Sunday, July 16, 2017


Back in the '70's, if you wanted to create a sexy mood, all you had to do was turn down the lights, pop open a bottle of wine and put on a Teddy Pendergrass record. Shifting effortlessly from a seductive whisper to a libidinous growl, this undeniable sex symbol used his robust voice to create songs filled with longing and carnal desires and there was no shame in his game. His live concerts were known to be sensual and sweaty affairs that left his largely female audiences extremely hot and bothered.

Born and raised in Philadelphia, Pendergrass would develop his singing style, not surprisingly, in the church. While it's rumored that he was ordained as a minister at the age of ten, it's factual that he did perform at services as a singer and drummer. As a young man, Pendergrass would join several soul groups playing the drums and providing the occasional vocal. It was during his time with the Cadillacs that would change the course of his musical career.

Harold Melvin, who had his own group The Blue Notes, caught the Cadillacs in concert when Pendergrass took a turn singing at the mike. Thoroughly impressed with his voice, Melvin quickly offered him the chance to be the lead vocalist of The Blue Notes and Pendergrass seized the opportunity. Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes, who hadn't had much commercial success, signed to a new label, Philadelphia International Records in 1971.

With the label's founders, Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff taking a special interest in guiding their new artists, the group had their breakthrough hit the following year with a song written and produced by Gamble & Huff, "If You Don't Know Me By Now" which reached the top of the r&b chart and the top-ten of the pop chart. Other hits soon followed like "Bad Luck", "The Love I Lost" and "Wake Up Everybody" but with big success came bigger problems within the group. Resenting continuously being mistaken for "Harold Melvin", Pendergrass felt his name should be part of the band's title while also unhappy with his financial arrangement with Melvin. In 1975, he decided to leave the group to go solo while Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes, who never found a suitable replacement for Pendergrass, eventually faded in to obscurity.

Teddy Pendergrass released his self-titled debut album in 1977 with it receiving a lot of attention on the soul chart with the help of the singles, "I Don't Love You Anymore" and "The Whole Town's Laughing at Me". With his subsequent albums, he began to chart his path as a sexy balladeer with such seductive bedroom jams as "Close The Door", "Come Go With Me", "Turn Off The Lights" and "Love T.K.O.". When Shep Gordon, Pendergrass' manager,  realized his audiences where largely made up of excited women of all races, he created "women only" concerts that proved to be a very popular gimmick.

By 1982, Pendergrass was at the height of his fame as one of the biggest artists in soul music when tragedy struck the singer in March of that year. He was involved in a terrible car accident that left his passenger with minor injuries but he suffered a spinal cord injury, leaving him paralyzed from the chest down. After spending several years in rehabilitation, Pendergrass triumphantly returned to music in 1984 with the album, "Love Language" and found himself back on the pop charts with "Hold Me", a duet with then-new artist, Whitney Houston. He would later find himself back at number one on the r&b chart with "Joy" in 1988.

After being treated for colon cancer, he later developed severe complications causing respiratory issues and Teddy Pendergrass passed away on January 10th 2010 at the age of fifty-nine. He left behind an powerful body of music that is still able to get people in an amorous mood. Here are two of my favorite songs from the great Teddy Pendergrass:

"When Somebody Loves You Back" - Teddy Pendergrass (1978) mp3

"Come Go With Me" - Teddy Pendergrass (1979) mp3

As a bonus, here is a live version of the Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes' timely hit, "Wake Up Everybody" performed on "Soul Train":

Finally, I couldn't resist giving you the love ballad, "Hold Me" by Mr. Prendergrass and Whitney Houston:


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