Wednesday, July 26, 2006


Greetings from Philadelphia, where The Mrs. and I are spending a couple of days of our vacation. Although we did the standard tourist bit today--Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, Benjamin Franklin's grave--we could just as easily have visited some entirely different shrines just by going up some different streets.

Take, for example, Sigma Sound, the studio where Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff created the Sound of Philadelphia in the 1970s. If any site is ready for the museum treatment, like Sun and Stax in Memphis, this is it. It hasn't happened yet, however, and Sigma remains a working studio. The former HQ of Gamble and Huff's Philadelphia International record label, housed in an office building not far from Sigma, might be equally deserving, although I seem to recall that when John A. Jackson tried to visit the site while researching A House on Fire, his recent book on Philly soul, the building's owners wouldn't let him in, claiming to have no interest in the history of the place.

Philadelphia is also the birthplace of American Bandstand, which started as a local TV program in 1952. After original host Bob Horn was arrested for DUI in 1956 and dismissed from the TV station, young Dick Clark took over the show. Bandstand went national a year later, retitled American Bandstand, airing on ABC five days a week for 90 minutes a day. (ABC, a low-rent network in those days, had nothing else to run during those hours.) The show went weekly in 1963, and moved to Los Angeles shortly thereafter.

During the early years of Bandstand, one of the show's regular dancers was a 13-year-old South Philly kid named Jerry Blavat. In 1961, Blavat started a radio career. He became a raucous Top-40 shouter who called himself "The Geator With the Heater" and "The Boss With the Sauce." He's still on the air today, hosting a syndicated oldies show--and we walked right past his company office today.

Also in the heart of Center City Philadelphia is the site of the original offices of Cameo/Parkway Records. That label is best known for releasing Chubby Checker's monstrous early-60s hits, and for inflicting Bobby Rydell on an unsuspecting American public. It was famous locally as a label that would give almost any Philadelphia kid a chance to become a star.

Gamble, Huff, Clark, Blavat, Checker, Rydell, Cameo/Parkway founders Kal Mann and Dave Appell, and dozens of other Philadelphia music figures, are honored on the Philadelphia Music Alliance Walk of Fame. On our travels today, we walked past plaques honoring Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, John Coltrane, Bessie Smith, and plenty of others. The list of honorees is a good reminder for a guy from out of town that the Sound of Philadelphia is more than just 70s soul.


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