The late, great Teddy Pendergrass
biographical and album-by-album article was originally published in the print
magazine Soul Express 1 / 1999, our special 10th Anniversary issue,
and is re-published here without changes to the original text.
is topical once again, as a new documentary about the legendary soul singer, Teddy
Pendergrass: If You Don’t Know Me, is broadcast on the American Showtime
on 8 February 2019.
(Petteri Ruotsalainen, 4 February 2019)
Teddy Pendergrass - Soul Survivor
Teddy Pendergrass is the greatest singer in the history of soul music. Of course, this is a
statement that should not be made lightly; indeed, many soul fans might argue
that such a definitive choice is impossible to make. On a purely objective
level, this is probably true. Soul music spans several decades, and finding the
common ground to compare the countless candidates in all the relevant ways
would prove a hopeless if interesting task.
on a more subjective level I suppose most of us die-hard soul aficionados have
one artist who at some point of our life has made such an impression that he /
she immediately springs to mind when confronted with the question. In my case,
Teddy Pendergrass is that artist.
myself, Teddy represents all the best qualities in a soul singer. His basic
vocal tone is instantly pleasing and contains an incomparable warm quality. He
has all the gospel-based attributes that a real soul singer requires: the
uninhibited emotionality, the seemingly bottomless source of power in his
voice, the ability to get truly rough and rugged on any given moment. Teddy
also has the technique to manoeuvre his way around even the most demanding
of these qualities make him the undisputed champion at instantaneously
switching from a warm and subtle vocal mode to incredibly rough, almost violent
outbursts of passion; a characteristic of soul singing I have always loved.
Another way to express this is to call it (like Teddy himself does) a
contradiction: a mix of the sensual and the sacred, a duality which also
perfectly describes another soul legend, namely Marvin Gaye.
thing that is remarkable about Teddy as a singer is his consistency. You can
count on him to give one hundred per cent on just about every song he performs,
thus often transforming mediocre material into a highly soulful performance.
Later on, when I'm writing about individual tracks, I don't always mention it
separately, but you can automatically assume that the vocal interpretation is
all of you know, what I've written above applies to the time period before
Teddy's near-fatal car accident, after which his voice wasn't the same anymore.
I hasten to add that Teddy is still a highly soulful artist who has come up
with numerous commercial and artistic successes after his accident, and
undoubtedly will continue to do so. But more about that later.
I have used several books and articles as source material, but the most important
source was naturally Teddy's autobiography Truly Blessed (Putnam, 1998),
a collaboration between Teddy and Patricia Romanowski. Unless noted
otherwise, the quotations in this article are from Truly Blessed.
PHILADELPHIA: BORN AND BRED
Theodore DeReese Pendergrass was born on March 26, 1950, to Ida and Jesse Pendergrass. Teddy's
father left the family a month before his son was born, and Teddy met him only
once during his whole life. Jesse Pendergrass was stabbed to death in an
altercation with his drinking buddy, when Teddy was only twelve years old.
Teddy's mother, having previously had six miscarriages, was devoted to his only child.
They lived in a North Philadelphia ghetto. According to Teddy himself, they
were poor, but he had the best possible childhood: he never missed a meal and
lived in a stable and loving environment. Like practically all soul singers,
Teddy grew up on gospel, listening to The Soul Stirrers, Mahalia Jackson,
James Cleveland and other legends of the genre. He also sang in the church
from as far back as he can remember, and during his earliest childhood Teddy
and his mother actually lived above their church. Teddy's description of the
style of worship in his church is telling: "This was a rock'em,
sock-'em, sanctified, feel-the-Spirit church." Much has been made of
the fact that he received a calling and actually did some preaching when he was
only a child, but Teddy seems to downplay this aspect in his autobiography.
In addition to singing in church, Teddy was subjected to music when he was helping
out his mom at the night club she worked in. There he had the opportunity to
experiment with playing the drums, and he instantly noticed he had a natural
flair for them. Like all the kids, Teddy also heard popular music on the radio
and saw it on the American Bandstand TV show. Another important influence
was The Uptown Theater, Philadelphia's premier arena for black entertainers.
There Teddy saw all
The popular artists of the day, from the Motown roster to Gladys Knight and
Curtis Mayfield, and also all the local acts, such as The Intruders, The
Mad Lads and The Epsilons, the last-mentioned group including at
that time McFadden & Whitehead and Lloyd Parks, who was later
to join Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes. However, the most riveting
performance Teddy witnessed and which he credits for his decision to become a
singer was Jackie Wilson's electrifying show.
Teddy mentions the Motown Sound as one of his greatest favourites of that time, and
being a drummer, he has a special appreciation for James Brown's ground
breaking rhythmical innovations.
PAYING HIS DUES
After Teddy quit high school because of a lack of motivation, he engaged in a number
of odd jobs around the area, but he also started getting occasional gigs as a
drummer in Philadelphia's numerous clubs. When Teddy was sixteen, he signed a
dubious contract with a smooth-talking manager and even recorded two songs, one
of which was called Angel with Muddy Feet. What became of these is
In addition to honing his skills as a drummer, Teddy had been singing doowop
classics and contemporary hits on the street corners for some time with his
friends, and his first singing group, a trio, was called The Paramounts.
Their one and only moment in the spotlight came when they were all working as
waiters and dishwashers at a night club in Atlantic City, and the headlining
artist failed to show up. The guys performed The Dells' Stay in My
Corner, and Teddy remembers getting a standing ovation for his version of
that prolonged note that is Marvin Junior's bravura. By the way, Teddy
regards Marvin as one of his crucial influences, his "musical
Next, Teddy got his first professional position as the drummer for the James Brown
impersonator Little Royal. Teddy felt his surname was too long so he
used the name Teddy White when he toured with the group in the USA and
Canada. However, he soon quit the band on a whim in Quebec and headed back to Philly.
Back in his home town, Teddy briefly joined local bands Signs of the Times and
Soul Messengers, but the break he was looking for came when he was hired as
a drummer for a group who called themselves The Cadillacs. In actuality,
they were copycats of the real Cadillacs.
Harold Melvin, who had been leading the vocal group The Blue Notes since the 50s, saw
the Cadillacs perform at a local club. Harold's current line-up had just broken
up, and he was looking for new vocalists. He hired the group, and Teddy along
with them as a drummer.
Teddy already sang some of the vocal parts for the group while he played the drums,
and when most of the ex-Cadillacs split, Teddy was brought to the forefront as
a vocalist. After a couple of changes in personnel, the group line-up beca me
Harold, Teddy, Larry Brown, Bernard Wilson and Lloyd Parks. Jerry
Cummings was later to replace Parks. In other sources John Atkins, a
veteran Blue Note, is mentioned as being the lead singer in the group up until
the time they signed with PIR, but Teddy's biography mentions him only in the
Teddy openly admits that Harold taught him everything he needed to know about show
business. The group toured extensively on the club circuit performing top 40
hits and standards. As Teddy explains colourfully in his biography, the venues
varied considerably: "I was crooning 'Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My
Head' to a Miami hotel lounge full of blue-haired ladies, then driving all
night to open in a smoky little joint where the audience consisted of pimps and
prostitutes who demanded a repertoire a lot funkier. No 'Raindrops' for them."
