SoulTracks 3 Minute Update: Catch up with Tavares

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    When asked to name the Soul Music supergroups of the '70s and early '80s, folks tend to gravitate to familiar names such as Earth, Wind and Fire, the Spinners, the Commodores and the Isley Brothers.  However, five brothers from New Bedford, Massachusetts - Ralph, Tiny, Chubby, Butch and Pooch Tavares - created some of the most consistently high quality soul music of that period.

    When asked to name the Soul Music supergroups of the '70s and early '80s, folks tend to gravitate to familiar names such as Earth, Wind and Fire, the Spinners, the Commodores and the Isley Brothers.  However, five brothers from New Bedford, Massachusetts - Ralph, Tiny, Chubby, Butch and Pooch Tavares - created some of the most consistently high quality soul music of that period.

    Originally called "Chubby and the Turnpikes," the Tavares brothers spent the late '60s and early '70s in their native New England covering tunes of R&B greats at various clubs, while trying to land a record deal. They finally scored a contract with Capitol Records' then-new black music division and released their first single, "Check It Out," in 1973. It soared to the top 10 on the R&B charts and became the group's first top 40 pop hit. And the associated Check It Out LP gave the first glimpse of tight brotherly harmonies and alternating lead vocals that would become the Tavares trademark sound.

    Capitol teamed the group next with Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter, hot producers/writers who were coming off the hugely successful Keeper of the Castle album for the Four Tops. They led Tavares through two successful LP, and the group's first #1 R&B hit (a cover of Hall & Oates' "She's Gone") and first top 10 pop hit ("It Only Takes A Minute"). Tavares was on a roll.

    If their first three albums set the Tavares brothers up for success, the fourth, Sky High, (produced by Motown veteran writer/producer Freddie Perren) and its international hits, "Heaven Must Be Missing An Angel" and "Don't Take Away the Music," led the group to the "A" list of popular black artists. Perren moved the group to a hotter, crisper beat-heavy sound not hinted at in Tavares' earlier releases and the timing couldn't have been better, as the disco boom was about to explode. Tavares’ emerging popularity in the dance community led to an unexpected pivotal moment in 1977: the group's cover of the Bee Gees' "More Than A Woman" was included on the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, giving the act its greatest exposure ever (as well as its only Grammy award), but bringing with it a label that Tavares would spend years trying to shake - that of "Disco Group."

    The brothers spent the next several years working with a who's who of emerging producers, from David Foster to Kashif to Benjamin Wright, broadening their sound and confounding critics who levied the “disco” label. The group hit the charts several more times with varied styles of songs before changes in the music industry and the normal arc of a career took their toll. By 1983, Tavares’ recording years ended, though the group scored one last Grammy nomination for the ballad, “Penny For Your Thoughts.”

    About that time, Ralph decided to leave the group, as frustration with the industry and guilt about time away from his family took their toll. Over the next few years, the remaining brothers independently recorded an EP and issued a Unidisc album that reimagined some of their biggest hits, but neither project charted.

    As the 21st Century rolled around, the Tavares brothers were road warriors, performing regularly in R&B and disco multi-act shows with artists like Gloria Gaynor and Sister Sledge, sometimes as a trio and sometimes as a quartet. They had a setback when Pooch suffered a stroke and was forced to retire in 2014, leading Ralph - a wonderful man who was the first artist I ever interviewed (at age 18) to come out of retirement to join his brothers. Sadly Ralph passed suddenly in December 2021. Chubby Tavares also had health problems a few years ago, but is back and quite active, even now recording his third solo album with producer Preston Glass.

    As we exit two years of COVID restrictions, the Tavares brothers are now booking their first shows, and plan to perform their greatest hits for welcoming audiences around the world. Catch them if they come to your town.

    By Chris Rizik

     
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