Produced by Morrie Brown and peppered with Chris Cioe’s saxophone solo, the single pushed its way up to #20-black and #81-pop.  Blue: “Morrie Brown felt like Gerald Alston sounds like Sam Cooke, so they wanted to bring the Sam Cooke flavour to see if they can work out a hit out of that, but it didn’t do that well.”

  Gerald: “Morrie Brown did a great job on it.  That was one of our first songs that came out hitting on the pop charts first, and of course we were told by Columbia Records ‘let’s wait and see what r&b market do’, and at that time they didn’t do anything, waiting on the r&b market.  We didn’t get the support from the black community and black radio like we wanted, and we lost it.  But that was a big song – and even today when we sing it.” 

  Kenny: “I think Gerald did a fantastic job of recreating that song.  Besides it was one of Gerald’s favourite tunes and Sam Cooke was one of Gerald’s favourite artists.”  Sonny: “Gerald is a great talent.  He did a hell of a job on that song.”

  On the flip there was a tight dancer named You’re Gonna Love Being Loved by Me, written by Gerald, Barbara and Mark Chapman.  Gerald: “Mark wrote stuff with us, but he wasn’t one of our permanent writers.”  Produced and arranged by Skip Anderson and Steve Williams – Steve even plays a rock guitar solo in the middle – there’s one Luther Vandross on background vocals.  Gerald: “Luther came in and sang with us.  He came by and Skip asked ‘would you like to sing’ and he said ‘yes’.  Luther was a very nice person.  We wanted him to produce us, but unfortunately during that time he was booked up for like a year and we couldn’t wait.  That was the time, when he was doing Aretha, Dionne and everybody.”


  Soon after You Send Me, Columbia Records released in early ’85 the next Manhattans album, Too Hot to Stop It, and it was quickly followed by the second single off the album, a sweet beat-ballad called Don’t Say No (# 60-black).  Produced by Morrie and written by Richard Scher and Lotti Golden, on this track Richard’s synths are strongly pushing through, but more significantly there’s a new female vocalist by the name of B.J. Nelson sharing the lead.

  Gerald: “B.J. Nelson was brought in by Morrie Brown.  He knew B.J.  She sang with Duran Duran.”  Blue: “She was a studio artist.  She didn’t want to come out on the road, because she made more money by doing studio work.  When we got on the road, Regina Belle toured with us for two years before she became a single artist, and she sang on B.J.’s song.”

  Brenda Jay Nelson ( was a much-used background singer in the 80s, and her first solo album came out on EMI in 1989. She later appeared on Bullett Records (P.E.G. featuring B.J. Nelson) in the early 90s, and the latest CD derives from 2008.

  Dreamin’, a nice slow-to-midtempo song – produced, written and arranged by Skip and Steve – was used as the b-side to Don’t Say No.


  The most moving moment on the album occurs, when the group sings a 2:15-minute-long a cappella cover of their beautiful ’67 song, When We Are Made as One, which is dedicated to George Smith.  Gerald: “That was all of our idea.  We’d done it once on our show in Washington, and we thought it’d be a good idea to do it again a cappella on record.” 

  On the album Yogi Horton plays drums and Wayne Brathwaite bass on some tracks, but mostly the instrumentation is in the hands of Morrie, Skip and Steve.  The title track, a beater with strong rock elements to it, was co-produced by Marc Blatte and Larry Gottlieb.

  As a whole, the music on Too Hot to Stop It is more uptempo and synthesized – witness Angel of the Night, C’est La Vie – and the new melodies don’t make you stop at your tracks anymore.  The sales were dropping, too (# 44-black, # 171-pop).  Blue: “I liked many songs on it, but it wasn’t so much the Manhattans, I guess.  At that particular time Gerald was concentrating on doing things himself, singing as a solo artist, and the effort that the producers put in it wasn’t the greatest.  It was a lot of hard work, but I think more concentration on Gerald Alston rather than the Manhattans as a group.”

  Gerald: “I think it was a pretty good album.  I don’t think it’s one of our best albums, but I think it was a good album.  We were maybe in a bit of a rush, because we were trying to get an album out.”  Kenny: “I assume that we were again being geared toward pop market as opposed to the market we were in in the past, and we were just trying to reach a different type of audience.  The decision wasn’t ours.”  Sonny: “The LP was a tribute to our original lead singer, George ‘Smitty’ Smith.”