In fact, one of the most interesting parts of the book was Teddy's depiction of
his sometimes less-than-glamorous life on the road and the characters he met,
including a pimp named Porky (I'm not making this up) who beat up one of
his girls because she took a liking to Teddy.
As time went on, The Blue Notes steadily solidified their reputation as one of the
most professional and exciting groups in the club circuit. Teddy soon became a
focus of attention in the group, and at one point Ron Banks of The
Dramatics offered him a position as the lead singer of his group. However,
the fate of The Blue Notes was sealed when Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff
caught their act one night in Camden, New Jersey. The group was signed to
Philadelphia International Records as Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes.
TO PHILADELPHIA INTERNATIONAL
The rest, as they say, is history. I won't go into the Harold Melvin & Blue
Notes period in as much detail as the solo career, because the group deserves
its own story, and in this album-by-album article I'll concentrate on Teddy's
solo outings. Teddy was a member of the group on four albums: Harold Melvin
& The Blue Notes (1972), Black & Blue (1973), To Be True
(1975) and Wake up Everybody (1975). On the latter two, the group was
billed as Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes featuring Theodore Pendergrass.
There was also a compilation, entitled All Their Greatest Hits! (1976).
Their biggest hit was If You Don't Know Me by Now, (R&B # 1, pop # 3), and
other number one R&B hits included The Love I Lost, Hope That We Can Be
Together Soon (with Sharon Paige) and Wake up Everybody.
As for my personal favourites, there are of course many of them (like the
torturously emotional ballads Yesterday I Had the Blues and
Concentrate on Me), but it was particularly nice to read that Wake up
Everybody is Teddy's favourite tune of the Blue Notes period. It would be my
choice also: a mellow yet majestic mid-tempo tune that Teddy characteristically
starts in a wonderfully warm tone before turning to his rough preaching style.
One of the writers of the song, John Whitehead, described it like this: "It
starts off slow and builds and builds and at the end, you feel like you're in
church...". (Bronson & White: The Billboard Book of
Number One Rhythm & Blues Hits, 1993). It's one of those tunes I like
to listen to in order to lift my spirits when I'm feeling down.
The Blue Notes usually relied on Teddy to improvise and interpret the melody in his
rough gospel-soul manner, while the rest of the group sang the chorus. Or as
Teddy puts it: “Harold, Bernie, Larry and Lloyd sang the full entire chorus
in cool, seamless harmony, thus freeing me to growl, shout and riff around them.”
This vocal style would also show its influence on Teddy's solo career.
On the personal front 1974 was an important year for Teddy in the sense that all
three of his children (Tisha, LaDonna, Teddy II) were born that year, to
two different women, neither of whom Teddy married. He was later to marry Karen
Still. It should be mentioned separately, though, that Teddy has provided
for his children, both financially and emotionally.
In October 1975, Teddy left Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes. He had been growing
discontented with financial issues and Harold's dictatorial leadership for
quite some time. In his book, Teddy gives a rather mercenary picture of Harold
Melvin and the way he handled the group's money; I gather Harold would have had
his own viewpoint in this matter. In any case, Teddy gives unconditional praise
for Harold's organizational and musical abilities. Although they later remained
on neutrally friendly terms, Teddy says he was never too close with Harold or
other members of the group, not even during their years together.
A slight detour into the land of trivia: before his solo career, during the first
half of 1976, Teddy performed with the familiar members of The Blue Notes
(Brown, Wilson, Cummings, Parks), who had also left Harold Melvin. They did
concerts under the name of The Blue Notes featuring Teddy Pendergrass.
According to Teddy, after he embarked on his solo career and left them, this
version of the group changed their name to The Notes of Blue. Be that as
it may, as The Blue Notes they did record a 1977 Glades album, titled The
Truth Has Come to Light. Judging by their Internet site (http://aaeg.com/en
ter.htm) they are still performing.
In 1977 it was time for Teddy's debut solo album. Teddy couldn't imagine recording
on the same label as Harold, and Gamble & Huff decided in Teddy's favor.
Harold Melvin led his brand new Blue Notes on ABC, and subsequently on various
other labels, while Teddy remained on PIR. Around the time of the release of
his solo album, Teddy also appeared on the Philadelphia International All
Stars single Let's Clean up the Ghetto. Teddy sang a couple of powerful
lines on this collaboration tune which also featured Lou Rawls, Billy Paul,
Archie Bell, The O'Jays and Dee Dee Sharp Gamble and climbed to
number 4 on the R&B chart.
PIR 34390, 1977
Also currently available as Westside CD WESM 505 (2 on 1 CD with Life is a Song
A1) You Can't Hide from Yourself 2) Somebody Told Me 3) Be Sure 4) And If I Had B
1) I Don't Love You Anymore 2) The Whole Town's Laughing at Me 3) Easy, Easy,
Got to Take It Easy 4) The More I Get, the More I Want
Produced by Kenneth Gamble & Leon Huff; John Whitehead, Gene McFadden & Victor
Carstarphen; Sherman Marshall
There couldn't have been a more favorable environment for Teddy's debut than Gamble
& Huff and Philadelphia International Records. They had worked with Teddy
for years and knew what they wanted to do with him. Teddy appreciated the fact
that music came first for Gamble & Huff and that they varied their
production style to suit the artist they were working with, and not vice versa.
As Teddy put it, they had a rare gift of artistry combined with killer
course these guys, Gamble & Huff, John Whitehead, Gene McFadden, Victor
Carstarphen, Sherman Marshall (and later Thom Bell and Dexter
Wansel), arrangers like Bobby Martin and Jack Faith and all
the brilliant musicians did so much amazing stuff over the years that even this
album, wonderful as it is, is just one of their achievements. Still, I think
the whole lot of them should be knighted for this album alone. The level of
musicianship is impeccable throughout and the abundance of tasty nuances in the
production and arrangements is incredible.
The Gamble & Huff produced debut single, I Don't Love You Anymore, hit #
7 on the R&B charts and was an impressive showcase for the album. After a
brief percussive interlude, it quickly gets to the point and proceeds as a
dynamically rolling piece of up-tempo soul with an overall musical atmosphere
that is decidedly uplifting despite the lyrics. I especially like the part
where Teddy adds some typically rough and emotional ad libs over a tinkling
piano and guitar picking. The McFadden, Whitehead & Carstarphen production,
The More I Get, the More I Want, is a similar hard-driving percussive up-tempo
track with an insistent bassline. The opening track You Can't Hide from
Yourself is even more relentless with its rock-solid backing and horn riffs
that hit you like a boxer hits a heavy bag. The way Gamble & Huff have
combined the funk elements with the solid tune and Teddy's rough 'n rugged
vocals is simply wonderful.
