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Note to Funk Fans: The Blenders = Soul Hustlers

The following article is by contributor Josh Davis, based on recent conversations he and Jason Perlmutter had with Blenders members Hobart “Bill” Sharpe and Ervin Stowe.

The Blenders didn’t even know they had a third record.

Members of the teenage funk band—one of Winston-Salem’s best in the late 1960s and early ‘70s—were proud of their first two records.  In 1971, they recorded parts 1 and 2 of “Nothing But a Party” for Greensboro producer Walter Grady’s Cobra Records.  A year later the Blenders released a second 45, with the instrumental funk masterpiece “When You Git Through Wit It, Put It Back” on the A-side and “You Got It All, Ain’t No More” on the B-side.  That record came out on Grayslak, a label whose name referenced both Grady and his partner Wayman “Slack” Johnson, a popular disk jockey at the Greensboro black-oriented radio station, WEAL.

All four Blenders sides feature horn-driven, up-tempo instrumental funk, sometimes with a little background chatter.  You can tell from these records that the group listened carefully to Kool and the Gang’s early albums and also James Brown’s J.B.’s band.  Like their musical role models, the Blenders had a huge band, with no fewer than nine instrumentalists: Graham Fletcher on alto saxophone, Brevard Foggie on tenor sax, Michael “Iceman” Douthit on trumpet, Darrell Sharpe on trombone, Hobart “Bill” Sharpe on bass guitar, Ervin Payne on lead guitar, William “Ronnie” Eller on drums, Ervin Stowe on accompanying percussion, and Eugene Bess on organ.  J.C. Moore joined the band as a vocalist for its live performances.

Several years after cutting these records, Blenders member Bill Sharpe came across a curious 45 titled “Super Party” by the group the Soul Hustlers, released on Grady’s Linco label.  Sharpe was surprised that he had never heard of this local band, and he was shocked to read his own name, “H. Sharpe,” listed as the record’s composer.  Once he listened to the 45, he realized he was in fact hearing a song the Blenders had recorded with Grady and possibly cut in the same session as their first two records.  The problem was that Grady, as Sharpe and Stowe recount, hadn’t told anyone in the group that he was releasing the song, and he also forgot to tell the Blenders he was renaming them the Soul Hustlers.

 

The Greensboro entrepreneur may well have played a trick on the Blenders, one that more than a few unsuspecting rookies in the music business have fallen prey to.  As the story typically went, a producer had some talented and trusting kids put down a few tracks in a studio. Then he pressed one or two records from that session right away, but told the band that the other songs weren’t good enough for commercial release.  The producer would hold the “bad” songs in reserve but release them at a later date under another group’s name, preferably on a different label.  Grady added his own strange twist of gratitude to this formula by crediting Sharpe.  Eventually, a number of dubious business deals like these earned the Greensboro producer a memorable nickname among local musicians: “Shady Grady.”

 

The Blenders’ two credited 45s and a live repertoire filled with covers of hits helped them get regular gigs throughout the Carolinas in the early ‘70s.  A knack for publicity didn’t hurt, either.  One day, the band pulled off an elaborate PR stunt by marching on the Winston-Salem Police station in their full stage attire, looking something like Funkadelic in its early days, as Sharpe recalls. But by 1974, the Blenders felt they had outgrown Winston, and they decided to move and make a name for themselves nationally.  They first relocated to Griffin, Georgia, of all places, a small town southwest of Atlanta where they worked as a house band for a club for a several months. From there the band added “Blast” to their name (see header photo), and a string of house gigs took the band to Kansas City, Las Vegas, and even Toronto, but that story will have to wait for another time…

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Soul Hustlers - Super Party Part I

“Smoothed Out on the R&B Tip”

James Funches, who we profiled in Sophisticated Fight Song, has played in a number of memorable ensembles over the last three decades, teaching music within the Forsyth County School System for the better part of that time. Reggie Buie, a native of Chicago, grew up next door to drummer Isaac “Red” Holt, one of Ramsey Lewis’ preferred timekeepers, who would one day comprise one half of the soul-jazz franchise, Young-Holt Unlimited. The two were making decent money backing Carolina vocalist Janice Price, when a performance opportunity arose at Wayne’s Lounge, located in the long-demolished Ramada Inn on N. Marshall Street in downtown Winston-Salem. Buie loaded drum patterns and bass lines onto floppy disks, and the duo played smoothed-out standards and R&B numbers for a consistent crowd. “I wasn’t crazy about it until I saw the first check,” reflected Funches of the sessions. “We got paid like there was six of us!”

Recorded on April 29th, 1993, new jack swing’s newly minted song book was put to good use, with Today’s “Why You Gettin’ Funky on Me” (from the House Party Soundtrack), Johnny Gill’s “Fair-Weather Friend,” and perhaps the genre’s most infamous offering, “Poison,” by Bell Biv Devoe. 

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Bell Biv Devoe’s “Poison,” as performed by Funches & Buie

Bring It Back, That Ol’ Tre Fo Rap


(Click Article to Enlarge)

Wax Poetics is a fantastic publication, for whom I have been granted the liberty of telling many a Carolina tale over the years. The latest, from Issue 40, sheds some light on the roots of Winston-Salem’s permanently burgeoning rap scene. Due to lack of infrastructure and negligent radio, rappers from Winston never seem to gain true traction, and no one’s willing to back me on the brilliance of PWISD’s “Scared of the Tre Fo” (Keep your heads up, fellas). The magazine is available at Borders, Barnes and Noble, and a grip of independent bookstores, most of which can be located here. You’ve got ‘til the end of month. 

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“Must Get Funky” by Resume

Sophisticated Fight Song

Total Sound was recorded at Greensboro’s Crescent City Sound Studios in 1969 as part of a fundraising effort for Winston-Salem State University’s budding stage band, the Swingin’ Rams. “We bought band uniforms with proceeds from that album,” reflects saxophonist James Funches, who is pictured on the cover of this collegiate oddity. Although Total Sound boasts numerous young talents, from Sunshine Band saxophonist Eugene Timmons to future WSSU musical director Emory Jones, we relish “Ram Strutt” for a string of solos by a triumvirate of hometown royalty. Bassist Hobert Sharpe (the Blenders), saxophonist Galvin Crisp (Opus 7), and flutist James Funches (the Eliminators) would all go on to record seminal Carolina soul records upon completing their educations at Winston-Salem State University. Everyone gets an +A!

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Students Pan a Dancing Ban

In the fall of 1957, North Carolina’s State Baptist Convention upheld a 1937 ruling prohibiting dancing on the campus of Wake Forest. After burning Convention president Reverend J.C. Canipe in effigy, the entire student body staged a walkout during the next morning’s mandatory service at Wait Chapel. Nearly two thousand students bunny hopped across campus, dancing well into the night. The protest attracted the attention of Life Magazine, who published an impressive spread on the conflict, quoting an anti-dance delegate as saying, “Dancing deteriorates the spiritual atmosphere, wherever it takes place,” and campus sweetheart/baton operator Linda Kinlaw as saying, “The riot was more fun than a panty raid.”

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The Carolina Soul website serves as a living encyclopedia of soul music made in North and South Carolina. We strive to share Carolinian songs and stories of the last half century, and we invite the input of musicians and fans. We hope you will contact us if you have information on bands or recordings from the region.

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