B.B. & Q. BAND
Wow, what a fantastic band this is! Right from the start in 81 B. B. & Q. band showed what real music is about. With a smooth and irresistible pop funk sound with highly addective and catchy melodies they were a perfect blend of European producing skills and American vocalists that made this band to a classic!
Jacques Fred Petrus, the man behind Change and Peter Jacques band and others, was also the force behind B. B. & Q. band. Being the tycoon of Milan (Italy) based Goody Music Productions (GMP) since the second half of the 70s together with his co-founder, song writer, arranger and producer wizard Mauro Malavasi, he had plans ready for a hot new project. After a certain amount of success with his first productions in the late 70s Petrus wanted more of the US market. Change became a real breakthrough in 1980, but Petrus didn't stop there.
In November 1980 Petrus went to the studios in Bologna in Italy with his Italian musicians Mauro Malavasi (piano and synthesizer), Davide Romani (bass guitar), Paolo Gianolio (guitar) and Rudy Trevisi (saxophone). The basic melodies that were written by the first three together with Marco Tansini surfaced in 1981 on the albums of Change and B. B. & Q. band. When these instrumental melodies were finished Petrus flew in a couple of American musicians to create a small rhythm section including Terry Silverlight (drums), Doc Powell (guitar) and Onage Allen Gumbs (Synthesizer). Gumbs was fired and sent home after a few sessions probably because Malavasi could play those repetitive parts himself and didn't need anyone else's input as far as creating them and by that save Fred the money at the same time. Even though the melodies already existed they were kept away from the Americans at this stage. Drummer Silverlight recalls that he never heard the melodies while recording, just himself, bass guitar and a pre-existing synthesizer part on tape.
About six months later back in NYC a vocal auditions was being held at Media Sound Studios where every great singer in New York and elsewhere were showing up. Petrus finally hired singers like Ike Floyd, Gordon Grody, Fonzi Thornton and Diva Gray to name a few. All more or less renowed but all great singers.
A perfect start in 1981
When the 12" of "On the beat" was released B. B. & Q. band was a faceless studio concept (like all the creations created by Petrus) but before the release of the debut album on Capitol records in September 1981 it was necessary to change that. Later member of the band, Kevin Robinson, recalls that: "Capitol Record pressured Petrus for 'faces' for the music; so he gave them faces. However, when the record took off, he need[ed] musicians and performers who could execute the music."
The "faces" (seen on the backside of the album cover) became Kevin Nance, Ike Floyd, Paris Ford, Abdul Wali Mohammed and Dwayne Perdue. All of them together with Kevin Robinson, Paris Ford, Mel'lisa Morgan, Ethel Beaty, Skip Anderson and LaLa Cope - who Petrus terminated before the tour began - became the touring group on the following "On the Beat" tour with Mic Murphy as road manager.
The album, that reached the #72 spot on Billboards black albums chart and #109 spot on Billboards pop albums chart, was produced by Petrus and Mauro Malavasi. In reality though the creation of all tracks (they were all composed, arranged and conducted by Malavasi) except Tansini's ballad "Don't say goodbye" and the entire production procedure was the work of the brilliant Malavasi.Petrus had the (bad) habit to name him self as the producer or co-producer even though that rarely happen. As so many times during the late 70s, Italy and Bologna was once the playground of the recordings of the music with entirely italian musicians with just a few exeptions. And like earlier, the music was finished in Italy and finilized in New York where "...lyricists, background vocalists, and lead vocalists from America were used to give the songs an Americian flavor..." (Kevin Robinson) before release.
The music of B. B. & Q. band can be described as discofunk, or popfunk as former Change member Jeff Bova's once said. Compared to the only other Petrus/Malavasi production that year, "Miracles " by Change, B. B. & Q band had a slightly more funky sound but was still as accessible and appealing as the album of Change. The similarities with Change weren't a coincident however. The way Petrus ran his empire was by letting Malavasi and and a few others of the italians create the music, arrange, conduct and produce it (under Petrus' given guidelines) and then by himself place them on the albums he thought suited them the best. Only Petrus did know where each track were going to be placed at the end. That procedure was a trademark of him and was performed continuously all the way from the start to the end. That's why all tracks written that year could easily could have been used either on the albums by Change or B. B & Q. band.