These three dynamite up-tempo tunes are all brilliant, but, amazingly enough, the
slow material is even more impressive. My number one choice would have to be Somebody
Told Me, and this is despite the fact that the religious lyrics are totally
irrelevant to me. A song of many layers, it starts with just a touch of
percussion and a guitar introducing the melody, then Teddy's gentle voice
utters the sublime chorus line, the rhythm kicks in, Teddy adds a little
stamina, the dramatic strings emerge, there's an angelic choir, and little by
little Teddy kicks his majestic voice into full gear. And so it goes on
evolving, with something constantly happening. There's subtlety, there's
strength and conviction. A true masterpiece and one of my all-time favorite
Then there's the second single (R&B # 16), the instantly captivating yet
profound ballad composition The Whole Town's Laughing at Me. Of course,
the arrangement is again faultless, but the tune itself is the main attraction
for me. Why is it so good? I really couldn't tell. Why is it that a Beatles
tune that millions of people worship makes me want to vomit, but this one
touches my soul? I have no idea, and to tell you the truth I prefer it that
As the final addition to my personal top three, I would have to single out Easy,
Easy, Got to Take It Easy. The swaying rhythm instantly creates a carefree
atmosphere and within seconds the melody and Teddy's interpretation grab your
full attention. The lyrics and overall feel are purely carnal, yet this in no
way diminishes the musical value of this wonderful soul floater.
What's left? And If I Had starts in an almost cinematic atmosphere with
dramatic touches of sax and guitar, and Teddy seems charged with contained
emotion. Towards the end, with the background singers and the typical
passionate finale, the song starts to sound more like a typical R&B ballad,
and the end result is quite fascinating. The easy-going swayer Be Sure
seemed to me the most ordinary outing, but as an album filler it is perfectly
fine, particularly considering Teddy's typically inspired interpretation.
A classic album.
LIFE IS A SONG WORTH SINGING
PIR 35095, 1978 Also currently available as Westside CD WESM 505 (2 on 1 CD with
A 1) Life is a Song Worth Singing 2) Only You 3) Cold, Cold World 4) Get up, Get
down, Get Funky, Get Loose
B 1) Close the Door 2) It Don't Hurt Now 3) When Somebody Loves You Back
Produced by Jack Faith, Kenneth Gamble & Leon Huff; John Whitehead, Gene McFadden
& Victor Carstarphen; Sherman Marshall
Teddy's second album definitely has its moments, but as is so often the case with
sophomore efforts, it doesn't reach the overall level of its predecessor.
In my book the best up-tempo cut on the album is the solid title track. The
instrumental first minute of the song demonstrates the stylish yet effective
string and horn arrangement, which perfectly complements the somber Thom Bell -
Linda Creed melody and Teddy's suitably restrained vocals. There's an
interesting contrast between the overall atmosphere and the uplifting lyrics.
The second single release, Only You, and Get up, Get down, Get Funky, Get
Loose try to introduce a harder funk edge to Teddy's style with somewhat
lackluster results. Teddy's vocal style and the (attempted) funky backgrounds
do not find common ground and thus we are left with monotony and no real
groove. By the way, Only You was the song Eddie Murphy used in
his stand-up routine in Delirious, when he described Teddy's singing
style: "I like dudes with masculine voices, like Teddy Pendergrass.
Teddy just come out, take the lyrics and go (in a super-gruff voice)
'You got you got you got what I need', and scare the bitches into loving him."
Of course, Delirious also featured other hilarious music-related skits,
like Eddie doing an impersonation of Michael Jackson crying his way
through a love song (“Tito, give me some tissue. Jermaine,
stop teasing!') and reflecting on the unintelligibility of James Brown's
funk vocalizing ("James Brown's been singing twenty years. I don't know
what the fuck James is talking about!').
Cold, Cold World
is a mellow mid-ballad that didn't strike me as a particularly memorable
composition, but, as usual, Teddy's vocalizing makes it highly soulful.
The standout cut of the album is of course the ballad classic Close the Door,
which rose to the top of the R&B charts. It was actually Teddy's sole
number one single on PIR, as he was more of an album artist.
Close the Door
and its successor in 1979, Turn off the Lights, became the epitomes of
the "bedroom ballad”. For some the term might represent the debasement of
soul music, "wet-crotch music", as somebody called it, but I would
disagree. When we've got a deep Gamble & Huff composition, a classy Thom
Bell arrangement, and Teddy interprets the tune in his warm & 100 per cent
soulful manner, I have absolutely no complaints. Besides, while soul music
naturally deals with all kinds of subjects in its lyrics, love and sex have
frequently inspired black artists to their most heartfelt interpretations, for
which Teddy provides further testimony by his growling on Close the Door.
Teddy himself stressed that there were other sides to him apart from the
ladies' man image, but seemed at ease with the romantic role Close the Door
created for him: “That song helped establish the concept people had about
me, who they felt I really was, and what they felt I was really about."
(The Billboard Book of Number One Rhythm & Blues Hits). Around this
time his sexy "Teddy Bear" image was milked for all it was worth,
with concerts under the theme of For Women Only, and panties literally flying
onstage from the audience. Not unexpectedly, all of this resulted in some
unpleasant incidents, too, with deranged fans stalking Teddy or spreading
unfounded allegations to the press.
Penned by Sherman Marshall and T. Wortman, the same duo that was responsible
for The Whole Town's Laughing at Me, It Don't Hurt Now is yet
another warm and soulful pearl of a ballad around which Teddy weaves his magic
while the female choir repeats the title. The album is brought to a close with When
Somebody Loves You Back, a buoyant easy-on-the-ear swayer with a very
PIR 36003, 1979
A1) Come Go with Me 2) Turn off the Lights 3) I'll Never See Heaven Again 4) All I
Need Is You
B 1) If You Know Like I Know 2) Do Me 3) Set Me Free 4) Life Is a Circle
Produced by Kenneth Gamble & Leon Huff; Thom Bell; John Whitehead & Gene
McFadden; Sherman Marshall
Turn off the Lights
continued in the footsteps of Close the Door and reached # 2 on the
R&B charts. This is really the ultimate bedroom ballad: a lush arrangement
with lots of strings, erotic lyrics ("let's take a shower together,
I'll wash your body, you wash mine, rub me down in some hot oils baby” etc.)
and unbelievably ecstatic vocals from Teddy, who seems to be on the verge of
exploding with emotion. A classic soul ballad.
The opening cut Come Go With Me is another Gamble & Huff penned mating
call, and it did reasonably well on the R&B single charts, as well (number
14). It is apparently a Pendergrass favorite among black music fans, judging by
the fact that it has even been sampled on rap records. I like the swaying
rhythm, and the serene arrangement is stylish despite its MOR leanings, but to
tell you the truth, the lengthy dialogue at the end of the song with Teddy
singing his stuff and his object of desire delivering her trite spoken lines
tends to bore me, no matter how well Teddy sings.
I'll Never See Heaven Again
is a beautiful melodic ballad with a very smooth and refined arrangement. The
former attribute also applies to All I Need Is You, and with Teddy's
powerful delivery it is easy to ignore the 1979 syndrums in the background. All
in all, a strong ballad foursome.
Some of the up-tempo tracks reveal the influence of the year 1979, which was the
culmination of mindless disco music. The McFadden & Whitehead contribution If
You Know Like I Know is an aggressive disco-funk plodder with prominent
bass plucking, and Do Me sounds hectic and repetitive despite the fact
that the arrangement features nice details, and Teddy sings it energetically. Life
Is a Circle is melodically a cut above these, and before the end there's a
nice bit which combines a flute solo, percussion and Teddy's rough vocals, but
the rhythm is still far too fast-paced for my tastes.
The standout cut on side B is definitely the majestic Thom Bell production /
arrangement Set Me Free. Written by LeRoy Bell (Thom's nephew)
and Casey James, who themselves recorded in the late 70s as Bell
& James, the tune forsakes the bland disco sounds of the day in favor
of a more typical Philly production.
