Valerie Holiday (The Three Degrees): “Recording with Gamble and Huff was magic”

Jeudi 18 Avril 2013

Interview with Valerie Holiday from The Three Degrees. The band is coming to Japan and Europe this summer. Valerie Holiday talks about her career, the Sound of Philadelphia, Gamble & Huff and Giorgio Moroder.

Valerie Holiday (The Three Degrees): “Recording with Gamble and Huff was magic”
Like many R&B singers, you started to sing at church. What are your memories of that time? Is it the best school to learn to sing?

I have so many memories of my childhood growing up in Atlanta and Boston. My fondest one are of going to church and hearing the songs. They influenced me quite a bit. The songs were not accompanied with instruments as they are in today's churches. The rhythms were kept with clapping of hands and feet patting so the moods were always so moving and you heard all the words. Each was a prayer for strength or of praise of thanksgiving.

As I matured and moved to Boston, I was part of the different choirs in my church which added to my learning, they gave me a chance to lead songs and put my feeling into the words, sing them the way I felt them.

So when I began my career singing I had my own sound, even after listening to my favorite singers Ms Wilson, Streisand, Franklin. I would not say it's the only school to learn from, but it's kept me grounded and gives me peace to have a religious background to go to.

Philadelphia seems to be the place to be for an R&B band at the beginning of the 70’s. How was the life and the music scene there at the time?

You're right as so many groups came out of Philly. Having Richard Barrett as our manager at the time, we traveled quite a bit to other states to promote the group, so we did not spend much time after I joined the group in Philly.

We rehearsed a lot and worked on our stage presence, choreography and harmonies, which kept us pretty busy most of the time. Las Vegas was a place we spent quite a bit of time, as well as touring all over the U. S. working rooms like the Copa and Americana.

You worked with the producers and composers Gamble & Huff who created the Philadelphia sound. Could you tell me how was the recording sessions with them?

Recording with Gamble and Huff was magic. Huff would play the songs and Kenny would sing them, so we got the vibe from they, as to how they wanted the song to go. We'd them practice to learn the words, then would go to the studio and put our feel together with their musical arrangements. It was always a good recording session as we were given the opportunity as artist to develop our sound, and they, Gamble and Huff as producers were always happy with the results!

It was a pleasure to work with them, looking forward to what you'd sing next. We were sorry to leave but we were not in charge at the time!

The musicians that play with you on the recording sessions later formed the MSFB. How was the ambiance among MSFB members?

To work with musicians who are as anxious as you to get it right and sounding great was a pleasure. We'd sing as they recorded the music sometimes and on some of the songs they kept the vocals as the mix was just right!! It was always professional and friendly!

Philadelphia International Records was a real hit factory with a great deal of famous artists. Was it built and organized on the model of Tamla Motown? Were the artists considered as artists or employees?

No it was not a reflection of Motown. If you notice the instrumentation was different. A lusher sound. There was a different sweetness, groove wise and musically. We were treated as artist, but as employees not all things with business went smooth!

The Philadelphia sound is still very popular now even for the young generations. Did you realise how ground-breaking and wonderful this sound was at the time?

The music has stood the test of time because the artist put their hearts and souls into all that was done I feel. So the songs are very popular now and sampled with the younger generation... (laugh)

Little did we know we'd be hearing our songs sung and performed by artist now. We just enjoyed what we did and gave our all, emotionally and vocally!

A part of the Three Degrees success came from its choreographies and the beauty of its singers, the costumes, the hairstyle. Were you involved in it or did you have an artistic director to teach you how to dance and how to dress?

In my early years, our manager Richard Barrett decided what we'd wear,we'd all go out shopping with him in town. Our "Hot Pants" era was his decision, these were made for us by a company in Philadelphia called James & Co. They were mostly costume designers for the famous "Mummers Parade". We always had the gowns we loved, also having some things made by Bill Whitten, when we went to Los Angelos for the Sanford & Son show. It was fun, some strange and difficult to perform in but fun. Up to about the 70's, just after Fayette left, we had a new member, so we decided to get a different designer. Barbara Bell kept us looking fab with her designs and we loved them as it was easier, we always had the final decision. Our hair styles were decided upon by each individual. I look at a couple of mine now and wonder... (laugh)

As for our choreography and vocals they were always our ideas. RB would listen and watch, let us know if it was ok. Backings for recordings as well as stage. when time to do it all became difficult, some of the songs we'd get choreographers to help with, certain production songs like "McArthur's Park", "Beatles Medley", others not so produced we'd do like the "Philly Medley". We would do the less challenging songs in our show... (laugh)

For as long as we had our manager he would tell us what songs he felt should be in our shows. When he left in 1980 we had to make the decisions ourselves, and still do.

It's hard sometime now as music is not what it use to be as far as lyrics are concerned but we have enough songs that are ours, and between those we put songs by artist we like and can sing without feeling weird about the words. One of our openers is "Shake Your Groove Thing" and as of late we perform for a closer " Boogie Wonderland". We think of replacing it but the reaction we get every time we perform it is so great we've kept it in. We gave it our own spin and we get the audience singing and moving!! So those years of being told by RB what to sing have paid off!

Later in the 70’s, you worked with Giorgio Moroder, the famous producer of Donna Summer. How did it happen?

We met Giorgio when we signed with Ariola records. It was a good relationship there too, as he gave us a chance to use our song writing abilities.

How were the recording sessions with Giorgio Moroder ?

Working with Giorgio was good, different from Gamble & Huff as the song were given to us as demos on tape, so we decided what to sing. There were other songwriters as well. The material was different as it was during the Disco era but we gave it our best and got several hits from up tempos as well as the ballads we did.

"Giving up Giving in" is a very amazing song of your Moroder period. The singing is more agressive and you used to sing it dressed like amazons in very tight trousers. It is a really different style. Who’s idea was it and how did you feel with this change?

Whatever we sing we give it all our feeling. Whether you like the song or not, you don't know what the producer will do, so we give each our best. The costumes were just extra. Times had changed and we knew we had to keep up with the industry, so we went into the disco era with as much gusto as ever, staying with what we felt the public would accept from us,and keeping our sound! That was most important!

This summer, you will tour in Japan and in Europe with dates in the UK, in the Netherlands and in Belgium. Is there a chance to see you in other European countries?

As the schedule is pretty full for the rest of this year, next year may be an opportunity to get to more places, as we are always looking to revisiting and going to new places too! (laugh)

Bookmark and Share

Boris Plantier