John Abbey talks to the 9-piece outfit who are storming the U.S singles and albums charts
IT'S funny how some record companies have a certain charisma, a touch of class. Without doubt, A&M possesses that aura and although they are certainly not overloaded with black acts, virtually every act on their books attains prominence.
Proof of that statement comes from last month's award of three Gold black albums to the company — for LTD, Quincy Jones and the Brothers Johnson, whose "Blam" album shipped Gold and has since reached Platinum status.
So, when A&M boast about a new act, the wise scribe is the one who sits up and takes notice. Thus, you are about to be introduced to Atlantic Starr, a nine-piece self contained band who, at the time of writing, are beginning to climb both single and album charts. However, by the time you actually come to read these words, my hunch is that the single, "Stand Up", will be Top 10 and the album will be either golden or as close as is possible.
You have to go back to 1970 to trace the roots of this exciting new group and to White Plains, New York — which is where the nation's largest telephone exchange is (courtesy of the Useless Information Dept.). There were three local groups — Newban, Exact Change and Unchained Youth. Of the three, only Newban survived and as the other two collapsed, the cream was drafted into Newban.
Of the actual original group, Joe Phillips (congas, flute), Jonothan Lewis (trombone, percussion) Cliff Archer (bass), Bill Sudderth (trumpet) and Porter Carroll (drums and vocals) remain. In 1975, vocaliste Sharon Bryant from Exact Change joined up and shortly after, Jonathan's two brothers, David and Wayne, hooked up then from Unchained Youth. The band is completed by Damon Rentie, who didn't join until the band had settled in Los Angeles, two years back.
Anyway, all of this New York activity wasn't rewarded too well and when they got the opportunity of heading east to France for two weeks, they jumped at it. That was in January of 1976 and the band acknowledge that as being their first step forward.
On returning home, they got a phone call asking them to come west to Los Angeles to appear at a special dinner marking the 20th Anniversary Reunion for the Spinners and from that point on, they have never looked back.
Two days after arriving in the February California sun, they hooked up with their manager, Earl Cole Jr., who had also arrived from snowbound New York. For the next twelve months or so, they played local dates and formed the foundation for which they could build their future on.
They signed with a local production company, the Wesiman Company, and made a 24 track demonstration master which formed the basis of their signing to A&M. In fact, two of the songs from that original tape are on the current album — though recorded completely anew. They are "Stand Up", the hard-hitting disco flavored single that is currently carrying them up the charts; and "Don't Abuse My Love".
It was in November 1977 that they signed their contract with A&M and in the same month they became Atlantic Starr.
"We have worked hard to get to this point," explains their drummer and spokesman, Porter Carroll. "And it's nice to get some acceptance on our first album. But we know we can do better and I think you'll see a general expansion when it comes time to cut the second album — that'll probably be early in the new year.
"We feel there are several singles on there but obviously, "Stand Up", is the one. I think, too, that "Gimme Your Luvin" is an obvious single. People have been comparing us on the uptempo material to B.T. Express and Brass Construction so I guess it must be in our blood because we all come from the New York area. We certainly don't feel influenced by them, though."
On listening to their debut album, there is a fresh new sound to their music. "I think the fact that we have four lead vocalists helps," Porter suggests. "We have three guys and Sharon, all who sing lead and that makes us feel a little unique. We also have a self-contained brass section and that also gives us an advantage.
"Sure, it's been tough keeping the band together but we always knew we had the ability and so, with a strong will, we knew we could survive until our time came. Now it's all paying off — you know, the right record at the right time. But there is a unity and closeness in the group that probably comes from us all being from the same neighborhood.
"Our motto is this: All for one and one for all."
The immediate job in hand is to prepare their show for the road. "We are due to start a four month nationwide tour this fall," Porter tells. "It's with a major, major act but we can't name them just yet. We'll be opening up the show so that'll give us plenty of experience. That will take us to the end of the year and directly after that, we'll do the next album so we'll be busy all the way through now!
On the strength of the publicity that the company is putting behind this exceedingly bright new group, Atlantic Starr will be shining for years to come.