  It took more than a year to get the next Manhattans record out, but it was quite a revelation.  Where Did We Go Wrong (# 42-black) in the fall of 1986 was an impressive and blooming soul ballad and a duet with Regina Belle.  It was produced by Bobby Womack, who also handles guitar and background vocals on it.

  Blue: “We’ve been friends with Bobby for years, and he liked Regina.  He saw Regina on stage with us, and he liked what he saw in Regina.  I think the idea for the duet came from Harold Melvin’s duet with Sharon Paige.  The idea was that CBS was trying to springboard Regina’s career by having her do a duet with us.”  Harold Melvin’s Blue Notes had enjoyed a number one black hit with Sharon Paige with a song called Hope That We Can Be Together Soon in the summer of 1985.

  Gerald: “We worked with Bobby many times.  Blue and I suggested to CBS at the time that Bobby produced the album, and we thought it was a good idea to do Where Did We Go Wrong with Regina.”  Kenny: “It was a nice session.  We enjoyed working with Bobby, but I wasn’t as comfortable doing that as I was in the past.”

  The song was written by Kathy Bloxson aka Sasha, who used to work with Bobby earlier in the 80s as his background vocalist on the two Poet albums.  On the single the song was paired with Maybe Tomorrow, a poppy ballad written by Roxanne Seeman and Eduardo DelBarrio and cut also by the Four Tops and Phyllis Hyman.  Consequently, Where Did We Go Wrong and Maybe Tomorrow make a nice double-sider. 

  Regina Belle ( was born in New Jersey in 1963 and as a child was first inspired by church music simply because both her parents were singing gospel.  Gradually she grew interested in secular music, too, sang in a group Private Property and studied both opera, and jazz.  With the help of a New York disc jockey by the name of Vaughn Harper she auditioned for the Manhattans, which after a couple of years resulted in Where Did We Go Wrong.  Her debut solo album on Columbia in 1987 titled All by Myself was followed by two gold albums, Stay with Me in ’89 and Passion in ’93.  Her music was sophisticated and jazz-influenced, and her biggest songs were Show Me the Way, All I Want Is Forever, Baby Come to Me, Make It Like It Was and the golden pop duet with Peabo Bryson, A Whole New World in 1992.  She later recorded for MCA and Peak and three years ago she released her first gospel CD, Love Forever Shines.

  Kenny: “She’s a fantastic singer.  That was a good combination for her.  We got her career off the ground.  The song didn’t mushroom into what we were hoping it would mushroom into, but it gave the group a better standing in the market by working with a girl, which we had never done in the past.”


  For the album called Back to Basics Bobby Womack produced three more tracks for the Manhattans.  Blue: “Those were the most laid-back sessions of all.  We go in and nothing would happen for a day.  We go in the next day and we do a half of a song.  Or we go in for a day and rest for two days.  We sat in the hotel more than we sat in the studio.  It was totally disorganized, but the material was excellent.”

  Gerald: “Bobby knew what he wanted and he put his influence on our record.  I like Bobby.  He was laid-back, but he did a good job on it in California.  Unfortunately it wasn’t promoted and done like it should have been.”  Interestingly, Bobby doesn’t write a word about these sessions in his autobiography, Midnight Mover.

  Two of the songs that Bobby cut on the group were familiar from his own back catalogue.  He himself opens with a short monologue his ’73 soul ballad titled I’m through Trying to Prove My Love to You, which grows into a convincing performance by the group and in fact the cream cut on the album.  A dancer titled Mr. D.J. derives from Bobby’s ’79 album, Roads of Life, and the third song – a quick-tempo mover called Back into the Night – was penned by Jesse Neal Barish and Terence John Shaddick.

  Khalis Bayyan aka Ronald Bell of Kool & the Gang produced two tracks together with his I.B.M.C. set-up, which comes from “itty bitty Midi committee”, referring to Midi synths and mixers.  Gerald: “That was through our management.  We were managed by Gerald Delet, who also managed Kool & the Gang.”  Kenny: “Kool & the Gang were from the same home town that we were from, so working with Ronald was like working with old friends, but our music was different.  They were familiar with what they did, and we were familiar with what we did, and that made us different.  The material was good, but we had our own signature.”

