Interview conducted in person at Teddy's penthouse apartment, Rittenhouse Square, Philadelphia, August 1978
WITH the acceptance and success of Teddy Pendergrass' second solo album for Philly International Records, it seems that he has established himself in the forefront of male entertainers of the day. We got a chance recently to rap with him on a few different subjects concerning his career and this is what he had to say……
Just prior to moving into a brand new house in Philadelphia, Teddy Pendergrass is staying in a luxurious residential apartment/hotel building in the center of the city of Brotherly Love. He's up on the 27th floor and he's playing cuts from his newest Philly International album, "Life Is A Song Worth Singing" and anticipating that, with the latest reports, it's likely to be a platinum album for him.
Certainly, since it shipped gold, Teddy found himself achieving a 'first' since he's the first artist with Philly International to have achieved such a feat.
We're relaxing, drinking some grape juice in Teddy's lounge, very tastefully furnished, comfortable, with a hand-painted portrait taken from the cover of his debut album displayed prominently for all to see. Teddy's mother drops by for a moment, as does one of his security men.
The phone rings pretty constantly and the man they call "Teddy Bear" is ready to rap...
On being on the road: "I'm out there for a cause so it's worthwhile but, yes, it's a lot of wear and tear. My current tour started out with just two months but with the way things have been going, I didn't want to take on any more dates because my money was increasing.
"But the road is o.k. if you have the right people with you. People who can deal with your sound, your lighting, things like that. That means, I don't always have to deal with soundchecks and things like that myself.
"A typical day would probably involve going to a radio station in whatever town I'm in, doing maybe a few interviews and getting ready for a concert. I generally try to just steal some time by myself when I'm preparing for the show.
"And I don't find it as exhausting as it was when I was with a group because you don't have to deal with things like rounding people up, working on harmonies together and so on. Sure, we still rehearse but we're more self-contained now - I'm carrying my own horn section and so on, and that helps because we know we have a good tight unit.
"Generally, now I'll work maybe four days out of a week and then either come home to Philly or stay where I am and rest. I don't do that six or seven days a week thing anymore because it is tiring."
On the message in the music: "Now that's really important. I had a very religious upbringing, so having a message is always going to be there, it's a part of me. And you know what I say in my songs — "Somebody Told Me (To Deliver This Message)" or "Wake Up Everybody" or, in the new album, "Cold, Cold World" — is just as important for me as it is for the audience. Because it keeps me from going left like some entertainers do, so I listen to what I'm singing.
"That same basic concept is always going to be in there but say on this new album, it's maybe not as spiritually or religiously oriented. You have to be very careful with the way you do something in that area because if you push it too heavily, people misinterpret, take it the wrong way, as if you are preaching at them."
On personal freedom: "Sure, the profession requires a sacrifice and if there were anything I could say I might resent, it's that loss of total freedom. But it's almost like an occupational hazard although I wouldn't want to call it that. Basically, here in Philly, it's cool. People know me and they may holler 'hey Teddy' when they see me but I can usually go ahead and do whatever I have to do without too much hassle from people.
"I guess it just goes with the whole thing and after all, once people stop showing that kind of interest, that's when you've got problems!"
On general future direction: "I'll probably get into producing other acts, something in a behind the scenes kind of capacity. Not that I think I'll stop completely being an entertainer but I do want to branch off into some other things."
On competition: "Now, if you're talking about in terms of being on a bill with some other acts, no, I don't think about it. I go out there and do my very best. But in general? Sure, I keep attuned to what's happening in the business with other people. I tune in with other artists particularly the superstars — the Marvin Gayes, the Stevies, Charley Pride — whoever is really up there.
"I listen to the radio a great deal more so than probably listening to records — if I hear something I particularly like, I may well get more into it. But I'd say one guy I listen to in particular is Nat King Cole."
On a philosophy on life: "A few things. Love what you do, do it with honesty and sincerity, do the best you can. In whatever you do, it's going to be tough at the beginning, always a sacrifice but it's worth it. Oh, and please emphasize that aside from doing the best you can, make sure you "git da mon-e-e-e-e!"
"But, also seriously, I think it's important for people to be open-minded, able to listen and learn. Say with me, it's important that I pass on what I've learned. You know, my advice to young people would simply be not to let this "cold, cold world get you down"! You know, get that monkey off your back!"
On songwriting: "Well, I'm already a songwriter! I wrote a cut on the Evelyn "Champagne" King album — "Dancin' Dancin', Dancin'" — it's the flipside of "Shame". I'd like to do some more but basically it would be for other people. I think i could be more successful writing for others rather than for me.
"Maybe one day I'll write something for myself but it would have to be directly from a particular experience, something that happened. But, right now, I feel Kenny (Gamble) and Leon (Huff) are putting songs together that say what I want to say."
On the general moral climate: "Naturally, I'd like to think that it's getting better but it's hard to really tell. People tend to follow anything that's different. Sure, I think that what entertainers do, how they behave is going to reflect with people.
"A lot of people see you — maybe backstage, after a show, whenever — and the way you are, what you do, they're going to notice. So it is important to keep a good image for young people to help improve things."
About the Writer
David Nathan is the founder and CEO of SoulMusic.com and began his writing career in 1965; beginning in 1967, he was a regular contributor to Blues & Soul magazine in London before relocating to the U.S. in 1975 where he served as U.S. editor for the publication for several decades and began being known as 'The British Ambassador Of Soul.' From 1988 to 2004, he wrote prolifically for Billboard, has penned bios, produced and written liner notes for box sets and reissue CDs for over a thousand projects. He returned to London in 2009 where he has helped create SoulMusic.com Records as a leading reissue label.