When “Teddy Bear” Went Solo
Teddy Pendergrass – Teddy Pendergrass (Philadelphia International/CBS – 1977)
From David Ruffin’s disastrous exit from The Temptations to Chaka Khan’s mountain-moving launch from Rufus, The History of R&B Music is full of stories about singers that left groups to “go solo.” Among the most triumphant was when Theodore “Teddy” Pendergrass stepped away from Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes with a self-titled debut solo album that delivered in spades, firing on all critical and commercial cylinders.
The year was 1977 and for the better of the decade’s years prior, Teddy had swiftly become the star lead singer of The Blue Notes. He was originally the drummer in the group’s backup band before it was discovered he was a powerhouse singer that could lift the group from anonymity into a hit-making force for Philadelphia International Records (P.I.R.) – the mighty CBS-affiliated record company founded by songwriter/producers Kenny Gamble & Leon Huff. This began with the 1972 chart-topping Gold-sellers “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” and “The Love I Lost” as well as “I Miss You,” “Bad Luck” and “Satisfaction Guaranteed (Or Take Your Love Back).” So galvanizing was Pendergrass’ appeal that the group’s third album for P.I.R. in Spring of 1975, To Be True, was billed as Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes featuring Theodore Pendergrass.
By the Winter of 75’s rush-released Wake Up Everybody album, jealousy reached irreversible peaks when group founder/leader Harold Melvin became fed up with people mistaking Pendergrass for him and some not so kind R&B fans wondering out loud why his name was even still top on the marquee. During this period, soft-spoken crooner Melvin had only sung lead on one hit for his group: a duet with special guest Sharon Paige entitled “Hope That We Can Be Together Soon” – a Billboard #1 – but Teddy even stole his thunder on that! The bitter truth is painfully evident on a classic installment of “Soul Train” when they performed the song live. After fill-in host Richard Pryor introduced the number, sung live to a prerecorded track, the camera operator lingered longingly on the image of Pendergrass merely swaying behind Paige as she sang her verse then Melvin, near-imperceptible, singing his verse…far too soft-spoken to bring the creamy soul ballad home. Then here comes Teddy, singing just a couple of lines to which Paige gamely ad libs under him…but not once uttering a single syllable in response to Melvin’s soul seduction. By the time Teddy takes the song out with country preacher firepower, the picture was clear. It was time for this soul man to step out on his own.
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