Not a perfect album, but if you are a serious soul fan, you need to have the
By now Teddy had a garage full of fancy cars and his own jet and he was selling
out arenas like Madison Square Garden. Around this time, he was also asked to
play Otis Redding in a biopic, but eventually turned the role down.
TEDDY LIVE! COAST TO COAST
PIR 2-36294, 1979
A 1) Life is a Song Worth Singing 2) Only You 3) Medley: If You Don't Know Me by
Now / The Love I Lost / Bad Luck/Wake up Everybody
B 1) Introduction 2) When Somebody Loves You Back 3) Get up, Get down, Get Funky,
Get Loose C 1) L.A. Rap 2) Come Go with Me 3) Close the Door 4) Turn off the
Lights 5) Do Me D 1) Live Interview 2) Where Did All the Lovin' Go 3) Live
Interview 4) It's You I Love 5) Live Interview 6) Shout and Scream 7) Live
Produced by Gamble & Huff; Gene McFadden, John Whitehead & Jerry Cohen.
Sides one and two on Teddy's live set were recorded on home turf in Philadelphia and
side three in Los Angeles. The location doesn't really make any difference,
because to these ears this is a quite lacklustre album. I guess this would be
the proper time to confess that I'm one of those people who have never
particularly enjoyed live recordings in soul music. Nothing wrong with live
performances, mind you, but somehow the magic created in situ rarely makes it
to the record. I like live jazz and funk recordings much better, so apparently
that means I appreciate the instrumental jamming and soloing most in a live
Here the sound quality is poor, and the Teddy Bear Orchestra, headed by Samuel
Reed and made up of local musicians, sounds like adequate background support,
and nothing more. It would seem that Teddy wanted nothing to undermine his
position as the one and only star of the show and focus of attention. An
understandable tactic, but in this case it doesn't make for particularly
inspiring listening. The funky tracks are monotonous and boring, and while the
ballad favourites are delivered in a convincing enough manner, there's not one
truly in-depth exploration of any particular tune. You know, the kind that
would actually surpass the studio version.
The medley of Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes hits is rushed through in the
typically annoying manner that I guess is designed so all the morons in the
audience can whistle along to the melody. To conclude this personal theme of
"What aspects of live recordings I hate the most”, here we also have
members of the audience joining the artist onstage to sing for a while. What
Side D features three new studio cuts along with excerpts of a radio interview with
Teddy. The first single Shout and Scream is musically as interesting as
you can surmise from the title, and while Teddy sings Where Did All the
Lovin' Go in a decidedly rough and impressive fashion, musically this
McFadden Whitehead-Cohen disco-funk loper sounds like a routine effort. By far
the best of these tracks is It's You I Love, a pleasant enough laid back
mid-ballad vigorously interpreted by Teddy. The short interview excerpts
feature Mimi Brown demonstrating razor-sharp journalistic wit while inquiring
about such all-important subjects as Teddy's "sign" and how he likes
his eggs. Move over Woodward & Bernstein!
Recommendable only if you want a complete Pendergrass collection.
PIR 36745, 1980 Also currently available as Westside CD WESM 569, containing three
cuts from Teddy Live! as bonus cuts
A 1) Is It Still Good to Ya 2) Take Me in Your Arms Tonight 3) Just Called to Say
4) Can't We Try
B1) Feel the Fire 2) Girl You know 3) Love T.K.O. 4) Let Me Love You
Produced by Ashford & Simpson, Dexter Wansel, Teddy Pendergrass, Cecil Womack,
Cynthia Biggs, John R. Faith, McFadden, Whitehead & Cohen
As you can see from the credits, the producers consisted of a slightly more
diverse bunch than before, and Gamble & Huff only acted as executive producers.
Nevertheless, TP is an excellent album and contains a couple of soul classics.
The opening cut for one deserves such an accolade. Written by Ashford &
Simpson, whom Teddy had met a while ago when they opened shows for him, it
was also originally performed by the legendary duo on their 1978 album of the
same name. Teddy initially sings the mightily soulful ballad tune in a
wonderfully warm and expressive tone, but after a while it seems almost as if
some kind of dam breaks inside him and he switches to low down raspy preaching.
His shattering super-emotional delivery is almost painful to listen to; the man
sounds like an open wound. If you are a real soul fan, you cannot live without
this track. The other Ashford & Simpson contribution, Girl You Know,
is an emphatic up-tempo pounder, nothing extraordinary but a typically soulful
A & S tune nevertheless.
The other bona fide classic of the album is the Cecil Womack - Gip Nobel
composition Love T.K.O. It was originally performed by the late great David
Oliver, and later also interpreted by Cecil & Linda Womack on
their first (and overwhelmingly best) album, although it should be mentioned
that the best tune Cecil & Linda have ever performed is without a doubt Baby
I'm Scared of You (James Gadson's drum work is pure genius). Anyway,
those two versions are both excellent to say the least, yet Teddy's take on the
subject is, for me, the ultimate interpretation of this ultra-soulful jewel.
The second you hear the laid-back groove and get a taste of the instrumental
nuances with bass, guitar, strings etc. you feel like you could listen to the
song for about a week without a pause. But the real depth of the song comes
from the profound composition and Teddy's skillful reading where he finds just
the right balance between the subtlety the song requires and the more
emotionally charged style to which he is naturally inclined. Love T.K.O.
defines the perfect combination of mellow and soulful. The second single of the
album, it spent six weeks at second position on the R&B chart.
On I Just Called to Say it takes about two seconds to hear that this is
another classy Cecil Womack composition. Teddy wisely relies on the beautiful
melancholy melody, and the end result is a fascinating soul swayer and yet
another personal favorite of mine.
songstress extraordinaire Stephanie Mills is featured on two tracks.
Steph had opened for Teddy in concerts, and Teddy had heard her sing the Peabo
Bryson song Feel the Fire, which Stephanie had already cut in a
highly soulful way for her 1979 album What Cha Gonna Do with My Lovin'
Teddy & Steph's version is as impressive as you would expect from these two
magnificent soul throats with the tension heightening towards the end in a
suitably dramatic fashion. The only downside is that the song ends too soon.
The second duet with Stephanie is the Dexter Wansel tune Take Me in Your
Arms Tonight, a snappy disco-funk mover which still sounds listenable
mostly on the strength of the dynamic vocals.
The remaining tracks are less inspiring. The first single release, the MOR ballad Can't
We Try, is a pretentious tune despite Teddy's best effort, but it did go up
to number three on the charts, so apparently somebody liked it. Let Me Love
You might otherwise be a decent enough McFadden, Whitehead & Cohen
tune, but the utterly weird arrangement with its synth and guitar whining makes
it virtually unlistenable.
Yet another platinum album for Teddy, and, in my mind, the second best Teddy
Pendergrass album ever.
During 1980, Teddy also lent his vocal talent to Leon Huff's solo album Here to
Create Music. And before his next album, Teddy appeared on the charts on
yet another duet with Stephanie Mills. Two Hearts (to be found on her
1981 Stephanie album) reached 3rd position on the R&B chart, and
quite deservedly so. The sounds are rich and bassy, the melody attractive and
the midtempo groove grabs you from the very start. Teddy & Stephanie
complement each other beautifully, so it is safe to say that Two Hearts
is an Mtume-Lucas production that stands the test of time as a dance
track you can still listen to solely for its musical values.
