||March 9, 2012
“BURN BABY BURN”
- . . . Jimmy Ellis , lead singer of the Trammps , a premier R&B/disco vocal/instrumental group produced by the Baker-Harris-Young team in Philadelphia , died Thursday of Alzheimer’s disease.
- The group, best known for “ Disco Inferno ” (“I heard somebody say . . . Burn baby down, burn the mutha down”), which was featured in the movie soundtrack, had a long list of seminal recordings, first known to dance music insiders and released on the Buddah , Golden Fleece and then Atlantic record labels.
- . . . “Up above my head I hear music in the air . . . that makes me know there’s a party somewhere . . .”
- . . . Ellis’s wailing, exciting, infectious voice jumped out as lead singer of the multi-man group (anywhere from a 9 to 11-man ensemble ) and compelled everyone to hustle out to that dance floor and do like John Travolta (in Saturday Night Fever ) and millions of others did.
- . . . Whatever made you move to the groove.
- . . . “ Jimmy was straight out of church,” said Bobby Eli , guitarist/arranger/producer and original member of the group, in an interview with philly.com .
- . . . “He had a scream on him that couldn’t be touched. He was the voice of the disco era for the ‘ Sound of Philadelphia’ . . .”
- Actually, “ Disco Inferno ” was a metaphor used to describe how “people were gettin’ down on the roof . . . when the boogie started to explode”-likening the action to burning flames.
- . . . “I’m not talkin’ about burning down a building,” rapped Ellis . “Talkin’ ‘bout my soul ( Chorus: “Just can’t stop”) . . . Soul funk ( Chorus: “When my spark gets hot”) . . . “Burning in my soul . . . don’t you rescue me . . . let my spirit burn free . . .”
- NAME ORIGIN. The reason the group used a second “ m ” in the name was to distinguish them from the negative connotation that the word “ tramp ” meant.
- . . . According to Edward Cermanski , keyboard player and manager of the group, and reported by CBS FM radio in New York , they started out by singing on street corners and the police called them “tramps.”
- . . . But they wanted to be known as “ high-class tramps ” so that’s why they added the second “ m .”
- The clubs were hopping back in the early to mid-70s and Ellis asked in another song of the era: “Where were you when the lights went out (‘ The Night the Lights Went Out ’)” in New York City , a paean to the blackout which gripped the city in 1977 .
- . . . “I was makin’ love; she was makin’ love; he was makin’ love . . .”
- . . . At first the Trammps were somewhat underground but the disco deejays in the dance clubs of the time were hip to the great, emerging Philly Soul sound, which was created at the city’s Sigma Sound studios and engineered by Joe Tarsia .
- . . . It featured a crack in-house band/orchestra called MFSB ( Mother, Father, Sister, Brother ) which specialized in ultimate dancefloor-friendly R&B productions as well as beautifully arranged slow jams.
- . . . A driving rhythm section with that famous high-hat cymbal , accented with Don Renaldos’s sweeping strings (and horns) which swirled around the tunes and propelled the recordings and everyone who flocked to the dancefloors.
- . . . (The home label of this sophisticated rhythm and blues music was Philadelphia International Records ( PIR ), established by songwriting/producing team Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff .
- . . . A common-held belief that dance music stripped the soul out of R&B is, to me, a misconception.
- . . . Granted, the music labeled “ disco ” was, at times, silly and frivolous (i.e., “ The Ethel Merman Disco Album ”) but most of it featured voices and groups ( Loleatta Holloway , Gloria Gaynor , Harold Melvin & The Bluenotes Featuring Teddy Pendergrass , the O’Jays , the Spinners ) that represented the best in nailing the emotion and soulfulness of the revered genre.
- The Trammps’s albums were loaded with songs that equaled their chart hits and were considered by disco aficionados as hidden gems (“ Body Contact Contract ,” “ Disco Party ”).
- . . . They were often heard only in the clubs which, back then, played not what was on the radio but what was more obscure and “ bubbling under ” (the hit charts), as music trade magazine Billboard called it.
- . . . SIDENOTE : Deejays often didn’t like to take song requests from club patrons but rather insisted on playing what they liked, what drove the crowd and what represented discriminating tastes from the underground dance music experts and nightclub denizens.
- The original recordings the Trammps made were often longer mixes ( 6 , 7 , 8 and even 9 minutes long) than that which made the charts which were, many times, edited versions more suited to radio airplay.
- . . . They often featured instrumental breaks which occurred in the middle of the song, stripping it down of key elements of the instrumentation, then bringing it back up step-by-step, adding individual instruments along the way, the song gaining momentum as returned to its full mix.
- . . . The “ breakdown ” drove the dancing mobs wild with anticipation and then release; hands raised high, hammering the air with the excitement of the music and the crowds boogie-ing to it.
- . . . This is what the Trammps’s music did. And Jimmy Ellis’s voice punctuated it all.
- . . . UH . . . That’s Where the Happy People Go - The Trammps (from their album of the same name), on Atlantic Records , 1976 .
- . . . “Disco . . . That’s where the happy people go . . . And they’re just dancing along . . . to a perfect song . . . down at the disco . . .”
© Rocci Fisch/Random Thoughts
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