Ask Yo Mama (Chairmen of the Board)

Right here are the Chairmen of the Board on the Soul Train promoting “Finder’s Keepers” the lead single from their 1974 album “Skin I’m In”. The trio, General Johnson, Danny Woods & Harrison Kennedy, were being helped out by some friends. On keyboards it’s Bernie Worrell (that’s the great…) & on bass there’s Billy “Bass” Nelson (again that’s…), a couple of Funkadelics taking time out to be on the telly. It’s a rare treat to see drummer Zachary Slater, McKinley Jackson (trombone) & the multi-talented Donald Baldwin (guitar). These guys were busy being part of the house band at Invictus Records & didn’t get out of the studio much.

 

 

Image result for Chairmen of the BoardThe Chairmen were having a good 1970’s. They hooked up with Holland-Dozier-Holland when the greatest hit makers of the decade left Tamla Motown to form Invictus/Hot Wax Records in 1969. General Johnson’s teenage group, the Showmen, had a hit with the marvellous “It Will Stand”. This time around he was ready to make his contribution. The label had big  hits with “”Want Ads” by Honey Cone & Freda Payne’s “Band of Gold”. General J co-wrote the former & had songs ready for Freda’s albums. Contractual folderol with Motown meant that H-D-H had to employ the pseudonym “Edith Wayne”, they, with Ronald Dunbar, provided the Chairmen of the Board with “Give Me Just a Little More Time”, a smash hit debut.

 

The group continued to make uptempo Pop-Soul records in the tradition of the label owners’ previous employers. All of them raise the spirits & make you dance. If anything they were more popular in Britain than in the US. The General became a producer & all three Chairmen got to make their solo albums. For the group’s 1972 LP “Bittersweet” he co-wrote all but one of the songs. Two years later, for “Skin I’m In”, others in the Invictus posse added their talents.

 

 

Image result for Chairmen of the Board Skin I'm InJeffrey Bowen came over from Motown where he had written for Marvin Gaye & produced the Temptations to be Vice President of the new label. He was given the tapes which were to become “Skin I’m In” & set about creating a whole new sound for the Chairmen of the Board. George Clinton’s psychedelic Funkateers were signed to Westbound Records while recording for Invictus with Ruth Copeland & under the old Parliament name. Bernie Worrell added layers of synthesizer, Billy Nelson co-wrote a couple of tracks with Donald Baldwin, a classically trained musician/arranger, a protege of Bowen’s who was proving to be very useful. Funkadelic guitarist Eddie Hazell was around too. The released LP, influenced by the Psychedelic Soul of Sly & the Family Stone & the Temptations, the new Funk of the Isley Brothers & Earth Wind & Fire is damn near a masterpiece.

 

The “Finder’s Keepers” clip shows Danny giving Ronald Isley a run while the band races, bubbles & has some fun. “Life & Death” is a suite, a Sly Stone joint linked by two Bowen/Nelson pieces. It’s Prog Funk, in a good way, & it’s amazing. Bernie Worrell’s work on this sits with stuff like this he did for Funkadelic & Talking Heads. The 9 tracks continue to surprise & delight. “Skin I’m In”, like the previous year’s O’Jays LP “Ship Ahoy”, displays the expanding range & ambition of Black American music. Both deserve to be considered alongside albums that are more highly regarded.

 

 

We have some time left here so let’s end with one of the classic singles that the Chairmen of the Board are remembered for. I’m spoilt for choice here so it’s “Pay to the Piper” for no other reason than it’s irresistible.

 

 

Holland, Dozier, Holland – After Motown

Tamla Motown’s modus operandi has been compared to the mass production lines of the auto factories of the company’s home city, Detroit. Such was the expertise & efficiency of all aspects of Motown that their bright & shiny product, “The Sound of Young America” had soon sold exactly 2.5 gazillion records.  Previously both singers & songs were here today, gone tomorrow but a new industry was being forged. The young creative artists saw that this music thing could be a career. The rules were being  made up as they went along but , somewhere, there was a big pile of money.  In the Summer of 1967 the Motor City was burning after 5 days of riots. Around the same time there were members of Berry Gordy’s Tamla tribe who were looking to get their share & to get paid.

The composers/producers, Lamont Dozier & brothers Eddie & Brian Holland were a very potent triple threat. They wrote an incredible 25 #1 hits & in 1967 were disputing the royalties they had received. The split with Motown was a messy one. The trio staged a work slowdown & left in 1968 to work for Holland-Dozier-Holland Productions Inc. By 1969 their 2 labels, Hot Wax & Invictus, were back on the charts.