IT'S TIME FOR LOVE
PIR 37491, 1981
A 1) I Can't Live without Your Love 2) You're My Latest, My Greatest Inspiration
3) Nine Times out of Ten 4) Keep on Lovin' Me
B 1) It's Time for Love 2) She's over Me 3) I Can't Leave Your Love Alone 4) You
Must Live On
Produced by Kenneth Gamble & Leon A. Huff, Teddy Pendergrass & Dexter Wansel
By this time Teddy was aiming at a bit more sophisticated style in lieu of the
rough gospel preaching, or "more purrin' than roarin’" as he
expresses it in his autobiography. The first single of his sixth album, I
Can't Live without Your Love, a melodramatic Leon Huff & Cecil Womack
ballad tune that reached number 10 on the R&B chart, is a case in point.
Similar in style, but in my opinion much better is the second single, You're
My Latest, My Greatest Inspiration, and the fans seemed to agree by hurling
it up to number 4 on the R&B chart. The atmosphere on the melodic ballad
tune is gentle, and Teddy's voice, especially at the beginning, is warm and
serene. The composition is quite beautiful, and little by little the
arrangement as well as Teddy and the backing choir become more emphatic. A
pretty, unpretentious love ballad.
Another highlight for me is the title track, a great midtempo swayer with tasty instrumentation, featuring guitar and sax, and Teddy's dynamic
interpretation contrasted very nicely with the background vocals: a truly
enjoyable slow soul groove. I Can't Leave Your Love Alone is an utterly
tight and smooth funk attack with razor-sharp horn riffs, groovy keyboard
playing and energetic female background vocalists: one of the best up-tempo
tracks of Teddy's career.
The melodic soft mid-pacer Nine Times out of Ten, the basic ballad She's
over Me and the melodramatically arranged You Must Live On all veer
a little bit too far into MOR territory, and Keep on Lovin' Me is a
light-weight semi-funky plodder. This, however, does not mean that I found
these tracks unpleasant, rather they serve as adequate album fillers.
All in all, a decent album with a couple of standout cuts.
At this point, Teddy made a quick foray into movies. He made a cameo appearance in
a film titled Soup for One, and cut one song for the soundtrack (Mirage,
1982). The track, Dream Girl, is a listenable beat ballad written and
produced by Nile Rodgers & Bernard Edwards of Chic fame. As
always, Teddy makes a genuine effort, but the tune itself is not exactly
And since we're chronologically at the right place, let's take a brief look at the
live video of the concert Teddy held at Hammersmith Odeon in early 1982, just
before his hideous car accident.
LIVE IN LONDON
CBS/Fox Video, 1983
I Don't Love You Anymore / The More I Get the More I Want / You Can't Hide from
Yourself/I Can't Live without Your Love / Love T.K.O. / Lady / You're My
Latest, My Greatest Inspiration / Where Did All the Lovin' Go / The Whole
Town's Laughing at Me / Come Go with Me / Close the Door / Turn off the Lights
/ Only You / Reach out and Touch (Somebody's Hand)
The up-tempo tracks sound hectic and shallow here just as they did on the live
album, but in the ballad department this is a much more rewarding affair. I particularly
liked the utterly soulful interpretations of You're My Latest, My Greatest
Inspiration and The Whole Town's Laughing at Me, and the Come Go
with Me / Close the Door / Turn off the Lights medley also sounds
excellent. At the end of the show, aided by a kiddie choir, Teddy per forms a
version of Reach out and Touch, a tune which he also cut for a
children's compilation album entitled In Harmony 2.
All in all, a quite decent live video and well worth acquiring for serious fans.
Listening to it made me think what the future might have held for Teddy if
things hadn't taken a tragic turn.
On 18 March 1982 Teddy had been spending time at a club in Philadelphia and was
driving in his Rolls with a lady acquaintance (or a transsexual, to be exact,
as it later turned out) when he lost control of the vehicle, hit the guard-rail
and finally ran into a tree. Ugly rumors about the circumstances of the
accident abounded, but Teddy says there was some kind of a malfunction in his
car. He even filed a law suit against Rolls-Royce, and it was later settled out
Teddy's injuries were extremely serious. His spinal cord was injured, which left him
wheel chair bound, with limited movement in his arms, though none in his hands.
He was not able to move or feel sensation below his chest or grasp objects
normally. He was prone to numerous potentially fatal health complications. All
of these handicaps are still and will always be a part of Teddy's life.
Fortunately, Teddy was able to breathe without a respirator, and his mental faculties were
not damaged at all. Also, Teddy's diaphragm was not damaged, which meant he
could still sing. However, he did lo se control of some of the muscles that are
involved in the complicated process of producing sound, which affected his
singing voice dramatically. More about this later.
Naturally, all this started a brand new phase in Teddy's life and career, but before we
get to that, let's take a look at his last PIR albums.
THIS ONE'S FOR YOU
PIR 38118, 1982
A 1) I Can't Win for Losing 2) This One's for You 3) Loving You Was Good 4) This
Gift of Life
B 1) Now Tell Me That You Love Me 2) It's up to You (What You Do with Your Life)
3) Don't Leave Me out along the Road 4) Only to You
Produced by Gene McFadden, John Whitehead & Victor Carstarphen; John R. Faith &
Theodore Pendergrass; Thom Bell; Kenneth Gamble & Leon A. Huff; Joseph B.
Jefferson & Charles B. Simmons; Nicholas Ashford & Valerie Simpson
While Teddy was convalescing, his fans were treated to two albums full of earlier
shelved material from the Philadelphia International archives. You can hear why
a lot of the tracks would have been dropped from his albums in the final stages
of selection, but this only means that they might not be obvious hit material.
Simply put, there's a lot of pretty good stuff here.
The least appealing tracks are to be found right at the beginning of the set: I
Can't Win for Losing (the second single) is a basic funk track with ugly
synth sounds, and This One's for You is a lethargic Barry Manilow
Loving You Was Good
is a typically classy Thom Bell production with
a dramatic arrangement and an attractive melody by (LeRoy) Bell
& James. This Gift of Life was an understandable choice for the
first single because of its eerily appropriate lyrics (This gift of life,
I'm so thankful to be living... I wanna thank you for givin' me the privilege
to live). Teddy's masculine delivery over the extremely slow Gamble &
Huff ballad composition is impressive hearing, but as a single pick it was
perhaps a bit too ambitious (# 31).
More quality Gamble & Huff material follows on side B. Now
Tell Me That You Love Me is a warmly interpreted mid-ballad which gathers
strength towards the end, and It's up to You a more energetic plodder
with an uplifting melody. Both might lack the melodic edge to make it on the
single charts, but I certainly have nothing against this kind of
"basic" Philly soul.
The easy-on-the-ear country-flavored Don't Leave Me out along
the Road (by Joseph B. Jefferson, Charles B. Simmons &
Richard Roebuck) is listenable, but the real treat is left as the closing
The standout cut of the album is provided by Ashford &
Simpson, whose ballad tune Only to You is not instantly accessible, yet
the more you listen to it the clearer the profundity of this small gem becomes.
Teddy's interpretation is marvelous and towards the end he engages in an
utterly soulful dialogue with the background singers (Nick, Val and Ullanda
McCullough). I only wish the song lasted longer! This is one I had
neglected earlier, but now it has become a Pendergrass favourite of mine.
