WITH the disco boom now officially on the wane, maybe we can get back to normal business! But before we write off that whole dance floor explosion, it is well worth noting that without it, an awful lot of R&B based acts would never have had the opportunities that disco presented. Honestly speaking, only a handful of R&B acts have remained untouched and untarnished throughout it all. One such act, though, is LTD, nine young men who have been together now for a decade and who just seem to get better.
Their current album, "Devotion" merely backs my statement. "In terms of song content and material, this is our best album," states Jeff Osborne, lead singer and drummer with the L.A. based supergroup. "We are still searching for the perfect production but then maybe we are too critical of ourselves. Whatever we do, we are never satisfied; always looking for something stronger. But this time, we went for uptempo material because that is the trend and it's a sign of the times. We are even thinking of doing a remix on "Dance 'N', Sing 'N'" (the group's current hit single, taken from the album). But we have tried to put a message into our tunes so that our music can reflect the times we live in accurately. Right now, ballads are not in vogue. Sure, there are the exceptions — but even Peaches & Herb had to run "Reunited" through after "Shake Your Groove Thing"."
The guys in LTD have firm feelings about disco music. "It's more a sound and a formula," says horn man, Carle Vickers. "The artistic value may not be so high because the vocal is treated like any other musical instrument on the album. Sometimes; the rhythm is more featured! When we do make a dance record, we try to do it tastefully so that it doesn't become boring or repetitive. It's amazing how many times you go to a disco and you find that the dancers are the stars and the records are there just for the support of the dancers. We have always avoided making blatant disco records. Sure, "Hold-in' On" could have been a disco record if we had edited it differently. And "Back In Love Again" was popular in the discos — but that was just a magical record! Probably, "Dance 'N', Sing 'N'" is as close as we have ever come to really making a disco record. And you can't overlook the disco industry because right now it is a multi-million dollar one. With our new album we simply tried to come up with a good album that was still in vogue with what's happening."
If you enquire of the LTD guys just what it is that gives them that commercial edge over their competitors and yet, that has allowed them to stay aloof and not have to sell out to the disco brigade, they are all quick to explain that it's touring that keeps them fresh. "We used to live in a house on a hill that overlooked the city," Jake Riley — LTD's trombonist can afford to smile now. "And we never went to discos or parties; we were so busy with our music that we became introverts. Now, we come down from the hill and we mix with people and I think we write our music accordingly. We write now for the people, instead of maybe for ourselves. We tour a lot because we like to. It is touring that brought us into close contact with the people and they are the ones who buy our records. The problem with the way things are today is that there is little chance for young musicians coming through because so much of the work is done in the studios, and not in clubs around the country — like it was in our early days. The old jam session died with jazz and now that jazz has resurfaced, it is so much more sophisticated than it was. Maybe it will resurface, I don't know."
The origin of LTD can be traced back to 1968, which is when Jimmie Davis (keyboards), Jake Riley (trombone), Lorenzo Carnegie (saxophone), Carle Vickers (trumpet, flugelhorn) and Onion Miller (saxophone), and some now departed folk formed a group in their native North Carolina. They scuffed their way up and down the East Coast and always somehow managed to support not less than nine members. Jeffrey Miller joined the ensemble shortly afterwards; when the group passed through his home town of Providence, Rhode Island.
In 1970, they went west to Los Angeles — by car! The bookings that they were supposed to have been given did not materialise and it was back to scuffling for a while For example, in 1971, they supported Merry Clayton at her Monterey Festival appearance.
Next to join was Jeff's brother, Billy, who had been musical director for the Friends of Distinction. He brought with him Henry Davis, who had been bass player for the Friends. By this time, The Big House On The Hill was their base and they all lived together, working for the common cause.
The following year, they spent some time in Japan but Billy had stayed behind and he secured a deal with A&M Records through Jerry Butler's production company. Their debut album — "Love Togetherness & Devotion" (from whence comes LTD) — was an immediate success and LTD were on their way. Johnny McGhee, and Melvin Webb were added to the line-up shortly afterwards.
Right now, the group is preparing for their fall tour. "We are looking for a support act," Carl Vickers says. "The perfect matching-would be a classy, sharp female group — like a Jones Girls or something. This time, we are planning to play the smaller venues so that we can stay in touch with the people. Last year, we played things like the Kool Festivals and in stadiums in which you're a hundred yards away from the people. We gave satisfaction because we are conditioned to play in any surroundings. But we prefer the more personalised hall. That's one of the reasons that we are looking forward to going to Europe — maybe next year by the way. I know they appreciate music over there and they tend to have smaller venues to play in. The only reason we haven't gone yet is economics."
Aside from projecting themselves, LTD are (in common with so many other of today's super-acts), starting to become involved in outside projects. For example, they did two tunes on the upcoming Les McCann album for A&M. And they have completed some sides on a new group, Formula Five — but no label affiliation has been selected as of yet. "Our publishing company is starting to thrive," smiles Jeff Osborne. "And we hope that we can be as helpful to young, new talent as Jerry Butler was to us. Every company in New York and Los Angeles had turned us down before Jerry put our deal together — even A&M had said 'no'! But Jerry had the clout and he got the deal. You know, this is a very competitive, volatile business and you have to stay strong to survive. Every group has its life span so we are getting involved in other projects so that when we do experience a cool period, we have got other things to fall back on." Judging by the way their "Devotion" album has been snapped up, it looks like a way down the road before LTD has to give any serious thought to that particular decision.