PHILADELPHIA INTERNATIONAL RECORDS SAYS GOODBYE AS ‘SOUND OF PHILADELPHIA’ BUILDING FOREVER SILENCED – FORMER HOME OF GAMBLE & HUFF’S WORLD-RENOWNED PHILLY SOUND AND CAMEO-PARKWAY RECORDS TO MAKE WAY FOR HI-RISE HOTEL AND LUXURY CONDOMINIUM
Lowering and Removal of Iconic Neon Sign Signifies Closure of Legendary Record Label As Historic Building Prepares For Wrecking Ball
PHILADELPHIA – The “Love Train” that has carried “The Sound of Philadelphia (TSOP)” to “people all over the world” for almost half a century made its last physical stop at 309 S. Broad Street this week as the legendary Philadelphia International Records label, founded by Rock and Roll Hall of Fame producer-songwriters Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff, was officially shut down with the sale of its historic building to a prominent local developer. “The closing of the company and building is definitely bittersweet, but we are extremely proud and honored to have been able to create so much great music out of our ‘309’ location,” said Gamble & Huff in a joint statement. “It was such a blessing and miracle how all of this came together over 50 years. More importantly, we would like to thank all of the wonderful musicians, artists and staff members who helped make Philadelphia International Records what it became – and what it remains – an incredible African-American institution and music and cultural brand.”
Gamble & Huff’s Philadelphia International Records became the birthplace, incubator and launching pad for the Philly Soul sound aka “The Sound of Philadelphia (TSOP),” a unique blend of R&B; rhythms, sweet soul vocals, deep funk grooves, pulsing horn charts and lush string arrangements with melodic structures combining elements of pop, jazz, and world music. With a stable core of artists led by the O’Jays, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, Billy Paul, MFSB and the Three Degrees, Gamble & Huff co-founded Philadelphia International Records and began creating monster hits from nearly the first day of its inception in 1971. They continued to record, collaborate and produce major hits with a galaxy of stars from the pop, rock, soul and jazz universes, including Michael Jackson and the Jacksons, Elton John, Lou Rawls, Teddy Pendergrass, Patti LaBelle, the Spinners, the Stylistics, the Delfonics, Dusty Springfield, Jerry Butler, Wilson Pickett, LaBelle, Archie Bell & the Drells, the Soul Survivors, Laura Nyro, the Trammps, McFadden & Whitehead, Phyllis Hyman, the Dells and many more. “We were honored to record our many hits with Philadelphia International Records under the tutelage of Gamble & Huff, who were not only great producers but excellent songwriters for us and the many others on the roster,” said Walter Williams of the O’Jays. “More importantly, we respected these two great men and the PIR record label for nurturing and helping other artists, producers, and writers to also become hitmakers. The O’Jays definitely benefited, even down to this day, from being a part of the Philadelphia International Records family.”
The label produced some of the world’s greatest hit songs such as “ Love Train,” “If You Don’t Know Me by Now,” “For The Love Of Money,” “Don’t Leave Me This Way,” “Me and Mrs. Jones,” “Enjoy Yourself,” “I’m gonna Make You Love Me,” “Only the Strong Survive,” “You’ll Never Find A Love Like Mine,” “Ain’t NoStoppin Us Now,” “TSOP” (better known as the “Soul Train” theme) and many other Top 10 Billboard hits over the past 50 years. The PIR Catalog has some of the most sampled R&B; catalog in the world, appearing on recordings by artists such as Jay-Z, Kanye West, Mary J Blige, Destiny’s Child, Usher, T.I., Chrisette Michele, Cam’ron, Ja Rule, Jaheim, Avant and many more. The iconic “Philadelphia International Records” blue neon sign that adorned the historic “Sound of Philadelphia” building at 309 S. Broad Street was permanently removed this week in final preparations for the famous structure’s demolition. The lowering of the sign symbolized the end of a legendary record label and an era whose music will continue to resonate deeply with “people all over the world” for generations to come.
“It’s a sad day for me,” said Charlie Ingui of the Soul Survivors, who recorded “Expressway to Your Heart” in the “309” building. “We had some great times in that building. The energy every day was unbelievable. It was a place that I just used to love to hang out, running into guys from the Intruders, the Blue Notes, Tommy Bell, and so on. It’s just not going to be the same walking up and down Broad Street. I can close my eyes and really remember every day I was there, seeing the writers go in and out of that back section there, and just the parade of hits, man, it was really great.” As the corporate office for Gamble, Huff and their production and songwriting partner, Thom Bell, the monumental brick “Sound of Philadelphia” building served primarily as the source of the vast music catalog’s worldwide licensing. Their music has been featured prominently in television programs (“The Apprentice”), films (“American Hustle,” “Ice Age II,” “The Nutty Professor”) and advertising spots (Samsung, Coors, Verizon, Old Navy, The Gap) for more than 40 years, entering the musical DNA of contemporary culture.
