When it comes to romance, few musical groups capture the emotion in song as well as the Stylistics, a vocal quartet which landed a string of top ten hits on the charts in the early 1970s. Hailing from Pennsylvania’s City of Brotherly Love, the Stylistics ¬¬-- along with The O’Jays, The Spinners and The Delphonics – created a sound that came to be known as Philly Soul during the early 1970s.
It was Uncle Sam who actually helped create the Stylistics back in 1968, according to Airrion Love, who along with fellow co-founder Herbert Murrell has been crooning hits like “Betcha By Golly Wow,” “You Make Me Feel Brand New,” and “I'm Stone in Love with You,” for more than forty years on stages all around the world. “The Stylistics came together out of necessity,” explained Love, who grew up idolizing the Temptations. “I was in a group called the Monarchs and there was another group called The Percussions that Herbert was in. When members of both groups got drafted into the service, we decided to puzzle piece the two groups together.”
Soon after a local promoter name Bill Perry invested a few bucks in the group and cut the song “You’re A Big Girl Now.” Just about that time, Love was on the fast track to a computer-based career in a local bank. “I remember telling my mother I resigned from the bank and was going to sing,” said Love. “She was worried because I had a good job with a future, but my dad told me I was still young and had a place to come home to if it didn’t work out. He told me to give it a shot.”
“You’re A Big Girl Now” started making a little bit of noise and soon became a regional hit around the tri-state area. National label Avco Records took notice of the song and signed the group, teaming them with now legendary producer Thom Bell to quickly put together a full album. Bell became like a fifth member and steered the group to greatness with the help of songwriter Linda Creed, from whose pen sprang most of the songs the audience will be singing along with this Friday at Schererville’s Halls Of St. George.
Over the next few years, the Stylistics not only topped the R&B charts, but with Bell’s keen ear and guiding hand, soon created a sound that appealed to the masses without losing its urban root sound, enabling the group to cross over to the pop charts while keeping their core following intact. The result was a dozen consecutive Top 10 singles and best-selling albums between 1971 and 1974. Their 1975 “The Best of the Stylistics” earned double-platinum status and remains a steady seller worldwide.
“Avco introduced us to Thom and he introduced us to Linda and together we made to really good records,” summed up Love. “In truth, Thom and Linda just wrote great songs and I think any group that would have recorded those songs would have been successful. I’m just grateful that it was us. Those songs have held up over the years and people still love hearing them. We built our career together and we loved working with Thom . It was never the same in later years when we worked with other people.”
The Stylistics’ popularity and chart presence waned during the late ‘70s as disco replaced vocal groups on the radio waves and even pairing up with legendary disco artist/producer Van McCoy failed to keep them at the top. While it has been a while since the Stylistics have been in the Top 40, the wealth of hits in their catalog endear them to this day with millions of fans worldwide and keep the group on the road and working year after year.
“I’d guesstimate that we do somewhere in the ballpark of 150 to 200 dates a year,” said Love of the group whose line-up now includes lead singer Harold “Eban” Brown who took over lead vocal duties in 2000 when co-founder Russell Thompkins Jr. exited the group to pursue a solo career. Brown’s resume includes singing lead for The Manhattans, The Delfonics and co-founding Ray, Goodman & Brown. Rounding today’s Stylistics is Jason Sharp, who previously sang lead for the group Heatwave.
After dabbling with solo recordings, Thompkins Jr. formed The New Stylistics a few years ago, which has caused some confusion for the veteran group’s fans, but the Love/Murrell line-up is the real deal that has carried on all these years and who regularly takes part in the sold-out “70s Soul Jam” tours.
After teaming up in 2009 with producer Preston Glass (Aretha Franklin, Natalie Cole, Kenny G, etc.), Love and Murrell’s group laid down tracks for what has become the first new Stylistics album in 15 years. Some songs featured on “That Same Way” sprang from the creative pen of Maurice White of Earth, Wind and Fire, Larry Graham of Graham Central Station, and there’s even one from their old friends Thom Bell and Linda Creed. Adding to the magic by showing off his guitar skills on one of the tracks is Ray Parker Jr. (of “Ghostbusters” fame), who many folks forget used to dazzle fans as string-bender for his band, Raydio.
“Preston is good friends with Ray and asked him to play on the record,” explained Love of Parker’s involvement. “Preston did a great job with this album and we’re really proud of it.”
While “That Same Way” is doing well overseas, the Stylistics has yet to find a home for the album in the United States. “We’re still looking to get it (picked up) here, but fans can buy it at our web site (WWW.THESTYLISTICS.ORG) and at shows,” said Love, who said two new songs will likely be included in tonight’s set list. “That Same Way” is a solid effort and like the title suggests, captures the familiar Stylistics’ sound of the group’s old recordings, so who can blame the group for wanting to promote an album that has been a labor of love and such a long time coming.
“I know that when I go out and pay money to see an artist, I want to hear the songs I know,” said Love. “We know Stylistics fans want to hear their favorite the Stylistics’ songs when they come to see us and they will hear them all, but we also want to give them a little taste of the new album. The response from fans to the new songs has been very strong.”
Kicking off the entertainment tonight at Halls of St. George will be sets by Regional favorites Latin Satin Soul and Together.
East Chicago’s ten-year-old Latin Satin Soul is an 11-piece ensemble whose repertoire of cover songs blends those anchored by funky Latin grooves. More at: WWW.LATINSATINSOUL.BIZ
Another 11-piece ensemble group, Together, are regional icons who were hand-picked to perform for the Chicago Bulls Championship Party at the United Center, the Chicago Blackhawks Playoffs party, the Miss USA Coronation Ball (2001 and 2002), and gave Command Performance for the President of the United States. The decades old group has shared stages with many top names during their career, including The Jackson 5, The Chi-Lites, El Chicano, The O’Jays, War, Tower Of Power and Boyz II Men. More: WWW.TOGETHERMUSIC.COM