HEAVEN ONLY KNOWS
PIR 38646, 1983
A 1) Crazy about Your Love 2) Judge for Yourself 3) I Want My Baby
Back 4) Life Is for Living
B 1) You and Me for Right Now 2) Just Because You're Mine 3)
Heaven Only Knows 4) Don't Ever Stop (Giving Your Love to Me)
Produced by Kenneth Gamble & Leon A. Huff; Dexter Wansel;
Kenneth Gamble & Cecil Womack; Philip Terry; Gene McFadden, John Whitehead
& Victor Carstarphen; Thom Bell
The overall standard here is slightly lower than on the previous
set, but nevertheless this is generally more of the same: basically enjoyable
Philly soul with a couple of peaks.
One of the highlights is definitely the only single pick of the
album, I Want My Baby Back (number 61 on the R&B chart), which is a
peaceful, saddish Kenneth Gamble & Cecil Womack ballad composition. Even
better is the beautiful McFadden, Whitehead & Carstarphen slowie Just
Because You're Mine, which vocally takes a rougher approach. I especially
like the bit at the end where Teddy's voice is mixed so that it sounds like he
is duetting with himself.
The rest of the album consists of pleasant mid-tempo soul tunes, a
couple of them suffering from unpleasant synth sounds, but all in all the
quality remains satisfactory. My personal favourite among these is the Gamble
& Huff production Crazy about Your Love.
While not packed with classics, these two albums contain a lot of
enjoyable music for any Philly soul fan. I don't know whether they are still
available, but should you come across them, they are definitely worth
Elektra/Asylum 60317, 1984
A 1) In My Time 2) So Sad the Song 3) Hot Love 4) Stay with Me
B 1) Hold Me 2) You're My Choice Tonight (Choose Me) 3) Love 4)
This Time Is Ours
Produced by Michael Masser, Luther Vandross
Through his manager Shep Gordon, Teddy had met Elektra
Records president Bob Krasnow in early 1983. After hearing a demo of the
Luther Vandross-produced track You're My Choice Tonight (Choose Me),
Krasnow offered Teddy a contract. Besides now having a recording home on a
major label, Teddy was also executive producer of his albums, which meant a
whole lot of new responsibilities (like choosing the material and producers)
and financial pressures as opposed to the PIR era, when all Teddy basically had
to do was arrive at the studio and start singing.
My personal attraction to soul music had only recently started in
the mid-80s, so I wasn't really aware of what was going on at this time, but I
can imagine the shock it must have been for Teddy's fans to hear him on this
album. His voice was clearly recognizable but the tone was frequently bland and
practically all the strength seemed to have disappeared.
With hindsight, it is easy to hear a phrasing here and a warm
quality there suggesting that the potential for growth did exist, and luckily
enough Teddy's voice has eventually improved considerably. However, getting
back to 1984, this was the pits.
To make matters worse, the producer for Teddy's comeback album was
one Michael Masser, the sultan of schmaltz, whose sugary and predictable
melodies frequently made real soul fans gag particularly in the 80s.
His magic touch is self-evident on the album. Of the seven songs
he wrote and produced, only Hold Me should be mentioned separately; not
because it has any particular musical value, but because it is a duet with
superstar-in-the-making Whitney Houston and reached number 5 on the
R&B chart, thus revealing that Teddy's fans were still out there. Musically
it and the rest of the MM material is soulless, mind-numbing crap.
Incidentally, if somebody out there knows what Michael Masser is doing
nowadays, please don't let me know.
The shining highlight and only worthwhile track on the set was
produced by Luther Vandross with his usual crew in the background (Marcus
Miller, Yogi Horton, Nathaniel Adderley Jr, Doc Powell, Steve Kroon, Crusher
Bennett). Also featured in the Alan Rudolph film Choose Me,
You're My Choice Tonight (Choose Me) is a laid-back bass-heavy slow groove
with a fascinating Vandross-Miller melody. Teddy sounds comfortable in the cool
modern (80s) setting, ably supported by Luther's usual background vocalists (Cissy
Houston, Tawatha Agee, Fonzi Thornton et al), and the track became a
sizeable R&B hit (# 15). Kudos to Luther for making Teddy sound this good
in the most difficult phase of his career.
Still, from here the only way was up.
In 1985, before his second post-accident album, Teddy cut a track
entitled Somewhere I Belong, which was featured in the film D.A.R.Y.L.
It made an appearance on the charts, but I haven't heard the tune myself. (The
song can now be heard on YouTube. It is a boring pop ballad dominated by a
lacklustre choir; do not bother. – Petteri Ruotsalainen, 2 February 2019.)
WORKIN' IT BACK
Elektra/Asylum 960 447 EKT 26 (UK), 1985
A 1) Love 4/2 2) One of Us Fell in Love 3) Never Felt Like Dancin'
4) Let Me Be Closer
B 1) Lonely Color Blue 2) Want You Back in My Life 3) Workin' It
Back 4) Love Emergency
Produced by Teddy Pendergrass, James Carter, Dennis Matkosky, Bill
Neale, Linda Creed, Womack & Womack, Glen Ballard, Clif Magness
The album is aptly-titled, since the set really was a clear sign
of better times ahead. Teddy already sounded better, and, just as importantly,
various producers were able to find suitable settings for his voice.
Oddly enough, the first single release was Never Felt Like
Dancin', a messy synthetic burbler which has an accurate title, since you
really wouldn't want to dance to depressing crap like this. It peaked at number
21 on the R&B chart.
The next single, Love 4/2, reached 6th position and showed
what his fans really wanted. Produced and written by Teddy and James Carter,
it's a beautiful gentle ballad tune in a light synthetic setting. Towards the
end Teddy's voice is mixed skillfully so that he duets with himself and Tenita
Jordan's background vocals in a soulful way. On a similar note, One of
Us Fell in Love is a nice airy ballad with ace session players (John
Robinson, Neil Stubenhaus, Randy Kerber, Paul Jackson Jr, Paulinho da Costa,
Joel Peskin) providing the stylish backdrop. Shirley Jones is
featured on background vocals.
Cecil Womack lends a helping hand on two tracks, this time
together with his wife Linda. Lonely Color Blue is yet another typical
melancholy Womack composition, and while I do appreciate its quiet beauty, the
atmosphere is so laid back it borders on lethargic. Love Emergency is a
more spirited mid-tempo affair with an interesting rhythm track. The Womacks
apparently employed the same method as on their own albums and used both
veteran session man James Gadson and drum machines to good effect.
The remaining tracks include two lightweight mid-pacers and the
pretty ballad tune Let Me Be Closer, which would have demanded a
stronger vocal delivery than Teddy was able to muster at this point. It was
released as the third single.
This set was already a huge leap forward, but it was the next
album that proved to be Teddy's definitive commercial and artistic comeback.
Elektra/Asylum 960 775 (UK), 1988
A 1) Joy 2)2 A.M. 3) Good to You 4) I'm Ready
B 1) Love Is the Power 2) This is the Last Time 3) Through the
Falling Rain (Love Story) 4) Can We Be Lovers
Produced by Reggie & Vincent Galloway, Theodore D.