Gerald Alston in 1987 - the photo courtesy of Mrs. Jeanie Scott


  Khalis’ first production was a lilting, mid-tempo ditty named Change of Heart, which was written by Gerald, Barbara, Khalis, (the engineer) Kendal Stubbs and Eddie Rolle, and also the second song, All I Need, was a light dancer.  It was put out as the second single off the album in early 1987, and it landed at # 41-black.  It was once again written by Gerald and Barbara.  Gerald: “We had written some stuff years before we signed Gerald Delet, and that was one of the songs we had previously written.  We just brought it out, and they happened to like it.”

  Barbara Morr: “The song is about someone asking for a second chance.  Ideas for these songs come from everywhere.  They come from life experience.  They reflect the present or past, joyful productive times, or great hardship and sadness; the success or failure of relationships; the effect of parents, their support or lack of such, their being a part of one’s life or missing altogether.  Ideas come from hope or a dream for some aspect of the future, or a reflection on times when hope seemed lost.  It is important to have an interesting concept and have all lyrical ideas in sync with that concept.  Songwriters are also drawn to music they like, music written by others, and hear new lyric styles, and new musical ideas incorporated into a track.”

  “Technology has changed the way ideas are used.  Some writers stay true to one style - one generational musical period, so to speak – but I have always been interested in how music has grown and developed through the years.  Therefore, right now, although I am still influenced by many songs and styles in other decades, I am focused primarily on the 2000s.  I also aim for ‘automatic or spontaneous writing’.  Rap has accomplished this in freestyle but it’s the same thing to be able to write a lyric that is almost as easy as conversation.  Conversation is spontaneous.  You don’t stop and think of every word, or change it constantly as you are speaking, and ultimately if you can connect with what you feel initially - get into the zone, so to speak – you have succeeded in expressing your true intention; you can flow.”

  “That is the ideal, but it doesn’t mean that every lyric or melody comes out that way.  For instance, there may be many ideas that are worked with before they lead to that one that feels like the right one.  And on the other hand, you might have a lyric that is complete, inasmuch as it rhymes, all the selections are there, and it appears to be finished.  But something doesn’t feel right and the song has to be approached in a manufactured way, trial and error, reworking etc, until the collaborators all feel that the best result has been achieved; until the light bulb goes on.”

Leo Graham at Future Records


  The rest four songs were produced by our old friend, Leo Graham, at Future Recording Studio in Oak Brook, Illinois.  Leo: “Those songs were already picked and decided to be done by the Manhattans.” 

  Besides Maybe Tomorrow above, they recorded a gentle and poppy ballad titled Just like You.  This “Smokey Robinson” type of a pretty ballad was written by Jeffrey Pescetto and cut also by Dennis Edwards for his ’84 album, Don’t Look Any Further.  Another ballad, Don’t Look in My Eyes (by Brian Potter and Frank Wildhorn), has a strong melody and it was available already on Kenny Rodger’s ’85 country album. 

  The concluding song on the album was Jim Weatherly’s slow masterpiece, which Gladys Knight & the Pips took to the top in 1973 (# 1-soul, # 2-pop).  Gerald: “We chose Neither One of Us.  The other songs were brought to us by the record company.  We’ve always loved Gladys, and we figured it’d be a nice idea to cover one of her tunes.”  A good vocal performance from the group on this track is backed by a rather heavy, machine-dominated beat.  Neither One of Us (Wants to Be the First to Say Goodbye) was arranged by Skip Anderson, whereas the other three songs produced by Leo Graham on this album were arranged by James Mack.

  Back to Basics was an apt title for the album, because music-wise the group was gradually returning to slower and more soulful material after experimenting in dance and rock genres.  However, the album didn’t chart anymore.  The album also marked the end of a close to 15-year and 12-album union between Columbia and the Manhattans. 

  Blue: “Gerald went out to do his solo career with Motown, and that was the end of it.”  Sonny: “Our contract was completed and was going to expire at year’s end.”  Kenny: “I guess at that point of time Gerald was trying to ride on his own, as a result of that Hermie Hanlin situation.  We began to lose momentum as a result of that in the business.”  Gerald: “It got to the point that we weren’t getting any publicity and the era was changing, so it was time to move on and try something different.”

