Saturday, June 28, 2008

My Whole Wide World Went Zoom!

Hailing from one the rich nursery grounds of American popular music, Philadelphia (think Boyz II Men, Instant Funk, Hall & Oates), Fat Larry’s Band came together in 1977 around the central figure of “Fat” Larry James. Though never breaking through for a Top 40 hit in the U.S., over a ten year period Fat Larry’s Band would release half a dozen albums, establish a solid fan base, and score a major hit in both the U.K. and Australia.

Though at their heart a funk music act, Fat Larry’s Band incorporated jazz, R&B, soul, disco and even soft-pop into their music repertoire. Joining drummer “Fat” Larry in the lineup were bassist Larry Labes, percussionist Darryl Grant, trumpeter Art Capehart, guitarist Ted Cohen, trombonist Jimmy Lee, saxophonist Doug Jones and keyboardist Erskine Williams (there’s a bit of Earth, Wind & Fire about that set-up). Previously James had played as a backing musician for both Delfonics and Blue Magic. James also co-wrote the majority of Fat Larry’s Band’s songs with Doris James, and produced their albums.

Fat Larry’s Band (early on referred to as FLB) released their debut album ‘Feel It’ in 1977, which yielded the group their first hit single, albeit in the U.K., with the song ‘Center City’ (#31). A second album ‘Off The Wall’ (not of the Michael Jackson variety) was released in 1978 but failed to capitalise on the initial good reception offered ‘Feel It’. Their 1979 album ‘Fantasy’ revived the group’s fortunes on the U.K. charts with two more minor hit singles ‘Boogie Town’ (#46) and ‘Lookin For Love Tonight (#46) but this was at the height of disco and the competition in the whole funk/dance/soul/disco style market was fierce to say the least, saturated to say the most.

But Fat Larry’s Band’s biggest hit didn’t fit into any of the categories of music mentioned previous. The song ‘Zoom’ was lifted from the group’s 1982 album ‘Breakin Out’ (which also included the fan favourite ‘Act Like You Know‘) and it broke out on the charts in a big way. ‘Zoom’ was just simply a sweet and gentle pop-ballad and zoomed all the way to #2 in the U.K. in mid ‘82 and #10 in Australia in early ‘83. It’s not representative of the band’s music, or of the music that dominated the charts at the time, but nevertheless it won over the hearts of many music fans. Beyond some minor success on the club and R&B charts, Fat Larry’s Band never broke through in commercial terms in the U.S. but they recorded several more albums following the exploits of ‘Zoom’. Sadly though, Larry James died aged 38 in 1987, bringing to a premature end the career of a talented musician and underrated group.

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