Dimitri from Paris salutes Philly disco
The disco dandy releases a new compilation.
Mon May 10 2010
Think disco originated right here in New York City? Think again—the ever-popular, ever-maligned genre owes its existence to the soul-soaked confines of Philadelphia. The Philly strain of disco, as heard on songs by the likes of Howard Melvin & the Blue Notes, the Trammps and Eddie Kendricks beginning in 1973, is one that’s driving, emotional, funky and lush—in short, it’s prime material for everyone’s favorite Gallic disco don, Dimitri from Paris. The DJ-producer is the man behind a new compilation, Get Down with the Philly Sound, coming out Tuesday 18 on the BBE label.
“The sound that those Philly guys were putting on records...they weren’t calling it disco yet, but they were definitely the first to do it,” a jovial Dimitri explains over the phone. “It’s been described as soul with a tuxedo, and I couldn’t have coined a better term myself. What it is, simply, is soul music with strings. A whole lot of strings.”
Of course, there’s a bit more to it than that. There’s famed producers like Gamble and Huff; there’s Sigmund Sound Studios, where almost all of the disco that came out on labels such as Philadelphia International, Salsoul and Philly World were recorded; there’s fabled mixmaster Tom Moulton. And, of course, there’s the musicians, a core lineup of players—drummer Earl Young, keyboardist Ron Kersey and vibraphonist-arranger Vince Montana Jr. among them—variously known as MFSB, the Salsoul Orchestra or the Montana Sextet, depending on the project. “With some disco, especially later on when it got commercial, you can tell the musicians were not into it,” Dimitri says. “But these guys, they were loving what they were doing. If you talk to them, they’ll tell you that they knew they were doing something new, they knew they had a sound of their own, and they were feeling good about it. There was a real joy in the making of this music; it was a really magic time. And, 30 and 40 years later, this is the disco that people still want to hear.”
Besides serving simply as a collection of great songs, Get Down with the Philly Sound marks the first time that Gamble and Huff granted access to the original master tapes, a coup that Dimitri took full advantage of—the release includes a second disc of exclusive Dimitri re-edits and remixes. “I’d been trying to get hold of those tapes for years,” he says, “as was King Britt and a number of other people, and it always seemed to hit a dead end. But one day Peter [Adarkwah] from BBE called me and said, 'Hey, I got the tape of “The Love I Lost.” ’ I couldn’t believe it! I don’t even know how it happened, really, but I’m so happy it did.”
And so are the world’s disco dandies, as well as dance-floor devotees of all stripes. Every track on the release is a beauty, needless to say, but TONY got Dimitri to expound on some of our personal faves.
Howard Melvin & the Blue Notes
“The Love I Lost” (1973)
“This was actually recorded in ’72; disco wasn’t even called disco yet, of course. Some people say that 'Girl, You Need a Change of Mind’ is the first disco record, but it doesn’t really have that full disco rhythm pattern—it’s so obvious and simple, but it was actually created by Earl Young. It’s the blueprint to not only disco, but to house music. It’s still the defining beat of house music.”
“Hurt So Bad” (1976)
“That’s mixed by Tom Moulton, who I think is the father of all remixers. He might not have invented the concept; there was Walter Gibbons, Franois K and the Jamaican dub guys, but I think Tom is the pioneer. He had this great idea that most songs were too short for people to dance to, so he made them longer. But it’s also because he loves music and just wants to hear more of it! He still sits in his apartment, just remixing songs—old, new, whatever, he just does it because he loves it.”
“Living Together” (1976)
“That’s off the first album that the Jacksons did after they split with Motown; they had just dropped the 5 from their name, and it was the first album that the brothers were allowed to play their instruments. There’s a classic re-edit of this by [late Chicago DJ] Ron Hardy, which is how I got turned on to this song. Actually, I got turned on to all disco through house music. You know the 'gotta have house music’ song by Marshall Jefferson? That is totally an Earl Young beat, done with a drum machine.”
“The More I Get the MoreI Want” (1977)
“Teddy passed away just after I finished the remixes. I had just spent a whole month listening to his great voice, and it was so sad. He’s one ofthe most recognizable singers; he has a really unique character. There’s not many male vocalists who can do disco well, but his delivery has so much impact and emotion while still being really rhythmic. His voice—it’s perfect.”