Sounds of the past live on in the mind and quite often all it takes is a hint of what used to be for the memories to supplant the present. Musically speaking, this is the process enabling groups to travel under the banners of Glenn Miller, the Temptations, the Beach Boys and other familiar names while performing the hits of another era despite the absence of key personnel.
These ensembles may use the same charts as the originators but the differences between being a “cover band” and what they’re doing are close to non-existent, often coming down to a matter of who owns the trademark. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; indeed, all one really has to do is look at classical music concerts where scores by Bach, Beethoven and Brahms live on by virtue of their performances.
All of which brings me to Harold Melvin’s Blue Notes, a solid vocal group traveling with a very good band and an admirable professionalism. They were in town Friday night and ran through a program of hits from the Teddy Pendergrass era of Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes. They wove their way through songs like “If You Don’t Know Me by Now,” “The Love I Lost,” “Don’t Leave Me This Way,” “Wake Up Everybody,” “I Miss You,” “Turn Out the Lights,” and “Bad Luck.”
You would never guess the back story from the way they went about their business.
Harold Melvin kept the group going despite changes in personnel and disputes over who owned the “Blue Notes” name. For decades, the choice for promoters was whether to hire Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes or the former members who performed as The Blue Notes.
When Melvin died in 1997, the conflict about who really owned the moniker escalated with Harold’s wife, Ovelia, booking Harold Melvin’s Blue Notes while Bernie Wilson, Lloyd Parks and Larry Brown (all of whom sang with the hit-making version of the group) carried on as the Legendary Blue Notes.
Time and mortality have taken their toll, however, as the number of surviving members from those gold record days dwindled. Ovelia’s version of the group is the one hitting stages these days. Donnell “Big Daddy” Gillespie has settled into the “Teddy” role for the past few decades but he wasn’t able to make Friday’s gig because he underwent surgery for an undisclosed ailment March 5 and evidently hasn’t recovered enough to go back on the road.
The guys who did show up – Anthony Brooks, John Morris, and their most recent recruit, Damon Wilson – gave a solid show before an audience eager to hear them sing. The group’s “pro” status was in evidence, not just in the way that they catered to the crowd between tunes, the delivery of the material, or the dance steps they executed but in the way the guys handled technical adversity.
Halfway through their rendition of “If You Don’t Know Me by Now,” Brooks’ microphone died. Since he was singing background harmonies, along with Morris and some of the band members while Wilson sang the “Teddy” parts, Brooks continued stepping and smiling while a sound technician and George Prettyman, the group’s road manager, hunted for a working mic. They ended up transferring one from a band member and getting it in place just in time for Brooks to join up as the tune settled into the final bars. For all intents and purposes, nothing was allowed to disturb the flow of the music.
Toward the end of the show, the trio sang “Turn Off the Lights” and filed off the stage as the band played on. Then Prettyman came on to introduce the band members (including Eban Brown, the guitarist who doubles as the current lead singer for the Stylistics) and gave them a few minutes each to display their talents. The encore found Wilson, who definitely knows how to work a crowd, coming out for an abbreviated rendition of “Love T.K.O.” while the rest of the singers hung out backstage.