As the studio band of
Philadelphia International, MFSB was responsible for the grooves behind
dozens of classic tunes, including “Love Train,” “If You Don’t Know Me By
Now,” “When Will I See You Again,” and “I’ll Always Love My Mama.”
Their unique blend of
danceable rhythms with a trace of latin influence and sweet string
arrangements inaugurated a new chapter in soul music and made household
names of the O’Jays, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, Blue Magic, and
Billy Paul, most of whom failed to have much success without their
In addition to their duties with PIR, they cut sessions for a
variety of artists looking for some of that Philly magic.
The group was comprised of
the cream of Philly musicians, many of whom had played together since the
mid 60s, when they recorded “The Horse” for local producer Jesse
James. Unfortunately, their
experience in cutting “The Horse” foreshadowed the difficulty the band
would have in terms of being properly compensated.
Originally called in for
what they thought would be a normal session with James, the musicians
discovered there was no real tune to cut, and they set about crafting a
backing track for the sparse vocal (“Love Is All Right”). James was so
impressed with the results that he decided not to bother with a B-side,
simply using the instrumental since he was confident he had a hit on his
hands. As fate would have it,
the instrumental dwarfed the vocal in popularity and is one of the most
memorable instrumentals in history. With “The Horse” riding the top of the
charts, group leader Bobby Martin attempted to secure some extra
compensation from Jesse James, but was flatly turned down.
experience made it easier for the group to join forces with Kenny Gamble
and Leon Huff when they came calling in 1971. Their production work with Dusty
Springfield and Wilson Pickett had set them up as a possible successor to
Motown and Stax for soul supremacy, and to ensure the stability of their
sound, they secured a loose agreement with the musicians, now known as
MFSB (Mother Father Sister Brother).
This arrangement was finalized with the signing of individual
musicians to a contract. The creative core of MFSB was drummer Earl
Young, bassist Ronnie Baker, vibist Vince Montana, and guitarist Norman
Harris. Other prominent members were TJ Tindall, Bobby Eli, Lenny
Pakula, and Roland Chambers.
MFSB had already cut an
album of jazzy soul remakes when Gamble and Huff were contacted by Don
Cornelius to create an original tune to serve as the theme for his show
Soul Train. The untitled
instrumental proved to be extremely popular with the show’s audience, and
once it was released as “TSOP,” MFSB found themselves with a number one
single and Grammy in 1974 for best instrumental.
talk about MFSB without mentioning their greatest tune, "Love Is The
Message." The 1973 song was almost immediately hailed as a club
classic and continues to be recognized as one of the most influential
dance songs of all time.
By the end of 1975, Baker,
Harris, Young and Montana had become unhappy
with their lack of songwriting royalties, since they frequently created
the backing tracks themselves
only to watch Gamble and Huff claim sole credit for the
compositions. An ultimatum
was issued to the label owners that reportedly demanded $100,000 each for
their services. When they
balked at those terms, the disenchanted members struck out on their own,
taking their sound to Salsoul Records. As the newly titled Salsoul
Orchestra, they backed First Choice, Loleatta Holloway and other Salsoul
Meanwhile, Gamble and Huff quickly organized MFSB behind the
skills of Dexter Wansel and McFadden and Whitehead. But aside
from their version of "K-Jee" from the Saturday Night Fever
soundtrack and "Summertime And I'm Feeling Mellow" in 1976, subsequent
MFSB recordings were largely ignored.
They did manage a final hit
in 1980's "Mysteries Of The World" before disbanding in 1981.