  From those days on YouTube there are two slow jams, Billy Vera’s At This Moment and You Send Me, emotively interpreted by Gerald, and it reads that they come from the Live in Tokyo album in 1987.  Gerald: “That was something they did in Tokyo.  I know nothing about it.  They took a couple of our shows, taped it, put it together and made a live album In Tokyo.  I never got paid for it.  I know nothing about it.”


  As stated above, Gerald Alston embarked on a solo career in 1988, a move he had seriously been contemplating for about three years.  The Manhattans carried on in the line-up of Blue, Kenny, Sonny and the new lead singer, Roger Harris.

  Blue: “People knew that Gerald was going for a solo career, and we put a blitz out to find a lead singer, and Roger’s name came up from CameoRon Tyson (of the Temptations) introduced us to Roger Harris.  He was based out of Atlanta, and we tried him out for about two years, until December 31st in 1990.  That’s when I got out.”

  Earlier Roger was the lead singer for a 7-piece funk & disco band called Mantra, which in 1981 released a self-titled album on Casablanca.  This LP, which remained their only one, was produced, arranged and mostly written by Cameo’s Larry Blackmon and Anthony Lockett.  Larry and Cameo were also in charge of an album titled Now Appearing (on MCA in 1982) by another funk aggregation called LA. Connection, where Roger had moved on to handle the lead alongside Warren Taylor.  Roger has a nice high tenor, but in the 80s he had developed a singing style with a leaning to contemporary r&b melisma to meet trends of the day, and at times it tended to sound uneasy to long-standing followers and fans of the Manhattans music.

  Kenny: “When we brought in a new lead singer, we tried to keep things going.  We weren’t as successful as we were in the past.  It’s hard when you lose the initial chemistry.  If you pull out a familiar voice and put in a different voice, you have disconnected the audience.  Roger didn’t have the charisma that Gerald had, and it’s hard to replace Gerald in a group like the Manhattans.”


  The final Manhattans album in the 80s, Sweet Talk, was released on Hillery Johnson’s Valley Vue label out of Van Nuys, California in 1989, and to no show on charts again.  Blue: “Hillery Johnson still lives there in California.  I’ve known him for years.  He was with Atlantic Records, I think, when the Temptations left Motown for the first time.  It may be Ron Tyson again that introduced me to Hillery.”

  Hillery Johnson’s name pops up in the music business for the first time in 1966, when he became one of the founders of Brainstorm Records and Productions in Chicago together with Leo Austell and Archie Russell.  They worked, among others, with Betty Everett, the Emotions, Cicero Blake and John Edwards, who later became the lead of the Spinners.  After that Hillery worked with United Artists and Capitol and in 1973 was named promotional manager for special marketing for MCA Records.  In 1975 he was the national r&b promotion director at Playboy Records, and indeed in 1977 he became the vice president of Atlantic Records.  Those days Hilltak, a disco imprint founded by Hillery and Tom Takayoshi, was one of the subsidiaries to Atlantic.  Hillery has also managed numerous artists, including Rene & Angela and Lalah Hathaway.

  Besides the Manhattans, in the late 80s Valley Vue had in its roster, among others, Michael Wycoff and Lady Fresh, and later they still added Jerry Butler, Cicero Blake, Gary Taylor and Craig T. Cooper.  The label was active already in the late 70s and early 80s with such acts as Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes and Chuck Brown & the Soul Searchers.

  Tagged as the 25th anniversary album, half of the tracks on Sweet Talk was cut at Vista Recorders in Van Nuys, California.  The title song was produced by our old acquaintance, Khalis Bayyan aka Ronald Bell of the Kool & the Gang.  As a single this swingbeat type of a dancer stalled at # 67-black.

  Three tracks were produced by Sham Boy R.D., who also created all of the music except writing, and on the first one, a contemporary uptempo number named No One but You, one of the background vocalists is Peggi Blu.  Don’t Let Go is a beautiful serenade, which remotely resembles the CommodoresNightshift, and another delight on this album is Try Love Again, which was written by Michael Wycoff and Hillery Johnson.  It’s a Wycoff type of a big ballad with good vocalizing and would have been superb with a real orchestra on the background.