Pendergrass, Miles Jaye, Nick Martinelli
Teddy's medical condition was still very difficult, to say the
least (he was hospitalized for a year in 1986 / 1987, and that's just one
example of his trials and tribulations), which understandably caused bouts of
depression and some substance abuse. However, in 1987 Teddy had married his
long-time girlfriend Karen Still, and with the release of this fine album,
which spawned a number one R&B smash in the title track, things were
definitely looking up.
Teddy says he knew Joy was a hit the first time he heard
it, and I don't doubt his words. This song was hugely deserving of its success.
The Calloway brothers (founders of Midnight Star) were on a
winning streak in the late 80s, writing and producing number one hits for such
artists as Levert (Casanova) and Gladys Knight and the Pips
(Love Overboard), and Joy continued this string of successes. Joy
showed the influence of contemporary swingbeat, but not in the formulaic way
which was too often the case: the groove still sounds fresh and wonderful with
its compelling rhythm track, funky guitar picking and horn section led by Jerry
Hey. Reggie Calloway, who wrote the song, had gone to meet Teddy
personally, seen how he was coping with the situation and incorporated all the
positive aspects he saw in Teddy's life into the song. Accordingly, Teddy
interprets the song in a highly spirited manner, at one point even imitating
James Brown! All in all, an aptly-titled track.
The other Calloway production was the more traditional, classy
ballad scorcher Love Is the Power. The vocal delivery is beginning to
sound more like the good old days with the girl choir repeating the chorus and
prompting Teddy into an excited mood towards the end, and Marc Russo's
soulful sax colouring is the icing on the cake.
Three tracks were produced by Teddy and his then-protégé Miles
Jaye, who had previously recorded his solo debut on Teddy's short-lived Top
Priority record label. The peak of their collaboration was the utterly
brilliant ballad 2 A.M., which was also a number three R&B hit.
Teddy's voice radiates warmth, the swaying background grabs you from the word
go, and the whole performance sounds sort of like a perfect 80s production with
a keen sense of tradition. The other Teddy & Miles productions, Through
the Falling Rain (Love Story) and Can We Be Lovers, can't really
complete with 2 A.M., but particularly the latter one is a quite decent
Miles also single-handedly wrote and produced two synthetic
groovers, the nice'n easy Good to You and the more heavy-handed funker I'm
Ready, which is spiced by Jef Lee Johnson's snappy guitar riffing.
The remaining cut, Nick Martinelli's sole production This
is the Last Time, also deserves special mention. Martinelli was known in
the 80s for his classy productions, particularly for female soul singers (Stephanie
Mills, Regina Belle, Miki Howard, Jean Carne, Phyllis Hyman etc.), and I've
always admired his soulful way of using female background choirs. This is
the Last Time was written and arranged by Gabriel & Annette Hardeman,
and the choir consists of Annette, Cynthia Biggs and Charlene Holloway,
so the dynamic role of the background vocalists comes as no surprise. Add to
this the highly professional Philly musicians (Randy Bowland, Donald
Robinson, Douglas Grigsby III etc.) and you have the perfect backdrop for a
quality soul ballad. I especially like the part at the end when Teddy delivers
a monologue with Ms. Holloway wailing soulfully underneath.
File under essential.
Elektra 7559-60891 (German), 1990
1) She Knocks Me off My Feet 2) It Should've Been You 3) Don't You
Ever Stop 4) It's Over 5) Glad to Be Alive 6) How Can You Mend a Broken Heart
7) I Find Everything in You 8) Spend the Night 9) With You 10) We Can't Keep
Going on (Like This) 11) Truly Blessed
Produced by Teddy Pendergrass, Teddy Price, Derek Nakamoto, Craig
Burbidge, Kevin Ashkins, James Carter
1990 was an important year for Teddy on the personal front: he
turned 40, and inspired by reaching this milestone, gave up alcohol, cocaine
Teddy had already tried his hand at songwriting on his previous
post- accident albums, and on Truly Blessed he wrote five tunes, four of
them with Terry Price, whom Teddy knew from his PIR days.
The album opens with She Knocks Me off My Feet, a marvelous
summery soul jam which glides along with light-hearted ease. The acoustic
background sounds absolutely delicious from the very start with airy guitar
riffing and Patrick Moten's piano, and although this is one of those
tracks where you can practically sense Pamela Williams' sax solo a few
seconds before it starts it makes the song no less appealing. Teddy sounds
properly inspired by the "so damned sweet” subject of the lyrics.
The R&B number one hit ballad It Should've Been You admittedly
leans somewhat toward middle-of-the-road ground, but nevertheless I’ve always
considered the composition beautiful, and the arrangement is stylish, the most
noticeable detail being a koto solo by June Kuramoto (of the fusion
group Hiroshima). Koto is a traditional Japanese instrument.
my mind the third highlight of the album can be found at the very end of the
set. Written by Teddy together with Gabriel Hardeman, the seven-minute title
track opens in a very gentle and peaceful mode and gradually gathers strength
with the considerable assistance of John Kee’s New Life Community
Choir. The dialogue between Teddy and the choir during the last minute of
this fine gospel-soul song contains some of the most inspired singing Teddy has
recorded since the accident.
rest of the album can hardly be described as exceptional, but save for a couple
of standard swingbeat efforts, it does mostly contain enjoyable material. My faand Spend the Night, along with Glad to Be Alive, a
brisk Bell & James-written midtempo duet with Luther protégée Lisa
Fischer. (And here Teddy's career actually has a tenuous Finnish
connection, since the tune was featured on the soundtrack of the film Ford
Fairlane by the Finnish director Renny Harlin.)
Teddy covers the 1976 Moments hit With You together
with Minnie Curry (presumably the same Mini Curry who recorded the Michael
J. Powell-produced 100 % set in 1987) in a nice if predictable
manner, and the Grammy-nominated Bee Gees version How Can You Mend a
Broken Heart is not particularly memorable, either.
A LITTLE MORE MAGIC
Elektra 9 61497, 1993
1) Believe in Love 2) Slip Away 3) I'm Always Thinking about
You 4) I Choose You 5) Voodoo 6) Tender 7) Can't Help Nobody
8) A Little More Magic 9) My Father's Child 10) Say It 11) No One
Like You 12) Reprise
Produced by Reggie & Vincent Calloway, Teddy Pendergrass, Leon
A. Huff, Victor Emanuel Cooke, Gerald Levert & Edwin "Tony"
Nicholas, Barry White, Bobby Wooten, Keith Robertson & Steve Beckham, Jay
Bright & Leon Evans
Quite a collection of producers, but for me there is one
indisputable peak, and I guess it’s no surprise when I say it has to be the
sole Gerald Levert & Edwin “Tony” Nicholas tune Voodoo, which
represents the best Philly tradition in more ways than one. In our 1993 Quality
Time Top 50 we wrote: “A beautiful, majestic composition, a classy vocal
arrangement (courtesy of Gerald & Teddy), and Teddy in top form, this is
vintage Pendergrass." I merely add that this Grammy-nominated ballad
is pure 100 per cent deep soul, the best track Teddy has recorded after the
accident, and deserves a place in his all-time top ten.