From left to right: Frankie Crocker, noted NY radio personality on WBLS, interviews Peewee Ford (Paris Ford), Abdul Wali Mohammed, Ike Floyd from the B. B. & Q. band and Capitol Records promotions manager Bill Reid in 1981.
Like Change, the distinctive features of B. B. & Q. band were to a large extent emphasized on the role of the guitars. One can even say that, like their great opponent Chic, the guitars were the trademark of all the Little Macho productions. They were played distinctively that made the strings glow and stretch to the limit and perfectly spiced up with intelligently used funk influences. Both the guitar and bass guitar players of Gianolio and Romani really showed their great potential and sometimes even Gianolio's classic acoustic guitar skills shined through more than just on a subtle level; the result was just fantastic! But the guitars were never taken over Malavasi's arrangements. They were instead perfectly matched, and incorporated in a balanced way with that polished, well-produced and transparent airy sound that the rest of the instruments delivered. The final result was a highly danceable, seductive and delicate production thanks to the amazing genius of Malavasi.
The first track on the album was something that no one was going to forget in a hurry, whether you talk past or present. If you haven't heard "On the beat", that reached the #8 spot on the Billboard black singles charts, you certainly got something to do! This is truly one of the best tracks ever in its genre and with its fast and catchy melody, lovely song by Ike Floyd, intensive guitars and deep bass lines. It includs an indescribable hypnotic intro performed by a synth gone crazy. This puts you on the floor, whether you want it or not! And the story didn't end there as the album included three more outstanding eternal hits. The strongest among them was "Time for love" (#72 spot on Billboards black singles chart), an absolutely perfectly balanced track with a short but intense dreamy break after three and a half minutes with punchy guitars, infectious strings and demanding trumpet calls. Also more disco like "Mistakes" and dreamy "Starlette" (that was originally intended for the debut album of Change) were competent songs that got much in common with the tracks on Change's album that same year. Although B. B & Q. band emphasized heavily on speedy tracks the album also included the sad, but yet irresistible ballad of "Don't say goodbye" and a somewhat misplaced mid tempo reggae imitation that many artist did add at the time of strange reasons. This amazing and classic album is perhaps Malavasi's most brilliant and genius one.
The Second Album
The next album was released in 1982 once again on Capitol titled "All night long" (#32 spot on Billboards black albums chart). With a view of their beloved New York shining up at night they continued to point out their origin. The front cover showed the two twin towers of World trade center. The first album was a studio project. Now a more group like identity was materialized. From the "On the beat" tour in 1981/1982 1982 Petrus brought in Kevin Nance and Kevin Robinson that Petrus appointed as band leader. Consequently B. B. & Q band in 1982 featured Kevin Nance on keyboards, Kevin Robinson, that not only played guitar but also became the lead singer after Ike Floyd, Chieli Minucci (a first generation Italian-American) on guitar and Tony Bridges on bass guitar. Kinky foxx contributed with Johnny Kemp, the later successful solo artist, as background singer.
Once again the release was produced by Petrus, but only on paper. The highly regarded Luther Vandross was no longer a background singer like he was in 81 but others, both new and old names were stepping in. The background singers included the superb Tawatha Agee (Mtume), Timmy Allen (Change) and Alyson Williams (High fashion) to name a few.
Now when everything was set the audience were exited to know if the new lineup were up to something good, and yes they were! The earlier more or less monopoly among the Italians of Malavasi and Romani when it came to writing and producing was now much more mixed up with American skill and influences. Even so, the mighty Malavasi wrote three of the tracks including the hit "Children of the night". The rest of the written material was shared between Kevin Robinson, with two tracks, and ex Breakwater member Kae Williams. Finally Tony Bridges and Timmy Allen wrote one each. The album got some infectious tracks that are almost on the same level as the debut. Together with Robinson's voice working passionate true the songs the result was over average. The most appealing tracks are sing-a-long "All night long (she's got the moves I like)", electrofunkish "Imagination" (#21 spot on Billboards black singles chart) and the already mentioned Malavasi penned smooth and slender "Children of the night". All of them really great dancebeats with catchy melodies that very well could match the most distinguished tracks from the album in 81. Also the listener finds some nice ballades on the album.
