Dimitri from Paris, dance music’s foremost musicologist and the master of the compilation, returns with Get Down With the Philly Sound – a stunning collection and remix pack highlighting the sound of Philly International, Salsoul, Gamble & Huff and the birth of Disco in Philadelphia.
You’ve worked with BBE Records on a few compilation projects before. Did they come to you with the idea behind Get Down With the Philly Sound or did you initiate it?
I brought it to BBE, as this is something I’ve wanted to do for a very long time. Usually the way it works is that BBE takes care of all the legal business – clearances and everything else – and I handle the music selection – the art of it.
I’m curious about the generation gap here. For the project, you spoke to a lot of the musicians from Sigma Sound studios who played on nearly every Gamble & Huff record. Do these guys from the Disco era know that there’s this whole scene of younger people that love and imitate what they do? Do they comprehend what they started?
I don’t think they fully understand it. The drummer, Earl Young, doesn’t understand that these beats he made are the origin of House and now it’s filtered through to Pop and beyond.
I mean, every 4/4 that you hear, almost, is a replication of what they did. Marshall Jefferson’s “Move Your Body”, one of the first five House records, used that beat. That was in 1986, and think of how many records come from that one and you can begin to see how influential it is.
Marshall actually hired the drummer for the second Ten City record around 1989 or 1990. But no, I don’t think they realize the extent to which the sound that they created has influenced the world.
I was checking out the second CD in the set – the CD of your edits – and read that you worked with the multi-track masters. What condition are they in and were you the first person to work with them?
Oh, yes I was the first person to work with the multi-track masters but these weren’t originals. I’ve never seen the originals. They’re stored away in this climate-controlled facility by Iron Mountain – that’s where all of the really valuable masters are kept by the record companies. I worked with a transfer of the masters but not the originals. I’ve never seen the originals and probably never will.
Teddy Pendergrass, probably the most talented vocalist to emerge from the Philly Disco scene, died in January of this year. And I like every one else read about the fire that tore through the Gamble & Huff studios in Philadelphia and made national news a month later. Were you still working on the project when these tragedies happened?
Yeah, I almost felt like there was a curse on this project when all of these things started happening. Jokes aside, it’s a sad, sad story. I had yet to do the bulk of the remixes and was on my annual Winter tour when I heard the news that Teddy Pendergrass passed away. I spent weeks in the studio after that, listening to his voice over and over again.
When I heard about the fire, the first thing I thought of was to call Tom Moulton, who knows those guys pretty well. In a panic I asked how bad the damage was. Did the tapes burn? That’s when I learned that the originals were stored by Iron Mountain. All of the recordings are safe, but they may have lost some memorabilia and of course there was the damage to the building itself. I don’t want to minimize it but what was lost in the fire wasn’t the vital stuff.
So I’ve been hearing about these vinyl packs of Get Down with the Philly Sound that are already becoming collector’s items. What other variations are out there?
Well, what we’ve released in most of the world is a double CD. One has the original Philly tracks on it and the other is made up of edits I did, with the greatest respect for the artists and the originals. I reworked them for the sole reason of getting more out of them. They were never given an extended treatment and I consider it a great honor to have done so.
The Japanese version of the CD however is a triple CD. People always ask why the Japanese versions of CDs contain more tracks. Is there some reason the Japanese market always gets bonus material? The reason for it is that Japanese-distributed CDs are more expensive than imports. The distributors need something exclusive to effectively market CDs there. So there’s a third CD on the Japanese version which contains outtakes and instrumentals.
There have been three doublepack vinyl editions released so far – Volume One, Volume Two and Volume Three. Volume Four should be out shortly with brand new mixes from your guy, Frankie Knuckles, and also Francois K., Tom Moulton and John Morales.
Tom Moulton is mixing “The Love I Lost” – he actually remixed that song back then, too, but it’s been “lost”. No kidding, that’s a true story!
Frankie Knuckles is remixing Gamble & Huff’s “You Can’t Hide From Yourself”, which he actually covered back in 1987.
We all know the lyrics to the Blaze song “I Remember House” (I remember House/when House was Soul music and R&B/before House was Disco), and we all know the evolution from Disco to House that’s been written about 10,000 times. But still, the Philly Scene rose and came out of nowhere and beat the big-time players like Motown for awhile, and then it vanished. Why did the Philly scene fall so quickly?
You know, everyone we asked that of said that things had really gotten out of hand from those years of early success.
The Philly scene started Disco. There were things like the “soul with strings” sound that were unique to Philadelphia. But – and this is a familiar story – I believe that there was too much money and people got too greedy. When there’s that much money involved, things become non-artistic, more political. Creativity becomes the last thing that you think about, after everything else.
Everyone we talked to also mentioned that when Teddy Pendergrass had his accident – that this was the event that marked the decline. Before but especially after he had his accident, everyone started going their own way. There was also the “Disco Sucks” movement and all of that, and that had an impact too of course.
I’ve heard almost those exact same words said by the first wave of House producers from Chicago about the 1980s.
Well, history repeats itself. You look around and you see that this person is getting more money than you and it just ruins everything. It’s not unique to Philadelphia or Chicago. But Philly Disco had a solid 10 years of success – from 1972 to really the early 1980s.
Get Down with the Philly Sound, Dimitri from Paris’ lovingly curated collection, was released on CD and vinyl in June 2010 and is available everywhere (and receiving rave reviews from DJs and producers as well as fans). The above is a specially made promo mix – for more information, visit bbemusic.com.