RadioFacts: An historic reunion of pioneering producers and friends Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff, and Thom Bell, the iconic co-creators of the Sound of Philadelphia, occurred last week at the Philadelphia International Records offices as “The Mighty Three” of the Philly Sound met to begin discussions to celebrate their 50-year legacy, starting in 2014. More announcements about the Gamble, Huff, and Bell legacy celebration are forthcoming.
Much of Soul music history over the last half century has revolved around great producer/artist combinations, and none was more pleasing than the work of ”Mighty Three” partners Gamble, Huff and Bell. Together, they created the Sound of Philadelphia, the most important and dominant sound of the ‘70s, and the heir to the Motown sound of the ‘60s. As songwriters, musicians, producers and arrangers, Gamble, Huff and Bell established themselves among the most important R&B/Soul music figures of all time. Their Mighty Three Music catalog and publishing company, currently owned by Warner/Chappell Music, is one of the deepest and most enduring catalogs in the history of popular music.
Bell’s work with the Delfonics (“La La Means I Love You,” “Didn’t I Blow Your Mind”), the Stylistics (“You Make Me Feel Brand New,” “Betcha By Golly, Wow”) and the Spinners (“I’ll Be Around,” “Rubberband Man”) became immediately recognizable for its shimmering beauty and exquisite sweetness. When he initially united with the visionary production team Gamble & Huff – who were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2008 – at their newly formed Philadelphia International Records, the classic Philly Soul sound quickly began to take shape. Over the course of seminal releases like Jerry Butler’s 1969 smash “Only the Strong Survive,” Billy Paul’s 1972 smash “Me and Mrs. Jones,” and the Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes classic “If You Dont Know Me by Now,” the Gamble & Huff production aesthetic – an intoxicating combination of sweeping strings, smoky horns, and insistent rhythms – emerged as the definitive soul sound of the early ’70s. With Bell’s impeccable arrangements, the team scored a series of classic hits that also included “Back Stabbers,” “Love Train,” and “For the Love of Money.” Bell also contributed a pair of No. 1 Elton John hits to the Philly Sound – “Philadelphia Freedom” and “Mama Can’t Buy You Love.”
Songs Gamble & Huff have written and produced together include the hits “Back Stabbers,” “Love Train,” “For The Love Of Money,” “If You Dont Know Me By Now,” “Cowboys to Girls,” “Don’t Leave Me This Way,” “Enjoy Yourself,” “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me,” “Only the Strong Survive,” “Expressway to Your Heart,” “Me & Mrs. Jones,” and “TSOP” (better known as the “Soul Train” theme). Their songs comprise the most sampled and covered R&B catalogs in the world, by artists such as Jay-Z, Usher, Mary J. Blige, Kanye West, Michael Buble, and Rod Stewart. Gamble & Huff have recorded and collaborated 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, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, Aretha Franklin, Billy Paul, 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 and Grover Washington Jr.
A major step toward cementing the Gamble & Huff legacy at the highest of levels occurred in 2011, when they signed with William Morris Endeavor (WME) in all areas, including film, television, theater, books, and lecture appearances. That legacy focus has now expanded to include Thom Bell. The WME signing is the first time Gamble, Huff and Bell have enjoyed agency representation of this magnitude, despite having written and produced over 3,500 songs within 50 years, and amassing a catalog that includes numerous pop #1 hits, R&B #1 hits, 100 gold and platinum records, Grammy winners and BMI songwriters’ awards honorees.