UNTIL they got caught up in the mad disco scramble — though admittedly they were one of the trendsetting groups in that category — the five Tavares brothers had built their reputation on good, strong and solid Soul material.
Their first hit was back in '73 and with a gorgeous ballad, "Check It Out". And until "Heaven Must Be Missing An Angel" took them off into that disco direction in 1976, the brothers were R&B loyalists with such epic successes as the beautiful "She's Gone" and "It Only Takes A Minute" — a disco record that succeeded prior to the tag 'disco' being created.
Tavares' last couple of albums were strictly disco-pop and the general feeling within the R&B fraternity was that the brothers had gone too far to turn back. Wrong! Late last year, the quintet confounded their critics by bouncing back to Soulville with "Never Had A Love Like This Before", a solid, stone Soul smash that was produced by the legendary Bobby Martin and that carried the guys right back into the R&B charts — at the expense (sadly) of pop sales.
To consolidate on their rebirth, the album of "Madam Butterfly" was also an immediate R&B hit. One got the feeling that the Black radio stations and R&B buyers wanted Tavares back and it seems that the feeling was mutual.
"It's like going back to our roots," admitted Ralph Tavares in a recent (and very frank) conversation. "We have deliberately gone back to vocal harmonies to win back our fans.
"I think it's true to say that we got too caught up in disco. Though, we haven't left disco behind — in fact, you'll find a couple of disco things on the "Madam Butterfly" album. And "Straight From The Heart" could even be our next single — though the ballads, "Games, Games" and "Bruises" are also being considered. But having had R&B success with "Never Had A Love Like This Before" has made us feel much better. We were getting tired of that…flip-flop music!
"Looking back, "Heaven Must Be Missing An Angel" was one of the very first disco records and we really never intended to get so caught up in it. But it was successful and how do you drop success? But we intended to show our versatility, because that is the only way we can attain longevity. That disco tag isn't going to give us the image we need to keep us around for as long as we intend to be out there."
However, the disco acceptance gave Tavares a head start, it made them into one of the most successful international acts that America has ever had.
"I wish we could be as popular at home as we are overseas," jokes Ralph. "In Britain, we are always well received — I'd say it was our biggest market. American audiences seem to be more fickle than European fans."
Tavares' future itinery supports their new title of the International Ambassadors of Soul. This year has already seen them visit Argentina, El Salvador and Guatemala and May sees them in Australia. And during the summer months, they'll be making their first trip to South Africa.
"At first, we didn't want to go — and we still would not set foot in Rhodesia," Ralph says. "But we talked with people like Stevie Wonder and Johnny Mathis who have been there; and they said they were treated nicely and that they like it there. I think we are all looking forward to experiencing Africa after having seen in it "Roots".
"And we have been invited to appear in Tanzania on June 30 for their Africa Day Concert. I understand that Stevie, Marvin Gaye and Quincy Jones are also going to be there. That's something that we are looking forward to, also."
On returning from their tours, the brothers will start work on their next album — just in time for the Christmas market. "If "Madam Butterfly" goes Gold, Bobby Martin will get the job automatically," Ralph enthuses. "But the company has suggested that we should consider producing ourselves. Our feeling, though, is that we could try doing that a little later on and that Bobby would be perfect. It was Bobby, for example, who brought Sam Dees' songs to us and we would like to do some more of his songs for the next album. It's little things like that that make Bobby Martin such a wonderful guy to work with."
At which point, we left Ralph to rejoin his brothers on their mini-trek around Los Angeles, where they were saying 'thank you' to everybody who had voted for their share in the Grammy award winning "Saturday Night Fever". Tavares were featured singing "More Than A Woman".
But for all the glitter and gloss, I got the feeling that Ralph was happiest about their return to the R&B charts with "Never Had A Love Like This Before".
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.