Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Trammps Ramp Up The Temperature

Philadelphia based group The Trammps will likely always be associated strongly with having one of disco’s ‘unofficial’ anthems, but the group’s history goes back much further than the disco era, and diverges into a number of musical styles.

The Trammps originally came into being during the mid 60s, but they were then known as The Volcanoes (and for a time The Moods). Gene Faith was the group’s initial lead vocalist, with Earl Young
(lead bass vocals), Jimmy Ellis (lead tenor vocals), Dennis Harris (guitar), John Hart (organ), Stanley Wade (bass) and Michael Thomas (drums), featuring throughout the early years. They scored their first successful record under the name of The Volcanoes with 1965’s ‘Storm Warning’.

They renamed themselves The Trammps in the late 60s, and took on a style more akin to groups like The Coasters, with a lead and bass vocal combination. They recorded ‘Zing Went The Strings Of My Heart’ on the Buddah label in 1972. The song, which
had originally been a hit for Judy Garland back in 1943, peaked at #64 in the U.S., but was later released in Britain during 1974, reaching as high as #29. The song featured Earl Young’s trademark bass vocals. By this time the group had undergone several line-up changes. Original lead vocalise Gene Faith had departed, with Earl Young and Jimmy Ellis now exchanging lead bass and tenor vocals respectively. Fellow tenors Harold Wade and Stanley Wade also joined baritone Robert Upchurch to round out the vocal quintet, which was supplemented by a revolving door entourage of backup musicians.

In addition to being an accomplished bass vocalist, Earl Young was also a well respected session musician in Philadelphia, and was co-owner of the Philadelphia based music publishing and production house Golden Fleece. Following the expiration of the group’s contract with Buddah, Young brought them over to Golden Fleece, for what would be the start of a golden run of chart success for The Trammps.

The Trammps tenure with the new label, allowed them a greater creative freedom (given the labels co-owner was in the group). In 1973 they recorded the track ’Love Epidemic’ (US#73R&B) which marked the beginning of The Trammps association with the burgeoning disco sound. The Trammps recorded their debut album on Golden Fleece in 1975, and the same year their old label Buddah released the album ‘The Legendary Zing Album’, which yielded the U.K. hits ‘Sixty Minute Man’ (#40) and ‘Hold Back The Night’ (#5 - US#35).

Atlantic Records, seeing The Trammps potential, soon came knocking and signed them up on a new deal. They released the album ‘That’s Where The Happy People Go’ in early
1976, immediately scoring a top 40 hit with the title track (US#27/ UK#35), followed by ‘Soul Searching Time’ (UK#42). The Trammps soon gained a reputation as being disco’s most ‘soulful’ vocal group.

With disco about to go ballistic The Trammps released the album ‘Disco Inferno’ (US#46/OZ#65) later in 1976. The album featured only six disco/funk oriented songs, including a ten minute version of the title
track. But it would be the inclusion of an abridged version of the song ‘Disco Inferno’ on the soundtrack to the monster 1977 film hit ‘Saturday Night Fever’, that would launch The Trammps as virtual disco deities. Originally released in 1977 ‘Disco Inferno’ peaked at #16 in the U.K. but largely got swamped in the U.S. market, only hitting #53 at its first attempt. But the tracks enormous popularity in dance clubs, combined with the public’s insatiable appetite for all things disco, saw ‘Disco Inferno’ re-released in 1978. On its second tilt at the charts the song reached #32 in Australia, #47 in the U.K. and #11 in the U.S.

But ‘Disco Inferno’ proved not
only to be The Trammps biggest chart hit, it also proved to be their last major chart hit. The 1977 album ‘III’ (US#85) featured more of the same disco/dance formula but was overlooked overall. By the time they released 1979’s ‘The Whole World’s Dancing’, the cracks were beginning to appear in disco’s glossy charade. 1980’s album ‘Slipping Out’ found The Trammps slipping out the back door of the public’s consciousness, and soon after the group called it a day.

Despite their glowing reputation among critics as a soulful vocal tour de force on the disco landscape, The Trammps never quite realised their potential in commercial terms, though many of the songs that missed the charts , such as ‘Soul Bones’, ‘The Night The Lights Went Out’ and ‘Ninety-Nine And A Half’ remain much loved by disco/R&B aficionados. In many respects they deserve to be considered among the flag bearers
of the entire disco spirit, a spirit considered lacking in substance by some, but celebrated by many as embodying pure musical joy. The Trammps did reform (in a revamped line-up) in the early 90s, and in fact contributed vocals to the 1992 KWS cover of their song ‘Hold Back The Night’ (UK#30). In 2005 the song ‘Disco Inferno’ was officially inducted into the Dance Music Hall of Fame. Currently Jimmy Ellis, Harold ‘Doc’ Wade, Stanley Wade and Dave Dixon are still touring under The Trammps banner.

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