[March, 8, 2012 is when I began this post. I apologize that it took so long to complete, as such is everything a brain can manage and so full of nothing fun as my life is early this year – JB]
I know…we all have to “go” at some point, but what saddened me about this particular musical talent’s separation was to learn that the lead singer of one of the most baddass-male-singing disco/r&b group of the 1970s and ’80s, The Trammps’, Jimmy Ellis (above in the picture at the far left) passed away at 74 years old on March 8, 2012…in a nursing home! My first thought was , “Oh My Godd, why was this guy, whose music hits must have sold millions, apparently broke like Joe Louis, the boxer, at the end of his life and in a nursing home?” Surely the other members of The Trammps knew of his decline and could have helped him!? Were/are they, like so many of us who pretend to be “friends until the end”, in truth are only “crabs in the barrel”?
Analysis of My Vinyls’ collection of The Trammps from the stacks (“my children”):
The Trammps: Earl Young, Harold Wade, Stanley Wade, Robert Upchurch and Jimmy Ellis became a Hall of Fame disco group from a slightly mundane R&B/Soul situation. I first remember them as warming-up for the likes of James Brown when I first started hanging-out in Manhattan, NYC clubs like the Cheetah – not saying exactly that I saw them there, but maybe I DID and that is the kind of act The Trammps were – until they covered the old Judy Garland, “Zing Went The Strings of My Heart”. Even then when I heard it, the song was kind of hazy and in the background except for the guy with what became one of their trademarks, that deep bass (“timbre” as Inna writes to me) voice.
Even when I heard of Mr. Ellis’ passing, I visualized the Trammps as just the original five guys. It wasn’t until I pulled all of my vinyls by them that I realized that around 1975, the group’s number doubled! Suddenly they became an aggregation known as the Trammps! lol The musicians like the late Ron (Have Mercy) Kersey became as integral to the sound as the basic vocalists! Some of that metamorphosis had to do with the record label politics of the day as they graduated from Buddah to their own “Golden Fleece” before being bought by Atlantic Records, who would profit the most from their brief in the larger scheme of musical vinyl and otherwise things. My early favorite Trammps jams were “Love Epidemic” and “Where Do We Go From Here” with ________ and his deep bass voice!
The Trammps arrangements embodied the epitome of the discotheque club experience while ignoring the “disco is dead” proclamations by the jealous of black music success’ haters of the day. I lived in Manhattan clubs like “Othello”, “Justine” , The Raspberry Freeze” and so many others back then and it was such a natural musical appreciation for our group as we were recent college grads out on the scene. When “Where Happy People Go” came out, I had one of the first two copies from my contact, Gunter Hauer, at Atlantic Records so I could double-mix them, back-to-back and over-and-over on the set! it really never dawned upon me that the group’s numbers multiplied. Either I thought, “Gee there’s a lot of dudes on this album cover this time – must be trick photography” lol or that the extra cats had always been there, but now they let them shine on the cover!
“Where Happy People Go” took them to another level; six of the seven cuts were such smashes, that to this day it is difficult for me to choose a favorite! The seventh, “Love Is A Funky Thing”, is one of their trademark instrumentals that they’d include on various albums! “Tom’s Song” from the “Zing” album comes to mind as another of those.
I remember that I mixed “Can We Come Together” over-and-over again as did radio at the time (Johnny Allen, WKTU FM) and I love “Disco Party (Dance, People Dance!)”. “Hooked For Life” s among my special DJ 12″ pressing collection and a very special song with a lover’s message; ‘Ninety-Nine And A Half” was the late Wilson Pickett’s original funky soul hit redone so you’d almost not know it unless you knew that and the title track “hooked” your ears from the first five very recognizable-to-this-day (after this lavish and classical piano interlude) brass and guitar notes! “Bold” and male is what The Trammps basic sound was; “party” still IS what you want to do and dance too when you listen to this album! Ellis, ‘you know I’m a Scorpio!’, always as much the party’s cheerleader as the lead singer. He is one of those singers who owns a unique scream like, “Oww!”, used to punctuate the lyrics and introduce the bridge. I used to love to “phase” these tracks as a DJ. [“phase” is when we would play two vinyls simultaneously in the same groove and try, with pitch control, to keep them in the same pocket even while they naturally tried to separate sonically, thus creating a growing “out-of-phase” effect] There were a lot of tricks we DJs could perform on the table with records like these that you simply cannot do today digitally.
So now, come to write about it, maybe it is not so surprising that Jimmy ended-up in the nursing home when, now that I look, they were just a “’70s group” who made their hay while the disco sun shined, and because of unknown or factors my space does not allow me to research, never progressed beyond that decade. They had two major hit albums release in 1976!
By the time the “Disco Inferno” dropped (came out), their sound was even more polished by the Atlantic Records studio machine. This album and the title track were destined for stardom, it seemed. I can only say that I did not know, nor did many that “Disco Inferno” would blow-up like it did, even though, we in the New York City dance and disco community (Dow Twins) at the time knew it was a “baad” album! “Burn Baby Burn, Disco Inferno” became the refrain of mass audience partyers once the soundtrack of the movie “Saturday Night Fever” adopted it. Prior to that, it was just another anonymous soul/disco cut on major market city radio stations of the USA! I bet that you didn’t KNOW that! Right? The first time that my late radio mentor, Sonny Taylor, played the chorus refrain and hook of “I Feel Like I’ve Been livin’ (On The Dark Side Of The Moon), I thought it was The Spinners singing, that is how versatile The Trammps’ sound was by then. ! Well, “saaatisfacion, came on a chain-reaction…” into my next two vinyls. Both in the year 1977, and typical of the record label competition of the day and sadly to say, I bet the GROUP, THE TRAMMPS, received NONE of the spoils from these two albums: “The Trammps III” which features my favorite mellow jam bay them, “Season For Girls” and the mid-tempo, “Living The Life (Of A Single Man)” a real-deal flava cut for the men in the room. I STILL play “Season For Girls” like a ritual every September. AND THEN, finally and with an “encore!” request, my last vinyl is the Philadelphia International Records final attempt to make money off of the group with the 1977 release of “Disco Champs” The Tramps remain as a staple of R&B, Soul, and Disco history. Anybody who chumps the Trammps needs to have their head examined. And I am grateful that I have been able to put on their tracks via vinyl “wax”, relive the “magic” of the Disco Days while assembling and composing this post for you. What are your favorite “disco” day memories? Do you remember The Trammps? One thing that set them apart was their Chorus arrangements!
Inna, here is a relevant lyric for us by The Trammps, “Each Night I go to sleep, with nothing but your memories. Sweet thoughts come into view, all I see is your sweet body…”
Sonny Taylor, pounded that song into my mind at the time. I HAD to play it when I came over to his house! lol
And my OWN FAVORITE is this one:
Now, notice please, I did NOT include “Saturday Night Fever” herein. There is a REASON for that. I would have loved to have just attended The Trammps rehearsals! Can you imagine being in the presence of a lead singer who could unleash that voice and carry such a group at-will? Please tell me YOUR favorite Trammps song or Disco memory while dancing to their music!
“I heard somebody say, Burn Baby Burn…” lol Listen at 10:10 on this long disco version…it is the best breakdown and vamp to the fade vocally and instrumentally.