Next month, Winfred “Blue” Lovett, an original member of the classic R&B vocal group the Manhattans, will celebrate 50 years in show business, but the celebration could very well begin this Thursday when the Grammy-winning group comes to the Dell Music Center, 33rd Street and Ridge Avenue, along with Heatwave, Bloodstone and New Birth. Showtime is 7 p.m.
While the Manhattans’ Philly connection initially began in 1965, when they came to the historic Uptown Theater to perform their heartbreaking hit “I’m the One Love Forgot,” lead by the late George Smith, they struck gold — and platinum — when they returned to the City of Brotherly Love in the ’70s to work with prolific producer Bobby Martin at the legendary Sigma Sound Studios.
Capturing the true essence of Philly Sound, these recordings feature the peerless rhythm section of Ronnie Baker (bass), Norman Harris (guitar) and Earl Young (drums), who are enshrined on the Philadelphia Music Alliance’s prestigious Walk of Fame at Broad and Locust Streets.
The result of those sessions was the 1973 release, “There’s No Me Without You,” followed by “The Manhattans” in 1976, which went on to become the most commercially successful album of group’s career, peaking at No. 16 on the Billboard 200 and No. 6 on the R&B chart.
A “crossover” sensation, the 10-track LP was driven by the poignant “Kiss and Say Goodbye,” featuring the wistful tenor of Gerald Alston, who replaced George Smith in 1970. Written by Blue Lovett, the beautiful ballad shot to #1 on the Billboard R&B and Pop charts, and became only the second single to go platinum after the RIAA introduced the award in 1976. Both Lovett and Alston credit Bobby Martin and his musicians for their contribution to the creation of a classic.
“This is my 50th year and I must say, that was one of my most enjoyable times as the Manhattans,” said Lovett. “Bobby was great! He knew what we wanted. He knew what we were looking for. He took our lyrics and our samples of music that we gave him and he made a serious production out of it. Great guy!”
“We had a great relationship with Bobby, and through Bobby, we had a wonderful relationship with all the musicians,” said Alston. What really made it exceptional was that it’s a difference when musicians play on your session, and they’re just reading the music. But the difference is [the Philadelphia musicians] not only read the music, they liked the music — they liked the song, so they put everything in it. It’s not, ‘Well, I’m just going to read the music and play whatever is on the charts.’ When they played our charts, Bobby talked to them and they felt the music. They knew what it was they were playing, and they liked it! They played it with enthusiasm, and that’s what gave us the upper hand.”
“They had their own sound!” Lovett added. “Old timers like me, we rave so much about the Motown situation in the ’60s, but The Sound of Philadelphia in the ’70s was equivalent to that to me. It may not have gotten distributed and turned ‘pop’ like the Motown thing did, but it was just as great as far as I was concerned.
“All the musicians, Bobby Eli — everybody, even the horns and strings — the arrangements were so much alike, but so different. In other words, I could hear a Philadelphia sound today and not know who the artist was, if it was just the tracks without any vocals on it, and know it came out of Philadelphia. But it was different. Everybody had a little something that the musicians would add to single out Harold Melvin’s Blue Notes as different from the Manhattans.”
As the Manhattans return to their musical home, the current lineup is comprised of Lovett, Alston and Troy May, as well as David Tyson, brother of the Temptations tenor, Ron Tyson, a Philadelphia phenom who once sang with the Ethics and Love Committee. The Manhattans will be accompanied by Colt Younger (keyboards), Howard Robbins (keyboards), Joseph Butler (drums), Jason Simons (bass) and Mark Bowers (guitar).
Fans who come to the Dell for an evening under the stars can expect a return to real romance. “Kiss and Say Goodbye” and “There’s No Me Without You,” “We Never Danced to a Love Song” — all the songs we [recorded] in Philadelphia, we do them in a medley,” Lovett said.
Alston, who knows and appreciates the Philadelphia audience said, “Philly audiences have always been wonderful to us. They’ll make you work, now! They’ll make you work for it, but they’re our fans! They paid that money to see us sing, they want you to work, and you go out there and you do just that. They know what they want to hear, and I’m not mad at ’em!”
“Fifty years we’ve been entertaining Philadelphia, Chester, the outskirts, North Philly, West Philly — the whole Philadelphia area has been so supportive of the Manhattans throughout the years,” Lovett said in conclusion. “We would like to give a big ‘Thank you!’ Thank you for helping me through these 50 years. It has been a marathon and I have enjoyed every bit of it!” For tickets and information call the Dell box office at (215) 685-9560 or visit www.mydelleast.com.