One of soul music's most consistent hit makers, The Stylistics produced an astonishing number of top-selling singles during their peak years in the 1970s. Formed in the late 1960s, they were champions of Philadelphia-style soul music.
Still thrilling audiences today, The Stylistics, featuring founding members Airrion Love and Herb Murrell with Eban Brown and Van Fields, keep their unique sound alive.
"We've been friends since junior high school," says Love about Murrell. "It's like old family, it's good, and it's fun again this time around. It's still enjoyable after 41 years. People still love to hear those love songs and the way we express these emotions musically. We give people everything that they want to hear as close as possible to the records."
After becoming a local hit, the group's first single, "You're A Big Girl Now," attracted the attention of a major label. Love remembers it cost around $500 to record, and their manager at the time sold the rights for $10,000. "The guy's name was Bill Perry and we're still looking for him," he says chuckling. "We never saw a dime of any money he got. It's an old story every group can relate to."
Under the guidance of acclaimed producer Thom Bell, their debut album, hailed as a Philly soul masterpiece, contained a feast of memorable tracks by Bell and co-writer Linda Creed, including "You Are Everything," "Stop Look Listen," "People Make the World Go Round" and "Betcha By Golly Wow," (which Prince covered in 1996). It was a combination of lead vocalist Russell Thompkins Jr.'s smooth falsetto, rich harmonies, and lush symphonic production that brought the group stardom.
"I remember hearing the songs the first time and they were beautiful songs. I would get goose bumps," Love recalls. "Things happened so fast for us. We had five songs released as successful singles from the first album."
* The Stylistics perform at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday in Castle Theater at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center. Tickets are $25, $35 and $45, plus applicable fees, available from the MACC box office, 242-7469 or www.mauiarts.org.
Their follow-up, "Round Two," was equally as memorable, including the classics "Break Up To Make Up," "I'm Stone in Love With You" and a cover of "You'll Never Get to Heaven." And then their third album, "Rockin Roll Baby," earned them their first No. 1 crossover hit, "You Make Me Feel Brand New."
As masters of crafting romantic ballads you can imagine their music spinning on numerous turntables at night. "Through the years we've met people who said, 'My son or daughter was conceived to "You Make Me Feel Brand New," ' " he notes.
When Bell decided to stop working with The Stylistics in 1974, the group's fortunes diminished. It wasn't until 1981 when they returned to their Philadelphia roots, joining Gamble & Huff's Philadelphia International Records that they scored their first U.S. hit in years with the haunting "Hurry Up This Way Again."
Then in 2000, lead singer Thompkins suddenly left the group in the midst of a concert.
"We had seen the signs for years, he was so angry with everything. When we did work, he was just going through the motions," Love reveals. "People would request some of our major hits at shows and he would just refuse. It was such a difficult time, I thought of quitting. It kept getting worse. We were on stage and halfway through 'You Make Me Feel Brand New,' he said, 'good night,' in the mike and walked off."
With their future briefly in doubt, the musicians fortunately found the perfect replacement in former Delfonics' vocalist Eban Brown, who sounds remarkably like the group's founding lead singer.
"I look at it like a blessing," Love continues. "It was a scary situation because Russell is definitely the voice of The Stylistics. Nothing can take that away, but we all played a major part, like intricate puzzle pieces, and together we made the complete picture. We were worried if his replacement would be accepted, but more and more people came around when they heard Eban sing. A lot of people say he sounds like a younger version of Russell. We were lucky."
Still sounding fresh today. their songs have appealed to successive generations, and have been perpetuated through sampling by various hip-hop stars including Jay Z, Madlib and Ghostface Killah.
"That naturally created some curiosity," he says. "People who never heard of The Stylistics will listen to those songs and go back and research our music. We've got e-mails from people as young as 15 years old who are into The Stylistics' music and gotten into it from hearing it being sampled."
What could be cooler than celebrating the New Year with country legend Willie Nelson playing an intimate show at Charley's in Paia. Performing with son Lukas Nelson and the band Promise of the Real, Willie also be joined by Gail Swanson, who just happens to be one of the female singers dueting with the country icon on a forthcoming album project. The CD will feature duets with various women artists including Norah Jones. Willie was just nominated for Grammys for his album "American Classic" and his collaboration with Asleep at the Wheel, and he sang on Ziggy Marley's nominated kids' CD, "Family Time." Tickets are $75.
Currently on island for the holidays, rock legend Alice Cooper is hosting a contest on KAOI-95.1 FM for five lucky fans to sit in with him on Tuesday while he records his syndicated "Nights with Alice Cooper" radio show. In 25 words or less let Alice know why you're a fan who would like to join him at the station. Email to firstname.lastname@example.org. And good to hear KAOI back rocking again.
In the mid-1960s, during one of the most creative periods in rock music, only one radio station in the U.K. played the latest hits by the Stones, the Beatles, and the Who - and only for two hours a week.
To break this stranglehold by the BBC, some innovative folks hit on the idea of parking rusting ships off the British coast to beam out rock all day and all night to grateful young fans.
This revolutionary endeavor is captured in the Maui Film Festival screening of the hilarious comedy "Pirate Radio" at 5 p.m. Saturday. Led by station owner Bill Nighy, a colorful cast of DJ pirates including Philip Seymour Hoffman and Rhys Ifans ignite the radio airwaves of Britain with the latest groundbreaking releases, captured on a terrific double CD soundtrack.
" 'Pirate Radio,' the new rock-saturated comedy that proves life really is better when it's set to a '60s soundtrack, is, to borrow from the Stones, "a gas! gas! gas!" praised the L.A. Times. "The montage scenes in which schoolkids, nurses, dockers, grocers and lovers are shown glowing in wonder at the tunes and monologues coming from the DJs are timely reminders of a pre-narrowcast, pre-private playlist era in which pop music had the power to unite a nation," noted the U.K. Daily Telegraph.
The real life "pirates," on stations such as Radio Caroline and Radio London, anchored offshore, captivated around 25 million people daily (including this writer) - more than half the population of Britain. The Who's Pete Townshend acknowledged at the time: "Without (Radio) Caroline we would not have sold a single record."
Outraged by the pirates' audacity, the British government passed the Marine Broadcasting Offences Act making the ships illegal in 1967, in the midst of the summer of love. Six weeks later, the BBC launched a new pop radio station, which featured a number of former pirate DJs, including John Peel, famous for promoting underground bands.