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The Mighty Three Story, Part Four: The Forces Collide

By Duncan Payne | 02 December 2016

A continuation of the look at the early musical lives of Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff & Thom Bell.

Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff began to work seriously together in 1965 but not as much as either would have liked. There was the obstacle of Huff's contract as a songwriter for Madara-White which stood in their way of them getting their own compositions out.

Huff's credits in 1965 under the agreement included a couple of b-sides for Jeffrey Bowen and Len Barry - 'I'll Get By (All By Myself)' and 'Bullseye' respectively, the latter of which was on the flip side of Barry's classic '1, 2, 3'. Huff was also writing songs with Cindy Scott, one of which was recorded by The Companions on General American called 'Help A Lonely Guy', while his 'Drivin' Me Mad' song co-written by Richard Barrett was one of the earliest Three Degrees songs committed to vinyl.

The Madara-White situation didn't stop the pair from working together completely, however. Getting in the studio as often as they could, they quickly learned the art of producing and arranging songs from the Dynodynamics team. As mentioned in an earlier part, Dynodynamics were becoming a force to be reckoned with in Philadelphia and they were creating a sound particularly unique at the time, using vibes and sweetening strings, something that Gamble & Huff particularly liked. Early examples of this new sound came from The Volcanos and Eddie Holman, records which are now regarded as the template for the Philly Sound.

Gamble and Huff were also together more frequently than expected for another reason. Thom Bell, as an expectant father, quit his role in The Romeos, to give more attention to his wife rather than being out gigging in the evenings. With a vacancy for a pianist thrust upon the group it was only natural that Huff would take his place. Bell, meanwhile, wasn't totally inactive and continued working at Cameo Parkway while one of his co-compositions 'How Can I (Keep From Crying)' coupled with another - 'Move On Love' - was released by Charles Perry on Magnum.

Kenny Gamble didn't waste any time when away from Huff. He continued to worm his way in to Cameo Parkway and his persistent chasing of Dee Dee Sharp paid off, the pair becoming a couple. He continued to write or co-write songs for her - 'There Ain't Nothin' I Wouldn't Do For You' (one of THE earliest Gamble & Huff productions), '(That's What) My Mama Said', both of which were b-sides - and the end of the year saw her hit big with his outstanding composition with Jimmy Bishop 'I Really Love You' which hit #37 US R&B and #78 US Pop.

Other Cameo releases included b-sides from The Orlons 'I Ain't Comin' Back', Candy & The Kisses 'Shakin' Time' and Honey Love & The Love Notes 'We Belong Together'. More importantly, July 1965 saw one of the first Gamble & Huff songs to be released, 'Don't You Want My Lovin' by The Orlons with the Thom Bell/Kenny Gamble tune 'I Can't Take It' on the flip. However, this wasn't the very first Gamble & Huff song cut on vinyl. That honour fell to 'Gee I'm Sorry Baby', a Sapphires b-side released on ABC Paramount in March.

Nevertheless, Gamble's best use of his own time was in the studio with the Dynodynamics Crew. He became particularly close to Jimmy Bishop, a very useful ally indeed given that Bishop was a programmer with WDAS Radio who had the clout to get records played. Bishop and Gamble began to write songs together, the first of which was a single by The Drifters 'Chains Of Love' which got released on Atlantic in April and reached #90 US R&B. This wasn't the only song of theirs picked up by Atlantic, others including 'Too Bad Too Sad' by Marva Lee on Atco and a Solomon Burke b-side 'Little Girl That Loves Me'. In addition, another of their songs 'Come Back Baby' by Nella Dodds came out on Wand.

Gamble's friendship with Bishop became even more useful during the summer when Bishop quit Dynodynamics to form his own Arctic label, a move which resurrected Gamble's interest in a singing career. Bishop signed The Romeos and put out a 45 'Ain't It Baby' as well as another single 'Down By The Seashore' credited to Kenny Gamble & The Floaters, a bit of a mystery in terms of personnel. A solo recording which didn't come to light until a few years ago called 'It Takes Two' backed with 'Fat Daddy' (featuring Paul Johnson) was also made but not released. There may well be others.

Also under the Arctic umbrella were Bishop/Gamble songs such as '(Put A Dime On) D-9' by The Rotations on Frantic, while solo Gamble compositions like 'Why Do You Want To Leave Me' on Argo and 'Everybody Can't Be Pretty' on Del-Val by Herb Ward and The Casinos were also committed to vinyl.

Now away from former mentor Jimmy Ross, the year had not been as successful for Gamble in terms of record sales but it was one of the most important twelve months in shaping his future. And, with his ever growing friendship with Leon Huff soon to become a fully blown partnership, that future was beginning to look bright. The pair, having learned the ropes in the studio, were about to launch their very own label Excel where their compositions (with Bishop's helping hand) would get the necessary exposure. Gamble needed Huff for his musical expertise; Huff needed Gamble for his flair for a strong lyric. It would work beautifully.

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