And that’s why they were called HOT pants ! In 1970 the beautiful Freda Payne hit the Top 3 in the US with “Band of Gold”. HDH had sued Motown & had been met by a counter suit which took almost 10 years to unscramble. “Band of Gold” is credited to Ronald Dunbar & Edythe Wayne…yeah right. Ms Wayne was a pseudonym adopted by HDH as they were prevented from using their own names in the dispute. The record was a UK #1 hit for 6 weeks & I remember getting a little tired of it at the time. Not now, it’s a floor-filling stomper of an absolute Motown vintage. The Supremes must have been thinking “Hey, that should be our song !”

In a converted Detroit cinema HDH & other talented writers attempted to replicate Motown’s success. Freda Payne had another US Top 20 hit with the anti-Vietnam war song “Bring The Boys  Home”, banned by American Forces Network at the time & still rarely heard, it’s that good. The record was made by a team which included General Johnson, a man who was getting a second chance with Invictus & was giving it his best shot.

General, I have just discovered, was writer & singer on “It Will Stand” a 1961 hit for the Showmen. Listening back it’s “Well, of course he was”. It’s a truly uplifting song…this or Jonathan Richman’s cover will set you right up for any day you start with it. He hooked up with producer Greg Perry & brought his new band to the new label. The Chairmen of the Board had some hits, more in the UK than the US, but were around in the years between those 60s TV pop shows & “Soul Train”. Surprisingly this odd clip of “(You’ve Got Me) Dangling On A String” is the only one I can find of them on the Y-tube. It’s a good song but the film is funny rather than funky, cheesy when it needs to be greasy. Hell, it’s a proper single, another irresistible call to do the funky chicken or whatever elese was the current thing.

Their first & biggest hit was “Give Me Just A Little More Time” , an Edythe Wayne original (I do hope that there is a real Ms Wayne) produced by HDH  & recorded using the Funk Brothers who were moonlighting from Motown for their old buddies. There were successes over on the sister label Hot Wax. In 1971 the hottest female group in the US were a trio from Los Angeles & the first signing to the label.

Hmm-hmm…”Want Ads” by Honey Cone. Well hello Ms Jackie Browns ! “Wanted, young man single and free. Experience in love preferred, But will accept a young trainee”. Well I was in that, presumably long, line…still waiting. The trio, Edna, Carolyn & Shelly, had experience in Los Angeles girl groups (Edna Wright is the sister of the incomparable Darlene Love, Phil Spector’s voice of choice on many songs). They got together in 1969 & were the first signing to Hot Wax. 1971 was their year, gold records & “Want Ads” at #1. It is a perfect update of the Motown pop-soul formula, sparring with “I Want You Back” by the Jackson 5 as the twin peaks of a turn of the decade, feelgood hit. Not quite disco yet but you know that a change is gonna come. The song was written by Perry, Johnson & engineer Barney Perkins, I would be surprised if Ms Edythe Wayne did not contribute. By 1973 the Honey Cone hits has stopped but so had Holland, Dozier, Holland’s plans for their own independent label.

It must have been difficult for the artists to become businessmen. HDH could hire capable people to manage their affairs but a hit single generates a heap of money very quickly. Getting & keeping a share of this heap can be a difficult thing. In 1973 Hot Wax folded with debt & cash flow problems while Invictus signed a distribution deal with Columbia. Of course we know now that Columbia’s fortune tellers had presciently predicted that pop music would come to be dominated & shaped by music made by black artists. HDH joined the other 2 prominent black independent labels, Stax & Philadelphia International as lambs lying down with the lion. By 1976 the entertainment titan, motivated by the dollar bill rather than creativity, had pressurised & controlled distribution, subsumed or cherry picked from the 3 famous labels. Conspiracy theory ? Hey sue me…I have no money.

For some time the Tamla triumvirate separated when Lamont Dozier pursued a solo career. He was replaced but Holland, Beattie, Holland ?…Nah. When Invictus finally folded in 1977 HDH Records came around & control over the valuable back catalogue was established. As Pop left behind its juvenescence there was a rush to bestow lifetime awards & to establish Halls of Fame. Not a one, Rock, Soul, any kind of music you got, was able to overlook the lasting, still amazing, contribution made by these 3 outstanding talents.