1983 - New directions
B. B. & Q. band was still on top in 82-83, so what to do? Well, why not produce a bad album, with less glow and enthusiasm. That was exactly what happened in 1983 when "Six million times" was released on Capitol records for the last time. Although the foxy lady on the front cover looked all right the inside was not as seductive and interesting as the outside and the band had lost the sparkle from the two earlier albums. In addition the skills of the main song writer Malavasi were used on the albums of High fashion and Change instead, something that had great impact on the final musical result of "Six million times". As a significant result of that both Change and High fashion launched albums considerably stronger including several great tracks penned by Malavasi like "Tell my way" by Change and "Stay" by High fashion.
A crucial explanation to why Petrus' decided to not use Malavasi on B. B . & Q. band's third album except for one mediocre track might also be explained by his grooving financial problems that affected the relationship with the golden calf's of Malavasi and Romani. That also made Petrus invite new hungry America songwriters at the expense of the old Italians and B. B. & Q. band got most affected by these changes. One of these Americans that stepped forward from the album in 82 and received that writing freedom was Kevin Robinson. He wrote almost all tracks on "Six million times". Robinson was, and is, absolutely a good musician and a rather competent singer but not as near as good songwriter. He simply couldn't compete with the master Malavasi. This move of Petrus was the main reason to the dramatic drop in quality and commercial success of B. B. & Q. band in 1983.
The lineup from the last album continued over the 1983 season as well with the exception of Kevin Nance that left in favor of Bernard Davies on drums. Although Robinson still was the lead vocalist and wrote much of the material together with his work as a co-producer, it didn't help. There are a couple of decent tracks on the record however including the "Keep it hot", the electrofunkish "Stay", that was the perhaps most enjoyable one. One got the feeling that these tracks must have been a rest product from the "All night long" album. "Six million times" is the most memorable track on side two with a rather tasty modern beat. On a whole the tracks under Robinson's pen was harder, more modern. An obvious resemblance with the ultra hip sound of The Time/Prince and their more rock oriented funk is also present. Especially on "She's a passionate lover" and "Six million times" that is obvious. Even though Robinson, that with out a doubt was influenced by their sound, he couldn't quite manage to reach the same plateau as Prince. One year later after Robinson's departure he tried again as a co-producer with a slighly better result on the short lived band Network's rare and only album "I need you" in 84. The realatively musical success the managed to reach was in reality much due to the brilliant talents of the ex-Mtume member Howard King that wrote most tracks. Despite the loss of the earlier on-the-floor feeling and the genuine spirit and sparkle B. B. & Q band hadn't played their last tune yet!
B. B. & Q. band searching for inspiration
In 82 Petrus and Malavasi didn't work together as well as before and finally their companionship broke apart in 83 due to econimical problems and the collapse of their Goody music production company. Petrus continued as a producer and executive producer, but Malavasis exellent talent of writing the music was lost. If that was not bad enough, Petrus had also lost the highly used Romani, Gianolioi and Trevesi due to the same economical problems. B. B. & Q. band now stood in front of some heavy economical and musical problems, and the future was uncertain, especially after the flop in 83 that made the situation even tougher. Petrus however didn't gave up. Change album "Change of heart" in 84 had instead of Malavasi and the other main Italians used upcoming producers/writers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis with great success. He understood that their new and characteristic sound was something not to forget, a notion that later was implemented on BB's album in 85 with its clear influences from Jam and Lewis. He couldn't use Jam and Lewis themselves once again however, because they didn't get paid either and soon left Petrus like the Italians. So with all his experience and knowledge, what did Petrus decide for B. B. & Q. band's future? First of all Petrus waited two years for the release of B. B. & Q. band's fourth album on Elektra records featuring a completely new band including none of the earlier band/touring members. Lead singer Kevin Robinson had a lot of work as both as singer, player and producer at the time for such great acts like Mtume, Stephanie Mills, The Spinners, Melba Moore, Freddie Jackson (title track - double platinum), the Bar-Kays, Sweet Obsession, Chad, Patti LaBelle, Network and many others and left the band. But the over all reason they left was that Petrus didn't pay the members or the musicians and even the engineers for that matter anymore and no gigs were going on with, so they simply left him for other projects.
