Gamble, Kenny, and Huff, Leon

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Gamble, Kenny, and Huff, Leon

Gamble, Kenny, and Huff, Leon, the producers who gave Philadelphia soul and a sound in the 1970s. MEMBERSHIP: Kenny Gamble (real name, Kenneth) (b. Philadelphia, Aug. 11, 1943); Leon Huff (b. Camden, N.J., April 8, 1942). These two Philadelphia natives first joined forces during the 1950s in a vocal group called The Romeos, which also featured a young man named Thorn Bell. A pianist, Leon Huff had already worked with Phil Spector and done extensive session work in N.Y., including the Danny and the Juniors hit “Let’s Go to the Hop.” Going back to Philadelphia, he did sessions for local label Cameo, already successful with Chubby Checker and Bobby Rydell. Fellow Romeo Kenny Gamble co-wrote a song for Candy and the Kisses that Huff played on. They started working together, finally hitting the charts with the Soul Survivors7 “Expressway to Your Heart.” They continued working as independent producers with acts like Archie Bell and the Drells and Jerry Butler. They also had their own Neptune Label (through Chess) and Gamble records.

Their success led them to CBS. CBS had little success in the R&B market in the early 1970s. Gamble and Huff offered to provide it, and thus Philadelphia International Records was born. CBS gave the pair $75,000 in seed money for 15 singles. Within a year of signing, Gamble and Huff had sold over ten million records with artists like Billy Paul, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, and The O’Jays. Their signature sound incorpo-rated sophisticated touches like strings, horn sections, and an always-insistent groove. A precursor to disco, when the clubs started playing an important role in the music business, Philadelphia International helped shape the direction with hits like 1974’s “TSOP,” the R&B, adult contemporary and pop chart-topping tune that became the theme to the TV show Soul Train.

In 1975, however, the pair fell victim to a payola scandal, charged with offering bribes for radio play. Gamble was fined $2500, Huff was exonerated, but the proceedings killed their momentum. They continued to have hits, most notably with former Howard Melvin and the Blue Notes drummer and vocalist Teddy Pendergrass. They also released McFadden and White-head’s platinum R&B chart topper “Ain’t No Stopping Us Now,” In 1995, they were inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame.

—Brock Helander