  Blue himself produced three tracks.  This Love Is Real is a fast beater, which first appeared on Ron Banks’ Truly Bad album on CBS in 1983, and it was written by Ron and Raymond Johnson.  Blue: “Raymond was my keyboard player.”  The cream cut on the album is an “old-fashioned” Manhattans type of a ballad called Lady I’ve Been Waiting for You, which Blue produced and Ray Dahrouge wrote.  Blue: “He was a guy I knew out of the central New Jersey, a real nice guy.”  Ray fronted a doowop group called the Darchaes, and in the 70s he had a disco group named Street People.  The closing track on the album is the romantic Just a Matter of Time, which has Blue – besides producing and co-writing – talking his way through the whole song in his unmistakable deep bass voice.

  Gary Taylor is the third producer on the Sweet Talk set.  An artist in his own right but still better known as a songwriter, before Valley Vue Gary recorded for A&M and Virgin and his latest work is available at  Blue: “Excellent producer.  Hillary Johnson knew him.  Hillary’s been in the business over forty years, so he knew everybody.”

  Gary produced, arranged and handled the instrumentation on Why You Wanna Love Me Like That, which as the second single landed at # 62-black.  Cut at Skip Saylor Studios in Hollywood and co-written by Brenda Lee Eager, this downtempo and a bit meandering song could easily derive from Gary’s own catalogue.  Blue: “It played a lot in New York, a very good song for us.”

  Gary wrote, produced and arranged a very slow declaration of love titled I Won’t Stop.  He also plays keys and sings background on this easy and late-night number, which music-wise again slips into the more contemporary field.  As the final single off the album it crept into # 79-black.


  There’s one more song on the album, a nice mid-tempo number called Hot Like an Oven, and it brings the Manhattans and Leo Graham as a producer and co-writer, James Mack as an arranger and Paul Richmond as a co-writer and musician back together again for one more time.  Leo: “In my opinion the Manhattans are one of the premiere vocal groups of today, of yesterday and of tomorrow.  It was a pleasure and privilege to have the opportunity to work with them, and hopefully again in the future.  It was a Grammy-winning milestone in my career also and one I will always cherish.  Thanks Blue, Gerald, Kenny and Sonny!”

  Leo: “In the 90s Tyrone Davis and I were still quite active.  We started a label called Future Records.  We were also at some point with Ichiban Records and Malaco Records.  We did Sexy Thing, Come On Over, Flashin’ Back, Man of Stone and Come to Daddy, which was basically the last one I was involved in as far as production and writing for Tyrone Davis.”  For Tyrone’s full discography please visit

  Leo is still engaged in making a new CD of his own.  Leo: “At the moment things are a little bit slow and, unless you’re doing hip-hop and rap and stuff like that, the companies don’t show a lot of belief to what I consider as ‘old school’, and a lot of this stuff is on the internet and they don’t do a whole lot of physical stuff as far as the albums are concerned.”


  Of the four members of the Manhattans, Kenny Kelly was the only one, who left the music business altogether in 1990.  Kenny: “When I joined the group (in 1963), I had a Bachelor’s degree in biology, so I came in already with my degree.  After I left the group, I moved to New Jersey and taught in public school.  After that my mother got sick and I moved to North Carolina in ’90, where she had bought a house five years earlier.  First I was in the school system out there, but after that I made a transition into retail, and I’ve been in retail ever since.  I left the school system, because it got too hairy” (laughing).

  “I’ve just completed a short story called ‘Am I so like a tree’.  It is a comparative story between the life-cycle of a tree and the life-cycle of man.  All of the experiences are similar.  I gave the tree the ability to think and to reason and to grow through all the stages, the same as man has.  Their experiences are the same, except I used animals and plants.  The basis of it is to understand one’s purpose, and one’s purpose is defined by how he wants other people to see him.  The common thread to the whole story is knowledge, understanding and wisdom.”

  In 1988 Gerald Alston left to pursue a solo career, and the 5th and final part of the Manhattans story kicks off by examining this particular offshoot in the history of the group.

© Heikki Suosalo

Additional acknowledgements to Leo Graham and Barbara Morr.

Read the Manhattans Discography here!

Read also The part 1
The part 2
The part 3

The part 5 (1988-2012)

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