The Calloway brothers were back, producing six tracks, fifty-fifty
between up-tempo tunes and slowies, but by this time it seemed their creative
spark was not quite as flagrant as five years earlier. I don't mean their
productions are without merit, it's just that I can't help thinking these tunes
are no match for Joy or 2 A.M. Nevertheless, the two opening
tracks are quite decent mid-pacers with swingbeat rhythms, perfectly pleasant
if not memorable material. Theoretically, Can't Help Nobody should be
even better, with socially conscious lyrics, a massive background choir and
none other than Patti LaBelle as a duet partner, yet the tune and
production simply don't sound appealing to me. Of the Calloway ballads, the
aptly-titled yet profound Tender, and the title track, which after its
MOR-ish beginning turns in to a more soulful affair, are definitely worth a
Still, the second best track of the album is provided by a more
familiar name. As a throwback to the good old days, Leon Huff takes the helm on
his romantic composition I'm Always Thinking about You, and Teddy sounds
right at home in the traditional lush arrangement (arranged and conducted by
one Jack Faith).
Of the various producers, I also liked Bobby Wooten's No
One Like You, a stylish, airy slowie with nice touches of guitar by William
"Spaceman" Patterson, but was utterly disappointed by the Barry
White production / arrangement Say It (written by Barry, Ollie Brown and
Phillip Ingram), a shallow and pointless pop canterer.
A somewhat uneven set.
In 1994, Bob Krasnow left Elektra and was replaced by Sylvia
Rhone, a black woman who had a reputation for championing R&B and rap.
It was all the more shocking for Teddy when, totally out of the blue and
contrary to previous assurances, Elektra dropped him. Teddy still seems
somewhat miffed by the experience: "I had two words for the Sylvia
Rhones of the world, and they are not 'happy birthday.”
YOU AND I
Surefire 60150-13045, 1997
1) Don't Keep Wastin' My Time 2) Let's Talk about It 3) Without
You 4) You and I 5) Can We Try 6) One in a Million You 7) Hurry Up 8) Interlude
9) Give It to Me 10) Slow Ride to Heaven
Produced by Teddy Pendergrass, Jim Salamone, Terry Coffey &
Jon Nettlesbey, Dennis Matkosky
Teddy had made some noises about retiring, no doubt caused by the
disappointing treatment he suffered at Elektra. Luckily enough, he resurfaced
on Surefire Records, which is distributed by BMG in the States.
I had a look at our five reviewers' Top 20 charts of 1997, and it
seems that Teddy's Surefire debut was liked by everyone (positions 7, 9, 10,
13, and 16) with the lowest position attributable to yours truly. I guess that
reflects the lack of truly arresting killer tracks, but this doesn't mean that
there are no highlights. The set is entirely made up of slow material, and
while a couple of tunes veer towards MOR, there’s nothing really unpleasant on
offer. Teddy and Philly veteran Jim Salamone have produced and Teddy has
co-written the majority of the album.
Starting with the high points, Terry Coffey & Jon
Nettlesbey (who have produced such artists as Keith Washington,
Alexander O'Neal and Miki Howard) are responsible for two excellent
cuts. The title track is a spirited beat ballad with a simple yet interesting
rhythm pattern, but Hurry Up is even better. The slow background groove
is compelling, and the carnal lyrics (Just like the gravy on your plate |
wanna sop you up, hurry up let's finish, my dinner's very nice, but for dessert
I just want you...) inspire Teddy to a suitably emotional delivery.
The best Pendergrass / Salamone production, Give It to Me
continues along the same "baby, let your juices flow” lines, and it
is also musically captivating in a similar way to Hurry Up. On the more
traditional front, my favourite is Teddy's highly soulful version of the
million-selling Sam Dees / Larry Graham song One in a Million You,
which is spiced by Ron Kerber's tasty sax soloing. The album is brought
to a close by the beautiful, gentle swayer Slow Ride to Heaven; a
fitting end for Teddy's solid Surefire debut.
THIS CHRISTMAS (I'D RATHER HAVE LOVE)
Surefire 60150-13048, 1998
1) Joy to the World 2) Little Drummer Boy 3) Christmas and You 4)
This Christmas Song 5) Having a Christmas Party 6) Won't Have Christmas 7) We
Three Kings 8) Oh Holy Night 9) Happy Kwanzaa 10) This Christmas (I'd Rather
Have Love) 11) Happy Christmas
Produced by Jim Salamone, Teddy Pendergrass, Reggie Calloway,
And finally, here we have Teddy's latest outing, which is also his
first Christmas album. About one half of the compositions are traditional tunes,
the other half made up of new songs and one uninspiring Lennon & Ono
The standout cut of the set, Happy Kwanzaa, was also
featured in our Quality Time Top 50, where you can read a description of
this joyous Reggie Calloway written & produced midtempo soul groover. Of
the other more modern productions on the set I would have to pick another
Calloway tune, the basic yet enjoyable funk jam Having a Christmas Party,
as my second favourite.
However, the majority of the album more or less settles into a
traditional Xmas mood with no great surprises either in the material,
arrangements or Teddy's vocals, which in places sound a tad too whispery for my
tastes. The overall atmosphere is nice enough, but still, with the
above-mentioned exception this set falls into the category of pleasant
background music for future Christmas Eves.
As you could read from the previous Soul Express, our reviewer
seemed to rate this set much higher, so if you're a fan, take a listen and
decide for yourself.
"For me, the biggest difference in my voice was the lack
of power that resulted from not being able to use all the muscles I'd used
before to exert pressure on my diaphragm... The accident had muted and washed
some colors on the palette." This is how Teddy himself described the
changes in his voice after the accident, before he started recording the Love
Language set. A lot has happened since that appraisal in 1983: some of the
strength has returned, and a whole lot of that incredible warmth is back along
with other "colors on the palette." In addition, Teddy has used new
techniques to make the most of his voice. Because of all this, we have had the
opportunity to listen to numerous Teddy Pendergrass soul gems in the latter
half of the 80s and in the 90s and will certainly hear more of them in the 21st
Previously, I did appreciate the fact that Teddy was able to
recover from the accident so quickly and record hit albums and brilliant songs
like Joy or Voodoo, but it wasn't until I read Truly Blessed
that I fully understood the magnificence of this achievement. I'm not only
talking about the limited control of his own body, which challenges him on a
daily basis in ways one can only begin to imagine. I for one hadn't realized
the overall severity of Teddy's medical condition, for instance the fact that
the man constantly faces complications that might require hospitalization, and
we're not talking about minor scrapes or bruises here, but actual
It is truly remarkable and unprecedented that despite all this
Teddy has been able to rebuild his career as a commercially viable and
artistically acclaimed singer and performer. I mean, think about it: how many
quadriplegic artists do you know in the field of popular music? A man with this
kind of stamina and spirit deserves the respect of everybody who has ever
claimed to be a soul music fan. And I have no doubt whatsoever that he already
has that universal respect.
Wikipedia article tells us that in 2008 he married Joan Williams. Teddy
Pendergrass died of respiratory failure on January 13 2010, at the age of 59.
a cursory look at his discographies, two live recordings, In Concert
(Disky, 2005) and Valentine's Day Concert (IMC Music Ltd, 2009),
had been published before his death. Teddy Pendergrass – Duets - Love
& Soul (Goldenlane Records, 2015) apparently consists of different
artists interpreting his songs. If you know of these CDs or other recordings,
let us know on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/groups/7257045094/.
February 4 2019, Petteri Ruotsalainen
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