Aug 31, 2018

MAJOR HARRIS - My Way (Atlantic Records SD 18119, 1974)

For a member of a successful group, it’s always a risk to leave and embark upon a solo career. Often, the success they’ve enjoyed becomes a distant memory. Conversely, the success they’ve enjoyed is often surpassed upon embarking on a solo career. Everyone will have examples when an artists decision to embark upon a solo career either worked or didn’t. By 1974, Major Harris decided to leave The Delfonics and launch a solo career. Things hadn’t quite gone to plan with The Delfonics. Major Harris had joined a group at the peak of their career, having just released their most successful album. The next three years didn’t quite turn out as he’d hoped, so Major Harris left The Delfonics and signed a contract with Atlantic Records as a solo artist. His debut solo album was "My Way", released in 1975, which would feature some of Philadelphia’s finest musicians. Major Harris had replaced Randy Cain in The Delfonics in 1971. He was joining a successful group, who’d just released their most successful album in 1970, The Delfonics. It had reached number sixty-one in the US Billboard 200 and number four in the US R&B Charts. Soon, changes were afoot in The Delfonics’ camp. Randy Cain left and there would be changes in the producer’s chair. 

Thom Bell had been The Delfonics mentor, producing their first three albums and writing many of their songs. Sadly, The Delfonics was Thom’s final album as sole producer. For Major Harris’ Delfonics debut, 1972s "Tell Me This Is A Dream", Stan Watson who owned Philly Groove Records, The Delfonics label, would co-produce the album with Thom Bell.On its release it reached just number 123 in the US Billboard 200 and number fifteen in the US R&B Charts. If that was disappointing, worse was to come. "Alive and Kicking" was released in 1974, and not only proved to be The Delfonics final album, but their least successful album, reaching number 205 in the US Billboard 200 and number thirty-four in the US R&B Charts. So with The Delfonics’ career on the slide, it’s no wonder Major Harris had decided that the time was right to launch his solo career, with a little help from his Philly friends. For Major Harris’ debut album, Bobby 'Electronic' Eli would produce eight of the nine tracks on My Way, with Ron 'Have Mercy' Kersey producing After Loving You. Bobby 'Electronic' Eli would also cowrite five of the tracks, three with his songwriting partner Vinnie Barrett and two with Terry Collins. Two other tracks, "Each Morning I Wake Up" and "After Loving You" were written by Melvin Steals, under the pseudonym Mystro and Lyric. The other track was a cover of "My Way", which closes "My Way". These nine tracks were recorded at Philly’s famous Sigma Sound Studios, with a cast of legends accompanying Major Harris.

Accompanying Major Harris were some of Philly’s best musicians, including many of M.F.S.B. who’d go on to become The Salsoul Orchestra. "My Way" features some of the greatest musicians of the seventies. All the greats played on "My Way". The Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section and were joined by bassists Bob Babbitt and Rusty Jackmon, drummer Charles Collins and guitarist Bobby Eli. Ron Kersey played keyboards, Vince Montana Jr, vibes, Larry Washington congas Don Renaldo and His Strings and Horns completed this cast of musical titans. Adding backing vocals were the legendary Sweethearts of Sigma, Carla Benson, Barbara Ingram and Evette Benton. Once the nine tracks that comprise "My Way" were recorded at Philly’s Sigma Sound Studios, the album was set for release in 1975. Before "My Way" was released in 1975, "Each Morning I Wake Up" was released as a single. Although it reached just number ninety-eight in the US Billboard 100, it proved popular in clubs, reaching number three in the US Disco Singles Charts and number fourteen in the US Club Play Charts. When "My Way" was released in 1975 it was to critical acclaim and huge commercial success. "My Way" reached number twenty-eight in the US Billboard 200 and number twelve in the US R&B Charts. Then after years and years of trying, Major Harris had the smash hit single he so wanted. "Each Morning I Wake Up" reached number five in the US Billboard 100 and number one in the US R&B Charts. Not only did this vindicate his decision to leave The Delfonics, but surpassed the success of any of their singles. With the help of his Philly friends, Major Harris had a critically acclaimed and commercially successful album and number one single. However, what made "My Way" both critically acclaimed and commercially successful ?

