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The Mighty Three Story, Part Two: Kenny Gamble - Hitmaker

By Duncan Payne | 22 October 2016

While it is perfectly true that Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff's paths had already crossed, they were only the merest of acquaintances. Huff had played piano on a number of recordings produced by Gamble's then mentor, Jerry Ross, but then again Huff was incredibly busy playing on just about any session anywhere in the area as well as gigging. He was in demand, but needed as much work as he could get just to make ends meet.
Bell, meanwhile, was also pretty much out of the picture, and with steady work on the horizon, more of which later.

Kenny still had dreams of being a singer but Ross clearly had other ideas. Ross knew he had a talented lyricist to work with and in the early part of 1963 they began writing material for the independent Swan label which had already had a degree of success. First up was Gamble's own composition 'You're A Lucky So And So' for Sammy Sevens backed with a song written by both of them 'Here Comes The Bride', released in July 1963. It wasn't a success but the next one, by Freddy Cannon, which came out soon after most certainly was. 'Everybody Monkey', a teen dance number, wasn't Kenny's finest moment but this remarkably unsubtle Ross/Gamble composition made #52 in the US Pop chart giving Gamble his first hit song.

The following month saw another composition of theirs on the flip side of 'He's Mine' by The Swans entitled 'You Better Be A Good Girl Now', not a bad song but a pale imitation of what was hot in Detroit. The unmistakable sound of Leon Huff's piano can be heard on this.

Despite Jerry Ross' vision of Gamble's future being as a writer, he didn't discourage Kenny's ambition to be a singer. Gamble's first solo 45, 'No Mail On Monday' backed with Ross/Gamble composition 'You Don't Know What You Got' was released on the tiny Mate label before the 'A' side, a somewhat mundane song was picked up by Epic. Bizarrely, the original Mate issue of 'No Mail...' appears to be speeded up so it's the Epic release to go for if you want a true experience of Kenny's baritone. A different 'B' side appeared on the Epic release, the superior 'Stand By Me'-influenced 'Standing In The Shadows'.

Gamble's solo career didn't get off to a successful start and the Sammy Sevens follow up 'Everybody Crossfire' (which would sound good on some Northern Soul floors) missed out as well, but it wasn't long before further hits came from his pen. The first, written with Ross, was a huge hit (#25 US Pop, #9 US R&B) for The Sapphires called 'Who Do You Love', a song with a gorgeous and haunting melody.

Then came a non-Swan label release, and a song written with Thom Bell and Luther Dixon. Unlike his pop-slanted material with Ross, it was an altogether much more soulful record. Released on the Gold label, 'Watch Your Step' by the excellent singer Brooks O'Dell reached #16 in the US R&B chart as well as becoming a minor Pop hit peaking at #58.

Kenny Gamble had now tasted success but wanted more of it. He was gaining invaluable experience of the studio and the record business thanks to Ross. It was the first stepping stone to international glory.

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