Friday, January 15, 2010

'To Be Free ...' Remembering Teddy Pendergrass


There have been two men in soul music whose presence on the mic could stop a wild animal in its tracks - let alone a love-starved woman: "The Wicked" Wilson Pickett and Theodore "Teddy Bear" Pendergrass.

The latter was a ferociously reverent soul singer of earth scorching sexuality that every woman wanted to tame and claim...or be forever tamed and claimed by.

He could be as seductive as Marvin or as silken as Reverend Al, but no one could match him for authoritative, testosterone-fueled sex appeal.


Teddy Pendergrass
He brought to the table a righteous, gospel-hewn bravado along with a smoldering head strong swagger to soul. For lovers around the world, he was the platinum status standard of soul man.

Born March 26, 1950 in Philadelphia, PA - a city he raised himself up from poverty within and loved and supported with all his heart through his glory years - Theodore DeReese Pendergrass possessed the gift of soul persuasion from a very early age.

His mother, Ida, had him standing up on a chair in a storefront church at the age of 2 singing for The Lord. He was acting as a minister by the age of 10. But at 15, he took another path, becoming the drummer for the group The Cadillacs which went on to back supper club soul stirrers Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes.

It wasn't long after Melvin got a taste of Teddy's singing that he ushered not-to-be-denied Theodore on up to the front line of his vocal quintet where he would immediately become the star secret weapon of The Blue Notes. So dominant was his presence that casual fans often mistook Theodore for Harold - for surely a man with his vocal command MUST be the leader of the group.

Signed in '72 to Kenneth Gamble & Leon Huff's CBS-distributed Philadelphia International Records label within a pioneering crop of talent that also included The O'Jays (f/ Eddie Levert & Walter Williams), the Intruders (f/ "Little Sonny" Brown) and Billy Paul, the Blue Notes faced stiff competition even within their own ranks. But with the musical excellence of the company's writers, arrangers and producers and the lead voice of Pendergrass, the group waxed hit after hit with him upfront - from the backbeat blues of "If You Don't Know Me By Now" and "I Miss You" to the electrifying soul show burner "Satisfaction Guaranteed" and two of disco's bedrock smashes "The Love I Lost" and "Bad Luck" to the uplifting message of "Wake Up Everybody." For four pressure cooker years (1972 to 1975), the group held its own before it became all too clear that Pendergrass demanded a stage of his own. His swan song from the group was ironically titled "Don't Leave Me This Way."

When the man dropped his 1977 self-titled debut album - dressed casually in front of a solid white background that intimated "new beginning" - he re-introduced himself as Teddy Pendergrass with an 8-song offering that found him pulpit preachin' "You Can't Hide From Yourself, boudoir braggin' "The More I Get, The More I Want," blues croonin' "The Whole Town's Laughing at Me," pillow talkin' "Be Sure"...and slingin' a zinger for done-wrong bruthas that demanded it, "I Don't Love You Anymore" - super serving all factions of fans with 360 scorching degrees of self-expression.

But it was on his platinum plus-selling sophomore statement the next year in '78, Life is a Song Worth Singing, that he blasted his likeness into the Mount Rushmore of Soul with a filler-free 7-song classic.

Share