Opening Major Harris’ debut solo album is the Melvin Steals penned "Each Morning I Wake Up". It’s arranged by Norman Harris and produced by Bobby Eli and from the opening bars, there’s only one city this song could’ve been produced in Philly. The song literally bursts into life with bursts of blazing horns and sweeping, swirling strings combining with the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section. They power the arrangement along before Major Harris unleashes a powerful vocal full of sadness, regret and drama. Adding to the drama are the Sweethearts of Sigma add tight, soaring soulful harmonies. Meanwhile, the dual guitars of Bobby Eli and Norman Harris provide musical contrasts. Bobby relies more on effects, while Norman’s style is jazzier, but both play important roles. Earl’s thunderous drums provide the track’s emotive heartbeat, while Don Renaldo’s strings and horns add to the overall drama, emotion and beauty of the track and are matched all the way by Major Harris’ Magnus Opus of a vocal. It’s an outstanding track and what a way to open "My Way". No wonder this track gave him his first US R&B number one. "Love Won’t Let Me Wait" is the first of the Bobby Eli and Vinnie Barrett penned tracks. The tempo drops way down, with the rhythm section, chiming guitars and rasping horns augmented by the lushest of strings. Major Harris is transformed into balladeer, delivering a needy, sensuous vocal, accompanied by cooing harmonies from the Sweethearts of Sigma. Norman Harris’ jazz-tinged guitar, Vince Montana Jr’s vibes and haunting horns play their part in this spacious, beautiful arrangement. They each play a part in the seductive sounding backdrop as Major Harris produces one of the best vocals of his long career. So undeniably sultry and sensual is this bedroom ballad, it should carry a government health warning, that after listening to it, two can become three. 

"Sweet Tomorrow" opens with the unmistakable sound of Norman Harris’ chiming, jazz-tinged guitar before lush strings sweep and swirl, horns growl and Earl Young’s drums signal the arrival of Major Harris’ vocal. His vocal is heartfelt, a mixture of power and passion, while the Sweethearts of Sigma add punchy, but soulful harmonies. Meanwhile Don Renaldo’s strings dance with delight as the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section drive the arrangement along. Later, horns growl and rasp and harmonies cascade adding to the drama and beauty of this hook-laden track written by Bobby Eli and Vinnie Barrett. Major Harris’ half-spoken vocal is accompanied by just tender harmonies, plucked strings and keyboards. With emotive strings accompanying his gravelly vocal, Major Harris lays bare his soul as "Sideshow" unfolds. This is a cover of Blue Magic’s track, which Bobby Eli cowrote with Vinnie Barrett, but given new life and meaning. The arrangement has an understated string-drenched sound, with the rhythm section adding a thoughtful heartbeat and the Sweethearts of Sigma contributing subtle harmonies. While it’s a very different version to Blue Magic’s original, it’s heartachingly beautiful and designed to tug at your heartstrings. Closing Side One of "My Way" is "Two Wrongs", the second Melvin Steals penned track. Here, Bobby Eli arranges the rhythm and Ron Kersey the strings and horns. It’s another uptempo track where horns blaze and strings dance as the rhythm section power the arrangement along. Major Harris vocal is a powerful, throaty vamp accompanied by dramatic harmonies from the Sweethearts of Sigma. Soon, you realize just how joyous, catchy and uplifting the track is. A mass of growling horns, cascading strings and sweeping harmonies are combined as Major Harris makes the song his own, delivering it with confidence and a real swagger. Together with some of Philly’s finest musicians, he plays his part in what’s an inspirational, uplifting and joyous song.

