THOUGH MANY have tried, it’s hard to free disco of the negative associations that have shadowed it. “Disco Sucks”, they still say. Boney M and Baccara, Syndrum mania and shallow glamour. It’s not real music; it always sounds the same.
I could invite you round to my house and play you 1000 records which would open your eyes to a world of music as rich and as meaningful as any revered in rock or jazz or whatever else you care to write post-grad theses around. But you’d want to bring your mates and I haven’t the room, or the teabags. Instead, you should purchase this record immediately – an empirical document no less, and witness to the fact that there is more to disco than the Brothers Gibb and the glitterball conceits of Hollywood directors.
It is likely – unless you are the kind of disco aficionado who is just one step away from standing on a railway platform with a notepad in hand – that you will perhaps have heard only one or two of the tracks contained here. It is simply criminal that this music is not up there with the often-cited classics of the Salsoul, West End and Prelude canons. Track after track will stun you into silence as the distinctive sound of two men on a very particular Ruff Disco mission make a case for this music with a raft of tracks which, though recorded mostly in the late ‘70s, still sound tough enough to make anyone’s exacting grade.
Peter Brown and Patrick Adams – the P and P of the label name – met in 1973. Peter had worked behind the scenes in record promotion and wanted to get his own thing going. Patrick was a record producer with a growing reputation. Patrick was working on a record called ‘My Baby’s Got ESP’ by Four Below Zero, a vocal tour de force which should have warned us what was to come. Peter helped him get that record across, bringing it to the attention of Roulette Records, who picked it up.
Roulette’s Morris Levy was impressed enough with Peter and Patrick to give them a distribution deal for their own fledgling Harlem-based P and P label. Over the next few years, P and P, together with associated labels they owned like Queen Constance, Heavenly Star and SONY (Sound Of New York) established a resolutely black and distinctively funky disco sound which seemed to mirror their Harlem roots. With it’s hard-hitting rhythmic pulse, a trademark Moogy madness, strings that slice through any preconceptions of sugary disco sweetness, and an attitude that smacks of the street rather than the cocaine nirvana exemplified by Studio 54, the P and P sound is often abrasive but always demands your complete attention.
In their day, these records may not have made much on an impact outside the USA, but in New York, those who knew what was what, quickly came to trust their makers. In recent conversation, Peter Brown told me that Larry Levan, then holding sway at Paradise Garage, was a particularly loyal supporter. “But you would hear our music everywhere, uptown and down”.
Patrick Adams, is the unsung genius of the disco sound. He produced Musique for Prelude, Inner Life for Salsoul; Candi Staton, and Sister Sledge. He brought us gold standard sounds like Black Ivory’s ‘Mainline’, and Weekend’s ‘Phreek’, excelling as writer, arranger and producer on many hundreds of records. But it’s in partnership with Peter Brown on some of the tracks contained here, that Patrick, a multi- instrumentalist who plays almost everything you will hear, still elicits whispered reverence from Hoxton Square to Shibuya.
The much-feted Mr Adams recently told me that most of these records were written in the studio, on the spot and built from piano improvisations. Minot Sound in White Plains was a favoured location. Percussionist Mike Lewis, Drummer Richard Tanninbaum and Stan Lucas on guitar might assist, but most of these tracks were created by Patrick multi-tracking – “jamming with myself”. The distinctive string sections were made up of moonlighting Broadway Show musicians and the crazed Mini Moog solos, the icing on the cake, were added, “mostly for fun”. The results, as you can hear, are never less than impressive.
Clyde Alexander’s incredibly sought-after ‘Got To Get Your Love’ is here for the price of a round of drinks. Together with the stunningly soulful Queen Yahana’s ‘Ain’t It Time’, the expansively experimental ‘Hooked On Your Line’ – which displays an attitude to arrangement credited only to supposedly intellectual rock musicians – and the emphatically euphoric ‘Disco Juice’, they make the case for a sound that demands our hastily assembled histories of disco be shoved sideways to make way for Peter and Patrick who, in truth, should be up there with Larry and David when it comes to idle pub conversations about the pre-history of house.
None of the records contained here may have made the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. But they have at least as much to do with the spirit of disco. More importantly, they have survived intact as Ruff Disco classics characterised by their urgency, attitude and, oh, go on then, soul.
© John McCready, Counterpoint Records, 2000