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

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