Side Two of "My Way" opens with "Loving You Is Mellow" which teases you for a couple of bars before the track decides to reveal its secrets. Just plucked strings give way to Earl Young’s pounding drums before Major Harris’ swinging vocal enters. Along with his band, a glorious track unfolds. This means lush strings sweeping and swirling, horns rasping and growling, cooing harmonies from the Sweethearts of Sigma and a dramatic bursts from the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section. Similarly, Major Harris has reserved a stellar performance, where he joyfully gives thanks for the love he’s found. Taken together and the result is a hook-laden, irresistible track. "Just A Thing That I Do" is one of the two tracks Bobby Eli cowrote with Terry Collins. They also cowrote "Loving You Is Mellow". This is a very different track, slower and featuring an arrangement and vocal laden with emotion. Keyboards, chiming guitars and the rhythm section combine with Major Harris’ heartfelt, impassioned vocal. Swathes of strings and heartfelt harmonies from the Sweethearts of Sigma add to the emotion and the beauty of the track. Here, Major Harris digs deep, bringing out the subtleties and nuances of the lyrics, bringing meaning to them and highlighting their beauty and sadness. 

Ron Kersey takes charge of the producer’s chair on "After Loving You", which he also arranged. It’s another irresistible slice of Philly Soul, with Major Harris unleashing a power vocal full or heartbreak and hurt. The arrangement is an emotive roller-coaster, with dancing strings, growling horn and the Sweethearts of Sigma tight, soulful harmonies. Meanwhile, the Baker, Harris, Young provide the track heartbeat as the arrangement unfolds to reveal a hugely catchy sound. This is perfect for Major Harris’ soul-baring vocal. It seems whatever the emotion, Major Harris can deliver a vocal that’s believable and capable of stirring your emotion. This is  one of his best vocals, and one of the best arrangements and productions. Closing "My Way" is the title-track, where Major Harris delivers a vocal that’s almost a homage to The Chairman of The Board. He turns the track into a six minute epic, that stays true to Frank Sinatra’s version. With a combination of dramatic drum rolls from Earl Young, blazing horns and lush strings courtesy of Don Renaldo, Major Harris delivers an impassioned vocal. Sweeping, tight and beautiful harmonies from the Sweethearts of Sigma are combined with Vince Montana Jr’s vibes, Ron Kersey’s piano and Norman Harris’ thoughtful, jazzy guitar. Throughout the track, the power, drama and emotion builds. All the time the strings, gospel-tinged harmonies, horns and Earl’s drums are crucial to the sound and success. By the end of the song, you’ll be won over by the this masterful reinterpretation of an old classic from Major Harris and his band of Philly legends.

Major Harris decision to leave The Delfonics and launch his solo career was vindicated with a top thirty album and number one US R&B single. After years of struggling in bands, like The Charmers, The Teenagers and The Jarmels, Major Harris thought his luck would change with The Delfonics .While his fortunes did improve slightly during his three years with The Delfonics, he was unfortunate to join them when they’d reached their peak and were on their way down. The hits had dried up and their albums weren’t as successful as their first three. So leaving The Delfonics was something of a no-brainer. By then Major Harris had become almost an honorary Philadelphian, even though he’d been born in Richmond, Virginia. His music was synonymous with the Philly Sound. It was no surprise that the arrangers, producers, musicians and backing singers that helped make "My Way" such a success were all from Philly.

Each of them played their part in making "My Way" the success it became. From producers Bobby Eli and Ron Kersey and arranger Norman Harris, through to the all-star band that featured the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section, Vince Montana Jr, Larry Washington, Don Renaldo and His Strings and Horns and the Sweethearts of Sigma. Together, they played their part in making Major Harris’ debut solo "My Way" a true Philly Sound classic. From the opening bars of "Each Morning I Wake Up", until the closing notes of "My Way", Major Harris produces a spellbinding performance on "My Way". So good is each track, that just when you think you’ve heard the best track on "My Way", another comes along and trumps it. Unlike most albums, there isn’t a weak track on "My Way". Far from it. Each track is capable of provoking an emotion, from sadness to joy, and everything in between. One minute Major Harris tugs at your heartstrings, the next, comes up with a hook-laden and joyous track like "Loving You Is Mellow". That’s why for anyone who loves the Philly Sound, then Major Harris’ "My Way" is an album the deserves to find its way into their collection.

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