FEVER is never a very appetising thought but the way that the Sylvers family enthuse over the "Boogie Fever", it sounds like it might be worth going without an innoculation against that one. But that particular record also brings to light another somewhat curious fact — have you noticed how many soul artists hit the big-time when they switch from one label to another.
After a legal hassle that spanned several months, the Sylvers were finally allowed to sign the Capitol contract that had been in their possession for more time than they would care to think about.
The ninesome are genuine brothers and sisters and span a ten year age period between 24 and 14. Olympia is the eldest at 24; then comes Leon, 23, the group's spokesman; then Charmaine, 21; James, 20; Edmund, 19; Ricky, 17; Angie, 15; Pat, 15; and finally Foster, who at 14 is the youngest. The four youngest were born in their present home city of Los Angeles whilst the others hail from South Bend, Indiana — with the exception of Edmund who was born in Memphis.
Articulate Leon picks up the story of the family's musical origin: "We started out back in the early 60's as the Little Angels. Then we were just the oldest four but as the others became old enough, they were naturally drafted into the group. But after a few years, we decided to go into retirement because we had to concentrate on our education and that's the way it stayed until 1970."
It was in 1971 that they became involved in the entertainment world again. At that point, there were six in the group. Because of their youth, they were spotlighted by many big names as a gimmick type of support but this they accepted quite willingly because it meant that they were able to attain what they wanted for themselves — recognition.
The list of people they worked with during that two years period reads like a Who's Who of the superstars — Ann-Margret, Sammy Davis Jr., Andy Williams and Pearl Bailey and Las Vegas was the usual work place.
They became so well-known in showbiz circles that a record contract was only a matter of time — and so in 1972 they joined the newly formed Pride Records, which was to be the R&B wing of the free-spending MGM company. Success came first time out via "Fool's Paradise", a song that Leon wrote but that was produced by Jerry Butler.
Though success continued for the ensuing two years, it was a hard-earned success and not everything was happy with the circumstances surrounding the group. There were two main problems — firstly, the company (and just about everyone around them at the time) was projecting them into the answer to the Jackson 5. And secondly the company wasn't really geared to promote R&B music.
As the family expanded to the current nine, MGM pulled Foster out from the group and tried to do a Michael Jackson with him. It was a formula that worked again at first but people tended to make comparisons between the Jacksons and Sylvers and, naturally, the Jacksons won out because they were first — and also because the Sylvers themselves didn't want to go in that direction.
They possess too much inborn talent and ability to merely follow an existing direction and that was the basis for their lawsuit against all concerned that ended with their freedom from MGM and their management company just over a year ago.
But not everything at MGM went wrong and it would be quite incorrect of us to make that suggestion. As a group, they were very successful with "Fool's Paradise", "Wish That I Could Talk To You" and "We Can Make It If We Try". And young Foster had enjoyed the biggest success of all with "Misdemeanors", which sold only a fraction short of a million.
The period between record labels was particularly frustrating, though. "We tried to relax and concentrated on rehearsing for when we could start up again," Leon remembers. "We were lucky that we had money still coming in from songs that we had written and the royalties that were coming in from them."
They also took on a new manager and the whole family freely admit the debt that they owe to Al Ross already. It was he who went to Capitol with the plans for a new album when their MGM situation was cleared. Capitol was at that time expanding its interest in R&B product and they signed the family up and Freddie Perren was selected as producer. Perren's success includes hits with the Jacksons, the Miracles, Edwin Starr and a whole bunch of other Motown names.
Immediate success came via "Boogie Fever" which, despite the group's denials, still puts them into a J5 type of bag. "We really feel we've gotten away from that Jackson 5 image," Leon suggests adamantly. "But I guess with Foster still having that high voice, we'll always be compared."
An album was completed and released — dubbed "Showcase" — and it is split into two distinct directions. There's the J5 side of things when the guys take vocal control and there's the smoother 5th Dimension type sound when the four girls take lead.
Perhaps, the best way to underline their ability is to mention that the family is totally self-contained with Leon on bass, James (the family actually call him Jonothan) on piano and all keyboards, Ricky on guitar and Edmund on drums. Foster also plays bass and though the sisters only sing on stage, they each play an instrument, too.
Angie plays violin, Pat plays flute and piano, Charmaine plays violin and Olympia writes poetry — which is nearly an instrument!
What most people don't know is that the two younger Sylvers are growing up in preparation for the time when they can be drafted into the first team squad. There's Chris, 9, and Michael, 7.
Right now, they are all on top of the world because "Boogie Fever" has just passed the million sales mark in the States, thus proving the scientists totally wrong — the family have proven that sylver can turn into gold!