Petrus was now almost completely deserted by everyone. He was in this precarious situation forced to catch other musicians and singers and invited the marvelous singer Curtis Hairston to be lead vocalist and used the old fox Kay Williams to write all songs as well as playing keyboards and piano. Williams had earlier participated on B. B. & Q. bands second album as songwriter and bassist. The new B. B. & Q. band also included Ullanda McCullough as background vocalist (she was background vocalist on Change's 81 album), Timmy Allen on bass and Michael Campbell on Guitar, both from Change. Petrus decided to use Allen and Campell from Change instead of taking anybody from outside. Both had played bass and guitar respectively on BB's second release. Once again Petrus took advantage of what was left of the in-house talents and used them in the band.
Back on top, but just for a year
In 85 it was time to release "Genie". Petrus had now left Capitol and released the set on Elekta instead, probably because of the bad selling figures that their last album stood for. When you're down, you can lie down or rise, B. B. & Q. band did the latter after their poor release in 83. I better say it right away, this was a great comeback! The sound was new, modern and tough and the beautiful and funky cover corresponded perfectly with the music! A critical mind might say the release included way too much programmed drummachines without the warm feeling of instrumental joy. To a certain degree that might be the case especially on tracks like "On the shelf" and "Main attraction" but they did not exclude a nice melody and the warmth was to be found there as well like the splendid "Won't you be with me tonight" clearly shows. The latter could more easily be found on the rest of the album that is more soft and dreamlike. All songs, whether hard or soft, were performed with a masters touch by the wonder kid Curtis Hairston's sensitive voice that really helped to create a perfect feeling drawn to the very limit of pleasure. To use the old man Kay Williams and letting him do all the work was brilliant as well. The lovely long version of the title track is a great laid back, smooth soul piece that makes you sing along.
The two most prominent tracks were "Genie" (no 40 on Billboards top 40 in 85) and "Dreamer" (no 35 on Billboards top 40 in 86) that got some great values with a smoth and spell bounded dreamy sound! Two similar harder tracks are also representative in the sing-a-long "Main attraction" and the electro-funk like "On the shelf" (#72 spot on Billboards Hot R&B/Hip-hop singles & tracks chart) that included a blues/rock break of the highest musical standard, although nothing sensational, well worth a closer attention nonetheless. Also the good ballad descent "Minutes away" and the fast and scratchy "Riccochet" were included. All together, although not a classical album, this is a good example of mid 80 Jam/Lewis influenced music well worth buying.
