DARK & STORMY SOUL VINTAGE, WITH TEDDY PENDERGRASS
Teddy Pendergrass epitomised Philly Soul, perhaps like no other artist. Pendergrass rose to fame as the lead singer of Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, though hardly anyone realised that he was the lead vocal and de facto band leader. He left The Blue Notes over financial disputes in 1976 (after discovering Harold Melvin himself slept, quite literally, on bed of cash). After that, his run of success almost made him a legend as a solo artist - almost. A new documentary film ‘Teddy Pendergrass - If You Don’t Know Me’, directed by Olivia Lichtenstein, tells his fascinating story. The film plays out more like a human drama with elements of thriller than a music doc. It is an excellent film of a compelling subject, referred to by some as the “Black Elvis”.
Overtly sexual (and some say overtly black), Teddy was an impossibly good-looking man with a beautiful voice. But he was much more than that, as the new film reveals. Charming and good humoured, Pendergrass was a talented performer and arranger of songs, an assured band leader and well meaning, if complex family man. He coped with a rougher than rough upbringing in Philadelphia (filthadelphia as he himself once termed the city) with an absent (subsequently murdered) father, and later as a famous musician, suffered continued police persecution and some say, had shady connections to the black mafia - the latter never more than alluded to in the film, except read on.
After the Blue Notes, Pendergrass launched a successful solo career under the Philadelphia International label, releasing four consecutive platinum albums, which no other African-American R&B artist had ever done. Alas, his career came literally to a crashing halt when he ran his mint-green Rolls Royce off the road in 1982 in heavily suspicious circumstances (was it that mafia connection that had someone tampering with the brakes, which Teddy claimed failed him in the moment?). He was paralysed from the chest down and with his singing days apparently over, subsequently fell into suicidal depression. Only he recovered, both spiritually enlightened and eventually empowered to continue singing and making music.
Who even remembers the fact that he made an emotional appearance during the Philadelphia Live Aid set in 1985? Yet there it is, the second music film to feature a Live Aid set in this past year. To celebrate the film, we bring back another special edition Dark & Stormy Soul, this time featuring vintage Pendergrass, with other choice cuts curated by (white, millennial) Zach Fuller.
Zach says he put this collection together as “a dusty, yet smokey collection, dug up from the depths of the digital crate. Some familiar names, some obscure, all best consumed with the lights off’. Didn’t Teddy Pendergrass once advise same by way of song? We say best consumed, as usual, with an accompanying cocktail (let’s leave leave the hot oils for now Teddy).
The usual applies: You may be coping with adversity, large or small. Or you might have just been dumped from a great height, or just be in need of a good cry at the state of the world and your place in it right now. Let these tunes soothe you. Maybe seek out a dark rum, some ginger beer and lime slice, on copious quantities of ice. Yes, Dark & Stormy indeed. Drink up, it’ll be fine…
Playback notes: We recommend you play from start to finish, preferably after dark. Shuffle only if desperate, and do not even consider skipping tracks. Thank you patrons of soul!