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.
The 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.
Jeffrey 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.