Dick’s Picks: This week Dick has chosen this super cool 1978 12″ vinyl single by the little known John Gibbs & The U.S. Orchestra, although largely unknown, it was a regular feature in the sets of Paradise Garage DJ Larry Levan and dance taste-maker extraordinaire David Mancuso at his legendary Loft parties….
John Gibbs: Who, what, why where?
Firstly let’s just say that details are sketchy at best about Mr John Gibbs and his Orchestra. Born in Trinidad the steel-pan player Gibbs gained a science degree from the University of West Indies in Jamaica, shortly after, indulging his other passion for music he formed the Jamaica All Stars Steel Band, this ‘dual identity’ would continue throughout his life/career, indeed he applied science to his music by researching and developing a different style of steel pan playing, which he named the ‘omnivibraphone’ (!), by the mid-’70s he’d settle in Philadelphia in the U.S.
What a move! Philadelphia in the mid-‘70s was the home for American soul music with the legendary Sigma Studios operated and run by Joseph Tarsia, formerly chief engineer at ‘50s/’60s Doo Wop, R&B and early Soul label Cameo Parkway. The studio, lest we forget, was also ‘home’ to Kenneth Gamble and Leroy Huff’s Philadelphia International imprint – the birthplace of all those incredible hits by Lou Rawls, Harold Melvin, Three Degrees, Teddy Pendergrass et al, oh yeh Bowie was in on it the action too with his ‘plastic soul’ experiment ‘Young Americans’ also given the Sigma Sound sheen.
Needless to say for John Gibbs whose stated aim was to “weld Trinidadian steel music to Philly soul”, it was a case of right place, right time. Forming an alliance with local wet-behind-the-ears musician Louis A. Delise, a Philly resident, would appear to prove a fortuitous move as he would go on to arrange and produce much of Gibbs’s recorded output.
What about the record?
Kicking off with a rock solid, four-to-the-floor beat before a chorus of kitsch female vocals proudly state that, “Trindiad is the Island of Love” and who are we to disagree? After more breathy cooing from the female vocalists strings suddenly appear and well up to a crescendo, and, before you can say “glitter ball” you’re in familiar disco territory, so far, so good, so disco. However, look out, a distinct curve ball is thrown a couple of minutes in when the strings die down and the steel pan drums take over in all their poly-rythmic glory, it shouldn’t work but it does.
This killer groove has no need to let up and could well be repeat to fade, but wait come back, around the 3 minute mark, exit strings, exit steel pans and big up the drums and bass – phwoar! With the tracks drum break intro and extended groove coda at the end it’s no surprise the record was a big hit on the U.S. disco underground, Larry Levan at the Paradise Garage made it a regular feature of his sets and David Mancuso, curator of the legendary Loft parties, was also a fan…..
There’s been a bit of a resurgence in recent years in all things John Gibbs related (he was prone to releasing records under a variety of pseudonyms; John Gibbs & the Steel Orchestra, Steel Band, Steel Funk and more), with reissues and compilations appearing EM Records from Japan amongst others……