Prior to the PIR era, this building also was the place where Chubby Checker recorded “The Twist,” and Dee Dee Sharp recorded “The Mashed Potato,” as the home of the legendary Cameo-Parkway record label. Other famous Cameo-Parkway artists who created hits at the “309” studio included Bobby Rydell, the Orlons and the Dovells. “I am honored to say that the 309 Building where Cameo-Parkway Records existed is the house that Chubby built and Gamble, Huff, and Bell immortalized,” said Chubby Checker. “What came out of that building from Cameo-Parkway through to Philadelphia International Records as a result of the greatness of Philadelphia’s music.”
Sigma Sound founder and engineer Joe Tarsia built the original recording studio in 1963 for Cameo-Parkway Records. That studio became Sigma Sound South, most famously known as the in-house studio at Philadelphia International Records for recording many of the label’s artists. Other legends who recorded in the “309” Buildingincluded Sly Stone and Stevie Wonder. “It’s the end of an era,” added Tarsia. “But the music lives on.”
In recent years leading up to the arson fire, the Philadelphia International Records offices had become a major tourist attraction where Michael Jackson, Teddy Pendergrass, Patti LaBelle, the O’Jays, Lou Rawls, Chubby Checker, Billy Paul, the Soul Survivors, and dozens more created worldwide smash hits. From school children to celebrity VIPs, Philadelphia International Records continually hosted visitors eager to see the historic rooms and hallways where the legendary “Sound of Philadelphia” music was created. The offices and recording studios also have been the site of several film documentaries and television specials and media visits, as well as special receptions, including a recent event honoring Motown founder and friend Berry Gordy. Gamble & Huff also originated their recent radio series on Sirius XM from the third-floor recording studios.
The building – owned since 1973 by pioneering songwriting partners Gamble, Huff and Bell – was formally sold this week to Dranoff Properties. The building, ravaged by a 2010 arson fire from which it never recovered, is scheduled to be demolished in 2015 when ground will be broken at that site on the 47-story SLS International hotel and luxury condominium. The span of South Broad Street in front of the building was previously renamed Gamble Huff Walk.
Workers on cherry pickers and ladders carefully removed the “Philadelphia International Records” sign and disassembled it into six pieces, then strapped it piece by piece onto the back of a flatbed truck. The sign was then transported to safe storage with other artifacts and memorabilia from the famous recording studios and offices being preserved for future museum consideration. Chuck Gamble, executive vice president of Philadelphia International Records and Gamble-Huff Music, has overseen the closing of the company and the building, and was on site for the sign’s removal before a the group of onlookers and TV, radio and print media gathered to witness this symbolic passage in the history of popular music.
Legendary producers and songwriters Kenneth Gamble, Leon Huff, and Thom Bell are among the most prolific professional songwriters of all time, having written and produced over 3,500 songs within 50 years, an output rivaling such famed songwriting teams as Lennon-McCartney, Jagger-Richards, and Holland-Dozier-Holland. They are enshrined in American “fabric of music” with a massive catalog that includes numerous pop #1 hits, R&B; #1 hits, including dozens of gold and platinum records that have resulted in Grammy and BMI Songwriter Awards. As one of the most requested Sync Licensing Catalogues, the PIR/Gamble Huff recordings and songs have been featured prominently in television programs (“The Apprentice,” “Cold Case”), films (“American Hustle,” “The Nutty Professor”) and advertising spots (Verizon, Chevrolet, Coors Light, Old Navy, The Gap, Office Max) for more than 30 years, the songs of Gamble, Huff and Bell have entered the musical DNA of contemporary culture. In fact, one of their songs is played on the radio somewhere in the world every 13.5 minutes.
Gamble & Huff have been prestigiously inducted and honored by several Music Halls of Fame including the Grammy-National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences Trustees, Songwriters Hall of Fame, Producers Hall of Fame, Dance Music Hall of Fame, and R&B; Hall of Fame. In 2008, Gamble & Huff were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as the first recipients of the newly created Ahmet Ertegun Award. These music icons are recognized around the world for their contribution to the entire fabric of popular music, joining luminaries like Berry Gordy, Quincy Jones, George Gershwin & Ira Gershwin, The Beatles, and Frank Sinatra. Their songs also have been covered by a myriad of artists including Elvis Presley, the Rolling Stones, Bette Midler, Michael Bublé, Martina McBride, Seal, Simply Red, Johnny Mathis, Lesley Gore, Donny & Marie, Thelma Houston, the Brand New Heavies and more recently, Rod Stewart, who sang four Gamble & Huff classics on his 2009 album, Soulbook.
Gamble & Huff created and are credited for launching one of the most celebrated and historic songwriting partnerships that spawned into a sophisticated sound lovingly crafted in the studio by some of the 20th century’s most influential producers and studio teams — including Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff, Thom Bell, Linda Creed, Gene McFadden and John Whitehead, Bunny Sigler, Dexter Wansel, Bobby Martin, MFSB Orchestra, Baker, Harris and Young, Joe Tarsia (Sigma Sound) and others – Philly Soul set the stage for disco, smooth jazz, adult contemporary music and more.
Gamble & Huff will begin celebrating their 50th Anniversary in 2015 with the projected release of their Autobiographical Book and the launch of their Theatrical Play on their historic Life Story and creation of one of America’s great music catalogs, known as “The Sound of Philadelphia.”