Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes

While casual Soul Music fans associate Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes solely with the classic period of their association with Gamble & Huff’s Philadelphia International Records from 1972-76, the group had been around in Philadelphia for twenty years before hooking up with PIR.  With Melvin as lead vocalist and principal songwriter, the group, with various personnel changes, remained principally a regional act in the 50s and 60s, scoring only a few minor Soul hits.  

Then in the late 60s Melvin discovered Theodore (Teddy) Pendergrass, a young drummer for the Cadillacs, and recruited him as a member of the Blue Notes’ backing band.  Ultimately Teddy’s vocal talents led him into the group as its lead singer and brought the group to the attention of the blazing hot songwriters/producers Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, who signed the group to their PIR label in 1971.  Success was immediate, as the group scored on two smash ballads in 1972, “I Miss You” (later covered by David Ruffin) and the now classic “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” (later taken to #1 by Simply Red).  With the latter release Pendergrass quickly emerged as one of the bright young stars of Soul Music, with his distinctive sexy, growling voice ripping through Gamble & Huff’s highly orchestrated, sophisticated material.  1973 brought the group its first dance hit, “The Love I Lost,” and another smash album. 

By 1975’s “Wake Up Everybody” and “Bad Luck,” Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes were Soul Music royalty, on par with the O’Jays and the Stylistics.  However, it appeared incongruent that the group name continued to spotlight Melvin while the vocal and visual highlight was the handsome lead singer, Pendergrass.  The issue came to a head in 1976, and Pendergrass left the group for what would be a very successful solo career.  Gamble & Huff stuck with Pendergrass the solo artist, and the Blue Notes were soon off to MCA Records to try and recover from the loss of their lead singer. 

The group’s first post-Pendergrass album, Reaching For The World was clearly structured to sound like their work on PIR, but neither the material nor new lead singer David Ebo could match the Gamble & Huff/Pendergrass combination, and the title cut barely snuck into the Soul top 10.  It was the group’s last hit.  Sporadic group member Sharon Paige (who had duetted with Pendergrass on the previous hit “I Hope That We Can Be Together Soon”) took a more prominent role on the group’s next LP, 1980’s The Blue Album, but it barely charted.   More shake-ups led to a new group composition that lasted nearly a decade, consisting of Melvin, Rufus (Fuss) Thorn, Bill Spratley, Dwight (Blackey) Johnson and new lead singer Gil Saunders.  This line-up released Talk It Up (Tell Everybody) on Philly World Records, but the disc generated little interest domestically (though it received some minor overseas airplay).  By the early-90s, Melvin and a rotating posse of Blue Notes had become permanent fixtures on the oldies circuit.  Sadly, Melvin died in 1997 at age 57. 

Remaining members of the Blue Notes have continued successfully touring in multi-artist soul music shows as “Harold Melvin’s Blue Notes.”

by Chris Rizik


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