The end and beginning of other projects
B. B. & Q. band didn't release any more albums after "Genie" mainly because of the tragic death of Petrus in 87 and the band was history. What happened to the different groupmembers after the split are not known except for a few. Curtis Hairston released the dreamlike "The morning after" on his one an only album in 86. Many of the tracks from the album were very similar to the ones on "Genie" and could very well have been on that record. In 92 he appeared as background singer on former High fashion member Alyson Williams self titled album. The bussy Chieli Minucci, a scholar in classic guitar, became famous and stepped out from the studio to wrote songs to artists like Chaka Kahn and Roberta Flack but did also worke as a producer. His very special way of performing jazz was introduced on his debut solo album in 95. The great Mauro Malavasi continued his work as a producer and songwriter for Change, High fashion until 83. He then left his work with Petrus and continued on his own with world famous artists like Andrea Bocceli and the beautiful Dalida. Paris Ford continued his work and as a musician. He released his first single ”Be My Girl” (# 69 on Billboard's Top 100 R&B/Dance chart) on Streetwise records (Arthur Baker's label) and has been playing and/or on tour with such great acts like Rick James, New Edition, Evelyn “Champagne” King, Lenny White, Invisible man Band and Planet patrol to mention just a few. Today he is still busy working with new projects after his biggest selling single "2 Far" featuring ex Change member James Robinson that was released in 1989. Paolo Gianolio continued playing guitar for several artists like Eros Ramazzotti, Anna Oxa and Fiorella Manoia. Timmy Allen became an even more successful songwriter and producer to singers like Lillo Thomas and Milie Jackson. Today Allen still works in the music business with acts like Britney Spears and Backstreet boys. Kevin Robinson had a lot of engagements and played, sang, and produced for artists such as Mtume, Stephanie Mills, The Spinners, Melba Moore, Freddie Jackson (Title track - double platinum), the Bar Kays, Sweet Obsession, Chad, Patti LaBelle, and many others. Robinson was also the force behind the hard-to-find group Network that released their one and only album "I need you" in 84 on Salsoul (maybe just on Rams horn when a rumor has it that Salsoul never released it but Rams horn did, with or without their permission) that he produced and played guitar on. Network's sound is similar to B. B. & Q. band in 82 and 83 but with a more funkier groove. Johnny Kemp that was one of the background singers on BB's second album was also a member of Network as lead vocalist on their hit "Cover girl" [Sample]. Also Raymond Jackson from Mtume played bass on this album. That same year when the Network album was released he also joined Mtume as bassist on their excellent 1984 album.
Different covers in 85
The album was released on several labels (Elektra, Mega, Cooltempo, ZXY etc) both in 85 and 86 and with different album covers. The first release in 85 was recorded at the Morning studios in Milan and featured in Europe a red cover on some issues and a blue cover on other issues (type 1 and 2). UK got their own cover that was released on the Cooltempo label (type 3) and the US another version released on Elektra that same year. On all the EU releases in 85 Petrus was mentioned both as as producer (with Kay Williams) and as an executive producer. According to the second US release in 86 on the Pretty pearl label former basket pro Earl Monroe (founder of the Pretty pear label) was instead the executive producer in favor of Petrus and Kay Williams the producer. The album in 86 was also strangely enough recorded in the Castle studios in Milan instead of Morning studios in Milan and featured a 5:20 minutes long version of "Minutes away" instead of the 3:15 long version on the EU versions and a remix of "Dreamer" by Andy Wallace and Shep Pettibone.
Exclusive B. B. & Q. band reissues
In 1988 the "The best of B. B. & Q. band" hit the market on CD(!) emanating from the tiny Italian label Streetheat. But it was no success mainly due to lack of copies. The track choice missed out many of the more memorable tunes too giving the impression that the release was a hasty work impossible to present the true value of the band. Many years later I came up with an idea how the best of B. B. & Q. band really should look like that amusingly and almost entirely was adopted by Fonte records on their Final collection of The B. B. & Q. band that was released in 2008. Despite the compilation in 1988 no CD reissues of the original albums were done until August 2004, almost 20 years after the final album in 1985 saw the light. The release included the first three albums all conducted by the Italian label Fonte records. You can order them at the distributors site www.vinyl-masterpiece.com today! Also on the 23th of August 2004 EMI Holland launched a completely new series called "Masters Of Funk & Soul" that includes B. B. & Q. band's first album from 1981. The superbly sounded 24bit/96kHz remastered CD features the original record sleeves and credits, with addition of new text written by funk aficionados, rare photos and a complete album discography. You can find the CD on Amazon US , Amazon UK, Amazon Germany (best price) and Amazon France. PS. remember to write the complete name of the band when searching on Amazon!
A second release by Fonte records was made on the 15th of November 2005 featuring a box of five CD's including the first three albums together with the two albums of High fashion.
On the 7th of August 2006 the Duth label PTG records finally re-issued "Genie" on CD as well. You can find that album at www.vinyl-masterpiece.com
On the 6th of February 2008 Fonte records released the "Final collection" of B. B. & Q. band featuring tracks from all four albums.